Ep. 160 – The Power Of Behavior-Centric Health & Wellness: Trade-Offs for a Long and Happy Life with Jon Levy

Your trusted source for nutrition, wellness, and mindset for thriving health.

The pandemic has changed so much for so many of us. Our children are growing up facing unforeseen challenges, and many of us feel uncertain and fearful about what lies ahead. Human beings were never meant to be alone. Yet today, people are suffering from social isolation, a lack of contact, and not touching or connecting physically with anyone.

I am happy to have Jon Levy joining me as my guest for today! Jon is a behavioral scientist best known for his work in influencing, human connection, and decision making. More than a decade ago, Jon founded The Influencers Dinner, a secret dining experience for industry leaders ranging from Nobel laureates, Olympians, celebrities, and executives, to artists, musicians, and even the occasional princess. With thousands of members, Influencers is the largest community of its type worldwide. 

In Levy’s latest book, You’re Invited, readers are guided through the art and science of creating deep and meaningful connections with anyone, regardless of their stature or celebrity. The book demonstrates how we develop influence, gain trust, and build community so that we can impact our communities and achieve that which is important to us.

In this episode, Jon talks about the impact that the pandemic has had on our society, and discusses the effect it has had on people’s wellbeing, happiness, and longevity. Be sure to stay tuned today to find out what you can do to improve your current situation, create more connectedness in your life, adapt to this ever-changing world, and help your children to thrive going forward into the future.

“Anxiety, stress, and so on can either be a growth opportunity or pure trauma.”

Jon Levy

IN THIS EPISODE YOU WILL LEARN:

  • Jon discusses the impact of the loneliness and lack of physical connection that so many of us are experiencing now due to the pandemic.
  • Jon shares some of the foremost predictors of human longevity.
  • Anti-fragility is a critical characteristic of humans.
  • Jon explains why building and retaining a social muscle is vital.
  • What happens to people when they spend several hours per day on social media.
  • Jon discusses the trade-offs that we have to make to live long and happy lives.
  • Experience post-traumatic growth rather than post-traumatic stress.
  • Jon explains how to foster a sense of connection with others as things start to open up again after fifteen months of isolation.
  • Jon explains what bonds us as humans.
  • Vulnerability builds trust and strengthens relationships.
  • Knowing where to draw the line when giving to others is vital.
  • Jon discusses the big issue with behavioral change.
  • Creating more connectedness in your life.

Connect with Jon Levy

On his website     

On Facebook, Instagram, Twitter

Additional Social Handles: @JonLevyTLB on Clubhouse    

Jon’s new book: You’re Invited: The Art & Science of Cultivating Influence

Book mentioned:

The Rabbit Effect by Kelli Harding

Connect with Cynthia Thurlow

About Everyday Wellness Podcast

Welcome to the Everyday Wellness podcast with Cynthia Thurlow! Cynthia is a mom of 2 boys, wife, nurse practitioner, and intermittent fasting and nutrition expert. She has over 20 years experience in emergency medicine and cardiology, but pivoted to focus on food as medicine. She loves to share science-backed practical information to improve your overall well being and is grateful to be interviewing leaders in the health and wellness field.  Her goal with Everyday Wellness is to help her listeners make simple changes to their everyday lives that will result in improved overall wellness and long term health.

TRANSCRIPT
 

Presenter: This is Everyday Wellness, a podcast dedicated to helping you achieve your health and wellness goals, and provide practical strategies that you can use in your real life. And now, here’s your host, Nurse Practitioner Cynthia Thurlow.

Cynthia: Jon Levy is a behavioral scientist, best known for his work in influence, human connection, and decision making. More than a decade ago, Jon founded the Influencers Dinner, a secret dining experience for industry leaders ranging from Nobel laureates, Olympians, celebrities, and executives to artists, musicians, and even the occasional princess. With thousands of members, Influencers is the largest community of its type worldwide. In Levy’s latest book, You’re Invited, readers are guided through the art and science of creating deep and meaningful connections with anyone, regardless of their stature or celebrity, and demonstrates how we develop influence, gain trust, and build community, so that we can impact our communities and achieve what’s important to us. Welcome, Jon. It’s a pleasure to have you with us this morning.

Jon: Are you kidding? This is so fun. In our pre-chat, I was like, “Oh, my God, I hope she’ll be my friend.”

Cynthia: Oh, of course, of course. We’ve already connected over our love and appreciation for intermittent fasting and OMAD. That starts the conversation off really well, but let’s dive in. One of the things as I was reading your book and doing research for discussion, let’s talk about the net impact of this pandemic, and the social isolationism, and the lack of physical connection, because I would imagine even as wonderful as it is for us to connect over our recording this morning, it’s not the same as being in front of one another if we were physically in the same space.

Jon: Yeah, it’s super interesting. A lot of companies are now pushing for people to go work remotely and save on office space. They’re like, “Oh, that’s not a big deal.” I point out that, “Okay, then why do people go to concerts? Why would you go to a sporting event?” There seems to be something intrinsic about being around other people. When you look at the research, there’s this brilliant Brigham Young study that looked at what’s the greatest predictor of human longevity. As much as we’d love for it to be our diets and cleanses and all that, the truth is a little bit more amusing.

Besides genetics, which we currently can’t really dive into or change, that might change as CRISPR becomes more available. But if you rank the things that are the greatest predictors, on the low level, it’s clean air and water, it’s exercise, getting your annual flu shot. They’re actually about on par with each other, which is wild. Then, quitting drinking, quitting smoking, and the top two are number two is having close social ties, so close friends and family. Number one is social integration, which is measured by the number of people you’ve come in contact with in a day. Essentially, are you basically part of the community, or do you have a sense of belonging?

The concern for me being a behavioral scientist is that, in 1985, the average American had just about three friends, besides family. By 2004, we were down to two. Now, during the pandemic, I can’t even– I’m scared to think where we’re at, and that’s super concerning.

Cynthia: What are some of the things that people can do as we are being re-indoctrinated into society? I have teenagers at home, and they only just in March started going physically back to school after being home. [laughs] Being home for an entire year and doing quasi-digital learning, it was interesting, my children were saying that of their friends about 25% of the students are physically back in the classroom, that 75% of families are advocating that their children be at home, and yet, these children are staying very healthy. Obviously, they’re socially distanced at school, they’re wearing masks. But the uptick in my children’s mental wellbeing, and their happiness has gone up exponentially. We actually had a discussion about this last night, and they were saying, “Even though, we’re back in a classroom, and we have all these restrictions on us, and even though, we’re not all together, I’m so much happier.”

Jon: Yeah.

Cynthia: So, for my boys to come to me, and say that–

Jon: I actually say that.

Cynthia: Volumes. Yes, exactly. It really speaks volumes, because they tend to be very private these teenage boys are.

Jon: It is so– [crosstalk] Oh, sorry.

Cynthia: Sorry. No, no. I wanted to mention that because it’s been interesting as a nurse practitioner, as a human being going through this massive “social experiment” of the last year, almost year and a half, thinking about the mental health impact has been really profound. I would agree with you that the numbers that were quoted 15 plus years ago, I’m sure they’re even smaller now in terms of who people feel genuinely are their close friends, because of this disconnection that we’ve had over the last 15 months.

Jon: Well, there’s so much I think done pack here. The first is that there’s this concept called antifragility. I’m not sure if you’ve covered this in a previous episode. If you have, I encourage people to go check that episode out, because it’s a pretty critical characteristic of living systems, human beings. The critical element is that, whereas I have this glass with water here. If I drop it, it’ll shatter. It’s fragile. There are things that are robust. Hopefully, you’re home. If you bump into the wall, nothing’s going to happen to it. But then, there are things that are actually antifragile, and we never talked about this. It’s things that when we apply pressure on them to get stronger. So, Cynthia, my hunch is when you did your first podcast, you’ve probably weren’t as eloquent as you are today, right?

Cynthia: I agree. [giggles]

Jon: Yeah. I cringe when I look at old talks of mine. But that’s because the pressure and the experience actually make us stronger, like lifting weights. Especially in our formative, let’s say, teenage years, when we are super awkward and I’m talking about myself, I don’t know about the rest of you out there. It was critical to have social pressure applied on me. When I say that I’m not talking about, “Oh, go smoke.” I’m saying, learning to talk to somebody, messing up a little, learning to try again, and learning to build the muscle of being social. If we don’t, then what happens is that we just end up with really weak social skills or weak immune systems would also be an example or weak muscles. That’s really my concern around social skills, because if loneliness is on par with smoking a pack a day of cigarettes in terms of its health impact, people who are really social– Cynthia, you mentioned you’re an introvert, is that right?

Cynthia: I actually am, people are oftentimes surprised to know that, but it’s the truth. So, I will own it.

Jon: But there’s a difference being introverted and being lonely. It looks like you have a whole collection of phenomenal, strong social ties. You feel you have good relationships that support you in your life. Now, people like that tend to be able to create more and more relationships. You meet friends through friends and so on. The other end of the spectrum is people who feel lonely and isolated, if the average American has less than two friends now, that means there’s some at zero. If we spend enough time alone, we start feeling like we deserve being alone.

Our muscles atrophy so much that we forget, “Oh, I could join a soccer league. I could make friends with the team. I could do volunteer work at my local religious institution. I could support causes, and really get word out there, and canvass, and be involved in a community that cares about a social issue.” It doesn’t occur to us, because we feel we’re deserving of staying at home. I think that what’s really incredible is that– there was a book written a few years back called The Rabbit Effect. Did you ever read this?

Cynthia: I have heard of it. I have not read it.

Jon: It’s based on a single study where researchers didn’t understand why, when feeding two different groups of rabbits, one of them was fed a very high-cholesterol, unhealthy diet, and one was fed a healthy diet. They didn’t understand why some of the unhealthy fed rabbits had no major effects. It’s because one researcher had been petting them and taking care of them in terms of showing them love and affection. According to this theory, we can mitigate a lot of health impact of diet and biological responses through care, and affection, and human contact. I think the big takeaway is that human beings were never meant to be alone. The biggest punishment we can give somebody is either exile or solitary confinement. So, to do that with a developing child is concerning. If we can do it safely, even with all these restrictions, we should really find a way to arrange that.

There’s also one additional thing I’d love to add on the topic. As a parent, I think you’d probably find this interesting. We haven’t found yet, at least I don’t think we have, a direct causal relationship between social media, and anxiety, and depression. But what we have found is that when people spend several hours on social media a day, it prevents them from actually having in person pro-social behaviors that create bonding and intimacy. If I am participating on Instagram, I am not part of the track team. I am not part of the Girl Scouts. I am not part of the football team or the chess club developing relationships. That’s where the real risk is. At least so far what we can tell, I don’t think that social media is the devil, and I also don’t think that it’s a heaven sent. I think it does complexities. But I think the key is, what tradeoffs are we willing to make? If I could make a recommendation, it’s let’s get our kids safely, and maybe if appropriate, outdoor activities where they can participate in pro-social behavior, because that’ll be really good for them.

Cynthia: I have to agree on so many levels, and it’s interesting, when I was doing my background work in preparation for this, and really diving into that fragility piece, and thinking about my parents, and for everyone that’s listening, our parents do our very best. One of the things my parents did particularly well was that they forced me to get uncomfortable and to grow. I was actually telling my children this the other night that when I was in fifth grade, I was painfully shy and my fifth-grade teacher went to my parents and said, “I’m genuinely concerned, because she’s so introverted that we need to do something proactive to get her to get more comfortable speaking in front of people.” This started the years of doing student government, and so I was trying to explain to my children-

Jon: Interesting.

Cynthia: -who think that I was never that young. I was never as young as they were. [crosstalk] That’s the reason why I ended up in student government and doing all these other things in middle and high school was because of this teacher, who encouraged my parents to really push me, and my mom would say things to me like, “I can make it easier for you, but then you wouldn’t learn.” I. sometimes have to apply that to my children and say to them– and I have an introvert and an extrovert. The introvert didn’t want to have to present a Spanish– He’s taking a Spanish theory class, and didn’t want to present in Spanish, he wanted us to give him the easy out and do his presentation from his bedroom virtually as opposed to doing in school. I made him go to school. It started a big argument.

Jon: Yeah,

Cynthia: He did fine. But it harkens back, when I was reading and listening to you talk about fragility, antifragility, it made me realize that there are so many of us like we’re all a little bit fearful right now of what’s to come, but we have to push ourselves. So, are there things that make us less fragile, or is it just this yearning for connection that will help work through that?

Jon: That’s super interesting. I think that ultimately putting pressure on things to a limit is what makes us stronger. There’s a few interesting ideas. One is, and this I don’t go into specifically in my book, You’re Invited, we’re used to talking about posttraumatic stress. That’s when the growth experience or whatever the experience is too much for us to feel we grow from. What we don’t talk about enough is posttraumatic growth, which– it’s fundamentally, I think, that there’s definitely biological and social elements to these things but it’s also a matter of mental context. I’ve had experiences that were fundamentally traumatic. Over the course of our lives, most of us will experience something. The way we choose to handle that if we are going to develop new skills, learn new practices to deal with anxiety, and stress, and so on, it can either be a growth opportunity or pure trauma.

I think that that a lot is going to be defined by the cultural conversation and the mythology that you or we raise our kids with. It’s the lessons that our children are going to be princes, and princesses, and live happily ever after, or are we going to have conversations about there’s going to be challenges and the people who succeed are the ones that work hard. It’s not that our kids are smart, it’s that they work hard, because if you tell a child, they’re smart then– I think the research has shown, if they don’t do something well, they think they’re stupid. Whereas, if you focus on the work effort, it’s always something that they can control or manage. So, I think that there’s a lot that can be looked at there. I’ll be honest, it’s not my area of expertise. I’m more on the human connection, trust, and belonging side of the research.

Cynthia: How do we, as we emerge as parents, I’m going to take that angle, because that’s we’re touching on, but as parents and children are emerging from this time period in our lives where we haven’t been able to be as connected, how will people–? You talk a lot about novelty. If people are meeting, like if they’re dating or if they’re getting together doing something that’s different or unique as a way to spark that connection, what are some of the ways that people if they’re listening, and they have those concerns, or those fears, because I’m hearing people say this more and more is things are opening up, masks are coming off in certain parts of the country, etc. How can people really foster this sense of connection, if they’ve been so isolated for the last 15 months? How can they go about doing that in a way that makes them feel– There’s no way to put it-

Jon: Yeah.

Cynthia: -facilitate that?

Jon: Here’s what’s really interesting. First of all, I want to tell you all that, if you’re concerned about things being awkward initially, oh, yeah, it’ll absolutely be a little bit awkward, just not nearly as awkward or lasting as long as your fear. There is no doubt that all of us are going to be stuck in that Moderna-Pfizer loop. “Oh, which one did you get, the Moderna, the Pfizer,” or whatever it is. “Oh, you didn’t get vaccine? Okay,” whatever it is, right?

Cynthia: Right.

Jon: I get it. We’ve run out of things to talk. We don’t have our social skills anymore. You’ll gain them back pretty quick. It’s like if you were an athlete in high school, and you took a few years off, and then you got back into things, your body remembers. You’ll be okay. [chuckles] It’s also an opportunity to actually lean into something really interesting about how human beings actually develop trust. So, there’s this perception that if I want to win you over, Cynthia, I would send you a gift or something like that. It’s near impossible to win people over with gifts. There’s very specific scenarios where, let’s say, I know you really care about something. So, how old are your boys?

Cynthia: 15 and 13.

Jon: Okay. You said, “Oh, we have a family birthday coming up, we don’t know what to do.” If I sent you, have you ever heard of African miracle fruit?

Cynthia: I have not.

Jon: It’s a crazy fruit from Africa that has a protein in it, that when it binds to your tongue, it changes your perception of flavor.

Cynthia: Oh.

Jon: It’s not a drug. It’s a chemical reaction. It’s like how you are drinking orange juice after toothpaste tastes weird.

Cynthia: Mm-hmm.

Jon: This makes things that are sour tastes sweet. If I sent you a bunch of these, and a bunch of foods to try out, so it’s all weird. Suddenly, I’ve given you something, an experience that truly stands out, because I knew it was something that you cared about and needed. Unless you’re doing– and it doesn’t have to be so grandiose. But unless you’re doing something like that, it’s really hard to win people over with gift. It turns out that the opposite though works, and this is going to sound weird. But if I ask you to do a bunch of stuff for me, you’ll probably like me more. This is called the IKEA effect. We disproportionately care about our IKEA furniture, because we had to assemble it. For all of you moms out there, you know that if you were told that your kid was switched at birth when they were 18, you would still love the kid that you raised, no matter how much of a pain in the butt they’ve been. Because of all of the nights you had to stay up late to take care of them, and the homework, and worrying about getting them to school, and all of that, because what bonds us as humans is investment of effort. It leads or works because of something called the vulnerability loop.

Cynthia, if the two of us are walking down the street, and you say, “Jon, I’ve this book coming out. I’m super stressed. I’m kind of lost. I don’t know what to do.” Anybody, who’s ever written a book in their life knows that statement-

Cynthia: [laughs]

Jon: -very, very, very well. In that moment, you’ve signaled vulnerability. Now, I have a few options. If I ignore you, or I make fun of you, “Oh, Cynthia, that’s just because your weak,” trust will be reduced, right?

Cynthia: Yeah.

Jon: But if I acknowledge it and match it, I say, “Cynthia, I went literally through the same thing. I was beyond stressed. I was so worried about the feedback from my editors. What are you concerned about?” Suddenly, I’ve demonstrated the same amount of vulnerability, and now, we know that we can trust each other because this loop occurred. Then, there’s an opportunity for another loop and another loop. When we now go to events, the tendency is to want to pretend that we’re great. That’s just not human. The problem is, it’ll just actually end up making us look bad. If we can lean into the fact that we’re uncomfortable, I would say something like, “Cynthia, I’m so happy to see you. I haven’t seen another human being in a year and a half. I’m going to be super awkward right now, because I don’t know how to act. Will you be awkward with me?” I’ve just opened vulnerability, I’d be shocked if the people you were talking to won’t say something like, “Oh, my God, I’m so happy. I feel the same way.”

Cynthia: [laughs]

Jon: I think that that’s the first thing, is that we need to be willing to look a little vulnerable, and that’s a great thing, because that’s how trust is built, and that’s how relationships are strengthened. I can go into some other stuff if you want, but I think that that’s really the first step, is let’s find ways for people to invest effort into each other, go take a hike together, so that the hike can take the pressure off the conversation. You don’t have to have drinks, and have alcohol, or have coffee, or whatever it is. You could go knit. You could go do volunteer work. You could join a book club. Spend most of your time quiet. it’s okay. If you’re introvert, you don’t have to be in an event with hundred people going slow.

Cynthia: I think that’s so valuable, because I know just in my social media experiences over the last year plus, that’s the one thing that slides into DMs other than people asking for advice about fasting or nutrition. What has started to happen is, people just saying I feel awkward. I don’t know how to behave. I think so many of us have this impression that this unique shared life experience that we all have just gone through, all of us have grown in some ways, and probably perhaps suffered privately in others, and I think that your point about the piece on humility, and just being vulnerable, and just being transparent is so critical.

I know for me as an introvert, sharing on social media, private things or personal things, is about as uncomfortable as it comes as I’m sure it is for most people. But I find that’s when people will suddenly– like the DMs just go bananas or my team will say there’s huge response to something, you’re a middle-aged woman and you’re going through– If you’ve experienced this, let us know, and I’ve been humbled and surprised. The one thing is it’s very easy for us to pretend to be perfect, but no one connects with perfection.

As much as we might try that we want to seem– seemingly everything about our lives looks perfect, imperfect is messy, and that’s much more desirable, and that’s much more aligned with truly feeling like you understand another human being as opposed to the ivory tower, princess or king [crosstalk]. But you see so much of that on social media. Even within our own personal lives, you see a lot of that where people just– they only want to show the pretty stuff. They don’t want to show the really vulnerable like, “I’m frightened, I’m scared. I’m terrified. I’m upset, I’m mad.” Any of those vulnerable feelings that we can experience as human beings.

Jon: It’s interesting. First of all, I love that you point to this, because there’s actually a name for it in the sciences, and it’s called the pratfall effect. If any of you have ever seen a romcom, you will notice that the female or male lead always seems to be falling all over themselves. The pratfall effect, the famous study on the topic, was done by having people go in for job interviews, and some of them did a perfect interview, and then some of them accidentally spilled a bit of coffee on themselves or dropped some papers. Those people were rated higher than the ones that did it perfect. It turns out, especially when there’s a power dynamic, if you’re intimidated by me, if I screw up a little, you’ll actually like me more. This is what’s really wonderful, because it means that what makes us human is actually the part that makes us most likeable. It really reinforces a wonderful element around this.

The interesting thing is that vulnerability can be expressed in a lot of different ways. We’re used to thinking of vulnerability like, “My kids are driving me crazy, and I don’t know how to handle it.” But that might not be appropriate at work. Vulnerability at work might look more like, “Cynthia, you are so brilliant when it comes to media. Can I get five minutes of your time to run our media plan by you? I’d really love your input.” Because in that moment, you’re seeing the vulnerability. You’re saying, “Hey, I think that your opinion really matters here, and I’d really value it.” What’s interesting about that is that because you view yourself as intelligent, when I ask for that support, you actually view me as really smart for coming to you. People overwhelmingly end up being flattered and will like you more by giving you advice or input. The key is then to actually apply some of it, because my least favorite thing is the number of people that come to me for advice, and then do none of it. Cynthia, I cannot imagine how often that happens to you.

Cynthia: Well, the thing that’s funny is there was a meme on maybe it was Instagram, and it was called the askhole, meaning the person who [crosstalk] constantly asked you for advice or input, and they give it to you or they give it to the person, and then they take note of it.

Jon: Yeah.

Cynthia: When actually when I saw that meme, I was like, “That is fantastic.” We all have those people in our lives, and you just think, I like wasting my breath talking to this person,” because they’re not going to take any of my good advice. They’re going to do their own thing anyway.

Jon: Yeah. What they actually want is just your attention, and some vindication or something like that. Here’s the problem. It’s twofold. One is that getting people to invest effort into us does get them to like us more. But if we aren’t willing to invest effort back, we’re just selfish. Then, we’re no longer going to be a part of a community. Then, you either end up with people who are dependent on us or who are parasitic. That’s not a pleasant experience.

In fact, research by Adam Grant looked at givers, those that are generous takers, those that are selfish and matchers, those that mimic behavior, he found that the least successful are the givers, and the most successful are the givers. What separates the two groups of givers are those that know where to draw the line. If I give so much that I’m giving my own customers away and I can’t get my own work done, I’m going to fail. But if I can support you, and then also make sure I get what I need to done, then the matchers will support me and so we’ll be givers. Takers will be pushed out eventually.

Cynthia: I think that really speaks to boundaries, and that’s something that I think for so many of us we really struggle with. Especially if we’re people pleasers or if we’re individuals that tend to be giving by nature, people that go into service industries, working in healthcare is a good example, obviously, there are many, but you’re very much heart directed, heart focused, you give, give, give, give, give, and the running joke when I was in nursing school about a million years ago, was that women of a certain age that were nurses were really overweight. I think so much of it really spoke to the fact that they give to everyone and then they’re so stressed by the time they get home to do the next shift of things, that they eat to absorb some of the stress that they’re experiencing, the feelings they’re not expressing or being a people pleaser. So, one thing that I actively over the last probably 10 years, especially the last five and certainly during the pandemic, have worked on our boundaries, because boundaries, I think are really critically important. If you’re giving by nature type person, and maybe you can speak a little bit to this, but I would imagine boundaries are really critical for the givers. If you’re someone that’s very generous by nature, giving on many levels, whether it’s advice, or money, or donations, or any type of giving tendencies, that boundaries are really important.

Jon: Yeah, it’s interesting. I for the longest time and I still struggle with this, because I want to take care of everyone. But there’s this funny moment where you’re in a conversation, and you’re done talking, and then I have this uncontrollable desire to offer people something even if I don’t really like them that much. It still happens. It never goes away. I think my muscle become stronger at saying, “Well, it was an absolute pleasure to chat with you,” or, “It was interesting to speak with you. But I really shouldn’t be going.” But deep inside, there’s this voice being like, “What could I do to help them?” Then, realizing Why would I want to help them? They seem like awful people.”

Cynthia: [laughs]

Jon: Yeah, boundaries are difficult. Here’s the big issue with behavioral change. Anytime we try to change something instantaneously, it almost never lasts. I can’t start being a marathon runner tomorrow by going to run 10 miles. It’s not a realistic process. My mental models will reject it, my body will reject it. It needs to be a slow and steady process to integrate new habits into my life. Just as much as I need to set aside time, and plan, and design the environment around us, I also need to switch out the people around me or change the conversation.

What I mean by that is, there’s this super interesting study I came across while developing the influencers community that you mentioned. It’s by these two guys, Christakis and Fowler, and they were curious about– In the early 2000s, everybody’s talking about the obesity epidemic. Now, there’s two types of epidemics. They’re the kinds that passed from person to person, like a cold or coronavirus, or I don’t even know what people get anymore these days. Then, there’s percentage of the population kind of epidemics. You could say, let me think, Alzheimer’s. I, to the best of my knowledge, if we go and hang out with somebody who has Alzheimer’s for a few hours, we’re not at higher risk of Alzheimer’s. But what they found is that if you have a friend who’s obese, your chances increase by 45%. Your friends who don’t know them have a 20% increase chance, and their friends have a 5% increase. Now, happiness, marriage and divorce rates, smoking habits, [unintelligible [00:37:43] habits, all these things pass from person to person. Now, part of it is just that birds of a feather flock together, which is you go to– what’s your favorite fitness class?

Cynthia: Oh, I would say, if I were taking a class, probably solidcore.

Jon: I’ve never even heard of this.

Cynthia: It’s core work on– It’s like Pilates on steroids.

Jon: Oh, got it. Cool. If you go to this often and you make some friends there, then, it’s not because it’s your friends, because birds of a feather flock together. It’s called [unintelligible [00:38:23]. Then, there’s certain things that your friends are now more likely to participate, in that class, because they say, “Oh, let’s hang out.” You say, “Great. I’m free on Thursday, if you want to join me.” Suddenly, they’re developing new habits. If you started hanging out with a bunch of people who like to see movies every week, you might start eating a tub of popcorn. I don’t know if [laughs] you got it.

The main point is that, if we really want to affect our habits, we have to ramp up slowly, we need to start curating the people around us, and we have to change the conversation. When people say what do you want to do Tuesday night, it isn’t, “Let’s go to that restaurant,” it’s, “Oh, let’s go for a walk or a hike or let’s cook a healthy meal together.” Then, you’ve actually end up doing pro-social activities that bond you while bringing this habit to life in a more meaningful way.

Cynthia: I think it’s really interesting that the research demonstrates how– It’s not at all surprising about divorce because I feel I’m in that space where post the peak of COVID, I’m starting to see a lot of people that are making shifts and changes in their lives, and I think that’s a beneficial thing. But I can speak to the fact that the obesity after working with thousands and thousands of patients more often than not, when a patient would come in with their family member, if they were obese, their spouse was obese, their other family member was obese–

Jon: Their kids.

Cynthia: Their whole family. Right. My nerdy brain starts thinking, nurture and nature, is this an epigenetic piece? Is there some other confounding variables? Is there this nutritional component? But I think it’s also which really speaks to what you’re trying to say is that we are so influenced by our connections, that of everyone around us eats a certain way. We’re more likely to eat that way as opposed to being the outlier, which is harder to do, because we have this drive to be connected.

Jon: Yeah, the basic unit of human survival is community, frankly. There’s some researchers that believe Maslow’s higher order of needs should be reevaluated, because at the base level, we have food and water, but think about the number of people who starve themselves just to fit in. We actually prioritize fitting in and belonging more than the other characteristics. That’s incredible. But it’s the wiring of the human brain. When we deny that’s how we’re wired, then there’s really negative ramifications. We begin to get depressed and lonely. There’s some study that looked at distance from home as a predictor of depression. They found that once people start reducing the distance that they travel from home, they have a much higher level of probability of experiencing depression. Now, that’s a correlation. One doesn’t cause the other. It’s not like that I didn’t walk that I got depressed, it’s probably that, if I’m traveling, having less contact with people and less contact with people are both defining distance and depression. Yeah, I think it’s absolutely fascinating.

In the book, I go really deep and all this stuff, but more importantly, what to actually do about it? I break down the process and the science, because I didn’t want to write a book that’s like, “Oh, that’s interesting. People are sad. People are lonely,” which is a lot of what the books out there are saying on the topic. This tells the incredible science that we’re unaware of, and then what to really do about it? How do we actually apply it? I’ve spent much of my adult life convincing people to come to my home, cook me dinner, wash my dishes, and clean my floors. Oddly, they thanked me for the experience.

Cynthia: [laughs] I think that’s something that in this podcast, I bring on incredible guests and have them share their incredible work, science, books, and then something that’s really important, and I know that you’ll touch on this is, for people that are listening, how can they have more connectedness in their lives? Especially as we’re coming out of this unprecedented period in our lives, and I’ll just keep alluding to it as that, because I feel we’re coming out of that haze, and people are anxious to start traveling, and getting together and being able to do more than spend a lot of time in their homes or a lot of time isolated from the things that they enjoy doing. So, what are the ways that people can do this and not be fearful, not feel they have to have extra boundaries up, and be able to do it in a way that’s graduated and reasonable?

Jon: I think the first thing is, everything that we’ve basically been taught or told about human connection is basically the wrong or backwards. [laughs] I’ll give you a simple example. When you graduated from college or people said, “Oh, if you want to succeed, you have to go out there and network. How do you think people feel about networking?

Cynthia: No one likes networking?

Jon: No, it’s the worst.

Cynthia: [laughs]

Jon: Like why would people give that advice? It’s like saying, “Okay, if you want to be a great runner, what you have to do is break your feet?”

Cynthia: [laughs]

Jon: And then run on them, so that you can get used to suffering. It’s completely backwards. Nobody likes it. In fact, research has found that people’s implicit association to it is feeling dirty. Interestingly–

Cynthia: Inauthentic.

Jon: Yeah, that’s precisely. It feels like we’re taking an action to use another human being. Like I said earlier, it might be that the base unit of human existence is belonging or community. That’s not something that creates belonging. Now, if you’ve checked people’s association to, what is it, friendship, they don’t have that. They feel great about friendship. Even if you’re introverted, even if you’re shy, you love friends. Now, if you’re introverted, it might be a question of how many people, over what length of time, all that stuff. Totally respect that. No need to overwhelm yourself and hang out with hundred people just because some other people like to.

Now, if that’s the case, then why aren’t we connecting the way that friends connect? Why don’t we build relationships the way that’s natural, which is either we get introduced through friends and family, or we tend to become friends with people who have the same interests, activities, or culture? Those are the easy ones. You love soccer, go join a soccer team. You love books, buy 12 copies of mine and start a book club. It’s called You’re Invited. It’s phenomenal, according to my mother. But the point is that’s what actually causes people to want to connect. Now, if you want to connect with more influential people, in the book, I break down the science where we talked about, mentioned briefly novelty, and there’s a few others, curation and so on. You can connect really with anyone you want depending on how much time you’re willing to commit to something.

Now, when it comes to building trust as we mentioned, people try to buy relationships which don’t really work and instead, what we need to do is invest effort into one another. There’s this odd little hack, which is, if I stopped you on the street and asked you for directions, you’re a really nice person, you’re probably not giving them to me though. I start asking complex directions, you’re walking, you’re going somewhere, you’re in a rush, not happening. I stop you and ask you for the time, and then ask you for the directions, you’re probably giving me the directions. The reason is that human beings have this association that once we get them to put in a little bit of effort into us, then they justify it and say, “Oh, that person must be worthy of more effort.” So, they’re willing to put in a bit more effort, and a bit more, and so on.

At a certain point, there has to be reciprocity. Otherwise, you’re just a taker. But this means that we want to find ways to open and close vulnerability loops, ideally, through shared effort, which is what brings us back to our activities’ idea. Which is if you want to connect with people, find activities that involve shared effort. Don’t just invite somebody for a drink. Invite them to go to the botanical gardens. Do something that actually has an activity associated to it. There’s actually a really weird thing. Are you married?

Cynthia: I am.

Jon: How did you two meet?

Cynthia: Oh, gosh. Match.com. So, it tells you how– [crosstalk]

Jon: That’s awesome.

Cynthia: 2002, we met on Match.com. I have a whole funny story about that. But yes, that’s how we met.

Jon: There’s this really interesting way that you can have people potentially be more interested in you. You’re going to hear these words, and you’re going to think I’m talking about sex, and I’m not. It’s called the misattribution of arousal. The way it works is, or the famous study on it, had to do with people crossing bridges. Men went across either a standard bridge or a high ropes bridge, so their hearts were pounding, they were excited. When they got to the far end, in both cases, they were met by an attractive woman, and she said, “If you have any questions about the study or whatever, feel free to get in touch with me.” A disproportionate number of men called her up and asked her out that were on the high ropes bridge. That’s because they confused the emotional and physical state they were at. The excitement and their hearts pounding, the adrenaline with the way that they felt about her.

In general, we confuse people for the experience. There’s a misattribution. That means that, if you want to have a closer relationship with people, find activities that actually excite them, that stand out as different that are memorable, so that you become more memorable. Rather than just going to a cocktail mixer, trying to strike up a conversation hoping that you’re going to talk to that one person you need to, just doesn’t make any sense.

So, my recommendation for all of you is one, go out there, and do activities rather than trying to network. Two, there’s tons of meetups and things like that, you could go to the foodie meetup where people explore foods and go on food crawls and all that. You can go onto Groupon and probably find crazy things. There’s tons of stuff going around in most major areas. Two, try to find activities that are not networking, but actually going to have shared effort. Then, three is around consistency. See, that true sense of belonging comes from people seeing each other on a consistent basis and feeling like they’re invested into one another. So, if you go once, it’ll be nice. But if you keep meeting up, that’s when it fosters a sense of belonging.

Cynthia: I think those are such great ideas, and it makes me realize we’re a foodie household, and so when we travel, my kids and my husband, I always take cooking classes and so–

Jon: Ah, fun.

Cynthia: If you were to ask them, what their favorite memory is from their favorite trip, they would say, “Oh, making paella in Barcelona, and being in this cooking class.” So, I agree, even for established relationships, how nice that is to all work together, enjoying something that you’re all passionate about, and how that’s much more important than if we sat in a stuffy restaurant, not that there are a lot of those in Barcelona, but still.

Jon: Well, do you know what I love about the example you just gave, is that it was about an established relationship. I see a lot of couples go on a date night, and it’s almost like an interview. As opposed to go taking a painting class or something, suddenly, you’re growing together. It’s you’re getting to explore additional aspects of your personality. It’s not just drinks and carbs. It’s new experiences, and joking around, and making fun of each other, and supporting each other as you work on projects. But don’t get me wrong. I know parents are exhausted, the last thing they might want to do is plug in another two hours of work on something. Find something that’s playful, and not necessarily work. That’s going to be different for different people. But I think it’s just a great example and I love that you and your family do that.

Cynthia: Thank you. Well, I have so enjoyed our conversation, and as I told you, before we started recording, I dove down a rabbit hole of Jon’s work, watched your TED Talk, listened to a bunch of your interviews, read your book, and so I really would love for my listeners to connect with you. Can you let them know the easiest way to connect with you? You have a great website, how to get your book, how to reach out to you on social media?

Jon: Sure. So, I’m JonLevyTLB. It’s J-O-N-L-E-V is in Victor, Y is in yellow, and then T like Thomas, L like lime, B be like boy. Jonlevytlb.com, and that’s my website, and that on Twitter, Clubhouse, Instagram, anywhere, and everywhere you can imagine, and you can get my book, basically anywhere. You can get it Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Amazon. There’s an audio version, eBook. If you have enough money, I’d be willing to sit next to you and read it to you. All these things are options. It’s a lot of money. [chuckles] But it’s a possibility if you’re really eccentric and a billionaire. So, yeah, you can find me in all those places and super easy to get ahold of also. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out. I will do my best to answer them. It’s how I learn and see the world anyways.

Cynthia: Awesome. Well, thank you for your time again, today. It’s been a pleasure.

Jon: Oh, this has been a treat. Thank you.

Presenter: Thanks for listening to Everyday Wellness. If you loved this episode, please leave us a rating, and review. Subscribe and remember, tell a friend. If you want to connect with us online, visit the link in the show notes.

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