Transcribe your podcast

These are very valuable lessons that we need in our relationships. So Lesson 1.


Allah, the Boton.


Bestselling author. The modern philosopher of love. His goal. To help you live a better, more meaningful life. The average human has 70,000 thoughts a day. The problem is that we don't know how to use them. For example, we tend to believe we'll find the one, but that belief has led to more rage, more disappointment, because we're not free to love just anyone. What's problematic is that we're drawn to love stories that are echoing our childhoods. This is something that troubles so many people because our past was not necessarily happy. We are all confused about love. The most romantic sentence that people will say is, I met this person and we didn't even need to speak. We just felt on the same page. Well, this leads to a catastrophic outbreak of sulking. They say to you, Is anything wrong? Of course there is, but you're not going to tell them. And the reason is that you're a romantic and you believe that your partner should have alien capacities to look into your wounded soul to understand what the upset is. But of.


Course they can't because they're just human. So what would you say are the core habits of two people who have a.


Really successful relationship? What we need.


Is, let's talk.


About sex. Goodness me, does it cause problems?


Twenty-six % of people in relationships are having sex less than 10 times per year.


The question is, what are we getting wrong? One of the leading answers that neither party knows is there is that ding-ding, that's normally a sign of a problem.


Alan, you write about so much. You produce content about so many different subject matters, but what is the overarching mission that you are on?


I'm trying to look almost systematically at a variety of causes of unhappiness created by the world we live in. Obviously, the world we live in has solved many, many problems, but it's also generated, in a host of areas, particularly difficult challenges that have not really struck humanity before. I like to think both personally and on behalf of others about what those problems are and how we might steer through them. The average human has 70,000 thoughts a day. Not huge, elaborate ones, but just stray little fragmentary thoughts. 70,000 of them pass through consciousness every day. The problem is that we don't know how to process them or use them. It's part of the reason why we end up with such busy and troubling minds. We haven't stepped back in order to ask ourselves, at the end of the day, some of those questions that can calm us down, like, Who am I angry with? What am I excited by? What's really happened today? We let experiences rush past us. And then, of course, course, experiences that haven't been digested properly have a nasty habit of coming to sting us in the tail. I think you can look at a lot of mental troubles as essentially the outgrowth of unprocessed emotion.


Depression is often sadness that hasn't understood itself. Anxiety or irritability is worry that doesn't know its own cause. And so often what we need, particularly in the modern world, is occasions on which we can get to know our own minds. It's a strange thing. Surely we know our own minds. Surely we don't know. No. The way that we're built is obviously not prioritizing a full awareness of ourselves. We're outward-facing creatures. We're action-focused creatures, which is all to the good and has many advantages. But because of the way we live now, more sedentary lives, lives that call upon us not merely to be active, but also to be fulfilled. Those lives require periods of introspection that our routines often don't allow for. I'm always trying both of myself and advising others. Take that time in the evening and just sit down in a semi-darkened room and just ask yourself, What's coming up for me? What's really happened inside me? Because it can take a little while to realize what you're really upset by, what you're really excited by, et cetera. We're not obvious to ourselves. And as I say, so many of things that we call mental disorders or mental illnesses are really stored emotion that hasn't found a way out.


Emotions that haven't been acknowledged have a nasty habit of stirring our conscience, demanding to be heard. They might want to tell our spines, they might want to tell our stomachs. And again, a useful exercise so as not to be struck by so many of these psychosomatic disorders is to ask the body what it's trying to tell you so that it doesn't need to tell you in the more dramatic forms that end up as illnesses. Again, if you lie down and you simply say to yourself, If my back could speak, what does it want to tell me? If my shoulders could have their say, what are they trying to say? If my stomach could have a voice, what might it be trying to Can.


You apply that same rationale to things like anxiety?


Absolutely. If you think of take something like insomnia. You wake up at 3:00 in the morning. The way I like to think of it is insomnia is, if you like, a revenge for all those thoughts that you were so careful not to have in the day, you very carefully scheme to not to have those thoughts in the day because of our emotional conscience, they want to be heard. And if you're not hearing them at 3:00 PM, you're going to be hearing them at 3:00 AM. One of the best ways to sleep is to make sure you're having a little bit more of an in-depth conversation with yourself before you enter sleep, because that will allow you that deeper rest. So as I say, we have this emotional conscience that requires that the key things about us have a chance to be heard. And look, let's not forget, this is the whole theory of trauma. What psychotherapists have very usefully over the last 20, 30 years informed us about is that events in our past, especially in our early childhood, that we have not had a chance to properly understand, and how much can a three, four, five, six-year-old understand?


Events that we can't understand, it doesn't mean that they haven't registered. They've registered all the more deeply and they haven't had a chance to be processed. I was thinking, a friend of mine recently lost a parent. He's in his 50s, well educated, got resources, got friends, spouse, et cetera. He was telling me he was laid low by depression, just couldn't get out of bed, completely stunned by his loss. I was thinking, in a way, he's lucky because he's got all those resources of adulthood. Imagine a five-year-old child who suffers a bereavement. They've got no friends that they can have those dialogs with. They've got no books that they can read about this. They've got no capacity to process. They've got no understanding of time, et cetera. Emotions that can't be had lodge themselves in us and gum up our systems. I think so much of the work that we need to do on ourselves is to process pain that has not been properly understood, not because anyone's evil, but because we've lacked the resources to do so.


You got me thinking about this concept of happiness as you're speaking, and whether it's a natural thing for our species to be aiming at, or whether it's a new, more modern thing that we've decided focus upon. Are we causing ourselves immense distress in this pursuit of this thing that maybe our ancestors didn't ever think about? We think about self-actualisation, and they were probably thinking about survival and reproduction more.


Look, these all belong to the paradoxes of modern times. Modern times have obviously brought us enormous advantages, but they've also brought us particular complexities that I think we'd be wise to realize. And one of them is the disappearance of religion. We are still among the first generations in many parts of the world to be trying to live good lives without the support of religion. Think of our religion's structure, time, and human experience in time. As a religious person, you immediately feel that the present moment is not as important as 100, 200, 2,000 million-year history that has come before and that will continue after. The present moment is a speck in time, and there's a whole narrative of which you're part of that immediately diminishes you in scale. Now, nowadays, all of us want to be rather large. We want to be big people. We want to make a big impression. But arguably, this is a fast route to mental illness because the graceful acceptance of your minuscule position in the cosmos is the gateway to calm and harmony. And when people say, I went into this hotel, the person made me feel small, that's the bad way of being made to feel small, but there's a good way of being made to feel small.


Pick up an ancient text, read words that were written by someone in a foreign tongue 3,000 years ago. That'll make you feel small. Go into the desert, notice the age of the rocks, time inscribed in time... Inscribed in sand, that'll put you in your place. Spend time with an animal that has no concern for your status, your sense of importance, your foiled narrative of your own success, all these things that drive modern humans mad, these are not present in an older religious sphere. And as I say, what religions do is they tell us, you're part of a bigger story. They also tell us, many faiths tell us that life and you, particular, are imperfect. Think of Catholicism and its notion of original sin. Now, lots of bad stuff associated with original sin. I'm not a huge fan of many aspects, but let's look at the good side. What Catholicism tells us is that everybody's broken, everybody is flawed. It's quite a helpful starting point, because if you think, Well, all right, I'm a bit broken, but so is somebody else, so is somebody else. So we're all doing our best. That's the gateway to vulnerability, to friendship, if you like.


Lower expectations.


Lower expectations, but also to connection with others. So often people who've become successful find it really hard to make friends. Why? Because they associate success with invulnerability, and the more successful they get, the harder it is for them to admit to the real truth about being human, which is that we're all helpless children, some of the time, at least frightened, helpless children. And it becomes harder to make to keep up the contact with that, let alone admit that to somebody else. So again, religions handily reduce our expectations and our sense of ourselves. We are merely flawed humans. There is a perfect world. It doesn't exist in Beverly Hills. It doesn't exist in the fancy parts of Singapore or Sydney. It exists up there in another world. In other words, the human realm is inherently imperfect. Quite a good starting point. I mean, even if you went on a date, right? Imagine two characters you might go on a date with. First one tells you, Yeah, I'm perfect and I'm aiming to achieve total perfection. You think, Wow, good for them, but slightly scary. Next is somebody else who goes, I'm flawed, but I'm managing my flaws and I'm interested in how to get to know my flaws and work with them.


Instantly one thinks, Life might be easier around such a person. There's something about the pursuit of perfection which makes day to day life extremely hard, and religions slightly by the by, tick that box. They were able to reduce us in our own eyes while raising us in the eyes of a divine being. That helped us to have an easier relationship with ourselves. The notion also was you cannot perfect this life. Life becomes perfect in another realm. We'll build Jerusalem somewhere else, not on this earth, in the next world. Again, it takes the pressure off us. We moderns, we modern people. We think the present moment is supremely important. Now is important. Everything is going on right now is supremely important. It doesn't matter, remember, 100 years ago or 1,000 years ago, now is the only criteria of time. You are perfectable. So if there's something wrong with you, you're failing against an ideal of perfection again, very, very hard. And that you are made, the biggest challenge of all, you're made to be happy, as you suggested, that the true goal of every human is happiness, not fulfillment, not the realization of a grand scheme, not living for others, your own happiness.


And again, it's a beautiful idea, but goodness me does it cause problems. Goodness me. Think of Emil Derckheim, beginning of the 20th century, first French sociologist writes this book contrasting the differences between ancient societies and modern societies. He identifies one troubling difference between ancient societies, pre-modern agricultural, village-based societies where religion plays a role, and modern, urban, technologically-driven, success-oriented, individualistic societies, and that's the suicide rate. He realizes in his book on suicide published in 1900 that modern societies, for all their advantages, leads their members, a share of their members, often the most ambitious of their members, to take their own lives. Why? What's going on? This becomes, well, it's the birth of modern sociology, really. It becomes a major inquiry into what modern times does to the soul. And I'm deeply fascinated by that. I can't let that one go because what's this paradox? What's this paradox of suffering amidst plenty, of regress amidst progress? This fascinates me.


I spoke to the CEO of Calm campaign against living misery, Simon Gunning, and he shared some stats with me about exactly what you're talking about, about suicide. He said someone dies by suicide in the UK every 90 minutes, 76% are male. There's 25 attempts for every death. The single biggest cause of death for men under 45 is suicide. Single biggest cause of death for 15-49-year-olds is suicide, that 19 to 35-year-old category are twice as likely to report being in crisis than any other group, and 16 to 24s is the fastest growing group in history to exhibit suicidality. More recently, there's a big conversation emerging now around young women and suicidality, which is a fairly recent, unfortunately, exploding trend, this trend of young women now experiencing suicidality. Look, people.


Don't just commit suicide when things are bad. People commit suicide when things are bad and they think, it's a delicate point, they think it's their fault. They cannot disassociate the trouble they feel from an intense sense of responsibility, which then also entails shame. Now, what's going on there? You see, when I say that we live in an individualistic world, what that really means is we live in a world where people feel that they control their own narratives. That what happens to them is very tightly a reflection of who they are and what they've done. And this was not always the case. You see, for long periods of history, people were not necessarily tightly held to the observable outcomes of their lives. This happened with money, for example. In old English, a poor person was known as an unfortunate. Let's unpack that word unfortunate. There's the word fortuna in there. What was fortuna? For the Romans, fortuna was the goddess of luck, the goddess of fortune. And the Romans were there for all the time, sacrificing things to the goddess of fortune as a way of saying, Please, it's not me, it's this outside agency. Nowadays, this sounds completely weird.


What do we call? In the most individualistic country in the world, United States, what are poor people called? It's not a nice term. They're called losers. You say, That's a loser. So we've gone from unfortunate to loser. That's a trajectory of 400 years. What's happened in that time is a story about who's responsible for people's fate. And nowadays, if I said to you, Stephen, things have not been going so well for me. I've just been sacked. My book hadn't sold. But it's not me. I've just had a bit of bad luck. You, very nice person, but a modern person, so do you be thinking, He must have done something wrong. You'd be thinking, You must have done something wrong because that's how we think. We don't allow people the benefit of luck. Similarly, if you said to me, Oh, my podcast is doing brilliantly. We've now got 8,000 million, million, billion subscribers. How many you've got nowadays? And you said to me, Oh, it's just a bit of good luck. I think, Oh, Stephen's very modest, but it's not true. He's done something. We believe that people do things and that that action leads to results or failures.


And that's why people take their own lives, because in extremists, people think, There is nothing other than me to explain what happens to me. Of course, the reality is much more complicated. I'm not saying that's the truth, but that is the perceived truth. Look, we live in a world that is meritocratic. That word, meritocracy, is on everybody's lips. If you're not take politicians left and right in the United States, all over the world, everybody wants to create a world that is meritocratic. Some people think we've already got there.


What does that word mean? I don't know.


The concept of meritocracy is a world in which people's outcomes are dependent on their merit rather than on who their parents were, some corrupt class in society, the of whatever. So a left-wing politician and a right-wing politician say, We want to make a meritocratic world where your kids will go to where they deserve, where if you work hard, you can get there, and where everyone has a chance to succeed. You know that rhetoric. It's the rhetoric of modern times. Now, it sounds great, and in many ways it's an enormous advance. But again, let's just focus on the psychological toll of that. Because if you really believe in a world in which those who get to the top deserve to get to the top, by implication, you are also positing the existence of a world in which those who are at the bottom deserve to be at the bottom. In other words, a meritocratic worldview turns success and failure from chance to a necessary fate, and that's why it makes the winners quite hard, potentially quite heartless, because they're thinking, Well, I got there on my own. Don't need to thank anybody. Might not need to pay many taxes.


Why do I pay taxes? It's fine. And similarly, those at the bottom are crushed. So we've created this very complicated ideology where there's a hidden toll to living in modern world.


And this has happened within a couple of generations, hasn't it? Because I even think about my mother. I know it's a different country and there's different traditions there, but even in my mother's generation, when she grew up in Africa, if they wanted good fortune, they would take their sheep, their animals, and they would take it to the local witch doctor and basically offer a sacrifice. They'd obviously pray, but they were so in the opinion that their outcomes were determined by a religious god of sorts. Even her moving to the UK and starting businesses here, I think she's moved a little bit away from that thinking to the, as you almost posited, it's almost like the curse of personal responsibility, or at least the pitfalls of personal responsibility, where she now definitely thinks that her outcomes are correlated to her hard work. And it's so interesting, I've never considered the fact that that could be bad for us on a psychological level.


Sure, because we know that there are good sides of it. Of course we do. I'm really pointing out something that is less often spoken about because we know the good sides. Of course, a world in which people take responsibility can be good. But at what moment does it crush the spirit? And talking about your mother and moving away from an agricultural society, a rural society to an urban, modern, individualistic society. In many parts of the world, in the old world, in the pre-modern world, when people met each other for the first time, they would say, Where are you from? Who are your ancestors? Who's your father? Who's your mother? That was people's identity. Nowadays, of course, as you know, what's the first question that anyone asks anyone? What do you do? And according to how you answer that question, people are either really pleased to see you or they gently sideline you and you're left by the peanuts and no one wants to talk to you. We live in a world, this could sound like an odd word, we live in a world of snobs. Now, the word snob is often associated with some old English interest in people with castles or ancient lineage.


I don't mean that. Snobbery is really just any way of judging a human being according to one but only one aspect of their whole identity. So if you meet a cloth snob and you say, My jump is from wherever, they'll go, You can't be a good person because you are so underinvested in your fashion taste. It doesn't matter how pure your heart is or how great your poems are or whatever, you look... Your clothes are wrong. That's a closed snob. Now, the dominant form of snobbery in the modern world is, of course, job snobbery. And that's why the opposite of a snob is your mother. Your mother, as it were, one's mother, the ideal mother. The ideal mother doesn't care how you've performed. She's maybe fictive, caring about who you are. But most people do not care who we are. They care how we have performed. And so we're often told we live in such materialistic society, the world is so materialistic, we're all chasing money. I don't think we're actually chasing money. I think we're chasing the love and respect that money in our society brings. We have connected the possession of material goods with the possession of honor and respect.


But if you rearrange it a different way and you said you could own a plastic token and get love and respect, people would always want the plastic tokens. It's not the material goods we want, it's the emotional rewards, which actually, sometimes we think people are very greedy. All they're doing is shopping for more things and buying fancy cars. But the next time you see a guy driving a Ferrari, don't think, This guy is a greedy person. He's so vulgar and greedy. Just think, this is somebody with a really intense need for love. Often the avid pursuit of material goods is really masking something much more poignant, which is the avid pursuit of love.


And respect. It was for my whole life. I bought all the Louis Vuitton, Range Rover mansion in that chapter of my life where I was really trying to prove something to someone or be accepted by someone, and that's why I got it. And in fact, the more secure I've gotten myself, the more you'll see me every day just wearing all black, no watch, no sports car, and leaning towards utility in the decisions that I make.


That's so fascinating. I think there is a journey. What does I want to say? These goods shouldn't be available to everybody. Of course they can be available to everybody, but the question is, is your need for them coming from a wound or coming from a genuine desire? And when it comes from a wound, it's a problem because it's not going to solve the wound, that's the problem, because the love that you're going to get, it's like fame. I always think a sure sign of being a good parent is that your children have no interest in being famous because fame is trying to satisfy a gap that should ideally be satisfied through more intimate human connections. But we do live in a world which doesn't have much time for that. And so both in the economy of fame and the economy of material goods, we've created a world where people are hugely incentivised to move away from what they really want, which is to be loved, to be seen, to be heard, and into a cortex of material acquisition.


What is love? If we're talking about... Let's talk about romantic love, what is that?


Well, could I just first start by saying we're a bit confused about it? I can't give you an immediate answer, but I want to register that not just me, but the whole of the current world is confused about love. And I think we've been confused for about 200 years. Let's go easy on ourselves here because the way in which we approach love now is a never-before-approached philosophy. For about the last 250 years, we've been loving under the aegis of a philosophy we could call romanticism. And romanticism is a vision of love with very particular assumptions. Let me run through a few of them. There's one soulmate for everybody. You're going to find this soulmate. You're going to find them through slightly mysterious ways, possibly through almost something almost quasi-divine, like you'll feel pulled. You'll meet them at the supermarket, check-out line, the nightclub. Without even knowing too much about them, you will sense that they're your destiny. So you'll feel impelled towards somebody that you don't necessarily know too much of, a force will pull you and you will feel this is the one, and they will be an angel, literally a descended being from another world.


The romatics were very keen on the notion that you didn't have to know someone too well to understand them. Even speaking not very much, the connection would be even deeper. The romatics also thought that love and sex absolutely belong together and that you couldn't have a millimeter of disjunction between the two. Love and sex had sometimes drifted apart in the old world, and that had been sometimes a problem, but it became a tragedy. So adultery moved from a difficulty to a tragedy. That's why all modern novels and films are all about the tragedy of adultery. Look, these are some of the difficulties that the modern world has created. We tend to believe nowadays that love is an emotion that we should feel, never a skill that we should learn. For example, if I said to you, We should probably study love. We should probably go to a school of love. That's not very romantic. Now, every time that someone says that's not very romantic, ding, ding, that's normally a sign of a problem. Most things that don't sound very romantic are a good idea, and most things that are romantic, like marrying in Vegas after you've met someone for five minutes is not so great.


Now, what are we getting wrong? One of the things we're getting wrong is this whole business of instinct. We tend to believe that love will pull us instinctively towards marvelous people that will be correct for us. The old world, people were set up in relationships. You'll marry this person because of this reason. That person goes well with my family, blah, blah. Now, there's nothing to do with you. You're put together with someone. Nowadays, we're nominally free to choose anyone. Hooray, fantastic. Aren't we going to make great choices? No. Why don't we make great choices? Because we're not free. Why are we not free? We need to go to psychotherapists to tell us why we're not free. We're not free to love just anyone. We love in tracks laid down for us by our childhoods. Adult love sits on top of tracks and a script laid down for us in childhood. You might go, What's the problem with that? So what? Well, what's problematic is that many of us had childhoods in which affection was mixed in with more problematic dynamics, that maybe in order to derive love in childhood, we also had to encounter somebody who was in a rage, someone who was violent, someone who was depressed, someone who put us down, someone who preferred another sibling, whatever it was.


And we go into adulthood and we find that we're drawn to love stories that feel familiar because they're echoing some of childhood dynamics, but they don't necessarily, for that matter, lead to happiness. Sometimes we have situations where you set up a friend, let's say, you've got a really good friend and you know another friend, you think those people would really go well together. You set them up on a date and then you call them up afterwards. You say, So how did it go? It must have gone really well. They say, I'm not sure. Maybe something was lacking a little spark. What they're really trying to get at is, they're not going to put it this way, Your friend, this date did not show me signs that they would make me suffer in the way that I need to suffer in order to feel I'm in love. In other words, this relationship threatened to be happy. That's why I had to go away. So we are paradoxical creatures because our past was not necessarily happy. We're not necessarily that happy that our future romantic lives should be happy either. And this is something that... They weren't thinking about that when love was reinvented 250 years ago.


When people say they have daddy issues and things like this, are you saying then that there's often truth in that? Because they had an early experience with a father figure, a male figure in their life that might have left them or might have created an anxious attachment style or something. They then end up pursuing dysfunctional men and relationships because that's the suffering that they associate with love.


Sure. I mean, we repeat what we don't understand. And so long as we're unaware of the stories that we've grown up with, we will enact them in our adult lives. So we're not compelled to do this forever. And look, I think a lot of us have a desire to give the stories of our childhood a different ending. Our father might have been a distant and mean-spirited creature, but also had some good qualities. The dream is to find somebody a bit like that, but to make sure that the story has a good resolution. So it's not merely a desire to repeat, it's a desire to repeat and give a better ending. But frequently we don't get there. I think that... Look, the thing about psychology is we see all around us people doing so-called crazy things. Falling in love with people who are not going to make them happy, sabotaging their careers, not able to open up to people. We think we can step back and go, Why are they doing that stuff? What's going on? Now, one way to look at it, and it's a compassionate way to look at it. A lot of the stuff that looks crazy now once made a lot of sense.


It was once probably a really clever thing to do. If you were growing up, let's say, in an environment in which, let's say, a parent was suicidal. A parent was suicidal, and you shut down your emotions totally and decided you would never trust anyone. Fantastic. That's a fantastically clever thing to do when you're five years old and you've got a suicidal parent. Because that will get you through to the next stage of life. If you open your heart at five and there's a parent who's suicidal, it'll tear you apart. So good for you. You're doing something brilliantly clever. Or imagine somebody who becomes a clown as a child because there's a very sad atmosphere and there's a depression, and all they can have time for is jokes. They're just a manic joker. Brilliant. What a fantastic thing for a kid to work out that they need to be quite a manic joker. But what happens 10 years later, 20 years later, 30 years later, is that what used to be a fantastic defense against an intolerable situation has turned out to more or less ruin people's chances because the person with that difficult father will end up never being able to open their heart to anyone, even a very safe person.


They won't even know their hearts closed, but they will be acting out the same defensive strategy or the person who it was a great idea to be a bit of a joker early on, but now they have no time for anything serious and their friends feel that they're a slightly plastic person, can never connect with them. That's a real toll in the adult world. So very often what we need to do is to say thank you to our younger selves for having devised strategies that really were clever, but at the same time say, Thank you, it's enough. I want to live in a different way. That was a fantastic strategy then. It may no longer be the right way for me to live now.


I was thinking as you were speaking about that, there's two groups of people. I was bouncing through different people that I know to see how it fit with them. I identified in my mind that there's basically two groups of people there, the ones that are aware of their cycle, and whether they've acted to change it or they're just reliving it, who knows? The ones that are totally unaware that they're in this cycle and they just think, Oh, God, my luck. They say phrases like that, Just my luck. How does one increase their awareness of their own cycle? Do you think there's a way?


Yes. So much that can be done. Let's imagine the very simplest exercise. Psychologists have these things called sentence completion tests where you start with a stub of a question and then you end it with an ellipsis of dot, dot, dot. And you say to somebody, Don't think too much. Just finish the sentence. And typical ones are, Men are... Women are... I am... Life... If you give somebody that sheet of paper and say to them, Don't think too much, just write it down. Amazing things bubble up. Men are authoritarian criminals. Wow. Where did that come from? You're carrying, Women are whatever it is, life. I am a nobody who deserves to be stamped. Did you know a minute ago that you have that in you? Not necessarily. In other words, sometimes you need these little levers to shine a light. Now, a thing that really helps, and I'm not for your viewers, many therapists, many psychotherapists are not what they should be, but some are great. If you find yourself with a good psychotherapist, they can also increase your level of self awareness. I think that's what we're talking about, increasing level of self-awareness. The reason is very simple.


There's stuff that we all do. Let's imagine, I don't know, when you're around a man, you think, That person is judging me. Therefore, I'm going to withdraw and not enter into competition with them. I'm around a woman. I think I'm going to have to... I'm going to be treated badly, therefore whatever it is, something from your past is projected onto it. You end up in a therapy room with a man or a woman, and lo and behold, what do you do? You bring out that thing. You bring out that thing that you're doing normally, except this time you're not doing it in the office. You're not doing it in a relationship. You're not doing it in a context where people are busy and have got their own stuff going on and doing their own games. You're doing it with somebody, a trained professional in a quiet room, and they can see, it's like a petri dish. They can see the stuff that you're doing. And so suddenly you'll be saying to your therapist, I know you hate me, and the therapist will be going, I really don't think so, but I'm interested that you have that conviction that you do.


Or someone will be going to the therapist, I need to look after you. I think you're quite tired and you've been doing such great work, I feel I want to look after you. Maybe you'd been doing that all your life and the therapist will be going, You don't need to look after me, but was there someone in your past that you needed to look after and that made you feel guilty? And that has meant that every time you're with somebody, you feel that their needs are more important than your needs. And there's a chance, therefore, to see more clearly than ever before outside of the hubbub of relationships or office life, the stories that you're projecting onto reality to your huge cost.


I'm now aware of my cycle that originates from my childhood. The next step is doing something about it. How do I overpower that hard, wide urge to repeat the cycle that comes from my childhood?


Well, look, Stephen, let's not minimize. That's already an enormous achievement. You know what I mean? If you're there that you have a handle on... Look, we don't need people to be perfect. We don't need to be perfect. At best, we need people to know how they're imperfect and that they can have a chance to warn us of their imperfections in good time before they've done too much damage. There's an enormous difference. I mean, again, take the dating idea. I often say, don't do this to me because we're not on a date. But a great question to ask somebody on a date is, how are you mad? How are you mad? If the person says, I'm not mad, I'm completely sane, run away. Because everybody has folly inside them. We're approaching a measure of everyday tolerable sanity when we've put some flags in the areas of our madness. So total sanity is not a possibility for any human being, but the awareness of where the insanity lies and a little bit of warning and prompt apology after an incident goes a huge, long way. People often say, I'm looking for a partner with a good sense of humor.


No one needs jokes. It's not about jokes. It's really about modesty, about oneself. Somebody who's able to go, I think... I mean, take the other thing. If you meet somebody who thinks they're easy to live with, run away. No one's easy to live with, and someone who thinks they're easy to live with is really trouble. So somebody who can put up their hand and go, You know what? Yeah, I'm pretty tricky to live with. Great. That person is safer. Not necessarily totally safe, but they're safer because they've started on the road to self-awareness. Ultimately, the best we can do in this world is self-awareness, prompt apologies when we slip up.


And a genuine and intention to make progress, I guess. Is that important as well? So me being aware that I have certain habits in my relationship is one thing, but then I think my partner would like to know that some of the destructive cycles I might have, I'm working on them. I'm at least trying to make forward motion.


Yeah, totally. I think one of the most destructive ideas in the modern world is the idea that true love means accepting somebody who they are in all of their good and bad sides. It's a lovely dream. Sometimes when you hear of breakups, they'll go, My ex, they just didn't accept me for who I was. And everyone will go, Oh, yes, God, what a terrible person. Politely, one wants to go, Hang on a minute. Do any of us really deserve to be loved for the whole of who we are? Is that really a fair expectation? Or, as you suggest, isn't it fair to suppose that all of us are works in progress and that there is nothing contrary to the spirit of love in a desire to improve? The ancient Greeks had this right. For the ancient Greeks, Plato saw love as a classroom. Beautiful idea. Love is a classroom in which two people, in a spirit of generosity and kindness, we're not talking about shouting here, we're talking about generosity and kindness. Two people endeavor to help each other to become the best version of themselves, of each other. That love is geared towards progress and working on yourself.


That sounds very odd nowadays. If you went around saying, I've read some Plato, and he's guiding me towards the idea that love is a classroom. Therefore, I'm going to give you a 40-minute lecture on some of your flaws, and then I'd like you to give me a 40-minute lecture on some of my flaws, this would be considered, ding, ding, ding, unromantic. That's not very romantic, is it? It doesn't mean it's a bad idea. As I say, love is a skill to be learnt, not just an emotion to be felt. Some of that means that we might need to go back to school.


I've been thinking more recently that the success of most relationship comes down to this idea of how good you are at conflict resolution, because I've had a previous relationship where we both can take the blame per se. We were just not good at conflict resolution. Then I've had a more recent relationship where we seem to be much better. Not perfect, but much better at conflict resolution, and it makes all the difference.


But I think, Stephen, if you were bad at conflict resolution, it's not just your fault. It's partly the way our society works. Come back to the idea of romanticism. Romanticism gives us this extraordinary idea that love is something that should be felt and communicated without words. The most romantic sentence that often people will say is, I met this person and we didn't even need to speak. We just felt on the same page. Everyone goes, Oh, how romantic. Ding, ding. Danger. Because this leads to a catastrophic outbreak of sulking. What is sulking? What is a sulk? A sulk is a fascinating pattern of behavior where you get very angry with someone because they have not understood you without... But even though you haven't said anything, they've not understood you and you get offended because you think, because you're a romantic person, you think, They can't possibly love me because true love means understanding somebody intuitively, wordlessly, and therefore I'm not going to speak. You're coming back from a party with your partner and they say to you, Is anything wrong, darling? And you go, Of course there is, but you're not going to tell them. Then they start saying, Come on, you can tell me what's wrong.


The sulking person goes, No. This can go on and on and on. We've all been at it sometimes. You go home, you go straight upstairs, you go to the bathroom, you shut the door and then your partner is knocking at the door going, Please, darling, just tell me what's wrong. You go, From behind the door? No. And the reason is that you're a romantic and you believe that your partner should have miraculous, almost alien capacities to look through the bathroom door into your gnarled and wounded soul to understand what the upset is. But of course they can't because they're just human. It takes us a long time to realize that other humans are not mind readers. One of the first things we should always ask is, have I told them this? I know I'm upset, but did I tell them this? And so often the answer is, not quite because we're romantic. And so we have to do that really... I mean, we can accept it's really boring. We've got to use words. We've got to painfully stack up words and go, The reason that I'm getting a little touchy is because... And you've got to explain yourself.


It's not very romantic, but that is normally a sign.


It's a good idea. So honesty. I've struggled at times to be completely honest in my relationships when I felt like the honesty might hurt them. So can we have true love and total honesty?


I believe that the wish to tell someone absolutely everything is both beautiful and ultimately utopian in a problematic way because all of us have within us ambivalences, doubts, unfaithful thoughts, et cetera. And it isn't the work of love to rub your partner constantly up against the most troubling, disturbed sides of your psyche. Now, we're not talking... This is not an advocacy for total Mendacity and lies, but it is an advertisement for editing. We should hope that we don't meet the fullest version of each other all the time. I know it sounds romantic, but sometimes as parents know, is it that great as a parent to tell your child absolutely everything about what's going through you? Or sometimes is there a role for saying, I'm just going to edit myself, not in the name of subterfuge or deceit, but in the name of love that love could be compatible with an editing of certain aspects of your reality.


One of the areas where a lot of editing happens is in the bedroom, in relationships, in sex, in sexless relationships. I was looking through some statistics earlier on because I know that you've talked quite extensively on relationships and sex and sexless relationships. I found this stat that says a 2022 study by Relate to UK-based counseling network found that 26% of people in relationships were having sex less than 10 times per year, and 8% were having no sex at all. This is a stark rise from 2018, where the numbers were quite significantly lower than that. It seems like as a society, we're getting increasingly sexless.


Yeah. The question is, where's the problem? Is the problem in the body or is the problem in the mind? Now, being the guy I am, I'm going to shift us to the mind. I'm sure sometimes there are bodily issues and they deserve attention too. But if I can talk about the mind, why is it that sex is easier at the beginning than in a long-term relationship? One of the leading answers is anger. It's not very easy to have sex or want sex with someone that you're angry with. And in many relationships, there's a lot of stored anger that neither party knows is there. And that anger has come from microincidents of disappointment. Someone didn't quite call when they said they would. Someone didn't laugh when they might have done. Someone didn't show generosity when it might have been required. And these things get stored up, and the result of too much of this is that you don't want someone going anywhere near you. Contempt. Because you're furious. You're essentially furious. But in the way of these things, you don't know you are. You don't know you're furious. Again, the mind is not obvious to itself.


So if you want to have more sex, don't just invest in candles and fancy linen. A quite useful thing to do is to go and have dinner with your partner and say to them, We're both going to ask each other how we've annoyed each other. Because we have annoyed each other, not because we're evil people, but because we're human and we're in a relationship and no relationship can survive more than an hour without a build-up of frustration. The more we can let out that frustration at the dinner table, the more it won't create a blockage in the bedroom. And so the chance to discharge frustration. Often the reason why we don't tell our partners what our frustrations are is that they sound ridiculous. It's like, Hang on, you're upset with me because I use the word really in what you thought placed too much emphasis on the why when I was speaking to your mother. Are you crazy? You are laying yourself open to your partner, pointing to you going, Are you crazy? But I think that we're all in love, very small children, at least a small part of us is. And as we know, small children get upset about really weird, tiny things.


You'll move a button and they start wailing. You go, What's happened? They go, You moved the button. You go, I did? Why does that matter? But for them it matters. Pencil has slightly changed direction. We should learn, we should remember what it felt like to be a child, and we should acknowledge that there remains, even an adult who's very competent in all sorts of areas, a small child who is liable to be getting very upset about small things- Triggered.


Triggered. But because they're an adult, this is the problem. We think an adult can't possibly be having such childish reactions. Again, we need to just cast aside our fears of shame and say, You know what? Yes, an adult can get very upset about tiny things. An adult probably is upset about tiny things, and we're doing ourselves an honor when we can dare to reveal this to our partner, and they can do likewise.


If I'm someone listening to this now and I'm in a relationship where I don't think... Because it's interesting, even when I say I don't think I'm having enough sex, the idea of how much sex is enough sex has probably come from movies, which is a bit of a trap as well. But if I'm in a relationship and we are in a sexless relationship by whatever definition, solution one you presented there is try and resolve the anger, the underlying contempt. Are there anything else that you think is effective ways of solving for that?


Look, I think one useful thing to do is to go, Why does sex matter? What is this thing called sex? Why does it matter? And when people get very upset, I think the answer tends to be that sex is a symbol of something very poignant and very delicate, which is, My partner loves me. The reason why it becomes such an acute issue is that they cannot hold on to the idea that the partner might love them and might not want sex. This is psychologically impossible. Now, it is important to say it is possible. It is possible that your partner both loves you and doesn't want to have sex. There could be other reasons. They're feeling unwell. And then we can ask ourselves, what does sex really aim at? Sex aims at intimacy. Even we'll say in people, the polite language we'll say, they became intimate, which means they had sex. So what we know about sex is that the really exciting thing about sex is not the sex bit, it's the intimate bit. It's the idea that someone is without their guard. Most of the time we approach other people without guards on. And in this very rare and unusual thing we do, we meet another human being in a vulnerable state, and this is such a relief from the normal limitations of life.


And there are other ways of doing this. Sex is not the only way of doing it. By understanding better what sex is, we can also have a chance to get some of what we get in sex in things that are not sex, if that makes sense.


I had Tracy Cox on the podcast and she said something to me which really stuck with me because I hadn't noticed it until she said it, which is this idea I believe she called otherness, which is when your partner almost becomes like a family member or you start seeing them as like a sibling because they are in their sweatpants around you. She made the claim, which I think I've read in your books as well, that in many respects, that's the very opposite of the spice that makes sex so appealing in those early days when it's new and novel and risky. And so she alluded to the fact that love and sex were actually set on two different ends of.


A pole. Right. And again, to come back to my theme, what does a romantic say? A romanticism tells us sex and love belong entirely together. But I think what you're saying and what many of your viewers will know is that the relationship is trickier. And again, let's not torture ourselves about this. Let's get curious and then let's communicate about this. I think that, look, a growing child has a paradox to deal with. And this is what Freud, famously, doesn't matter what you think of Freud, it's a very useful observation, really, that the child experiences love. In the first instance, at the beginning of life, we all experience love at the hands of people who everything's gone right, we will have no sexual connection with. So given the debt that adult love owes to childhood, that sets us up with a problem when we, as adults, start to fall in love with people and start to build up relationships, which is that the more we get cozy with someone, the more we feel like we did a little bit with our parents when things were really cozy, which is oddly why people like going to hotels.


Why do people like going to hotels? To revive a relationship. It's because the furnitures doesn't remember you. The curtains don't remember you. You're allowed to be, for a chosen moment, somebody without history. And it's the history that is making intimacy hard because that history, while it's knitting you together and making you emotionally close is also rendering sexual freedom problematic. And I think it's just we need to go very easy on ourselves for the fact that this happens.


And What do we do about it, though?


Do I need to book a lot of hotel rooms? Do I need to spend a lot of time away from my partner?


I noticed, Stephen, that you're laughing. You're smiling as you say that. I think that's partly the clue. When we come up against the hardest conundrums in life, having the tolerance of a sense of humor, a shared sense of humor. If a couple can turn the sexual challenges from a tragedy into something closer to a comedy, it's an enormous achievement. Think of... Think of teasing, right? There are sides of couples that they find really, really hard. Isn't it wonderful when a couple learns with affection to tease one another? They go, Oh, Stephen. There's that thing that you do. It gives you a little nickname, calls you whatever it is, a little affectionate nickname. That's a wonderful moment because it means that irritation has been sublimated into tender, compassionate understanding for why someone is as difficult as they are. So the best thing we can do with our irritation with our partners is to be able to tease our way out of them. And we may need to do this in troublesome areas like sex. It's an enormous achievement if your partner can go from thinking that you are an idiot to smiling at you and thinking you're a lovable idiot.


We're all, in the end of the day, a lovable idiot. We don't need to believe in God, but if God was watching us from up there on the space station, we are all eight billion lovable idiots. And once we can have that a compassionate relationship to ourselves, that's the beginning of a big pit of the solution.


I often think, I've been in my relationship now for a couple of years, I think, How do I stop my partner getting bored of me? Will they become a date? Sometimes it does cross my mind. Like, is she just going to get bored of me? And also vice versa. You think of being with someone for 40, 50, 60 years. I'm sure some people listening have been with their partners for multi-decades. Is there a risk of us getting bored of our partner and then seeking these the novelty and affairs? And how do we prevent that?


Okay, well, look, here's one suggestion. The thing that becomes very boring in all relationships is when people cease to listen to each other. Now, when you say the word listen, you got to think, Oh, yeah, I know what that means. Hang on. Let's complicate this issue a little bit usefully. Most of us have never been listened to properly. It's not something that normally we know how to do. We know how to speak. There are lessons in how to become a good public speaker. Not very many lessons in how to become a good listener, telling us something. So what is it to listen? Imagine a situation where someone says something to you and rather than you jumping in going, Oh, that reminds me of something happening with my auntie, or, That reminds me of starting to give advice and going, The thing that you need to remember is one, two, three, four, which is normally what we do when people speak. It's to simply hold back, and therapists are good at doing this, and simply do what they call reflective listening. So you say to somebody, I'm really annoyed I've had such a difficult day at work.


This happened, that happened, that happened. That happened. That happened. Then you simply repeat back to them using slightly different words the essence of what they've said. You say, I'm hearing that life is quite difficult for you at the moment at work and that you're coming under pressure from your boss. Try it because the person will immediately feel I'm being hurt. Then they will feel more, they understand more about themselves. Why is it that in the company of some people we feel really interesting and have lots to say, and the company of others we feel a bit bored. We don't have anything to say. We're the same people. It's because we feel we enture it that we're in the presence of a listener. And the best way to listen is literally to not give advice, not give anecdotes, but repeat back to somebody what they've said in slightly different words. I mean, parents, bless them. I've been a parent, we've all been parents. Many of us have been parents. Parents are often quite bad at listening to their children. They think they're listening. I was in a holiday resort a few months ago, and there was this kid.


Little kid, must have been three or four, and he was having a bad day. He was really screaming. The parent, the mother, might have been the mother, someone, was saying, What's wrong? The kid was saying, I hate it here. The whole place smells. It's a poop, and I want to be back home at kindergarten. And the caregiver said, Don't be so silly, darling. We're on holiday. Holidays are fun, and what's more, this hotel has cost a lot of money. You want to go, Okay, I get it. This woman was trying to help. She was trying to calm down this distressed child. Was she listening? Not really. Because basically what the kid was saying is, I'm having a really bad day. Everything feels absolutely disastrous. Help me. We all have a version of those days, and we don't want to be told, Come on, you're living really wonderful times. The sun is shining. There's lots to celebrate. We want someone to go, I hear things are bad for you. I'm hearing things are bad for you. I'm hearing you're not coping very well and you're pretty sad. If you do that, don't rush them, don't give advice, don't give, you will get a great response back.


We can put money on it.


Listening What are the other core components then? Because I really want to close off this topic on love and sexless relationships. What would you say are the core components or the core habits of two people who have a really successful, long-term, enduring sexual and romantic relationship? If we just focus on the sex side of things first, what are those core habits? I guess communications, one that's come through quite loudly.


Look, I'd start a little bit further upstream and go like, Overall, what do these guys need to do? I think overall, they both need to acknowledge that they are frail, fragile, slightly crazy people because, not because they are them, but because they're human and there's no other option for a human being than to be slightly crazy. Nevertheless, against that background, they're attempting to do their best. So that the combination of an acknowledgment of their fallible nature mixed in with a dedication to trying to understand it through broadly therapeutic means. So this is a very crucial thing. The other absolutely crucial thing is an acknowledgment that a lot of what people will be getting up to in relationships will have nothing to do with the person in front of you. That you will be importing from different periods of your life scenarios and assumptions that owe nothing to the here and now and owe quite a lot to mom, dad, caregivers, and other scenarios. The capacity to acknowledge that with grace to say, Okay, I'm sorry. I'm getting confused about who's in front of me. I'm importing into this situation an energy that doesn't belong there.


We all do this. The whole basis of attachment theory, let's remind ourselves, is that your attachment style is governed by your first attachment, the attachment that you had with a parental figure. Therefore you will be, let's say, insecurely preoccupied attached to somebody, not because they deserve that quality of attachment because your early caregiver did. That's what they mandated through their own behavior. But your partner, maybe someone completely different, is someone completely different. So if I can put it this way, getting on top of your projections, we project wildly as human beings, and being able to have at least a sense that the person in front of you may not be entirely who you think they are, and that reality in the here and now may be slightly more innocent. And I think you owe it to yourself. Look, it's so boring. I'm sorry, Stephen, I'm sorry to your listeners. You have to get on top of your childhood. It's so boring to be told this, to be 30, 40, 50, 60, and to be told that you have to get on top of your childhood. My goodness, this is not a nostalgia-fest. The only reason is so you can put the damn thing to bed and never have to think about it again, but it's going to be rattling around unless you have done so.


Think of language. All of us, when we were kids, we were put in an environment where without us doing anything, we learned an entire language with syntax, grammar, complicated vocabulary, et cetera. And this happened while we were doing handstands in the garden, drawing butter cups in the kitchen, et cetera. We absorbed an entire language and we had no idea. The same thing was going on emotionally. We learned an emotional language, not a language about grammar and vocabulary, but a language about trust, a language about self-esteem, a language about who we are, a language about what will happen to us when we trust someone, a language about whether it's safe to go with someone, to be ourselves, et cetera. We learned that whole language, and we have no idea we learned it, just that we had no idea we ever learned our language of birth. It just happened, but it's inside us, no less than the grammatical language. And what we have to do, and it's just as difficult as learning in adulthood, you know how difficult it is, imagine if I said, You learn Finnish now. Now you're going to learn Finnish or next week we're going to go off and we're going to learn Korean.


You'd be like, In a week? Well, it's going to take a long time, isn't it? We're going to have to do this for a long time.


Do you know what? I'd say there's two things I'd reply if you told me to learn Finnish. First one is, This is what I think that's going to take forever. And the second one is, What's the point?


But I'd also say, let's say we're not trying to learn finish, we're trying to learn trust. Let's say we're not trying to learn Korean, we're trying to learn the lesson of vulnerability, safe vulnerability. These are very valuable lessons, very valuable lessons that we need in our relationships.


I say that because I point at the childhood patterns that you're talking about. I think one of the reasons why people don't open up that closet and do the work there is because they don't realize that that is the puppet master dictating their career, relationships, and everything in between. I think step one is like them understanding the impact that that childhood narrative is having today.


And then also realizing this is where language can be a useful metaphor is about time. Because sometimes people say, Okay, so I understand. I listened to podcasts, great guy. Stephen really gets on top of it, listened to many of his podcasts. Problem is, after three podcasts, I'm not healed. And you want to go, Look, how many lessons are finished? Or Korean did you do? Oh, three. Are you fluent? Not quite. I might need another 150. Yes, you.


Need 150 more.


In other words, we need to take it slowly and we need to repeat these things. We were talking about religion earlier. One of the things about religions is they understand that our minds are like sives. Take Islam. Islam wants us to remember their God three, four, five times a day. In many religions, you're on your knees constantly because they know, these religions know that it goes in one ear, it goes out the other. We're not very good at holding on to even the truths that we are most attached to. I think part of the problem with the modern world is we tend to think, I'll just listen to that idea once. I'll just read an interesting book, said something to me once and now I'm going to change my life. You want to go, No. Again, think of the holy books. How many times have you just read the Bible, the Quran, it's a Buddhist text every day? Because we're not very good at holding on even to the things on which our lives depend.


Is there a risk, though, in this healing culture where we're all just healing forever and we're all broken and trying to recover from our early years where someone snatched candy out of our hands or something? I read an article a couple of weeks ago and it said there was a bit of a risk to this long-term, ongoing healing mentality that way.


Look, I sense your frustration and I share it. It would be so nice if we could just get on with life without having to bother with all this stuff. I understand. But I think, Stephen, the thing you have to bear in mind is we are no longer merely trying to survive. We're trying to thrive. The age of survival is behind us. We're not just looking to reach the age of 30 and then collapse into bed and thinking, It's been a fantastic life. I've not been butchered by an enemy. We want to reach 80, 85, and we want not just survival, we want fulfillment. And if we want that, we're going to have to pay attention to things that previous generations didn't. Again, let me use another metaphor. For most of human history, people... Here I am drinking a glass of water. People didn't pay much attention to water. If it looked like there wasn't anything actively floating in it like a frog or something. They think it was clean water. I'd just gulp it back. Through such nonchalance, if I can put it that way, millions of people died. Then towards the end of the 19th century, at about the very same time that Sigmund Freud in Vienna was getting going, helping us to think about certain things in the psyche, various people got very interested in water supply.


And all the main cities, Paris, London, New York, got a complete overhaul of their water supplies because it was suddenly discovered that microscopic organisms could kill hundreds of thousands of people in a glass of water that looked completely clear, you might have enough to kill a city. This is deeply perplexing. You think, Hang on a minute. Just a glass of water must be fine. I don't want to be hard on you, but in that tone of like, Really? Can we be bothered with that old childhood stuff? Why don't we just get on with it? You want to go, Unfortunately, we have to take care because there are microbiotic organisms, as it were, in our lives that are gumbing up our capacities for fulfillment. It's not necessarily they're going to kill us, but they will hamper our capacity to exploit our full potential. And after all, this is what this podcast is about. This is what many people are concerned about, and it's going to require work.


Can we ever truly heal from those things? Or will they always be there in the back room just exerting less power over us?


Look, wonderful German philosopher Schopenhauer, he says that the goal of life is to turn tears into knowledge. Wonderful progress. Tears, what are you going to do with those? They just end up in your pillow. They might end up being things you can learn from. So I think the best we can do is to learn to turn so many of the troubles that afflict us. No life is without affliction. But that moment when we go, You know what? I've learned something from this torment. This was a total nightmare, but I've pulled out of it something about myself, about human nature, about psychology. Then we're really learning. Then we're really on the path to a good life because a good life is not a problematic free life. It's a life in which we found a way of learning from our inevitable pains.


You will never find the right person. I read that sentence and that sounded a little bit negative. I think I read it in your book, You will never find the right person.


Well, I was teasing gently our old friends, the romantics, who tell us that, of course, we will find the right person. And the belief in the right person has led to more rage, more disappointment, more frustration than any other. If you tell people, you will find the right person, and if you build up a model of what it will mean to find the right person, you will be dooming people to disappointment. If, for example, they meet somebody who's really good, in many ways very good, but they've had an argument with them, Well, I'm not supposed to argue with somebody that the right person was supposed to be blissful. So I'm teasing really the concept of rightness. Rightness can include a lot of wrongness. And that's why wonderful English psychoanalyst, Donal Winnicott, who came up with this phrase, A good enough, he applied it to parenthood. He argued that no child needs a perfect parent. Indeed, quite dangerous to have a perfect parent because you never leave home. Quite good to have a parent who causes you few frustration. It'll get you out there. But he argued, No one needs a perfect parent. No one needs a perfect lover.


They need a good enough parent, a good enough lover.


Do you think that people that are in relationship, romantic relationship, should spend time apart? Do you think that's healthy for the stuff we've talked about with sex listeners and stuff? Because I think I tend to get more excited about sex with my partner when she's been away for a while and there's a real novelty to it.


Yes. Look, I think one of the things that distance can do is to remind you that there is no preordained reason why someone should be with you. I mean, it's one of the most miraculous things that anyone should choose to be with anyone because anyone is a quite complicated proposition. And some of the mystery of that can achieve its necessary force after a period of way. Look, it's like being very ill. Imagine being ill for a while, you've not been in the world for a very long, for a while. Suddenly you're feeling better. You go out into the world, you go to the park, and suddenly, Oh, my God, there's this thing called a tree. It's amazing. It's got leaves. There are some bugs crawling all over it. There's this thing called grass. There's a brick wall. You are suddenly like a three-year-old, a three-year-old, full of appreciation and wonder. One of the great challenges of life is how to keep being people who have wonder in their life because habit swallow everything up. Oh, yeah, tree. I know what those are. I know what a tree is like. That's why we need art, for example.


What's the point of art? Small topic. Let's bite that one-off too. What's the point of art? Well, one of the things that happens when you go to one of these places called galleries or museums is, they're full of paintings by people who look at the world as though they've never seen it before. Maybe it's their wife or husband. They look at their wife or husband as though they've never seen them before. And lo and behold, quite an amazing thing. Wow, it's amazing. It's full of tenderness and beauty and compassion and interest. Wow, I could like this person. They look at a tree, they look at a cloud, they look at the grass. Part of what makes children, small children so fascinating, but also frustrating is you suggest a walk to the park. It takes them an hour and a half to go to the park. Why? Because everything's interesting. What have we done with those layers of interest that we also used to possess? We think we know what's going on, but we don't. One of the wonderful things that children can remind us is the foreignness, the true foreignness of a world that we feel we know, we feel we've seen, but we haven't actually looked at.


You say on page 75 of that book that the solution to long-term sexual stagnation is to learn to see our lover as if we had never laid eyes on him or her before. Feels so natural though, that through this process of habituation, everything in our lives yields less joy than it once did. I often fight with that because as things get financially more... As you get more financially free in life, you're able to experience the nice restaurants and the nice things and the nice holidays and the nice planes, all those kinds of things. But with that, the awe and the surprise escapes you.


Absolutely. I think we need to work at it. The Buddhist were onto this wonderful Buddhist scroll from the Middle Ages, medieval scroll, six percimens. Percimen are fruit. It's a bit like an apple, and it's just six percements on a canvas, beautiful rendition. And the idea is that the Buddhist sage is meant to look at those six percements for an hour. The true one could keep going for even a day, just six percements. You might go, Hang on a minute. Can I change the channel, please? Can I look at something else? The capacity to stare intensely at something and draw benefit from it is absolutely something that we lose, especially as life gets more dizzy. The thing to bear in mind is life can ever only be so exciting. It's not by more stimulation that you're ever... If your senses are wrecked, if you're unable to draw benefit from one lemon, having 1,000 lemon or a sports car isn't going to make you more of an appreciator. The goal is to learn to appreciate more of what we've already seen. We talk about gym and exercises and workouts. It's something we need to do. It's literally learning to see and to appreciate is a skill, and you can dial it up or dial it down.


And as I say, one of the good things about works of art is there are records of careful looking by people. They might not be looking at things you're looking at, but it's less about what you're looking at that it's a method of looking that you can learn from.


As you'll know if you've listened to this podcast before, I'm an investor in a company called Heal. I'm on their board and they sponsor this podcast. And I have a very exciting announcement to make. This product called Daily Greens is one of the most highly requested products at Heal, but it's never been sold in the UK before until now. It's often difficult to get all of the greens into our diet that we need to have a healthy gut microbiome and a healthy body. And with Heal's Daily Greens product with one scoop every morning, a very, very delicious scoop, you can get 91 vitamins, minerals and whole-food-sourced nutrients into your diet. The most important point here is I genuinely believe it tastes delicious. It's maybe my favorite Heal product ever for all the reasons I've described. So if you want access to this product, you can sign up right now. The link is in the description below. It launches in the UK in January. Because of the demand, I'm pretty sure it's going to sell out. A Therapeutic Journey, lessons from the School of Life. The Sunday Times bestselling author of the School of Life. I've seen this book everywhere.


I walk into bookshops all the time and I just wish my book had the prominence. It does. I was in a foil the other day and I think you've got some signed copies in there. I picked up one, yeah. Why did you write a book called A Therapeutic Journey? Because I have to say.




Have written-.


Lots and lots. A bit too much.


-a lot of books. I mean, this is not even.


Half of them. No.


There's about 70 of them.


This book, A Therapeutic Journey, it's really following the arc of what one could call mental breakdown or a mental crisis from the moment of its inception, the moment it strikes us through to the moment of recovery. And then I go into lots of byways and lots of digressions, but essentially it's saying, How can we keep our minds safe? How can we help them to heal? What can we do when we are in a mental crisis? It's written in a tone, I hope, of sympathy, of kindness, and also trying to give people a sense of what's happening to me, because very often when there is a breakdown, we don't know what on earth is going on. Yesterday we were happy-go-lucky. Now we can't get out of bed. Yesterday we were able to hold it together. Now everything that comes out of our mouth makes no sense. So I think that it's supposed to be a companion through what might be some of our loneliness hours.


Why do we need this book right now, do you think, in society?


I think because, look, I hope that people will think, Okay, this is written from a place of somebody who probably gets what they're saying and what I'm feeling. I think we need companions through things that probably feel very personal, but are actually, this is the good news, very general. But I think at the School of Life, we see so many people who are going through these things, and the thing that each one thinks is, I'm alone. And the best thing you can say to people is say, No, you're not. And the reason they think they're alone is that it's a paradox of human beings. We only know people from what they choose to tell us, but we know our own minds from introspection. And so there's a massive cognitive gap between self-knowledge and knowledge of others. And in that gap, shame develops. And there's so much shame around mental illness because it's still, as we know, so rarely spoken about. The book aims to rehabilitate, to educate, and to comfort.


This is a book about getting unwell, imagining that we have let everyone down and losing direction and hope. It's also a book about redemption, about regaining the thread, rediscovering meaning, and finding a way back to connection, warmth, and joy. What are the ways in which we're unwell? Increasingly.


Well, it's very hard when your mind is operating well. You almost don't notice what it's doing because it's doing so many things to keep you feeling, we have that word, normal. How do you feel? I feel normal. Yeah, that's my baseline. That's just how I am. It's the result of what we could call it gifts. Because when those gifts are taken away, goodness me, do you notice? So for example, there's something in our mind, in a well functioning mind, that more or less keeps us on our side. There will be so many reasons for all of us to despair of who we are. Why would I be on my side? I've made mistakes, I'm not perfect, et cetera. But most of us want to on a good day, you, Stephen, will go, Look, I'm not perfect, but I'm okay. I can keep going. When you're mentally unwell, that faculty breaks down and suddenly you can't abide your own self, you can't forgive yourself. There are people who unwell who will say, 17 years ago, I said something to someone and I can't forgive myself, and you want to go, That's 17 years ago. It's okay.


And they can't let it go. That's what illness is. Illness is not being able to let go of an argument against yourself because you have turned into your own worst enemy. The other thing that people manage to do in a healthy mind is bracket things so that not all the things that could be in your mind are active in your mind at any point. So you're able to sequence thoughts. So you think, Well, I've got this to do. I'm interviewing this guy now. Tomorrow I'll be in New York. There's also a thing with my granny, and there's also a thing with a friend, et cetera. But those thoughts are sequenced. You're able to line them up in a coherent order. When health breaks down, all of these things come at all angles. There's no order anymore. There's no hierarchy. So something that happened 10 years ago is expressing something's happening right now. Something that's deeply urgent collides with something that by rational means is not that urgent, but it seems as urgent. And so everything coherent breaks down. You can no longer order things. There are voices that start coming in, not friendly voices. All of us have voices in our minds.


Not necessarily... I'm not talking about psychotic voices, but there are voices, voices of encouragement often. You can keep going. Just do it. It's okay. You could dare to take that risk. Often kindly voices that we've incorporated from kind people around us. When mental health breaks down, we can only hear the worst voices. The voices that are telling us, You don't deserve to be here. You've made a mistake and we don't want you here anymore. Better thing would be if you didn't exist, those voices, and those voices don't let up, and then we're in trouble. We need to raise the white flag because things are not well. And sometimes we keep going. We're so good at keeping going that it's terrible. Half the problem is that we keep going so well. We're half dead before we realize there's a problem. And so the ability to go, Hang on, hang on, I can't take it anymore. That is the beginning of knowing how to get help. Because when the mind is in trouble, what it most needs is another mind. It's like calibration. When you've lost the correct calibration, you need somebody else to go, When you go, everyone hates me and it's all terrible and nothing I've done is of any value.


Just have another mind that says, Okay, I know how you feel. Let's think about this. Is that really who you are? Who that is? And then gradually with love. Let's remember, people always get mentally unwell because of love. I don't mean romantic relationships, but all mental unwellness stems somewhere. If you scroll back, there's always a deficit of love. Always. There's always an experience of cruelty in some way that breaks the mind. When people get well, there is also always an experience of love that heals. It could be love, not only romantic love, love from a friend, love from a therapist, love from professionals, but it's essentially an act of love. An act of love saves us, redeemes us.


So the problem, and often the antidote, is love. Or at least the cause and the to do is often love.


Yes. Imaginatively understood, not merely romantic love, and it's broader sense. Because mental breakdown often emerges from a buildup of cruelty, an unbearable cruelty, which makes life unbearable for the person, and they then have to project it outwards. I mean, when illness becomes very severe and you have a psychosis, what can happen is that people become obsessed with the idea that everyone is against them, the CIA is against them, other people are plotting against them. Really, what this is an outgrowth of is an unbearable inner negativity that hasn't found any way of being handled.


You used the word resilience in this book, and I think the word resilience is often misunderstood because we think of resilience as like, tough it up and take it. What is your definition of resilience? Why is that such a prominent word in this book?


Look, I think true resilience should be compatible with things that don't look resilient at all, things that look very desperate, very humble, very broken indeed. So yes, I like you. I'm suspicious of the use of that word resilience as really just meaning a stoic bouncing back from old problems immediately. I think it means a generous understanding of how much madness has a legitimate claim on even a healthy life. Towards the end of the book, I have a little thing I riff on about the seasons. Some of it is understanding that this is normal. This is part of the natural cycle, not railing against it.


Some of what- How does that help?


That it's normal. Sometimes when people have mental troubles, they will have ups and downs. Sometimes people can box themselves in and they'll go, I suffered. Now I'm better again. I'm better. The advice is always, careful, careful. That belief that you're better, the rigid belief, the past is behind me, the darkness is behind me, can itself start to see... That can itself start to seem like a problem because it means that you'll be intolerant towards any regression. Regression belongs to progress, just like dark days belong to good seasons. We need some of that. The natural world has a wonderful way, if we're attuned to it, of telling us about cycles, really what we're talking about cyclicality. Darkness is followed by light. Autumn is followed by winter, is followed by spring. The mind has its own seasons, and the more we can accept the legitimacy of those seasons, the less we'll rail against some of the necessary sliding into darkness, which for many of us is simply going to be unavoidable.


If someone chooses to pick up this book and they get to the final page, what do you hope they'd learnt or taken away from them by getting to the end of this book?


Real sympathy for the complexity of their minds, a real understanding that it's not easy being human, that there is nothing indulgent about working on oneself, as you put it, that this is a boring but alt, very necessary task. Some tools in there about how to do it from the very practical to the more theoretical. There's a practical book about how you can work on the most broken bits of yourself and find a equilibrium. But it's also very deliberately a warm book. It's a book of comfort. I think that something that we often miss, we can get a little too intellectual in this topic, thinking that people are in trouble mentally and just psychologically, that all they need is some ideas. Get some ideas. And yeah, sure, we need ideas. But you know what we also need is a warmth, kindness, friendship in a way. Now you could say, Well, how could a book be a friend? Well, many of my best friends are books, let me tell you. I think it's absolutely in the remit of a book to act as a friend and to say to you very simply, You are not alone.


You said earlier that a good conversationalist, a good friend, a good romantic partner is someone that makes you feel heard and understood. I think that's exactly what you achieve in this book. It is a very difficult thing to do because books can often feel quite exclusive, especially when the author is as smart as you are. But this book does a wonderful job of first and foremost making you realize that the thing you're going through in the way that you are isn't evidence of your inadequacy. It's actually evidence that you are perfectly human and that you are like everybody else. Through that lens, you can offer support and some very practical tips about how to endure or rise from the situation that we all find ourselves in, in the different seasons of life that you describe. That's why it's such an important book and that's why it's done so tremendously well and it's being passed around by so many people. Alan, thank you so much for your time today and thank you for all your wisdom. You're a remarkable talker. I was watching you and I was just thinking, Fucking hell. You've got a wonderful way to hold people with the way that you articulate yourself that is so unbelievably powerful.


Speaking and the art of speaking is such an important, incredible talent to have, and you have that in such a wondrous way. It's so soothing and engaging and intelligent, and there's a real poetry to the way that you frame things, which I think is just a superpower that I would love to have more of. You do, Stephen. No, but not like you have it. It was wonderful just to learn from the way that you speak. Thank you. We have a closing tradition on this podcast where the last guest leaves a question for the next guest not knowing who they're leaving it for. The question that's been left for you is... Interesting. What was the last thought to keep you awake at night?


The last thought to keep me awake at night? Well, last night I was quite worried about coming here, so I was kept up. But I'm often kept up. I do- Why? I do sleep in quite a fragile way. I think that one of the ways of thinking about it is that there are thoughts that happen in the middle of the night that can't happen at any other time. There are actually some quite important thoughts, often they're to do with things that you didn't even know you were concerned about, but the night teaches you. There is the school of night. I used to be very impatient, insomniac. I used to wake up and think, Oh, my goodness, I can't believe that I'm still awake. How annoying, etc. Now I'm thinking, Maybe there's something to learn here. Maybe my mind is trying to teach me something. It might not be anything totally earth-shattering. It might not sound completely earth-shattering, but something might just be like, Oh, I really love this thing, or, I think I should really steer away from that, or, This is really beautiful, or whatever it is, something, a kindacknowledgment of the night. I've become not a better sleeper, but something perhaps even more important, a better insomniac.


Why are you staying up about coming here? We're all friendly people. You are.


I know you are. I think we've spoke a lot about expectation, haven't we? If your podcast had one listener and we were just going down to the pub, that'd be so lovely. If you call me up and said, Hannah, we're canceling the show, but we're just going to go to the pub. I would have slept like a baby.


Well, you've certainly exceeded all my expectations, and it's a real honor and a privilege that you chose to come. So thank you so much for that. Your wisdom, I'm sure, has impacted countless people, not just for the last couple of decades, but even this conversation that I guess you'll never get to see. On behalf of them, thank you so much.


Thanks, Stephen.


In 2023, I launched my very own private equity fund called Flight Fund. Since then, we've invested in some of the most promising companies in the world. My objective is to make this the best performing fund in Europe with a focus on high-growth companies that I believe will be the next European unicorns. The current investors in the fund who have joined me on this journey are some of Europe's most successful and innovative entrepreneurs. I'm excited to announce that today, as a founder of a company, you can pitch your company to us. Or if you are an investor, you can also now apply to invest with us. Head to flightfund. Com to gain an understanding of the fund's mission, the remarkable companies we proudly support, and to get in touch with me and my team. Legal disclaimer, Flight Fund is regulated by the FCA, so please remember that investing in the fund is for sophisticated investors only. Don't invest unless you're prepared to lose all of the money you invest. This is a high risk investment and you are unlikely to be protected if something goes wrong. There is no guarantee that the investment objectives will be achieved.


As with all private and equity investments, all of the investment capital is at risk. This communication is for information purposes only and should not be taken as investment advice or a financial promotion. Do you need a podcast to listen to next? We've discovered that people who liked this episode also tend to absolutely love another recent episode we've done. I've linked that episode in the description below. I know you'll enjoy it.