Imagine if you could start this year feeling more vibrant, excited, and connected than ever before. What if you could uncover a new sense of meaning, purpose, and expanded possibility in your life, even in uncertain times? Well, that’s exactly what we aim to help you do throughout our special January Jumpstart series.
Each week, we’ll dive deep into concepts many of you have asked us to demystify. We’ll share stories and science to reframe them in an actionable way. For example, we’ll bust myths around passion and reveal what it really takes to cultivate it in your life. We know it’s easy to get stuck in ruts of the mind, but we’re here to shake things up.
This series is all about driving real change through both learning and doing. So we’ll give you small, daily challenges to integrate insights into your life. Imagine taking one small step each day that unlocks more vitality, creativity, connection, and meaning. Compound that over weeks and months, and you’ll be amazed at the transformation.
We can’t wait to share this experience with you. Follow along each week, do the challenges with friends for accountability, and send us your questions. Let’s make this year one of growth, discovery, and living your good life!
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Dan Lerner: [00:00:00] A lot of people think that passion is going to be thunderbolt moments. Boom. I walk by a guitar store, looked at that guitar, hang in the window, and knew I would be the greatest guitar player who ever lived. Thought nobody ever. Except for maybe like Jimi Hendrix, a lot of people think they’re going to find their passion tomorrow. It’s going to hit them. Boom, I’m going to find it. Passion. His take on average about three years to develop from literature and they start as interests.
Jonathan Fields: [00:00:25] So how do we make this year our best year ever? Regardless of what’s happening around us, no matter what comes our way in work, our health, relationships and beyond, how do we make this year one that is filled with passion and purpose, presence and awareness, joy and belonging, meaning and movement. One that really, truly makes us feel alive? Well, all this month we are going to help you set your year up to feel differently with our special January Jump Start series, or what we call your 2024 Good Life Awakening. Every week for five weeks, we’ll open the week with a very special episode that focuses on one specific topic that is central to your ability to live your best life and finally feel the way that you want to feel. We’ll bring you experts on each topic who will share not just stories and insights, but critical science behind concepts that you’ve probably heard, talked about, but never really understood exactly what they were, how they worked, what the science was behind them, and how they’re capable of literally changing your life. Each of the five elements will dive into over the course of this month alone, have this transformational power. Individually, they’re researched, vetted, and shown to be highly effective, but simply learning about them. It’s just not enough. Information feeds fascination, but action feeds real and lasting change. So each week, I’m also going to invite you at the end of every episode to take action to integrate these new insights into your life a little bit every day, with a seven-day challenge tied to the topic of each of these January Jumpstart episodes.
Jonathan Fields: [00:01:57] So it’s not just about learning something powerful and new, but also taking one simple step every day for the next week to turn that wisdom into action and feel real change in your life. So tune in with me every week, take action every week and you will start to feel your good life buckets and experience a level of vitality and connection, energy, excitement and a sense of purpose and meaning and mattering that if you keep doing these things, literally hold the potential to change everything, even in the context of a world that sometimes seems to battle our ability to feel the way we want to feel and live the way we dream of living now. Our first topic to kick off this week’s January Jumpstart series. It’s all about passion, but not passion like you’ve ever heard it talked about before. And we’ve got two teachers to guide us. One is a long time friend, collaborator, and expert on the topic, Dan Lerner with a Master’s in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. He’s been co-teaching the largest undergrad class at NYU for over a decade now on the science of happiness. And one of his driving passions, beyond teaching, has actually been a deep focus on the science and application of passion. We’ll also hear from renowned author Elizabeth Gilbert about an experience that just completely changed her mind, about passion, and how she’s reframed it to make the concept more relevant, actionable, and inclusive. It turns out there is just so much misinformation and false ideas about passion out there. So we do a bunch of myth busting, redefining what passion really is, and whether the quote one passion myth is real or not.
Jonathan Fields: [00:03:32] We explore some of the incredible science on the topic of passion, along with what happens when we have too little or too much, or express passion in a healthy versus destructive way. And finally, we leave you with this week’s 1st January Jumpstart seven-day Challenge, designed to help you bring just more passion into your life, one tiny step at a time. And by the way, I’ll be doing these seven-day challenges along with you, sharing my experience and inviting you to come along and do the January Jumpstart Challenges with me every week. Now, before we dive into the art, science, and truth about passion, two quick things one. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to just take three seconds now and hit follow in whatever app you’re listening to this podcast and now so you don’t miss a single one of these special and valuable January jumpstart sessions. And then do one more thing to set yourself up for success like never before. Share this episode with at least one other person, both because you know it will help them bring more passion into their lives, but also because your January jumpstart will be so much more fun and effective when you listen and learn and act not alone, but as a small, joyful, personal, good life, accountability and action taking group. So share this with 1 or 2 people and we can all do it together this month. And if you’re open to it, I’d also love to hear from you along the way.
Jonathan Fields: [00:04:49] Just record a short and sweet voice memo with how you tried out this week’s challenge and how it made you feel, and you can email it to [email protected] or just click the link in the shownotes. We’ll include that email there. We’ll also be answering some listener questions along the way. So if you have a specific question about this week’s topic, send it to us at that same email address. And who knows, we might even include your reflections or questions at the end of one of these very special episodes. I’ll remind you about this at the end of each January Jumpstart episode. So excited to share our January Jumpstart month-long experience with you! I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.
Jonathan Fields: [00:05:32] So we’re starting off our January Jumpstart series with a deep dive on passion. And our primary guide is Dan Lerner. But we’ll also hear from Elizabeth Gilbert about a moment that completely changed her stance on passion. Let’s drop into our conversation with Dan: Passion. It is something that gets thrown around, gets bandied about, gets talked about, is sometimes felt, is sometimes felt in ways that drive us to do things that we’re excited to do, in ways that drive us to do things that we really regret doing. It’s been written about in texts as old as thousands of years, in texts as new as scientific journals, and there is just a metric ton of mythology around it as well. You’ve been studying this topic for years now. We have been having conversations about it on and off.
Dan Lerner: [00:06:26] I’m passionate about passion.
Jonathan Fields: [00:06:27] Exactly. So before we dive into this topic, and I do want a deep dive into this because I think there’s so much murkiness around it. I am curious of all the different things you’ve been studying for years now in the field of writing, teaching, learning universities, you have literally gone deep into the research literature in so many different aspects of the human experience. Passion has gotten its hooks into you in a really deep way, and it hasn’t let go. And I’ve seen this. I’ve seen you just keep going back to it and back to it and back to it. And the curiosity is, why do you have a sense for what draws you so powerfully to this topic and has kept you there?
Dan Lerner: [00:07:13] You know, I don’t know if I found passion or passion kind of found me. When you’re fascinated with something and you don’t realize that it’s actually a thing that it’s been studied, you know, it’s out there, as you said, it’s been out there in ancient texts, and it’s in there in modern texts and, and texts throughout the ages. But then you kind of trip across it and you go, oh my gosh, this exists as a science, and this exists in a way that we can study it and quantify it and help people nurture it. But for years I’ve been fascinated with the realization of of human potential. I’m fascinated by how people are able to be their best in life. When I say best in life, I mean best on the athletic field, best. Best in the courtroom and the surgical room. Best on stage as a musician, best teacher that they can be not just the best, but the best they can be. But I’ve also been really fascinated by well-being, by how people live good lives. And those two things don’t always go together. It’s interesting you talked about how passion can be wonderful thing for us, and it can also be a really challenging thing for us. And that’s what I saw when I was working in the music business when I first graduated from college for ten years, seeing people who were enormously successful, clearly passionate about what they did, and some were really happy in life, or I should say fulfilled with their in their life. And some were really not. And that divide is what led me to trying to understand why and how. And if we could understand that, could we cultivate lives for people who are both realizing their potential in their occupational pursuits, but also realizing their potential in their well-being and the study of passion? Really, for me, is a crossroads between where well-being and where personal excellence sits.
Jonathan Fields: [00:08:56] Take a step back in time. Then you reference back when you were in the world of music, take me back as if you were there now. Like, what are you doing? And what are you seeing in the context of passion in the work that you were doing?
Dan Lerner: [00:09:09] Let’s come back on. Let’s go all the way all these years, back to when Dan Lerner graduates from college. And Dan Lerner has grown up in a in a household with two professional musicians who were also very happy people. My father was in the Symphony in Pittsburgh for 45 years. My mother was an opera singer. They loved what they did. My dad loved what he did for a living. My mother loved what she did for a living. I kind of assumed that if you’re going to be able to realize success, and when I say success, I mean be able to support yourself and a family in music. Well, of course you’re going to be living a fulfilling life. And what I saw was that sharp divide. I saw the people who everyone was successful, the folks we represented. I was a large I was at a large talent agency. Some were living fulfilling lives. Well, and if I’m going to break it down, I’m thinking about two specific young singers. Part of what I was focusing on. I represented opera singers, conductors, directors at a very high level, but my area of expertise were young performers and young in that field for singers is say mid 20s, and you go to a training program like the Metropolitan Opera Young Artist Program or San Francisco Opera or Chicago or Paris, and you see the best of the best young performers.
Dan Lerner: [00:10:21] And I remember two guys in particular, the same age, actually, the same age as me at that time. I think we were all in our mid 20s and they had enormous potential. Everyone in the industry was like, these are the two next. Big guys, and I was fortunate enough to sign one of them, and the other one went to another management company, and I watched our guy just ascend and ascend and ascend and became this one of the first of his kind called [Mabara?] Hunk, where you had this incredibly good looking human being. Not always what we think about with opera singers, who was an enormously talented singer and his career just took off. And with the other fella, the career kind of wavered. And then he disappeared. And I was so curious to know what the differences were. What had they done differently? I knew they were both talented. I had a really good ear for voices. I knew they were both talented. I knew they both held potential to be enormously successful in their careers. And one did exactly that, and one dropped off the map. And I really wanted to know what the difference was. What were they doing on a daily basis that might make that different? How were they practicing that might make that different? How were they getting along with colleagues in a way that might make that different was their mindset.
Dan Lerner: [00:11:35] But really, that was it. I sort of hit that, well, what’s going on upstairs? Because I know they both have the voices, but something’s going on that’s different in the way they’re thinking about their careers and thinking about their lives. And I wanted to understand what was going on there so I could go back into the industry and help more people who were talented, who had that potential, realized that potential. So more of them would ascend to wonderful careers, so more audience, because it could enjoy the talents and the musicality and the and and the pleasure that we can get from world-class musicians. And that’s one of the reasons why I left the business. The other reason is, as I mentioned before, because whether it was young ones and really it was more the established ones that my boss, my mentor was, was representing. They were all enormously successful, and some of them were living fulfilling lives and some of them were miserable. And there’s lots of gray area. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not one or the other, but it was pretty clear divide and I wanted to understand that too. But most specifically, I wanted to understand did it matter if we were happy? And I use that word because that’s the word I used back then until I got into positive psychology and understood there was a lot more to well-being than happiness.
Dan Lerner: [00:12:40] But did it matter if they had positive emotions? Did it matter how they thought about their careers? Did it matter if they had families? Did it matter in terms of their ability to realize their potential as performers? And that’s what I dove into first performance psychology, as we say, the science of how to develop expertise, how to deal with stress, how to perform at your peak when the pressure’s on, but then really dove into positive psychology, the science of positive emotions, the science of positive relationships, of meaning, of purpose, a science of what Marty Seligman says, the science of what makes life worth living. And I kind of just tripped over this research on passion. And the moment I did, it was like, you look across the room and you see that person and you’re like, I’m going to spend the rest of my life with you. That’s exactly how I felt when I came across this research on passion, most of which came out of University of Montreal. A man named Robert Vallerand, who’s done enormous and amazing work on the topic. And it was just they were both there, the performance and the well-being questions and how do they work together. And that was it. I found my forever fascination and it’s never gone away.
Jonathan Fields: [00:13:49] I want to dive into that research and explore some examples of it. But before we get there, I think we need to actually do a little bit of defining, because passion is also one of those words that’s been out there and around and kicked around in so many different contexts and so many different ways that I feel like there’s no clear understanding, and people are probably using it in very different ways, in different contexts. And so for the purpose of avoiding ambiguity for this conversation, when we’re talking about passion, what are we talking about?
Dan Lerner: [00:14:17] As you know, and as so many of your listeners know, one of the challenging parts of studying anything in psychology is you’re doing. I mean, Jonathan, you’re asking Zach the right question. We have to define it before we’re really able to dive into it. And so the kind of quick but accurate answer from the research perspective is an intense desire or enthusiasm for an activity. And that’s it. And intense desire or enthusiasm for something, for an activity. When you start to look at it, you’ll see numbers like that. We want to pursue at least eight hours a week, right? We’ll come from one area of research, for example. I’m always really careful with numbers in psychological research because we are all different human beings. And so we might be looking at an average there. But for a listener who’s sitting there thinking, well, I want to do this 16 hours a week, and someone else saying, I want to do it four hours a week. I always like to leave some leeway for that because we’re different human beings. But if we’re talking about the strict definition, it’s an intense desire or enthusiasm for something like an activity.
Jonathan Fields: [00:15:21] So what if we move beyond the strict definition? What if we think about sort of like in in real world real life? Or if I just asked you, how would you describe. Do you think about passion beyond the sort of like the strict literature based definition?
Dan Lerner: [00:15:36] It’s funny. I would actually respond by sharing the answers that I tend to get from audiences when I’m speaking with them. I always ask them a question, and that question is, what’s the first word you think of when you hear the word passion? I usually post it on a on a slide behind me with fire or something underneath it. And they’re like motivation, love, sex. Sex is always top three motivation, love, sex, enthusiasm, drive. And it’s this constant rolling idea of of this inner need to do something. And we don’t always know why we want to do it, but it doesn’t matter. We just want to do it. We want to pursue it. We want to read more about it. We want to play it more. We want to cook more. We want to be in our garden more. We want to get on our bike more, whatever that might be. So the first words that come out of people’s mouths are almost always very positive in that way. And it’s really about motivation and things that drive me and love and sex and things like that. But every once in a while, an audience member will say something like obsession. Usually, not. Usually. I will have to say, look, everyone who just spoke up and so many people speak up. It’s one of those fun questions because nearly everyone has something to say. But I say, you know, everything you’ve said has been positive. Is passion ever negative? And that’s when people will start to nod. I’m like, what are you thinking about? And they’re like, well, addiction or a passion for something that’s harmful to somebody else or, or obsession, as I said. So it tends to propel us forward. Often it propels us forward in a really wonderful way, but sometimes it propels us forward towards a place that’s not quite as healthy. But that’s what it is. It’s this motivation to do it, to get it done, to get involved, to roll your sleeves up.
Jonathan Fields: [00:17:16] Do you look at passion as experience-driven or outcome-driven?
Dan Lerner: [00:17:22] So that’s a really interesting question. It’s almost like you’re jumping ahead a little bit. So it really depends on the way you’re pursuing your passion. And that’s what becomes. So one of the many things that becomes so interesting about looking at the research, because one of the things that Vallerand and his colleagues have found is that there really are two very distinctive roads to pursue when we are going to pursue a passion, one is called harmonious passion. It is very much what it sounds like. It is a passion that we might have which works in harmony with the rest of our life. So, and just to be clear, a passion can be so many things. A lot of people think I make the assumption that passion has to be our work. It has to be work-related, and passions can be reading, friends, cycling, tennis, gardening, whatever it is you have that enthusiasm for. But when it comes to harmonious passion, it’s often about internally driven fascination and desire to do something. When we’re looking at the other side, which is termed obsessive passion, we’re often doing it for other reasons. Not always, but often we’re doing it for other reasons. So if we look at harmonious passion, often it comes from a simple love for something. A joy of something obsessive is often driven by desire for money or for status or for glory.
Dan Lerner: [00:18:37] And that’s a very, very different thing. So when you talk about intrinsic versus versus outcome driven, uh, those two pathways are often guided that way. I would use an example. I love talking about kids because if we have kids, we’ve seen it in them. And if we don’t have kids, you’ve been one. So you can relate. But five-year-olds, four-year-olds get up in the morning and they know exactly what they want to do. They’re like Boop! time to play with Legos. Boop! Time to color with the crayons. Boop! Time to go outside and play kickball. Boop! Whatever it might be. They know. And it’s not like they’re being told they have to do it. They just go and do it. And that’s a wonderful way to look at kind of the harmonious passion of this is something I just look forward to doing. But at some point, for a lot of those four and five and six-year-olds, and a lot of us who are listening right now and watching right now are parents call us in from, let’s say we’re outside playing wiffle ball or whatever we’re doing and say, hey, sweetheart, it’s time to come in and practice piano. And a lot of us have thought, oh, man, I totally don’t want to do that.
Dan Lerner: [00:19:36] Okay, I’m going to go in and then we go in. And why are we doing it? We’re not doing it because we love playing piano. We’re doing it because someone else is telling us to do it. It’s good for you. Or, you know, it’s an important thing. And and that’s a very different pathway. So you’re doing it for somebody else, which is very different. And if we’re playing that piano, by the way, I often ask audiences who here played an instrument when they were growing up. And usually it depends on the audience. I’d say on average you get 75 ish to 80%. Folks raise their hand. I’m like, good, keep your hand up, keep your hand up. If you are still playing that instrument, keep your hand up. And I remember giving a talk to a group of 2500 people, and there were like four people who kept their hands up. And why is that? Well, it might be because they don’t have time, but it also might be because they never really wanted to play it anyway. They were playing it for another reason, because it would help them get into college, because their parents wanted them to do it. So if we extend that, I’m looking at the clock. When is my practice time going? Be over so I can get back to coloring or get back to playing in the garden.
Dan Lerner: [00:20:35] Let’s grow up 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 years from now. And I’m looking at the clock thinking, when can I get it the hell out of this office? When can I get out of here? I need, as opposed to some people who are doing it, doing something, going, this is wonderful. I don’t really need to leave right now. Like, I’m really enjoying this. I look forward to it. There’s a friend of mine who worked at a very well-known investment firm for over two decades, and he loved his work. And we know from the research that folks in finance don’t tend to have terrifically high well-being overall. But he was really happy, and he loved going to work every day. And I asked him what it was about it, and he said, Dan, man, I’m a math geek, dude. I went to MIT. Like for me, most of my day is basically spent trying to figure out really complex puzzles, and that’s super fun for me. So when he saw it that way, it was an outcome driven. It was internally motivated because it was something that he loved. So we can see that difference when it comes to really why we are pursuing things. To answer that question about internally or or outcome-driven ideas.
Jonathan Fields: [00:21:41] So you have in the literature then this distinction that gets made between harmonious passion, you could probably, for just common parlance, label that as healthy passion. Yeah. Or functional passion and obsessive passion. I go with healthy passion. Right. Healthy passion.
Dan Lerner: [00:21:58] Because by the way, when we talk in a moment, we talk a little later about what the outcomes are for the rest of our lives. It actually is healthy in a lot of ways, and not just when you’re pursuing the passion.
Jonathan Fields: [00:22:07] And then the flip side is obsessive passion. We could probably call that unhealthy passion. Let’s do that. So when we think about these, both of those though seem internally driven because you just described this other scenario. And I think many of us like as soon as you describe the music scenario as a kid, I’m thinking back to when I’m literally ten years old in my bedroom, taking guitar lessons at the time, but not wanting to take guitar lessons, having an old cassette tape player recording my scales on the cassette tape player with my door closed, then rewinding it and then just replaying it 4 or 5 times where I was like messing around and like doing other things in my room so that my mom could hear something that sounded like a kid playing scales on an acoustic guitar in the bedroom, like.
Dan Lerner: [00:22:58] You were the smart.
Jonathan Fields: [00:22:59] The hour that I was supposed to be practicing.
Dan Lerner: [00:23:02] Kids, If you’re listening, do not pay attention to Mr. Fields.
Jonathan Fields: [00:23:04] Do not do that. Do not do this. Um, but what’s fascinating is, um. So I was terrible at it. I was brand new at it, you know, I had no no skill built up at it. So to me, the way that I was doing it, there was no joy in the process. If I thought about, oh, would I love to be able to play like this person or that person or that person that would have been like, oh yeah, Eddie Van Halen, please, of course. Right. But there was nothing in the process of practicing about it in the very early days for me, that was internally driven. And at the same time, I had a friend who would literally run home from school, close his door and practice his electric guitar until he couldn’t keep his eyes open at night, which was often like 10:00 at night. He would spend 5 or 6 hours a day. It ended up becoming a professional musician, not because his parents said, you have to take an instrument, but because it was the thing he couldn’t not do. And it’s interesting to me the distinction between what comes from the inside out and the outside in. But at the same time, I guess my curiosity is, you know, you could look at let’s take that friend, for example.
Jonathan Fields: [00:24:20] So for me, I tapped out. This wasn’t something that I wanted to do. In hindsight, I actually wish that I hadn’t because I would love to be able to pick up that instrument now and just play beautifully and with ease and with fluency. And and I lament the fact that I can’t. I play now, I picked it up again later in life, but I’m a hack. And like, had I been playing just regularly from the time I was a kid, it would be totally different experience. And so this other friend, I want to focus on him for a minute because here’s my curiosity. He would run home, he would do this thing. Eventually he becomes a musician and it leads him into the world of music. He didn’t end up being long-time professional musician, but he stayed in that world. You know, it kept him in it, and he loved the culture and everything else about it. That same impulse which you’re like, wow, this like this is probably the impulse that has led to some of the best musicians, best performers in the world. That exact same intrinsic impulse can also tip from healthy or harmonious into obsessive or unhealthy, right?
Dan Lerner: [00:25:24] That’s right. 100%. I mean, how are we looking at why we’re doing it? I mean, look, when we’re that young, we’re running home, are we? Doing it because we’re fascinated by the music. But the music we can make, are we doing it because we are, because we do want to be Eddie Van Halen, and that’s what we’re shooting for. Because we want to be famous. Because we’ve seen people these days on social media who are so well known and so glorified that we want to be them. That’s a big question. Another big question is, are we developing habits? Because in a lot of ways, and I want to oversimplify it in a lot of ways, passions are habits. They’re good habits. They’re bad habits. And are we doing it in a way that allows other folks in to incorporate and if not other people? Because let’s say someone’s highly introverted, they might not look forward to working with other people, but with other interests in to allow breaks from the time when we’re playing until we almost fall asleep. If we’re able to craft our pursuit in a way that does incorporate breaks or other people or other interests, we are far more likely to be looking at what we call harmonious or healthy passion. Think about your life as a pie chart. If it is multiple colors. Yeah, I play into my eyes, almost closed, but then I go downstairs and have dinner with my family and and look forward to seeing my family, or go out with my friends, or I do something else.
Dan Lerner: [00:26:44] You’re going to have multiple colors. Obsessively passionate people often have a single color. And the challenge then is how do we respond to any kind of obstacle? How do we respond to what we might deem as failure? There are a couple of ways that I tend to talk about it. If you are doing what every seven-year-old in the world has ever done, which is race to the fence, that is to say, we’re in. We’re in a schoolyard, we’re like, I’ll race to the fence or someone else, you know, sets a race to the fence. You basically have two ways of doing it. And I think this works as an image for your friend. We can either run as fast or a little seven-year-old’s legs will take us with our hair flying behind us. And this is wonderful and I hope I’m going to win. But I just love this feeling. Or we can constantly be looking over our shoulder and if we lose, if we’re losing, either stop and give up or we put our hand out to stop somebody else, that means we’re not focusing on our own process.
Dan Lerner: [00:27:36] We’re focusing on other people and the need to win or be the best. So when I’ve worked with piannists, let’s go back to musicians. When I’ve worked with musicians, let’s say a music conservatory like a Juilliard, pianists are really interesting. They can practice for longer than most other musicians because they don’t have to worry about, say, their embouchure for if they’re playing a flute or another wind instrument, and they can just go and scales and scales, and you’ll see people who will practice for hours on end. But when lunch comes around, they’ll get a little knock and a knock on the door. Hey, I’m going to go out and get a slice. It’s noon, and that person will might look up from their piano and say, oh my gosh, where did the time go? Okay, yeah, let’s go, let’s go. They might talk about music, but they could talk about the person they’re dating or the movie they saw last night, or a book they’re reading, or what’s going on in current events. But you knock on other doors and you get, I can’t go out, I can’t go out. I have a competition in three weeks. I can’t go out. Okay, knock comes the next day. It can’t go out. I can’t go out. I have a competition now comes the next day.
Dan Lerner: [00:28:37] And then the knocks slow down and the competition passes. And you still knock on their door again. They still can’t go out because there’s another reason they can’t go out. And if they can go out, if they do decide to go out, they’re not necessarily with you mentally. They’re thinking about, I should be back in the studio. I should be practicing. I’m falling behind. So are we able to take those breaks that are really healthy for us and allow us to process differently? And also knowing that if I don’t win that competition, it’s okay. I’m still doing what I love, as opposed to if I don’t win that competition. And I’ve heard this from musicians. I hate playing piano anyway. And why am I doing this? What’s the big deal if I don’t win, why would I do it? So it really does depend on those different drivers and they are complex. We all have, I should say. Most of us have a part of each in us, right? But there are times when we will obsess. There are times when we can experience it in harmony. But as I said before, with with the research, I think that’s where we all, all the everyone out there has to think about what works for me, because I know when I wrote the book, for example, I did it obsessively and it was not pretty.
Dan Lerner: [00:29:40] And I will never do that again. But I also know that I need extended periods of time where I need to obsess. I need to go get a cabin in the woods for two weeks and do nothing but think about it and write and look at my family and say, so, dad’s leaving for a week. I’ll see you next week. I love you and when I’m back, I am there, right? And some people need to do it for longer periods of time, some people for shorter periods of time. But if you don’t do it in a healthy way, the odds of burnout go way up, and the odds of having a really complicated negative relationship with your pursuit. And I suppose you can talk about burnout in that light too, but sort of thinking, well, I have to do this because I have to be the best and you lose the joy that you ever had with that. And that’s one of the great nightmares, both for me and for a lot of the folks that I work with. And I think people out there as well, like. Can you imagine working that hard for that long and then burning out and never want to do it again? That’s a big possible outcome when we pursue it the wrong way.
Jonathan Fields: [00:30:38] And that happens. I mean, you see those stories happen all the time. Somebody is at the top of whatever they’re doing and then like, they wake up on a Monday and they’re like, done. Yeah. That’s right. Just just that’s it. So it seems like both harmonious and obsessive passion. Part of that there’s some internal impulse towards a particular pursuit or activity. It often drives you to do it enough times with a level of intensity that you develop, increasing levels of excellent and expertise, sometimes extraordinary levels of it, yet harmonious, leads you both towards excellence and expertise and towards well-being, while obsessive, may lead you towards excellent expertise again, but away from well-being. Does that make sense?
Dan Lerner: [00:31:34] Yeah, that makes perfect sense. In fact, there was a study done on, um, on college theater majors where they looked at they assessed the students for either harmonious or obsessive passion for the topic, for theater, for acting. And then they looked to see how those passions correlated with the pursuit of their passion through deliberate practice. And folks who don’t know that term, it’s the 10,000 hour term that Malcolm Gladwell made famous in his book outliers, but was taken from Anders Erickson’s research at Florida State on expert development. It’s sort of one of the main ways that we think about becoming processes that we that we know can help us improve. It’s very goal-oriented, but very short goals, very a great focus on feedback, getting feedback, having mentors, having teachers, really making sure you’re making progress constantly. And it’s hard. It’s hard work. You can only really do it. According to the research, about four hours a day, 4 to 5 hours a day. The cognitive load is too heavy and then you kind of plateau. And so it’s tough. I always look at deliberate practice as climbing up a hill with a bag of rocks on your shoulder, and if you’re making too much progress, throw another rock in there because it’s pushing you to be better. So in this study, they looked to see who was more likely to practice deliberately. And when I’m with audiences and I ask that question, 98% of the people will.
Dan Lerner: [00:33:02] I mean, it’s obvious to them that it’s obsessive because you’re going to do anything you can to get ahead. It turns out there is no correlation with obsessive passion and deliberate practice. A very, very, very low. There’s a much higher correlation between harmonious passion and deliberate practice for a number of different reasons. Excessively passionate people, they don’t necessarily want the feedback. So a lot of fixed mindset that I don’t need the feedback. I, you know, I don’t want to know about that. And they are constantly looking at somebody else to see, to compare themselves rather than thinking, how can I get better at this thing if I’m a guitar player, how do I get my picking down? That’s all I’m going to focus on today. Just not the full piece. Not being Eddie Van Halen, but just getting clean on my picking so they’re far more likely to do that. The interesting part of the study, and to your question is that that research also shows that, as expected, there’s no correlation between obsessive passion and well-being, but there is a pretty decent correlation between harmonious passion and well-being. So not only are you likely to have higher levels of well-being, you’re also more likely to pursue your interest with deliberate practice. So not only be getting better, you’re also having greater well-being too. That’s a really interesting study. Yeah, that is.
Jonathan Fields: [00:34:08] So interesting because I probably would have guessed the opposite to that. You know, like it’s the obsessive person that will just like, deepen into this brutal, really hard type of practice. So to hear that it’s actually the opposite. It’s fascinating to me, but it sounds like then so if that typical person is maybe only capable of pursuing that level of deliberate practice 4 or 5 hours a day, max is one of the differences that then once they hit that cap, the person who is driven more by harmonious passion is then more likely to be like, oh, you know, like I’m going to go hang out with like, what are the other things or relationships or activities that are that I truly value? Let me let go of the practice. I’m gonna go for a walk and go hang out with my friends. I’m going to go eat great food. I’m going to go read a book, whereas the obsessive person is going to hit that cap and probably find it really difficult to disconnect from that pursuit and reconnect with any other part of their lives that they may even overtly say they value and hold dear. But they basically say, like, that can’t be part of what I’m doing now. So they wittingly or unwittingly end up ejecting all of these other things that would contribute to their well-being in the name of deepening into excellence and expertise in this one pursuit, not even realizing that. They’ve hit the cap of what they can and need to do, and anything else that just keeps them in an obsessive state of mind around that is just taking them down. Does that make sense?
Dan Lerner: [00:35:41] It makes a lot of sense. I mean, think about the support system. We need to be able to push that hard. It is really hard to do those things if you have no one to turn to. And I mean someone, no one to turn to, both in good times and bad times. So obsessively passionate people don’t have the same kind of bonds, and they tend not to have same kind of bonds, friendships, relationships. Why? Clearly, because they haven’t made time for them. They don’t value them. So if you do lose that competition, or you do have a bad day at work, or you do whatever that obsessive thing you’re obsessive about goes wrong that day, you haven’t cultivated the relationships to turn to someone. And whether it’s as simple as going, I had a rough day or going, I’m really concerned about my day. Where are they? It’s hard to do that. You know, a lot of the things that sustain us through really hard work, such as relationships or meaning or positive motions in some capacity, uh, those things are not necessarily associated with obsessive passions. So because you haven’t cultivated that in your habits to include other people, to include other things, to include other pursuits, you don’t have much, you know, let me may I share a story to sort of to illustrate?
Jonathan Fields: [00:36:46] Yeah, please.
Dan Lerner: [00:36:47] My son, you know, my son Julian, when Julian was very young, he was incredibly active. I’m talking three years old. He never stopped moving, never stopped running, never stopped jumping. And I was outside the park with him one day, and I heard daddy, daddy, look at me. And I. And I looked over and he’s standing on a two-foot high concrete block that covers a water pipe, and he’s crouched, and I knew exactly what he was going to do. He was about a foot away from a fence, and I knew he was going to jump, and I knew what would happen. Like, he’d hit the fence, he’d bounce back off, he’d knock his head on something. I’d take him the ER. It’d be like, really messy. And I literally like dove to get him. And I didn’t get there in time. And he jumped and he hit the fence, and he stuck there like Spider-Man. And it was bizarre. And he just started crawling up the fence. And finally he got high enough. I plucked him off and I was like, dude, that is really awesome. And that is really weird. And he wanted to climb on everything because we live in New York City, and I figured I need to get him into something. That’s something that would allow him to climb on everything, get the energy out, get the wiggles out without hurting himself. So I took him to a little gymnastics facility, kids gymnastics, Gymboree. And he loved it. Loved it. It was clear as day this is something that he just couldn’t get enough of first night.
Dan Lerner: [00:38:01] Hey, daddy. Daddy, can tomorrow be gymnastics day? Yeah, sure, kiddo. It could be gymnastics day. And it was. And he loved it. He ran in there, couldn’t wait. Next night. Daddy, daddy, tomorrow would be gymnastics day. Yeah, it can be gymnastics day. Sure. Of course. And he went. Loved it next night. Daddy. Daddy can. I was like no it can’t be because it’s really expensive. But you can go like three times a week. And that would be awesome, right? And he couldn’t wait to get in there. And about a month in I got a call from the director and he said, Mr. Lerner, we need to talk to you about Julian. And I was like, well, what? Is everything okay? Is he all right? He’s like, he’s fine, but next time you come in, I need to speak to you. Well. Has he? Is he not getting along with kids? He’s like, no, no, no, just come talk to me. And I went in and Julian went running in with great joy to to to go and do whatever he was going to do. And I went into the office and what’s going on with Julian? And the director didn’t say anything. He just sit there for a moment. And then he did this big sweeping arm motion to the window. And there, outside of the window, are all these little four-year-old kids, and they’re on balance beams that are like three feet wide and they’re falling off and they’re giggling and they’re falling into foam pits.
Dan Lerner: [00:38:58] They’re having a great time. And there’s Julian in the back of the gym banging out pull-ups on a high bar, and he’s like, you need to take him somewhere. So we did. We took him to Chelsea Piers. And Jonathan, you’re a former gymnast, so I know you can relate to these things. And they didn’t take kids that young. They took them anyway. And he loved it. Couldn’t wait to get in there. Couldn’t wait to work out. And he competed that year. He’s one of the youngest kids in the state competing, and he did really well. But the problem was if he missed a bonus, which you see, you get a couple of tenths of a point shaved off if you trip at all. If you don’t stick your landing, he would totally go to tears. He’d finish the routine, go to the side the coach would like, have to calm him down, and he’d come to me and say, dad, I can’t believe I missed that bonus. I can’t believe I got those. I lost those points. I have to go practice and he’d go home. The first thing he’d do is start practicing his room and his little pommel horse in his room, or practicing handstands or whatever he had to do, and it got so bad because it’s all he would do. I thought, this is obsessive passion. This is a really tough thing.
Dan Lerner: [00:39:59] But this is an awesome thing because it’s someone who’s interested in psychology. I could study my own child, and the following year we decided to get him involved in other things he enjoyed. He loved playing Catch Me in the Park, so we got him involved in Little League. He loved music, so we got him some music lessons and music classes and and that following year when he competed, he didn’t respond the same way. If he missed a bonus, he missed a point. He would come to me and say, I can’t believe I missed that bonus. We have a baseball game now, don’t we? Let’s go do that or we have music. Now let’s go play some music. And most people would think that your skill level would go down, you’d take a hit. You can’t compete. But that was the year that he won the state championships for New York and won regionals in high bar. Rings. I’m sorry. And was invited to Olympic Development program because there were other things. He wasn’t so obsessed that he was able to calm down about things. And when he worked at it, he was still at the gym ton 20 hours a week. But like when he worked at it, he worked at it. When he left, he left and he was okay when things went wrong. So when he went into music a couple of years later and he was on stage, he was the national tour of Les Miz when he was on stage, and he forgot his line, totally flubbed it, made up a whole verse.
Dan Lerner: [00:41:08] He came off afterwards and he was like, dad, I cannot believe. And he was distraught. He was like, I can’t believe I did that in front of 3000 people. Can we go to the gym and work out? And I was like, yeah, kiddo, we can go gym work out because he had kept up the gymnastics, or when he fell flat on his face in front of a couple thousand people in Washington, DC. Dad, he was distraught again. He’s like, dad, can we go play catch? I was like, yeah, let’s go play catch. Because there are other things there. Because you’ve allowed other things into your life, because you’ve cultivated that, because you have friends you can go play with who don’t care about what that happened or not. And don’t judge you. It’s okay. You feel easier. And so you’re able to work in a very and and gain expertise and skill in a very, very different way that doesn’t have the same kind of pressures on you. And what a lot of the research shows is that there’s pretty much an equal likelihood of mastery, whether you pursue a passion harmoniously or obsessively. There might be slight time differences, but you still tend to get there, in part because you have that support and that allows you. But there’s a much, much lower rate of burnout when you pursue a passion harmoniously than when there’s an obsessive passion.
Jonathan Fields: [00:42:13] Yeah, that makes so much sense. And I would imagine there’s just a much higher level of overall well-being and enjoyment of life along the way. Rather than losing yourself to the dark hole of the pursuit of this one thing, to the exclusion of everything else. Will you make.
Dan Lerner: [00:42:28] A really interesting point there, just to say that a lot of people think when we look at the outcomes of passion, harmonious passion, we tend to have higher levels of positive motion, as you’d expect, and obsessive passion, you tend to have higher levels of negative emotion. But really interesting thing for me, and I think for a lot of listeners, is that it’s not just when you’re pursuing the passion. So we look at a study of college basketball players, and when they are assessed for their style of passion, the harmonious basketball players, they look forward to morning practice and they enjoy morning practice. But then a lot of the things that are not basketball-related for the rest of their day are better. They might enjoy their classes more, they enjoy their friendships more, they enjoy their meals more. But the same is true for the obsessively passionate players. They don’t enjoy practice, and the rest of their days when they have morning practice tend to be worse. So it’s not just the pursuit in that moment, it tends to bleed out into other areas of life and color. Maybe it’s a better word than bleed, but it colors the rest of our life in a way that seems to go to work in tandem with your passion. Being harmonious or obsessive, being positive or negative. Right?
Jonathan Fields: [00:43:32] So let’s say we are either looking at our own behavior, or maybe we’re parents or teachers, and we’re looking at the behavior of our kids or of our students who we are deeply invested in and care about. And, and we see some of these things like bubbling up, what are the general characteristics that we might look for or notice that would help us distinguish between either existing obsessive versus harmonious passion, or what seems to be like might be tipping towards one or the other. So we can kind of start to put our finger on the pulse of it and make some adjustments. And again, this might just be in noticing it ourselves too. But like, what do we look for here to figure out. Like which side do I feel like, you know, like this is tending towards and then I’d love to circle around to if in fact we’re starting to see. Well, this looks like it’s getting towards obsessives. What do we do about that?
Dan Lerner: [00:44:29] That’s a great question. I would take a step back before we even get to the passion to say, how does it develop, especially as parents? Well, for anybody out there, how do passions develop? And they tend to take time. A lot of people think that passion is going to be thunderbolt moments. Boom. I walk by it. And let’s use your example. I walk by a guitar store, looked at that guitar, hang in the window, and knew I would be the greatest guitar player who ever lived. Thought nobody ever. Except for maybe like Jimi Hendrix. The idea of and a lot of us and I think a lot of us social media driven, but a lot of people think they’re going to find their passion tomorrow. It’s going to hit them. Boom, I’m going to find it. Passions take, on average, about three years to develop to in the literature, and they start as interests. So if you’re if someone comes to me, if a student comes to me and says, I’m interested in French, I don’t suggest that they move to France next week. I suggest they take French 101, see how it goes. You still interest in French? Take another French class. I had a student a number of years ago who came to me. She was a first year and.
Dan Lerner: [00:45:30] She came to me as a senior. I didn’t know her. We have a very large class. We have 500 students in the class and just not someone I had known. And she said I was. I was your student freshman year and I was a it was a theater major. It might have been a I think it was a theatre major. I took the class because I was curious. I knew I’d need to understand more about wellbeing during my time in college, but it was so interesting that I took psych 101 the next semester. And then I took another psych class, and then I switched my major, and I’m going to grad school next year to study psychology. It was so interesting for me, but it took and that’s a very natural progression. It’s not this is my thing. Nothing else exists. It’s I’m going to take a few classes and I’m going to take that psych class and maybe I’ll take another psych class, but I’m still taking some other classes. Oh, maybe I’ll switch a major, but I’m still going to take some other classes, so being able to develop it naturally tend to take time, particularly with harmonious passions, because we’re not putting all the eggs in one basket. So if you see your kids going, nothing exists but this, that might be a sign if they are doing it to the exclusion of everything else, including friends and other hobbies, and it’s the only thing they think about that might be a sign.
Dan Lerner: [00:46:40] Not always. I can never say that. Not always. Some people just fascinated by things, but if they’re able to pursue something they’re really interested in, how do you help them do it? As a parent, what I often say is, if you notice a your kid has a talent for drawing, don’t or Legos, let’s say don’t immediately put them on the fast track to architecture. You might want to challenge them a little bit for fun, like, hey, here’s a picture of an elephant. What would you do with that? With Legos? Here’s a picture of a rhinoceros. What would you do with that? With Legos and just see how they take to it? Because little challenges here and there, which are games. One of the big issues with parents these days. And look, we I live in New York. You used to live in New York. So you know that there are some hard-driving parents in big cities. They’re hard-driving parents everywhere. But hard-driving parents are like my four-year-old is extraordinary when it comes to languages.
Dan Lerner: [00:47:25] And so I’m going to make sure they focus on languages. That might be a pathway to being obsessive because you are pushing them towards something they might have a particular talent for. But how do you help them along at 1% more a day, rather than 200% more a day, so that it’s not going to be fun for them anymore? How could they make it fun? Right? My kid’s a musician, and yet, having a teacher who really understands his style of learning is important. Some kids will learn very, very strict academic way. He’s going to learn much more play centered way. So how do we help our kids work into into a passion when we see them have an interest in a way that’s healthy, then they’re more likely to be set on a path where they’re not going to go to the obsessive, obsessive side. So that idea of doing what you love, yeah, encourage them and challenge them a little bit, just a little bit and see where that goes. But too much and you might turn the other way or they might just shut down. Sort of like one guy I know taped his own guitar record, you know, practice sessions and played it for his mom would think.
Jonathan Fields: [00:48:28] That is that.
Jonathan Fields: [00:48:30] Yeah. So let’s say, you know, we’re attuned to all of this, and then you have somebody who yourself, your kid, your student, whoever it may be. And you notice it’s tipping from what started as an interest. And then learning more and more and more, and I’m doing more and more and more time to it. And then you start to realize that you feel like some of the signposts of what you describe is like tipping into the obsessive side, the unhealthy side, like you’re not seeing friends anymore. Your body’s feeling kind of like achy and tired. You’re not sleeping well, like you’re disconnecting from other. You used to love to like, go for walks or a hike or surf or whatever, and you’re just you’re not doing anything else but the thing that you are doing. You still like it, just you. It wakes you up in the morning. You love it when you’re doing it. You don’t have that beating yourself up mentality. You genuinely do love it. You lose yourself in it. You’re in a flow state for longer than you’ve ever been, like doing anything else in your life. And yet when you’re doing it, it’s fantastic and you’re becoming incredibly adept, and that competence makes you feel amazing on top of the ability to lose yourself in this space, right? So when you’re in it, it actually like you feel amazing.
Jonathan Fields: [00:49:42] What you’re the skill you’re building around. It boosts your self-esteem and it makes you feel like like better carry your carrying yourself differently as a human being. And yet you realize that you’re simultaneously you’re stepping out, you’re opting out of all these other activities and relationships and interactions and experiences that you kind of know in your back of your mind you hold dear, but you don’t want to let go of the positive experiences that you’re feeling in the pursuit of this passion, even though you can tell it’s pulling you away from other parts of like so like, I mean, I think what I’m trying to get at here is like, this is not a binary. Like when you’re in that situation, you’re not just going to be like, oh, I’m just going to hit reset and like pull back on this other thing that I love doing and it wakes me up in the morning so I can do this other thing. From a practical standpoint, how do we start to think about resetting so we can keep having the feeling that makes us feel amazing and alive and pursue this thing, but not have it start to pile on all of the dysfunctional negative effects in our life.
Dan Lerner: [00:50:47] You know, I guess I’d want to start with a caveat, which is there are some people who are going to how do I look at Steve Jobs 30 years ago and say, you really might want to take some more time with your family, and then you’re going to be better at what you do and live a better life. It’s not going to happen, you know? How do I look at, um, so many different folks who have who are clearly obsessive about what they do at the expense of the rest of their lives and say, you shouldn’t be doing this. How do I look at Beethoven and say, why do you wander around muttering music all day? That’s that’s how you breathe. Beethoven or Ludwig, you know? So for some folks, that is a path. And that’s the path that they’re going to pursue and that, you know, so if you’re sitting out there thinking, that is who I am, it actually does. I find it wonderfully rewarding. If you genuinely say it’s rewarding and you’re living a fulfilling life, okay. Like, you know, we can have a long conversation. I’m not going to say you’re wrong, but for a lot of folks, when they pursue a passion, it is obsessive.
Dan Lerner: [00:51:50] And being able to get ourselves out of that rut, let’s say, you know, we’re talking about ruts and grooves. I’m talking about habits. You know, if we’re getting that place where we know it’s unhealthy. I kind of miss seeing friends, but I can’t take myself away from this flow state. I miss working out, I miss cooking, I miss walking, I miss reading. So, you know, the literature is still emerging, honestly on that. But some of the things that we can do incorporate other people into a regular process. That is to say, what is the thing that you’re missing most? If it’s working out, then how do you involve someone in the routine of working out, hey, I’ll meet you at the gym three days a week Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 5:00 to 6:00. We’re far less likely to skip it because we’re like, well, I’m involved in something. We’re far less likely to skip it. And yes, we’re going to begrudgingly go, especially at the beginning, because a lot of what happens, we feel guilty for not being there, right? We should be there because we need to be the best. We need to not stop doing this. But if we’re able to do it with somebody else and do it consistently, then it’s far more likely to start to color in that pie chart.
Dan Lerner: [00:52:55] One of the things that I recommend, although I have no research data on this, I sort of took it from other areas of field is when, after you’ve worked out with your friend, or after you’ve gone for coffee with your friend because you haven’t seen enough people, or after you’ve sat down to to read a book, if that’s what you’re missing. I say spend five minutes and a few things. Why was that pleasureful for you? What did you enjoy about that? What did it bring to your life? What did it add to your life? So even if you’re spending these small sections every week to be able to embed in your life, why is this good for me? Right. So we’re able to think about that differently. And because habits or habits, once we make that a habit and we know someone else is depending on us, or we know that we realize that this is an important, healthy thing for us, it’s far more likely to be able to stick right. And we realize that it’s it can be beneficial for us as well.
Jonathan Fields: [00:53:48] That makes sense. As you’re talking, something else popped into my head that I’m super curious about. I wonder, have you seen people turn to obsessive passion as either a coping or avoidance mechanism for pain in another part of their lives? Because they can lose themselves in this passion in a way that distracts them from actually having to feel the experience that is causing them pain or suffering.
Dan Lerner: [00:54:18] That’s obsession, right? I mean, obsession is often a fixation on something because it allows us to get away from something else. Right? And so if we’re able to do it, gosh, if we can do it in the service of I’m doing good work, I’m making something wonderful happen. Look at the music I’m creating, look at the research I’m doing. Look at the awards I’ve won for being a cyclist or an athlete of some sort. Then it’s really easy for us to justify it. But ultimately, do we all have to come back and we don’t have to. But being able to address the issues we have in life head-on, look them in the eye and understand them is really important. And we know whether we’re talking about passion, obsessive passion, we’re talking about masking in other ways, that it all comes back. It all comes back to bite us at some point. And I don’t want to make these assumptions, but I’d rather look at observations. I mentioned Steve Jobs before. I think about folks like Whitney Houston, someone like Andre Agassi, and, you know, he’s an interesting example, but I use those three because they are three of the greatest figures in their pursuits, in their domains that we know. But we. Wouldn’t want to live any of their lives necessarily.
Dan Lerner: [00:55:32] They all had major issues. Jobs and took jobs past far younger than we would have hoped. I certainly can’t tie that to anything else, but he was a pretty obsessive guy who didn’t have many positive relationships when I understand he wasn’t particularly happy guy. Whitney Houston was a tragic, clearly a tragic story. Agassi always comes to mind for me because he’s an exemplar on a different way for folks who don’t know his story. Andre Agassi had a tennis racket. He was the number one player in the world. I believe it was his late teens. His father taped a tennis racket to his hand when he was three and made him play. And then he was sent off to a training program, which was incredibly rigorous. He gets to number one in the world. He gets he gets married and divorced. Brooke Shields, he gets into drugs, drops down to the 180, 184, I think. And he writes in his first page, I think of his autobiography. I think I’m getting this quote right, I hate tennis, I hate tennis with a deep, dark passion. And I love the fact he used the word fashion. But he learned to hate something even though he was great at it. The reason I find him particular interest is because after that all happened, he met a woman, Steffi Graf, who was the number one player female player in the world.
Dan Lerner: [00:56:48] They got married. They had, I believe it’s two kids and his life changed quite a bit. He got back, I think he got back to number one in the world, but I know he won another Grand Slam after that. He came all the way back up. All of a sudden, here’s a guy who had a completely obsessive passion who took a really dark turn. But when he invested time in his relationship with his wife, had kids, he raised almost $40 million. If I believe it’s a school for low-income families, meaning in his life he was doing other things, he bounced back and to live a very different life. And as he said, I don’t care if my kids play tennis. I just want them to do things they love. But he’s back on the court and I’ve seen him hitting and not playing professionally, but seemingly enjoying it again. So to watch that path of obsession and how he’s come back to seemingly have a harmonious life always really fills it in. For me to say that that’s possible, even if we’ve dived into that dark place.
Jonathan Fields: [00:57:47] We talked about how earlier something can start as healthy or harmonious and then tip into obsession. But like what you’re describing is the opposite too. We can come back from that place and not have to come back by abandoning the thing, but by reorienting the way that we relate to it. And that is huge and it’s optimistic around it. I do want to talk about also what if because guaranteed, there will be folks who are listening to this conversation and say, well, this is a really deeply fascinating I don’t feel passion for anything. And I would venture to say that maybe more people than less. I don’t feel passionate about my job. I don’t feel passionate about relationships. I don’t feel passionate about any hobbies or activities or pursuits. Maybe I did when I was a kid, but maybe not. Maybe I’ve literally lived and I’ve never been able to zero in on this feeling. How might you guide folks who are feeling that way as they listen? That’s a.
Dan Lerner: [00:58:43] Big challenge. And like I said before, because other people’s lives are so much more available now than they maybe ever have been. Through social media, we see people and everyone else is passionate and they are pursuing them, and they are somewhere amazing. And they’re the happiest people in the world, which we know deep down is not the case. But there’s more pressure. It seems to find a passion than ever before. Now, if you’re sitting out there and you’re thinking having a passion is essential to living a fulfilling life, you’re in really good company. There’s a study in University of Montreal where Vallerand asked, I believe it was 535 college students if they believed having a passion was essential living fulfilling life, and 100% of them said yes, but not 100% of them had passions. So the question becomes, as you’re saying, what do I do if I believe it’s really important and I don’t have one? I’ve mentioned before that they’re not thunderbolt moments, but passions often begin with a spark. They can begin very simply. So my advice to these people is try to take the pressure off of thinking you’re going to find it today or tomorrow, or next week or next month.
Dan Lerner: [00:59:49] But you should be looking for is one thing that you look forward to doing. Do you like to cook? Okay, take a class. Don’t open a restaurant. Take a class. Do you like to read? Join a book club? Do you like to write? Join a writing class? Do you like to? Whatever it might be, keep it really simple because you have to be. You don’t have to be, but preferably to make the likelihood of it being harmonious more likely and likely to find that passion more likely. It’s going to come from that spark, right? If you like playing guitar, play a little bit more often, take some lessons, join a group, whatever that might be, but be patient and go slowly. Know that it starts with a spark and know that it. Takes a while to develop into real passion. That pressure of it’s going to have to happen in the next week or month. That can be a real killer because it probably won’t.
Jonathan Fields: [01:00:40] What I hear you also saying is you’re giving permission for people to let go of the mythology that says, when you find that thing or those things in the blink of an eye, in that very moment, you will be changed. It will latch on to your mind, your body, your heart, and you will just be consumed by it. And you will know in that moment, and this will be a thing that you will have in your life for the rest of your life. That that is maybe that actually happens every once in a while to somebody. But the much more common experience is, no, you’re just trying a whole bunch of different things. And over time, one, two, maybe three, whatever it may be, start to call you a little bit more and then a little bit more, and then a little bit more and then a little bit more. And as you described earlier in the conversation, the typical passion takes three years or so to develop that if we walk into the pursuit expecting it to be instant and then it’s not, then effectively what we may be doing is cutting ourselves off from continuing to explore activities that are interesting to us. Or are we kind of like it way too soon because we feel like that couldn’t be it because the mythology is? If it was, I would know now, and I don’t feel that. So let me check that box and move on to the next thing. And we’re effectively doing harm by not giving ourselves the space, the grace to just play with it for a while.
Dan Lerner: [01:02:14] That’s exactly it. You know what? I always find it really interesting to look at folks who have found it in different ways. By the way, I don’t want to ignore what you asked before about passion in their jobs, because there’s that old chestnut, you know, there are lots of different ways of looking at it. Find a job, find something you love, make what you love your work, and you’ll never work a day in your life, right? Work in your passion and you’ll never work a day in your life. Not true. Right? That’s that’s the thing. It doesn’t. So for folks out there going, yeah, I have to be passionate about my work, that can be a real challenge as well. I mentioned before that when people have passions in their lives, even if they’re their hobbies, they tend to color the rest of their lives. That happens in work. When people have passions outside of work, they’re rated at work as less likely to lie, cheat, steal. They’re more trusted, right? So we go to work with a different perspective because we have a passion outside of work. But that said, that idea, as you’re saying, that passions are these thunderbolts or bolts to be realistic about it matters. And that can be a huge help when people are thinking about, how am I going to end up finding this thing?
Jonathan Fields: [01:03:25] Now, on the topic of having to have a passion or even one big passion, I also want to bring in the author, Elizabeth Gilbert. We had a conversation a little while back where she talked about this moment with an audience member, total stranger, and in literally a matter of seconds, it completely changed her take on passion. Here’s Liz. You also distinguish between curiosity and passion. Mhm.
Liz Gilbert: [01:03:48] Yeah, that’s a big one for me.
Jonathan Fields: [01:03:50] Yeah. Take me through that conversation a little bit.
Liz Gilbert: [01:03:52] You know it’s a this has been a big change in thinking that I’ve had in my life over the last few years, because I used to be a big fundamentalist preacher about passion and, you know, certainly would tell anybody who was stuck near me listening that, that that was the truth and the way and the Alpha and the Omega and the only, you know, the only manner of living and that you had to find and identify that one thing within you that made you feel like your head was on fire, that one thing you would jump off a cliff for, that one thing you would sacrifice everything for, and you had to put every molecule of being behind that one thing. And that’s the only way. You know, I was really a preacher about that, but. I had my I was given an awakening about it, um, through a letter that a woman wrote me on Facebook after she had come to see me speak at an event, and she said, um, after hearing you speak tonight, I have never felt like more of a loser. Um, because I don’t have one of those. I don’t have a passion. I don’t have one thing that is so clearly everything to me. One thing that I would risk everything for, I don’t. And it isn’t because I’m lazy and it isn’t because I’m depressed. I’ve spent my life tearing myself apart, trying to find my one tower of flame. That would be the guiding principle for everything to follow. And it’s I’m telling you, it’s not there. I’m interested in a lot of stuff in very light ways. I’ve never been able to land on one thing and stick with it. I feel like I feel like a failure. I feel like a freak. I feel like there’s something missing from my DNA. And I came to hear you tonight looking for guidance. And you just made me feel like an idiot. And I was like, oh my God, how many people have I done this to? Right?
Jonathan Fields: [01:05:26] When you get something like that from somebody after you, just what? How does it how do you feel? I mean, what are you.
Liz Gilbert: [01:05:35] Grateful because it is so rare that I change my mind about anything. Um, because I am such a certain person. I’m such a freaking jackhammer. And if somebody is able to wave a flag in front of me that even my blinders can’t ignore, to the point that it radically changes my whole paradigm, that is one of the most those always one of the most interesting moments of my life. Um, because I just thought, wait a minute. Like, really? When was the last time, Liz, that you took this truth that you believe to be the only true thing in the world, and actually looked at it to see if it even is true. Is it universally true? It’s true for you? Is it the only truth? Is there an only truth? And then I started thinking about all the people who I know and admire and love and the lives that they’re living and. None of them have had a path that was clear and straight, with one burning tower of flame in certain passion that they never veered from. They’ve they’ve lived these lives that look like pinballs and pinball machines. They’ve tried this, they’ve tried that. They failed here. They got fired from this thing. They accidentally stumbled into this thing. Many of them have very unusual and convoluted paths on the way to finding where they were ultimately supposed to be, and the way they got through all those convoluted, strange mazes and paths was by following their curiosity until their curiosity took them where they were meant to be, which meant sometimes a long and tricky and often painful journey. And so that’s totally, radically changed what I preach. And so now, I mean, also, I found, I realize finally, that telling people to follow their passion is kind of a useless piece of advice, because if you have a central burning passion, you are doing it. That’s the definition of what a passion is. And if you don’t have one and someone tells you to do it, it’s.
Jonathan Fields: [01:07:17] Frustrating as hell.
Liz Gilbert: [01:07:18] It just makes you feel like you’re being judged. And and so I just say, just take passion off the table and just follow your curiosity. Trust it. Take it wherever it wants to go. Um, believe in it and and know that whatever it leads you to, it’s going to make for a bigger and more interesting life. Yeah.
Jonathan Fields: [01:07:34] Well, this is just so fascinating. So I want to I want to bring this around and bring people into an invitation for, uh, our challenge here. And it’s around purpose. You know, we like to invite folks to basically say, like, if you could do one thing, one simple thing on a daily basis for the next week that might invite you to experience more of the joy, the immersion, the the feeling of pursuing a passion in your life, whether you have something already or whether like you’re out there and just sort of like trying to figure out, like, what might it be? What might you offer up as something for people to think about or to do? Simple daily thing, um, once a day for the next week or so, I.
Dan Lerner: [01:08:20] Would suggest that you think about one thing that you’ve been looking forward to doing, or maybe doing a little bit more of recently. So if you’ve really been wanting to immerse yourself more in art, what can you do every day that will allow yourself to spend five minutes with art? Is it going online and looking at something beautiful? Is it going to the museum with your family on the weekend? What is it that you can do? Just take five minutes, spend a little bit more time with that thing. If it’s working out, just see what you can do to push yourself a little bit more towards being able to go towards that kind of pursuit. You know, some of us are going to be looking for passions and it’s going to be about finding. It’s going to be about finding the spark. What’s the interest for you? Some of us are already have some pretty substantial interests that might not be passions. Yet. You might want to take a class. You might want to, if you’re cooking, have one recipe that you want to challenge yourself with every day. You might want to get online and read about a great chef or how they’ve created their recipes. Just somehow immerse yourself just for five, maybe ten minutes a day in that area in some way that you look forward to without taking on the idea that I have to do this for hours and hours, five, ten minutes a day, I’m going to be able to experience something that I enjoy and push myself a little bit to immerse myself deeper. I’d say that’s it.
Jonathan Fields: [01:09:46] Such an interesting topic. I’m thinking about this now in a lot of different ways, in the context of my own life and my own work, my own activities and pursuits. It feels like a good place for us to come full circle as well. So in this container of Good Life Project., if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up for me?
Dan Lerner: [01:10:05] Yeah, or oh man, to live a good life that changes. That’s something that changes constantly for many people, not for everybody. It changes little by little by little by little. And what I’ve been finding recently is that being mindful about those things that are most precious for me. Being really mindful about my child watching him. She’s turned 16, like I got a couple more years with him, just really watching him in a different way, being able to be to see his facial expressions to to focus on what he does and how he moves and what he says and how he feels. And I found that that’s expanded a bit to to friends and being really present for them, students being really present, anyone I meet, being really present, the opportunity to really be mindful and appreciate the little things, I mean, the very subtle nuances in life that’s changed the way that I look at life. So much for the better. So for me, living a good life is just trying to take in the things that you might not notice every day that we really appreciate, and knowing that we’re really lucky to have them.
Jonathan Fields: [01:11:20] Mm. Thank you, thank you. So I hope you found this deep dive on the art, science and integration of passion valuable. It can be such a powerful addition to a life well lived. And I love Dan’s invitation to us all. In the end, to really spend a week following our curiosity to help uncover and deepen into passions in your own life. And hey, if a week feels good, why not just keep it going? We’ll be back next week with our second installment of the January Jumpstart series, where we’ll do a deep dive into the science and real life integration of meaning and purpose. And there’s some very real myth-busting that we’re going to be doing along the way, and hearing powerful insights from true luminaries in this particular area. And of course, if you have questions about this week’s topic or you’d love to share your experience during the seven-day Passion Challenge, let us know at [email protected]. This episode of Good Life Project. was produced by executive producers Lindsey Fox and Me. Jonathan Fields Editing help By Alejandro Ramirez. Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music. Good Life Project is part of the Acast Creator Network. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project. in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable, and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor, a seven-second favor, and share it? Maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person? Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action, that’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields signing off for Good Life Project.