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The human animal is amazing at making plans, at modifying its brain if it wants to, but the human brain and the human animal are also dreadfully bad at doing what's best for us. What I think what it comes down to is the fact that our reward systems are not designed for things that are just good for us, they are designed for things that optimize the progression of our species. But they're also they will grab on to and ratchet into any behavior that makes us feel good.


And so the human brain is really not optimized for making best choices. Right. But I think we need to get comfortable as a culture in trying to understand our species and how we work, that the early stages of hard work and focus are going to feel like agitation, stress and confusion, because that's the norepinephrine and adrenaline system kicking in. None of us would expect to walk into the gym and do our PR lift or a performer go do something without warming up.


The brain also needs to warm up and start to hone in which circuits are going to be active. And it's unreasonable for us to think, Oh, I've got an hour. I want to plop down and write beautifully for an hour of my best work. We need to accept that there's a period of agitation and stress that accompanies the dropping into these highly concentrated states. Our feelings and our thoughts and our memories and all that is very complicated. But behaviors are very concrete and they are the control panel for the rest of it.


I don't want to relegate feelings. Feelings are extremely important. I don't want to relegate perception. They're extremely important. But when it comes to wanting to shift the way that you function to get better or to perform better and to show up better or to move away from things like addictive behaviors, it's absolutely foolish for any of us, me included, to think that we can do that by changing our thoughts. First, it's behavior. First, thoughts, feelings and perceptions follow.


That's Dr. Andrew Huberman and this is the retro podcast. The Rich Roll podcast made people welcome to the show. Today's episode is brought to you by Calm, the app designed to help you ease stress and get the best sleep of your life.


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So we all know the old saying you can't teach an old dog new tricks that past the age of something like 25 that we're all essentially set in our ways. So throw out the idea of learning anything new, a new language, a skill, a thought pattern. It is not happening. But what if I told you that that's simply not true? What if I told you that you have the power to actually change your brain and reprogram your perception irrespective of age?


Well, this is the life's work of Stanford neuroscientist Dr Andrew Huberman and just one of the many, many fascinating topics explored in today's episode as an appetizer to the forthcoming meal. We're going to start today by checking in with my friend Karsch, Ombud Carr, the ridiculously talented musician, rapper, actor, basically expert of all things linguistically dexterous that you might recall from Episode 373 about two years ago. The occasion is the premiere of We Are Freestyle Love Supreme, which is this extraordinary documentary shot over the course of something like fifteen years.


And it's a really moving portrait of a very talented group of young artists of which you speak as a member alongside Lin Manuel Miranda that began in this bookstore basement. And over time we kind of see the honing of this incredible talent that would ultimately go on to create in the Heights and Hamilton and Freestyle Love Supreme, which just ended a run on Broadway. It's an incredible story. It's a beautiful movie. I strongly urge all of you guys to check it out.


It's streaming on Hulu. Oute Karsch told some of the story in our original podcast.


And I personally was privileged to see Freestyle Love Supreme on Broadway last November. It's an experience I will never forget, and I really just wanted to help amplify this movie and this incredible story.


So I asked you to drop in and share a few thoughts. Well, it's good to hear your voice. I love you, man, I really miss everybody. It's been a weird time. And even though I haven't seen you in a while, I still feel very connected to you and everything that's going on in your life right now. It's been an unbelievable journey. We were just talking before recording that when you did the podcast, that was almost exactly two years ago, EPSO 373.


And so much has happened in your life.


When we sat down, you were getting ready to go to New Zealand to film Moulin, and you couldn't even publicly announce that on the podcast.


But you went there.


You were there for how many months? Six months in New Zealand. Six months shooting in New Zealand for Moulin. Incredible experience and met my now wife. You know, I've gotten married since we last chatted. I have a five year old stepdaughter. I have a three month old son who was born in our bedroom during the pandemic, which was an astounding thing to witness. And you and I had spoken. You had come to the Britney runs a marathon premiere.


Right. But we were talking about parenthood and I was asking you about it. And it's been a trip man to have children during this time, young children has been wild. And, you know, it's crazy. As I went to New Zealand, I learned how to ride a horse. I did stunt training. I was, you know, in a lead in the movie. And I ended up I don't know if I told you this. I couldn't tell you that I was in Mulan then.


But now I can tell you which is so funny. I got cut out of the movie. I'm totally cut out of it. So I got.


What is the story behind that? I mean, you're there for six months shooting and then you you end up on the cutting room floor.


It's unbelievable. Yeah.


I mean, I don't know, they just a my role was meant to be comic relief. And I think that when they saw the final cut of the movie, they really wanted to lean into a more epic Lord of the Rings type of energy. And I think that the comic relief had to go right. It was a tonal thing. And Niki Caro, the director, and Jason Lee, the producer, they were super loving and gracious and Disney as well.


Shaun Bailey over there. They've taken steps to sort of ensure that at least on the business end of things, we're still taking care of, which they didn't have to do, and which is helpful. And I greatly appreciate I mean, it hurt at the time, but I just sort of also told you all the things that I gained from the experience. So when you look at the totality of it, it's like, who am I to really complain?


You know, you met your wife, you inherited a stepdaughter. You now have baby boy Boomi you've been sober for. You're coming up on six.


Yeah. Yeah. Coming up on six. Yeah. And then you banged out a ton of movies and then you're on Broadway all in a span of two years. Like that's a sober arc if I've ever heard one, my friend.


And that speaks to like this incredible show. So I had this opportunity to be in New York. It's like I'm coming to see your show. You made sure that you got a couple of seats for me. I took my literary agent. And I have to say, and I've told you this in person before, that is the most entertained I've ever been in a theatrical production.


It was so divine, like the whole experience of witnessing you, this friend of mine, perform this passion that is inside of you.


And to do it with this tribe of brothers that you love and to create something out of whole cloth in front of this audience on Broadway.


I mean, it was it was a very memorable experience for me. I'd never seen anything like that before. And just the sheer utter genius and joy of watching, you know, all of you guys up there doing what you do, like sharing this incredible gift that's so difficult for me to even comprehend, was an unbelievable experience. And then last night, Julie and I watched the movie, which is why we're talking now, Freestyle Love Supreme documentary that just premiered on Hulu.


Yesterday was the first day that it went up, right? Yes. And it was I mean, I texted you it brought me to tears like it was such a moving and powerful experience watching the arc of, you know, what you guys have created dating all the way back to when everybody was just kids. And what I took away from it was that this is really like a love story. It's a story about friendship. It's like this beautiful meditation on creativity and fearlessness and being in the moment and what it means to be an artist devoted to authenticity and just the purity of the expression in this particular art form.


I'm. So glad that that's what you got from it. I mean, I can't really expound upon it more. All I can do is say, as somebody who looks up to you and who really deeply respects you and what you do, just thank you. I really appreciate your support. And, you know, being able to be here and talk about it with you is it's a real gift and privilege. So thanks for watching it. I really appreciate it.


I mean, it's an incredible movie, you know, to everybody who's listening.


You've got to watch this. I immediately texted like a bunch of friends and I was like, stop what you're doing. You've got to see this movie. Another thing that was really impactful for me was, you know, we all know who Lynn is and like this incredible, you know, what he has created and all of that.


But what I was struck by was just how little has changed. Like he's doing it and all of you guys together are doing this for really just the joy of it, like the fact that these guys, when they were doing in the Heights after the show would go and do Freestyle Love Supreme. And it's like, yeah, we have to keep doing this. We got to flex this muscle. Like, this is what brings us the most joy. And even seeing everybody at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I think that was like in 2005 or 2007 or something like that.


And they're like looking at a bad review.


They're reading a bad review and like, nobody cares because it's not about that. Right.


It's about them being authentically who they are and trying to just get to the core of the truth of that expression.


Yeah. And the journey has been so difficult in terms of this group. I mean, it's it's full of joy. And, you know, we stayed true to the art, but I guess on the outside, it's like there have been so many obstacles along the way. And I think Hamilton in the Heights is, you know, a huge sort of motivator for why we all got back on Broadway together, why we had the opportunity to get on Broadway together.


Right. But the fact is, is like it's grounded in a real sense of like. Well, we have. Banged our head against the wall a lot to get to this point and the fact that nobody fell off, nobody quit, we all stayed together, nobody got jealous. There was I mean, there were some discrepancies or some disagreements. The energy shifted. We grew up. We grew old, but we've we've stayed strong. And we all still have an FLW tattoo on our body, which is true.


So that's pretty amazing. We've all been branded with the love. Right. And it's cool. It's really it's been interesting, the documentary for me, because, you know, on your podcast two years ago was the first time that I had ever talked about this experience with Hamilton and my sobriety at that time. And that was a huge platform for me and still is. You know, I told you I was in New Zealand and somebody at the tower was like, hey, I know you.


I heard you on the podcast last week. And I was like, I'm across literally across the world and people are following you and as a result, following me in my story. But having sort of the journey of sobriety be told in the movie has been interesting because a lot of people have reached out with their own stories, as I'm sure you're used to this. I'm not really used to it yet, but people being like it's my first day sober.


I've got 13 years my husband this like your journey, that and. It's been interesting to navigate it because the journey of sobriety is so subjective, it's never finished. It's not a goal. It's an experience and I feel uncomfortable celebrating it, if that makes sense.


Well, it's delicate and it's not for public consumption. And so when you are outwardly facing about it, like you now are, there's this sense that perhaps you're putting it in jeopardy or peril by sharing it. And I know what that feels like. There is a discomfort with that, because also you don't want to be looked at as the paragon of sobriety or somebody who has it all figured out, because this is a constantly evolving thing that requires, you know, tenacious attention in order to maintain.


So when that spotlight gets put in your direction and people are looking to you for perhaps answers, that's not the dynamic that is optimal for you maintaining that sobriety.


Right. And that is the fear. The fear is like in sharing about it, it will somehow be lost or the potency or the effectiveness of my daily routines will be diminished. And there's also even a bigger fear. And you probably run into this. You used the word paragon, you know, sobriety being seen as a success story when it's really just a survival story. And it's not like we magically become incredible. I don't know superstar individuals like I have a skill set and I have a heart and a spirit and a soul, and I have a dedication and commitment to my family, my children, my wife.


Those things are very special to me. And as you know, like they're ever evolving. You know, we're like in the documentary, I'm four years sober and in the year between four and five has been humongous. The amount of change and growth and just new sense of responsibility I have. So like you're way farther along on this path than I am. So it's pretty appropriate that I get to talk about this with you. And I hopped on the Marc Maron podcast and talking about it with him as well was really helpful.


But like but yeah, I mean, I don't know how you navigate it because you're like a role model. So like hundreds of thousands of people. And I can imagine sometimes it can be difficult to stay centered in that amongst even though the noise is all praise, it can still be quite difficult, I imagine. Right.


Well, I think you always have to come back to grounding it and just your personal experience.


And, you know, people are always like, oh, you overcame addiction. Like now you're this other. And it's like, no, I continue to attempt to overcome it. Like, this is an ongoing thing.


Like I'm always bringing it back to that to disabuse people of this idea that it's something that lives only in a past timeline because it's very much part of my present timeline.


Yeah, exactly. The idea of, like, you climbed Everest, you licked it. It's not like a mountain you climb to the top of. It's like a desert. It's a flat line, and you just got to keep moving towards the horizon. That's just it. There's nothing to overcome, as it were, you know what I mean?


Well, that speaks directly to a big theme in the documentary. I mean, the whole movie opens up with Lynn basically articulating that very sentiment by saying this is a story about friendship and, you know, life is not linear. And Orson Welles said it best when he said, you know, if you want a happy ending, it depends on when you decide to end the story. Like this is a constantly evolving thing, whether it's your sobriety or the relationship that you have with these guys in this particular art form whereby you guys express yourself.


Yeah, and it's cool, man. I started talking about the first time I ever rapped about being sober on stage is captured in the documentary. And the reason that I did it, I had always shied away from it because it's very personal and precious to me. But Jelly Donut, Andrew Bancroft, who's a member of the group, his father, who has since passed away, he was sober for 40 years and I knew that. And he came to the show and I saw him like in the sixth row or whatever it was.


And I was just sort of inspired by him to be honest and share the truth during the song that we do called True. And if you watch the documentary, you can see the exact moment that I'm talking about right now. And it was amazing because, like, he passed away a couple of months ago and before he did, he got me on the phone and we talked for a little while, which was a kind of difficult for him. And he sent me his 40 year sobriety coin, like sort of a gift to say goodbye.


And he told me that when I hit 40, I should give it away to someone else. And he said this in a letter and sort of that story that you don't get in the documentary is sort of, I think, encompasses the love and affection, deep gratitude and connection that that our group has that I think is captured in many other ways in the documentary.


Yeah, that's really beautiful. I mean, I was glad that you had a moment in the documentary where you addressed this and you talked about your sobriety and how the drinking and using impacted your relationship with these guys in your career trajectory, which is what we explored in depth when you did the podcast two years ago.


But I wasn't sure whether that was going to be part of the movie. Like I thought, this is cautious, private thing. You know, maybe this isn't going to make it into this narrative, but I was really glad to see it's not like you linger on that subject matter, but it is addressed.


Yeah, it's pretty wild to see that. But it's so cool, man. And we've stuck together a long time. The Broadway run was a huge gift. And, you know, there's a documentary called Mucho Amore about Walter Mercato and this We are Freestyle Love Supreme. There's, you know, John Lewis who just passed away, rest in Peace. He's got a documentary on him called Good Trouble. And in a time that's really challenging right now, these little documentaries are sort of popping up that are not substanceless, but they're full of love and compassion and striving for the truth is sort of at the core of all of them.


And people are really responding to them because I think they're sort of speaking to our better angels. And I'm sort of blessed and just really grateful to be a part of it 100 percent. I mean, I think that it's impossible to watch the movie and not feel inspired to cultivate your creative voice. And it also speaks to possibility, like what can happen when you just devote yourself to something that you love dearly and you're resistant from ever abandoning it.


Like it's just a I think, you know the movie.


If there's one sort of blind spot, I'm not sure it really tracks enough of just how difficult all of this was. Like, there's a lot of success that's portrayed and you go down a couple tangents to better understand some of the difficulties. But all of this, you know, evolved over a very long time by a group of people who just were dedicated to their craft and were doing something that they loved.


It started very humbly in this bookstore basement. And the fact that, you know, now the art that you guys create is enjoyed by people all over the world and is celebrated so broadly is you know, it's just it's it's incredibly inspiring and thanks.


Which I really appreciate it. And you're right. I feel the same way. I when they asked us for notes, the main note I gave was like, can you please let people know how hard this was?




Well, Lynn does say, you know, he's like I you know, I knew that Hamilton was my best work. And I also knew that it was going to be a really long road, like it was still very far away from what he wanted it to be. And, you know, I think that process took seven years, right?


Yeah. I remember when we started sort of hearing snippets of it and getting a sense of what was going on. And when he was like, I got something, I got something. And then three years later, it'd be like, where is it?


Like, I, you know, it's coming, but. Right, you know, without freestyle love supreme for all of us like James Monroe doesn't win a Tony for playing the genie in Aladdin. Like Shockwave doesn't end up being an educator of children on the electric company like Anthony when it's reality doesn't start speechless, where he goes into Google and goes into corporations and teaches interpersonal relationships using improv like Tommy and Lynn. There's no in the Heights there's no Hamilton like I don't get pitch perfect because I'm not rapping like I don't get on The Mindy Project because I'm not drawing from the source.


So like, Bill Sherman doesn't do Sesame Street, which then, you know, has molded the minds musically of a generation of children. Like, you know, we are all indebted to one another for the sort of the sauce that we've kept pure in order to come back to and refill when we need it.


Yeah, it all goes back to that basement. You know, the purity of that experience was the laboratory from which all of these other gifts emerged and the fact that all of you continue to appreciate that and take care to protect that and to continue to express that speaks to this shared value that you guys all have, like this reverence for not.


Just the art form, but the genesis that created the engine that is given all of you, you know, flight and careers and lives that have extended beyond those humble beginnings, yet we all have fairly middling to OK credit now, which is great.


Well, I love the movie. I just wanted to have you on. I wanted to hear a little bit more about it. I love it. I think everybody should check it out immediately. If we are freestyle love supreme on Hulu right now. Streaming in your homes. Yep. Thanks, man. What else are you what? You have stuff that's coming out soon.


I think the main thing I would love for people to be able to check out if they have time is my music. You can search it. Khashan Bushcare on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon music, whatever you use, it's available. And I'm coming out with new music pretty much every month, every two months. So all the time. Yeah, it's sort of my the thing that I can sort of contribute to both myself artistically and I guess the world creatively.


So if you have the time, a few minutes here and there, feel free to listen while you're doing the dishes or vacuuming or, you know, hopefully staying safe and enjoying life.


Thank you, brother. I love you. Thanks, man. I love you, bro.


Thank you so much for having me. Well, I love that man, T.K. is a gift.


OK. Dr. Huberman, a neuroscientist and tenured professor in the Department of Neurobiology at Stanford University School of Medicine. Andrew specializes in something called neuroplasticity, which is basically the brain's ability to reorganize and repair itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. His groundbreaking work in the Human Lab at Stanford has been featured in Science magazine, Discover magazine, Scientific American Time and The New York Times, to name just a few.


This is an incredible conversation about many things. Neuroplasticity, of course, the brain's incredible ability to modify itself based on experience and how we can all use it to our advantage to shift our thought patterns, enhance focus and improve sleep. It's also a conversation about his research in self motivation and how we can hijack our dopamine systems and optimize stress to move forward in difficult situations. It's about the inner workings of our nervous systems, leveraging our physical bodies, our diaphragms and visual systems to access certain states of mind, which is really fascinating.


And it's also about Dr. Huberman's personal transformation and its very unlikely path to becoming the celebrated scientist he is today. But more than anything.


This is really a conversation about simply how to better self regulate ourselves as animals.


And I think this conversation is really important right now because as a society, we have become literally biochemically addicted to many things, including entrenched all or nothing, thinking and myopic perceptions of life. Simply put, emotions cloud our judgment, and it's vital that our society learns to understand the powerful role. Cognitive bias and dopamine and adrenaline play in affirming our worldviews and ultimately shutting us down to the opinions and experiences of others. Andrew teaches us that to shift the way that you function, changing your behaviours is the first step.


I interpret this as simply the science that backs up my favorite mantra. Mood follows action. I'm super impressed by Andrew, his story, the work that he is doing, and very grateful for the practical tools that he provides all of us with today. My hope is that you use them to better your experience of life and expand your world view. So here we go. This is me and Dr. Andrew Huberman.


First of all, thanks for doing this, I appreciate you coming out.


Yeah, my pleasure. Long time coming. I'm glad we're doing it in person, like, remotely.


And I think what I want to do is start with your origin story because your path is very unlikely, your your path to becoming a scientist. And I think it actually also kind of contextualizes some of the things that I want to talk about with you today. So maybe start there.


Sure. So on the one hand, you know, maybe I was fated to become a scientist. I guess the the two things that are relevant there are I always loved animals and I've always been obsessed with animal behavior.


I just could watch Cousteau shows growing up, you know, underwater life or animals, hunting animals, doing anything is just so fascinating to me because I'm I think even at a really young age, I've always just been intrigued in sort of what drives different animals to behave in the way they do and how body form matches to I don't know what it was, but brains and how that all works. So I've always been obsessed with animals. And then my dad's a scientist, so he's a physicist and was really early in chaos theory.


And so growing up in our home, you know, we had scientists over for dinner and graduate students would come over for barbecues and things like that. A Stanford professor, he he was at Stanford. He was mostly at Xerox PARC, which is kind of famous, if you read the Steve Jobs book, is for the development of the GUI interface, the graphical user interface and sort of early days of the computer. So he had a lab there in the lab and applied physics at Stanford and something called Symbolic Systems, which is a Stanford degree in kind of ecology and computation, that kind of thing.


So I grew up in this family where science was very prominent and we had lots of discussions in our home that I would overhear and I didn't understand about physics. And we'd spend summers at the Aspen Center for Physics, which was like old times. Yeah. So, you know, and we were and to be clear, you know, you hear the word Aspen, you know, we were a middle class family, but they have this Aspen Center for Physics.


So the Feynman Richard Feynman was there. Murray Gell-Mann, like all these luminaries of physics, Peter Krauss and my dad was really good at telling me the stories about these guys. And then I'd always want to meet them. And it was mostly guys back then. There weren't many women in physics. So I you know, I was kind of immersed in science from a young age. But right about age 13, my parents split up and he moved overseas.


moved to Denmark. And my mom was really struggling with the breakup and I wasn't in contact with him anymore. So I had this really unusual childhood where, you know, we talk about sports, we talked about science, and I had this close relationship with science and the people around science. But then all of a sudden the structure around family like it... Instead of dinners together every night. It was just like me and my mom and I was an adolescent.


I was hitting puberty. So, you know, there was bound to be some shifts in my world landscape and internal landscape anyway. But basically what happened was I stopped really paying attention to school and I got really heavily into skateboarding and kind of punk rock music. And I found my pack or my community through like a pack and community of kids that also just were kind of parentless. So this was like late 80s. Early 90s.




And so at a pretty young age, I started taking I grew up in Palo Alto. I was actually born at Stanford Hospital and started taking the 7F bus up to San Francisco and hanging around Embarcadero for the skateboarders out there this is the now famous EMB crowd. So this was the the birth of a huge movement of skateboarders that became professionals like. So you'd see the young Danny Way would come through town and you had Rob Dyadic, I remember when he came through.


And so so all these names that eventually became popular during the kind of X Games era in the but at that time it was really underground and so is this pack of maybe 100 guys. And it was run like a little city and it was chaos. It was like there was fights and there was drinking and there was lawlessness. There was also a lot of amazing skateboarding. Yeah. And there are a lot of amazing people. And there were some older guys, like one in particular, a very famous skateboarder.


This kid, Mike Carroll, his older brother, was kind of like the older brother to everybody, kind of kept us all in check. So it had its own unique organization. And it's actually interesting because the same thing was happening at that time in Washington Square Park in New York and in Love Park in Philadelphia. There were all these like communities of kids that were basically parentless. And so in that time, I saw some interesting things. First of all, I learned what it was to be parentless growing up in Palo Alto.


It was like soccer games and AYSO and, you know, swim, swim club. And all of a sudden I realized, you know, I don't have to be home at any particular time or, you know, none of these kids are going to school. And so we all it was kind of a big group of truants. And it was interesting because it gave me a perspective that I had never had in Palo Alto and I was drifting further and further away.


From any kind of academic rigor, right, I think I would go to school every once in a while.


What's mom doing to she have any idea that you're going up to the city every day?


So she was totally checked out? Well, you know, I think she was just devastated by a bunch of things that were happening and she lapsed into a pretty serious depression. And then in that community, what was interesting is I started seeing that, you know, some guys were clearly fated to becoming professional skateboarders. They were really good at it. I just want to say for full disclosure, I was not particularly good. I kept getting injured. I just I was not fated to be, you know, exceptional or very good at it. But I loved the camaraderie and I loved the community. But I also noticed that, you know, some people were drinking all day and other people got in the hard drugs and people started to you know, some of the the dysfunction really started to show out.


Yeah - the fracture...


Yeah. The fracture. Exactly. And so I started seeing that a lot, lot more violence. You know, people started getting their girlfriends pregnant. They needed money to support those kids. You know, it started becoming apparent to me that there was a lot of dysfunction as well as a lot of incredible people in that community. And so about that time, I got a girlfriend. And the other thing was I got removed from high school.


So I went to kind of the famed infamous high school in Palo Alto, Gunn High School.


Ah, you went to Gunn...


Yeah, I went to Gunn, which is famous because it's the one of the most academically rigorous schools in the country, maybe the planet, people moved to the area just to send their kids there. But it also has this very complicated reputation as a high suicide rate of any school in the country. The New York Times has written about this.


So, you know, I would come to school every once in a while, but I could tell you far more about the kerbs in the front of the Gunn high school parking lot than I could about anything that I learned it got. Yeah.


So I guess you say you were removed. I mean, you got... You were expelled.


No, basically, they just said you need to either start coming to school or, you know, or you're done. So I got shifted to another high school and that was same story. It just was it was a mess. It just fell apart. And so at one point I was brought in... I have a kind of vague recollection of this, but I was brought in to have a discussion with a school counselor... And I don't think I've ever told this story before... And there was someone sitting in the corner. This guy was sitting in the corner and he didn't introduce himself. And pretty soon I realized I was like, I think they're going to take me away. Like I started realize because they realized my mom wasn't really able to control me. It wasn't really in a place to support me at that time. And so and that's what they did. They took me away.


They took me to a place up the peninsula, which was not a jail and it wasn't a hospital. It was just sort of a place where they put kids that were...


Like some kind of juvie warehousing situation?


Yeah, a lot of psychologists, a lot a lot of locks on doors, a lot of lot of kids that there were twelve of us in there at any one time. It was locked down. And the first night there, I remember I had a roommate who was like, really the cutting on himself, that kind of thing. And he told me he's like, look, if you just do what they say here, you'll be out of here in like a month.


And if you don't, you're going to be here a very long time. And I remember being pretty frightened for the first time. And at that point I was like, oh, my goodness. Like, this is bad, you know, like this is bad. I'm a long, long way...


It's just so hard for me to imagine, you know, given, you know, who you are and what you do.


I know. And, you know, and it was literally like the kind of one phone call a day kind of thing. So actually, I called I was skateboarding for a company in San Francisco. I think they put me on out of sympathy. And I called this guy up and I said, look, you know, they lock me up. I don't know what to do. Can you help me in here? And I'll never forget. I want to say his name because you're the most normal guy I know.


Well, he's like the least likely of that crowd, for that to happen.


Exactly . So in any event, I was permitted to go back to school eventually provided that I went to therapy.


And so I started going to weekly therapy, which in the early 90s was kind of a weird thing. You wouldn't admit it to your friends, but... so we'd skateboard around Stanford campus. I was doing my thing and then twice a week I would go in and see this, this therapist. He's a remarkable guy because a) he had deep training in the mind. Right. And we started talking about what was going on. And he really picked up on the fact that there was essentially no structure, no home life for me, but that I had a strong drive, and I was really interested in learning. I mean, I was I was I was enthusiastic and motivated enough to, you know, skateboard as hard as I could, even though I wasn't going to go anywhere with it. So at that point and the fact that I had a girlfriend, I started looking for something that I could do. And I started at one point I thought I joined the fire service because it seemed like the camaraderie was good at that point.


I started strengthening my body a bit because I didn't want to keep getting hurt. So I started running. I started lifting weights. A football coach at Gunn actually turned me on to fitness. It's actually an interesting guy. He wrote the script. That movie, Mr. Mom, that mighty God, yeah, because his wife bet him couldn't do what what she could do, which was stay home with the kids and he was this big, strong football coach and say he made her bet and and he lost.


And so he wrote that script. Michael Keaton played the. Yeah. So he taught me. He was like, look, you know, you can't even do a pull up. You need to start doing your pull ups and you start running, you know, and and he said the fire service might be good for you. So so I was spinning out, but there were people that were willing to kind of, you know, point me in the right direction.


So what ended up happening was my high school girlfriend went off to college and I didn't you know, I didn't know what I was going to do. So I actually went in and I lived in the parking lot outside her dormitory. I just wanted to be near her. She was my family that at that point.


The college locally or...?


She was at UC Santa Barbara.


So you just you drove down?


I just drove down and camped out in the parking lot and and and I was starting to get into some martial arts and Thai boxing then. So I think I was teaching some Thai boxing self-defense stuff on campus and doing this kind of thing. And by the end of that year, I realized that I should probably apply to college. So I applied to UCSB. And somehow I got in. Lord knows how I got in, I did because I did eventually graduate high school, barely got in, and then after a year, I just completely flailed it.


You know, I wasn't going to class. I was getting into fights. A lot of that kind of kind of mischief and kind of wildness was still in me. And what ended up happening was I got into a physical altercation on July 4th, 1994, with like a bunch of guys. And at the end of that, I walked back to the place I was staying. And of course, I wasn't paying rent because I had learned in those years, like, you can just squat in an empty house.


You know, it's Isla Vista, California, you know. So I was really running wild and went back and just I realized I was like, this picture is really bad. You know, at some point this isn't going to be like a kid who had some problems. This is going to be truly...


It's not cute any more...


It's not cute.


And no one is going to make excuses about your upbringing or the lack of parenting. It just becomes you just you're going to end up being a ward of the state. I mean, you were it sounds like you're almost a feral animal...


Totally feral, actually. And I have some close friends that...That's how they they referred to me. They're really feral. And it's funny even to this day, I mean, I'll get to where this eventually took me, but even to this day, when I go into a home where it's clearly like a loving home where those kids are happy and there's good food and it's warm and cozy, I always feel this thing like, wow, like amazing. Like, I, I sort of want to be adopted by them immediately, but, you know, I'm 45 years old, so that's not appropriate.


And what's so interesting. I keep thinking about David Epstein's book, Range. Did you read this book, which is basically this thesis that some of the most successful people are not, you know, we suspect that, you know, the great talents of of the world across all disciplines are the people who discover their passion at an early age and practice it voraciously for many, many, many years. But in fact, it's people more like yourself who've dabbled in all different kinds of things who end up being ultimately, you know, the most proficient at their selected skill set.


And when I look at your experience, I see trauma. I see adventure. I see, you know, all these obstacles that you've had to face and overcome and manage on your own, essentially. Right. And all of those really informed perfectly the things that you're interested in and what you explore today in your lab.


Yeah, it really did. You know, I think that I'm so grateful for those years. I wouldn't wish them on any kid because I think having a secure, loving environment at home is so key, and, you know, I should say about a third of the kids that I grew up with in that environment, that whole skateboarding punk rock culture, about a third have gone on to found companies or professional skateboarders. About a third just kind of drifted off and about a third are dead or incarcerated. Yeah, you know, a huge number. And so there's real value in having a support system. That's clear. But it exposed me to all these things like addiction, schizophrenia, rage, like all of these incredible elements.


Like I was never really into drinking and drugs. I could drink or not drink. It was I wasn't drawn to it. But other people, they took one sip and it was like that was their thing. Right. It's like the magic elixir for them. And so, you know, I was observing what was happening. And then after that, you know, that July 4th, 94 incident was, I realized, this is it. You know, it's now or never.


It really was one of those moments, you know, you hear about those moments, but it was me realizing I'm you know, I'm living in the squat. I've got a pet ferret. My girlfriend's gone. She broke up with me. She was smart enough to break up with me. You know, I'm getting in fights. I'm working at a bagel shop. I'm barely making ends meet. And at that point, I just made the decision.


I just said, OK, look, I'm I'm not going to be a professional athlete. I think I'm pretty good at memorizing things. I think I have an interest in people. I'm going to just decide. I just decided to do school. I decided that was that was the track. So like some people pick the military because it's like if you you know what to expect, at least in terms of the you know, the passages that you're going to go through.


And for me, that was school. And so I decided to get back in school. I moved into a studio apartment by myself. I quit partying completely. I didn't go to parties. I got really serious about fitness. So I just started running and lifting weights. And I studied.


You went like Henry Rollins style.


I did. Yeah, I did.


That's a lot of self-awareness, you know. I mean, people go into the military because on some level, I mean, some people do, because there's some yearning for for having that structure imposed upon their lives. But you you constructed that that kind of structure for yourself.


Yeah, I think I was really afraid. I think I was like, you know, and I and these days, you know, because my lab studies fear and I get into this whole thing around mindsets people always ask me, like, is it better to do something from a place of love or fear?... like, it depends. And at that point, fear was the best motivator for me. And I just basically worked like crazy.


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All right. We did it.


Now back to the show. It's interesting because I didn't have a mentor or someone to bring me to that, but there was one professor in particular who took note. He was like, oh, you know, you seemed really interested in this stuff. And I was like, yeah, because he was teaching me about depression, schizophrenia, neurochemicals. I thought I was totally turned on by the world of neuroscience. It wasn't even called neuroscience back then. But this one guy, Harry Carlisle, he was teaching me about thermoregulation and how the brain works and how receptors in the skin relate to perceptions in the mind.


And and and he also had a deep sensitivity to mental disease. And I'd seen a lot of that. You know, I'd seen a lot of depression and anxiety in my own family. I had had a friend commit suicide, another friend become schizophrenic. I think he's still walk in the mission district of San Francisco now since some friends become addicts. And so here was someone explaining that there's actually an underlying basis for this.


And I just poured myself and is not the same guy who who, you know, would smoke underneath the vacuum hood and stuff like that. Like a bit of an iconoclast.


Yeah, he was amazing. So he was a favorite teacher of many students. But if you could get into his lab, then you were kind of one of the chosen ones, I guess is like the perfect mentor at the perfect time for you.


Yes, he used to drink coffee and lab, which you're not supposed to do. He used to smoke cigarettes and lab in the fume hood and they used to come and yell at him and he would do it anyway. And I thought, you know, this guy, he doesn't even know what it is. But, you know, he's a punk rocker who doesn't even know. And so, you know, he gave me an opportunity to work in his lab.


And then at some point he told me, if you go to graduate school, they'll actually pay you to do science. And what ended up happening at that point was I hit a brick wall because I was I had a lot of resentment toward my dad. I felt, you know, here's my dad. He was a scientist. He had, you know, left us all this kind of thing. And I realized if I didn't do this, if I didn't take this opportunity, it was going to be the most foolish thing ever, you know, what am I going to spite my you know, my parents?


You know, I was 20 years old at that point, so I just made the decision I'm going to get a PhD and become a professor and get tenure and be like this guy, you know, this guy who is look like he had a pretty good life to me. And so that's pretty much how I spent the you know, the last 25 years of my life is an experiment worked out. It worked out because a lot of work. I mean, I didn't have the power of concentration.


I hadn't read all the good books that Gunn High School students read growing up. I had to learn how to speak properly. I learned how to learn how to think properly and really learn how to commit to something that was very linear and at times was very painful. And and I went to some pretty extreme things. I you know, I actually used to set a timer and I wouldn't allow myself to get out of the chair until I was the timer went off.


So and I would experience extreme agitation. But over time I got pretty good. And now I can do long stints of work without any brakes. And yeah, it worked out. It developed that that neuroplasticity in your favor. Ultimately, you're always a reader, though, right?


I loved books, so I would you know, I would hide in the Tower Books section in the evenings and I would read everything about fitness, psychology, anything I could. I've always devoured information. My favorite book when I was a kid was the Encyclopedia or the Guinness Book of World Records. So I was like when I was a little kid, I'd walk around the Aspen Center for Physics and I would tell anyone I didn't even ask them if they want to hear about like the what's the world's smallest theory and mammal.


You know, I could tell you all these facts that were kind of meaningless at the time, but I've always been fascinated by the inventory of different animals on the planet and their different behaviors. And so, yeah, voracious reader. And still now. Yeah, I love I love information. Well, as a neuroscientist, I mean, you're you're you're your own patient. I mean, the fact that you were able to, you know, turn your life around in such a dramatic fashion and do it essentially through sheer will and, you know, setting up practices that would fuel you you in that right direction and then being available.


When those mentors showed up from that from, you know, the early therapist, sounds like that guy almost saved your life. He absolutely saved my life. He gave me the book Wherever You Go. There you are, the John Culbertson book. And he said, no pressure. But if you can develop a mindfulness practice where you can sit still for like ten minutes a day, it'll serve you very well. So I started doing that, like did a he told me to hang out of a window at my house.


I would have done it. I think there was a there was a self-preservation thing was kicking in for me. So I got very interested in mindfulness meditation. He also, it was, I think, quite smart in saying, look, there's a whole world of psychedelic drugs that are powerful in influencing the mind. He said, if you're going to explore those, wait until your brain has already developed, which I think is a controversial statement in and of itself.


He said he actively discouraged me to go down that path, which I think was the right thing, given I was a miner, you know, and nowadays there's all this to. Discussion now about psychedelics and their power, and I think they are very interesting compounds, but he really steered me towards behavioral practices like what could I do each day from waking up to going to sleep that would serve my mental health and my productivity? Well, yeah, I owe him a tremendous amount, and especially because he wasn't just in the psychoanalytic theory.


He also was like cognitive behavioral. He understood the power of practices, not just discussing issues. You had to begin a meditation practice at that age in the mid 90s. That's pretty radical. Yeah, I felt it was funny because I thought if I didn't sit in the lotus position, like I wasn't doing it properly, you know, back then, there was all this stuff around. It was very mystical and in my family because my dad's very conservative and my mom was a little bit more of a free spirit, I was taught that anything that related to hippie culture was doomed to fail and cause problems and that anything that was related to like conservative culture was fated to advance the progress of humanity.


It turned out neither one was true, of course. So I but I needed people to push me in those directions, lift weights, run, meditate, do your schoolwork, do your homework. And so I think, you know, now I have a good relationship with my parents, but I think I had to go out into the world and find those, you know, sort of paternal and maternal figures because they weren't in my home. I need to.


Do you find those you look back on your upbringing with gratitude, like how do you reflect on that experience and how it informs, you know, how you think about what you do now?


I'm immensely grateful for it, because, you know, where I'm at today is, you know, my lab works on a number of issues related, you know, sort of hard core neurobiology of regenerating the brain, you know, trying to fix but basically cure blindness and repair visual systems, but also things related to, you know, fear, courage, mindset, stress, anxiety, trauma, et cetera. And the early seed of seeing how science is done definitely gave me an advantage.


I won't lie. You know, I seen how scientists interact and behave and understand that they are just people, because a lot of what was discussed in my home was about the people, not just the science they do. That really gave me an advantage. And then seeing all of that dysfunction and realizing that the human animal is amazing at making plans, at modifying its brain if it wants to. But the human brain and the human animal are also dreadfully bad at doing what's best for us.


Right. Because of this. What I think it comes down to is the fact that our reward systems are not designed for things that are just good for us. They're designed for things that optimize the progression of our species. But they're also they will grab on to and ratchet into any behavior that makes us feel good. And so the human brain is really not optimized for making best choices. Right. And so those years of seeing all that tension, yeah, it's and it's a I wouldn't trade those years for anything.


And I still have great friends in that community. I mean, I think, you know, any had I joined a different community, I would have found the right people as well. But to be with, you know, a huge pack of feral kids at that age and to see the function and dysfunction. And also it was while there was a lot of fun, I can imagine, it was a lot of fun. Yeah, that's a whole story.


See that movie? Mid 90s, mid 90s and the movie Kids, the Larry Parks. And when I saw that movie, first of all, I had a lot of friends that were in that movie because he used actual skateboarding kids. Yeah, I actually knew a couple of those kids. And, you know, it's a movie, but there were a lot of things about the movie that were very accurate. And when I saw that movie, I was like, yeah, that's like.


Right, pretty much a day in life and in Washington Square Park. And, you know, I mean, it was a little extreme on on some on some end, but you didn't know where you were going to end up each night. That was a unique experience, you know, so. Yeah. And mid 90s was really good. I think it captured the essence of what is to be a kid that's just looking for some some group of people to to join.


And skateboard is a unique sport because you get young kids and grown men and now women and girls do it as well. Who didn't happen so much then. But now there are a lot of great, awesome skateboarders that are female, but they're all hanging out together. You wouldn't find that in soccer. You're knocking little kids, playing with grown men. So you get exposed to a lot because everyone's developed different developmental stages. But, yeah, it was an amazing thing.


I wouldn't change it for any. That's cool. Yeah.


Well, let's let's segway into talking about the brain and maybe we could start with, you know, how you think about the brain specifically, like, what is the brain? What does it do? What does it not do? You know, it helps us survive. It's our portal into trying to make sense of the world. Like, what's the starting point in the discussion around the brain? Yeah. So the brain and nervous system, which so it's like brain spinal cord connections with the body and back and.


I don't distinguish between brain and mind. I think that's like an 80s discussion where earlier I think it would take us down the wrong track. So brain or mind to me is interchangeable. Mind body is kind of interchangeable because the brain is connected to the body and the body's connected to the brain. Right. If I, you know, pinprick my hand and it hurts my brain registers it where it happens. It's kind of an irrelevant discussion. Now, I think we really need to just appreciate that the nervous system is designed to orchestrate all the processes in the body, not just thinking and not just behavior, and really can be divided into five things.


So there's sensation and sensation is really bound or restricted by the receptors in the body. So receptors in the eye that perceive photons, light energy receptors in the skin that perceive pressure, you know, touch receptors, smell, taste, hearing, et cetera. And the interesting thing about sensation and the fact that the nervous system needs to pay attention to sensation is it's non-negotiable. The nervous system of humans is designed to extract physical phenomenon from the universe that are non-negotiable photons of light.


I can't see in the infrared with my eyes and I can't see ultraviolet light with my eyes. I can't perceive that because I don't have the receptors for it. So, you know, other animals can perceive some of those things. But that leads us to the next thing, which is perception, which is which sensations are you paying attention to? So all the time you're sensing things like right now your feet are sensing the contact with your shoes, but you're not thinking about it until I say that and then you shift your perception.


So perception is like the spotlight. So the brain wants to constantly bring in sensation. It's non-negotiable. What's coming in. It's just depending on your environment, perception is negotiable. You can control that because I just said shoes and you thought about your feet and there you are. Then there are feelings which can be a little bit nebulous, but feelings are a link between our emotion and generally invokes the body sensations in the body and concepts in the mind and what those sensations are about.


That's really what emotions are. Animals definitely experience them. I'm kind of appalled to think that ten years ago, people like animals have emotion. Of course they have emotions, right, because those are bodily sensations merged with some perception. So of course they do. And then there's thoughts and thoughts are interesting because thoughts happen spontaneously. Think about like a Web browser that's constantly giving you pop ups. But thoughts can also be deliberate. So you and I can decide right now that we're going to think about a plan for something.


We're going to think about what's going on in the world. So thoughts happen spontaneously and they can be deliberate. And then the final thing is behaviors and actions. So the nervous system is responsible for sensation, perception, feelings, thoughts and behaviors. And what's interesting, you start to think about that, OK, that's a lot. But what is the nervous system really trying to accomplish, like on any given day or at any moment? What's it trying to accomplish?


And it's really trying to accomplish one thing, which is to take perceptions of the outside world and merge those with perceptions of the inside world, what we call interoception, and to link those in a way that's operating in an environment in the appropriate way. So what do I mean by that? So if I'm feeling anxious and I'm in a very calm environment, I'm going to perceive that rapid heart rate and kind of feeling of agitation in my body as inappropriate for the moment.


Right. And my goal then as a as an organism is to adjust my my level of what they call autonomic arousal or alertness down. If I'm in a at a great party or I'm at a wedding or it's a celebration or I'm at a protest or you know, then I might feel that my level of alertness is appropriate for my environment. So the nervous system is in this constant dynamic interaction with the outside world and trying to figure that out. One way that this can be kind of conceptualized is there's an emerging idea that's kind of interesting about impatience.


So we've all had the feeling of being impatient. Some people are far more patient than others. But if you've ever been in line at the store and you feel like something's going very slowly, you know, the person in front of you is taking a long time. They're doing some returns. You're getting kind of impatient, maybe breathing in a mask.


And you're like, oh, like, you know, what's the idea is that if you're getting a certain frequency of pulses from your body and if those pulses are coming in quickly, like you're perceiving yourself that interception quickly, it's like pulse, pulse, pulse, pulse, you're going to be more geared towards your internal representation. And then you're seeing what's going on in the outside world. And it seems like it's going very slowly. But there are other times when you're in line at the store, someone's getting some returns and you're texting on your phone.


You've had a great day. You've had a great run. Your family is in great shape and you're fine. Why will the frequency of those pulses, that interception is matched pretty well to your outside environment. And so impatience is really when you're into internal sort of metronome is not matched well to the external environment. There are other times when you're feeling like your internal metronome is. Tick, tick. And you've got a million things coming at you through email or text, you've got a bunch of things and you're feeling overwhelmed and tired.


Well, in either case, there's nothing right or wrong. It's just your body and your brain are trying to say what's going on in the outside world and how well-matched am I to it. Right. So. If you think about some of the sort of core practices of mindfulness and self-regulation of focusing on breathing or focusing on on, you know, state of mind, a lot of that is trying to bring more awareness to your internal state.


But what our brain is normally doing when our eyes are open and we're interacting in the world is we're constantly trying to update our internal state to match external demands of the world. And this harkens back to a, you know, like a really early design of all nervous systems, which is how do you take an organism that needs certain things, food, water, meit's, reproduction, shelter? How do you move that organism? How do you create a system that will do that in best relation to the environment?


And so what Mother Nature has done is designed as a series of systems. Let's just take agitation and stress for one. If an animal or human is very thirsty, you feel kind of agitated, might get up and get a drink of water. If you're very thirsty, it can put you into a state of panic. If you're extremely thirsty and water is a limited resource, you might even resort to violence to get it or negotiation of some sort that you wouldn't if you were calmer.


So that stress and agitation were designed to actually mobilize the body to take us in the direction of something that's adaptive. So you can start to see these kind of core elements of what the brain and nervous system do sensation, perception, feeling, thought and action, and this constant challenge of trying to match our internal state to the external real estate, the outside world. And you start to see that the sensations that we call stress or impatience or calm are really the result of those attempts that the nervous system is trying to perform.


That's a lot to take in and super interesting.


And it you know, it's prompting in me this, you know, attempt to try to wrap my head around. What within the brain is mutable, which is kind of, you know, what your work is all about versus what is immutable, like you were talking about thoughts like Pop-Up Windows on a browser. You know, sometimes our brains are just doing what they do and that there are things that we can do like mindfulness and breath work and the practices that you're talking about, hypnosis, which is another thing that you're, you know, involved in to help, you know, help us like take better manage better that process to kind of take the reins and be more in charge rather than be prey or victim to these kind of things that just occur without our conscious awareness.


Mm hmm. Well, I think that, you know, in terms of value, of understanding the nervous system and where it can be steered, it's absolutely clear that the nervous system can change in response to experience. So this thing we call neuroplasticity is really that it's the brain's ability to modify itself in response to experience. And I think it's important to understand that from birth till about age 25, the brain is extremely malleable in a kind of almost passive way where kids are exposed to things and the brain is just wiring up.


I mean, the brain is really designed to adjust itself in order to be in concert with its surroundings and to optimize that just the way we described it, in a way that a child can learn a language very quickly or three language as a guitar or something.


Yeah, without an accent, you know, three languages without an accent. It's remarkable. And try and do that after age 25. It's very challenging. And so the the brain is basically designed to be customized in the early part of life and then to implement those algorithms in that circuitry for the rest of your of its life. And so the brain can change in adulthood and it can change provided that there's an emphasis on some perceptual event. So in other words, if you want to change your brain as an adult, let's say you want to be less anxious, you want to learn a new language, you want to be more functional in some way.


Presumably the key thing is to bring focus to some particular perception of something that's happening during the learning process. And the reason for that is that there's a neurochemical system involving acetylcholine and it comes from these two little nuclei down in the base of the brain called nucleus basalis all day long. You're doing things in a reflexive way, but when you do something and you think about it very intensely, acetylcholine is released from basalis at the precise neurons that were involved in that behavior, and it marks those for change during sleep or during deep rest later.


So for people that want to change their brain, the power of focus is really the entry point and the ability to access deep rest and sleep because most people don't realize this. But neuroplasticity is triggered by intense focus. But neuroplasticity occurs during deep sleep and rest, and we can talk about how to optimize those different brain functions. One of the things that's really important also to think about how the brain works in terms of plasticity and all this stuff is what the brain really wants to do is also pass as much of what it does off to reflexive behavior as possible.


So, yeah, so when we're talking about focus, I think it can get a little bit vague, but it might be useful to think about like what exactly is focus and what triggers plasticity. So the brain loves to be able to just do things, pick up coffee cups and drink and walk and talk and do things and not put much energy into it. When we decide to focus, what the brain really does is it switches on a set of circuits that involve the frontal cortex and nucleus basalis and some others.


And it's trying to understand duration, how long something's going to last, path, what's going to happen, and outcome, what ultimately is going to happen. So duration, path and outcome. You know, the events of early 2020 are a good example of this. One of the reasons why it's so exhausting to be alive in 2020 is because we are now having to pay attention to duration, path and outcome. How long is this thing going to last? When are...


You know, when are they going to open up all businesses? Did I touch that door handle? Does it matter? You know? Right. Who are the experts? Are there any experts? You know, there are a lot of questions, whereas normally we can just move through life without having to do all that analysis. So if it's a simple example, like trying to learn a new language or a new motor skill or a new way of conceptualizing something, maybe somebody is in a therapeutic process and they're trying to work through a trauma or something like that.


Duration path, and outcome is built into the networks of the brain. We can do that very easily, but it takes work and it almost has a feeling of underlying agitation and frustration. And that's because the circuits that turn on before acetylcholine are of the stress system. So when you or I decide we're going to learn something and really dig in, norepinephrine, which is adrenaline is secreted in the brainstem and in the body, and it brings about a state of alertness, then our attention, which is mostly a diffuse light, is brought to a particular duration path and outcome analysis.


This would be thinking about what somebody is saying. What are they really trying to say? A hard passage of reading, a hard set of math problems, you know, a challenging physical workout, when you do that, these two systems have to work very hard and the adult brain doesn't really want to change the algorithms it learned in childhood. But if you do those two things, you have alertness and focus. The acetylcholine and the norepinephrine converge to mark those synapses for change.


And so so the way to think about neuroplasticity, if one wants to change their brain, is bring about the most intense concentration you can to something and then later bring about the least amount of concentration to that thing. So I'll talk about that in a second. But there were some studies that were done at Stanford by a guy named Erik Knutson that showed that plasticity in the in the adult brain, any age can be as robust as it is in childhood, as fast and as dramatic, provided the focus is there and it's all contingent on this acetylcholine molecule coming from nucleus basalis.


So you say, well, how do you do that? How do you get it? You know exactly? Well, I've got friends that you Nicorette thinking that's going to get them there because Nicorette is a nicotinic acetylcholine agonist, but that's going to globally increase acetylcholine. So I always tell them that's not the right approach. The right approach is to bring as much focus to a behavior or to a thought or to an action pattern. And there has to be a sense of urgency.


So what Knutson Lab showed in another lab at UCSF, Mike Merzenich lab showed, is that if there's a serious contingency, like in order to get your ration of food each day, you have to learn this thing. The degree of plasticity is remarkable, right? But if there isn't an incentive, it just isn't going to happen. So the circuits in the brain that Mother Nature set up are designed to be anchored to a real need. And people always say to me, well, should I do something out of love and a real desire to learn or should it be out of fear?


Either one works. The sense of urgency is just acetylcholine. And it's norepinephrine. That's all it is. It doesn't the brain doesn't have a recognition of whether or not something is pleasurable or not until later. Once you start accomplishing your goal, the reward systems like dopamine start kicking in. But I think if people are interested in modifying their brain for the better, at least some, you know, top contour, our understanding of how urgency and focus must converge for that to happen can be useful, because I think there's a lot of attention paid to whether or not something feels like flow or whether or not I see what I call highly desirable state.


Right. Or whether or not you can you can eat a plant out of the ground that will magically put your brain into a state of plasticity. And the answer is yes, such plants exist. But what's missing is the focus component. If that work is not done with a particular end goal in mind, you'll get plasticity, but you'll get plasticity in a kind of across the board. It's like learning nine langue, learning a little bit of nine languages all at once is not going to make you speak coherently in any one of them.


So focus is the key, right? I mean, this idea of flow is so much in the vernacular now. And, you know, my my sense is that people are trying to measure their their level of engagement against some sort of theoretical idea of what it's like to be in that flow state. And if they're not experiencing it, they feel like they're doing it wrong or they're or they feel guilty or they beat themselves up. And for me, it's a lot of it is just hard work.


Like right now I'm trying to finish this book, and I should have been working on this book for, like the last nine months. Right. And I just couldn't couldn't get it together, like it's a collaborative project. So there's a lot of different people that are involved in this and they've been working diligently sort of daily, you know, putting this thing together. And I've just been focusing on the podcast and been unable to immerse myself in this project because I know from past book projects, when I go in, I go all in like the addict in me kicks in and it's like it just becomes my universe.


And I've been completely paralyzed from taking that on. And so I've dithered away most of the quarantine without being productive on this project. And then about 10 days ago, we had a meeting and we established this deadline at, you know, July 27th to turn this thing in. And it was like a switch got flicked and I went all in and it's all I can think about now. And in fact, everything else feels like extraneous and a distraction.


I just want to get back so I can focus on this thing. And ten days ago, I couldn't get myself into that position. And it's made me think about like what is going on in my brain that, you know, it's such a drastic state change. And what did I do to switch that while a deadline was imposed upon me? And whatever happened neurochemically with that set in motion, like a chain reaction of events that got me into the chair.


And once I began the project, for me, it's all about like.


Momentum, right, it's it's like the start getting to the starting line and beginning is so hard, like I will just go forever without doing it and then I'm in and then I'm all in 110 percent and I'm like, why can't I just why can't I be that person who just worked on it, you know, an hour and a half every day for the last three months? Well, I can offer some potential explanations. I can relate. And none of it involves a flow state.


Right. It's all hard. Yeah. And, you know, I'm friends with Stephen Coller, I think flow. And I think the cheeks of Mehi who originated the thing that flow is really interesting. But I say right now, the most we can say about flow mechanistically is: backwards, it spells, Wolf. We don't really understand flow. Now, people have come up with these theories. It's like, you know, hypo hypofrontality. I haven't seen the data and I'm not picking on anybody.


I'm putting that out there as a prompt for people to discover this. I think that and to work on it. I think it's a really interesting, highly desirable state. But I think we need to get comfortable as a as a culture in trying to understand our species and how we work, that the early stages of hard work and focus are going to feel like agitation, stress and confusion, because that's the norepinephrine and adrenaline system kicking in. None of us would expect to walk into the gym and do our PR lift or, you know, performer go do something without warming up.


The brain also needs to warm up and start to hone in which circuits are going to be active. And it's it's unreasonable for us to think, oh, I've got an hour. I'm going to plop down and write beautifully for an hour. My best work. We need to accept that there's a period of agitation and stress that accompanies the dropping into these highly concentrated states. Now, in terms of the reward that accompanies the feeling that we're funneling into that that groove of of being productive in in one regime, like for you writing this book, the dopamine system is really important to understand.


So we've talked about norepinephrine, kind of gets you going. Acetylcholine is the spotlight of attention. The dopamine system is Mother Nature's hardwired ancient system in all animals, including humans, to put us on the right path. Now, it's a lot of people talk about dopamine as this thing that you get when you publish the book or when you get the book deal or when something wonderful happens like your child's born. And that's true. But dopamine is main role is to be released any time you achieve a milestone or you think you're on the right path.


And when the dopamine system is tethered to a particular pattern of focus, remember duration, path and outcome. So it's like, OK, sit down, maybe you don't get much text out, but then the next day you get 800 words of really solid text and you feel good like I'm into this. What does that dopamine system do? The dopamine system takes the norepinephrine, which is normally rate limiting, like at some point. There's so much norepinephrine that you quit and we can talk about that it's actually that the substrate for quitting dopamine can push that noradrenalin back down, that adrenaline back down and give you more room, more space to do duration, path and outcome work, highly focused work.


And I'm making duration path outcome synonymous with highly focused work. Why would this happen? So let's think about an animal. Let's think about a deer that wakes up and is thirsty and it's wandering out looking for water. That animal needs water. It doesn't know that it needs water. It experiences agitation the same way that a baby feels agitation when it wants food. But it doesn't know it needs food. It just feels agitation and cries and the caretaker comes.


Hopefully that deer is now foraging for something that it needs. And let's say it smells water because deer can actually do that and arrives at a stream and takes a sip of water. There's dopamine release then that puts it on a path to maybe a larger lake or something of that sort or to be able to go achieve food. So when we are on the right path and we hit a milestone, dopamine is released and it tends to tighten our focus more for that activity.


So the dopamine, this is why drugs of abuse and why alcoholism and some, you know, process addictions, which are behavioral addictions, are so dangerous because they are a lot of those drugs of abuse are dopamine. So it becomes this cyclical loop where there's no other behavior that can evoke the same level of release. Right. In fact, I sort of define addiction as a progressive narrowing of the things that bring you pleasure. And I say that because it really is the way that the dopamine system works.


Normally, the dopamine system is designed to be generic. It's designed to get me to do lots of things, social quality, social interactions, you know, work, exercise, all those things. Just like the stress system is designed to get me out of bed in the morning. A cortisol pulse is what gets me out of bed in the morning. It's also what leads me to or led me to pursue a career in science out of fear initially and eventually pleasure.


So the dopamine system is tethered to those states of focus, and it's what Mother Nature designed so that neuroplasticity would occur. And you would want to continue those behaviors again in the future. That deer needs to know and remember and create a memory not just of where that stream is, but the process of, oh, when I feel that agitation, I'm going to get up and go down this particular path. And so people think of the dopamine system as this kind of like catchall for reward.


Oh, you get likes on Instagram and it makes you feel good. That's not really how it works. And the important thing to understand is when you start getting a convergence of norepinephrine so that level of agitation, duration, path, outcome, acetylcholine and dopamine, now you're starting to wire in the behaviors that make people really good at certain things. Now, in a functional view of this, so not addiction, what this means is that for any of us, success in any endeavor is very closely related to how much focus we can bring to that endeavor.


And the reward system, you start to realize, is entirely internal. No one's coming along and cramming dopamine in your ear or dripping it in your brain. It's all internal. And this starts to bring us into the kind of like discussion around mindsets. So my colleague Carol Dweck, who popularized this thing, growth mindset, it's again, a very misunderstood concept. It's the idea that we can change. So that's built into that. But the discovery of growth mindset was of these kids that actually really enjoyed doing problem sets that they knew they couldn't get right.


But for them, they would get this like dopamine release from just focusing on the problem. They like doing puzzles they couldn't get. Right. It sounds crazy, but inevitably those kids are very good at puzzles and very good at math and on these kinds of things. So growth mindset is I believe it was sort of a neuro neuroscience lens on growth mindset would be that the agitation and stress that you feel at the beginning of something and when you're trying to lean into it and you can't focus is just a recognized gate.


You have to pass that through that gate to get to the focus component. And then if you can reward the effort process, you really start to feel joy and low levels of of excitement in the effort process. That's that buffering of adrenaline. That's that feeling like. Yes, I've got a lot of adrenaline in my system, but I'm on the right path. It feels good to walk up this hill, so to speak. And when you start to bring that those neural circuits together, you really start to create a whole set of circuits that are designed to be exported to any behavior you want.


So if it's writing a book, great. If it's podcasting, great. If it's building a business, great. If it's if it's, you know, building a terrific relationship, great. The circuits, the Mother Nature's design are incredibly generic so that we could adapt to whatever it is that we need to do. And I think the misunderstanding around how these circuits work has led to this idea that there's some secret entry point, maybe marked "flow" on the door and there's a trampoline up to that door.


You just open that door and you're going to be in it, right, and nothing could be further from the truth and anyone who's done well in any career or athletic pursuit knows this. But unfortunately, there's a kind of obsession with the idea that it's all supposed to feel good and it does feel good. But there's a whole staircase in which it feels kind of lousy. Yeah. I mean, the the the the feel good aspect of that experience is very subtle.


And I think, you know, in a kind of global way, what you're talking about is falling in love with the process. Like you have to push this gate open, which might require, you know, more effort than you're comfortable with. But once you push through, it is about, you know, that daily, the daily rigor and the tiny wins that you get from that rather than, you know, it's easy t o you know, you set a goal, but that goal becomes very abstract.


Right. And it's those tiny little things that you're getting done every day that bring you that internal satisfaction that are like calibrating that plasticity that what you're saying. Yeah, absolutely. And what's incredible is the extent to which the mind and thoughts – remember earlier we were talking about how thoughts are spontaneous. You can't control them. Negative thoughts, traumatic thoughts, bad thoughts. Trying to suppress those is futile. If there's one message I can send people, it's just don't even work at that, but work at the process of introducing thoughts as almost like you would introduce actions, because we can introduce thoughts.


And, you know, Carol Dweck has talked about this, that positive self talk is not the same thing as growth mindset because positive self talk is almost always linked to the ultimate outcome. If I'm losing badly in something and I tell myself I'm doing great, I know that I'm like, there's no dopamine release from that. And, you know, a lot of the self-help wellness culture of the 80s and 90s was like, it's impossible to be in a bad mood if you're smiling.


We wouldn't have any depression on the planet. If that's true, there's probably some feedback from the face of the brain, but it's not that simple. But the idea that you can self reward the effort process is extremely powerful, because what it means is that if you can recognize agitation, stress and confusion as an entry point to where you eventually want to go, I do think that just that even just mental recognition can allow people to pass through it more easily.


They think they're doing something wrong and then rewarding yourself when you achieve any milestone like, you know, running to a particular location, if you're trying to run a long distance and then registering that as a partial win. What we know is that the dopamine that's released in response to that suppresses the total amount of adrenaline and gives you more room, more time, more energy to run in the running example. And this is anchored in a real scientific result.


So last year there was a paper published that essentially was asking why any human or animal quits at any behavior. Now, certain behaviors like I can't lift a car unless it's a very small car, can't lift a car. But if we're talking about running or we're talking about long bouts of work, the question is why do we quit? Like, what is that? It turns out that every time we exert effort, a certain amount of noradrenalin in the brain is released and there's a sort of a counter in the brainstem.


And at some point enough noradrenaline is released and it shuts down cognitive control, deliberate control over the motor circuitry. And we quit. That's it. But the thing that can restore those levels or it can sort of reset those levels lower and give us more gas, more mileage is dopamine. And it makes perfect sense because our species had to move against very challenging things in nature and in in terms of in culture at every stage of our evolution, including now 2020 is a good example of this.


And when a good example would be, if you're really slogging it out and things are miserable, just think like the worst family vacation. Everything is a disaster or a very hard physical event and someone cracks a joke. You're almost immediately feel a sense of relief. You see this in the team that wins the Super Bowl. Both teams slogged it out. You have to believe they were both at max effort the entire game. Look at the team that wins.


They have extra energy. They're jumping all over the place. So it can't be physical energy. It can't be glycogen related. It's not ketone related. It's nothing in the body in that sense. It's dopamine's ability to take that level of norepinephrine and smack it back down. And so we can learn this. Right. I mean, I think this is where there's real power, like in your story or the story that I'm familiar with from your book, like the the ability to push through those pain points is something that we really can export to other aspects of life because it's the same neurochemicals that are involved.


So when you get to a particular location or maybe I recall, you know, a portion where you're just you're feeling lousy, you know, you're injured or you feel like you're hurt and you can reframe it mentally and think, I'm actually still on the lad der. I'm still holding on to a rung. I know at least that much. I'm still breathing. I know that much. And the lift that we get is not some psychological pump up. It's a neurochemical thing.


It's dopamine suppressing norepinephrine and saying you're on the right path. You can keep going. It's a permission to keep going. And we grant that permission to ourselves. No one grants that permission to us. I think one of the other kind of misconceptions that we want to dissolve is this idea that external rewards can actually propel us down long paths of success in high performance. They can't. It's an internal sustainable fuel source. Yeah, yeah.


I have a friend from the SEAL teams and somebody asked us recently we were given a talk and somebody said, how can I make sure that I continue to self reward and I'm not driven by these external rewards. How can I continue to have that drive? And his answer was very good. He said, give away all the external rewards.


You know, now, not everyone can afford to do that – it's just about you and you. It's just you and you and the more attached. There's a famous Stanford study done, at Bing nursery school, probably not far from where you were in the dormitory. There's a little nursery school in Escondido Village. And they did a study where they looked at kids that liked playing during their recess. It's all recess in nursery school, but they're drawing. And they took the kids that really liked to draw and they started giving them little gold stars on their drawings.


And then they like the gold stars. For a kid, that's an extrinsic reward. And then they stop doing that and the kids stop drawing. They just they they associate the good feeling of doing it with the external rewards. We have to be very cautious about how much of our internal dopamine we attach to external rewards if we want to continue to grow and pursue and focus and work hard. If you just want to get to some place and cash in, then fine.


But most people find themselves in a pretty miserable place because their dopamine was so attached to external rewards, they need more and more.


Well, the why has to be deeper than that. I mean, the thing that that I kind of always default to when I hit that breaking point or, you know, I'm training or I'm racing or whatever, and I'm at that stage where it's just like I can't go any further. The first thing I do is I reflect inward on why I'm doing this to begin with. Like, what is the you know, what is the value system that I'm trying to tap into?


What is it that I'm trying to express? Like what got me to this point? So it's a reminder. And then I just set like I just say, well, I'm just going to get to the next lamp post. Or I'm going to get to the the next intersection or whatever it is, I break it down into the tiny and I'll quit after that, like, the more I can just root myself in the present moment and and distill it down into the tiniest of digestible chunks.


That's the only way I can, you know, continue to move forward. And I've learned over time that the more I do that, then, you know, suddenly all find myself in a different mental like it will shift. Right. Just because I feel that way in that moment is not determinative of how I'm going to feel 10 minutes later.


Absolutely. There's an interesting process that that occurs when people start to realize that rewards are all internal. And what they start to do is they start linking this duration path, outcome thing to their internal rewards. And so to put this simply, one of the most powerful things that any person can do is to learn to control this idea of duration, path and outcome and attach an internal sense of reward. Just that you're doing well to reward yourself mentally. Just say I'm doing well.


I'm actually on the right path to do that. Inside of the demands that come from the external world, the more often that we can self reward some aspect of the process, provided it's in the right direction of what we're trying to achieve, the more energy we're going to have for that, the more focus we're going to have for that. And remember that the reason I say energy, I don't throw that around loosely is that limiting amount of noradrenalin is constantly being kept at bay.


You're literally buffering the quit response. And so when people start realizing that if they set the goals inside of the larger goal and self reward each one of those, they essentially have an infinite amount of energy to pursue those goals. They have an infinite amount of focus to pursue those goals. You see this most in the special operations community and people that are selected essentially for this process. It's one of the things that's been intriguing to me. I have some friends from the SEAL teams and I don't begin to, you know, really understand the real work that they do deployed because I've never done that kind of work.


But I've always been intrigued by the selection process, the so-called Budd's process. Right. Because carrying logs and getting in cold water and all that, that's not really how the work is. That's really not what the work is about. So the selection process is interesting because everyone shows up fit, motivated and convinced that they're not going to quit. I think like there might be a couple people to show up to show up, but everybody is absolutely convinced.


And then a very small subset of them make it through. And I'd be willing to bet that the ones that make it through, of course, they're gritty and resilient, but they all are, essentially, right? So that's necessary, but not sufficient, obviously. Otherwise they everyone would make it through. The people that make it through somehow are able to tap into a process. Maybe it's a reward process, maybe it's through self punishment, maybe it's through self reward in the positive sense.


But they're able to control something inside an environment that is not controlled by them. It's controlled by the by the instructors. And I've always been struck by the fact that in order to not in order to get through, you just have to not quit. Remember, people aren't being deselected. They're not saying, get out of here, you're not good enough. People are deciding that for themselves. And so it's interesting because it brings about a real world experiment of people who are quitting.


And I believe they're quitting because they can't manage these neurotransmitters. And the people when I say manage, I think that the people they get through, knowing some of these people quite well, had an internal process by which they could reward themselves for doing something that might have just looked trivial to everybody else, but it gave them more gas, more energy. Right. Right. And what's interesting is the process, the kind of unconscious genius of of the Buddz process is that they've picked two sensory events that are across the board challenging for everybody.


One is cold water, which is great because most of the time it can't kill you. Right. It's not like heat which can kill you. It's cold water and sleep deprivation. And so the ability to do these, like what I'm calling DPOs, this duration path and outcome steps and procedures is great on when you're rested. You know you know, when you have a when you're well fed, well slept, you can do anything. You can be in any hard conversation, you can work through anything.


So what they do is they start taking the autonomic nervous system, which is these deep reserves of the nervous system that when our autonomic nervous system is off, it starts making us pay more attention to how we feel than the demands of the world around us. Remember that? Yeah, basic challenge in the nervous system. And so sleep deprivation is the best way that you can pull somebody down from their ability to analyze duration, path and outcome and reward themselves.


Sleep deprivation is the way in which you essentially pull apart the nervous system and the way that it wants to function, because it's. Very easy. Again, rested to do all this, but so what they do is they're sleep deprived people. They put them in cold water. They're trying to get them more in touch with the way that they feel inside than what they need to do in response to the external demands. All right, everyone, I know that's made it through that process did it slightly differently.


But I'll tell you how they didn't do it. They didn't do it through sheer grit and determination. They did it through attaching a sense of meaning. They did it by micro slicing the day or slicing the day into a series of meals that they just needed to get to and then rewarding themselves for getting to that next milestone. So they don't know. I mean, most of them, you know, probably had very low concept of dopamine and norepinephrine.


But that's the process. That's also the process, I think, that allow someone to finish an ultra I've never run an ultra, but I think that process of self reward is grit and resilience in a kind of neurochemical definition. Yeah, and I think it's the thing that anybody can tap into. And I think it's therefore, I think it's it's so key because I think people think that it's just so key that people understand excuse me, that these circuits are not unique to people who run Ultra's or people that make it through, you know, stringent filter, Special Operations Command, Bisa.


It's the same thing that it is interesting. Yeah. The the the ultimate determinant isn't your physical conditioning. And yet that's what everybody focuses on. It's what's going on in, you know, internally, mentally neurochemically that's making the difference. And the people that are able to best calibrate that and find these, you know, strategies for managing that are the ones that get through, whether it is an ultra or buds and Buddz is like this, perfect.


It's almost like its own lab. Right, for studying human resilience in a certain respect. But you have actually taken some of these people and tested them in your lab, including David Goggins. Right. So what what what do you do when you when these people visit you and you're like, I'm going to deconstruct you here, figure out what makes you tick? Yeah. So I had the the good fortune of meeting David at a consulting event a few years ago.


And I guess I should just say, David, you probably know this already, but he is every bit as intense as he comes across. Yeah. I mean, persona is yeah. It's exactly what you see is what you get really wonderful and obviously extremely impressive human being. So, David, anecdote. So the night before we had this event, he came out to the lab, my lab. We do we study fear. We study courage, we say resilience and we say the underlying neurochemical substrates for those.


So we had a bunch of guys there, a couple of time guys, some other folks, and we bring them in this little room and we do virtual reality there. And one of the things that we use to scare people or to generate a sense of autonomic arousal is this experience of diving with great white sharks, which, of course, you're not in water in the laboratory, but it's very immersive. And for people that are afraid of sharks, it can be quite scary.


Not always, but we also have hights. We have claustrophobia. We got something where you can feel spiders crawling all over your body. If you're in arachnophobes, you know, if you have a pain point, we find it spend time trying to figure out what that pain point is we do.


And we do it through some very clever methodology that involves A.I. and some tools.


A bunch of weird questions that. Right. All right. We're let's just say this. From the moment you step into our laboratory, we're studying, you know, so the you know. I know. And yeah, exactly. So what was fun was, you know, so I sort of explained what the platform was and what we were going to do. And and David said, because I don't like sharks. And I was like, all right.


Well, and so then, you know, this was not a typical experimental day in the lab. So I just kind of at one point finish describing what the tech is and how we're going to wire people in. And then I said, so. So who wants to go first? And he's like, I'll go. Right, of course. And what was funny to me at that moment, I realized this is interesting because he he was very explicit about the fact he didn't like sharks.


He was very explicit about the fact that he was going to be first, you know, first man. And I mean, it would be inappropriate for me to describe his data. Right. And we didn't do a full blown experiment. But what I can say is he's whatever it is that David has figured out how to do, it clearly involves taking whatever adrenaline pulse he feels and understanding something fundamental to biology, which is that adrenaline response was designed to move us, not to keep us stationary.


He uses behavior as the way to shift sensation, perception, feelings and thoughts. He understands how to run that program in the right direction, whereas most people, when they don't like what they feel, they start negotiating sensation, which will never work. They start trying to control their perception, which is hard right there. Like I'm not going to think about that or I'll think about it differently. Very hard to control the mind with the mind. He knows that's a tough one.


Yeah, feelings. Lord knows what those are and how to control them, I mean, we will eventually figure that out as a field, but thoughts are complicated. So he just goes immediately to action for me. So when he says just for clarity, when he says, I don't like sharks, he's basically saying, put me in the shark tank like he's cuing you to say this is the thing I'm afraid of and I'm going to be the first one to volunteer.


And I know you're going to put me in the shark tank if I tell you that. Right, exactly. And I think and I obviously can't speak for him. But one of the things I think is very clear is that he's tapped into this neuroplasticity process through the the door, through the portal of agitation and stress. He's figured out, and this is really the holy grail of neuroscience is how can I modify my brain? Well, you modify it by placing yourself into discomfort and using that as a propeller to move you into action.


And, you know, a couple of years later, when David was working on his book and I heard the book was coming out, I think I saw prerelease announcement. I texted him and I just said, look, I'm really excited to see your book. And and he said, oh, great, thank you. You know, it'd be great if you could write something about, like an endorsement. I said, oh, I'd be honored you.


I'm happy to. And he said, But but I need it tonight. Right. And this was Saturday at I think it was like ten thirty at night when I texted him. So that's a great well I'd be happy to do it now. So I need by midnight. So I sit down, I start writing this thing and these are short blurbs. But I kind of realize that, you know, you want to get it right, David, and you know my name next to it and I want to do it justice.


So I'm sitting down, I'm working on this thing and I text him, look, I'm going be a few minutes late. No problem. No problem. Finally, I send him the thing at like twelve thirty at night and he's like, Oh brother, thank you. Thank you, thank you. I promise I'll send you a copy this and that. I was like grateful, you know. Thank you. And then I, I realized that that time he was living in New York and I, I said, wait a second, where are you?


Is it New York? And I said, it's three thirty in the morning. And he goes, yeah, I'm going running of course. And I realized at that point I was like, OK, you know, there's it's it's undisputable. You know, this guy lives the persona that he projects into the world. And even that day, that consulting gig, you know, there was a four o'clock lag and he was like, no, let's keep going.


So he's figured something out. And I think that his enormous popularity is it's earned because he's figured out that it really doesn't matter if you come at something from a place of joy and love. And that would be wonderful. But there's a whole other set of ways to approach this that involves slogging through the discomfort, the doubts, the wish for things to be different and starting with behavior. And it's incredible because if you think about sensation, perception, feeling, thought and behavior, actually the way to control our nervous system and feel the way we want to feel is to run that backwards behavior thoughts.


So if you change your behavior, then generally your thoughts, your feelings and your perceptions change. Yeah. And everyone tries to come at it from the other end, but he's figured it out through whatever process led him there and incredible life circumstances. How to run it in this direction of behavior first. Yeah, I really think that if neuroscience has anything to offer, it's some understanding of what the underlying chemicals and neural circuits are. But the sooner that the human animal, the human species can start to understand that are our feelings and our thoughts and our memories and all that is very complicated.


But that when behaviors are very concrete and they are the the control panel for the rest of it, I don't want to relegate feelings. Feelings are extremely important. I don't want to relegate perception they're extremely important. But when it comes to wanting to shift the way that you function to get better or to perform better or to show up better or to move away from things like addictive behaviors, it's absolutely foolish for any of us, me included, to think that we can do that by changing our thoughts.


First, it's behavior. First thoughts, feelings and perceptions follow. Mood follows action, mood, follow. This has been my my mantra forever. And you know, I swear by it. And David's example illustrates that that act first he's developed so much neuroplasticity that it's reflexive for him to just move towards the hard thing or the challenge or the discomfort. Right. And now the science establishes that this is indeed the case. And yet our programming, our default hardwiring is to, you know, put us in this place where we want to ruminate on all this stuff and wait until we feel like doing something before we do it or check our motivations for it.


But any time I'm in a funk or I want to change my state, I have to move forward. I have to do something with my physical body in order to shake things up and, you know, rearrange whatever's going on mentally. So and it and it works every time.


It works every time because. Brain circuits, meaning sets of connections and chemicals, they're there from birth, they're your whole life, and they were designed for that. So in twenty eighteen graduates in my lab published a paper in Nature showing that in the face of a physical threat, there are three options. You can obviously freeze. You can retreat or you can move forward. And the moving forward response actually triggers activation of a connection in the brain to the dopamine circuitry of the brain and makes it more likely that you're going to be able to move forward in the future.


Now, what was interesting to us was that not only is forward action rewarded at a neurochemical level, which then sets you up for more forward action, but the highest level of agitation and stress was associated with moving forward. We always think, well, if I just calm myself enough, I'll be able to move forward. Right. But it's the exact opposite. And so people who are paralyzed in fear or that have a hard time initiating, sometimes the key is to raise the level of stress and agitation.


This is why deadlines are so effective. Right. This is why fear is so effective. This is why that deer gets up out of it's, you know, nice little den and starts to because it feels a certain level of agitation. If that agitation isn't high enough, we will not move forward. And so especially in the U.S., you know, we have a culture in which stress has been created. You know, these ideas around Stresser is that it's terrible for us when, in fact, stress is designed to move us forward towards these action steps that are rewarded, which then move us forward and so on.


So what is the process of of combating that, you know, monkey mind that is, you know, running whatever narrative that's keeping you stuck?


Like it's easy to say, like just move. You got to take the action. And a lot of people still, despite understanding that intellectualising that are unable to, you know, basically. Act as if, yeah, I think we're dealing with two general categories of people who have problems with motivation and focus, and I think we've failed to. Decide. Excuse me, I think we've failed to describe the fact that there are two groups and not one, we think, well, I need to call myself enough to move forward, I think.


And then other people say, well, no, you need to kind of ramp yourself up to move forward. Here's the way I conceptualize it. Based on the data that I'm aware of, some people are just hypo aroused. They're just not motivated enough. And those people would benefit greatly from cultivating practices like super oxygenated breathing. So this is something along the lines of like Tuomo type breathing so rapid. And we look at this in the lab. We're actually running a human study on this now.


So 25 or 30 deep breaths through the nose and out through the mouth, then exhaling the breath and holding, learning how to self generate adrenaline.


That's what you're doing. You're doing some version of the Wim Hof technique. That's what that is. Brian Mackenzie talks about. Right. An ice bath is doing the exact same thing, stimulating adrenaline response. It actually improves the immune system. There's a published paper on this releases Adrenaline, which buffers the immune system against infection, but getting good at taking yourself from low, low energy to higher energy and then learning how to compress your focus. And I'll talk about the focus thing in a minute.


Some people are so agitated, the monkey mind, they've got too many things going on and they're thinking, OK, they're trying to sit down and write, I suffer from this and I'm feeling like, wait, I've also got this person I need to connect with. And I'm kind of being drawn off course by not being able to put the blinders on for people that have that issue. I think learning how to calm the nervous system is very powerful.


And the best way that I know how to do that is based on two studies, one published in Nature, one publish and sell reports recently showing that physiological sighs there's actually a thing in the literature called physiological sighs are one of the fastest ways to bring our overall levels of autonomic arousal down. And a physiological sigh is a two inhales followed by an extended exhale. So it's like it's not just a deep breath, it's two inhales followed by an exhale, OK, and what that what that does and this has been shown several times now in humans and other species as well as it dilates that the little sacs of the lungs and that second inhale dilates them a little bit more and it pulls a little bit of carbon dioxide out of the bloodstream so that when we exhale, we offload the maximum amount of carbon dioxide and it perfectly adjusts the ratio of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the bloodstream and lungs.


And sometimes it only takes one of these double inhale, exhale. Sometimes somebody needs to do two or three, but that's the fastest way to bring the autonomic nervous system down. A lot of people need such a tool because I think we talk a lot about meditation and tools for calm. And, you know, I can go to Esslin for a weekend and get a massage. I'm going to feel very good. But then when I'm thrown back in real life, I need something that's going to work in real time, what I call a real time tool.


And most people don't know how to control their autonomic nervous system because it's complicated. I can't control my liver function. I can eat. That will calm me. But that has complicated, you know, issues with it, too, if I'm just eating to calm myself. the diaphragm is the one skeletal muscle organ that was internally. Right. We've got obviously skeletal muscles designed to move things. It's a skeletal muscle organ, unlike the spleen, the liver, the heart, etc.


It was designed to be moved voluntarily. And these physiological sighs are actually occurring fairly regularly during sleep to adjust our levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen. And there's a recent study showing that in claustrophobia, this is the breathing pattern that people default to, to try and offload that carbon dioxide. So whereas there are a lot of really interesting breathing techniques, Wim Hof, Brian Mackenzie does great work. Patrick McEwan, you know, the Laird and Gabbi, that tons of people doing really interesting things out there.


My lab has been focused on what are the neural circuits that are designed to achieve particular states that happen to impinge on and captured diaphragm function. And so the reason I think breathing is so powerful is that everyone has a diaphragm and it's the immediate link to the body. A lot's been made of the vagus nerve, you know, over the Vagus is the path between the body and mind. But the Vagus is very slow. The vagus nerve calming is what you experience when you eat a really rich, carbohydrate rich meal or you're you've had a long day in your and you put your feet up and you're finally relaxing.


It takes minutes to hours to kick in, whereas the diaphragm is real time control over your brain state. So. The brain knows what the body is doing by how fast the diaphragm is moving, it knows its overall activation. So when you breathe quickly, those 25 or 30 breaths, the brain says, oh, I must be alert. I'm going to start secreting some noradrenaline. And when you breathe slowly, that level of noradrenaline drops down. So it sounds so simple, but I think it's only in the last two or three years that my lab and Mark Krasno lab at Stanford and other labs elsewhere in the world have started to identify the neurons in the brain that are linked to breathing and how those two things relate to one another.


And I think everybody should have a kit of tools that they can use to bring themselves down and ramp themselves up. I'll just say one other thing about focus. So when we're in a high alert state, something very powerful happens that I think partially explains your your ability now to drop into this book writing. When there's a certain amount of adrenaline in our system, our pupils dilate. Remember, the eyes are not connected to the brain. Our eyes are actually two pieces of central nervous system.


They are two pieces of brain outside the skull that were designed to control our overall arousal state. And so we can talk about this as it relates to sleep and sleep quality. But when I bring up the level of adrenaline in my body through breathing or let's say I see a troubling text or let's just say I just use a very Goggins type approach and just figure out the most painful, inspiring for me reason to do it. You know, it sounds vague because obviously, David, I don't know what goes on in your head, but a tremendous respect for your ability to do this.


But he just ratchets himself out of that ditch and puts himself in motion. The pupils dilate. And when that happens, our visual system actually enters something that's a little bit more like portrait mode on our phone. There's a process called accommodation. And your ability to focus on one thing visually actually becomes better and your ability to see everything else blurs away. And that's the ability to just see that screen of text or that if you work on, you know, pad and paper to just see that pad and paper.


And then as you start writing, what people don't realize is that mental focus follows visual focus on blind people. It's slightly different. It follows auditory focus. But in in most people, your visual focus as you bring that into really sharp relief, that image of your book and you start you're going to feel some agitation and your mind's going to be jumping all over the place. But if you wait just a couple of minutes, the rest of the world will disappear.


I think this is sort of like the flow state people are looking for. But remember, the gate of entry is one of which you have to wade through some some sewage before you can swim in clear water. That's the way I always think about it. But the visual focus is what brings the rest of the brain into cognitive focus. And people in the martial arts understand this. You've probably experienced this running when you're feeling exhausted and you can just concentrate on one milestone and get there.


You can almost bring that into like what you're doing is you're linking that to the dopamine circuitry. You're saying that thing is the milestone, not winning the race, not some other thing outside this this immediate environment, that thing. And when you're able to start capturing these peripheral circuits, meaning the body, the diaphragm, the visual system, then you start getting past this whole idea of mindsets and it really becomes about the body setting the mind. And this is where I think when you say action leads the rest, right.


It's that's what you're saying is a is grounded in real neuro neurobiological data. There's also a shift in your perception of time when you're in that state, you know, suddenly your relationship with time becomes completely different. So I'm not going there and I'm not like, you know, it's easy to say it slows down or speeds up to me. It's neither you're in this weird, liminal state where it's almost like it doesn't exist. It's not it's not a relevant like vector in your in your emotional experience.


I'm really glad you brought this up, because one of my obsessions is time perception. And, you know, having spent the last twenty years or so studying the visual system, what you start to realize is that space, meaning physical space, not outer space, but physical space around you and your time perception are absolutely linked. And when our focus is very narrow, time starts to feel thin sliced. So so you're right. It's not that it's going fast or slow, it's that you're perceiving more events per unit time.


So it's like a metronome that's going faster when our gaze is dilated. So when we're relaxed, there's actually a what happens is the pupil kind of relaxes a bit. It doesn't always get bigger or smaller, but what happens is we when we're relaxed. So if you view a horizon, for instance, or you go into what's called panoramic vision. So even though I'm looking at you right now, I can dilate my gaze without moving my head, her eyes, so I can see the corners of the room in the ceiling.


I can see myself in the environment when we. Do that, our perception of time broadens and we feel like we have more time and what we're doing when we do that focus versus defocus, as I call it, or focal vision versus panoramic vision, is your toggling on and off the autonomic nervous system for alertness. You're turning on and off that that norepinephrine circuit and so its conscious control over a brainstem circuit. And this is why I don't like the phrase autonomic, because that means automatic.


It's a misnomer. I can control my autonomic, nervous system. I can breathe. I can control my own inner system. I can eat a big meal. I can control my autonomic nervous system. I can focus or defocus. And if you really look at the realm of high performance, what you start to realize is people who are very good at their respective sport or career or in the Special Operations Committee, what they do are exceptionally good at turning it on and off the system.


So they're highly functional and achieving their milestones, but they're not spending out extra energy because when you go into panoramic vision, you start to uncouple the space time thing and you get some rest and relaxation. The way to think about this is so we go back to duration, path and outcome. That's the most stringent hyperfocus regime for the brain. The way to get better at duration, path and outcome is to engage in activities that are low duration path, an outcome where your brain is not in modes of analyzing duration, path and outcome.


What's the one phase of our life when we're not thinking about duration, path and outcome at all?


Sleep. And so the reason why you can pull somebody's mind apart, their ability to think rationally and analyze duration, path and outcome by sleep, depriving them is because sleep, despite all its neurochemical complexity, is really when we restore our ability to analyze duration, path and outcome. Now you think about buds and you go, no wonder they sleep deprived them. They're trying to figure out who has the ability to control these mechanisms and who doesn't. Most people fail.


So when I think about how to recover, I. I actually don't think about recovery as its own thing. I think about recovery as giving buoyancy or improving my ability to focus. So sleep is a turning off of these brain circuits that are thinking about what's happening next. So some people experience challenges and falling asleep. They need to learn how to turn off thinking. And there's actually a way to do this. We're doing a study on this now.


It relates to hypnosis that will be fun to talk about and we can, if you like. The other thing is that just merely going into panoramic vision, say, between a meeting instead of looking at your phone, more focal vision, we're working hard on your book. Maybe you walk to the kitchen just two seconds of what I call deliberate decompression, where you just kind of let your mind go broader, will allow you to reset your focus much more intensely when you return to that book, as opposed to if you look at your phone or engage even in some other kind of deep duration path, outcome type function of the brain.


So when you start thinking about meditation, it's also valuable because a lot of meditation involves focusing on your breath. I actually think a lot of people are spending out this ability. They're. They're working too hard in their the activities that are designed to reset them. So the two ways to reset yourself in wakefulness, being just very adamant about my meditation practice. That's right. Because it's it's a letting go. It's not right. It's you know, it's we're so programmed to, like, force ourselves to do things or to, like, dive in with intentionality.


But so much of this is more elusive than that.


I think that we can all do ourselves a great service and perform much better in what we're doing by taking little micro recoveries in the form of dilating our gaze in between meetings just for a second. Viewing a horizon is the best way to do it because it naturally brings the eyes into defocus. We're doing this in VR because we can control the visual environment completely. When you go into this defocus mode, you turn off that brainstem circuit, you're conserving norepinephrine for your next bout of focus and activity.


Otherwise you're spending it and the brain doesn't care how you spend it, doesn't care if it's on Instagram, doesn't care if it's watching the news. But learning how to defocus and then refocus very quickly can get you through a race that you wouldn't otherwise have been able to get through. It saves you energy and it and it builds energy. The other thing is we talk a lot about sleep and sleep is extremely important, but there are other modes and brain states that can allow you to recover.


One of the ones that I'm a huge proponent of in that my lab has been studying in other labs are studying is what many people call Yogendra, where, you know, you're going to draw a lot.


It's a wonderful practice, you know, just lying down and focusing enough of your attention so that you don't fall asleep and enough of your attentions on and moving it around so that you're not really concentrate on any one thing. I fall asleep every time. I do, too. I do, too. But what we know so I fundamentally disagree with respectfully, though, with the idea that we can't recover sleep that we've lost, because what are we really talking about there?


For me, it's the ability to perform these duration path outcome analyses. So in my lab we have people do a cognitive task and then we place them into these very deep states of relaxation through things that are kind of like you're going to dream and people can find Yogananda scripts out there. They're everywhere on YouTube elsewhere, or we have them do a hypnosis script. Hypnosis is very similar, deep relaxation, wandering sort of attention, fairly narrow context, but it brings the brain into these unique states where you're neither asleep nor awake and for people to have trouble falling asleep or trouble relaxing themselves, these kinds of practices are extremely useful because they're really teaching you how to turn off those modes of focus.


So, you know, we live in a stress society. Some people are stressed because they're overwhelmed, but other people are stressed because they just don't know how to turn off their brain and fall asleep. And so if you want to learn how to turn off your brain and fall asleep, these practices are immensely used. How do you practice hypnosis by yourself, though? So there's some scripts I would recommend people go to one of the scripts on YouTube or there's some good ones.


I've never met him. I don't have any relationship to him. But Michael Sealey, S-E-A-L-E-Y, Australiana. I have some really good hypnosis scripts and they're just. Audio programs. Yeah, you just listen to them and these and he's not going to make you walk off a cliff or anything. No. So stage hypnosis is very different. So I have a very close collaboration with a guy named David Spiegel, who's in our psychiatry department at Stanford.


We're now looking at how daily breathing exercises can impact people's sleep and levels of stress. He's done a lot of work on addiction and trauma and pain management through hypnosis. And most all of hypnosis. That's clinical involves bringing one's state into one of deeper relaxation, not full sleep, and then thinking about some behavioral change that one wants to make. These are ancient practices, really, and I think that they were developed by people that understood that rewiring of the brain requires focus and deep rest.


What's interesting about hypnosis is it brings those two things together at the same moment. So normally you'll work really hard on something, work really hard, then you'll sleep, and that's when the plasticity occurs. But hypnosis likely accelerates that whole process by having people enter a state of deep relaxation and focus at the same time and allows those circuits to reshape themselves. And there's some published data from David's lab to support that. That's fascinating. So I think these practices are really useful.


And I think that if you want to get better performing, everyone now knows, thanks to Matt Walker's book and others like sleep more, sleep better. But what if you have trouble sleeping well or falling asleep? Well, we want to define what that is. Some people have a hard time turning off their thoughts. It's really hard. Remember, you can't do it. What you can do is to learn to control that perceptual window and distribute it so that your sense of time starts to kind of drift off and you end up in sleep more easily.


And it's a practice that most people find. If they do it for ten minutes a day or so, they start sleeping much better within within a week or, you know, and sometimes more than sometimes people need some other help, like not drinking caffeine late in the day, etc. But that brain state of no duration, path and outcome analysis is going to be the most restorative. And you can get it in wakefulness, too. So taking a walk where you're just letting your mind go is very powerful.


And the other thing that's powerful is optic flow. So self generated optic flow by walking, running or cycling shifts the brain into a state of relaxation that's not seen when you're stationary. This is well, well described in the neuroscience literature for some reasons, not well described in the wellness literature. But it's a real thing. When you move through space, you're active, you're there's a natural calming of the brain circuits involved in threat and threat detection. This is the basis for EMDR, eye movement desensitization, reprocessing the lateralised eye movements they have people do in the clinic.


That kind of goofy looking thing, while you talk about that, overcome fear and trauma that lowers stress. And the rationale is that by coupling a low stress state to the recall of the trauma, it's going to allow people to reshape the relationship to the trauma to tolerate that. The discomfort and EMDR, my clinical colleagues tell me, works best for fairly well-defined traumas. It's not going to be like my childhood or, you know, a whole series of events, but for single event traumas or trauma that's repeated, but of the same sort, it seems to work best.


It's not going to work best to completely reshape all relationships to all traumas, but it does seem to be powerful for certain. So basically an example would be if you got into a car accident and then you're afraid to get in a car or something like that. Right. So you take this person and and you submit them to this therapy where they move their eyes back and forth laterally, which seems absurd. Seems goofy. Right. So this is supposed to help them get over their their fear, their blockage.


Yeah. So, OK, so my lab studies vision and we study stress and states of mind and people used to talk to me about EMDR and ask me about EMDR. And I was like, this is crazy. This is like music genre. This is absurd, right? Or drug makes no sense. Why would moving the eyes from side to side have any impact on states of mind? That's ridiculous. But then what happened was in 2018, 2019 and 2020 five quality manuscripts came out in good journals from groups that were studying eye movements, not studying stress or trauma that found that these lateralized eye movements not up and down, but lateralized eye movements quiet the activity of the amygdala, the limbic structure in the brain that's primarily responsible for threat detection and stress.


And I was like, oh my goodness, this thing might actually be real. Then I started to dig into the back story of this, and there was a woman named Francine Shapiro who came up with this idea actually walking behind Stanford in the Stanford Hills. She was a therapist and she figured she had this idea based on the fact that she didn't feel as upset about certain things when she was walking, that this might be useful and she was smart enough to know that these.


Lateralized eye movements are what reflexively occur any time we're in optic flow, we don't realize it because they're subconsciously generated and they're very subtle, but she realized she couldn't really take people walking on their therapy sessions. I suppose she could, but it's not really practical. It's raining, etc.. So what she decided to do was to bring the eye movement component to the clinic and had to move their eyes from side to side while they would recount these traumas.


And people experienced tremendous benefit. And in fact, now there's a lot of evidence to show that these lateralized eye movements really do quiet the stress of the nervous system and allow people to continue to move forward. This is probably all anchored. I go back to that story of that deer that needs something. And as it's feeling that agitation and gets up and starts moving, the movement feeds back onto the brain to quiet that stress and anxiety so it can be observant of its environment.


And that panoramic mode is what we are in when we are in a position to be very situationally aware. When we're stressed, we're going to have a soda straw view of the world. And this relates directly to addiction because I've spent some time at addiction treatment clinics and talking to people in that community. And it's very clear that, of course, there are a huge number of factors that play into why people come become addicted and relapse, et cetera.


But if you can get at people's ability to control their anxiety and their feelings of states and happiness, you you don't guarantee, but you help reinforce the possibility that they're going to get sober and stay sober as an addict gets more tethered to the idea that some substance is the thing they need. The progressive narrowing of the things that bring them pleasure and everything else kind of falls away like portrait mode on the phone. They're essentially in a state of high stress trying to meet that dopamine need all the time and they don't see other possibilities.


The reason I mention not just stress and treating stress to get out of addiction, but also pleasure is that we've also seen this. When do people relapse? When they're feeling really good, when they're feeling really lousy and stressed, and when they're feeling really good. They've been sober for five years. We hear about this in the news usually from, you know, celebrity examples. People have been doing great. All of a sudden they're back in treatment.


You know, like what happened. What happened was the dopamine circuit from other things, maybe a great life event or things are going well or stress the loss of a job. Everything crashing puts our visual system and the rest of our brain into a myopia. We become we literally become nearsighted. And the dopamine system says that's the only thing that's going to get me out of the mode that I'm in. They literally don't see the other possibilities. So some of the work that I'm starting to get involved in now is to try and inform the addiction treatment community, the trauma community, that there are ways to use action in the body to move people out of states of myopia, nearsightedness.


And this is kind of a cognitive near-sightedness and allow them to start passing their time perception differently. It you know, it goes right back to time perception. When an addict needs something, their sense of time is fixed to the retrieval of that thing or the, you know, reaching that thing. And when they can dilate their sense of time, they realize they have time for other options. But until you can dilate that, there's really no chance.


Frankly, you can't find a way, you can't find a way. You can tell somebody you're going to lose your kids and they'll do it anyway. And that just tells us we need another route to it. And so one of the things I think is powerful is to think about how can we leverage the visual system? How can we leverage the diaphragm system in the same way that you would tell a, you know, somebody who is in, you know, has cancer or needs a surgery of a certain sort, like we need to leverage certain technologies?


Well, we need to leverage certain inborn technologies of respiration and vision to be able to access state of mind that will allow us to make better choices for the addict. In that really nearsighted view, fixated, there is no other choice. And I think those early years of skateboarding and being, you know, Ferral, it showed me that these are the people I knew that became addicts. And frankly, I know some adults who have become addicts, even who have very, quote unquote, functional lives.


It wasn't just them, those people, you know, we like to think they're making a bad choice and they had it. They're making a bad decision. It's unclear to me whether or not they have a choice in those highly myopic states of mind. And so what we need to do is we need to dilate their perception of the world around them. We need to dilate their perception of time. We need to learn. They need to learn how to relax themselves so they can actually see other options.


And it all relates to how the visual system in the breathing system relate to autonomic function. Addiction is the is the perfect sort of laboratory to do this. And it's so important, I think, because if it were simply the case that people just needed family support. And which they do, and they needed, you know, encouragement and they need discouragement about making the wrong behaviors, then we wouldn't even be having this discussion more complicated. So much I mean, the thing I think all of those are, you know, really powerful tools and important things to look at with respect to the addict mentality or that disposition.


There has to be a level of self-awareness in that addict that the decision to pick up the drink or to use the drug begins so far in advance of the actual behavior. By the time they actually pick up that drink, there's no getting in the way of that. Like that decision has so much momentum behind it that it's almost impossible to reverse. So a breathing technique or any technique at that juncture is unlikely to be successful. So it's about recognizing, you know, when that state is starting to shift in that direction, whether it's days or hours or weeks before the behavior choice to intervene at a out of place in time when you can actually have an impact.


I agree. I think that it's always an uphill battle with addiction, at least at first. But even, you know, just given that the numbers on relapse, you know, I think every what was it that someone once told me? I don't know if this is actually true, but for most people. But he said a recovered addict told me, you know, that every day he tells himself, no matter how far I drive, I'm always the same distance from the ditch, you know?


I mean, the addiction community has there's so many awesome there's so many great takeaways. Yeah. The what's interesting is there's a a some verbiage around the yogic community that is very valuable. I can't recall it off the top of my head, but they talk about the the great support that one can get from learning to access brain states of timelessness, sleep being very restorative, wakeful, deliberate, disengagement being very restorative, maybe meditation, maybe through Yoga Nidra, maybe through simple quick breathing techniques, but being able to dilate and contract one sense of time and not being locked to one kind of space time regime, the ability to to recognize that I'm not seeing clearly.


I see what I see. But I, I, I don't know what I don't see the ability to to introduce that understanding for somebody can be very powerful. And I think we need to give them tools that they can look to very quickly. I don't think we're ever going to have a treatment for addiction that's in the form of a pharmaceutical like one pill, because if you start tapping into the dopamine system itself, you start degrading other aspects of life.


So I think one of the reasons why addiction treatment is so complicated is that you need many elements, but the elements that come from the person themselves are ultimately the most important ones, of course. And I think physiology and neuroscience does have some tools that can lend support to that. Yeah, yeah. It's interesting. I mean, I think that every couple of years you see new science emerge on addiction and there are some new protocol and, you know, 12 steps constantly getting thrown under the bus and, you know, 12 steps.


What got me sober and I'm very rooted in that community. I remain open to other, you know, modalities and protocols and super interested in seeing where all of this is going. But I think it is important to appreciate how complex it is. Like there's a trauma element to it. There's a, you know, behavioral modification element to it. There's an emotional like how do you how do you find a way to anchor this person to a path, a life path that has meaning and purpose.


And all of these things inform this complex, you know, soup that's going on in their head that's dictating whether they're going to pick up a drink or not. Yeah, and, you know, and I love the neuroscience community with, you know, it's been my family and home for many years now. And the people working on addiction or are, you know, motivated from the right place. And they are, you know, working exceedingly hard.


There are a lot of data now that show, you know, for instance, their complete genetic changes in the cells that you know, and the pathways that control dopamine and reward. And that's all wonderful to understand. But meanwhile, I think there there are enough tools out there that they need to be aggregated in a way that's structured and that addiction treatment communities can can leverage one of the things that would be of great uses, the idea of a biomarker.


So you describe that, you know, it's really a beautiful example of how when some early on you might be able to intervene, but later it gets much harder. We need biomarkers that are going to tell us for some people or their family that somebody is at risk. You have biomarkers, some kind of Whoop device, right? Well, I think it's going to come from once you know how well somebody is regulating their own autonomic nervous system, you can predict pretty well whether or not they're going to succeed or fail in making good decisions.


And so I do think a Whoop type device or. Other sensor device could be tremendously beneficial in detecting and telling people whether or not they are veering off course. Right. And I think it's getting very minority report, though. It is. I mean, I think machines are going to help us make a lot of decisions that were actually pretty poor making. But the simplest of those that we might see in the next two or three years is saying, look, you've been working extremely hard on your book, you're doing very well, but you're going to need an extra hour of sleep.


I mean, that's essentially what we're doing for you. Or 12 hours you're going to make a bad decision. In 12 hours, you're going to make that decision or even cueing you or or insert might in there. Right. You might make a bad decision so that you're more aware and you're going to devote a little more mental energy to the kinds of decisions you're making. I think that as I pull a lot of all nighters, I still do, unfortunately, in my career writing grants and so forth.


And I have this rule that I learned a gosh about 15 years ago, which is I don't trust any of my thinking that occurs between 3:00 a.m. and seven a.m. If I've been up all night, I just don't trust it because I start to think the world's falling apart. I started thinking the word is misspelled. I mean, I really know I'm sleep deprived when words like the look misspelled. And then I'm like, what's going on? That's that duration path outcome circuitry starting to try to starting to fall apart.


So I think that that's an extreme example. But I think that short of having people buffer their lives with tons of activities and perfect nutrition and perfect social interactions, people learning to control their autonomic nervous system I think is really the next step in our species evolution. I really believe that what we are seeing now in the world is a call to arms, if you will, or a request from Mother Nature to have everybody learn how to control their autonomic nervous system a little bit better or ideally a lot better.


Yeah, it's it's absolutely critical, I think. I mean, right now, you know, irrespective of what's going on with the pandemic and the political climate and the protests and all the upheaval that we're seeing as a culture, we're experiencing an extraordinary poverty of attention and focus. We're so distracted by our devices, we're more anxious and stressed and depressed than we ever have been before. This is not going in a good direction. And to the extent that we can commandeer a little bit more control over these things and understand that we have some level of agency and we can reverse this sort of automatic.


Pattern that we're on, I've just scrolling endlessly and, you know, doing what we're doing that we know is not leading us in a good direction is critical if we're going to find our way forward and to to speak a little bit to what's going on right now, I think, you know, and it's related and I'm interested in your thoughts on, you know, the neuroscience that that is, you know, I think. Relevant to this is that we've lost the ability to have civil discourse, there's a real breakdown in communication right now, culturally and socially, and it's fractured our society.


And it's not it's it's not good. Right. So what is going on neurologically with human beings that are attaching themselves and so self identifying with certain narratives that it's polarizing our population and preventing us from being able to just be together or united or agree upon what is true and what is not true and share a value system so that we can see our way through the challenges that we're facing right now, which many of which are an existential threat to the future of humanity and the planet.


It's a huge problem. You articulated it beautifully, and I think neuroscience can offer a couple insights into why it's happening and perhaps what we might do about it. So one of the scientific results that I'm very intrigued by is in the 1960s, a guy named Robert Heath recorded from the human brain. So there are people who can do this experiment nowadays. But skull popped off. My neurosurgery friends told me that's no big deal. Electrodes lowered deep into the brain all over the brain.


And people can stimulate wherever they want and they just report what they're feeling. So press one lever, they feel drunk, they press another lever, they feel happy, they press another lever. They feel sexually aroused. And they're reporting all this. Like, when was this done? In the 1960s, early 1960s, several times, actually, and published twice, essentially the same data, different populations in the journal Science, which is sort of our Super Bowl science and nature cell.


Those are the big ones journals. That is so the number one brain area that people want to stimulate. They finally hit this lever where they go, Oh, I like that. And they just keep hitting that thing and hitting that thing and hitting that thing. Frustration and mild anger. Aha. I saw that choice. I would be drunk. I could be happy. I could be I'm going to choose frustration and anger. Exactly. It's what that told us is it's clearly tapped into the dopamine reward system.


It feels like a hit of dopamine to them more than anything else. So we need to put that on the shelf and keep it visible as we kind of march into this sort of answer to your question. The other thing is an understanding that and there's some recent data on this that are really impressive, not from my lab, but from another lab, which is that beliefs and information that supports our prior beliefs also increases the activity, these reward systems.


So the more I see stuff that verifies what I already think or feel that they are bad and they are good or that we are good and they are bad, the more dopamine and adrenaline is released into my system, which we now know from our discussion a few minutes ago, changes the way I view the world. It actually changes the way I view the world. It means that I'm going to see certain things and not see others. And this also relates to the auditory system.


I'm going to hear certain things and not hear others, the things that verify my beliefs. I'm going to feel rewarded for. The things that are counter to my beliefs, I'm not going to be rewarded for. So we have all these barricades to empathy and to really listening and to really hearing what the other side is trying to say. And we have all these support networks in our body and our brain which are building a bigger and bigger divide. And that's all very depressing.


So the question is, what's the boat that's going to get us across that divide? And I believe and I I'm not just defaulting to this because it's what my lab works on. But I fundamentally believe that the boat that's going to get us to the other side is our ability to control our internal state, to be able to ratchet down our level of autonomic arousal just enough so that I can dilate not just my vision of what's happening in my immediate environment, but I can dilate my cognition, my thinking to the possibility that there may be a kernel of value in what somebody else is saying, even if it's about me.


And I don't like what I'm hearing now. As somebody who spent time in the addiction treatment community, you you probably know this is a lot of what you get good at as you learn to move through something that to you feels very good. And you know all the reasons why it would probably be good to change it. But you know what? You don't want to because it feels so good. So we're talking about an addiction to entrenched thinking. We're talking about an addiction and neurochemical systems that support lack of change.


My refusal to change and stubbornness and I actually think just like in for the treatment of addiction and trauma, the key is to get people to learn to tolerate progressively higher levels of stress and maintain dilation of sensory experience, of thought experience.


We've got to create some small, little, portals through which information can come in. A lot's been made of mirror neurons. I hate to break it to the crowd, but the data in support of mirror neurons in humans is not that impressive. And now the mirror neuron people are going to come after me but find there are circuits in the brain that control emotional contagion. And those are what's powerful. My ability to recruit you into stress. Is much more powerful than my ability to recruit you into empathy for something that's a well-established neurobiological fact or empathy for for for someone's perspective, that I'm.


You know that I'm fundamentally going to disagree with, right, so I think there are three gates to getting there and by there, I think we're you know, I'm referring vaguely to the idea that we need to increase our level of understanding, at least our level of discourse, so that we can hear other really hear other people's ideas, even though we don't like the way it feels and we love the way that we feel. This is the results that we love the way we feel.


We don't like the way other people feel. The first thing is to bring the level of urgency that we feel internally down. We need to learn to calm ourselves in order to really have the information start to come in. Now, the system right now and people out there, everyone's in a frenzy and you can see it. Our collective collective consciousness is kind of losing its mind. It's kind of out of its mind. We need to learn how to turn off those amygdala circuits.


So are we all going to get together and do EMDR? Probably not. Are we all going to get together and do breathing exercises? Probably not. Not at scale. But we need to do is start to figure out how we can, I think, especially for the next generation of kids, how to teach them to regulate their nervous system so that they recognize that pulse of adrenaline as placing them in a compromised position. Like we have to leverage the idea that being able to hear and listen hinges on the ability to be calm.


So therefore, the ability to be calm is crucial to hearing and listening and hearing and listening is crucial to our advancement as individuals and as groups. The problem is everyone's been trying to do this backwards. They've said we all have to get along, we have to cancel cancel culture. We all have to, you know, listen to one another. And I think, again, we have to start from the inside. We have to teach it physiologically.


Now, I don't have a master plan on how to do that, but one of the reasons I'm here and one of the reasons I'm, you know, teaching neuroscience on Instagram and not just in my laboratory is until we can learn to regulate the self, I don't think we're going to get where we want to go as a culture. I think it really does start with our own individual ability to to do that. And so, you know, David's a really good example, for instance, of somebody who learned how to deal with his own internal mess and build something beautiful out of that.


And he continues to do that. And everyone's got to find that process for themselves. And whether or not you have a perfect family or whether or not you consider yourself the most inclusive and accepting person in the world or not, everyone needs to learn how to do that for themselves. And everyone thinks we do it pretty well. But I think it's clear that none of us do it well enough. So autonomic arousal, autonomic arousal, autonomic control, I think those are the entry points for addiction, for trauma and for really empathic hearing and listening.


And until we do that, I think our species is going to continue to go around this merry go round where every 50 or 100 years we crash right up against the same general set of issues. Only now, social media has made it slightly more a lot more complicated.


It's it's a little bit similar to what you were talking about in terms of the seeking external validation versus finding it within yourself. Like essentially the protocol, the prescription that you just gave has a strain of Buddhism in it in the sense that. The world's going to change when we change ourselves, like the best, most impactful way that you can make a difference for the world is to focus on being the best version of yourself. How can you comport yourself in a way that allows you to be more receptive and objective and empathetic and able to listen and hear?


And and I think that's true. It's 100 percent true. And then I think about the person losing their shit and, you know, target or whatever over the masks or whatever, you know, insane video clip of the day I happened to see on social media. And I think we're doomed. Like, is this person going to do that? No, I can't control that. I can only control myself. And I worry that when the onus is on the individual to solve the problem, that that we're not going to find our way through it.


Right. Like we obviously need organizational, institutional and systemic changes. We need to change the way these social media platforms work, the way in which we're delivered information and the way in which we're siloed. But I don't have any control over any of those things. The only thing I have control over is my own internal mechanism. So what other choice do we have? Well, I think we need people in positions of power and leadership who are very good at internal control.


You know, I think emotions are great. I experience them often intensely. But congratulations. Thank you. They're not always wonderful to experience, but I think it's clear that the level of autonomic arousal that's associated with emotions – either very high or very low, very happy or very sad, very anxious or very angry – clouds our judgment, it's very clear, and I think the sooner...


You give them too much credence to... They're just feelings, man, like we don't have to allow them to overtake us and monopolize everything that we do.


They were designed to push us along certain behavioral paths, but they they've grown in importance in the last few years. And, you know, we could get into a discussion about how, you know, social media marketing are designed to capture these very deep limbic aspects of ourselves. And they are. But what's amazing is an important is that everybody has a forebrain. Some people, it seems as more developed than others, but everybody has one. And we have this capacity for what we call Top-Down control, which is the ability to intervene and our own feeling states and our own action states and to set some some rigor and some some real clear marks that we're out to achieve.


And I think it's going to start with the generation that's very plastic right now. Yeah. You know, most parents are afraid of stressing their kids because they don't want to. You know, again, I went to a high school where kids literally at Gun High School in the last 10 years, kids have, you know, there been over a dozen, you know, train track suicides. So those are kids that are committing suicide for different reasons.


But a lot of them is because they just feel too much pressure. And so obviously, we can't you know, we can't pressure kids beyond their capacity to regulate. But the idea that all of our internal state should be driven by external things, that's that's a foolish misstep also. So I think we need to operationalize what we're going to teach the next generation. You know, maybe our generation isn't really rescuable, but maybe the next generation is. And if they understand that there's some concepts that sound a little mushy, like gratitude or mindfulness or these kinds of things, but as long as they understand that, for instance, gratitude, which we didn't really touch on, it involves a whole other neurotransmitter reward system in the brain, the serotonin system, which buffers us against injury.


It can improve wound repair. It can allow us to lean back into these high stress regimes learning and, you know, kids learning how to toggle their nervous system back and forth between highly, you know, duration path, outcome focused states of trying to improve and learn and then learning how to really relax and chill out and enjoy and be socially connected because it will allow them to ratchet back in and focus with extreme depth. I think in doing that, we might not get every child to learn how to do that.


But if we can distribute that information widely enough and there's so many brilliant examples and beautiful example, yours, Davids, many others of people that have been able to tap into those systems intuitively, if we can get that information out there, I really believe that at least a subset of those kids will grow up to be the leaders that our species really needs in order to get through this next filter. And right now, we're feeling the stringency of that filter.


And I think our level of autonomic dysregulation as a as a species, the fact that we're there, we're here right now says, OK, here's the here's the task. Are you guys going to figure yourselves out? You've got this forebrain. My dog doesn't have the forebrain I've got he can't figure it out, but we can work this out. And it'll involve technologies like devices to measure how we're doing, maybe some machines to guide that. That's a different discussion.


But I think it's entirely possible. And I think that's the evolutionary pressure that we're in right now. And I think that the next generation, if they can hear about it and learn about it, is going to meet that demand. Our species has done it for every other demand.


I toggle back and forth between extreme optimism and, you know, dystopian despair, because on the one hand, you know, you described the experience of going to therapy and you know how that was kind of, you know, novel at that time. But we're not in that place anymore. And everybody's got a smartphone and there's, you know, headspace and calm and waking up and all these incredible apps. And mindfulness is part of the mainstream modern vernacular, like these kids are growing up not only aware of these practices, but amenable.


And, you know, it's being done in the households in which they're being raised, which I find to be you know, that's an amazing thing. I think there is a consciousness, you know, that is emerging out of these young people that hopefully we can rely on to solve some of these problems.


And then, you know, I just think about the endless scrolling and the Social Security where we're thought, well, I think it's clear that most people, young or old, are content to be passive consumers and spend out their dopamine, doing essentially meaningless activities and consuming food and consuming air and light that is basically damaging to themselves. And they I don't think they care. I think they're our species. Let's be fair. Our. This is nonessential. Well, no, no, I didn't say that our species, although sometimes I think it'd be interesting if some other species around the Earth were the curators of the planet.


So I think that our species is probably divided into those that are really going to try and maximize on this gift of neuroplasticity. Right. We're the only species that has neuroplasticity throughout the lifespan and that. Neuroplasticity in childhood last as long as it does as a function of our total lifespan. It's incredible. So we were gifted this and I think some people leverage it and take advantage of it and other people don't. And I think we need to accept that we're not going to get everybody.


But what we need to do is attach the reward systems of society, financial, socioeconomic, et cetera, to the kinds of behaviors that are going to is going to give rise to people that can lead us into the next hundred years and 200 years. Now, that is not saying, oh, do away with monetary systems or actually the opposite. I think that once people start to realize that you're a high performing military elite military, you're a high performing athlete, your high performing academics, your high performing business people, they actually have practices that they use to regulate themselves to in order to not just perform better, but sleep better and not just to sleep better, but to listen better, not just listen better, but incorporate ideas that allow them into states of creativity and states of mind that really lead to new and exciting ways that humans can interact.


And many people will just be consumers of everything they produce. Well, all of the, what's what's great about new media is that we've we've democratized access to this information and we're able to realize that that these people are not just freaks of nature, but that they have a methodology and they've created this canon, this toolkit. And these practices are available to everybody. And you have people like David who are explaining this in very plain terms, that it is within your power to take advantage of these things, to take better control of your life.


And we've never seen anything like that before in the history of humanity. And I think that that, you know, that bodes well for the empowerment of the next generation as well. I do, too. I as you can probably tell him I'm optimistic. Yeah, I have to be, because otherwise I can't justify the work that we're doing. But I think that there's so much interest now in psychology and the brain and the self in physical fitness, which, you know, I think it's fair to say is inextricably linked to mental fitness and the fact that people are so curious about what other people are doing and what are the paths to success and, you know, what are the resources for trauma and addiction?


I think there's been a kind of swarm of information. It's been hard to sort through. But I think 2020 is our, you know, as our sort of call, I keep calling it a call to arms. And because I guess I do feel that way. It's very serious. This is this is serious business and this is the time for us and the next generation to step up and, you know, and to lead people toward a place where they we can function better and where the next generation will reflexively function better.


That's the beauty of early childhood, is that if some of this stuff is taught and passed off, it's not going to be perfect. But there will be a generation of people coming up that will naturally understand stress and agitation is taking them off their game and leading to bad decisions. And we'll make the appropriate adjustments. And there are people that will that read David's book in your book and will see the possibility of doing something differently with it, with a terrible childhood or a brutal addiction.


And, you know, I think we we need more stories of success. I think it's easy to look out there and see all the things that are going wrong. And we need to keep paying attention to those. But we need these beacons that draw people forward. And I say that from a place of experience. I mean, I used to have to find it in books, in the bookshelf. I there was no online back then or in mentors.


And, you know, you have to forage. You know, I think kids, they have to have that foraging capacity. They can't just sit there and wait for it to rain on them or for a parent to dump it on them. But I trust that they're out there and that they're going to figure it out, just like you're doing on Instagram.


You're dropping these videos basically every day. Right. Like those little lessons on neuroscience.


I'm trying I'm trying to show people that I have a kind of no acronym rule. So I don't like embedding things and a lot of complex language. Sometimes I have to use an acronym, but yeah, teach people a little bit about how their brain works, how it interfaces with psychology. Everyone's got different goals and and purposes in the world. But you know that scientists are normal people and hopefully science has something. I think really science has something to offer, but it's not going to happen if I'm vaulted in my lab and my papers are read by the 12 people that care enough to read the paper, start to finish it.


So I'm doing it. There are others out there. Of course, David Sinclair is doing it. Sasha panda's doing it. I'm trying to recruit more people from the scientific community to do this. I think it's our responsibility. You paid for it. It's your tax dollars. You know, there's a tremendous cost to doing science that is not often discussed. But I don't really consider it an option. I consider it my obligation and I'm going to keep going.


Well, keep doing it, man.


I appreciate the work that you're doing. I think it's really important work. We need it now more than ever.


And it's cool that you're getting out there and. Sharing your wisdom with everybody, it's super empowering. So thanks, man. Thank you. I really appreciate the chance to.


If you're if you're digging on Andrew, best way to find him is on Instagram @hubermanlab. Cool. All right. Coming back, I made all these notes, all the stuff I want to talk to you about. We got through like 10 percent of our self income. I run. I know it's great for us. Yeah. I just I just was getting out of the way and, you know, listen to what you have to say.


I appreciate it. Thanks, man.


Thank you. Peace. Well, I think it's fair to say that that should give you a few things to ponder. I appreciate Dr. Huberman's brilliance. Hope you guys took some notes. And do me a favor. Let Andrew know what you thought of today's exchange. You can find him at Habermann Lab on Twitter and Instagram, where he also shares lots of really cool videos on neuroscience. So give him a follow. We also have another role on Šamaš coming up this week.


And we set up a voicemail for you guys to leave your questions. So if you'd like your question considered and potentially even aired during the podcast, leave me a message at forty four two three five four six two six. That's four two four, two, three, five, four, six, two, six. Super excited about this new series. If you'd like to support our work here on the show, subscribe rate and comment on it on Apple podcast, on Spotify and on YouTube.


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