Have you ever achieved a long-sought goal only to feel oddly empty inside? As if something was still missing? In today’s world, it’s all too easy to get caught up chasing superficial markers of success – wealth, status, fame – thinking they will make us happy. But what if that formula is backwards? What if real joy and fulfillment can only be found by first discovering and expressing our unique inner essence, our dharma?
My guest today, Suneel Gupta, knows that feeling all too well. After founding and selling a successful health tech startup, he realized that checking off those outer boxes of achievement failed to bring lasting inner satisfaction. He was outwardly successful but inwardly empty.
So Suneel turned to teaching and stories he’d heard often as a child but wanted nothing to do with them. Focusing on an ancient Hindu concept called dharma—the sacred duty to express one’s inner essence through outer work—he began to rediscover meaning and purpose, and a sense of calling. His journey led him to uncover everyday paths to integrate our ambitions with what truly matters.
As an author and visiting scholar at Harvard Medical School, Suneel studies the most extraordinary people on the planet to discover and share simple, actionable habits to lift our performance and deepen our daily sense of purpose. His work has been featured by major outlets including CNBC, TED, and the New York Times.
In our conversation, Suneel shares insights from his newest book, Everyday Dharma: 8 Essential Practices for Finding Success and Joy in Everything You Do. He reveals practical ways we can honor our inner fire through the work we do each day—even within the duties and constraints of everyday life.
How can we express our essence more fully through our work, relationships and community? What simple habits can help us live with a deeper sense of meaning and purpose day-to-day? These are some of the questions we explore, and Suneel shares an abundance of powerful tools and strategies to help you discover and live your calling.
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photo credit: Emily Rose
Suneel Gupta (00:00:00) – I always come back to my grandfather’s porch in New Delhi, where he first talked to me about Dhamma and described it as like this inner flame inside of you. And the way that I sort of see this inner flame now is that either it’s going to burn you up inside or it’s going to light up the world around you. Right? But you get to choose. But I don’t think anybody really escapes that choice. And so as we talk about things like purpose and meaning, it can be sometimes tempting to see them as like these really flowery, nice sort of things. But I think the truth is that it can hurt like hell when you’ve got this thing inside of you that’s not being expressed. It can eat away. And I think what it means to live a good life is really to, in some small way, start to bring that out so that you can start to light up the things that are outside of you.
Jonathan Fields (00:00:50) – So have you ever achieved a long sought goal only to feel oddly empty inside as if something was still missing? In today’s world, it’s all too easy to get caught up in chasing superficial markers of success, wealth, status, fame, thinking that they will make us happy.
Jonathan Fields (00:01:07) – But what if that formula is actually backwards? What if real joy and fulfillment can only be found by first discovering and expressing our unique inner essence, our Dharma? My guest today, Sunil Gupta, knows that feeling all too well. After founding and selling a successful health tech startup, he realized that checking off those outer boxes of achievement failed to bring lasting inner satisfaction. He was outwardly successful, but inwardly empty. So he turned to teachings and stories that he’d heard often as a child but wanted nothing to do with back then, focusing on an ancient Hindu concept called Dharma, or what he describes as the sacred duty to express one’s inner essence through outer work. He began to rediscover meaning and purpose and a sense of calling. And this journey led him to uncover everyday paths to integrate our ambitions with what truly matters more deeply. Down inside. As an author and visiting scholar at Harvard Medical School, Sunil studies the most extraordinary people on the planet to help discover and share simple, actionable habits that lift our performance and deepen our sense of purpose.
Jonathan Fields (00:02:18) – His work has been featured everywhere from CNBC to Ted to the New York Times. In our conversation, he shares insights from his newest book, Everyday Dharma, and reveals really practical ways that we can honor our inner fire through the work that we do each day, even within the duties and constraints of everyday life. That without deeper inquiry would make it seem difficult, if not impossible. How can we express our essence more fully through our work or relationships or community? What simple habits can help us live with a deeper sense of meaning and purpose day to day? These are some of the questions that we explore. And Sunil offers an abundance of powerful tools and strategies and ideas to help you discover and live your calling. So excited to share this conversation with you. I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project. Curious to dive into so many points along your journey, so many of the ideas from the new book. There’s some interesting parallels, I think. And you have been existing in, it sounds like, having a foot in different worlds.
Jonathan Fields (00:03:27) – A world of business, a world of startups, the world of wellbeing, but also different notions of wellbeing, Western well-being, eastern well-being and how do these worlds do the dance and come together? I know in the business side of things they founded two companies, as you’ve described, until the story, those did not have the exits or the ends that you wanted, but then end up founding a third company that does very well gets acquired on the surface from the outside looking in. This is the dream, right? This is what everybody you know, especially when you’re founding companies, you are all in you’re working generally 24 over seven. This is your life. And when you’re building something that gets acquired, especially by a company that is in a position to continue to do really extraordinary and good work with what you started, from the outside, it really looks like, well, this is everything. Like this is what you work for. And yet the way you describe it, that’s not what your internal experience was like.
Suneel Gupta (00:04:25) – Yeah.
Suneel Gupta (00:04:27) – Well, I couldn’t name it at the time, but now I sort of have looked to the research and have found Dr. Torben Shah’s work. And you know what Dr. Ben Shahar describes this as is the arrival fallacy. And the arrival fallacy is this notion that one day we’re going to hit this threshold where we have accumulated enough wealth, enough, enough status, enough achievement, enough of a bio where all of a sudden we’re going to we’re going to feel fulfilled, we’re going to feel this sense of lasting happiness. And of course, what ends up happening is that every time we get to a goal post, it moves again, right and again and again. And that happens at sort of in big moments. But it also happens in these small moments as well that we want we want to get the next client, the next deal, the next thing. And it leads to these temporary moments of satisfaction. And then all of a sudden, we’re kind of back to where we were before. And for me, I felt like after having failed twice at starting companies, you know, having those have to be like wound down that once I actually got something that worked, it was going to reach, I was going to have like, you know, this feeling of lasting fulfillment.
Suneel Gupta (00:05:35) – It was all going to have been worth it. And then I get it. And sure, it is a beautiful moment when it happens with celebrate with the team and and my wife and I go out and we go to a really, really nice dinner. You know, we’d been eating like very, very basic food for those years. And like, we were, like, splurged on a really nice dinner in the city. And but then, like, literally within a few weeks, I kind of went back to a base state where I was kind of like, all right, not like what’s next and what’s next after that. And, you know, think that what I didn’t realize at the time, but I kind of realize now is that this sense of emptiness that think so many of us feel right now, I think it stems a lot from this. It stems a lot from this idea that we’re trying to hit these outside achievements, but realizing that this outside achievement isn’t necessarily leading us to inner satisfaction.
Suneel Gupta (00:06:22) – So then, like, what is it that we do? What’s the answer to that? Is it to give up our ambition? Because I certainly don’t want to do that and I don’t think other people do as well. Like, I want to achieve things. I want to do things, but at the same time don’t want to be on this sort of hedonist treadmill where none of it is actually leading to happiness. That is what kind of led me back to this, this ancient philosophy of Dharma, because as it turns out, this trade off of ambition and joy has been something that’s existed for millennia. Right? And there have been different bodies and different ways of sort of dealing with this and offering tactics and really practical methods. Dharma for me was the practice of my ancestors, and it was something that I completely rejected as an Indian kid growing up in the United States. I wanted to have nothing to do with Eastern philosophy, like I wanted to be as white and as American as I possibly could.
Suneel Gupta (00:07:12) – I’d literally put like white baby powder on my face at times before I went to school to try to fit in a little bit more. But when I got to a point in my life when I felt completely burnt out, completely lost the way that I think a lot of people feel right now. That’s when I started to go back to these this philosophy that’s really kind of existed for thousands of years and helped a lot of people through, I think, a very, very similar predicament, which is how do I start to find meaning in the work that I do?
Jonathan Fields (00:07:42) – Yeah, and that’s certainly a place that so many people have found themselves over the last three years. I think, you know, your case was exiting company and realizing I did all the things, I checked all the boxes and I don’t feel the way that I thought I would feel. But for so many others, the last three years have shown them that, wow, I’ve actually devoted ten, 15, 20, 25 years of my life to a particular path and a particular set of expectations.
Jonathan Fields (00:08:08) – And maybe I’ve checked most, if not all of the boxes that I was working towards. And yet I’m finding myself in this place where it’s not giving me everything that I thought I would feel. You know, Dan Gilbert wrote this great book that kind of started out the the happiness book lineage, you know, chunk of years back called Stumbling on Happiness, where he described something he called effective forecasting, which is our ability to actually predict how we think we will feel in some future. And I remember reading that and him describing the research that shows we are awful at actually trying to predict how we think will feel it is certain future state. In fact, he showed the research says we would get a more accurate answer if we found somebody that was 20 years older and asked them how they felt then if we actually just tried to figure it out for ourselves. I’m curious what you think is happening in our wiring that leads to such a big disconnect between our ability to actually figure out how something will make us feel and to actually feel it.
Suneel Gupta (00:09:14) – The way I sort of describe this in the book that has been an effective think model for me is really the difference between outer success and inner success. So if we think about outer success as wealth and status and achievement, then inner success is joy and its meaning and its purpose, right? The squishy what we might consider common or the squishier things. And the way that I have sort of gone wrong in my career, in my life has been almost putting these two things at battle with one another. You know, there are times in my life where I’m like, I’m going to optimize for outer success, and then I burn out and I’m like, Well, I’m just gonna optimize for inner success. And what that means for me is I want to like, you know, want to kind of like distance myself from work or I want to start to like really kind of, you know, quietly quit even though that term wasn’t even around back then. But I’ve certainly done that. But I play these two things off of one another, whereas I think we can have both.
Suneel Gupta (00:10:08) – But I think the misperception that I had, the fundamental thing that I got wrong is in believing that somehow outer success is going to lead to inner success, that somehow I’m going to get enough of that, that I’m going to feel this feeling inside. It never worked that way. So again, is the answer then to renounce outer success? I don’t think so. But I think the answer, though, can be to reverse the flow. To start with, what really matters to you, or at least expressing what matters to you through what it is that you do. Right? And this alignment of who you are with what you do. Sometimes we feel like we have to like, abandon our life entirely in order to transform the way we live. What I hope this book shows more than anything else is really the stories of the grocery store clerks, the plumbers, the nurses, the people who were, you know, in positions where they couldn’t necessarily quit their job, they couldn’t abandon their salary. They had people who were relying on them, but they still found little ways to start living their dharma.
Suneel Gupta (00:11:15) – And it may be worth, like, defining what Dharma is.
Jonathan Fields (00:11:18) – Yeah, let’s do that.
Suneel Gupta (00:11:19) – Dharma is one of those words where, you know, it does get tossed around sometimes and it can mean different things to different people. If you look at like the definition of Dharma in the Bhagavad-Gita, which was like one of the first places to really put it into contemporary sort of thinking, they define it as as your sacred duty, right? And then the question is duty to what duty to whom? And, you know, the way my grandfather really described this to me is it’s a duty to the fire burning inside of you. He called this your essence, Right? You’ve got something inside of you that really wants to get out. We all do. And then the question is, how do you express that when you’re expressing your essence, You feel alive, you feel creative, you feel lit up. And when you’re not, you can feel lost. You can feel really depleted, you know? And I think so many of us are feeling that way right now.
Suneel Gupta (00:12:07) – You know, the number one for a lot of us, for many of us, the studies show the number one determiner of our mental health is actually our job. It’s actually what we do each day. And yet the vast majority of us aren’t actually enjoying our work. And that’s a big problem. The purpose of the book is really about how do we start to find our Dharma again? And then I think more importantly, how do we live it when we are in a life where we have lots of other duties, when we have aging parents, when we have kids to take care of, we have bills to pay, we have back to back meetings. How do we live our dharma then?
Jonathan Fields (00:12:44) – Yeah, I mean, it’s such an interesting question and I love that you focus on not extracting yourself from the real world in order to actually try and figure this thing out. You know, it’s I know a lot of the references that you draw from Dharma come out of some Hindu traditions. I look at Buddhism also, and I always thought it was fascinating to me that in Buddhism there are two distinct paths that are defined.
Jonathan Fields (00:13:07) – There’s the monastic paths for those who do want to withdraw themselves from everyday life. But there’s also a. Those hold their path. There is a very specified way to say no. Actually, for many of you, maybe most of you like the path is to stay in the real world, to stay with the with the daily duties, with the family, with the work. But here is a way that you can do that, too. And there’s a really interesting overlap between that and the ideas that you share. Interesting that you bring up the bug about guitar. Also like the story of Arjuna, where it’s really having a conversation with God about like there’s this thing that I feel like I have to do, but I don’t want to do it. And and this involves like great battles and violence, including towards like, people that this particular person cares about. And yet it’s profound in that the conversation leads him to effectively say and yet still, this is why I’m here. Like, this is my dharma and this is what I have to do.
Jonathan Fields (00:14:03) – Even if there are so many things inside of me that are saying, I don’t want to do this. And the fact that that scripture, that text really an epic poem, was written so long ago and is so relevant to everyday life today, it’s so powerful.
Suneel Gupta (00:14:18) – Yeah, yeah. You know, it’s the script that I grew up reading and always struggle with it because it does take place on a battlefield. And I’m like, Wait a second, we’re supposed to be sort of peace loving, you know? And like I grew up most of my family is vegetarian. Like, they wouldn’t they wouldn’t harm a thing like. And yet there’s this pretty gory sort of battle taking place. What I guess I mean, there’s so many different interpretations of the Bhagavad Gita, The one that gives me sort of the most comfort at least, is, is that the battle is really a symbol and a metaphor for what’s happening inside of you. Right? It’s you being torn for these different parts of you, and the parts that are being torn is a sense of duty and responsibility and how it balances out with Dharma.
Suneel Gupta (00:15:00) – That’s where it gets really, really important for me because sometimes we mistake something like Dharma or even the word purpose with what you do. And Dharma is not what you do. It is who you are. And it’s how who you are gets expressed through what you do. So jobs for us, you know, we can kind of identify with them. That’s who I am. But know your job is actually a vehicle, a way for you to start expressing a little bit more of who you are. One of the stories in the book that, you know, I’ve been sort of, I think, attracted to the most because it’s, you know, very, I think, relevant to where we are right now is a nurse named Karen, who is like wishes that she could have rewound the clock and pursued a path as a writer. Right. Like that’s what she wanted to do. But when she was in college, her parents really pushed her hard to go into medicine. So she goes down the nursing path and becomes pretty successful as a nurse.
Suneel Gupta (00:15:56) – But there’s always that inner fire that never got expressed, that never was able to come out. But the way that she starts to express it is through patient paperwork. So she finds a way to start writing, like most nurses would just type out the clinical details, like here are the bios here, the measurements and and then hit print. Karen started to use that as an opportunity to really, like express this essence as a writer. And she would write about who the patient was, who do they love, what do they love to do, who do they care about? And she’d always write these like, really beautiful, like mini novels for each patient. And these this paperwork, this mundane paperwork started to get passed around the hospital from doctors to nurses because it remind them of the humanity of what they did. So all of a sudden, she is coming alive. She her title, by the way, has not changed at all. She is still a nurse inside a hospital, but every day she is now bringing the spirit of being a writer to her job.
Jonathan Fields (00:16:55) – I love that story. I think also because it really illuminates how often we don’t understand that there may be paths available to not just discover what this thing is inside of us, but also to let it out without having to just wholesale change course to cause like major disruptions and blow up everything that we built up until the state, which, as you said earlier, a lot of people can’t for purely practical reasons, you know, like we’re supporting families. You have responsibility, whatever it may be. You describe what you call you sort of describe as these four different chisels to help. You know, it’s almost like you’re chiseling away that which hides the essence. Walk me through these, because I think they’re really powerful for our listeners.
Suneel Gupta (00:17:38) – Yeah. You know, so one of the intimidating things I think about concept like Dharma, the reason that it took me so long to kind of circle back to this, this thing that I had learned as a kid and is because it can feel like it’s a lot of work, right? Like it can feel sometimes if you’re if you’re overwhelmed, it can sometimes feel like understanding your purpose or your meaning is like one more thing to add to the list, right? The comfort for me came from this idea that Dharma isn’t actually something that you need to go out on a big search and find.
Suneel Gupta (00:18:11) – It is already something that is within you. If you’re listening right now, I can guarantee you that you have been in touch with your essence. You’ve been in touch with your Dharma before. How long ago that was? It depends. But it could have been when you were a kid. It could have been last week. But we are in touch in some way with our Dharma in our lives. Michelangelo would look at a block of marble and he would say, The sculpture is already inside. All I need to do is chisel away the layers that have hidden it. And Dharma is very much the same way. It’s something that’s already inside of you. And sometimes to chisel away. We can do this through these simple practices and there are lots and lots of ways to to chisel away. But I included four sort of paths that really have helped me in my journey. And, you know, the first the first path is really the what I call the bright spots. Chisel. What I mean by that is if you look at sort of your day and you look at your work right now, whatever that is for you, whether it’s work at a job or in a community, you look at your job starting to identify the brightest moments of your work, even if they’re temporary and fleeting, can be a very powerful thing.
Suneel Gupta (00:19:15) – When I work with teams and I work with leaders who seem to be burnt out, a lot of them will come to me and say, Look, I’m miserable right now. I don’t like what I’m doing. And one of the first things I will do is challenge them to to to look at what are the bright moments, though, of your day. And almost always people can identify those. They might be small, they might be fleeting, but they’re there. Right. And those can actually be really I think I think very empowering portals for us to get a glimpse of. Okay. That is something that’s probably tied to my essence. That’s probably something that’s tied to my Dharma. Like for me, for example, I followed the crowd into tech. Tech is not an industry I’m truly passionate about. I can say that now. There was a while where I would fake like I was, but I’m not. And I spent over a decade working in Silicon Valley because that’s what all the cool kids seem to be doing.
Suneel Gupta (00:20:08) – Moving to Silicon Valley, working in tech, working in startups. And that’s what I did. And I followed the crowd. But it wasn’t my Dharma. And at a certain point in time, I felt so disconnected from who I was. But with the bright spots, what I started to identify was like there were these little moments in the day when I was really engaging with storytelling that I really liked. When I was hearing a customer story, I could feel myself come alive when I was sharing a story with a team member or whether an investor I could feel myself coming alive. And that’s to me, started to get me to the point of, okay, I need to start spending more time with this thing. That’s when I started to take 15 minutes in the morning before my job started, and I just started to write in a blank journal. Right. And that those lines, while most of them went into the waste bin because they were terrible, there were little pearls and those little pearls started to form paragraphs and eventually articles and then eventually books.
Suneel Gupta (00:20:56) – And that was my path into writing. And that all came from the bright spots of a job that I didn’t really like. So that’s number one. Number two is what I call the possibility chisel. And what I mean by that is like we can sometimes sort of feel like once we sort of identify an essence or identify a thing that we love, we can go almost like very quickly into, I should go do this then, right? So for me with storytelling, I was like, Oh, I should go be a writer right away. One of the things I’ve learned to do is to resist that temptation and start to like then expand into all of the possibilities that are out there. So there’s a project manager named Mila that I talk about in the book who was working inside a big company and realized that she really wanted to be a teacher, like she really wanted to be a teacher, but she couldn’t afford to necessarily go do that because she had a family. They relied on her salary. They relied on her health care insurance, and she didn’t have the financial flexibility to quit her job and go do that.
Suneel Gupta (00:21:53) – So she felt trapped. And then one day, a mentor asked her like a really specific question. Powerful, very simple question, she says. What is it specifically about being a teacher that makes you come alive? Right? What is it specifically? And as Mila started to get into the specifics, like really like take a hard look at that question. She was able to go beneath the title of teacher and into what she loves about teaching. Right. And when she really went to that place where she realizes she just loves helping people grow, like that’s her essence, right? And yeah, teaching was one way to express that essence. But there were many others as well. And that’s where we get into this possibility. Chisel which is like, what are all the other possibilities that you can express this thing that you feel like you can only express maybe through this one dream job? Usually when people come to me and say, Look, I’m stuck in a place, but I really wish I was that, I’d say, Well, okay, describe that dream job for me.
Suneel Gupta (00:22:48) – Let’s get to the essence of what you love about that dream job. Go beneath the title. Go beneath the salary. Let’s get into the day to day. What do you really love? And then once we get to that place, what are the other possibilities out there for expressing that? One great way to think Expose yourself to these possibilities that I love. This is going to sound strange is what I call the magazine. I’ll walk right, which is literally like when I go to a magazine, I’ll. I love it so much because it’s basically like the collective dharma of our planet in one place, like you, like it’s and it’s everything, right? It’s magazines about like, goats and idiosyncratic things. But it’s also very empowering because it means this thing inside of you, however unique it is, like. Like if you’ve got magazines about goats, like you can still express that, right? And so what I like to do is I like to go down this magazine aisle and I like to just pull magazines off the rack that are really calling my name.
Suneel Gupta (00:23:42) – And I try to turn off the part of my brain that’s telling me you should grab something. And I try to really stay true to like, what do I really like? What’s really captivating me? Like I know being somebody who writes for business audiences. I should probably read the Harvard Business Review, but I don’t want to read the Harvard Business Review. Like, I’m not I’m not that interested in it. What I’m more interested in is reading articles about like, spirituality and about wellness. You know, I pick up Men’s Health magazine, I’ll pick up anything that I see that has like Ram Dass in it. I’ll pick up anything with like Ryan Holiday and Maria Popova, like people who I think are really great spiritual writers I will pick up. But that to me is a great way of really kind of coming back to yourself, walking down a magazine aisle and picking up the covers that are going to pull your name. The third chisel is what I call the Dharma deck chisel, which is like as you’re starting to come up with ideas, ways of like expressing your essence, you know, the reality starts to set in that you can’t do them All right.
Suneel Gupta (00:24:40) – Probably not like you can do anything, but you can’t necessarily do everything, at least not all at once. What I found very empowering is to be able to start writing each of the ideas that really captivate me on an index card. So on the front of it, I’ll write down the idea like, for example, start a podcast. When a storytelling became clear, it was my essence. I had these like start a podcast, start giving speeches, start writing articles. Like there were all these ideas I had, and I would write each one on an index card, and on the back of it I would just like a sentence or two on like why I think that this is like captivating me. Why is it capturing my attention? And then once a week or so I would sort this deck from top to bottom, right? So I would just take a quiet I take a quiet walk or I’d go off and I’d leave my phone behind. And from top to bottom, I would sort them from the cards that were captivating me.
Suneel Gupta (00:25:30) – Most went to the top. The cards or cabinet at least went to the bottom. And what I realized over time is that 1 or 2 of those cards remained at the top of the pack, right? Like they were the ones who were just like persistently calling my name. And I knew that that’s where I needed to go next. So that’s the Dharma deck. And the fourth is what I call a Picasso chisel. Right? Then Picasso famously said, The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. I think that, you know, the crux of that wisdom is really to kind of ask yourself, what would I give away? What would I do for free? Right? And that’s not to say, by the way, that you need to go do your work for free or be uncompensated. But if you can answer that question, what would I do for free? That is almost a very direct lens into this thing that you care about so much that is going to free you from all the external validation of the world, right, and free you from the compensation that you have.
Suneel Gupta (00:26:27) – And then the question is that like, how do I now start to make a living from that thing? Right? And I think that’s just such a better path. It’s a more effective path than basically saying what’s going to pay me, right? Like pay me the big bucks and then try to back into purpose. That’s a little more direct to sort of say, all right, what would I do for free? And then how do I actually make a living from that? I found that flipped to be very effective for my life.
Jonathan Fields (00:26:53) – I love that you have you basically described for just incredibly accessible tools that anybody can basically say, okay, I can try this, I can try this, I can try this, I can try this. And it’s all based on this fundamental assumption that this is a process of liberation, not transformation, that the thing that we’re going after, it resides within me. Now, and it always has. So I don’t need to become or change into something else, which I think a lot of people perceive as a greater amount of effort.
Jonathan Fields (00:27:22) – And there’s a certain fear and a sense of grief that I have to leave behind, you know, like who I’ve always been. Where’s the sense that know, there’s actually a thing that’s always been a part of me, but it’s obscured and my work is simply to remove the things that are obscuring it and then center it and then really just give it some love in my life, in my work.
Suneel Gupta (00:27:45) – Beautifully said.
Jonathan Fields (00:27:48) – Yet the idea of revealing that also and this can be something that somebody can stumble upon this fairly quickly or this may take months. This may take years. You know, once you start to get a sense for it and I completely agree with you, by the way, of the idea of not placing the filter of. But will this support me in the world first? But circling back to that, because it stops you from thinking unconventionally about all the myriad of ways that this thing that you discover might actually be able to support you. But it also I’m curious what your take is on this.
Jonathan Fields (00:28:21) – My sense has always been that your Dharma, like using your yours or rubric here, may or may not actually be the thing that is going to pay your rent and cover your mortgage. If it is if you can figure out a way to actually center it on a level and, you know, derive value from it on a level where other people will compensate you so that you actually can make it your main thing. That’s fantastic. Yeah, but maybe it’s not. But that doesn’t mean that you just jettison it from your life. You know, maybe it’s something that you’re doing on the side. Maybe you’re volunteering, maybe you’re a companion or a caretaker, and that is everything to you. But if you held up that filter. But will it be the main thing that earns my living? You’ll deny the fact that it’s real and important to you. Yeah. And just walk away from it.
Suneel Gupta (00:29:13) – Yeah. Yeah.
Suneel Gupta (00:29:15) – I wholeheartedly agree with that. And one of the chapters in the book that has been most meaningful to me is this idea of bhakti and bhakti is full hearted devotion.
Suneel Gupta (00:29:25) – But when we think about devotion to something, sometimes we can confuse devotion with time. Right. We can say the more time we give to something, the more devoted we are to it. But what we miss sometimes is that it’s can be far better to be full hearted with something than to be fully scheduled with something. Right. The more heart that we can give to a person or to a craft or to our Dharma matters a lot. You know, Toni Morrison was a single mom. She had two kids. She had a full time job. But, you know, she realized that, like, writing was something that she had to do, like she had to do it. She had to mother her children. She said there were two priorities in my life. I had a mother, my children, and I had to write. The amount that she was writing was very little each day, but she treated it like a loving relationship. And, you know, my wife and I talk about this like we have two kids.
Suneel Gupta (00:30:20) – We have an 11 year old and a six year old. And at 630 in the morning, the house goes fricking berserk, Right? But my wife and I wake up just a little bit before that. And from 615 to 630 every morning, we have coffee together. We put our phones aside and we just have a cup of coffee together. Look, we’re completely giving each other the attention, full attention, being loving with each other in that and those minutes that we have. And what we’ve realized over time is that more than anything else, has become the cornerstone of our relationship. Yeah, like every couple of years we get, we get lucky and we get to go take a little trip together. And every once in a while we get date night in. But like that 15 minutes is really where it happens. And the same, I think, is true for our Dharma, right? Having treating it like a loving relationship is opposed to I’m going to wait three months and then like take a week off and like go like, be with it for a while.
Suneel Gupta (00:31:16) – You wouldn’t treat somebody that you love that way. You would want to stay connected to it in some way. So I think having these touchstones is really, really important. But the other thing that I think is like, you know, to me, as I was delving into more and more Dharma stories, and what I started to realize is that if you look at people who are like so busy, they’re the ones that are working like 2 or 3 jobs and then just like it’s paycheck to paycheck, there’s also a notion of how do we start to bring our Dharma into our duties, right? And Karen, the nurse is a good example of that with but there’s there’s so many others. I mean, like if you look at if you look at Eminem, for example. Right. Kind of a wild example. But Eminem was like he was working in an assembly line. He was working in a factory actually not too far away from where I grew up in Detroit. And, you know, he was constantly looking.
Suneel Gupta (00:32:04) – He was everything that was around him was grist for his mill, right. The sounds of metal clanking was grist for the mill of his music. Right. And his music. He started to kind of bring into the factory as well, like the beats and and the ways that he would use his time at the factory to kind of come up with rhythms and rhymes like it was all sort of fitting together. And then there is a way to do that. One of my best friends, Rich, had this like, really heartbreaking thing happen to him where he actually did do the dream. He moved to Italy and became a painter, and we were all like, Wow, man, Like you’re I’m in a consulting firm. Like, I’m like, my soul is being sucked and you’re living the dream. But his mom got sick and he had to come back to the States and. His father had long passed and he became her primary caretaker. And he made a vow that he was going to be that person.
Suneel Gupta (00:32:54) – So he ends up getting a job at Trader Joe’s. He’s working 60, 70 hours a week. And basically his entire artist life like went by the wayside. He was like mixing and mingling with global artisans in Italy. And now he’s like unpacking freight trucks. But he started to bring his dharma to his duties and his duties to his Dharma. And the way that he did that was he started to look for little opportunities, even inside Trader Joe’s, where he could start to paint for them. Right? Like, like he noted, he would notice, like, certain walls were a little bit barren. He would go to the manager and say, Hey, what if I painted something for you here? And we get compensated for that. And so he started to bring his Dharma to his duties, and then he even started to bring his duties to his Dharma. Like he would start to notice the way that, like, people looked inside the store, he would notice the shapes and objects. And he started to bring that back to his painting and to his studio.
Suneel Gupta (00:33:42) – I think that we can again, the framework is that we have our duties and we have our Dharma, right? And even just aligning those things just a little bit more right will make a huge, huge difference because what you’re doing is bringing just a little bit more of who you are into, what you do. And even if we move that one centimeter at a time, it liberates us.
Jonathan Fields (00:34:05) – Yeah, so agree with that. And often that feedback mechanism of dharma to duty, duty to Dharma, often one provides, you know, it’s this seamless thing where one provides the grist for the other, which then fuels the other. And it’s, it creates this spiral. Yeah. Which it would seem on the surface. But you’re dividing your time, you’re fragmenting yourself. But really what’s happening is you’re figuring out how to use distinct blocks of time in a way where one complements the other, where one like nourishes the other, and let’s let’s the other one out. And, and that example of your friend in Trader Joe’s, I think is it’s so fascinating on so many different levels.
Jonathan Fields (00:34:46) – You know, fundamentally it’s just you’re doing is painting a picture of possibility with all of these different examples also that says this is real and this is possible even when life gets hard, even when circumstances change in the blink of an eye that you didn’t see coming and you were living it one moment and now you’re not. But there’s a way to potentially get back to it, or at least a lot more than you think might be possible yet. Which also points out one in the topics you talk about is the notion of comfort and discomfort. This is something that many of us spend our lives running from. You know, it’s like, give me the easy button for whatever it is. Relationships, work, fitness, health, accomplishments was the fastest way to get from here to there. Like what’s the hack? And in fact, there’s a certain value in not just meeting discomfort or adversity along the way or challenge, but also in realizing that it genuinely can contribute to the process of you feeling fully realized and fully expressed.
Suneel Gupta (00:35:57) – Yeah.
Suneel Gupta (00:35:58) – You know, for me, I was one of those people who ran away from the discomfort and I was one of those people who sort of assumed that if I started, if I could just find my purpose, if I could just find my calling, then I would be free of this, the discomfort. And in some ways I found the opposite to be true, because difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations. And when I was starting to actually live my dharma and express myself and storytelling and writing and the obstacles started to mount. But the difference being that like, I was starting to view it under a different lens and that I was actually starting to find much more purpose in the day to day, and I was able to get through that. But more importantly, I think like this chapter that I call, it’s called Pekka the New Pekka is this art of finding comfort in the discomfort. I was starting to get these practical tools that I could use in these moments of discomfort by studying the way that people have done this in the past and the metaphor that I love.
Suneel Gupta (00:36:54) – And it really stems from Viktor Frankl’s work, which, by the way, like for every chapter, it’s an Eastern philosophy, an eastern way of living that is really echoed in Western science and in Pekka is definitely one of those chapters where Viktor Frankl, neurologist, Holocaust survivor, wrote a lot about sort of what was the main thing that he learned from all of his research and all of the experiences that he had and trauma that he had. And and what he said was that, you know, in between impulse and response is a space. And inside that space lies our freedom. So these impulses can be annoyances, it can be irritations, it could be bad emails, it could be somebody cutting you off on the road. And the way that we respond to that, in between that impulse and response is a space. And inside that space is our freedom. And I love that because I think it’s the foundation for really everything. You know, if you don’t have space between something that that. Bothers you and the way you respond to it.
Suneel Gupta (00:37:49) – Well, then you can’t put any of the tools that you’ve learned into practice. You can listen to the podcast. You can read the self-help books, you can get the tools and the practices. But if you don’t give yourself the space to really draw upon those, then you end up living a life where you’re you’re acting on your emotions too quickly. You’re regretting things way too often. You’re making decisions that you that you wish you would have done things differently. Take note, hon. Vietnamese monk, Nobel Prize winner. Like, you know, he would surprise audiences when he would get up in front of these. You get to the podium and he would say, I’m an angry man. And people would be like, What do you mean you’re an angry man? You’re like, you’re like a symbol of peace? And he’d say, No, no. I just like anybody else, I have anger inside of me, a lot of anger inside of me. And but what I’ve learned is that I can’t remove those inner explosives.
Suneel Gupta (00:38:38) – Right? I can’t, like, rid myself of the anger. But what you can do is you can lengthen the wick, you can lengthen the fuse. Right. So when the fuse gets lit, there’s some time the length of the fuse before it actually hits the bomb. You can do things to lengthen that fuse. And ultimately, I think that that’s the practice we’re not trying to get or shame these really real emotions. And I think particularly right now, there’s a lot of reasons why people might might be angry at things. And I don’t think it’s the right thing to do to shame those emotions or try to push them out. But what I think we can do is we can lengthen the wick. And in this chapter I talk about sort of what are these different practices? And some of them are very, very simple. So for example, for me, like having a home base that I can go to when something irritates me, you know, is really, really important. And for me, I like that home base to be physical, meaning I just like literally putting my hand on my chest, putting my hand over my heart and just tapping a couple of times is a way for me to find a little bit of space.
Suneel Gupta (00:39:38) – In that moment, I was talking to our mutual friend Mitch Joel about this and he said that one thing he likes to do, he likes to wiggle his toes right? So it’s something that no one would even notice. But if he’s like in an irritating conversation, he’ll literally wiggle his toes and that’ll be a way for him to kind of come home base before he actually responds to the situation. But your home base can be anything. It can be a physical gesture. It could be something inside your mind as well. You might go back to like a you know, for you, you live at the Rockies, you know. Jonathan So it could be like you at your favorite spot, like on the trail, right? But some kind of mental image that lets you that allows you to give that space before you actually react. That is one way that we can find some comfort in these really, really uncomfortable situations we find ourselves in.
Jonathan Fields (00:40:24) – I’m so agree with that. And I love the notion also the fact that we don’t have to go and sit in mindfulness meditation for a half an hour.
Jonathan Fields (00:40:31) – You know, you can that we can create all these little mechanisms and little touchstones. Maybe nobody else knows that we’re doing them, and yet it creates an anchor in us that that literally just kind of says to us, okay, take a breath, you know, like create, expand This space is functionally what it’s telling us to do. And trusting that as that space expands, as we extend the wick, right, that will figure out a better way to respond rather than react in a way that’s healthier, that’s more constructive, and that also circling back to like really the core of the conversation lets us step into whatever it is that we’re moving through, whatever the discomfort is in a way that honors our Dharma, that centers it, rather than moves us further away from it, which I think is so often what the reactive mode does to us.
Suneel Gupta (00:41:20) – I know it does for me, I know it does for me. And I and I think, you know, for me, the distinction between curiosity and curiosity has been really important.
Suneel Gupta (00:41:29) – You know, what I’ve realized is that it’s just impossible for me to be curious and furious at the same time. Those two states cannot coexist, at least not at least non-judgmental curiosity and being furious cannot exist at the same time. So if I can put myself even in these uncomfortable situations into a moment of being curious, does a lot for me. And sometimes it’s as simple as like if somebody is being like annoying or being a jerk, you know, almost just in a very curious way, asking myself internally, of course, just what could it possibly like happened to this person that has sort of pushed them into this into this path? Right? Like, for example, like, you know, like somebody who is like sucking up all of the air in a meeting. Right. And you’re trying to get a word in edgewise and you just can’t like, maybe that person had like, you know, like siblings that were always trying to outcompete and outshine one another. Maybe that person had impossible to please parents.
Suneel Gupta (00:42:24) – I don’t voice or try to try to find the answers to these questions necessarily, but I allow myself to be a little bit curious about them, like non-judgmental, try to be curious about them when I can put myself in that state of curiosity. You know, I notice that my furious ness really doesn’t have a place to go.
Jonathan Fields (00:42:41) – Yeah, I mean, because to no small extent, curiosity is also the bedrock of compassion. And it’s really hard to if you can truly access compassion, you know, like almost everything that we’re reacting to in somebody else is a representation of some quality that exists within us also. And the more curious we get about that, the harder it is to say like, well, if I’m raging against them or angry at them, or then what in me am I actually raging against as well? And maybe I can open myself my heart a little bit. I remember talking to Sharon Salzberg a couple of years back. We were in New York City at the time recording, and she was telling me how on the way to the studio she was walking down the Upper West Side of New York City.
Jonathan Fields (00:43:25) – And people just pass all the time when you’re walking up there. And literally she was just sort of like as each person would pass, she would just quietly think to herself, maybe, well, maybe healthy. So she’s doing a meditation, a lovingkindness meditation, just random lines to strangers on the street as they pass by. And she didn’t know anybody. She very likely would never see any of them again. But it put her in a mode of being constantly open about people and also having a benevolent intent towards them that allowed her to access that on a on a more ready basis when it was really needed. And I thought that was just such a cool and simple example of how to actually manifest that in real life.
Suneel Gupta (00:44:09) – I love that and I’ve learned so much from Sharon over the years too. One of the metaphors that Sharon and I bonded over in the past is, is the idea of like holding a hot mug of tea. And just if you squeeze the mug of tea, you’re going to burn your hands, ultimately drop the mug.
Suneel Gupta (00:44:27) – And it’s so counterintuitive sometimes to the way that I think we may be conditioned, which is that when a situation is hot, when a situation is like, you know, rigid or tight, our instinct can be to try to squeeze it tight, to really try to, like, you know, grip it and handle it and and deal with it. But oftentimes loosening just a little bit and having a loose grip on the mug allows you to handle it much better because your hands aren’t burning. Your attention can be much more in the game. And that’s been a hard that’s honestly been a hard thing for me because like grit and hustle is for a long time all I knew, you know, for somebody who worked in business and tech, every time I would look at any type of self-help book or I felt like I was listening to a lecture, it was all about like grit hard and hustle hard. And and I did. But the fact is that, like, if you look at some of the qualities that are associated with grit, it’s always being on it’s being relentless.
Suneel Gupta (00:45:25) – It’s, you know, like all those are also some of the same qualities that are scientifically associated with burnout, right? And so like, yes, their grit and hustle are admirable qualities. And yes, there is a place for them. But if all you’re doing is gritting, if that becomes your way of life rather than a tool, then you’re putting yourself on a path that is not going to be able to effectively deal with situations because you’re exhausted.
Jonathan Fields (00:45:49) – Yeah, no, I completely agree with that. A very mixed relationship with grit. Also, you know, a lot of the early research that was done on that was actually based on tasks where the outcome was defined in advance. And they looked at like, what did it take to get to that defined outcome? The reality is in most of our day to day experiences, whether it’s entrepreneurship or relationships or whatever it is, the outcome is not defined like you define it along the way, and it’s much harder to actualize the qualities of grit in that type of context.
Jonathan Fields (00:46:21) – And like you said very often, especially when you have so much ambiguity around what the outcome is, it just you end up deep in burnout long before you would ever even get to a point where you understand what the defined outcome is that you’re really even striving for. I mean, entrepreneurship is the perfect example. You have an idea in the beginning, you have assumptions, but you don’t have anything until you have product market fit. And then like then you’re actually like, what is the business even? And you end up pivoting countless times to figure that out. So maybe like grit gets you to the very first, like, well-defined thing. But the reality of what most of us aspire to is not that it’s much more amorphous than that. And grit, in my mind becomes much more fraught in a lot of real world contexts. One of the other things that you explore in the book, which I thought was really interesting, was the notion of Sabr is the notion that, okay, so maybe this thing that lies inside of us and if we’re talking about how can we actually center it and let it out, how can we express it fully? It’s actually counterintuitively, this thing, which is all about us, is not about us.
Suneel Gupta (00:47:32) – You know, I really wanted to root the book in Western figures. People who we may recognize is like Jimi Hendrix to Dr. Martin Luther King, to Toni Morrison. But every once in a while I pulled in like a figure from the East as well. And Mahatma Gandhi was one of those figures who really grounded this chapter. And I get it because Gandhi is one of these figures who sort of every time I bring him up in front of a classroom, you know, I lecture at Harvard Medical School and I’ve done this a few times, I can kind of feel like the collective eyeroll in the room because it’s kind of like, come on, man. Like he’s like, we’re talking about this guy who is like, Holy, you know, how is he relevant to what’s happening in Western society today? But I think people are surprised often to find that Gandhi was very timid, was very shy, had a very, very difficult time. He was an attorney by training who was so embarrassed, so shy in front of a courtroom that he literally sweat through his clothes during his first court case and abandoned the client right there.
Suneel Gupta (00:48:31) – And then he ran out of the courtroom and could never be hired after that as an attorney’s. And that’s the reason one of the reasons that he fled India and went to South Africa was to go to find work. And that’s when he started to get involved in apartheid and everything that was happening at that time and then came back to India and brought those practices with him. The reason I bring it up is because when Gandhi was asked like, you know, about a fulfilling life and how do we start to kind of live this life, he said. Like people would often ask him, like, how do I find myself? How do I find who I am? And he would say very clearly that the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others, to find some way to start giving to other people and to start serving other people is in some ways maybe the most effective chisel of all. We talked about Michelangelo in the block of marble and the sculpture inside. Sometimes that can be the most effective chisel is when you start to serve other people.
Suneel Gupta (00:49:25) – You can start to come back into who you are. It also, though, is a way for you to come alive in a brand new way. You know, I think like when I look at people who are exceptional at, I think being in front of crowds or having like genuine conviction that comes from a good place, it’s often not because they’re kind of coming from a place of ego, but they do in the book what I call the spotlight switch, which is that before they do anything, even though it might seem like the spotlight is burning brightly on you, they sort of switch that to who am I really trying to serve in that moment? And they make sure that the spotlight is on that person. In other words, it’s about them. It’s not about me. And I use this all the time, Jonathan. I mean, I’m like pretty decent, like in these conversations one on one, but I’m actually pretty scared to get up on stage and, you know, speak in front of large crowds.
Suneel Gupta (00:50:20) – But I do it a lot because as a writer now I’m out there sharing my work. And one of the things that often gets me worked up before I get up on stage that gets me really nervous is, oh my God, like I’m about to get out there and they’re all paying attention to me. And like, you know, the spotlight is on me. And one of my pre-game routines, one of the things I do right before I got on stage is I literally imagine I like make a little click, click noise. And I literally imagine the spotlight shifting away from me to the crowd. Like it’s to them. It is about them. It is not about me. And I can feel the anxiety start to leave my body. Like I can literally start to feel myself calm. My nervous system starts to reset through that very, very simple exercise. It sounds like almost too easy and too simple, but it’s literally the path that even somebody like Mahatma Gandhi took for becoming somebody who’s too shy to speak in front of a small courtroom to literally leading hundreds of thousands of people with his riveting words and speeches.
Jonathan Fields (00:51:18) – Yeah, it’s funny. I do. I do my version of that. Like before I go out to keynote, I literally I’ll find anything that I can write back on the green room. It can be like a Post-it note, it could be a whiteboard, whatever it is, like a little piece of paper. And I literally just write serve on it just as a cue to me to get out of my head and say like, I’m not here to perform. This is not about like whether I get a standing ovation at the end of it or whether like, people laugh and cry. I’ll take it if it happens.
Suneel Gupta (00:51:46) – Yeah, you.
Jonathan Fields (00:51:47) – Know, it’s awesome. But at the same time, fundamentally, like people are giving me, you know, if you got a thousand people in a room and they’re giving you 60 minutes of the day, that’s 60,000 minutes of humanity. Wow. That is being invested in that moment. And it can’t be about me. It’s got to be about about giving them what they need in that moment.
Jonathan Fields (00:52:09) – Because like you said, it really does shift something. Energetically. When you do that, it just changes the quality of what you’re doing. And my sense is whether it’s speaking, whether it’s making art, whether you’re leading a team in a company, people feel that, people sense it and they respond to it and to you differently and in a way that often allows you to continue to do the thing more authentically.
Suneel Gupta (00:52:33) – Yeah. Yeah.
Suneel Gupta (00:52:34) – I love that man. Jimi Hendrix. He was asked by a journalist, Why do you play? What are you looking to do when you get up on stage? And he said, Well, you know, I would love to like, turn the audience on. Like, that’s kind of my my goal in this journalist was kind of like, all right, well, so but Jimi, what ends up happening if that doesn’t happen? Like, what happens when you look out at the crowd and nobody’s responding to you? And he’s like, Well, then I’m kind of serving the music, you know, if I’m serving them.
Suneel Gupta (00:53:00) – And even if they’re not responding, I’m still serving this music that I’m playing. And so there’s this notion of like, if you’re serving something, you put yourself in a place where it’s not about you. I think for so many of us, when we make it about ourselves, we put ourselves in a path of burnout. When we put ourselves, when we make it about ourselves, we put ourselves in a place where, like, it’s do or die, right? And I felt that way when I was up on stage. Sometimes I was like, Oh, I got it’s do or die. I got I got to really knock this one out of the park and your place of service like it kind of in a very healthy way, lowers the bar a little bit because you can end up having more fun with it. That’s actually, by the way, one of my favorite chapters in the book, which is about work and play, and it’s the chapter that follows Saba, but it’s called Lila, and Lila translates into High Play.
Suneel Gupta (00:53:48) – When I started to look at sort of the Western science that really grounds this idea, what it really took me to was me Chick sent me high, author of Flow, and what she sent Me High said is that we have these two sides to our personality. We have our exoteric side and our automatic side, right? You’re not one or the other, your shades of each, but there tends to be one that sort of is more in the driver’s seat than the other. The exoteric side of you is really focused on the deadline, focused on the achievement, focused on the goal, and your automatic side is very focused on the experience itself. What do you like the day to day and even the process behind it? Write as boring a word as that is. You’re kind of more fixated on on that and what the assumption was, I think in high performance in performance research was that like it was really the exotic people who were leading society, right? It was the people who were like had the goals and they had it set and they were like driving away at chipping away at these goals.
Suneel Gupta (00:54:43) – And I think what was really groundbreaking about she sent me his research as he was. He was saying like, of course, that that does happen, like there are exotic people out there, but there is just as many people who are automatic by nature, who are fixated on the experience itself, like enjoying what it is that they’re actually doing. You know, it’s kind of like Alex Lowe, the mountain climber. You know, he was like, you know, he’s he’s obviously like putting himself out there in these very, very dangerous situations. And someone says like, hey, like what? What’s the secret to all of that? And he said, look, the best mountain climbers are the ones who are having the most fun. Right. And so, like, there’s this this blurring of work and play that tends to be this autopilot side of things where you’re working and you’re but you’re you’re kind of playing as well. And it’s a little bit indistinguishable from one another, which sounds a little like anti to what we’ve learned.
Suneel Gupta (00:55:33) – Like we separate work and play with the idea that if you if you try to fuse these things together, your performance is going to go down. Like you have to take it seriously in order to get great results. But what she sent me high showed is that like that’s not necessarily the case. And in fact, the people who tend to sort of blur these lines between work and play, not only are they having more fun, but they’re actually getting even better results.
Jonathan Fields (00:55:56) – Yeah, I mean, that always fascinated me. I remember going deep into his work and then also into the work of Anders Erickson, who certainly studied excellence and expertise and sort of coined the phrase deliberate practice, which then became really popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, is the, quote, 10,000 hour rule, which we know now is like a complete it’s not actually what the research was all about. And I had, you know, like sadly, Erickson is no longer with us. It’s very fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down with him and ask him some questions, because I was really curious, because he describes this deliberate practice as being hyper focused on iterating on a very specific type of action or goal or outcome.
Jonathan Fields (00:56:36) – And it’s very open about the fact that he describes this is this is not fun, this is grueling, this is intense, it’s effortful. And then you take the research from you send me high. These are people who are completely losing a sense of self. They’re losing sense of time. They’re utterly absorbed in the thing itself, which is fundamentally the qualities of play, you know, flow and play. A lot of similarities there. Yeah. And I always thought it was interesting, you know, how you have just sort of like different theories, but fundamentally one is about one is about living a good life and one is about being the best. Whatever it is that you actually are hyper focused on being, but maybe they’re not actually that separate.
Suneel Gupta (00:57:19) – Maybe not. And I think there’s probably great case studies in both camps. You know, for me, I kind of came to this early when I was running my company. I started a company called Rise, and we did one on one health coaching and we would usually start working with people when they got to that point of real desperation with weight loss, like they needed to fix something in their life or they were or they were going to they were going to get diabetes like they were told by a doctor, you need to do something.
Suneel Gupta (00:57:46) – And what we would do is we kind of unpack like what they had done so far. What were the what were the habits that they had tried to bring into their life. And in so many cases, what we found is that people had gone and done like paleo, right? They’d gone and done like some some like really rigid diet and they had gotten great results. But those results didn’t last very long. Right? And so then they ended up sort of bouncing back to where they were before, and now they were coming to us saying, all right, what do we what do we need to do? So we work with like tens of thousands of patients. And what we continually came back to was like Kevin Kelly from Wired described this very well. He said that we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to do our tasks better, right? But we don’t spend enough time trying to figure out which tasks we want to do over and over again. We actually enjoy doing over and over again.
Suneel Gupta (00:58:36) – So Paleo wasn’t going to work for for people because they hated it. Like they frickin loved carbs. And I love carbs like they they love like pasta and bread and rice, which meant that if they were on paleo, every day was a slog. Every single day was a slog. But what we aim to do was to find some habits that they actually didn’t mind or they actually could embrace. You know, like like for us, like one of the most effective tools. So sounds so embarrassing. I mean, this is for me, I always like, how is a business built off of something like this? But one of the most effective habits that we would help people build was drinking water before every meal, right? Just simply having a like a glass or two of water before every meal. Not only did it hydrate you and make you feel more energy, but it also reduced your hunger. Right. And it was the kind of thing that we saw our people, our customers and patients like starting to have fun with.
Suneel Gupta (00:59:32) – They would get like specialty design bottles. They would put little like local flavorings in their water. They would do things to make the experience fun and enjoyable. Did they get the results that Paleo would give them as quickly as paleo? No, absolutely not. It was much more of a slow burn over time, but the results stuck. And the reason they stuck is because it was a habit they actually enjoyed doing. So I continually come back to that when I think about deliberate practice versus play, which is like, I think that you can definitely like put your nose to the grindstone and make it work, But I think you’re taxing your willpower in a certain way throughout the distance. And the question is how long will that last versus you can find what I call in the book these high quality habits, these habits that you actually enjoy doing. They’re getting you a little bit further to your goal, even if they’re not getting you there right away, they’re getting a little bit further subtly towards your goal. But you want to keep doing it.
Suneel Gupta (01:00:25) – I think that that that ends up getting you to where you want to be and keeping you there.
Jonathan Fields (01:00:29) – Yeah, so agree with that. Once the structure of the scaffolding and the accountability of the thing that forces you to do the thing that makes you better but that you really don’t like, once that falls away, it’s over. Whereas if you do something that’s 70% as effective, but actually you really enjoy doing it and your mind is engaged with it, you’ll do it for life. So it’s playing and playing the long game simultaneously. Yeah. So one of the things that you sort of circle back around to is this notion that win or lose, acting, acting really for your Dharma brings you closer to yourself and unlocks a new sense of possibilities in your life. Like this is like the central theme that you keep coming back to and you talk about other mechanisms, other essentially eight different paths. We talked about some of them in this conversation. But, you know, like fundamentally, the notion that there is something that that exists within all of us that is worthy, that is important that we don’t have to go in search of, but we actually just have to reveal to ourselves.
Jonathan Fields (01:01:28) – And then the more that we can center that in our lives, in our work and our relationships and whatever it is, we’re it requires effort. Just the better everything else gets is a powerful idea that I think and I think this is a great moment for that idea. So it feels a good place for us to come full circle as well. In this container of Good Life project, if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?
Suneel Gupta (01:01:53) – To live a good life, I think means to express yourself, you know, express who you are. Because I think that the way that I look at it, at least, I always come back to sort of my, my my grandfather’s porch in New Delhi where he first talked to me about Dharma and described it as like this inner flame inside of you. And the way that I sort of see this inner flame now is that either it’s going to burn you up inside or it’s going to light up the world around you, Right? But you get to choose.
Suneel Gupta (01:02:26) – But I don’t think anybody really escapes that choice. And so as we talk about things like purpose and meaning, it can be sometimes tempting to see them as like these really flowery, nice sort of things. But I think the truth is that, like, it can hurt like hell when you’ve got this thing inside of you that’s not being expressed. It can eat, you can eat away. And I think what what it means to to live a good life or is, is really to in some small way start to bring that out so that you can start to light up the things that are outside of you.
Suneel Gupta (01:02:59) – Mm hmm.
Jonathan Fields (01:03:00) – Thank you. Hey, before you leave, if you love this episode, say that you’ll also enjoy the solo episode that I recorded earlier this year about discovering what makes you come alive. What we call your archetype. You’ll find a link to that episode in the show notes. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project in your favorite listening app.
Jonathan Fields (01:03:23) – 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.