I have the honor of connecting with Robert Mack today! He is an Ivy-League-educated Positive Psychology Expert, Celebrity Happiness Coach, Executive Coach, and Published Author. He recently released the book Love from the Inside Out: Lessons and Inspiration for Loving Yourself, Your Life, and Each Other.
We dive into Robert’s background in applied positive psychology and the influences of experts like Byron Katie and Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology. We discuss happiness, the potentiality of partners, adversity, resiliency, and love. Robert also gets into daily habits that can help us become healthier and happier humans.
“Success does not lead to happiness, but happiness does lead to success.”
– Robert Mack
IN THIS EPISODE YOU WILL LEARN:
- Robert dives into his motivation for getting into applied positive psychology.
- Most people believe that happiness comes from external circumstances. However, research shows it does not.
- How simplicity contributes to a happy life.
- Robert shares the formula for happiness.
- How inner work makes a meaningful, lasting, and sustainable change to our happiness score.
- How happiness tends to lead to and facilitate success.
- What contributes to the general perception that happiness comes from external forces?
- What love is, and how it relates to happiness.
- How to make college a happier experience.
- How to become more focused and present.
- How to remain present when triggered.
- Robert talks about surrender.
Robert is an Ivy-League-educated Positive Psychology Expert, Celebrity Happiness Coach, Executive Coach, and Published Author.
Robert studied under the direction of Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology, at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). UPenn is the only institution in the world to offer a Master’s Degree in Applied Positive Psychology.
Robert’s work has been endorsed by Oprah, Vanessa Williams, and many others, and he has been seen on Good Morning America, The Today Show, Access Hollywood, E!, OWN, GQ, Self, Health, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour.
Robert’s first book, Happiness from the Inside Out: The Art and Science of Fulfillment, is celebrity-endorsed and critically acclaimed. His most recent release, Love from the Inside Out: Lessons and Inspiration for Loving Yourself, Your Life, and Each Other, is a best-seller.
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Connect with Robert Mack
On his website
On social media: @robmackofficial
Find Robert’s books
Happiness from the Inside Out: The Art and Science of Fulfillment
Love from the Inside Out: Lessons and Inspiration for Loving Yourself, Your Life, and Each Other
Cynthia Thurlow: Welcome to Everyday Wellness Podcast. I’m your host, Nurse Practitioner Cynthia Thurlow. This podcast is designed to educate, empower, and inspire you to achieve your health and wellness goals. My goal and intent, is to provide you with the best content and conversations from leaders in the health and wellness industry each week and impact over a million lives.
Today, I had the honor of connecting with Robert Mack. He’s an Ivy League-Educated Positive Psychology Expert, Celebrity Happiness Coach, Executive Coach, and Published Author, and recently released the book Love from the Inside Out: Lessons and Inspiration for Loving Yourself, Your Life, and Each Other. We dove deep into his background on Applied Positive Psychology, the influences of experts like Byron Katie, as well as Martin Seligman, who is the founder of Positive Psychology. We spoke at length about happiness, potentiality of partners, the impact of adversity and resiliency, love, and daily habits that can contribute to becoming a healthier, happier human being. This is a really special episode of Everyday Wellness. I hope you will enjoy this conversation as much as I did recording it.
Rob, I’m so excited to reconnect with you. It is hard to believe. It has been a little over three years since I was out in LA recording with you, and now we get to connect today.
Robert Mack: It’s unreal. I’m so excited to be here. I’m so grateful for you having me, and I’m looking forward to the conversation.
Cynthia Thurlow: Absolutely. I’m curious, when I was diving deep into your background, what was it about Applied Positive Psychology that really resonated with you and started an additional trajectory in your career and in your mindset and your process?
Robert Mack: It was happiness, and it was a scientific, empirically, valid approach to happiness that really moved me. I was unhappy most of my life. I was a depressed, anxious, self-loathing child, and I always thought I would grow out of it, and that didn’t happen, at least not right away. I just became more anxious, stressed, and self-loathing as the years went on, and despite achieving and accomplishing and acquiring things both personally and professionally, financially, relationally, socially, had lots of friends, beautiful girlfriend, but I just felt worse and worse. And so, I eventually got to a place where I was suicidal. I was experiencing suicidal ideation dozens of times a day and then did a little research, said I was going to kill myself, said I was going to use a knife to slash my wrist. Yeah, I had a suicidal sort of experience there.
In the midst of that, quite unexpectedly, I felt this peace and this love and this joy. At the moment, I was digging a knife into my wrist that I just couldn’t explain. It was ineffable and inexplicable and it was unexpected. And so, I postponed suicide at that time for a little while. In that period of time, at first, it was just 10 minutes. It wasn’t a very long period of time that I had committed to postponing suicide. But at that time, I started doing a different kind of research that kept that up for several years and I eventually discovered Applied Positive Psychology, which was very helpful for someone like me who tends to be very analytical.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, well, and what an incredible story. I think for so many people, I fervently believe there are no such thing as coincidences. And so, whether it was the universe, the spirit whomever stepped in to have you pause and to then reflect on looking at your life differently, I think from my perspective, happiness can be defined in so many different ways. But really it sounds like both of us, during the course of the last two and a half years made some significant changes. And so, when you’re working or you’re working with people and talking about happiness, one of the things that I find surprising is that I would imagine most adults think that happiness actually is derived from external forces.
Robert Mack: Yes, those of us who have read X number of books know intellectually that’s not true, that happiness is independent of your external conditions and circumstances, but viscerally, and sort of experientially, existentially, we don’t feel it that way, we won’t experience it that way. Just seems like, of course, when you hit the lottery or you meet the love of your life or you have that first child, or that second child acts up or whatever it is, that your happiness waxes and wanes and ebbs and flows accordingly. And so, it just seems like, “Well, no, happiness is clearly derived from external conditions, circumstances, people, activities, and so on.”
But when we look at the research, we see that’s clearly not true. And we look at our personal experiences and the experience of others we can see that’s not true, that there have been times when you’ve been surrounded by happy conditions and yet you felt extraordinarily unhappy or you’ve been surrounded by seemingly undesirable or unhappy conditions and yet you’re still happy or still at peace or you still feel love. So, yes, happiness is independent of the conditions and circumstances of our lives. And that’s not an argument against creating the richest, healthiest, wealthiest life you can.
Cynthia Thurlow: Well, and I think for so many people, having come from a part of the country where a lot of people would articulate that what they derived happiness from wasn’t family, wasn’t intellectual fortitude, it was from things. There’s a certain degree of toxicity that goes along with that, in my humble opinion and so it’s wonderful to know that the research on happiness certainly supports the fact that can be an intrinsically derived process, that you can be in less-than-ideal circumstances and you can be in a happy state. I will be the first person to say spending 13 days in the hospital, most of which I would not describe as a pleasant experience. However, when I started to have this mindset shift about what am I going to focus on instead of feeling sorry for myself because it’s easy to do that, I’m going to do this mindset shift, and now I’m going to reflect on what am I going to focus on so that when I get out of here, I can make the most of the rest of my life.
For many people, I don’t want to be judgmental, but I think for many people that per se they would have stayed stuck in pessimism and negativity. Whereas I know for myself the only way I was going to be able to reframe the experience was to kind of flip the dial a bit. And so, when I left, I was so grateful that they figured out what was wrong with me and that I was going home. I remember thinking, I’ve never been so happy to leave [laughs] to go home and spend time with my family as I am right now. And I would argue that the profound appreciation and gratitude that I felt just fueled that happiness. Like every day I was like, “Okay if I wasn’t as happy yesterday, I’m going to be even happier today.” And it’s interesting that we’re having this discussion talking about happiness because as defined people think of happiness in many different ways. But I would say that when I’ve been my happiest has been when life is the most simplistic.
Robert Mack: For sure. Gosh, there’s so much there to celebrate and to speak to. Certainly, simplicity is precious and I think it certainly does contribute to a happy life. There’s no question about it. And it’s not just simplicity and our surroundings and our lifestyle and our choices. It’s also, and mostly to a large extent, simplicity of mind. Often you find that when you’re the happiest, you’re thinking either no thoughts or very simple thoughts. There’s that. Something else you spoke to when you began the conversation around external circumstances, conditions, and the ways in which happiness, the kind of happiness that I talk about, that we’re talking about here true happiness is unconditional, meaning it’s not contingent or conditioned or conditional upon what’s happening or not happening in your life.
Researchers have come up with their happiness formula and the happiness formula is H, Happiness = S, that’s genetic set point +C, which is conditions and circumstances +V. So, that S genetic set point is responsible for about 50% of how happy or unhappy you are. That S, by the way, is perfectly malleable, which means that we can turn on and off those genes in ways that are conducive or detrimental to our happiness score rating. So, it’s plastic, unlike eye color and unlike height. The C is conditions and circumstances and that’s most of what we think about when we think about happiness. We think about successful life outcomes. Am I healthy? What age am I? Am I young? Am I old? Am I educated or not? How much money do I make or not? Am I married or unmarried? Am I single? Do I have kids? So, we think about that, and we would assume that most of our happiness is derived from that. But clearly, it’s not. Only about 10% of our happiness comes–
Cynthia Thurlow: Wow.
Robert Mack: And that’s at the best end. So, in other words, if you imagine the most ideal life, you could possibly have, unlimited money, perfect spouse, unlimited spouses or whatever it is that you’re after, kids, no kids, perfect health, perfect youth, perfect beauty all those things combined only account for about 10% of your happiness at best, 10%. The other 40% are what we call volitional, that’s the V, the volitional activities. And those are things like gratitude and optimism and self-care and exercise and social support, things like that and we have control and influence around, a lot more control and influence around. And so what that means is that 50% genetic set point perfectly malleable and it’s malleable based on the 40%, the volitional activities. That means 90% of your happiness is totally up to you and maybe 10% at worse is attributable to conditions and circumstances that feel are less controllable like your health in this red-hot moment, the amount of money you make in this red hot moment, how many kids you do or don’t have, all of that.
So, science says a lot about that. The other thing I’ll say real quickly is something else you spoke to, which is just really powerful and profound, which is hedonic adaptation, hedonic treadmill. Which means that everything that happens to you can slightly increase or slightly decrease your baseline happiness score. But your happiness returns to its baseline level almost no matter what you do or what happens to you, except for the more volitional, like, lasting meaningful and sustainable changes that you make to your mindset to the way in which you approach social support or relationships. So, the things that you do inside the inner work actually makes a very lasting and meaningful and sustaining change to your happiness score. But practically everything else, like money, kids, relationships, and health have very little to no effect. In some cases, they have the opposite effect that you might expect. So, lots to unpack there, but the idea there is that true happiness is what I would call unconditional.
Cynthia Thurlow: It’s really interesting because I think when I was a younger woman and girlfriends were getting married and seemingly blissfully happy, and I was definitely one of those women, I got married a little later, met my husband in my 30s, which is totally fine, I say all the time. I had to wait to be patient to meet the right person. And we’ve been married for 19 years. But when I think about how many people were in a rush to get married, they were in a rush to have kids, how a lot of my close friends or a few of them, I should say most of them made really good decisions. It was interesting to see over the last two and a half years how suddenly they had the courage to make changes that they perhaps didn’t have at any other time during their relationships. And so, that makes sense and it’s very consistent with what you’re saying.
But I think for many people, they think it’s the next thing they have to attain that’s going to make them happy. Like when I get married, when I have kids, when I get that raise, when I have the big house, when I insert whatever thing it is that people are thinking, that golden ring that they’re really aiming for.
Robert Mack: You nailed it. Success doesn’t lead to happiness. Success doesn’t lead to happiness. And that’s especially true in relationships. Sure, when you first get married, you get a small increase or bump in your happiness score, but that bump and your happiness returns to its baseline level pretty much after the honeymoon phase. For a lot of people, it dips way below that. That’s why you see so much divorces, that’s why you see so many unhappy marriages. And so, a relationship is no panicky or remedy for unhappiness. We also know the same thing is true for kids. So many folks for a good reason look forward to having these little bundles of joy. But the little bundles of joy tend not to be that joyful often. It’s not because you don’t love them, it’s just because there’s a lot of stress and there’s a lot of anxiety involved. You love and care about them so much that you worry about them and they’re expensive.
And it’s a lifetime kind of thing, right. What that means is that with the first kid, you get a small dip or decrease in your happiness level. With the second kid, a significant dip or decrease in happiness level. And your happiness levels don’t return to those kids leave the house at 18 maybe or
these days, right. That’s not, again an argument against having kids. And for lots of people, it’s not true at all, they experience the opposite of that, which is fantastic. But kids can again be very stressful and they can be very expensive. And so again, if you’re looking for happiness, investing your happiness in having kids or getting the right relationship, or finding the right partner is not the best way to go about doing it.
That being said, on the other end, if you can find a way to get happy first, which is– it’s like if you can get happy without the partner and without the kids, you find that you end up getting married earlier, stay married longer and happier in all your relationships, whether you’re married or not and you’re also happy with your kids because you’re sourcing the happiness from within yourself, right. And so, success doesn’t lead to happiness but happiness does lead to success. And this is true not only in relationships but also with money. And happy people make about $600 to $700,000 more on average over the course of their lifetime than their unhappy counterparts. They experience better health. They live six to seven years longer than their unhappy peers. They experience less job burnout. They enjoy more flow state than their unhappy friends and colleagues and family members. So, in any case, happiness tends to lead to and facilitate success in increasingly effortless and enjoyable ways. And success doesn’t lead to lasting, meaningful, and abiding happiness.
Cynthia Thurlow: There’s so much to unpack there. But the first thing I wanted to kind of mention and it was part of my notes when I was pulling this together, is what contributes to people’s perception that happiness is derived from external forces. Like, is that part of the movie industry? Is that part of media, creating that kind of environment, you know this false sense of environment? I mean, I feel like perhaps our generations are definitely more attuned to paying attention to these things, whereas I feel like my parents, my grandparents’ generations, you got married, you stayed married, it didn’t matter you’re happy or sad you stayed married forever.
And even if you weren’t happy, decoupled, or uncoupled, do you still look for that next relationship? But I feel like in many ways or at least it’s my perception, young women grow up watching Cinderella and watching all these movies that give us this false sense of, “Oh, I’m not necessarily complete until I’ve met that other person.” And what you’re really saying is that true happiness comes from within. The best way to attract a healthy partner is to be happy with yourself. And yet women in many ways are conditioned to believe that we are not whole until we are coupled.
Robert Mack: Absolutely. The equivalent often for many men is that they’re not whole unless they can provide or make a lot of money or are successful. And so, you’re right. So, there’s both nature and nurture, right so we can blame both nature and nurture. It’s the hardware and the software, which means that we’re born with some of these, might call them biases. They were extraordinarily adaptive tendencies, proclivities, inclinations. In the beginning, sure. I mean, it’s going to get a dopamine hit. It’s going to get a dopamine hit when you meet a partner and you have kids and then the kids survive to pass on your genetic code and then we continue to keep the human race moving forward or at least the numbers up high enough kind of thing. So, it’s sort of nature reasons. But there’s also the nurture, which is that as a result of that, sometimes we overvalue or overestimate that dopamine hit one hand, and we tend to continue to do what seems like we’re rewarded for.
So, it’s like if you get a dopamine hit every time you make a little more money or you can build a better house or you can get a better partner, you’re going to probably continue to do those things. And so, the challenge with that, of course, is that underneath and in between and prior to and after the dopamine hit, you’re feeling mostly anxiety and stress and worry and concern, particularly with the introduction of the prefrontal cortex. When that came to be in the human brain, then the ability for discursive thinking and abstract thought began to ruin and poison even the most blissful moment.
I mean, the very moment you achieve, accomplish or acquire something is also the moment you worry about keeping it. As Buddha said, “Unhappiness comes in multiple flavors,” and really there’s only two, which is not getting what you want, okay, but also getting what you want. You get what you want, you start to worry about it right away. And so, leave at that. And then on top of that so when you’ve got– then folks that understand all this and maybe they’re not that self-aware or not that evolved, then they begin to sell you a bad bill of goods in order for you to encourage you to buy their products or services. There’s something really magical and wonderful about a Disney movie. There’s something really magical and wonderful about a new beauty product or whatever. That’s easier to sell those products if you inherently or intrinsically believe that you need it in order to be lovable or loved or happy, right.
So, you’ve got availability entrepreneurs. That’s what we may call those folks that sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously [unintelligible [00:17:51] work at that. You’ve got nature, you’ve got nurture, but it’s all quite easily solvable by just going within. Although I know that sounds like a cliche to so many of us, but it’s by rediscovering the source of infinite internal happiness that you can then find yourself still enjoying life and enjoying life in greater, richer, more stress freeways and accomplishing what you want much more easily and effectively and quickly. You do have to rediscover that source of happiness within.
Cynthia Thurlow: Do you think there’s different types of love? Like, I’m not just talking about platonic versus romantic, but you talk about false love or pseudo love. And what exactly is that? I think it’s interesting. You talk about oxytocin and you talk about dopamine and how these influences behavior, influences brain chemistry. Sometimes we’re feeling like, “Oh, we’re very coupled.” But sometimes when we think we’re in love with someone, it’s just mirroring what we think we perceive we want or need.
Robert Mack: So, wow, beautifully stated. Yeah. We often make a mistake. And when I say we, I mean me, it just as much as anyone else out there in a poster board for all this stuff. So, we often think we’ve fallen in love with a person, but we’ve actually fallen in love with our own thoughts or ideas of that person. So, there’s that. We often fall in love with our own stories about people and things and activities and then we call that love. But that’s not really love. We also sometimes call– in love goes by lots of wrong names, right, love gets a bad name kind of like the song. So, sometimes it’s like lust we mistake for love and entertainment, and distraction and ego gratification, we mistake for love.
Love is happy and if it’s not happy, it’s not love. First, love is free. If it’s not free, it’s not love. Love is mostly an experience of giving and that doesn’t mean you don’t get and it’s not giving to get. It’s giving that happens authentically without an expectation of reciprocity. If that happens organically and seamlessly when you simply are love. And so, in another way that I put it, a cleaner way, I think is that love is really happiness. When you’re all alone and you’re happy, we call it happiness.
When you’re happy but you’re together out there in the world mixing it up with other people, I call it love. So, when you’re introverted and happy, we call it happiness. When you’re extroverted in that moment, we call it love. But love is just your happiness shared. It’s just your bliss shared. It’s just your joy shared. So, the metaphor I like to use is of a rain cloud. I want to be a rain cloud. I want everyone to be a rain cloud. A rain cloud fills itself up with so much peace, love, and joy or self-love that it gets to a place where it can’t contain that peace, love, self-love, and joy any longer. It’s just ready to burst.
And at some point, because it can’t help it, it just bursts. In the bursting, it’s not doing something moral, ethical, something it should do. It’s not trying to love the earth and everyone and everything on the earth. It’s just unburdening itself. It’s relieving itself of all this peace, love, happiness, bliss, and pleasure that’s found within itself. It does it organically and seamlessly and effortlessly enjoyably. And it does it without an expectation of reward or reciprocity. And it showers all of that peace, love, joy down upon the earth and all sentient beings. And that’s love. That’s love, right.
The key and the challenge and the opportunity with love is to be so full of happiness that you get it on everybody and everything, no matter what you do. It’s not like you get it on them or give it to them because you’re trying to even help them. That’s just a side effect that they’re benefited from it. It’s just that you’re contagious with happiness. You’re just positively infectious with happiness. I think the more I’ve thought along those lines and the more I’ve thought along that and use that metaphor, the clear it is for me. Yeah, most of what we mistake for love is just pleasure or ego gratification. And love can include those things, but it doesn’t equate to those things.
Cynthia Thurlow: When I think a lot of people and a lot in the mirroring about love and relationships we get from our parents and so, I’m always the first person to say that “God didn’t give me the parents I wanted. I got the parents I needed,” because it demonstrated for me how I needed to show up differently with my children. And so, I view my parents with compassion and love, but I acknowledge that things would be very different with my kids. In fact, I went through a period of time thinking I may not ever get married or have children, and so that makes me laugh when I think about that now.
But what I think is of interest is that our first formation of relationships and communication is with our families. And families can take many different varieties. And it’s up to us to do the work so that we fine tune what we’ve been, I don’t want to use the word embedded, ingrained with, imprinted with, maybe that’s a better term as we go about and navigate being out in the world and figuring out what works and what serves us and what does not. I always say I take a couple of things, really good things my parents gave me, and I keep those, and then I fine tune the rest.
But nowadays, because of the onslaught of social media and access to information, what are some of the challenges that you perceive about people navigating the world, trying to identify what love represents for them? Because I’m sure there’s some degree of bio individuality, meaning each one of us might need something tweaked a little differently to make sure that we’re in a position where we are loving and we can also take in love.
Robert Mack: Yeah. Well, good question. First, I’ll just say in order to reflect back the wisdom that we shared earlier there, Byron Katie says, “Parents are responsible for all the problems, kids are responsible for all the solutions.” I’ve always loved that because it doesn’t matter who I meet or connect with in my private practice or real life, everyone seems to have a real complaint about their parents, no matter how perfect their parents were. That’s a good thing because it means that your parents have done a perfectly phenomenal job, no matter who your parents are or what they did or not do. In serving as teachers for unconditional self-love and unconditional happiness and unconditional peace. In other words, they’re like personal trainers for all those things.
If they met every one of your needs and desires and they showed you perfect love, which is impossible as a human being, you would be led away from and trained away from the very source of peace, love, self-love, and happiness that exists within you. And so, they do you a much greater disservice and much greater injustice if they would have been the way you wanted them to be. It’s much better that they’re not the way that you want them to be so that you can be what you want to be and you can find this infinite eternal source that exists within you. So, that’s the first thing I’ll say and the other point you’re making, the question you asked is fantastic which is I think all relationship problems can ultimately be reduced to a question of when you say love, when you say I love you, what do you mean by it? We make all these assumptions. We’re unaware, we’re unconscious of all these assumptions we make about love. And we have thousands, at least a dozens or hundreds of assumptions and flawed premises built into what we mean when we say or tell someone we love them, and everyone’s a little different that way. That’s where we’re really different, it’s like when I say I love you, I mean I give you freedom to be and do and have anything you want.
I’ve realized that is not the way that other people think about love. [Cynthia laughs] They think of sometimes just the opposite that no, you are not free any longer. You belong to me and now these are the conditions under which we will enjoy this loving or lovable or love experience. So, I think answering that question can be extraordinarily helpful. But really get down to the nitty gritty like when do I not feel loved or lovable? So that’s one way to think about it. Ultimately, at the end of the day though, I think that the challenge and opportunity is to kind of clear the lens entirely.
When you see with and through a really clear lens, blemishless lens you see that you’re surrounded by love everywhere. That everything is just love with a different name and a face on it. And sometimes love looks like a poorly wrapped gift and sometimes love looks like a perfectly wrapped gift. But even the experiences that are not what you want them to be, remind you of what you want to be.
When people are terribly and they are and the world is a terribly unreliable place to find peace, love, and happiness, you’re reminded that the only reliable place to find peace, love, and happiness is within yourself. So, that’s the beautiful thing about it at the end of the day, the work ultimately remains the same for all of us. It may come in 32 flavors like Baskin Robbins but at the end of the day, it’s really only our thoughts about love and our stories about love that get in the way of our experience of love here now.
Cynthia Thurlow: That makes so much sense. And yet, I think it’s like the age-old question of how do I find a partner? How do I select a partner? Sometimes we make it about the other person and not ourselves. And I think it’s something that perhaps with a lot of good therapy and probably in my 20s, I had figured out. I’m a huge proponent of therapy, reiki work, energy work. I think it’s all very important because I fervently believe that a self-evolved human, someone that’s done the work and you can tell.
I almost feel like the people I am closest to right now in my life and in my business are the people that have done the work and are exactly manifesting the types of relationships and friendships that they want to have. And so, being in alignment in that regard is pretty powerful. But back to the direction my question was going in is the potentiality of partners, when people are asking is this the right person for me?
Really it should be really reflecting and making it more about you are in the best position possible and are they at the same level and mindset that you are at so that you can have this powerful, maybe powerful is not the right word, mutually beneficial, enjoyable, loving, exchange of time together. But I agree with you that a lot of times the definition of love and definition of partnership is more about possession. It’s more about having someone that goes along with whatever you want to do. It’s much more selfish and self-serving.
Robert Mack: Nailed it. It’s one of the other flawed false premises or assumptions we make around love, which is that love is two minds or two people with minds who are always in agreement. It’s not the case at all. The person agrees with you all the time about everything. How fun is that? And what are you going to learn? How can you possibly broaden your perspective or your perception and experience and enjoy more of life and more of yourself and more of the other if you are always just activating this confirmation bias over and over again? It’s good to bump up against people that don’t agree with you. Now, the challenge of course, is can I learn to disagree without being disagreeable. I can simply say, “Oh that’s interesting, I see it a different way, tell me more.” “Oh, and you see it that way, that’s interesting, ha.”
At the end of the day say, because you’re committed to love, above all else, meaning feeling. I mean that selfishly feeling love like, I’m so selfish I want to feel love as consistently as humanly possible and I don’t want to outsource it or delegate to anyone else because it’s not their job, neither is it their pleasure or privilege. If I don’t feel loved, I need to address that within me. It then doesn’t mean I can’t also have a conversation and say, “No, I’d prefer you not punch me every time I see you,” [laughs] like that kind of thing. So, I would say you’re absolutely right that love isn’t two minds that are always in agreement. It’s two hearts that intend or set an intention to always be in alignment with each other, right? That really is about just being in alignment with yourself.
And so, yeah, I think that it’s easy to get distracted by lots of ways of looking for or seeking love. And one of those ways is looking or seeking for a partner that’s going to make your life right or make you feel loved or make you feel lovable. And that’s always a trap. Even asking the question sometimes, although it’s a valid and understandable perfectly human question, which is like, is this person right for you? I mean, the truth is on one hand nobody’s right for you. The only person is right for you is you. Okay? Second of all, everybody’s right for you. In this red-hot moment right here now, whatever it is that is happening and showing up for you is precisely what you need at this point in time to dive deeper into yourself or into what you want in a party.
Even if you just look at it as a data-gathering experience. Everybody is right in that sense because they’re helping you clarify what you most want and/or need. And then the greater question I’d say is “Are you in alignment with you?” And the more in alignment you are with you, the more at peace you are with yourself, the less lonely you feel when you’re alone, the more you can enjoy your own company, and the happier you can be when you’re left alone with nothing to entertain you but your own thoughts and your own company, the more easily and effortlessly you’ll find yourself attracting with and connecting with people who increasingly seem like the right person for you. The happier you are without a partner, the happier partners you tend to attract and you tend to keep around.
I’d say if there was a master key of cheat code to healthy, happy relationships, it’s being healthy and happy yourself and sort of making everybody else a little less relevant in that equation and letting whoever shows up, show up. And that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t step outside your house and go meet people or get on dating apps, it’s fine, but make sure you’re enjoying it as much as you possibly can and make sure you’re trying to stay as healthy and happy on the inside as you can and not blame or give credit to other people for making you feel happy or unhappy.
Cynthia Thurlow: Yeah, I think in a lot of ways when I reflect back, I think college was like this great social experiment where you could date different people and you could decide whether or not that you were in alignment or you were in agreement with what type of relationship you wanted to have. But that great social experiment at that time in our lives, we never really get that degree of exposure all at once with people that are– Everyone leaves their homes and goes to a university or a college and they’re exposed to so many different people all at once. I like this, I don’t like that, this is aligned with what I want to be like, this is not. But it’s interesting. I feel like once you leave the nest of college or university if that’s where your life takes you, it gets much more complicated.
You’re not on that level playing field where everyone’s coming together with kind of this new shared experience and how do people navigate that successfully? Because when I reflect back on my 20s, I remember thinking college was kind of this blissful experience and you’re in this warm cocoon and then reality hits when you have to go to work for a paycheck to pay your rent and your car payment and whatever else you’re paying for. Very different than when you’re in this warm cocoon of parents supporting you and being in a very kind of like-minded environment with your peers.
Robert Mack: You nailed it. “Youth is wasted on the young.” [laughs] I remember hearing that quote and expression before and as stressful and as anxiety producing and provoking as my college experience was, I do look back on it very fondly because it was a little utopian bubble in lots of ways and it was a great day to gather experience socially. We talked about this even before getting on the air here and people do struggle a lot with that and so many of us miss and reflect back on and are kind of nostalgic about all experiences for precisely the reasons you just described.
I’d say that one of the best things you can do is find your little community, your little tribe. It’s not always easy, but if you can find things that you discover things, rediscover things that you intrinsically enjoy, and spend more time doing those things for their own sake, you’ll find that you’re in the company of people that you can more easily and effortlessly and enjoyably, connect with and that kind of sometimes develops into other things.
The second is letting go of your expectations around everything. It’s easy because we can all be so stressed out or so busy that we find ourselves slipping into using these mental heuristics. These shortcuts where we put people in boxes very quickly and it’s understandable and it’s perfectly human, but it’s not particularly productive or profitable for your personal or your professional life or relationships. So, you want to let go of that and you want to try to enjoy people for their own sake. That mostly means just being as present as possible and focus on enjoying people. If you can just focus on enjoying people no matter who it is, that small child, a cashier, a clerk, whoever happens to be in front of you at the time just try to enjoy that more and more. You can do that best by either leaning into what I’ll call the truthful better-feeling story about what’s happening and so we can talk about that as positive or constructive thinking. I prefer even more so it’s not a snow job. It’s authentic and/or not thinking at all.
So, it’s like keep your mind where your body is, and if you can’t be positive, be quiet while your body is where it is. That is just incredibly powerful. You don’t need to prove yourself. You don’t need to get them to like you. You don’t have to like that. Just for a moment, just experience them for who and what they are and try to enjoy it and you’ll be surprised. And sometimes the person you think is going to be a relationship turns out to be a professional relationship and sometimes the person you think is going to be a professional relationship turns out to be a romantic one or both. But it’s important to let go off your expectations. Lean into what you intrinsically love, find communities and folks with people that are doing those things, do it for their own sake. And of course, most importantly, prioritize your own happiness above all else.
Cynthia Thurlow: I love that. And I love that, as you were saying all that I was thinking staying unattached to outcome because how many of us are trying to define relationships upfront? Don’t put them in that box of this is someone I would never have a relationship with or never be friends with. I do find that being present, especially two and a half years into the pandemic is something that I actively work out because I think for many years with younger kids, now they’re teenagers, it was just trying to be present was hard because there were 15 things that had to get done.
Whereas now the simplicity of our lives in our new town, our new city, is that we enjoy very simple things and we really savor it like taking a dog outside in 40 degrees– 20-degree weather with the dog, sunlight on our face, an ungodly temperature probably for someone that’s in state of Florida. But just enjoying the sun on my face and understanding physiologically what that’s doing in my body and being present in the moment. I didn’t have earbuds in, I wasn’t listening to a podcast, my husband wasn’t with me. It’s just the two dogs and I taking this couple-mile walk this morning. Very simple things and I think for a lot of people not being present in their bodies, not being present day to day, they’re just going through the motions. How incredibly challenging it would be to be in a state of love and happiness if you’re just going through the motions. And do you find that during the past two and a half years you’re seeing people that are one extreme or the other, people that are either finding themselves meaning they’ve rediscovered passions or things that they used to enjoy, or they’ve disconnected with themselves even more?
Robert Mack: Absolutely. [unintelligible [00:36:45] study and we have of course increasing income gap, but also even more so an increasing subjective well-being gap. And I think a lot of that is attributable to among other things, presence and of course, the miracles, they say, we accomplish so little because of undisciplined minds. And that’s often what comes down to presence as a practice. It can be a very enjoyable and should be a very enjoyable practice. This is not something you do because you should do it. Okay, sure, that’s there but should/shouldn’t who knows? Enjoyment though, I’m all for enjoyment and I’m, I think, ultimately a hedonist at heart. So, it’s like can you enjoy every moment more by being distracted less? You can’t enjoy when you’re not there to enjoy. Some of us are too unconscious to know we’re unconscious, we’re too distracted to know we’re distracted.
It’s like being too drunk to know you’re drunk. It’s like how can I be more present? And so, presence takes on a number of forms. I mean, in the beginning, I often thought of presence as just like, I got to hear every word this other person is saying and I need to really pay attention to everything they’re doing. It’s like, sure, but also at a deeper level. For me, presence also means keeping part of my attention inside where there’s perfect peace. I hear most of what they’re saying. I don’t need to hear every single word. I just need to stay mostly attentive and aware of this place of perfect peace inside of me. So, there’s that. When you go further, sometimes people talk about practicing the presence of God, which is a very similar practice, or practice the presence of happiness on the inside. But it mostly means staying out of your head and staying out of the past and future and just being where you are.
And so, I call that no mind, you can call it no thought. I also call it innocence, you can call it purity, you can call it love or self-love or happiness, you can call God or source. They’re all synonyms for just enjoying yourSelf. So, yes, it is a practice and the more you practice it and of course, in the beginning, it’s difficult, but in the end, it makes everything else easy. And it becomes easy over time. In about 22 to 66 days, if you can practice presence, maybe something like a micro meditation. A micro meditation is one breath that you take for its own sake and you pretend like it’s the last breath you’ll ever get.
So, you really remind yourself like, “Hey, hopefully, I have 100 years in these beautiful bodies, maybe I have 5 seconds. I don’t genuinely know. Let me consciously and intentionally try to enjoy this breath into the nose and out of the nose just for joy’s sake alone.” Let me really try to juice it for as much joy as I get. If you can practice that or any other form of mindfulness, which is really mindlessness activity, but if you can practice it for 22 to 66 days, you rewire your brain to do it in an increasingly effortless and automatic way so you don’t have to work so hard at it.
Cynthia Thurlow: The power of neuroplasticity, having the ability to rewire whatever you say, what fires together, wires together, and understanding how important that is, I know for myself. One of my tricks, when I’m feeling like I’m not focused enough on what I’m doing, is to actually it’s not a mini-meditation, but I do box breathing, and sometimes I’ll just concentrate on counting, and then I can kind of reroute my brain to be like, okay, it’s time to focus. It’s time to not be having thinking of 15 things at once, which women’s brains are largely wired to be that way. And I would say I want to think more like, I’m the only female in my house, so I’m like, I have to think more like the men in my life, men generally are very focused on one thing at a time. The way that I’m speaking, in general, is the way that men’s brains are kind of wired versus women’s. And, like, I can’t be in that mindset. It’s not going to allow me to be productive. So, when you’re being calm and present in that moment, what happens when you get triggered? Like, maybe you’re talking to someone and maybe it’s not your favorite person in the world, but you’re making the best of that moment in space and time and trying to be pleasant and happy where you are. What do you do when you get triggered? Do you feel like getting triggered is demonstrating to you that you have work to do in a particular space? What does that represent for you?
Robert Mack: Yeah, I try not to let it represent anything. We’re meaning-making machines. It’s interesting because all of nature is perfectly blissful except for human beings. Only people make a problem out of their own existence. Only we have made life problematic. And that’s despite the fact that not just human nature, all of nature experiences the same things we experience as humans, right? Loss, accident, misfortune, violence, illness, death, and yet mostly no problem. I mean, the more domesticated the animals are, the more they tend to take on cognitive behavioral patterns of people if noticed or they can get depressed in this. We’re meaning-making machines, and so we’re storytelling machines, and so the less storytelling, I can do around any particular event and what it means, the better off I am, but particularly if I can’t– in the beginning, I would mostly focus on reframing it constructively and positively.
Like, this person is coming at me out of nowhere, out of the thin air, and they’re attacking me, they’re insulting me, they’re offending me, and then I would use it and say “Well, I asked above all else to learn unconditional happiness and peace and love.” And so, they are personal trainers for my soul in that particular way at this particular moment, so I should feel some level of gratitude, even if it’s silent and on the part it’s unconscious, the behavior. So, there was that, but then over time I start to say well I love that and that feels good, though it takes a lot of work and I couldn’t do it right away. I would distract myself right away. Distraction is highly useful defense mechanism. Distract yourself for a while, especially if you’re feeling really negative or really triggered. Just distract yourself for a while, your mood will begin to rise again on its own and then you’re in a much better place to constructively and intelligently look at or address, if necessary, the trigger. And whoever it was that offended you or insulted or whatever you can drop, create boundaries and set expectations, do all that kind of good stuff. I can even do some of the cognitive reframing that’s necessary to heal from it all.
But that even felt like a ton of work. I’m like ah, I’m lazy, I’m ultimately a very lazy person, right. And I noticed that even when I did that still often feel a low-level stress and anxiety underneath all of that. And so, for me generally and I’d say most simply, I just like being at peace. So, I find that if I practice that all day, I’m triggered a lot less. Sometimes you find yourself not triggered at all for long periods of time. And then if you do find yourself triggered, the first place you go is inside to that place where there’s perfect peace. It’s less sticky and I don’t try and do a whole lot of like figuring it out. It’s like to argue with unconsciousness is unconsciousness, to fight with a drunk person kind of makes you look drunk.
For me, I’m just better off going to that place where there are no problems and there is no healing necessary because there is no sickness at all, right? And that doesn’t mean everyone should do that. Like everyone has to find out what works for them. I’d say in the beginning you’re better off if you’re highly stressed out, seek safety. And so, seek that safety in your own room, in your own space, go to the bathroom, go to [unintelligible [00:43:48], wherever you got to go. At some point you realize that safe place, not physically, but certainly psychologically, emotionally is inside of you.
So then you go to the body inside of the brain. The challenge with being triggered or feeling anything that’s undesirable or uncomfortable is that most of us go to the brain for explanations instead of the body for the experience. So, we don’t actually experience the trigger as much as we experience our own thoughts about the trigger, and that’s where the problem comes in. So then instead of extinguishing whatever it is that’s inside of us that’s unhealed or unresolved, we feed and fuel in the name of processing whatever unhealed stuff we have in there.
So, we feed and fuel it, and then it lasts longer and it’s stickier, then we talk about our friends, and we join chat groups, and we go online and we share on Instagram, and then we go to a therapist, and they talk about it. It’s like, that’s great. A lot of it, some of it, mostly not though, right. So, instead, if you can go to the body, we call that somatic experiencing, sometimes it’s called somatic therapy. You go to the experience in the body instead of the explanation in the brain, and you let your mind do what it’s doing. But you put your focus and attention on that place in the body where you feel the discomfort, and you sit with it and you experience it, and you just take it. You just take it like a woman. You take it like a man, meaning that you just experience it for its own sake without trying to explain it. You focus more on the textures. If it was a texture, what texture would it be? If it was a color, what color? What temperature is it? And then you do that for a little while. That’s called processing. You might find a place in your body where it feels safe for you. You go to your– somewhere that feels open and spacious, your hands, your feet. So that’s one way and I know that was for me, it was an interim step to getting to a place now where I’m like, ah, even that feels like too much work, I’d rather just go inside of that place where there are no problems.
Cynthia Thurlow: What a beautiful way of reframing, rethinking, reprocessing, getting triggered. Because I always say, like I think largely 99.9% of the time, I’m in a very good headspace. I process things, but I am very analytical. So, when I get triggered, my first reaction is, what is it about that circumstance? What someone said, that person that triggered me, like, what have I not worked on? So, the next time that happens, I’m going to think about it and process it completely differently. I would imagine most listeners will hear that, and they’re like, wow, I’ve never heard that explanation before. And it’s not ignoring it. It’s just the way that your brain is processing the information. It’s acknowledging it. But you’re not perseverating over it. You’re not taking a week out of your life to process that triggering event.
Robert Mack: Oh, Cynthia, you’re so beautiful and brilliant in the way that you say and share things, and I just feel such resonance with that. That’s precisely it. It’s so easy to go to the brain and go into discursive thought or analytical thought. And so, it’s almost a knee-jerk reaction, you barely even notice that you’re doing it mostly. You don’t notice you’re doing it until you just continue to spiral as a result, it’s only by emotion and feeling that you even realize half the time that you’re lost in this dark rabbit hole of overanalytical thinking.
The challenge is that when you’re in a low mood and Barbara Fredrickson is one of the researchers that’s been famous for talking about the broaden-and-build hypothesis, which is this idea that when you’re in a low mood, you’re at your creative worst, you’re at your problem-solving worst. When you’re in a high mood or at least in neutral mood, you’re in a much better, more creative place to solve problems including this problem of the idiot who just triggered you or offended you, cut you off in traffic, or suing you, right. Like, much better place. And you’re not going to be very creative, and you’re not going to be very resourceful when you’re in a low mood.
And that’s when it’s so seductive and it’s so tempting to try and solve your problems including the triggering moment or have important conversations when you’re in a low mood, but it’s the worst time to do it. Instead, you want to find a way to get back to center, to find or catch your breath again. It could be any number of things. It could be exercise, take a nap, get a massage, go cry in the corner for a while. Whatever it is that ideally lets you get back into your body a little is going to help you. It’s going to allow for your mood to rise. And when the mood rises, you’ll notice a couple of things. Either the problem will begin or seem to solve itself. So, the insights and revelations you need will come into the surface without so much energy or effort. You’re just like, oh, wow, that’s interesting.
That person was just in a bad mood. Maybe they were in a rush to the hospital. Maybe they just lost someone. Maybe they’re projecting. I mean, 99% of relationships are often projections, let’s say. So suddenly all these things occurred to you that would have never occurred to you in your low mood, because you’re in a low mood, you’re mostly in a fight or flight or freeze place where all you’re wanting to do is confirm your biases. So, you just strengthen the very biases that are causing you maybe to misinterpret the experience, certainly not heal from it, and that at worst even facilitate the experiences.
So, that’s what behavioral confirmation is. That’s what confirmation bias is, that’s what self-fulfilling prophecies are. It’s like, I have a thought about something that makes me feel a way about something, and I’m doing all these things consciously or unconsciously, mostly unconsciously, that actually solicit from other people the very behaviors or words or experiences that I’m having. We don’t realize that we’re co-creative partners in these experiences. So anyway. You’re better off waiting until your mood rises to then do a deep dive, even therapeutically or cathartically, or trying to problem solve or have important conversations.
Cynthia Thurlow: No, that makes so much sense and you’ve done such a beautiful job articulating that. So, I got questions about adversity and resiliency, and I think that the last two and a half years have taught a lot of us that we’re more resilient than we probably realized we were. So, for me, my process of being in the hospital, getting out of the hospital, and the trajectory of what changed in 2019, I always say through adversity comes opportunity. That’s kind of something I feel fervently about. But another component of that process was the concept of surrender. And I know you talk about surrender and what that represents in your work, and so I would love to kind of tie that into the conversation, because I think there are many people listening that have gone through tough times or they’re going through tough times. And how do we find the way? Probably the word reframe is not the right way to state it, but how do we look at that? Or how do we observe that and create the proper mindset to be able to move forward?
Robert Mack: So, I hated the word surrender. It always sounded so defeatist. I was raised by a father who’s a disciplinarian. He was in the military and we would salute him in the morning, like, “Yes, Sir,” you know like [crosstalk] [Cynthia laughs] and bounce quarters off the bed to make sure the bed was made just right. And so, I surrender to me was like, what? I’m never surrendering. I’ll die before I surrender. And so, it sounded so defeatist to me and I’ve come to see through that misconception, mis-perception. So, surrender is not that. In fact, surrender is one of the greatest strengths. You’ll find your greatest strength in surrender. We’re mostly wanting to surrender is the struggle and the stress and the strife and the upset and the overwhelm and the unhappiness and the self-loathing. We’re wanting to surrender all the stuff you don’t want and never wanted in the first place is what we’re really surrendering. We’re surrendering all that.
We’re surrendering even what this diagnosis means. Who knows what the future means? We’re surrendering the labels. We’re surrendering the concepts around all that. Don’t know what any of that means. I know what the experience is that’s happening in my body. I know what that is, and I don’t even know what it means. I just know what I feel. So, we’re surrendering all the meaning making, all the storytelling. We’re surrendering to the past, because it is past after all. We’re surrendering to the future, it is fantasy after all? So, the past is history and memory, the future is projection and fantasy, we are surrendering to all that. That’s just mind stuff.
And what we’re left with is just an experience. Maybe it’s a thought, maybe it’s a feeling, maybe it’s a perception that’s it. So, we’re surrendering everything that we can’t ultimately control, that you never had control of, that you only had an illusion of control of. So, sometimes I think we are stardust literally, mostly made of stardust, in these rotting corpses, on this floating like rock that’s hanging on nothing, spinning on its axis in a very wobbly fashion. What revolves around a super-hot star that we call sun has been doing so forever, okay, at just a distance that doesn’t freeze us or burn us.
Now, most of our lives are surrendered already. We don’t realize it. Surrender also, we can call trust or we can call faith. It’s the same thing. But trust and faith sometimes have– particular faith and sometimes has too much belief in it. It’s like we have to effort so hard. But if you think about it, you fall asleep every night for 8 hours and you are surrendered. You are surrendered to whatever happens in the next 8 hours. Your doors might be locked, but you’re as vulnerable as it gets. And yet, you surrender to it. And every day for the most part, there are exceptions, horrible exceptions, but we wake up just fine, right.
And better off, rested and refreshed. So, surrender is incredibly important if you want to be happy, if you want to find peace, if you want to find love, if you want to find self-love, if you want to be successful because there’s a lazier intelligent way to do everything and anything you’re doing, I promise you. Whatever it is you’re doing and everything that you’re doing, you can do in a much lazier, more efficient, effective, and efficacious way. In a much more intelligent, wiser way if you can learn to surrender. But yeah, it’s incredibly important.
Cynthia Thurlow: It really is. Well, Rob, I could talk to you for hours. I really enjoyed your book. I’m going to highly recommend that my listeners check it out. Please let my listeners know how to connect with you on social media, how to connect with you if they want to work with you and any current projects you’re working on.
Robert Mack: Yeah. First of all, thank you so much, Cynthia. You’re such a bright light. I feel emotional saying it. You’re so gifted at what you do, which is connect with people in authentic ways. And you’re so deeply– your expertise is just profound. It’s like “Just when I bring up a study, you got 10 more and then it’s like amazing, so I love that and I love and appreciate you.” And so, thank you for having me on.
So, folks can find me at my website at coachrobmack.com. You can find me on most, all social media platforms under the same profile name, which is @robmackofficial, I’m probably most consistently on Instagram. You can find both my published books, Love from the Inside Out and Happiness from the Inside Out everywhere great books are sold, including Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Target, Walmart, Costco, all the places.
Cynthia Thurlow: Well, it’s been an absolute pleasure. I look forward to recording with you again.
Robert Mack: Ah, my pleasure. Thank you.
Cynthia Thurlow: If you love this podcast episode, please leave a rating and review, subscribe and tell a friend.