Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Jim Dethmer, one of the world’s leading voices on conscious leadership. He is a co-founder at Conscious Leadership Group, co-author of the #1 best-selling book on conscious leadership, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, and an international speaker. And he has advised hundreds of CEOs and their teams to eliminate drama and build trust within their organizations.
Visit conscious.is/tim for a list of free resources on the topics discussed in this episode and to sign up for a free webinar from Jim Dethmer and Diana Chapman.
Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs. This is Tim Ferriss and welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss Show. My guest today, I’m going to keep my usual preamble short, is someone who has impressed me incredibly over the last few years, and that is Jim Dethmer, D-E-T-H-M-E-R. Jim is one of the world’s leading voices on conscious leadership, we’ll explain what that means. He is a co-founder at Conscious Leadership Group, CLG, website, conscious.is. Co-author of the number one bestselling book on conscious leadership, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, an international speaker and has advised hundreds of CEOs and their teams to eliminate drama and build trust. Now just to be clear, for those people who are thinking, “I don’t have time for that right now,” we are going to dig into tools and frameworks that can be applied also on the individual family and other unit levels. So this is not limited to business, and that’s actually where my interest in Jim began.
Top hedge fund managers, heads of major hospital systems, tech leaders, elite thought leaders, YPO chapters, and forums all rely on Jim’s wisdom and guidance to become highly self-aware and create conscious cultures that can also, I’m adding a lot of subtext here, be within the home, not necessarily within a large office organization. Currently, Jim’s focus is on working with the most devoted conscious leaders, with particular interest in those leading underserved populations and training the next generation of conscious leadership coaches. Jim lives in Chicago with his wife Debbie, I hope to talk about their relationship actually or ask about it. And part-time in their soul’s home in Michigan, one of my favorite places, where he recharges playing golf and delighting in the roles of father and grandfather. You can find Jim and the Conscious Leadership Group on Facebook at consciousleadershipgroup, on Twitter, @ConsciousLG, LinkedIn, conscious-leadership-group, and on YouTube at ConsciousIsNow. And the website, as I mentioned before, is conscious.is. Jim, welcome to the show.
Jim Dethmer: Hello Tim, great to be with you.
Tim Ferriss: And you and I have a fair amount of background. We, at least initially, unbeknownst to me at least, have quite a few mutual friends, including a number of past guests on this podcast. And I hope we get to explore all sorts of corners and nooks and crannies that can bring sort of disproportionate joy and impact people who are listening, I think we can do that. And I thought we would start with perhaps just providing a little bit of background on Jim, before he became Jim as described in the bio. Would you be willing to share just a bit of your own background, and you can choose to answer that however you like?
Jim Dethmer: Yeah, happily. So probably the way I would describe it, and this will be germane to a lot of what we talk about, is that from the time I was a little kid, I have been a seeker. Largely driven at first by a literal physical ache in the center of my chest, probably if I would have been clinically diagnosed, I was probably sub-clinically depressed much of my life. So there was a yearning, a longing, and that drove me to seek out some of the best teachers and greatest modalities for giving somebody some peace. So all of my life I was seeking peace or happiness or equanimity. And then the second thing you would know about me is that, based on my family of origin and some of the craziness that went on there, I’ve always been interested in relationships. Again, largely trying to resolve the loneliness that I felt.
So those two things, kind of an existential angst, mild depression, and loneliness, drove me. Now on the outside I was a normally put together person and succeeded and achieved and did all that stuff, but underneath I was a seeker and it drove me to find relief quite frankly, for which I’m incredibly, incredibly grateful. And then the second thing you know about me is when I find cool stuff, I pass it on. So I say all the time, I don’t think I’ve ever had an original thought, there’s nothing original in our book, on our website, any place. Maybe once in a while I accidentally put something together, but it would be accidental. Most everything that I have found, I found from somebody else, and I love to pass it on.
And the last thing you’d learn is I’m a smuggler. So a lot of the places I’ve gone and explored, a lot of the people who I’ve worked with over the years wouldn’t go there and explore. So I go out and find these modalities, these technologies of transformation, and then I’m pretty good at translating them into language that an end-user would find viable and credible. So I smuggle these things into populations who wouldn’t otherwise necessarily go looking. So that’s a little bit about me, that maybe you, we could find some points of contact.
Tim Ferriss: I would love to. I’ve already made contact, and there are a few places I’d like to dig. And before I do so, I’ll just give a bit more context on how you entered my orbit. And the first way that you entered in my orbit was actually through Dustin Moskovitz, the co-founder of Facebook, who recommended The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, this book. And I’m not going to lie, it took me a while to actually pick it up and read it, because I have had perhaps an unfair bias against anything with the title “leadership” or involving the word “leadership.” But as you mentioned with the smuggling, I think your arena is much broader than that, or perhaps it just requires a reinterpretation of leadership. The way that one of my friends described you, and this friend is a very, very successful investor, one of the best investors who’s been on this podcast, and he says, “I think of Jim as a spiritual equivalent of a world champion MMA fighter. He takes the best of everyone else’s practices and integrates them for himself and others.”
So I thought we could use that just as a jumping-off point to an example, or we could get into some brass tacks tactical stuff. And the question is, well actually we’ll dig into a specific person, and that is Byron Katie. And so this friend says that you are exceptionally good at finding high-credibility gurus of various types. And then, as you said, smuggling their techniques or using, reapplying. You were very early, as I understand it, in terms of identifying Byron Katie, and then kind of soaking up what she does, grabbing the essence of it and applying it in multiple places. So this is a long question, but could you, I suppose, explain who Byron Katie is and then how you identified her as someone worth spending time with? Because we all have a limited number of hours and finite amount of energy, and then what you have taken from Byron, as one example.
Jim Dethmer: Okay, beautiful. If it’s okay, I want to do it in reverse order. Let me —
Tim Ferriss: Great.
Jim Dethmer: — tell you how I identified her, then tell you my experience of her, and then what I’ve taken from it. So again, I’m 66 and I started this quest of seeking when I was like 15. And along the way I found these master teachers like Byron Katie, and when I look back, if I were to deconstruct the pattern, what has happened is I find people who are aligned with my personal need, go back to pain in the center of my chest, depression, existential angst or loneliness. So I’m pretty good at refining my search down to people who are going to speak to and address those needs.
Then the second thing that’s true, and this has been true all of my life, I get drawn to people who make a big claim. They state something that on its face seems too good to be true. Like in Byron Katie’s case, she states that suffering is optional. Now I think she would understand what the Buddhists have said, is suffering is natural and normal, it’s the water in which we swim, and then suffering is optional. So I’m drawn to a big claim, all of my teachers and mentors make a big claim.
The next thing I’m drawn to is an incredibly simple process. A lot of people make big claims, but then you get involved and the process of accessing the claim is so damn complicated, that I get lost. So we can look at Byron Katie in just a minute, but in the midst of the incredible information and process and presence she’s brought forward into the world, her entire work boils down to four questions and a couple of turnarounds. That’s something I can write on a three-by-five card and turn it into a daily, if not hourly, practice. Then the next thing that’s true about everybody that I go after is, I am drawn to people who are authentic, real, transparent. I’ve got a pretty quick hypocrisy sniffer, largely because I’ve spent time in my life being hypocritical. And so I have dealt with all of that and I can smell it in other places.
So, and then the last thing I do is once I find somebody, I dive in. So I find their model and I dive in. And we can pick different people throughout our talk, but Byron Katie would be a great example. So I read her books, I listened to her on tape, on her books on tape, and then I go to her website, I digest it, and then literally I turn it into a practice. So Katie is famous for what is called inquiry. And inquiry, as we said, are just four simple questions. You take any thought, you begin with disturbing or stressful thoughts, and in this period that we’re in now, most of our minds are filled with disturbing and stressful thoughts. And the first thing you do is you write the thought down. You just write it down, and then you ask it four questions: “Is it true?” “Can I know for certain it’s true?” “When I believe the thought, how do I react?” And, “Who would I be without the thought?”
And one thing that I’ve learned early, and that I say to people who are embarking on doing any work around The Work, as Katie calls it, is that it’s not an intellectual exercise. You don’t just ask those questions to your mind and real quick answers, it’s much, much like a meditation. So you take a stressful thought, you write it down, and then you remember a circumstance where that thought was at play. So I’ll give one, today would be an example. Before we connected, I was out for my morning walk and I had a stressful thought arising around one of our kids. My daughter is today scheduled to go to Northwestern Hospital in Chicago to get an x-ray, she had spinal fusion surgery, and she’s going in to get an x-ray so she can talk to her specialist about whether the surgery worked. Well, I started stressing myself around the thought, “She shouldn’t be going to the hospital to have an x-ray.”
And I could feel myself, my nervous system was getting activated and I could feel it in my body. So then it’s an opportunity for me to simply do the meditation. So I think the thought, “She shouldn’t be going to the hospital.” Then I ask, “Is it true?” And I meditate on that, I let the answers come to me. Then, “Can I know for certain it’s true?” Then this next question, “If I couldn’t think that thought, how would I be?” Well, what arises fairly quickly is: “Peaceful, present, available to her. Available to really see her and talk to her.”
So, and when I think the thought, how do I react? Well, I get scared, contracted, I start trying to control the world. So again, the technology is so simple, it can be written on a card and practiced. So that’d be an example with Byron Katie. So in my mind, she is a transmitter of liberation and freedom, with an unbelievably simple way to get at it. Now, simple and profound in that, it’s, like so many of these things. It’s simple and transformationally profound if you do The Work. Like she says all the time, “You work The Work till The Work works you.” So I started with Byron Katie years ago and —
Tim Ferriss: May jump in, Jim, for one second?
Jim Dethmer: Yeah. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So I’d love to expand on that just for a second for people who haven’t had exposure to Byron Katie before. In an example like that, and for those people who are listening to this later, and hopefully this context is needed sooner rather than later, but the concern about the hospitals related to SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. Is the objective in that example to down-regulate your system so that you can make a calmer decision about what needs to be done or not done? The sense that I could imagine people, some people listening, are thinking, “Well, you should be looking for alternatives.” That’s a legitimate concern, so you don’t want to dismiss it, and would this exercise not lead you to dismiss it? Does that make sense?
Jim Dethmer: Absolutely.
Tim Ferriss: And so I’d love to hear how it’s an enabling tool or a tool that makes you more, I hesitate to use this word, but effective instead of complacent. Does that make sense? And this is actually something that comes up a fair amount with some of Byron Katie’s techniques, which can be extremely powerful. I mean, I’ve seen people reframe the death of a parent in ways that completely changed their lives in 15 or 20 minutes, in the sense that they might take a phrase, right? “She doesn’t need to go to the hospital,” and then rephrase it as Byron Katie does, or “She does need to go to the hospital,” “I need to go to the hospital,” and so on and so forth. And look for evidence or be forced to give evidence for each of those sort of conjugated statements, which is something else, so I don’t want to take us off-topic. But how would you speak to the fear that someone listening to this example thinks it would just make you complacent, and that you should, in fact, consider other options?
Jim Dethmer: Yeah. Great. So let me start up late, at the highest level, and then I want to come down to the incredibly practical level of my experience. So at the highest level, I think what Katie is, she is called, is going at is the possibility of freedom. The possibility of truly being free from being trapped in and suffering at the effect of the perseveration of the mind, and all the suffering that comes there. So now if you drop down a level, yes, one of the outcomes is down-regulating the system. So what we’re looking at here is doing a practice like this allows me to become present, fully present. So there are so many definitions of consciousness, so many wonderful ones, we use a very practical one, it’s just the ability to be here now in a non-triggered, non-reactive way, so that I can think better, relate better, and have better, intuitive information. So be here now in a non-triggered, non-reactive way, so that I can have better IQ, think better, EQ, emotional intelligence, and BQ, body intelligence. Better instinctual, intuitive knowledge.
So all that to say, it’s misunderstood and misused when people use it as, I like the term, like a spiritual bypass. I mean the reality is that at least when the morning started, my daughter is going to go to the hospital and get an x-ray, that’s the plan, that’s really happening. At least it appears to be happening, we’ll see because she hasn’t gone yet. So from this activated place, or in our language we use the simple term from below the line, triggered, reactive, contracted in threat and fear. There’s a limited amount of capacity for decision making, for innovation, for problem-solving. So Katie’s work, to your point, down-regulates. It doesn’t allow me to bypass reality and just kind of sit in a disengaged, demotivated kind of way, it actually frees me to be totally available to what are the possibilities that I wouldn’t otherwise see because of the contraction and constrain of my activated thinking. That is the exact purpose.
So after I did The Work, I called my daughter, and first and foremost was able to be present with her. And then I’m living in, what is it that wants to happen here? And in just chatting with you a few minutes before we even started, you had a couple of ideas that came and became possibilities that weren’t possibilities before. So it isn’t to be naive, it isn’t to be complacent. In fact, I find that people who are more present are less complacent. Complacency is one of the actual effects of not being fully present, it’s an escape move. But people who are fully present are everything but complacent, they have all energy available and at rest for action that needs to be taken. That’s a big statement, but does that get a little bit at what you’re pointing at Tim?
Tim Ferriss: Oh, it totally does. And I think you described it very well. It’s something that I struggled with even in the beginning with meditation. I, and many of my friends also were afraid of losing their edge, that was the phrase that was used most often. And my experience has been that many of these tools, these modalities, don’t cause you to lose your edge, although I’m sure that there are many ways to become complacent, but they do in effect help you to turn down the volume of static so that you can hear the signal, and the various types of signals, so I absolutely agree. And I think that the underscoring of complacency as an example of non-presence is very important. Could we also talk to, and this won’t just be a list of influences, but I do think that it’s helpful to give a few examples. Gay Hendricks. Who is Gay Hendricks? And maybe you could speak to sort of his audacious claims or claim, and sort of run it through the same framework as you did with Katie, if you wouldn’t mind.
Jim Dethmer: Beautiful. If it’s okay, I just want to go back and grab one thread for a moment about —
Tim Ferriss: Yes, please.
Jim Dethmer: — complacency. One of the things I’ve observed in myself and then others that I talked to is that actually when somebody starts to do something like meditation or The Work by Byron Katie or these other modalities, there is often, not always, but often a period where something that looks like complacency does emerge. And I think there are many reasons for that, but one of them is that a lot, not all, but a lot of high performers are motivated by some sort of fear at the core of their being, and that motivation has served them very, very well, the fear of a loss of approval or control or security, like a primal instinctual thing. And a lot of the most achievement-oriented, successful people have a large engine of fear sitting in there.
So when you start dealing with that, one of the things that they’re going to face is, “If I’m not motivated, either consciously or unconsciously, by the things that have motivated me, whether it’s fear or extrinsic reward or things like that, what am I going to be motivated by?” And I think that is a really important question for people to explore and discuss, and in my experience, other forms of motivation come online, like creativity, like playfulness, like love. There’s a whole set of motivations that are actually incredibly powerful and don’t leave much of a toxic residue like fear or guilt or shame does. But there is sometimes a gap, so when I’m talking to people and I say, “Now listen, if you’re going to start to do some of these things and unwind some of your core motivations, we’re going to need to anticipate that there might be a period where you’re going to be a no man’s land, and you’re going to go, ‘Holy shit, I’ve lost my mojo.'”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Jim Dethmer: And then it’s, “Can we trust that something else is going to emerge which will be equally, if not even more motivational and leave less of a toxic residue personally and relationally?” So I just wanted to say that before I talk about Gay, if that okay.
Tim Ferriss: No, I appreciate that. That’s a really important point, and I also experienced that. I mean there’s a period of time, it’s not necessarily years and years and years, not necessarily months and months and months, but it could be, there is a gap period where the car’s in the shop and the transmission is getting replaced, so to speak, and you’re not going to be traveling very quickly while that is happening necessarily. So thank you for backtracking and —
Jim Dethmer: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: — or at least pausing to describe that.
Jim Dethmer: Yeah, thank you. So let’s talk about Gay Hendricks and his wife Katie. So Gay and Katie Hendricks. I found my way to Gay shortly after Debbie and I got together, so Deb and I had been together for about 25 years, we just celebrated our 20th anniversary. We’ve known each other since we were 15 but we were married to other people and then found our way back to each other. And just after a short period of time being married, Debbie said, “Hey, I’d like to go to one of these Gay and Katie Hendricks workshops.” And we read one of their books, a book I recommend countlessly to people called Conscious Loving. And so we went to one of their workshops, by the way, it was at that workshop that I met my partner who you know, Diana Chapman.
Tim Ferriss: She’s great.
Jim Dethmer: And I sat, now this, now, we’ll go back to the same thing. So I sat in the room with Gay and Katie, and here was one of their big claims, one of their phrases that they taught me was,”Zone of genius.” I love that phrase. They’re expert in this idea of helping people live and work and be from their zone of genius. But one of their zones of genius is human relationships, at all levels, but especially intimate relationships. I’ll never forget, Deb and I were at a workshop in Ojai, California, and in the first few hours, Gay makes this preposterous statement. “It’s been,” I think he said, “15 years since Katie and I had a drama-based fight.” Now that doesn’t mean they don’t have healthy conflict, if people know these two, they are not shrinking wallflowers, they’re powerful, alive, vital, co-creative people. But they had removed from their relationship the toxic energy of blame and criticism. So “It’s been years since we had a drama-based fight and we no longer blame and criticize,” and I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Now, that was a preposterous claim. And then they said, “And there are a couple of simple tools,” so that met my next criteria, preposterous claim, simple tool, and as I got, and Debbie and I had got [inaudible] with them, they’re just as authentic and real. And I had my sniff test out for years, “Are they bullshitting? Is this manufactured?” I couldn’t find it. So Debbie and I dove into the simple tools in terms of our relationship, and I’d say it’s one of the primary reasons we have what I would call an exquisite relationship to this day. So Gay and Katie are experts at world-class relationships, breathing, no small thing in this day and age by the way, breathing, embodiment, living in your body and living, discovering and living in your zone of genius. Now they do a lot of other stuff, but what I have taken, and continue to take from them, and smuggle and transport out to the world, is legion in these regards.
Tim Ferriss: Could you give a few examples of tools or techniques that you think might, they don’t necessarily have to apply specifically to this quarantine period that a lot of people are experiencing, but anything that comes to mind that you could give or offer as specific techniques or concepts that you found particularly powerful from Gay and Katie Hendricks?
Jim Dethmer: Oh, absolutely. So the first, let’s start very basically here, and you know this and many of the people who listen to this knows but we cannot be reminded enough, begin with breathing, and specifically, conscious breathing. And one of the techniques Gay taught us was what he called a simple four-by-four breath. Now it’s turned into box breathing and things like that, but it’s simply breathe with a four-second inhale and a four-second exhale. Breathe into the belly and bring your attention to the breath, so you feel the breath going in, going down, the pause in between the inhale and the exhale, and then you feel it going back out to the pause. And what it does, and everybody knows this, is it changes your blood and brain chemistry. Because when we’re activated, you look at social media, you look at the news, most of us are living in a constantly activated state right now.
So if we’re willing, and sometimes we’re not, we get addicted to the chemicals of this heightened state, but if we’re willing to shift, then breathing is the first shift move. Four, four-by-four breaths, 32 seconds with your attention on your breath, so you don’t do this while thinking about the virus or while thinking about the food you need in your house or while thinking about your child going to the hospital to get an x-ray. You bring your attention to the breath and it equilibrates the system. Now there are many, many other breathing techniques, but that would be a huge one.
Tim Ferriss: When you bring, sorry to interrupt, this is my job is to interrupt, I apologize. When you say focus on the breath, there are many different ways to focus on the breath. Could you describe how you focus on the breath? Is it the air, the contact, the nostrils, sort of air coming in, air coming out? Is it the belly? How do you focus on the breath or direct attention to the breath?
Jim Dethmer: Yeah, so beautiful. Well, the first thing I want to say, to create the shift move, it doesn’t really matter how you focus on the breath. Now what I mean by that is you could simply say, “Where do I feel the breath in the body?” So let’s say you feel the chest expanding and contracting, or you feel the belly rising and falling, or you feel the breath at the tip of the nostrils or the back of the throat. You can feel it all the way through and all the way back out. For this exercise, the key is that you’ve moved your attention from the worrying mind, to the breath. It’s the movement of attention.
So I just say to people, “Where do you most feel the breath in the body? Go there. And leave your attention there for just 30 seconds. And when it wanders, just bring it back.” The combination of deepening the inhale and the exhale, breathing into the belly. Put your hand on your belly at the beltline and see if you can move the hand with the breath and bringing your attention to it is an instantaneous way to de-stress in the moment. Does that make sense?
Tim Ferriss: It does. Where do you tend to focus?
Jim Dethmer: Where do I tend to focus? It depends on what period of my life I’m in. So I’ve been —
Tim Ferriss: Right now, the last week.
Jim Dethmer: Good. So right now, if I’m doing a breathing exercise, I focus at the top of my upper lip, the little triangle at the bottom of my nose and the top of my upper lip. One of the reasons I focus there is it really invites my concentration. I can feel my chest rise and expand, but if I’m going to feel cool air coming in and warm air going out and I’m going to feel it on my upper lip, that requires a level of concentration, which I like because it takes me away from my cataclysmic thoughts.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I just want to mention one thought that popped to mind, that is a corollary to that in marksmanship and whether it’s archery or using long guns or anything else, there’s an expression which is “Focus small, miss small.” And what that means is, if your target in your mind is something the size of a dinner plate, then you will often, if you miss, miss by a multiple of the dinner plate, but if you’re focusing on, say a very small target, a specific tiny piece of bark or a tiny hair, if you’re hunting for instance, that you will tend to miss by a smaller margin. So it makes a lot of sense that what you’re describing would hone the attention because you have a smaller aperture through which to focus, if that makes any sense.
Jim Dethmer: Yeah, it’s beautiful. Can I give you a second way that the Hendricks, what I learned from Gay and Katie, has been transformational in the midst of what we’re all going through? It was from Gay and Katie, that I first learned how to be with feeling states in a way that was productive, helpful, in a way that allowed me to not repress or suppress or express in nonproductive, non-effective ways. And in the midst of what we’re going through now, I think a lot of what’s going on is people’s feeling states are greatly activated. So there’s a lot of fear, there’s a lot of anger, there’s a lot of sadness, three core emotions. And generally speaking, we don’t know how to be with feelings in a way that allows them to do what feelings are meant to do. We’re hardwired to have feelings as mammals, and most of us don’t know how to be with them, especially heightened or activated feelings.
So Gay and Katie and others have come up with wonderful technologies for how to be with feelings. So if you’re, again, getting a load of information from whatever source you’re getting it and fear shows up, they taught us, again, an incredibly simple way to be with feelings, that keep you vital and alive and available, without being contracted in the feelings. So that would be another very meaningful tool that they brought to our lives.
Tim Ferriss: How do you do that? If somebody wanted to practice this, what might a practice look like?
Jim Dethmer: Okay, great. I’ll do it as though someone is sitting here with me. I would say just begin by taking a deep breath. So you kind of get here, just one deep breath, it doesn’t have to be a lot. And then I would simply ask the question, “What feeling is here now?” Now to help people answer that question, we like to give them a shortlist of possible feelings because it makes answering very simple. So again, I learned from Gay and Katie the five core feelings: sad, angry, scared, joy, and creative sexual feelings. Let’s just go with those as the five core. We could also talk about shame or guilt, things like that, but if you just go with the core five, and then in this day and age, I like to simplify it down to the core three: sad, angry, scared. So I like to say to people, “Before you can get emotionally intelligent, you have to be emotionally literate, which is just the ability to pause and ask yourself, ‘What am I feeling?’ and have an answer.”
Tim Ferriss: That is so important. Could you just repeat that? Because I want you to say it as much for me as for anyone else, but I just think that’s an eloquent way to state something extremely important. Could you say that one more time please?
Jim Dethmer: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Before you can be emotionally intelligent, EQ, you have to be emotionally literate. And emotional literacy means that at any moment you can pause and ask yourself, “What feeling is here now?” and have an answer. I learned this when I first got married to my first wife. We were maybe a year into our relationship and started to have conflict, so we went to marriage therapy. And we’re sitting in the office — I’ll never forget this. And the therapist at one point says to me, “Jim, what are you feeling?” And I said a number of statements. I think the first one was, “I feel like she’s wrong.” Basically some version of, “I feel like she’s got her head up her ass” was basically it.
And I’ll never forget the therapist saying, “Those aren’t feelings. Those are thoughts. Any time you say the word ‘I feel’ followed by the word ‘that,’ it’s not going to be a feeling. It’s going to be a thought.” And I thought — I was in the midst of graduate school. I thought, I have never heard that before. So he asked me again and again, I answered it with some sort of thought. So I’ll never forget, he turns around in his chair, grabs a book off the shelf, to this day I remember the title of the book. He opened the book, handed it to me. It was page 73, and on it was a list of feelings. This is how unemotionally literate I was. By the way, I was a meaningful athlete, I cared a lot about sports. I never had a high school football coach say to me, “Jim, what are you feeling right now?”
I mean, feelings were at that point meant to be irrelevant. It was just performance. Feelings were just a distraction to performance. By the way, some people still relate to them that way and I think that’s a dangerous position. So he hands me the book and he says, “Now any time I ask you ‘What are you feeling?’ I want you to say, ‘I feel’ and then answer it with one of these words.” Now there were a lot of words, so that’s why I say, “What if it’s just sad, angry, scared?” Now anger can be a big range. It can be a little bit irritated, a little bit agitated, frustrated, all the way over to anger, to rageful. Fear can be a little bit apprehensive, a little bit nervous, all the way over to fear or terror. We’re just going to call everything on the continuum fear. And sadness can be a little down, blue, little melancholy, to sadness, to brokenhearted, grief.
For the sake of learning, we’re just going to make it simple, sad, scared, angry. So again, if we back up, I’d say take a breath. Everybody takes a breath. And then I say, “In this moment, what are you feeling?” And if you check, you go like, “Hmm, I feel scared.” Great. Just that statement, “I feel scared,” starts to shift the process because we’ve accessed a different part of the brain that isn’t the amygdala, that isn’t in that fight, flight, freeze reactivity. That is the one who interprets and puts it into language. So if you say it out loud or just say to yourself, I feel scared, is the first step. The second step, and this is where it gets really good, is you have to understand “What is a feeling?” Such a good question, and we could riff on this for days, but basically a feeling is a set of vibrations or sensations in or on the body, usually combined with a thought.
So there’s a thought and there’s a feeling, what we often call the cognitive emotive loop. But a feeling is a set of sensations in an on the body. That’s what it primarily is. So the second question we ask is, first question, “What feeling is here? Fear.” Now this is where it gets interesting. “Where is the fear in the body?” And I work with people all the time who know nothing about this, but it’s just instinctual. They go, “Oh, it’s in my belly, it’s in the center of my chest, it’s in my jaw.” Great. It’s in my belly. So what’s the feeling? Where is it? Then the next question is, “What are the sensations doing?” They’re like, “There’s nausea. They’re boiling, roiling, contracting, heating, pulsing.” Okay, great. “So what’s the feeling? Fear.” “Where is it? In my belly.” “What’s happening?”
Then you say — then the next question is, “Could you just place your attention on the sensations for a couple of moments?” And this is a key, Tim, because at this point it’s a kind of a subtle move to give the feeling presence because again, most of us don’t have a healthy relationship with fear. So when fear comes up, we repress it, suppress it, or get paralyzed by it. Here, we’re just letting fear be. And you don’t have to do this for very long, just for a couple of moments. Could you just allow the belly to gurgle? If it’s anger, could you just allow the heat in your face? If it’s sadness, could you just allow the pressure in the eyes, the tears? And that move of allow is what gets the energy releasing. When we repress or suppress feelings, they get stuck. Literally, they can get stuck for hours, days, months, years.
Repressed feelings can turn into moods and postures because we haven’t let them flow through the body. These feelings are made to come online, course through our body, and if we were just like your dog or my grandchildren below the age of two, they just feel the feeling and it goes through in moments, at the most, a minute, minute and a half, it goes through and once it goes through, we’re back into presence. And then the last step of emotional intelligence is ask the feeling what’s it here to show you? So get real simple. “What feeling is here?” Name it. “I feel scared.” “Where is it?” “In the belly.” “What’s it doing?” “Gurgling, roiling, pulsing, pumping, heating, twisting.” “Could I just allow it? Could I just give it attention and let it be?” Like with fear, the antidote to fear is acceptance.
When my grandkids are scared, I don’t say to them, “Hey, there’s nothing to be scared about. Stop being scared.” First thing I do, and I got this from Dan Siegel and his marvelous work, is I breathe. Then I sit and I get present with my grandchildren and I say, “Oh, sweetie, you’re scared. It’s okay to be scared. Grandfather gets scared all the time.” And by that active acceptance and then just maybe, “Hey, could we just breathe together for a minute? You and me.” Or if they’re in anger, I might say, “Would you want to just beat a bag for a second? Take your little bat and hit a chair, so you get it out of your body.” And when feelings are met with acceptance, they just naturally release. They don’t cause us all kinds of somatic struggles the rest of our lives. They don’t destroy relationships.
And then once the fear has been released from the body, then we ask the emotion. The purpose of fear is to teach us to pay attention or wake up. That’s what fear does. So you just ask, “Wow, fear came into my body. What am I being invited to pay attention to?” With anger, anger’s inviting us to see that something isn’t of service and it needs to be stopped. Anger is the energy of stop or boundaries. Sadness is something needs to be grieved or let go of. So this is — I learned this from Gay and Katie and it changed my life and it changed our marriage. One of our commitments in our marriage is we commit to feel all of our feelings and we say we commit to feel all of our feelings, all the way through to completion and we commit to support the other person to feel their feelings.
So if Debbie’s having a feeling, I don’t say, “Oh, Deb, stop.” Or I don’t try to fix it. The first thing I do is I just breathe and I say, “What feeling’s here? Where is it? Can we just be with it? I’ll just sit with you while you feel you’re feeling.” By the way, this produces tremendous closeness and connection. So I’ll pause there because again I’ve said a lot, Tim, and I imagine that brings up something for you or some point of clarification or a story of how this shows up for you.
Tim Ferriss: It does. I don’t want to, even though, despite the narcissistic name of my podcast, Tim Ferriss Show, I don’t want to dominate the conversation, but it does bring a number of things to mind. I would say that the first is an insight, one of the more important insights that I’ve had over the last 10 years, which came in a non-ordinary state, which we may or may not get into, but it’s not necessary to be in altered states to have this type of insight. And that was for me, it came as a simple statement and the statement was, “You don’t find peace through understanding, you find peace through acceptance.” Now that can be — I’ll repeat it and then I’m going to provide some context. You don’t find peace through understanding. You find peace through acceptance.
The context is number one. I think this applies to many people, it applies to me, and this is a personalized statement, it was in reference to me in my life, is that I think for people who are very thought dominant and have been sort of rational, logical language, data-driven, for a long time, I put myself in that camp. Someone who, like you, for a long time viewed emotions and feelings as at best, a distraction and more often as a handicap or liability, that if we could think our way out of our suffering, we would have done it by now. If that is our most overdeveloped and overused muscle. And that for me at least, the greater opportunity is to accept as many things as possible, that, this is the caveat, that enable me and don’t disable me.
So this doesn’t mean you simply become a piece of driftwood getting thrown around in the rapids of life. I’ve been crunching numbers and looking at endless hours of data, over the last eight weeks at least, that have been very, very, very critical for decision-making. So I haven’t just become a passive actor in life, but if I’m looking at my own sources of suffering specifically and the vast majority of which is unnecessary or blown out of proportion, the path to peace for me is more acceptance, not more understanding.
And that, I think, comes at its core, down to accepting and feeling these emotions that we might be prone to labeling as negative. Anger, for instance, I’ve had a lot of difficulty with anger in the last few days, which I think on some level is, I want to credit Krista Tippett, I believe, who said this, has an incredible podcast called On Being, for saying that and I don’t want to convolute things with pain, I’m sorry that anger is pain shown publicly. So I think that my anger during these times is very closely related to fear. And that just going through this exercise with you and listening very intently over the last few minutes, has allowed some of that to pass. It’s as though for much of my life when I’ve had, say terrifying thunderclouds and lightning that pass overhead, I encase it by resisting it. I sort of encase it in a glass bowl so that it can’t move. And that for me at least, it’s been tremendously enabling to accept more.
And from there I would love to segue to what seems to be a related question and this is a question that I believe you ask leaders, different people you work with, and that is, it’s one of several questions and I believe there’s an order to it. And so you can answer this any way you want, but the question is: can you accept yourself for being scared and below the line? And I would be curious to hear why you ask that and what the importance of that is. And you briefly described what below the line means, but what is the importance of the question; can you accept yourself for being scared and below the line?
Jim Dethmer: Okay, great. So yeah, that’s the second question of four. Again, our attempt to distill the technology down to something you could write on the back of a three-by-five card. So the first question is very simple, it’s just, “Where are you?” So in this now moment, where are you? And the answer is either above the line or below the line. Again, above the line is present, available, in a state of trust. Below the line is in threat, contracted. Just, where are you? We call this the context question. “How are you being with the content of your life?” This is a big distinction. The content of life is whatever’s occurring. If you and I went out and had a beer together and just talked, we would talk about the content of our life.
But we’re committed to the idea that the context is equally, if not more, important. So where are you with the content? Where am I with the content of my daughter going to the hospital? Or where am I with the content of the virus today? Or where am I with the content of a technical glitch while talking to you? Where am I above or below the line? And often, we say probably 80 percent of the time, maybe more, 90 percent of the time, most of us are below the line. It’s just a natural human tendency to scan the world, look for threat, and get reactive. But the question “Where are you?” brings awareness. We step outside of ourself and we say, “Ah, okay, I’m reactive right now.” And then the second question is, “Can you accept yourself for being reactive?” And it’s just like we were saying before, usually when we’re reactive, even though what might be showing up is anger or sadness or irritation or something like that, underneath we’re scared and scared of losing one of the big three, usually approval, control, or security.
I like the idea, I got this from Hale Dwoskin and the Sedona method. All of us have these three core wants: wanting to be approved of — liked, loved, valued — wanting control, and wanting security. So when we’re below the line, we’re experiencing a threat to one or multiple of those. So where am I below the line? And then like we’ve said, the antidote to that threatened state is acceptance. “Can you just accept yourself for being scared?” It’s such a simple question and yet it’s, first of all, it requires that you’re willing to admit that you’re triggered and reactive and in a threatened state. And then could you accept yourself? And kind of like what you alluded to earlier, a lot of people can’t accept themselves for feeling what they’re feeling.
They think they shouldn’t be scared or they shouldn’t be having the experience. If they were more mature, more enlightened, whatever, they wouldn’t have the experience. But that just causes us to become more reactive. So the second question of the four is: “Can you give yourself just a breath of acceptance?” So that puts it in context. And the third question is: “Are you willing to shift?” And the shift here is, are you willing to be with the same content? Content is going to stay the same from above the line. And then the fourth question is: “How are you going to shift?” So that’s our attempt to distill this process down to four simple questions.
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And I’d like to focus, which may be a lesser way to focus, but nonetheless, because we have been talking about acceptance or willingness to be with, say how you’re feeling and this is something that I’m struggling with right now, so I’m going to, much like you seek out your teachers for personal reasons or from individual context, I’m going to do that right now. So hopefully that’ll help some people out there and feel free to redirect however you like. But one of the most popular highlights from your book The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership — this is looking at Kindle highlights — is, “Self-blame is equally as toxic as blaming others or circumstances and it is not taking responsibility.” Okay, I want to just put a bookmark in that. Then one of our other mutual friends really highlighted how he loves your perspective and thinking on personal accountability.
So this is what he said: “One of the beautiful ways Jim helps people in relationships is really helping them understand their own accountability and role in dynamics they may feel are being caused by the other. Maybe explore his views on personal accountability.” And I’ve witnessed this in you over and over and over and over again. You’re acutely aware of how you contribute to some of your own sufferings, certain types of situations, et cetera. What I, I think, struggle with is distinguishing and enacting for myself the personal accountability without it turning into self-blame. How would you speak to that? Because at face value, it makes sense to me, self-blame, just that word is so loaded, is equally as toxic as blaming others or circumstances and it is not taking responsibility. So how do you distinguish between those?
Jim Dethmer: Yeah, and I love that question. So when you’re working in relationship, people get pretty quickly that blaming others causes all kinds of drama. And so pretty quickly they can say, “Wow, I should begin to lessen the amount of blame.” But then what they do is they still think the situation is a problem. Whether it’s in a parenting thing or in a relationship, a marriage or at work, they still think the situation is a problem. And if I am not going to blame you for screwing it up, then who am I going to blame? Well, one big option is to blame oneself. It’s just natural and normal. Somebody screwed it up, the options are: I’m going to blame you, I’m going to blame me, or I’m going to blame them. The system, the ones who kind of screwed it up for all of us.
But all three of those are still keeping me in a contracted consciousness, where I’m committed, and this is a key phrase, to being right, that somebody screwed it up and needs to have done it differently. And when I am in that contracted consciousness of believing somebody screwed it up, I mean, just look at the world we’re in right now. Did the Chinese screw it up? Did our government screw it up? They’re the them; they screwed it up. And now as it’s getting more localized, now we’re looking at all the ways that in smaller micro-communities, we’re placing blame on each other and then we go back to blaming ourselves. I should’ve washed my hands one more time. I should have self-quarantined sooner. I should have stocked my pantry earlier.
But you’ll notice that blame is always a limiting, contracting, fault-finding energy. And it’s always rooted in the need to be right. So the antidote to blame, and this is a big assumption, this is a big deal, as long as I think something is fundamentally screwed up, my ego identity is going to look for who to blame. The shift is what if what is occurring is actually here for my and our learning? So before we go to the meta issue that’s confronting all of us right now, like if I’m working with a team and let’s say they’re in drama around, something went down on one of their lines. And at first they’re contracted, they’re below the line and they start finger-pointing and blaming. “Well, you screwed it up. I told you before that needed servicing.” Or somebody else says, “You screwed it up. You didn’t allocate enough funds.” And then they turn it towards themselves, “I screwed it up.” But that’s all predicated on it’s a bad thing that the line went down and of course, in a very practical way, it is. I get that. But that just puts us in a low-learning state. In a high-learning state, what if we shift to there’s no need to blame anybody or hold anybody accountable. So accountability to me is actually, the root is to take account for what went wrong. And I think it’s actually counterproductive. I like radical responsibility. So instead of blaming somebody for what went wrong, what about if we take responsibility for what we can learn? And what if this is a possibility for us individually and in relationship and in the collective to learn? So once I can postulate something as a learning opportunity, the need to blame diminishes. Blame comes with something as screwed up and fault needs to be assigned.
Radical responsibility comes from — there’s a chance to learn. So how did we co-create this so we can get our learnings? So there’s a world of difference between those two approaches to life. One keeps us in a high-learning state and one puts us in a low-learning state. Whenever we’re in blame and fault finding, we’re not going to learn much. When we’re in radical responsibility, the possibility for learning is exponential, infinite, literally. Does that make sense, Tim?
Tim Ferriss: It does. Would you mind giving an example from your personal experience, whether it’s in your life or with teams or clients individually?
Jim Dethmer: Oh, I don’t mind at all. So let me think of a situation going on in my life so I can just reveal it to you. Yeah, so a typical thing would be I look at what I’m currently complaining about. That’d be a place that I’d start. I’d just look at what am I currently complaining about. And one of the things that pops up for me right now is I’m complaining that all of our kids are not together. We’re dispersed. A couple of kids are in Europe and then kids are in Chicago and kids are in Michigan and it can look like a problem. It can look like a problem to be fixed, especially when I kind of take on my father hen energy and I want to get all the chickens back in the roost and get them under my protective cover and when I get there, then I can start to look for who to blame that the circumstance is the way that it is. And I can start to identify all kinds of people and circumstances and conditions that I could start to blame.
Some of them are quite obvious. I could blame the current virus, I could blame the sheltering in place, I could blame the limited space that we have up here. I could just start blaming things and then that’s going to put me in a low-learning state. If instead I say, “Wow, we’re all not together right now, what could we learn from that and get genuinely curious? How have we created ourselves not together? How could not being together be for us? What could we learn from not being together? What possibilities arise from not being physically together that wouldn’t be possible if we were physically together?” So now I’ve moved from needing to blame people, circumstances, or conditions to getting curious about what I can learn from the situation being just the way it is. I’ve changed my entire relationship to the content. Does that make sense?
Let me give a practical business illustration. One of our coaches was working with a team and they’re a manufacturer. They produce stuff and they were having a very, very difficult time filling one shift. And as it would be typical in a situation like this, it’s a problem. We need to fill the shift. We need to populate it with better workers. So when they first go in, they’re basically blaming. People, circumstances, or conditions, that’s what we’re going to blame. They decided to shift and say, “How could we each take responsibility for how we have created ourself under resource?” Now that’s a radical question. How have we created ourselves under resource so we can learn from it, not so we can blame ourselves?
And they spent several hours literally brainstorming all the ways that they had created themselves under-resourced. And from that place of above the line being with the content from curiosity and from responsibility instead of blame, they started to source all kinds of innovative ways to solve the short flow of human resource and literally changed and solved it because they got done blaming, complaining, bitching, moaning, and took responsibility because they were willing to see it as a learning opportunity.
Tim Ferriss: The language strikes me as so important as a reflection of thinking and how thinking can inform language, but language can also inform thinking and therefore inform that, I can’t recall what you labeled it, but the sort of the linguistic emotional loop.
Jim Dethmer: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: The how can we take responsibility for co-creating X so that we can learn, not blame ourselves or anyone else. Something along those lines. Just the importance of the actual framing through language seems really significant.
Jim Dethmer: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s, if you’re open to it, hop to, these are all related of course, but first a story from my experience and I want to unpack some of that. So you and I first really connected this past summer when I was working on a book about saying no and, which I ended up writing 200 pages of and the great irony of the notebook is that in the process of finding all of these tools for parsing what to say yes and no to, decided to say no to the book and ultimately returned the advance and canceled the book contract.
Now that was in — just as you’ve jokingly said to me that I’ve ruined your life because I’ve introduced you to A, B, and C, I’m going to jokingly say that you ruined my life because you gave me all these great tools that ultimately led me to canceling the notebook, which I will share content of at some point. But there are a few pieces that jumped out at me and I think that they are worth at least explaining on a macro level so that people don’t think, in case there are people that are mistaking what we’ve talked about for the last five or 10 minutes. Not saying that you don’t give straight talk, that it’s not important to have straight talk because the context in which we ended up really speaking was how do you have honest, in some cases blunt, in some cases difficult conversations?
How do you create and respect and protect boundaries, which really can entail some, for most people, uncomfortable conversations? And so I want to shift gears to talk about that and a number of concepts and tools hopped out in our conversations that I found really useful and here’s one that I’d love to hear you elaborate on because it seems to also strike a chord with a lot of your clients. I’m going to paraphrase here and then I want you to take it and run with it and correct me if I’m screwing anything up. Here we go.
All right, this was going to be in a chapter called The TK Commandments, which just means “to come” in writings. You can search for stuff you need to fill in later. So it’s going to be like the 14 commandments of saying no, something like that. This was one of the commandments. You’re nearly always choosing one or two paths, so make it conscious. The first is obligation, which leads to resentment, which leads to entitlement, or you are choosing two, freedom, which leads to appreciation, which leads to generosity. And this sounds very kind of highfalutin, high concept, but could you kind of help land the plane and explain what this means?
Jim Dethmer: Yes. And how about if I do it in the context of my relationship with Debbie? So it’s got a practical place where we’re playing.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s do it.
Jim Dethmer: All right, great. So the first thing that Debbie and I established early on in our relationship was a set of commitments that we wanted to engage each other in our relationship with. And these commitments become these 15 commitments, most of which we got from Gay and Katie and then a bunch of other people that we’ve referenced. So early on, one of the commitments we did is we said the big commitment was we commit to being close and to removing all barriers to closeness. That was a big cornerstone commitment. And then the other commitment that was germane to this is we commit to reveal and not conceal as a means to creating intimacy, not just physical intimacy.
And I like intimacy if you hyphenate it into-me-see. So we said, okay, we want to have a relationship where we remove barriers to closeness and from years of working with couples and our own experience, one of the barriers to closeness is withholding and withdrawing and then projecting our stuff onto people. So we instead we’re going to reveal, that was the big commitment and you and I’ve talked. Any time you commit to have an authentic, real, transparent relationship, you are committing to messiness. Now in our experience, the messiness is worth it, but it does lead to messiness. Now one of the things we decided was that we weren’t going to have a codependent relationship and we were going to use candor, revealing ourselves authentically to have a cocommitted versus codependent relationship.
Tim Ferriss: Could you define codependent? I know you’re going to get there, but —
Jim Dethmer: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, let me just define it the way — I want to give a particular definition to it based on what you have teed up. So a codependent relationship is I’m going to take responsibility for your happiness and you’re going to take responsibility for my happiness and I’m not going to take responsibility for my happiness and you’re not going to take it for years. We’re going to take it for each other. So now I’m going to start to control your happiness. I’m going to feel responsible for it. And there are countless ways that I’m going to try to control your happiness, minimize your unhappiness, maximize your happiness. One of the ways is I’m not going to say what I really want and I’m not going to say what I don’t want. I’m not going to have a clear no and I’m not going to have a clear yes because if I’m honest about my no and yes, there is a possibility you will be upset. And my job in a codependent relationship is to keep you from being upset.
By the way, at the bottom of that is I’m keeping you from being upset because I’m going to get upset if you get upset with me and that’s the codependent enmeshment. In a cocommitted relationship, and this is a radical way to live in my experience, but profoundly meaningful, I commit to be responsible for my own happiness and well-being, and Debbie commits to be responsible for her own happiness and well-being. Now what that leads to is a commitment to be honest and real about what we want and don’t want. So you brought it up Tim, but in a codependent relationship, the pattern is that people do things from obligation, should, have to, duty. So let’s say I stay home and I watched the kids out of obligation, not from freedom. And then after I’ve watched the kids for a while, while you’re staying for late meetings or traveling or whatever, now I feel resentful. So I didn’t have a whole body yes to watching the kids. I did it out of obligation.
Tim Ferriss: It didn’t feel like you were free to choose.
Jim Dethmer: That’s exactly right, because we weren’t committed to having a real relationship. I was codependent and thought, if I refuse, you’re going to get upset and you’re working so damn hard and you’re taking that extra trip, so I’m going to live from should, but then that subtle toxic hardening of my heart is going to occur. I’m going to get a little resentful, a little pissed off. Then that’s going to lead to entitlement, which is going to look like this. You’re going to show up at home and I’m going to go, “Listen, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to go out with my buddies on Friday night and we’re going to party down and party hard,” underneath subtext being, “I don’t really give a damn what you think because I’m entitled to that because I watched the kids.”
So obligation leads to resentment, leads to entitlement, and that turns into a vicious cycle in a codependent relationship. In a cocommitted relationship, I say to Debbie, “Listen, I don’t ever want you, in our relationship, to do anything from obligation. I don’t. First and foremost, I want you to tell me what you genuinely want. I want to know you and we say all the time, you’re not responsible for my happiness. If you tell me what you genuinely want, and I unhappy myself to your point,” — funny languaging there, she doesn’t make me unhappy. I unhappy myself — “That’s my responsibility and I’ll be responsible for that. What I want you to do is tell me what you really want, what you have a yes to and what you have a no to,” and when she makes that decision from freedom, let’s say she really believes me and she drops into herself and she feels free to say what it is she wants, that’s going to lead —
So freedom instead of obligation, that’s going to lead instead to resentment. It’s going to lead to appreciation. She’s going to have a natural upwelling inside of herself appreciating herself and appreciating me in our relationship because she feels free to express herself and that freedom is going to lead to generosity instead of entitlement, which is going to look like generosity of spirit because she’s operating that way. It’s going to be generosity of spirit towards me and towards our relationship. So I’m deconstructing from you got to first start with what are we committed to? This is what you and I talked about, Tim, when we were talking about this. If all of a sudden most of a person’s relationships are built on obligation, if you all of a sudden say, “Well, I’m just going to lead from freedom and decide what I have a yes to and what I have a no to,” that’s going to probably cause a shit show in your relationships because you haven’t faced and addressed that underneath is this codependent enmeshment.
And until that gets addressed, trying to say we’re going to live from clear yeses and clear nos and from freedom and personal responsibility for our happiness is not the right conversation. You’ve got to go back to the core of what the relationship is built on and have what we call a commitment conversation. Like I said, when Deb and I started, we said we’re going to be close, which I don’t recommend that for all couples by the way. A lot of couples don’t want to be close there. They have a transactional relationship designed to allow them to get where they’re going in the world. They don’t want closeness, they want high functionality at a productivity level. But in our case, we wanted closeness. So we said we’re going to be close and we’re going to remove all barriers to closeness.
Then we just started looking at what causes us to not be close. Well, one of them was starting to live from obligation instead of freedom, taking responsibility for the other person’s happiness rather than taking responsibility for our own happiness. And we just started to identify all the blockages to closeness again, largely influenced and coached by Gay and Katie Hendricks and others. So I’ll pause there. Does that make sense?
Tim Ferriss: It does make sense. It definitely makes sense. And I want to just highlight where the rubber meets the road. Both of our mutual friends, and we probably have more, actually we have more than two, but the two that I keep referencing, both asked, they sent maybe five or six bullets each, and they both asked me to discuss your marriage with Debbie because they both said, “Remarkable marriage, incredible marriage. What does he think are the cores of healthy, dynamic, passionate relationships?” You can guess who phrased it that way. We won’t name him. And then he has an amazing marriage. I’d be interested to have a riff on what makes a good partner relationship, so on and so forth. So you actually have over a long period of time put these practices into action. So I just want to highlight that for people also, this isn’t an academic discussion. I don’t know if this would be totally related. Well actually, I’ll make one comment and then I’ll follow up with that question.
The comment is that this obligation, and this is just from our prior notes from phone calls over the summer, but this obligation, which leads to resentment, which leads to entitlement can take a lot of forms, right? And one example that you gave me at one point I believe was an employee. I’ve been doing all this for you, something from obligation, so you owe me. I’m entitled to get something in return for all that I’ve done for you. I had to work overtime, for instance, therefore I’m entitled to steal pens or whatever it might be. It starts off small and generally it doesn’t get smaller over time. And a lot of this, and I want you to fact check me if I’m wrong on this, but much of our conversations, including what you just described, came down to being willing to have very candid, and what many people would consider, uncomfortable conversations.
And I think that that is never more important than right now where a lot of people are feeling fear. You have many people who are spun up emotionally, not just from the current circumstances but from their life and childhood experiences, which are now knocking on the door again to say hello in very loud volume. So the ability in close quarters during say shelter at home mandates strikes me as really important. It’s been very important for me and my partner at least. What are some of the candid or uncomfortable conversations that are the most important to have, if any come to mind, aside from what we’ve been discussing?
Jim Dethmer: Yeah, yeah. Just a quick aside, shelter at home, if you’re sheltering at home with somebody you don’t like, somebody that you’ve been able to avoid difficult conversations with because you’ve both been consumed in the business of life, that in and of itself can be incredibly stressful. All of a sudden you’re needing to face, feel and deal with stuff that you haven’t dealt with for months or years. So one of the opportunities that’s coming up for many of us is can I face stuff in my primary relationships that I haven’t faced? Another one that’s coming up is can I face the terror of being alone and confined, which it was Blaise Pascal who said basically all the problems of humanity come from man’s inability to sit quietly alone. That’s another thing that’s coming up here.
So as you look at your close relationships, whether it be with your parents or with your siblings or children, this idea of, are we willing to be candid? Now I want to say something here, Tim, because people misunderstand this. They think that if I’m below the line, if we keep using that language, then people will say, “I don’t have a problem being candid. God, you ask anybody in my world, they’ll tell you I’m candid. I tell it like it is.” But what they’re really saying is they’re kind of living a scorched earth policy where they tell the truth all the time, but they’re rigid and righteous about being attached to their truth. So we don’t call that candor. What we call candor begins with the ability to differentiate facts from stories, facts from data, facts of what is totally unarguable. Facts are that which all reasonable people would agree to. Facts, the facts of life, stories are judgments, opinions, beliefs, interpretations that we make up about the facts. So for example, or that typical thing would be, I walk in the house, Debbie’s standing there.
Fact, a video camera would record that the corners of her mouth are turned down slightly in what one could call a frown. That’s a fact. Video camera would record it. Now my mind starts making up stories. Debbie’s upset with me. I did something wrong. She’s going to criticize me. And now I start reacting to the stories, defending, justifying, explaining, reacting to the stories, even though the stories are all made up in my mind. So candor, practicing conscious candor, first you differentiate fact from story, and then you reveal your stories, holding them lightly. So from below the line, I want to be right about my stories and prove that I’m right because my ego identification believes it can only survive if it’s right. So what that would look like is from below line, I’d say, “What are you upset about? I’m only 10 minutes late and I know I forgot the milk, but God, I was very busy.”
So now I’m revealing my story that she’s upset in a reactive modality while holding tightly to my story that A, she is upset at me and B, she shouldn’t be. That’s truth-telling. That’s not what we’re talking about at all. Candor, I differentiate fact from story, and here’s what this might look like. I walk in the house and let’s say I’m above the line and present, which I might not be. I might say something like this, “Hey, when I look over, it looks like you’re upset. I’m making up the story that you’re upset and rather than get all scared and reactive to that, first thing I do is just want to tell you I’m making up that story and I want to check it out with you. Are you upset? And by the way, when I make up the story that you’re upset, I noticed I get defensive.
Furthermore, probably what I really get scared because I don’t want you to be pissed off at me, but I’m going to reveal myself to you, Debbie, not from being right. This act of candor is an act of incredible vulnerability. I’m going to let you know me. I say all the time. I’m going to let you know what’s going on on Planet Jim. My thoughts, beliefs, interpretations, wants, desires, so you can know me. Not so that I can prove I’m right.” And by the way, this kind of candor goes hand in hand with conscious listening.
People always want to say, “I want a more candid relationship with my partner.” I say, “Great. Before you start revealing, start listening. Start becoming a person to whom others will reveal themselves candidly because you see them and you hear them and you get them. Then as they feel safe to reveal themselves, you’ll find that the relationship becomes more safe for you to reveal yourself.” So candor and conscious listening go hand in glove. But again, it’s a cocommitment, right? Debbie and I said we want to remove all barriers to closeness. One of the barriers to closeness is not revealing ourselves to each other. It’s so easy to hide out for fear of being rejected, for fear of being criticized, the risk. And Debbie and I had been practicing candor for decades, Tim, and there’s almost always some edge of candor where I could reveal a thought or I could reveal a judgment.
In our case, specifically about our children, because it’s our second relationship. Debbie has four boys. I have two girls. Well, sometimes I have judgments about her boys. It’s always risky to say to her, “Hey, I just want to tell you. I’ve got a judgment coming up in me about so-and-so,” because she cares about her boys and she’s irrationally involved with them just like I am with my girls. Every time I practice vulnerability in candor in my intimate relationship, there’s a modicum of fear that comes up because who knows how she’s going to react. We do have decades now of practicing, so pretty good chance that we’ll work it through. So that’s what candor is. Differentiate fact from story, hold your story likely, and reveal to the other for the sake of being known, not for proving you’re right, and practice deeply listening so the other person trusts you enough to reveal themselves. That’s a short primer on candor. I’ll pause there.
Tim Ferriss: I want to give an example of how my girlfriend principally, she introduced this and then I quickly embraced it when I realized how effective it was for diffusing tension and it’s exactly what you’re describing. And that is the phrasing of I’m making up the story… And the way that she phrased it was simply the story I’m making up in my head is dot, dot, dot and I have a long history of — I’m not sure how to put this in a way that doesn’t make me look like a shithead, but fighting I guess is a way to put it? I enjoyed being right and maybe disliked being wrong was a better way to put it. And if I felt attacked, I would kind of respond in kind, right, but actually not in kind. It was sort of the Bruce Lee, “If you graze my skin, I pound your flesh. If you pound my flesh, I break your bones.” Totally unnecessary escalation, but I historically ran with very little slack in the system. I was always red lining so the least bit of provocation would lead to this really outsized response. And as soon as she presented something as the story I’m making up in my head is, it basically disarmed me completely in the most positive way imaginable. And that has just been a huge game-changer for us.
And we’ve been in isolation for weeks; we were early adopters and it was very difficult in the beginning, especially because our friends were, whether they said it or not, and some of them certainly did, thought we were crazy. Thought we were insane people. And I credit my girlfriend and tools like this for allowing us to, so far at least, to cohabitate surprisingly well.
And the crux distinction is the one that you mentioned, and that is separating facts from story. If it cannot be recorded by a video camera or a voice memo, it’s probably not a fact. It’s probably a story. And at least pausing, even if you feel like it’s fact, to see if you can frame it as a story has just been so powerful.
I want to mention that because these really do have tremendous applications. So I just wanted to mention that. I don’t know if that brings up anything for you or anything to add, but certainly I have more questions.
Jim Dethmer: The line from Rumi came to me where he says, “There’s a field beyond right and wrong. I will meet you there.” And it sounds like your girlfriend is committed to something beyond right and wrong. By the way, that doesn’t mean that the categories “right” and “wrong” are useless — we should throw them out and become absolute relativists. It doesn’t mean that at all. It means that there is a place called right and wrong, there is. And we need to be there at times and have that conversation. But there’s a field beyond that. And when she says to you, “Tim, I’m making up the story in my mind that,” she’s saying to you, “I’m interested in something other than needing to be right. I’m interested in being known and knowing you.”
I’ve said to so many couples over the years, you’re more interested in being right than you are to being close. I’ve said to teams, executive teams, you’re more interested in being right about your position than you are in being successful as a team. The addiction to being right, which is the little ego identities, it doesn’t believe it can survive if it’s not right. And when these little ego identities like yours and mine get locked into drama-based, conflictual relationships, all that matters is the survival of the ego. That’s it. That’s all that matters. And the key to my ego surviving is, I can’t be wrong. I like the way you said that. I can’t be wrong. Maybe I need to be right, but for God’s sake, I can’t be wrong.
And then, if you’re going to be there and I’m going to be there, good luck for innovation, improvisation, creativity, let alone intimacy and closeness. So we’re exploring, right now in this conversation, a different way to do that. And it really is predicated on, I’m more interested in something other than just being right. And that’s a game-changer.
Tim Ferriss: Totally. And I would say, and you’re an old hand at this and I’m new to discussing the concept, so please feel free to improve or completely refute whatever I say. But it also strikes me that if you are unable or unwilling to try to separate the facts from your stories and present your stories in a candid, early and non-threatening way, so you don’t wait until things are at the boiling point, that you will suffer multifold from the three primary emotions that we discussed earlier. Sad, angry, scared, right? I mean, I’ve noticed such a change in my life, certainly, as it relates to those three things since adopting these early, candid intervention with the framing of my own stories.
Jim Dethmer: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: And not to say that I’m not struggling now. I mean, I’ve had a very tough time in the last few weeks, and that actually leads me to what I wanted to ask you about next. And that is, the mental model of human development of “to me, by me, through me, as me.” And I don’t know if I am labeling that correctly, but could you elaborate on what that means?
Jim Dethmer: Yeah, sure. So this model, I first heard from Michael Beckwith. We’ve taken it and changed it so he might not recognize it that much, but the first time I heard this model, it made such sense to me. And he describes it as four states of consciousness, not stages. They’re not developmental. You don’t proceed from one to the other, like you would from childhood to adolescence to adulthood.
These are states. So we’d go in and out of them, more like the dream state, the awake state, and the dreamless state. And they map pretty well. So we use them as context, four contexts. Four contexts that answer, “How are we being with the content of life?” And the content can be whatever it is, okay?
So the first context is we’re being with life from, to me. Real simple, it just means we’re at the effect of life. We are at the effect of people, circumstances, and conditions. It’s happening to me. So we’re in victimhood or victim consciousness. And I’ll just pause here and say in parentheses, there are true victims in the world. Let’s just stipulate to that. But that’s different than victim consciousness.
So sometimes I’ll talk about, in my family of origin, my mom was an alcoholic, my dad sexually abused my sister, my brother was a rageaholic. Like most of us, a bat shit crazy environment. Well, as a little boy, there’s a way in which I truly was at the effect of the environment. You could say I was a victim in the experience. That’s true. Let’s just say that’s true, okay? But now if I’m 65, 66 years old and I’m still blaming my parents for my current state of being, now I’m into me, in victim consciousness.
So to me is, it’s happening to me, real simple. And quite frankly, this is where most people live most of the time. If you just turn on the news, it doesn’t matter what news you turn on, any news, you’re going to hear people speaking from to me. They’re doing it to me, it’s happening to me. So that’s to me.
Then the next state of consciousness is by me. Well, this is radically different. If the first one is victimhood, this is creatorship. This is a state of empowerment. This is a place where I’m no longer seeing myself as at the effect of, now I’m seeing myself as responsible for and creator of my experience. Now that’s really important. I’m the creator of my experience. So the virus is a real thing happening out there. That is a fact. You, more than any, could give us a list of all the facts.
But my relationship to the virus, for example, am I living paralyzed in fear? Am I living in denial? My relationship to it is my responsibility. So I can either be at the effect of the current circumstances where most of us live, or I can say, wait a minute, I’m going to take responsibility for how I’m going to be with this. And that goes from I’m at a pandemic all the way down to how I’m going to be with the weather. I could be at the effect of the weather, or I could say the weather is what it is. I’m up here in Northern Michigan and it’s 27 degrees out. And I could say, “Wow, the weather is what it is, and I can choose to be the creator of my experience with the weather.” So the movement from to me to by me, the gateway is learning to take responsibility.
And then, the third state of consciousness is through me. And this is, I think, a tremendously empowering way to live. Most people spend most of their time into me. Then they start to become skilled at living life, and they start to feel authorship. And they start to stand in being the creator of their experience. And then, it’s not uncommon for them to say, “Is there something else going on in the world other than me and my purpose-driven life, my authorship of what I want in life? Is there anything else going on?” And this leads to this question of: “Is there anything else going on besides me?”
Now this starts to move us into the realm of things like possibly spirituality, but it doesn’t have to be spiritual. A lot of people have a tremendous aversion to that word. It could just be, is life wanting to do something? So when I get over here, I start to say, “What does life want to do through me?” And to many people, that’s an absurd question. So I just say, “Great, don’t ask that question.” But there are countless people for whom that is an interesting question.
When you and I connected today, before we started, and we talked about what we wanted. And I think I said something like, “I just want to be surrendered to what wants to come through us today.” I’m certainly not a victim at the effect of what’s happening here. Even when we had technical difficulties, they were just occurring. We could learn. I could go into creator and say, “Well, actually I have a lot of things that I want to create with you, Tim.” And be purposeful, intentional. Wonderful way to live life, directive, on point.
But I actually liked to play in the space of, I don’t know, man. How about if we both just get into our creative energy, follow impulse, and be in a dynamic dance with what shows up? And in my experience, that through me experience is unbelievably fun, synchronistic.
We have friends who are world-class athletes, and some of them who’ve performed in many, many arenas. And oftentimes, if I’m talking to a snow skier or a surfer, they really relate to this. When somebody, I don’t surf but my surfing friends tell me this is true, when you first get on a board, you are very much in to me. You are at the effect of the board. You’re at the effect of balance. You’re at the effect of the wind. You’re at the effect of the waves, right? Your whole body is tense, you’re rigid, you’re efforting like crazy. To me is efforting like crazy. And when you fall off, you bitch, moan and complain. The board’s too long, the board’s too heavy, why did that wind, why did my teacher put me out here? That’s to me.
Then somebody says, Hey, there are actually some principles that govern surfing. And if you learn those principles and start taking responsibility for applying those principles, you’re going to start to see that you can become the creator of your own experience. And then you could spend weeks, months, years mastering the by me state of surfing.
But every person who’s passionate about surfing that I’ve ever talked to said they were getting really skilled, they could really master the principles. And then one day, they forgot about all the principles. It was just them, their board and the water. And they had an experience, and people, however they say this, that surfing was happening through me. Or musicians say, all of a sudden music was coming through me. Or people who innovate, they say, that idea, I just let go and something came through me.
So everybody’s got a feel for this sometimes. It’s what flow state is like. I’ll never forget being in Chicago. Michael Jordan makes seven threes in a row, or whatever, runs down the court, throws up his hands, looks at the crowd, looks at the announcers. Even, I’d argue, the greatest basketball player who ever played, arguable. But my story — this is happening through me. This is wild shit. I’m just showing up. So we’ve all had that experience. And to me, when leaders start dancing there, it’s incredible what comes forward into the world.
And then, the fourth state is as me. It’s non-duality, it’s oneness, it’s the blurring of a personal self. Even though there is a personal self, it’s being fully human, but being in the dance of beingness. So now, we move over into all the traditions, whether it’s Buddhism or Hinduism or Islam or Christianity or non-religious spirituality. They all have a version of this idea of becoming one.
And now, we can go back over into your world. I’m a baby in this world of medicine journeys. But, I’ve only done four, as I talked to you once before. And I got involved because I, many reasons, but one of the things I had happened very quickly was the dissolution of a separate self and this experience of, Oh my god, small g. Right? So there’s many things that those medicines are bringing to the world, you being an expert, a proponent of this. But just as a newbie, that’s an instant portal through to as me. The good and the bad. The terror and the bliss, the whole deal.
So those are the four states. To me, by me, through me, as me. And in my experience, we go in and out of them all the time. So when you and I had technical difficulties part way through our call and you couldn’t hear me, I immediately contracted into to me. Oh, shit, what did I do? I took my earphones out, I put them back in. I’m not very technically savvy. I fucked this up. Oh God, what am I doing? I could hear you saying, “Jim, I’m talking but I can’t hear you.” I’m going, “Oh, God, what do I do? What do I do?” to me. At the effect of me and the technology.
Then I go, “Wait a minute, take a breath.” I take a breath and I go, “This is okay. What can I learn from here? What could I play with? What could I do?” So just a breath, shift into by me, access IQ, EQ, BQ, and then you and I start dancing and we go, oh, we could do this. We could shift over to this platform. We don’t need to be in reactivity. We don’t need to be contracted and fear. To me, by me, through me, as me, dancing all the time.
So that’s a model that I love, love, love. It seems to map really well to all of life. Whatever the content is, whether it’s the weather or the virus or the technology breaking down when you and I were talking. I can always ask myself, where am I? Am I into me, by me, through me or as me? And my context is under my control. The content never is.
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Thank you for explaining that. There’s a lot to unpack. We could unpack each one of those for many hours. But one of our mutual friends is a fan of what most people would consider bad weather. And he also trained — “train” sounds too much like a dog in a kennel. But he has cultivated this belief in his kids. And I can’t recall the proper attribution to this quote, but “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.” And they really celebrate what most people would complain about.
And just as a quick aside, I was going for a hike with my girlfriend and my dog recently, just a very basic neighborhood hike, nothing too Alpine. And we got caught in this torrential downpour, torrential downpour. And perhaps a month ago, or two months ago, that would have bothered me on some level. And it ended up just being this, we reframed it really quickly. And having been holed up at home so much in the last few weeks, it was just the greatest gift we could have imagined.
We had hoods, we took down our hoods just so we got poured on. And as we’re walking home on the street, we’re waving to these cars with these huge shit-eating grins on her faces. And it’s really easy, and I succumb to this all the time, to fall into a to me — this is happening to me, as opposed to by me or for me, right? In this case, it was a switch to for me. Like, no, this is something that’s happening for me, not to me. And it really changes things.
And I would love — you volunteered, and I appreciate you volunteering some background in terms of your childhood. And suffice it to say, a lot of people are suffering right now, feeling suffering, right? And legitimately so many people are facing extremely difficult circumstances. But if we take, just as a frame for discussion, the old military expression, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” In the sense that you can reframe these things, you will have twists of fortune that cause you great difficulty. I would love to visit perhaps a difficult time in your life. And I’ve heard you describe this, and I won’t say much more, but as the descent to the ashes. Could you talk about where that comes from and your own descent to the ashes, and how you got through that?
Jim Dethmer: Yeah, happily. So if I go back to, I’ve always had this ache in my chest and I’ve always sought for relationship. The first place I looked was to Christianity, because I heard Jesus, whatever people think of Jesus, make this ridiculous claim that you could have peace that passes understanding. And then, the version of Christianity that I got involved in had a simple, now I would say greatly oversimplified, process by which you could do that.
So for the first, from the time I was 15 until I was 40, my practice was around Christianity. That’s where my meditation started and my practice became my career, my advanced degrees in theology. And then I became a minister. And fast forward all the way to 43 years old, a minister of the largest church in the United States. So talking to thousands of people a week in this complex system of a church. So now I’m right smack dab in the midst of midlife and I realize that my life is not working.
Now, specifically, the faith that I had been devoted to, I wasn’t casual about it, wasn’t producing the results that it looked like it should produce. Love, joy, peace. Instead, I was getting further away from the things that I was seeking. So I quit, in that world, near the pinnacle of my career path, if you will. I’d climbed the ladder, right? Literally, and found the ladder leaning against the wrong wall, so I quit.
And I started this journey. I started this journey to find, same thing, relief, peace, and what are relationships like. And that journey took me to some of these teachers that we’re talking about. And then, like I said, once I found these teachers, I came back and brought it to people. I’d become a private practice counselor at that point. And another friend of mine and I started men’s groups, largely just doing, I’m just given to others what I needed for myself. Men in midlife figuring out, “What the hell does it mean to be a fully alive human?”
And so we started doing all the stuff that men would do. We would go into the woods and we would beat drums and do all that stuff with the men’s movement in the ’70s and ’80s, which, I think there was a lot of beauty to that. It paralleled the women’s movement, and it got messy. And this church that I’d been a part of, which again, was the largest church in the United States, was still selling tapes that I’d given, talks I’d given all over the world. They got wind that out in the woods, we’d have men move their anger. So they’d yell, “Shit! Hell! Damn! Fuck!” And they’d beat a bag. And we’d all talk about the shame that we carry in our body, things that were done to our body. Radical, cutting edge stuff, which I think was incredibly transformational for people.
The church got wind of this and they said, “You can’t do that.” And I hadn’t gone there for several years, but this was one path. Then on another path, I was in this relationship with my first wife that I had managed to royally screw up. We both did, but I take my hundred percent responsibility for creating a really marginal relationship and creating lots of suffering for me and for her.
Well, one of the decisions I made was, at that point, I decided that I was going to enter into a relationship with Debbie, my current wife, while I was still in my marriage. Okay, that was a big decision. At that point, I’d only had sex with one person. And I thought, the moment I get into relationship with Debbie, my life as I know it is over, because my life had been about being a person of integrity, and a good person and stuff like that. And this gets to the descent to the ashes.
I had built a life largely constructed out of identities or personas that wasn’t aligned with my true self. Now, since I’ve walked a lot of people through this, and I said, you don’t have to burn the house down. You can course correct and you can do it gently. But I burnt the house down. So Debbie and I were in a relationship, we stopped being in a relationship. I told my entire world that I’d had a relationship with Debbie, including my wife and my kids. And then, a few months later, decided to end my marriage.
So here’s what the descent to the ashes look like. I moved out of my house, didn’t have a lot of money, moved into my office. I was living in my office counseling people during the day. And then, at the same time, this church decided to publicly disavow. So it ends, the culmination of this descent to the ashes is a front-page article in the Chicago paper saying, “[The name of the church] disavows former minister.” And it talks about what we were doing with these guys and the transformation that was occurring.
And then the fact that I had had a relationship with Debbie while married became public to everybody. So here I am, 43 years old. A year prior to that I was a person with a phenomenal reputation and some amount of clout in the world. And now, I’m living in my office with nothing. Most of the men who had been working with us left for a legitimate reason, because I’d been out of integrity with them. So now my life has just descended down to nothing.
And it was from there that I started to put a new life back together bit by bit by bit, with a certain set of gating criteria like, “Is this authentic?” That’s when I decided I would never keep another secret as long as I lived. Now, I differentiate. There’s private stuff. But I’d kept lots of secrets as a minister. In order to be good and fit in, I didn’t tell all the truth about who I was.
And so I decided I wasn’t going to keep any secrets. I have private stuff in my life, but nothing that’s shame-based. So I say to people all the time, you can take this and put it on the front of The New York Times. It’s just my story, the story that bears my name. So that was the descent to the ashes.
And I say that, of use to the people that are part of your tribe, is a lot of people get to a point in their life where they go, “This isn’t working. This marriage isn’t working,” or “This family isn’t working,” or “This career isn’t working,” or “This identity isn’t working. Now what do I do?” And in my experience, a lot of what I want to offer to the world is, there are ways that we can reformat back to something that is more congruent and authentic, liberating and powerful, without needing to blow up our lives or blow up —
I talk to people all the time. There are good divorces and bad divorces. Bad divorces are sourced in blame and criticism. There’s innocent collateral damage, and basically, third parties get all your money. In the good ending of a relationship, there’s not a lot of blame and criticism. There’s responsibility where I get my learnings. Because I take responsibility, I’m not eviscerating my partner consciously or unconsciously in front of my children, so the collateral damage lessens. And we don’t try to beat the shit out of each other through the court systems, therefore dissipating all of our money and energy.
So there’s ways to navigate these things. And I’m grateful. Like I said, I blew my life up. I don’t recommend that. But there are a lot of people who still need to blow their life up. And then, how to put back together a life that aligns with the truth of who we are, which is a big idea of what I’m up to in my life. So I don’t know whether that’s exactly what you were looking for, but that’s a little bit about what I mean by descent to the ashes.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, it is. It definitely is. And I want to ask a few followup questions. So the first is more of an, I suppose, academic note of interest. And that is that the descent to the ashes, that phrase is from The Hero’s Journey, is it not?
Jim Dethmer: Yes it is.
Tim Ferriss: Yep. So Joseph Campbell, for those who are interested in exploring that. And that implies, the reason I bring that up, is that this is a common chapter in life for many people, or a common experience, the descent to the ashes. So much so that it’s in The Hero’s Journey, the story of the hero, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
And I would be curious to know, when you are talking someone through their own descent to the ashes, whether they’ve blown their life up or not, maybe they’ve attempted to course correct, but they feel as though they are currently in the descent to the ashes. What are questions that you encourage them to ask, or what do you suggest that they do? And I know it’s very context-dependent and there are a million different iterations, but are there any examples you could give, or samples?
Jim Dethmer: Yeah. Okay, so there’s a whole set of conversations I like to have. Let’s just take a couple. One of them is, in the process, I like to ask people, “What do you want, and what do you really want?” Not as a casual question, but as a question for them to go sit in, not figure out. So again, Gay and Katie used to teach us about wonder questions. Wonder questions are questions that are so big you live in the question. Figure it out questions are things you can figure out with the skill of your mind, or by doing some Googling. So one of the things I like to do early on in the process is to say to somebody, “I want you to go for a walk. I want you to go sit. I want you to just live in the question, ‘What do I want?'” That’s the first one, but the more important one is, “What do I really want if I were free to want what I want?” Parentheses, most people aren’t. I say to them all the time, “Your wanter got broken when you were a little kid, so we’ve got to get your wanter back on line.”
Tim Ferriss: Very Dr. Seuss.
Jim Dethmer: Isn’t it true? Now some people have a really active wanter and they terrorize their world with their narcissist entitlement. I’m not talking about that, but a lot of people, if we go back to, they took on a role as a little kid.
I took on the role in my family of being the savior. The reliever of suffering. The all-white knight because of the shit show that was going on. Well, I took that role on and then I just developed a career based on the role. I never got asked what do I really want? People aren’t free to ask what they really want because they took on a role, or they took on an obligation, or they’re living somebody else’s dream.
When you get to this conversation, one of the great questions is, “What do you want? What do you really want?” Another question I ask people all the time, and this is another big question, “What are you willing to put at risk for full aliveness?” I love that question.
Tim Ferriss: That’s a great question. Could you — yeah, please, please say more.
Jim Dethmer: Well, first of all, it doesn’t mean that you have to put it at risk. I just say if all of a sudden you decided that aliveness because usually when people get to where I got to, they’re aliveness has been greatly stunted.
I wasn’t alive in my marriage. I didn’t know how to be, I wasn’t alive in my career. I wasn’t alive in — There was modicums of aliveness. I looked alive, but I wasn’t fully alive. What I’ve experienced over the years is, and this is true today, now I’m still in the question, what am I willing to put at risk for my full aliveness?
Let’s go back to candor. So we don’t introduce a whole lot of new threats. In my relationship with Debbie, I am committed to being fully alive and committed to having a fully alive relationship. What I’m willing to put at risk for that is temporary discomfort, messiness. I’m willing to put my happiness and her happiness at risk for the moment. I’m willing to enter into what Scott Peck called — I love this. The tunnel of chaos. Remember, his model was great. You go from pseudo community —
Tim Ferriss: What was the name again?
Jim Dethmer: Scott Peck.
Tim Ferriss: Scott Peck, yeah. That’s what? Is this The Way of the Peaceful — now, why am I missing?
Jim Dethmer: Yeah. I remember People of the Lie was one of his books. We can find it.
Tim Ferriss: Right. Yeah. I’ll find him.
Jim Dethmer: He’s got this — he’s got another one of he’s a great models that I stole. You go from pseudo community, which all of us have. We tend to drift towards pseudo community. Then we tell the truth. Either intentionally, accidentally, skillfully, unskillfully, and then we go into the tunnel of chaos. Then if we value learning, we come out on the other side in authentic community.
Jim Dethmer: In my experience in relationships, whether it’s a high-performing team at work or a group of teachers in an educational institution or community activists in the West Side of Chicago, the tendency is to be in pseudo community which is where —
Tim Ferriss: What do you mean by pseudo community? What will be an example of that?
Jim Dethmer: Yeah. What pseudo community is where we’re prioritizing niceness and civility over authenticity.
Tim Ferriss: Got it.
Jim Dethmer: We are pretending rather than being real because we know that if we got authentic, or we got real, things would get messy. We don’t trust ourselves and each other enough to go through the mess and get to authentic community on the other side. By the way, here’s what’s wild. Once you get to authentic community, it feels so good you start safeguarding it and start drifting back towards pseudo community because you stopped telling the truth. It never stops. Never stops with me and Debbie, doesn’t stop with me and my kids, doesn’t stop with me and our shared mutual friends.
A second question is: “Are you willing to put your financial security at risk for full of aliveness? Are you willing to put some relationships at risk? Are you willing to put your reputation at risk? Are you willing — what are you willing to put?” And the corollary, of course, is “What won’t you put at risk for full aliveness?”
This is such a good question. Typically, people who have kids will say, “I won’t put my kids’ well-being at risk for full aliveness.” I love that answer. First of all, I get it, support it, live it, but I’m drawn back to some of the great understand — people who understand parenting, who say, “The number one gift we have to give to our children is our aliveness.”
Now you’re in the paradox of “I’m going to sub-optimize my aliveness so that I can create some sense of safety and security for my kids.” Again, I totally get it, but what my kids catch in the air or through the water is that sub-optimized aliveness is the way to live life.
It’s just a tension that I want to take somebody through. What are you going to do with that tension? These conversations, what do I want? What do I really want? What am I willing to put at risk for my full aliveness? These occur both in meaningful maximal ways when we’re at the precipice of the center of the ashes, but these are conversations in my experience that occur every day.
What do I want? What do I really want? What am I willing to put at risk for my full aliveness? Then the third thing, and there are many, but the third thing, we want to do an integrity inventory because we define integrity. It’s just energy. It’s just aliveness. It’s not moral or ethical. It’s just “Am I whole?” from the word integer. Am I whole? Am I energetically whole and alive? Integrity breaches are anything that interrupts my aliveness, my wholeness.
Again, I got from Gay Hendricks, The Four Pillars of Integrity from Gay and Katie. Whenever I’m walking people through this, I want to have them check the four pillars. Those are, do they have any unsaids? So we’ve talked about candor. Do they have any unkepts? Do they have any agreements they haven’t kept? Because any place where you’ve made an agreement and are keeping it, it’s an integrity breach. It’s not a moral thing, it’s just you’re losing energy.
Do they have any unsaids? Any unkepts? Any unowned? This is any place where they’re still blaming somebody else rather than owning their life. Do they have any unfelts? Any feelings they haven’t felt? In my work, I had to go back and feel feelings about my childhood. By the way, once you commit to do this, it can be done quite rapidly and quite efficiently.
There are technologies for this that once I was willing to feel things, say things, own things, and agree to things, integrity came back online and I had serious integrity breaches. That’s another big one. What is your current integrity inventory? Because if you’re going to build the life that gives you full aliveness, it’s going to be rooted in integrity and we get to have a wonderful conversation around what all that means. Those would be three things I look at with people when they’re exploring either many shifts at midlife or the big ones.
Tim Ferriss: Wow. I feel like we could do an entire separate podcast episode on this integrity inventory, which if you’re open to, we can talk about, no pressure. That I think could be a very fun and also selfishly helpful practice for me. Scott Peck, side note, I was struggling to find the other book title, The Road Less Traveled is the other book.
Jim Dethmer: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Tim Ferriss: The integrity inventory, which you said, I think this is important because this word can be used to mean so many things, but the integrity is equaling energetic wholeness.
Jim Dethmer: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: And identifying energy leaks are where you are losing energy, the unsaids, the unkept agreements, the unowned things where you’re blaming other people in the unfelt feelings. That is really tremendous. I think I’ve mostly focused on the unsaids and the unfelt feelings, but lesser on the other two.
I think I’ve only covered half of my bases. We will come back at some point to that framework. Maybe not in this conversation, but I’d love to skip back to something that you said and we don’t have to delve into this if you’d prefer not to, but many people right now are feeling disrupted, unsettled. Whether for instance some of my relatives have been let go from service jobs, from working in restaurants and other businesses or they have a physical business. They are mechanics for instance or any number of other things. There are dozens of examples. Probably hundreds of examples I could give.
In some cases they’ve been forced into a position of questioning what they can do or what they want to do. Then I think many people right now also in a period of crisis are reflecting on these things and asking themselves some of these questions. Maybe they are trying to figure them out and not sit with them. I’d like to actually hear you describe what that means, but you mentioned very briefly from 15 to 40 and then at 43, I quit.
I feel like there’s more to that story. It seems to me that that must have been difficult. Could you speak to that point in time because I think it’ll transfer to many people’s situations. You have this identity that is wrapped up in what you’ve been doing for a very long time. You have a belief structure that at least at some point was identified with this particular faith, this particular path. You have some level of being recognized by community as credible, as competent in this path.
How did you end up quitting? Was it a flash moment of realization and then very quick action? Was it agonizing over it for months or years? I mean, what did that look like and how did you finally decide to shift gears and to walk?
I just want to highlight to people that for me, this is not a question that is religious-specific or religion-specific. It’s that is a huge lane shift. If you could speak to that, if you’re willing to, I would love to hear more.
Jim Dethmer: Yeah, sure. The dissatisfaction that was growing, was growing over time. As I think these kinds of shifts, it is rarely, truly sudden. Usually there are the beginnings of it and there were the beginnings of this. Again, if we go back to my big idea, I was driven by a desire for peace, and I was driven by a desire for authentic relationship.
As I continued on both my professional journey and my spiritual journey, I wasn’t seeing more peace. I was more famous, I was more successful, I was more impactful in many ways, but on the inside I wasn’t getting what I wanted. I didn’t know how to have an authentic relationship with my wife. I just didn’t know. I was a complete goofball.
Once I got inside, now this is just about me. I’m not making a statement here about Christianity, but once I got onto the inside of my experience of Christianity, I found that we got more interested in being good than in being free, and in being big than in being loving.
Now those are all meaningful words to me. The last chapter of our book is called The Change Formula and it’s what does it take to produce lasting change? Again, this is not original to us. I forget who we got it from, but we give credit there.
It’s V times D, plus FS, greater than R, equal C. All it means is this, in order to produce change, which is the C something has to be greater than the resistance to change, which we all have. The something that will produce change by overcoming the resistance is V times D, vision times dissatisfaction. In other words, you got a multiplier.
People change either because they’ve got a big huge vision that they cannot realize from the current way they’re living or they’ve got pain and usually it’s a multiplier effect. For me, the cumulative effect over years was that I still had a vision for peace and an authentic relationship. I still did and I wasn’t living it. Wasn’t about my circumstances, it was about me.
I had tremendous dissatisfaction, pain, depression, angst, all kinds of stuff. Those two came together to produce a propulsion that was so meaningful I couldn’t keep going. I went to my friend and the guy who actually was the leader of the church and I said, “Listen, it’s not that I think these things that I believed aren’t true, they just don’t work.”
I came across David Whyte’s beautiful poem called, I think it’s called Self Portrait. The opening line of the poem is, for me this was very important. “It doesn’t interest me if there is one God or many gods. It doesn’t interest me if there is one God or many gods. I want to know if you can feel,” and then he makes this list. “Heartbroken, chaos, melt in delight.”
Well, I’d spent my whole life arguing, is there one God or many gods in versions of that argument. It didn’t matter to me. Now, part of the meltdown, like I loved that you said, I quit. There had to be more of the story. Well, if you double click on quit, it included losing 30 pounds in a month. Incredible shame. I had this huge message of “I fucked up. I didn’t get it right and I had a relationship outside of my marriage.” For some people, that’s not a big deal. For me, that was a big deal. That was like right up there in the — it’s kind of in the big 10.
The physical dissolution, a sense of shame and failure. Looking at my daughter’s eyes, who was going into high school as a freshman in high school. When there’s a front-page article that says this big famous church in the community disavows her father, I feel tears in my eyes. Even now I say that, it’s, God, 25 years, 30 years ago. It was a mess, Tim.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it sounds like it.
Jim Dethmer: Often the descent to the ashes can be but doesn’t have to be. I want to say it again. It doesn’t have to be. All this melting down, it literally — I had no money and because I felt so badly about what I’d done to my marriage, I said to my wife, “I’ll make all the money, I’ll just take care of you.” I didn’t know how to do that. I had to figure out how to turn being a minister into a way to make money.
I had to innovate, create, and that became the beginning of a coaching practice and stuff like that. All the while there were these little — we’re up here in Northern Michigan. Like I said, it’s cold and we’re standing outside. Debbie looked down at the ground and there was this little white flower coming through and Deb loves to garden. She just got into her bliss space. As the beginning of spring starts to come through the ground, all the wild, there was the beginning. If nothing else is, I didn’t have to pretend anymore.
So many of us destroy our aliveness through pretending. I wasn’t going to pretend. Then slowly but surely life started to come back, including eventually getting back with Debbie and creating this great relationship. I got a great relationship with my kids and I’m doing what I was put on the planet to do. I’m still kind of a monk. I was joking with you like I don’t do social media and I live kind of like a monk up here. I’m still kind of that way, but it’s just much more aliveness. Yes, there was more to it than just I quit. There usually is with a person. There’s more to the story.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing that. I am very grateful that you were willing to share that. I think that’s going to really impact a lot of people who are listening. I was certainly listening very closely and holy shit. I mean that sounds extremely difficult and painful and terrifying. I can see where the blame and the self-flagellation would also be intense and we all fuck up. I mean we all fuck up in our own ways and I appreciate you being so transparent with describing it.
There’s part of me that feels like this is a great place to wrap up and then there’s part of me that feels like we should probably have an off-ramp of a few minutes from that, but I do think that that will speak to a lot of people.
What else? I’ve been asking questions the entire conversation. Are there any other topics? Let’s just say in the remaining five or 10 minutes or questions that you’d like to explore. Does anything come to mind?
Jim Dethmer: Yeah. Two things come to mind. I just want to say that first of all, I’m grateful that the story that bears my name, this journey could be of service maybe to you in this moment. Maybe to some of others. I’m grateful for that. That’s part of the beauty of grace in a nonreligious term. Just grace that what I once called a cosmic fuck up. By the way, I not only judging myself that way, remember I had God in the picture. So I had God judging me as a cosmic fuck up.
Part of grace is that those things can be made of service. I think that’s beautiful and I say that to leaders all the time. When in the privacy of intimate conversations we’re revealing what’s really true and to say, “God, what you’re wanting to hide and run from right now we can be gentle with all that and take all the time we need and the possibility is that it could someday be of tremendous service to you, to your family, to the world.” That’s kind of the way I tend to see life.
One thing comes up for me. I mentioned it in passing, but I want to tie it back here. I’d like what Hale Dwoskin, the teacher of the Sedona Method. Another, you can put that in what you’re showing notes, whatever you call those.
One of the things I got from Hale was that our identities are always seeking for things and I mentioned them, approval, control, security, and oneness. They’re self-evident. What I was doing up until I was 43 years old is I was largely outsourcing approval, control, security, and oneness. I would feel approved of when I gave a talk to thousands of people or large crowds and afterwards everybody would come up and say, “That was great. That was great. That really helped me. That was meaningful.”
Then one person would say, “I disagree with that and that wasn’t your best talk,” because I was outsourcing approval, I would ruminate on that one comment for a day. Part of my —
Tim Ferriss: It’s a good thing you’re not on social media. Stay off of social media.
Jim Dethmer: Right. Well, yes, yes. Although someday I might plug back into social media to see if I’ve stabilized approval on the inside because that’s the big idea. The big movement as we mature, just mature as human beings, let alone become more conscious is can I start to source approval from the inside? Can I stabilize a sense of okayness on the inside?
Now you can tell me you didn’t like that or I imagine there could be people who really don’t like some of the stuff I’ve said today. I can let you say what you say, believe what you believe, have the story you have, and not lose my shit because I’m stabilized in a sense of approval that comes from the inside.
I’m not just talking about self-approval here. I’m actually talking about resting in a field of acceptance, so it’s stable. I was trying to get security from the outside and literally money from the outside wouldn’t be my security. If I had money then I was secure, but it could be safety from the outside. There’s a big thing of what’s coming up right now in our world. We are still sourcing safety on the outside and therefore we’re terrified when our safety gets threatened.
Control, I say to people, we’re all control freaks. We try to control everything. That’s another thing that’s coming up right now is so much is in our face every day that is totally out of our control and it’s utterly terrifying. In that simple one I just go back to just sort the files. What’s under your control? What isn’t under your control? Place, your attention on what’s under your control.
Again, I come back to as people do this journey toward being a more awake, alive, empowered human. Part of it is doing practices that allows to get a sense of approval, control, security, and oneness or connection on the inside. That just take you. As you do that source that, more and more from the inside and then you come towards your girlfriend and she’s sourcing it from the inside. Most relationships aren’t that way. Most of us don’t have enough of any of those. We’re like two ticks on a dog and the relationship becomes the dog —
The relationship if we try to suck approval, control, security, and oneness out of the relationship. Of course, we all know where that goes, but if you come towards her as a relatively filled up person and say, “Hey listen, I’m pretty damn filled up and so I have energy to give to the relationship,” and she comes the same way. Now it’s not like two ticks on a dog. It’s like two people dancing a dance. That is quite powerful and that’s the different suite of codependent and a cocommitted relationship. Codependent to ticks on a dog, cocommitted we’re both committed to sourcing approval, control, security, and oneness, and aliveness and bringing that to the relationship. I would want to say that. That’s an important piece of growing up, I think.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you for that. I think this is as good a time as any to announce that instead of writing the Notebook, I’m actually working on a novel and it’s Two Ticks on a Dog, A Dystopian Love Story.
Jim Dethmer: I’ll buy a copy.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. That is not in fact what I’m working on. It’s what I’m working against or working to not have, but Jim, this has been so much fun for me. I really appreciate you taking the time. I hope we get to continue the conversation at some point.
Jim Dethmer: Yeah, me too Tim.
Tim Ferriss: And —
Jim Dethmer: I appreciated you know from afar, like we joke. A lot of the stuff that you’re up to in life, I’m not up to it, but a lot of stuff you are up to, I got on board with because of you and our mutual friends.
I’m profoundly grateful for your willingness to keep risking. That’s one of the stories I make up about you. You’re willing to keep risking. Finding an edge, reinventing, stepping over the edge, making a mess, reconfiguring. That’s not easy to do when you have as much at stake as it appears you do.
Your willingness to do that over and over again has been a tremendous service to me personally and obviously countless other people, but I’m grateful that you’re willing to do that, Tim.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you Jim. That really means a lot and it means a lot particularly right now. I’ve been struggling. I’ll be honest and that makes my day to hear you say. So thank you very much and I will continue risking and would love to continue the chat about the integrity inventory and other things another time. I think this is good for a round one and people can find you — certainly they can find all the social.
The easiest way to find everything related to the Conscious Leadership Group is at conscious.iss — that’s not it. It’s conscious.is which is, is.
Jim Dethmer: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: That is the website. I will link to everything that we’ve discussed, all the books, all the concepts, all the people, everything, including your book, The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership in the show notes at Tim.blog/podcast.
You can find show notes for this episode and every other episode. Jim, once again, thank you so much for making the time. This has just been a real pleasure and quite frankly a welcome reset and a recalibration for the compass as I wander into the rest of the day and this week. Hopefully with just a little bit more groundedness and some clarity. So I really give you a heartfelt thank you for that.
Jim Dethmer: You’re welcome, Tim. Truly, truly a pleasure.
Tim Ferriss: To everybody tuning in, thanks for listening and be safe. Say I love you to the people you love and thanks for listening in on yet another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show.
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