Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Lori Gottlieb (@LoriGottlieb1), a psychotherapist and author of the New York Times bestseller Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, which is being adapted as a television series by Eva Longoria and the creators of the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning series The Americans. In addition to her clinical practice, she writes the Atlantic’s weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column and contributes regularly to the New York Times and many other publications.
Her recent TED Talk is one of the top 10 most-watched of the year, and she is a sought-after expert in media such as the Today show, Good Morning America, CBS’s Early Show, CNN’s Newsroom, and NPR’s Fresh Air. Her new iHeart podcast, Dear Therapists, produced by Katie Couric, premieres this year.
Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Lori, welcome to the show.
Lori Gottlieb: Well, thank you.
Tim Ferriss: I’m thrilled to connect. I’ve been looking forward to connecting. I’m sad we couldn’t do it in person, but also somewhat happy that we are both safe and sound in our respective domiciles. We’re bringing quarantine verite to the masses as we mentioned before hitting record. I thought we could start with a talk of yours that you gave which in all honesty I have not yet had a chance to listen to but someone on my staff said you have to ask her about the story she told at The Moth in, I believe it was 2014. Can you describe what you ended up sharing at The Moth and why you decided to share that?
Lori Gottlieb: Sure. The story that I told at The Moth was about how I became a parent. It was about the process of being in my late 30s, not having found the person that I wanted to spend my life with and knowing that I wanted to be a mom and what I had to go through in terms of finding a sperm donor and how surreal that was to think about how do you choose the genetic material for this person who’s going to be your child and what are you even looking for. It brought up a lot of existential questions about nature versus nurture and what this means for this human being, who would be this person, who would know who this, maybe not ever meet this donor but have limited information about this person. It brought up so many philosophical and ethical questions. That’s what I talked about.
Tim Ferriss: How did you decide to share that versus other stories that you might share? You have a life full of interesting stories. How did it come to pass that you ended up on the stage sharing that at The Moth?
Lori Gottlieb: I think that that was probably the most, I would say the biggest risk in life that I ever took. It was also the best decision that I ever made in my life. I think there were those two pieces of it. There was the making a decision to do something with so much uncertainty and then knowing in that deep place of knowing that we all have that it was absolutely a decision I had to make, that I could not go through life and not have done what I did. Knowing that there are all kinds of risks and all kinds of downsides and still going through and saying, “But I know in every cell of my body that this is the right thing to do.”
Tim Ferriss: By right thing to do, you’re referring to having a child, not getting on the stage at The Moth, right? Just to be clear.
Lori Gottlieb: Just to be clear, yes, absolutely. I’m referring to having the child. Yeah, getting on the stage, it was — I will say something about getting on the stage. I will say that I really believe that so many of us are carrying around really fascinating stories that we don’t think are that fascinating. We think our lives are pretty ordinary, but as a therapist, I can tell you that the most extraordinary stories come out of people that are grounded in the ordinary. Maybe there was something extraordinary about, “Yes, I’m going to go use a sperm donor to have a child.” Back then, it was very unusual. Now, it’s much more common.
I also think that sharing our stories, we realize that we are all so similar, that we all have — even if the content of the story is completely foreign to somebody, that the emotions, the feelings, the questions, those are so universal. When I got up on that stage and I told the story, the audience reaction was profound to me because I felt so unique in my experience and so different for what I had done. So many people related to different aspects of the story and it helped them to feel more connected as well.
Tim Ferriss: Which I think is a huge service to not just the audience in front of the stage, but of course, the wider audience who then has a greater feeling of connectedness or less a feeling of isolation in hearing these stories. Could you elaborate on a term I came across a number of times in preparing for this conversation, which is “the hierarchy of pain?” What is the hierarchy of pain? What does that refer to?
Lori Gottlieb: That’s something that I think is really crucial when we talk about suffering and struggle, that so many times we tend to not pay attention to what we’re feeling because we immediately want to minimize it, because we feel like, “Well, I have a roof over my head and food on the table. This sadness that I’m experiencing, this anxiety, this grief,” whatever it is, insomnia, whatever it is, we think, “Well, really, it’s nothing. I’ll just power through it, stiff upper lip.” We don’t do that with our physical health, right? Something feels off in our bodies, we’re going to go get it checked out.
Let’s say you’re having something, you feel a little something in your chest. You might go to the cardiologist and say like, “What’s going on?” before you have a massive heart attack. What we do with our emotional health is we feel like, “It’s not worth pursuing. It’s not worth talking about because other people have such bigger problems, so I’m not going to do anything about it.” Then what happens is people land in my office when they’re in a crisis. It’s the equivalent of an emotional heart attack. At that point, first of all, they’ve suffered unnecessarily for a long time. Also, it’s harder to treat because now they’re in a crisis.
I feel there isn’t a hierarchy of pain. Pain is pain and suffering is suffering. Remember when I was training, in fact, as an intern, I was like, “How will I go from somebody who for instance has cancer to somebody who’s like the babysitter’s stealing from me? Why do I always have to initiate sex?” whatever those kinds of issues. What I found is that underneath the content are the same kinds of universal questions. How do I trust? What does it feel to be betrayed? How do I deal with uncertainty? When we don’t talk about these things, our behaviors, our feelings come out and behaviors.
They come out in different ways. They come out in an inability to sit still, in a short temperedness, in procrastination, in self-sabotage, in what my colleague likes to call of the internet, she says it’s the most effective short-term nonprescription painkiller out there. You just sit there and you’re like numbing your feelings by just scrolling through things, going down the internet rabbit hole. They’ll come out. Those feelings won’t go away. I think that we really need to get rid of this idea of this hierarchy of pain that you have to meet a certain threshold of pain for it to be dealt with or taken seriously.
Tim Ferriss: Now as we’re absorbing that and thinking about pain or individual pain or collective pain, collective anxiety, personal anxiety, et cetera, sometimes those pains are self-evident. Sometimes the sources or contributing causes to those pains are more obvious than at other times. This is where self-assessment but also therapy can enter the picture and be very valuable, I would imagine. You’ve spoken before, at least as I’m reading, this was from NPR, but idiot compassion versus wise compassion. I’m just going to read something really quickly here.
“Idiot compassion is where you want to make somebody feel better, and so you don’t necessarily tell them the truth. And wise compassion is where you really hold up the mirror to them, in a compassionate way, but you also deliver a very important truth bomb.” My question about this is one related to real-world examples because at least in this piece which is from last year, I’m not sure if you still go to Wendell, but how does your therapist or the person you have seen deliver that truth to you? How does one do that skillfully, and more specifically, how have your therapists done it skillfully?
Lori Gottlieb: Right. That’s something that that both my therapist did with me and that I do with my patients and I think a lot of it has to do with timing and dosage. That’s why it’s hard for friends and friends often end up falling into that idiot compassion bucket because a friend will come to you and say, “Oh, my God. My partner did this,” and we immediately take our friend’s side. We immediately say, “Yeah, that’s terrible.” “My boss did this, so I didn’t get this promotion,” and we say, “Yeah, they don’t see your talent,” whatever it is.
In the moment, that’s not the time to deliver wise compassion, because they’re smarting from the injury, but I think that you can ask certain questions. What you’re trying to get at is, if a fight breaks out in every bar you’re going to, maybe it’s you. We see that with our friends all the time. They keep ending up in the same situation, different people, different characters, but similar situations. Maybe, they’re the common denominator. You can ask questions about, “What do you think happened?” Our instinct as humans, we all do this, is to blame something out there.
The reason that it’s so much easier to say that the problem is out there is because if we say that there’s something going on with us, we have so much shame around that. Shame is the reason that we have trouble taking responsibility for our role in a story. If your role in the story is you’re not getting the promotion because you actually don’t get along well with that coworker, the one who did get promoted or your role in the story is the reason people keep leaving you is because you’re very needy and you’re very suspicious or you don’t trust or whatever it is. There are certain behaviors that you have, certain patterns.
We don’t want to look at that because we feel like if we acknowledge that there’s something we’re doing that that’s a criticism, that says something is wrong with us and it doesn’t mean something’s wrong with you. It means you’re just not aware of a behavior. There’s a big difference between something is like wrong with you as a person or something is problematic about a behavior that you’re engaging in.
Tim Ferriss: Could you give another example or examples of approaches or language that can be used to lead a horse to water? That might sound too insulting, but in the sense that I have blind spots. We all have blind spots. Sometimes you need friends to point them out to you, but it’s easy — if it’s delivered in the wrong way or at the wrong time — to become defensive. What are some tools that can be used to open the door to that type of self-reflection?
Lori Gottlieb: I think the first thing is that people need to feel understood before they’re going to be able to self-reflect. When I talked about timing and dosage, what I meant was that, first, you need to let the person know that you understand the story that they’re telling from their perspective. I keep using the word “story” because everybody’s coming in with a story. We’re all, to some extent, unreliable narrators. You don’t have to agree with their version of the story, but you have to understand how they feel about the story. They have to feel felt. They have to feel that you understand them even if you might not agree with all of the details of how they’re telling the story.
Once they feel understood and then they feel accepted for how they feel, so you don’t try to talk them out of their feelings with logic, so many of us try to do that, especially with our partners, right? We try to talk them out of their feelings. Well, you shouldn’t feel that way because X, right? A lot of us experienced that as kids, right? We don’t know how to access our feelings. A lot of us as kids, we might have said like, “I’m sad,” and your very well-meaning parent might have said like, “Don’t be sad. Hey, look, a balloon,” right? “Hey, let’s go to Disneyland.” When you were young and you might have said like, “I’m angry,” and they would have said like, “Really? You’re so sensitive,” those kinds of things.
I think that when somebody is telling you something and you’re thinking in your head, “Wow, they’re making a big deal about this,” or, “They shouldn’t feel this way because here’s this other perspective on it,” there’s no shoulds about how you feel. That’s just actually how they feel. If you can have compassion for how they feel, if you can imagine, even have empathy, their shame will diminish and they will feel more able then to self-reflect. That’s when you can start asking questions, “What do you think,” the other person in this, if they were telling the story, “What do you think they might be saying? What do you think their version would be? Can you try to imagine?”
You broaden the story for these people. Once they start to broaden the story, they allow other perspectives to come into the narrative. Then, they start rewriting their own narrative a little bit there. There’s some movement there. It doesn’t happen all at once. This isn’t one conversation. This is many conversations.
Tim Ferriss: If you’re if this is in the context of, say, your significant other and a lot of people are going to be spending more time in close quarters for at least the next few weeks, and I would imagine that there will be some strife, some disagreement, I would love to hear what type of language might be used in those circumstances where you’re not referring to a third party. As an example of what not to do, I have a friend, his version of apologizing is always something along the following lines, “Well, I’m so sorry that you took that so personally.”
Lori Gottlieb: The non-apology apology.
Tim Ferriss: The headbutt disguised as apology, which doesn’t let itself to much conflict resolution. What types of approaches or language might be useful when things are escalating between two people?
Lori Gottlieb: I see a lot of couples in my practice and one of the things that I see so often is something like somebody’s trying to be heard by the other person and that person says something like, “You never listen to me.” I always say to the person who says, “You never listen to me,” to the partner, “How well do you listen to him or her?” because when we’re screaming, “You never listen to me,” usually that person who says that is not a very good listener.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Lori Gottlieb: I think that when you are hearing something, when someone is trying to tell you something, are you truly listening, or are you constructing your defense? As they’re talking, are you thinking about how you are going to defend yourself against their perceived complaint? Because then, you’re not hearing them at all. Also, part of listening isn’t just hearing the content of what they’re trying to tell you, but are you reading their body language? Are you reading their facial expressions? This isn’t something that just happens in a therapy room. This is how we need to be able to communicate better with one another. It doesn’t take a lot of effort. It’s more of a reframing of what it means to have a conversation with someone.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you for that. If we zoom out just to define some terms that, we’ll, no doubt, be using more, how do you think of therapy? I suppose, on one hand, therapy is a broad term like medicine. It may not be a good question, but if people listening have tried certain types of therapy and it’s worked or it hasn’t worked or perhaps they’ve never engaged in what is called certainly in the West are Western psychotherapy, therapy, what is therapy and what are some common myths about it?
Lori Gottlieb: People will define therapy in a lot of different ways. I can tell you how I define therapy.
Tim Ferriss: Perfect.
Lori Gottlieb: I define therapy as something taking place in the same room, in the same space, one on one on a consistent basis. Usually, that’s weekly. It’s a process of really trying to understand oneself better in the sense of understanding what are this person’s blind spots, how does one navigate through the world more smoothly, what are some of the ways that we’re carrying things from the past and we don’t realize it. It’s like wearing clothes that don’t fit anymore that somehow, we’re walking around with these clothes that don’t fit and they’re affecting the way that we manifest in the world, the way we present, the way we behave.
I think this part of getting to know yourself is also getting to unknow yourself. That refers to the old clothing that I was just talking about that that part of getting to know yourself is to let go of these ideas that you’ve been carrying around about yourself that just aren’t accurate, that you’ve picked up along the way.
Tim Ferriss: I want to underscore something you just said, which I love so much, and that is “getting to unknow yourself.” That’s a very helpful way to phrase it. I don’t mean to interrupt, but I’ve never heard anyone say that before. I just wanted to mention it in part, so that I remember it. So sorry to interrupt, but we all have our stories as you said and we’re very unreliable narrators. Our recollection is often recreation and we’re attached to those stories. Getting to unknow yourself is a hell of a way to put it. Thank you.
Lori Gottlieb: Well, that’s right. I think that we carry around these stories like, “I’m unlovable,” or whatever it might be that people have these stories that define them. They think that a lot of what therapy is is to really examine the accuracy of those stories and whether they really are serving them at this point in their lives. Getting to unknow yourself is to let go of these very limiting stories that you’ve been carrying around so that you can live your life and not the story that you’ve been telling yourself about your life. So many of us are walking around living some story that we’re telling ourselves about our lives that doesn’t reflect reality at all.
Tim Ferriss: I don’t know if you’re willing to delve into the personal a bit on this and feel no pressure, but could you tell a story about, I suppose that’s not intended to be ironic use, but to share a story or describe one or more of the ways that that have been important for you personally to get to unknow yourself? Are there any particular stories that you’ve had that were disabling in some way that you’ve had to work on and have worked on?
Lori Gottlieb: Well, I think one of the stories, it’s the story that I opened with in the book, which is that the person that I was planning to marry, my boyfriend at the time, told me one night that all of a sudden he said, “I’ve decided that I don’t think I can live with a kid under my roof for the next 10 years,” and that kid at the time was my eight-year-old who had not been hiding in the closet the whole time we were dating. My version of this story was what my friend said, the idiot compassion, right? “He’s a sociopath,” or, “He’s a jerk,” or, “Who does that?” The story that I brought to my therapist was I was so attached to that story that this was all him.
I think that through the process of going through therapy, it became very clear that I had a role in this story. The role that I was taking on was like, “This happened to me and I didn’t see it and I was blindsided by this.” It was a very old story for me. It was like a story from my childhood. It was a story that this idea that things were happening to me and I had very little control over that. It bled into this adult relationship. It became very clear in my therapy that there were clues that he was not a good person. There were clues all along.
We weren’t talking about it, but we were both responsible for him for not telling me and me for ignoring the times that it did come up and not really pursuing it because in some ways, even if our stories are not stories we want to live, we somehow orchestrate our lives to keep the storyline going. Someone might have that story of, “I’m a victim,” and they don’t want to be a victim, but what happens is they orchestrate things so that they will be a victim in those stories.
Tim Ferriss: Why do they do that? I agree with you that that happens. Why does that happen to you?
Lori Gottlieb: It happens because we cling to the familiar. It feels like home. Even if home was unpleasant or miserable, at least it’s something that we know. If we go and we say, “Oh, wait. What if I’m not a victim? What if I’m not trapped?” My therapist told me about this. This was so life changing for me. It was a cartoon he told me about. At one point, I was talking about all the ways that I was trapped. There was no way out of any of these situations that I was talking about. He said, “You remind me of this cartoon and it’s of a prisoner, shaking the bars desperately trying to get out, but on the right and the left, the bars are open. The prisoner is free,” right?
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Lori Gottlieb: So many of us don’t walk around those bars. The question is, why don’t we? Why don’t we walk around the bars? The reason is because we want to be free, but with freedom comes responsibility. If we walk around those bars, we’re not the victim anymore and now we have to take responsibility for our choices. Now we have to be proactive and make things happen for ourselves. Now we can’t say, “The world is limiting me. The world is holding me back. I can’t have this dream of mine because something out there is preventing me from having it.” Now it’s on us. That was a story, when I had to unknow myself, I had to unknow that part of myself that tended to go into that place of, “Everything out there is limiting me and life is unfair,” right?
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Lori Gottlieb: I had to really examine that story. I didn’t even know that I was still carrying around that story.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you for sharing that. What distinguishes in your mind a good therapist from a great therapist? What are some of the differences that you had observed if you reflect back on the people you consider great therapists? What do they have in common that separates them from good therapists?
Lori Gottlieb: I think Wendell, the therapist that I write about in the book, is a great therapist. I think what makes him a great therapist is that he’s so himself in the room. He brings his full humanity into the room. I think there’s the stereotype of therapists as being very much like a tabula rasa. It’s not that Wendell was disclosing things about his life. I knew very little about his life until, of course, the night that I google-stalk him. That’s another story. We didn’t talk about him in the room, but he as a human, it was clear that he was the same person in the therapy room that he might be out in the world, that there was not a persona that he was bringing into the room.
He was very spontaneous in the room. I think it’s almost like as a musician, right? If you are a pianist, let’s say, you have to learn your scales and they have to be very precise and you have to know them so well and you just drill them and drill them and drill them. That’s what we get in graduate school. We drill the precision of being a therapist, but we don’t drill the art, right? The art is something that comes out from experience. I think that once you know those skills, then you can improvise, but you can’t really improvise as well if you don’t have the foundational stuff down. The same thing I think with Wendell was he had the foundational stuff down, but man, could he improvise.
Tim Ferriss: How did that manifest? What did good improv or what does it look like or can it look like?
Lori Gottlieb: Well, one of the things he did that really surprised me was at one point, I was going on and on about the breakup and I was looking on social media and I was looking at this imaginary wonderful life that my ex was now having and he stood up, Wendell stood up and he came over and he kicked me and not even hurt me. It was like, “What was that?” He said, “Well, you seem to really enjoy suffering.” What he meant was, he explained that there’s a difference between pain and suffering. We all experience pain at different points in our lives, but we sometimes don’t have to suffer so much that sometimes we are the cause of our suffering.
I was the cause of my suffering by spending all of this emotional real estate on what was going on with my ex-boyfriend’s life, right? It was creating all this suffering. I didn’t have to be doing that. There were other ways that I could manage my grief that I can move through my grief that didn’t involve retraumatizing myself all the time. That was so effective, like that kick, because I always remember that, the difference between pain and suffering.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s segue. This is feels like a perfect window to segue into, I believe, what would still be one of your favorite maxims that I highlighted for myself, and that is “Insight is the booby prize of therapy.” Can you explain what that means?
Lori Gottlieb: I love that too because I think a lot of people believe that when they come to therapy, they’re going for insight. Why do I do this? Why is it like this? Why do I keep getting into these arguments with my partner? Why am I stuck in my job? The why. You can have all the insight in the world, but if you don’t actually make changes out in the world, the insight is useless. I like to say that when you come to therapy, you have to be both vulnerable and accountable. The vulnerability is you have to actually let me see you. You can’t do the whole “Look over here, look over here, look over here,” and try to distract me with all these different stories, because if I can’t see the truth of who you are, I won’t be able to connect with you. I won’t be able to help you connect with yourself, and we won’t be able to get that insight. That’s the insight piece.
Then there’s the accountable part, which is, “Okay, now that you understand why these arguments keep escalating in your marriage,” right?
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Lori Gottlieb: Somebody might come back the next week and they’ll say, “Yeah, so I got in this fight with my wife and I understand now exactly. I understood it as it was happening exactly why this was happening.” I said, “Well, did you do something different?” “Well, no, but I understood why it was happening.” That’s not helpful. It’s helpful to some extent, but what you need to do then is you need to do something different because of this insight. Maybe you understand now that when you react in a certain way, to what your wife is saying that that’s going to escalate things. Just because you understand the why and what it brings up in you, what are you going to do differently now? Once people start changing their behavior, that’s when they start to see real change in their lives.
Tim Ferriss: How did you, for instance, take the, “Pain is unavoidable. Suffering is optional,” just to paraphrase, how did you take that insight after Wendell kicked you, if you did and translated into behavior modification?
Lori Gottlieb: Well, the first behavior was I stopped the whole online searching for the ex-boyfriend because that just wasn’t serving me. I think also changing my behavior in terms of making up these stories about if he posted like a salad in a restaurant, I’d be like, “Well, how can you even eat? He didn’t miss me at all,” like this. You go to a very young place. I think when we experience the end of a relationship, no matter how old we are, we often go to this very primal place because as a species, we need to connect.
I think that when we experience the shock of disconnection, it can really be discombobulating. There was a lot of really focusing more on grieving than on what was going on with his life. “Could I sit with my grief? Could I sit with the sadness? Could I sit with the loss?” and that was so much more helpful for me even though it was a lot more painful.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I can, I shouldn’t say imagine, I can empathize. I feel at least for me, one of my main challenges has been identifying what I am unwilling to feel, historically, and trying to practice, allowing those things and being kind to myself when I am experiencing them, instead of beating the living shit out of myself for opening the door to any of those feelings, work in progress.
Lori Gottlieb: I’m so glad you said the thing about beating the shit out of yourself because I think so many of us self-flagellate and we think that if we self-flagellate, that will help us feel better. It’s very paradoxical that if I kick the shit out of myself that I’m going to whip myself into shape and I’m going to make these changes. Self-flagellation never leads to long-term change. Self-flagellation might make you do something in the moment, but it won’t last. The way that you make long-term change is by having self-compassion.
People are really afraid to allow themselves to feel compassion for themselves because they think that then they won’t be accountable. They think that if I am kind to myself, I will not make these changes. I won’t be motivated and the exact opposite is true, that the nicer you are to yourself, the kinder you are to yourself, the more motivated you will be to change. You’re having a hard time with that one?
Tim Ferriss: Well, I’m doing much better. I am trending in the right direction. I’ll say that. It’s still a task on repeat for me. There are ways that I do practice that, typically at mealtimes in a silent grace of sorts, which is not for any religious purpose, but because it conveniently piggybacks on a habit that is going to happen two to three times per day, every day. It’s a useful cue in that sense, but it is work in progress for sure. I view it as one of my most important tasks at the top of the cascade in a sense. I’d love to ask you about helping people in therapy one on one, one on two, whatever it might be, versus your Dear Therapist column.
I’m asking in part because you have a large audience and the dynamic at least for me has been very different. Could you speak to that? Then, I’ll probably have a bunch of follow up questions.
Lori Gottlieb: Sure. I think in both cases in the therapy room and in the Dear Therapist column and then also in the new podcast that we’re doing, which is going to be Dear Therapist, it’s a different dynamic because in the therapy room, in all of these I should say, somebody is coming in with their story. What you want to do is you want to help them to edit their story. In the therapy room, you have week to week. You can go through the editing process with somebody. You help them to see something. A lot of times people, in all of these, whether it’s the podcast, the column, the therapy room, people will come in and usually there’s some problem with someone out in the world, right?
By the way, there’s lots of difficult people in the world. When I was training a supervisor said to us, “Before diagnosing someone with depression, make sure they’re not surrounded by assholes,” right? I think, yes, there’s a reality to what they’re saying. They’re difficult people. They’re having a difficult situation. I understand that, but what is the role in that? In the therapy room, if I am helping them to edit that story, I have a lot of time to do that. I don’t mean that we want to keep people there for years.
I have from week to week if I forget to say something or I can let something marinate because I can control how much I release at once, I can go back the next week. If I forgot to say something, I can make a note and go back to it. If they’re not really open to something that week, I can try to come in a different way another time or even in the room in that session. With the column, you get one shot. You can’t really tell what the reaction is, so you can’t say, “Okay, I’m saying this. Here’s how they’re reacting to it.” I was a competitive chess player when I was younger and I use a lot of that in therapy, which is I make this move, they make this move, I have to adjust my move.
In the column, I can’t adjust my move. I think what I’m trying to do in the column is I’m trying to not only answer the question for that person, but I’m trying to answer something for every person who’s reading it, which is, “How is this going to relate to the way they think about the world?” It’s a more general answer. It’s not like, “Here’s specifically what you should say to your mother-in-law,” even though it’s an advice column. It’s more about, “Here’s a different way to think about this and here’s something that I see going on that maybe is more universal. This, I think, applies to your situation. This will help you come to a place of knowing what you should do.”
Tim Ferriss: How do you think about if at all the risks of public advice in the sense, I’ll speak personally, having written on a blog for more than a decade now, thousands of posts, large audience, there are topics that I have drafted and then not published or published and then removed because I’ve asked myself the question, “What happens if one percent get this wrong?” Like one percent don’t read the disclaimers or one percent don’t read the second half of the article, what are the worst things that could happen? I scare myself and I think rightly so in some instances. It could just be a difference in subject matter, but do you ever worry about writing to the masses? Not that you shouldn’t, I think there’s tremendous value in doing so, but do you think about that?
Lori Gottlieb: I want to go back to the kindness for a second and answering this question because I think that one of the things that happens is we have these voices in our heads that try to talk us out of things that often the most authentic place in us is the quiet voice, is the voice of that’s just like, “Hey, listen to me.” Then, we get these louder voices to say, “Oh, but what if this? What if the audience doesn’t like this? What if somebody doesn’t like this? What if I just please somebody?” I think that we need to give more air to that quieter voice that says, “This is important to me and I’m going to say it. If people don’t like it or if I made a mistake, that’s okay.”
I think, even in my book where I let it rip and there are some people who would say, “Wow, that’s really inappropriate,” but it was something that I felt like I had to tell that story in that way. When I write my column, sometimes I’ll give advice that I know some people will take issue with or there have been lots of times where I’ve said something in a column, “You’re on a deadline every week, so you don’t have a lot of time to think about it. You write what you write in the space of your production schedule,” and maybe later, I might think, “Oh, wow, I wish I had said this,” or readers will definitely tell you, right? They’ll say, “Oh, wow, that therapist is awful. She didn’t say this.”
I think people can be so critical in that way. I really want to hear from readers what I didn’t get right. I learn and grow that way. I would like them to say it in a kind way, but I don’t beat myself up. If I missed something, if I didn’t say something, if I made an outright error where I feel like, “Wow, that was really misguided,” I’ll say something on social media like, “Yeah, I should have said that. That’s a really good point.” It’s like what I say, I always say this about why I decided to write so much about myself in my journalism, in my book and all kinds of places.
I will disclose things because I don’t want to be the expert up on high. I want to use my expertise to help people, but I always say that my greatest credential is that I’m a card carrying member of the human race. If I can’t model for people, what it’s like to make a mistake, what it’s like to be kind to yourself when you make a mistake, what it’s like when people are attacking you and how not to get into that negative space with them? Somebody today, I’ll tell you something happened today, on Twitter I had posted something. I said something like, “If I can’t touch my face soon, I think I might need to go to therapy because of coronavirus.”
It was just this thing that I posted that I didn’t think much about, but I posted it because I think like we’re all trying to cope with this. This person wrote back, wrote on there, “Not funny,” right? What I wrote to them was that some people use humor to cope with really horrible situations. It might not be this person who does that, but that sometimes we need to — it’s both — and that this is a horrible situation and sometimes our souls need to breathe. A lot of people responded to that. I think that it made me think, though, “Was that insensitive? What does that mean?” It made me really do a little bit of soul searching about, “How do we use humor when we’re trying to cope with something horrible?”
I welcome all of that. I don’t overthink what I’m writing or I don’t overthink what — I should say this, I think very, very much about what I’m writing because I want to put something out there that’s valuable to people, but I don’t overthink what the reaction is going to be. I don’t hide because I’m worried that I might offend somebody because by the way, you always will.
Tim Ferriss: Right. 10 percent are always going to find a way to take it personally. I suppose just for clarity because I probably didn’t convey it clearly that I’m on one hand completely agree. I’m going to paraphrase here, but I think it was Mae West who said, “Those who are easily shocked should be shocked more often.” I agree with that. Then on the other hand, I’m mostly referring to safety considerations because I’m somewhat appalled by the reckless, I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about some other people with large audiences I’ve seen giving what I would consider reckless, say, medical advice regarding prescription medication, and so on related to coronavirus where someone who can parse that effectively might be able to derive more value than risk but a lot of people will not, right?
It’s more on that end that I try to measure twice and cut once, but I would love to segue here for a second to discuss perhaps the tools that you use to identify, to spot blind spots. That sounds like an oxymoron, but if the therapist’s job in some respect is to hold up a mirror and have people notice their blind spots, how might you suggest to people listening if they can’t afford a therapist or for whatever reason, just don’t have the ability to get into a therapy room, are there any approaches they can take to better spot their own blind spots or have friends help them to identify them?
Lori Gottlieb: That’s such a good question. I think that the therapist has the advantage of having the vantage point of not living that person’s life. It’s like we ourselves are so zoomed in, we’re so close, but a therapist is looking at you from the outside, they’re zoomed out, right? They can see the broader perspective. It’s so hard for all of us to see ourselves clearly. I think that one way that people can identify that something might be up is if something keeps happening over and over. It’s not coincidence. I think that so many times we want to attribute something not working to something external.
I think that it’s really important to say like, “What are some of these things that are going on that are keeping me stuck, that are not working for me?” and then to really try to see the similarities, “What are some of the patterns?” Another thing is that I think that we’re most revealed in the context of our relationships with others. If you see something happening over and over, the way you relate to others and the way that others relate to you, that’s something to look out also. I’m not proselytizing therapy, but I do think that it’s very hard to self-examine without having another objective person to almost get a really good second opinion on your life from. That’s what I think therapy is in a lot of ways. It’s like a really good second opinion on what might be going on.
Tim Ferriss: It’d be really helpful at some point and I would love to try to assemble this, but sets of questions that people could use to enable their friends to prompt them in ways that help them to identify blind spots because I do that in, say, the case of editing, writing. If I have a smart friend, I can give them a set of questions like, “Which 10 percent would you keep if you could only keep 10 percent? What 10 percent would you cut if you could only cut 10 percent?” et cetera, et cetera. I can enable them to take on the role of good proofreader even if they’re not extensively trained for that. That’s a homework assignment for me, I suppose.
Lori Gottlieb: Well, there’s asking the question, then there’s the openness to hearing what they have to say. I also think you really have to choose your audience for that one. I think that so many times if you ask those questions, the person that you’re asking will have a personal agenda. If you said, “If you really wanted to know, what do you find most challenging about me?” That person will name all the things that they want to change that will make their lives better, right? It’s like they have an agenda. A therapist doesn’t have that agenda. A therapist can see in the room.
By the way, the relationship in the room, it’s full of energy, it’s full of richness, it’s a unique relationship because it doesn’t exist outside of the room even though you might think about your therapist during the week and your therapist might think about you. What happens in the therapy room is a microcosm of how you relate to the other people outside of the therapy room, the other people in your life. When I’m interacting with someone in the therapy room, I don’t need to ask what other people find challenging about them. I’m experiencing it. I’m seeing it. I’m finding them challenging because they’re doing with me exactly what they do with people out there.
If you want to come up with your questions outside like somebody in your personal life asking those questions, I think that that’s really hard because often that person will have their own agenda. They will have their own things that they want to change that for their own reasons that aren’t necessarily about your own well-being. I want to say one last thing about that, which is that sometimes the person that you’re with doesn’t want you to change because they want to maintain the homeostasis in the family unit.
If you’re the person who’s struggling, they get to be the healthy sane person. If you become the healthy sane person, then all of a sudden, they have to look at what’s not working in their own lives. This happens a lot when somebody says like, “You know what? I’m going to leave this job that I feel stuck in and I’m going to go and I’m going to try to do this other thing, this dream that I’ve always had,” The other person is like, “Oh, that’s so risky. Oh, don’t do that. That’s so risky. Why would you do that? That’s unrealistic,” or they try to sabotage it in a way that’s much more subtle. It’s because all of a sudden, you’re upsetting the homeostasis in the system. Maybe they were the successful one. Maybe they liked it that way.
Somebody decides they’re going to get healthy and they’re going to lose weight or they’re going to go to the gym and they’re like, “Oh, you’re no fun anymore. You don’t want to come out with me.” So many times we aren’t doing this consciously, but sometimes we feel threatened when other people get healthy, when other people are doing things that maybe we wish we could do. I say this about envy a lot, right? When people are envious, they’re so afraid to feel their envy. I’m like, “Feel your envy. Use your envy because you want to follow your envy. It tells you what you want. Don’t use your envy to sabotage someone to say mean things about that person. Use your envy as a catalyst to figure out what you can change in your own life.”
Tim Ferriss: That’s very good advice. I’ve seen what you describe often subconsciously in partners where one will begin to change and the other one will act like the crabs in the crab bucket, pulling the one crab down that is trying to get over the edge, very common. I’ve seen this through my audience over the years with weight loss like you mentioned, with entrepreneurship, quitting a job, starting something as you mentioned, not to say that all concerns will be unfounded and self-centered with some ulterior motive, but that is extremely, extremely common.
Let me try a question on you if I might, and this is going to be the first time I’ve ever asked this question on the podcast. But Tyler Cowen recently asked me this and it opened up a fruitful portion of the conversation. This is an attempt to dig and see where this goes. It might go nowhere. How do you think we, you and I, are most similar or most different or both?
Lori Gottlieb: I don’t know you well enough to really answer that well, but —
Tim Ferriss: Right. Just based on the little that you know or based on this conversation, based on any of it.
Lori Gottlieb: I think we’re both very interested in making change in the world. I think that we’re both very, I would say, proactive about doing that. I think from what little I know about you that you’ve disclosed publicly, I think that we both have gone through some evolution of defining success differently. I think that we grew up in a way where we worked really hard at school. We succeeded academically. We went to prestigious schools. I think when we got to those schools, both of us started to realize, “Wait a minute. This is not the secret to happiness.” I think both of us struggled when we were in those schools. I know I did and I read about the ways that you did.
I think that it made us, I think, question a lot of what we had worked for and how we had worked for it. I think that both of us put our energy, that kind of energy that we put into our academic lives. I think that we’ve put it into our professional lives, but I think that our goals are very different than they were when we were like trying to get the highest A in the class.
Tim Ferriss: I agree. What did your struggles look like? I’ve written about as you mentioned for those people who want to see just how dark the darkness can be. You can look up some practical thoughts on suicide in my name and you’ll find stories about that period. How did you struggle? What did your struggles look like?
Lori Gottlieb: I think that my struggles were about working really hard to achieve something, achieving it and then going, “Now what?” Really questioning the meaning and the purpose. It took me a long time. I think that it wasn’t until — I switched around a lot in terms of my career and I think that that was because I kept searching for that meaning and purpose in the right way. When I was in college, I started doing these internships in the entertainment world because I was really interested in telling good stories and I was really interested in the human condition. I felt like at the time, this is before TV became what it is now, I was like, “That’s movies,” right? I’d always been really just profoundly changed by certain movies.
Tim Ferriss: What were your majors at the time, or what were you focused on in school?
Lori Gottlieb: Well, I was a French literature major and I like that, of course, the existentialist, right? When you think about what was I reading at the time, it was really depressing, but I was really interested in culture and literature and story. I think when I look at it in retrospect, everything that I did was about story in the human condition, whether I was working in the entertainment business. I think that I ended up working in film, and then I moved over and I did network television and I worked at NBC. That was the year Friends and ER premiered. It was like the beginning of this era in must-see TV on Thursday nights on NBC.
ER was a really unique show because it was so realistic. It told these very rich human stories. It felt like a documentary in a lot of ways at least in the beginning. I used to hang out a lot in the ER with the consultant on the show who was an ER doc. At a certain point, he said to me, “I think you like it better here than you like your day job.” It was one of those things where I had worked so hard in school and then I worked so hard at my job and I worked so hard to get the job at NBC. He was like, “You should go to medical school. That’s where your passion is. I see it in you.” I was like, “I’m not leaving that job,” but I did because I wanted to be immersed in the real stories, right?
I went to medical school, and then when I went to medical school, I went up to Stanford where it was actually the end of the first dot-com boom, right before the first bust. This is like 1999–2000. When I was there, it was like everybody was talking about this newfangled thing called managed care and my whole idea was, “I’m going to be the family doctor, the person who guides people through their lives and I’m going to have these rich relationships with my patients.” It just wasn’t looking like that was where the medical world was headed.
I started writing when I was up there and I ended up then leaving to become a journalist because I thought I want to delve into people’s stories and I want to help them tell their stories. I did long-form journalism, which I still do and I love. It was later when I had a baby that I was working from home as long-form journalists do and I needed adults to talk to. I needed adult conversation, that the UPS guy would come, and literally, I would detain him and I would say, “How about those diapers? Do you have kids?” He would back away to his big brown truck, and eventually, he started just very quietly placing the packages on my doorstep so that he did not have to interact with me.
I thought, “Okay.” It was really hard. It was like you have this new baby, you love this new baby, I wanted this baby so badly, and yet, I was like, “I need to be out.” Again, it’s that connection and story that when you’re doing it remotely, it’s not the same. I called up the Dean at Stanford where I had been at medical school. I said, “Maybe I should come back and do psychiatry.” She said, “Well, first of all, you’re welcome to come back, but if you become a psychiatrist, you’re going to go through all this training and you’re probably going to be prescribing medication in 15-minute intervals, and yes, you can do talk therapy, but why don’t you get a graduate degree in clinical psychology and you can do the work you want to do and not do residency and try to do all this with a toddler?” It was amazing. It was the best advice. It was one of those aha moments.
Tim Ferriss: That’s really good advice from somebody who’s taking the time to think it through. That’s great.
Lori Gottlieb: Right, and it seems really obvious in retrospect, but at the time, you’re just like, “How do I do this?” and so that’s what I did. In journalism, I went from telling people stories to, as a therapist, helping people to change their stories. I feel a lot of what I do as a therapist is a lot of that editing work that I would do when I was interviewing people, when I was writing their stories, really asking a lot of the same kinds of questions. I feel when you ask like, “How are we the same and how are we different?” I feel what happened was both of us found meaning and purpose. We both feel we were doing something that is helping other people.
I feel that’s what I’m doing in all these different pieces of my career. You also have a hybrid career. I think you’re doing that in the different pieces of your career, too.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you. I’m giving it a good old college try.
Lori Gottlieb: I think too we’re both most humans. We’re still searching. We’re still asking. We’re still curious. We’re still discovering.
Tim Ferriss: When you look back at your chapter changes, say, from entertainment to med school or med school to journalism, which decision or transition was the hardest? In other words, I’d love to hear more about some of the detail of one of the harder jumps. Were any of these decisions that you agonized over for days or weeks or months or was it just a flash of insight and decisive action? Which of these was difficult for you, if any?
Lori Gottlieb: Leaving the entertainment business wasn’t difficult for me because I was so clear that there was something deeper that I wanted to pursue, not that movies and television can’t be incredibly profound, but I think there was something that was more personally resonant for me about working with actual people out there which foreshadows, of course, what I do as a therapist. What was hard about that change was everybody thought I was crazy, that everybody said, “How do you leave this place that you’re in in your career? How do you leave that and just go to medical school?”
I think what was harder was leaving medical school because I had already made this switch. I was up at medical school. It takes a lot, by the way. You have to take all the classes to take the MCAT, you’d take the MCAT and then you have to meet all the requirements. I was, again, not a science major, although I was very math-y and science-y as a person. I was on the math team, those kinds of things, but I was very much taking humanities courses in college and literature. I think that doing everything that it took to get to medical school, getting into a medical school, being at a medical school and then saying, “You know what, I’m going to go be a freelance journalist.”
Tim Ferriss: Not just any medical school either, right? You’re on Palm Drive or nearby with beautiful Stanford, so I can imagine that also has a decent bit of waiting in some people’s minds.
Lori Gottlieb: Well, also financially, I think that we’re so worried about talking about money in our culture, but I think it’s a very real thing. I think people need to talk more about it because there I was, I already paid for two years of medical school and I had loans and all of that. Now I’m going to go be a freelance journalist. Who does that? I think what it was is what I was talking about earlier is that voice, that quiet voice where everybody else is saying, “Just finish medical school. Just get the degree and then figure out what you want to do. Just tough it out for two more years.” I was like, “Life is short.” I was very aware of that even back then.
This is a theme that you see all over my work, which is this theme of why thinking about death makes us happier, which is I don’t mean dwelling. Just acknowledging it. Just acknowledging that life has a 100 percent mortality rate and most of us don’t know how or when we’re going to die. I think that even though I was in my 30s then, which sounds young, it’s not. It’s like, why should I spend those next two years in medical school when I know that I want to go? Right? When that’s what I want to do is I want to go tell other people’s stories, I want to go do this work, that’s where the fire in my belly was.
I just followed the fire in my belly, and I said, “I’m going to have to make sacrifices, I’m going to have to make a lot of financial sacrifices and I’m going to have to write a lot to make enough money to support myself and to pay off my medical school loans, etcetera.” Now, I had some money saved up from Hollywood, but not enough to sustain me. These are the choices that that people make. It was again a choice where people said, “I really suggest you do this, that, or the other thing,” and I really listened to myself and what I wanted to do and becoming a therapist was the easy choice in the last of the changes, but I feel like every single thing that I did was really just looking at story in the human condition from a different perspective.
I don’t feel like I had four different careers. I feel like I had one career and I’m just experiencing them from different ways of getting in.
Tim Ferriss: Sure. That makes sense to me. If you look at the nonlinear career progression, and in hindsight, each of those chapters has added something to the quiver that you use today, it would seem, looking at it from that lens, how did you develop this awareness of death? When did that develop? How did that develop? Was it the reading all these French philosophers and writers or was it something else?
Lori Gottlieb: No, it was medical school. I did a rotation, a pediatric oncology rotation and I —
Tim Ferriss: That sounds brutal.
Lori Gottlieb: I actually thought that’s what I wanted to do. I wasn’t a parent then. It was so eye opening. It hit me on my core in a way that I think it matured me in a lot of ways. It really made me appreciate so much about life and living and all of the opportunities that each of us has every day if we’re healthy. I think so many times we think about all the things are going wrong in our lives and people will say #FirstWorldProblems and all of that and going back to the hierarchy of pain, but I think that we take for granted our health. Ever since medical school, I’ve been acutely aware of what a gift it is to be able to do the things that we want to do because we’re healthy enough to do them.
In the book I write about a health crisis that I had that’s ongoing where I have some kind of autoimmune situation going on, and for a very long time, the doctors, some of them dismissed me as what I call, I go back and I trace the history of the wandering uterus and hysteria and the way that sometimes certainly male doctors especially dismissed me as, “Oh, it’s anxiety,” or, “Oh, you need to sleep better,” when that wasn’t the case at all. I think now especially that I do experience symptoms from just having a compromised immune system that I’m even more acutely aware of making sure that I appreciate everything that I can do with the health that I do have.
Tim Ferriss: What I suppose testament at least in your case to the price of admission for medical school possibly being worth it in just putting you on that rotation, so that you have this vivid imagery and autobiographical experience that keeps you aware of how valuable your health is, that it’s so easy to take for granted if you haven’t seen firsthand those who are robbed of health or who will soon die. That’s in a way worth the MCAT and the prep and all that put together. Not just that people should go to medical school just for that, but in your case, very valuable.
Lori Gottlieb: There was something that really shocked me when I was in medical school, which is we were doing our dissection unit, so you have these cadavers and you’re learning anatomy and physiology. You have to figure out why your cadaver died, why that person died. They don’t tell you. You have to figure it out by what you notice when you’re dissecting that person. One of them had died of lung cancer and it became very clear that the person had been a smoker. You can even see like nicotine stains in the person’s nails.
One of the medical students who was working on that cadaver would go outside at the breaks and smoke. He was a smoker. That didn’t stop him from smoking. I think some people have this idea that they are immortal. They’re not vulnerable to the vicissitudes of just being a living organism. That was so striking to me and that image too for medical school stays with me, the idea of how strong denial can be. As a therapist, when I see people in denial, I always think of that fellow student of mine who would just be dissecting this person who died of lung cancer and then go outside and smoke.
That’s how much sometimes denial serves up. Denial is a way of staving off these really uncomfortable feelings that we don’t want to acknowledge. My job as a therapist is to really get under that denial and to be able to help somebody to see that dealing with the feelings is going to be a lot easier than staying in denial.
Tim Ferriss: I know this is going to sound like a terrible question because I’m sure it could be 15-volume set of books, but how do you do that? There’s denial everywhere. I’ve experienced denial. Most people have experienced some form of denial. How do you help someone get past denial? What are some of the approaches or tools that you might use?
Lori Gottlieb: Well, I think it’s a way of helping to communicate to them, that our fear of our feelings is often scarier than the feelings themselves.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Lori Gottlieb: I help them to feel a little bit at a time and I help to contain them, so that they’ll feel something and they realize it’s not going to kill them and then they are like, “Oh, I gave myself some room to breathe.” Then, I think that helps them to say, “Okay, I can feel a little bit more and I can feel a little bit more,” and also just what they discover when the more that they feel is that feeling like weather systems. They blow in. They blow out. It’s not because you feel something, the storm is going to stay there indefinitely. The sun is going to come in and then it’s going to get windy and then maybe, a little rain will blow in again. It moves.
It’s, again, what I was talking about earlier, that both/and, that you can feel something that is hard, that is difficult, that causes you pain and you could also have joy. In the book, there’s somebody who’s dealing with a really, really tragic death and the person was saying that after the child died, after his child died that he was with his other child and they laughed. They laughed and they were playing a game and they laughed and he was like, “How could I laugh? My child just died a week ago.” He felt like the worst person in the world for feeling that, but it’s like that’s the weather system. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t in excruciating pain, but we can also laugh: both/and.
Tim Ferriss: Both/and. Just taking a second to think about that. I could see. It’s wild. I’ve been thinking about pain and the experience of pain and the metabolizing of pain and the persistence for some people of various types of physical or psycho-emotional pain and what we are about to go through in the sense that we’re recording this on Friday the 13th, March 13th, and we’re about to have, I think, some very challenging weeks ahead of us that will probably exacerbate or magnify some of the tendencies that we all have that we might not notice as much when we are not under duress.
It’s something that I’m thinking about a lot. How are you yourself? We don’t have to speak to the virus and the disease and so on itself and get into COVID-19, but for your own sort of psychological health, how are you thinking about practices for yourself over the next handful of weeks or months, if you have?
Lori Gottlieb: I will speak about COVID just because it’s right here in front of us. My son is now doing remote learning. His school has closed. One of the things that I noticed is how happy I am to see him. Every time I walk by and I see him, it’s like, “Wow, in a few years, he’s going to be in college and I’m not going to get to see him.” I’m just relishing the time that I have with him, so that I’m not just watching the news every second. I’m not just focusing on, “Here’s this update. Here’s this other update.” I think that that can be really anxiety-provoking and we need to be anxious, right?
There’s all this tragedy happening all around us and it could happen to us too. I think that it’s important that people find ways to — there’s a lot of Viktor Frankl in my book. One of the things he said very famously was that, I’m going to paraphrase here, “There’s one thing that nobody can take away from us and that’s the freedom to choose our attitude in any given situation,” and he was talking about being in a concentration camp, that he was saying, “Even in the midst of this horror of the concentration camp, I get to choose where my mind goes. Only I get to choose that.”
I think it’s very relevant to what’s going on with COVID in the sense of we can have a dance party in our living room because we happen to be home, which doesn’t mean that we don’t feel the horror of everything else is going on and the anxiety and don’t feel for all the families that are losing their loved ones and don’t feel for all the people who are in ICU right now and don’t feel the terror of what’s going to happen when many more of us get it and there are no beds. All of that is very real. You and I were supposed to be talking in person right now at South by Southwest, and here we are doing our remote.
Thank God that we are, that we were able to connect with people, which I think is really important in this time is using technology to connect with people when you can’t physically be in the same space.
Tim Ferriss: Definitely, and I’ve been recognizing more and more so since I’ve been in self-quarantine effectively for the last two weeks, except preexisting pulmonary issues and I’m taking extra precaution. Fortunately, I have my girlfriend and my dog here, so I’m not isolated and I can see the challenges that would be magnified certainly if that were the case, but just seeing other faces like we used video for a few minutes before we went to audio only to record this episode, using FaceTime when possible to see human faces of friends of loved ones and so on, that in and of itself I found to really on some evolutionary level or evolved basis to be very helpful for staving off feelings of isolation.
Just something that simple and fortunately simple given the technology that most of us, if you’re listening to this podcast, chances are you have technology that would allow that.
Lori Gottlieb: Yeah, that’s true. I think that in therapy, a lot of people will say, “Well, can I do like a phone session or can I do text therapy?” I don’t even know how that would go, but apparently people do that. I don’t even like doing Skype therapy. A colleague of mine said that Skype therapy is like doing therapy with a condom on because it’s like there’s something about the energy in the room where you can hear the other person breathe. There’s the same kind of smells and sounds in the room. There’s something about just the physicality of being in the same space.
Often in our lives when we get together with people, we have a phone on the table or a text comes in and we’re not actually spending an hour face to face with no distractions and I think especially now in this time where we have to isolate, yeah, the next best thing would be to FaceTime or Skype or do something where you can see someone’s face. When we’re not in this time, I really, really recommend that people go spend time in person after we’re not worried about coronavirus. It’s so important to physically be in the same space with somebody and not be interrupted by your device. We all will survive just fine if you spend an hour with somebody and not check your phone.
Tim Ferriss: Agreed. Very much agreed. I’ve just a handful of additional questions for you. One is you mentioned Viktor Frankl. Are there books that you have reread many times or a handful of times or given often as gifts besides your own? Are there books that come to mind for you that you have particularly reread or gifted?
Lori Gottlieb: Yeah, I love giving books as gifts. They’re my favorite gift to receive. I love to give them because I feel I’m giving an experience to somebody. It’s not just an object, but it’s an experience that they will have as they read something. Books to me are the best gift. One book that I give a lot is a book called The Tennis Partner by Abraham Verghese. I don’t know if you know who he is.
Tim Ferriss: I do not.
Lori Gottlieb: He’s a doctor. He’s now at Stanford, but he was in El Paso for a long time. He wrote Cutting For Stone, which I think got made into a movie, but this book, it’s about his relation — we never really hear about male friendship. This is a book about his relationship when he was getting out of his marriage and he was supervising interns in El Paso. An intern came to him who had an addiction. This person, it was this intern’s last chance to not get kicked out of an internship program and get sober. It’s about their friendship and they really bonded on the tennis court, of all things. They’re both serious tennis players.
It’s an incredibly moving story about the limits of what we can do to help another person, the attachment that we can feel to a complete stranger, the ways that other people are mirrors for us and help us to see our own issues in a different way. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful meditation on not just male friendship, but I think just human connection. I give that one a lot by the way to men to women, people of all ages. It’s a book that that people really respond to.
Tim Ferriss: Beautiful. Thank you for that. I have just written that down and will be checking on that myself. You have an incredible number of projects it seems. Your book, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, is being adapted as a television series. You have a new podcast, as you mentioned, Dear Therapist, which is being produced by Katie Couric. Why these two projects? I’m sure you have more in the hopper, but how did you end up deciding to dedicate your energies to these two projects?
Lori Gottlieb: The television series was a way I think of bringing emotional health and normalizing it to just a greater audience. The book has been very widely read, but I think that TV reaches people in a way that really nothing else can. Podcasts, of course, your podcast, look at what your podcast is doing. It’s rating better than many television shows, I guess, but I feel also just seeing other people’s dilemmas, seeing other people’s struggle, see the ridiculousness of the human condition. We’re all ridiculous and we take ourselves so seriously.
I think that when you can see yourself through the lens of another person’s story, it’s like this, Tim, it’s like if I said to you, “Tim, you do this all the time. You’re like this.” You’d be like, “No, I don’t, I’m not like that,” or you might feel offended even if you recognized it, and you said, “Yeah, I am,” but you might feel it was critical. If you see somebody else doing the very thing that you do, you’re like, “Oh, yeah. I do that.”
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Lori Gottlieb: It’s so much easier to see ourselves through other people and what they do as mirrors for us. I think in the television show what I’m really excited about is it’s not a show about therapists. It’s a show about people who happen to be therapists. There’s a distinction. The distinction is one would be like, “Oh, let’s do all that stereotypical stuff that people think about therapy,” every single trope that you’ve seen on television about therapists or we can do something about human beings and this happens to be their career. I’m really excited and I think the guys from The Americans who I think write with a lot of nuance, I think they’re so smart and they’re also able to infuse it with that real authentic humor, not jokey humor, but humor of like, “Yes, I see myself in that and that’s funny.”
I’m really excited to bring that to more people. I think that the podcast is the same thing. One thing that we’re doing on the podcast is I have a cohost who is Guy Winch. Guy and I have both done TED Talks, and we met through the TED world. He is a psychotherapist in New York and we really want people to — it’s one thing in the column to be able to say, “Let me examine your situation on paper,” but it’s another thing to just be able to have a conversation with someone and hear what they’re saying and ask them those questions.
Not only are we going to have people come on and talk about what’s their dilemma, but then Guy and I are going to have a private conversation which the listener will hear, but the person who wrote the letter will not which is how therapists talk about this, how do we think about their problem, and then how do we go back to them and what you were asking earlier, how do you say to them the thing that you want to say in a way that they’ll be able to hear it which might be different from the way Guy and I discussed it with each other.
You get to hear that difference. Then, we give them our suggestions. Then, what’s interesting is in the column, you never get to hear what happened. I get to hear because sometimes people will write to me and say, “I tried your advice and here’s what happened,” but the reader doesn’t get to hear. In our podcast, we bring them on a few weeks later and they tell us what happened.
Tim Ferriss: That’s excellent.
Lori Gottlieb: I think that’s so interesting, because people can learn so much from that we really want people to learn from this podcast. We want them to see something about their own lives from this podcast, what worked and what didn’t and why. I think that’s always so helpful.
Tim Ferriss: Guy Winch is one of the most amazing names I’ve ever heard in my life and it’s a great name.
Lori Gottlieb: He’s great. He’s really great. You need to listen to his TED Talks.
Tim Ferriss: I’ll check it out. Where can people learn more about both the television show, the podcast and so on if they want to find either or both of them? Of course, you have your website loriottlieb.com which I’ll link too in the show notes as well. Are there other places they should look.
Lori Gottlieb: I will be posting about these on social media, so they can always follow me on Twitter @LoriGottlieb1. They can follow me on Instagram, which I’m still trying to figure out how to use @lorigottlieb_author. I’m on Facebook at Gottlieb Lori. iHeart will be — actually the promos are going up right now for the podcast just as we’re getting our inbox full of letters and we’ve been taping a few of the episodes and the TV show. I’m sure you will hear about through normal media channels.
Tim Ferriss: Wow, that’s when you know you have the right partners —
Lori Gottlieb: Right.
Tim Ferriss: — if you say, “Don’t worry, you’ll hear about it.” What a pleasure this conversation has been. On the socials, are you most fluent with use of Twitter or is another option best if people want to wave and say hello?
Lori Gottlieb: Twitter is probably the one that as a not tech savvy person that’s the one that’s easiest for me to use, but I’m on all of them. They can say hi to me on any of them.
Tim Ferriss: Great and that is @LoriGottlieb1 with the number one at the end of your full name. This has been such a pleasure. I’m really happy that we were able to carve out the time and that you are willing to carve out the time to have this conversation. I have pages and pages and notes. I also appreciate you being so open to discuss the personal stories. I really, really appreciate it. This has been also therapeutic for me just to have the conversation.
Lori Gottlieb: Thank you so much, Tim. I’m such a fan of your blog, your podcast. I really admire how much you’ve been willing to share with everybody and I was so excited to have this conversation with you, so thank you for having me on.
Tim Ferriss: My pleasure entirely. Hopefully not the last conversation that we have. For everybody listening, I will link to everything we’ve talked about in the show notes including all of the new projects that Lori is working on as well as the website lorigottlieb.com in the show notes which can always be found at tim.blog/podcast. Until next time, thanks for listening.
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