Whether You Can or Can’t You Are Correct! Exploring the Expectation Effect w/Nate Christensen APCC

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Tony Overbay, LMFT, welcomes Nate Christensen, APCC, back to the Virtual Couch for his 6th appearance. Tony and Nate discuss David Robson’s book “The Expectation Effect: How Your Mindset Can Change Your Word,” https://amzn.to/3vbtTCl 

Robson calls our brains “prediction machines” and says, “It turns out our brains constantly anticipate what will happen next, and this script is incredibly powerful. This does not mean, as some self-help exponents suggest, anything bad is the fault of the individual or that we can just ask the universe for whatever outcome we want; however, there appears to be some benefit in reframing experiences when our beliefs may not be helping us.” Tony and Nate give several examples from the book on the power of mindset, both positive and negative, and then give some tips on how to set yourself up best to take advantage of the power of the brain. 

Nate Christensen hosts a podcast called “Working Change” along with his wife Marla, and you can contact Nate through Tony’s website using the contact form at http://tonyoverbay.com

If you are interested in being coached in Tony’s upcoming “Magnetic Marriage Podcast,” please email him for more information. You will receive free marriage coaching and remain anonymous when the episode airs. 

Go to http://tonyoverbay.com/workshop to sign up for Tony’s “Magnetize Your Marriage” virtual workshop. The cost is only $19, and you’ll learn the top 3 things you can do NOW to create a Magnetic Marriage. 

You can learn more about Tony’s pornography recovery program, The Path Back, by visiting http://pathbackrecovery.com And visit http://tonyoverbay.com and sign up to receive updates on upcoming programs and podcasts.

Tony mentioned a product that he used to take out all of the “uh’s” and “um’s” that, in his words, “must be created by wizards and magic!” because it’s that good! To learn more about Descript, click here https://descript.com?lmref=bSWcEQ

Expectation Effect with Nate- Transcript

Tony: Nate Christensen. Welcome to the Virtual Couch. And what is now an unprecedented sixth, or seventh time, I believe. And the fans go crazy when they see that Nate’s on the podcast because we’re going to talk about smart things and I’m going to step back and I’m going to let you do a lot of the driving. So I’m excited about that too. But to begin with, have you ever thought you knew a quote so well, and then it turns out it isn’t from who you said it was?

Nate: Probably not. And the reason, 

Tony: I love it. Right. Stepping into your healthy ego. Here we go. Yeah. 

Nate: Well, so I love quotes and some things just really stick, but I never remember who says them.

Tony: Oh, okay. So it’s, but you don’t necessarily misattribute them. 

Nate: I’m sure that I have done that. Yeah, because, and I think sometimes I actually attribute them to myself. 

Tony: That’s even better. Yeah. Yeah. There’s one that I don’t, we have so much to get to today. One of my best examples of this, I used to say the “seek first to understand before being understood” quote and I assumed it was from the Bible and then I confabulated my memory so many times that I was assuming, well, if it’s the Bible it’s got to be the New Testament. If it’s the New Testament, it’s probably Paul. And at one point I even remember saying to a couple, well, as Paul said, and I’m probably assuming to the Corinthians, seek first to understand before being understood, only to find a quick Google search that it was Steven Covey.

So today we’re gonna talk about a quote that I have, I could not remember, and I want to attribute it to yoda. And it turns out that it is actually Henry Ford who said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” 

Nate: Love that quote. Okay. I mean, it’s a little cliche, right? Because maybe there are certain things that we can’t accomplish. But there’s probably plenty of things we could, but if we just don’t believe we can, we don’t do it. 

Tony: So, that is a segue to today. So today we are talking about a book called The Expectation Effect by David Robson. So do you want to do a little introduction on where and, and I do, I want you to go wherever you want to go. You drive. I’ve got some notes prepared as well. I listened to the book on audiobook, and it’s been in my head ever since. So, but I would love to hear, where are we going today, Nate? 

Nate: Well, I think we’ll just kind of meander along. I think we both have our notes and an outline, and we’ll see where it goes. It’s like two dudes with ADHD and a book. 

Tony: Need you more? And as I literally went for my squishy brain to squeeze and I dropped it behind my desk. So I feel like now I’m distracted, but it’s okay. I’m going to leave it there. I’m going to be very mindful. 

Nate: Okay, I like it. So the expectation effect, actually, the author never explicitly defines. So I was looking last night all over the place and I was like, where’s the definition? And doesn’t actually totally define it. He uses some studies to kind of define it early in the book. And there was one study that I thought was interesting, that we could kind of throw out there from the beginning. It was from Crum and Langer in 2007 and they approached seven hotels and they basically had 88 employees in housekeeping. And they cleaned something in the neighborhood of like 15 rooms a day. And then they divided them up and then they asked each group, how much do you exercise? And they got everybody’s answers. And then they said, don’t do anything different over the next four weeks we’re going to come back and talk to you, and I guess another important piece to this is, they measured everybody’s height and weight and BMI and all that stuff. So then they took this one group though and they primed them. And that’s a word we’ll use a couple times. So priming is the process of giving information that would kind of get the brain to think a particular way. And what they did with this group is they talked to them about how research indicates that certain tasks like vacuuming or cleaning the bathroom actually increases heart rate and is akin to exercise, like taking a walk or something like that and that was all they did. So then they come back in four weeks and they ask them again, how much they exercise and they found the group that they primed reported a higher level of exercise and they didn’t do anything different but they were viewing their work as exercise where they hadn’t before. And, they started poking and prodding the participants and discovered those that came to believe through the priming that their work was exercise, actually lost weight and lost BMI and said they generally felt healthier. No explanation. They checked with the managers, hey, are these people working overtime? Is anything unusual? Has anything changed? No change. It’s just, their mind started to believe that they were healthier and exercised and whatever set of cascading decisions that followed caused them to lose weight and feel better.

Tony: And I love what you talk about there, the cascading, whatever happened next. Because what I appreciated is, he makes a really big point that this is, and I love what he says. The author himself tells you many times that you need to be careful how you read the book and that it is absolutely not some version of The Secret, which was a book I remember early in my therapy career that came out, and he even said it sold 35 or 40 million copies. And, it was this, it was like the law of attraction or if you think it, it will become, and I had people that would literally tell me, and they were, they were people I’d been working with for a while that said, and it was this time of year holidays, one person said, I went to the mall and I determined I would get a front row parking spot. And he put that out to the universe, and it happened. And so I wanted to say, okay, that one, how about a little bit of chance, a little bit of luck, and he said, no, it’s because I put it out there. And so I love the fact that, David Robinson says, that every single one of these examples we give, and there’s some pretty crazy ones, that he can find the data to back it up. Whether it is, then that expectation leads to this effect and this effect, and this effect, but that power of the mind is pretty impressive. 

Nate: It is, it’s really impressive. And, my own experience having been diagnosed in my early twenties with depression and anxiety and struggling with that, and then my own expectations about what I could do and what I couldn’t do, and being told by medical doctors that I just had a chemical imbalance, and there really wasn’t probably much I could do, just take these pills, which was, I mean, I know that that was where science was at that moment. But was probably the worst thing for me because I had no incentive to try to do things differently, make lifestyle changes, which I have since done. And I, after 20 years of medication, no longer need it because, well maybe life implodes on me and I might find myself in a difficult situation and go back to the doctor and I need some.

Tony: Hey, so I’ll mark the time at this one. This is at the whatever minute mark. Right? 

Nate: No, no. I think that’s an important thing to recognize that I still have my limitations and I still do have my mental propensities but when I’m living life in a way that’s known to be healthy, I feel better. And I don’t feel that I need those other things.

Tony: And then it has that, like you said earlier, that cascading effect which I feel like is such a good principle. Do we start going down some of the studies or do you have some other things to kind of set the table? 

Nate: Yeah. So I think maybe the best thing to set the table would be understanding what is the basis. Like, so what, what is this expectation effect built on, why does this exist? And the author talks early on about an idea concept called “the prediction machine”.  

Tony: This is one of those where I feel like if you hear this in listening, right now, just starting to be aware that this is what the brain is starts to make sense. 

Nate: Yeah, yeah, and so the prediction machine or the brain, and as you talk about our brain is a don’t get killed device. And the way that it does that is by creating stories. And the stories that it creates are around the ideas of what the world is like, who we are in the world, who the people are around us, and what matters and what doesn’t matter, it’s why you can at least, you know, here in the US you know, you have people, with political belief systems that are polar opposites that they feel like both feel equally strongly about, it’s just the way that we view the world and ultimately, these belief systems can ultimately determine what we believe is possible. And so that’s where the expectation effect essentially comes from. Our brain’s desire to make sense of everything and then to build on that because that will tell us what we’re capable of, what other people are capable of and, you know, hence our expectations.

Tony: So then I know he talks about,  and I’m looking at our notes here too, well, I love, first let me just hit the, when the brain tries to make sense of the world, create stories and belief systems, Michael Twohig that was on a few weeks ago, talked about that concept of where we make stories and then we just believe that’s the way the world works. And then if we aren’t actively trying to look outside of ourselves or do our own work, then we just over 20, 30 years, well, that’s just the way it works. And so then if anybody even tries to question, well, why do we do things? Or, why don’t you do something different? Then it seems like we get offended because, well, because this is what I do. This is the way it works.

Nate: Right, and you have the idea of cognitive dissonance. So yeah, so cognitive dissonance is when someone, when you have a belief system and someone gives you information that actually challenges that belief system, it can really be shaky for people. Now this goes back to a book that I love that I mentioned a lot, which is Buddha’s Brain. Which one of the things I took from it is to stop trying to make sense of everything. Just let things be and I love it.

Tony: Which sounds so counterintuitive. And it’s funny, that’s where I was going too. The Buddha’s Brain talks about that, the book On Being Certain in essence says, well, I think I’ve created that, how adorable part. But just, we spend so much time and I feel like wasting emotional calories and energy, trying to make sense of things that happened. And then it’s almost as if we’re seeking this, well, if I can make sense of it, then what? Then I will be better. Then I can move on from it. But then we actually get caught up in trying to make sense of things. Which is so mind blowing. I did an episode a couple weeks ago on limiting beliefs. And I thought that was a really interesting concept because I haven’t really explored what that is for quite a while. But just really quick, I love that this one article I found said that these, underlying, or these self-limiting beliefs are particularly vulnerable because they’re shaped during our early development from the messages that we receive from our parents and caregivers about our self-worth, the potential, the deservingness of unconditional love. And because these self-limiting beliefs are kind of there before we even knew that we were choosing, or thinking or that then they tend to constitute these global judgements about who we are and what we’re capable of achieving, and then they trickle down into all these different aspects of our life.

So I feel like even right now, if somebody finds themselves saying, well, yeah, but, I mean, really challenge the yeah, buts, because those yeah buts come from the programming that we got in our childhood.

Nate: And that dovetails really nicely. I’m going to jump ahead a little bit based on where I had this in our outline, but I think it really ties in nicely with a study in the chapter called “Untapped Genius” where Robson starts off talking about a study in San Francisco in 19, I think it was 1964, and the researchers identified a bunch of children that were ready to bloom elementary, I think they were all elementary school kids. And then, they identified these children to the teachers and told the teachers, these kids are ready to explode academically and take a big step intellectually. And so the teachers were primed to expect these students to do well. And at the end of the year, they went through and got a bunch of IQ scores and found that these students had done about double, like twice as well as their peers. The non-identified students, I guess the students that were not ready to bloom and of course, as you can imagine, because researchers like to pull their little pranks, the students that were identified as ready to bloom were all random.

Tony: Oh, okay. I did not see that coming.

Nate: That’s funny, and the interesting thing was when they talked to the teachers, the teacher said, the teacher’s own belief system was, they didn’t work more with these kids.

Tony: I remember when you were talking about this, and that was what I was blown away by. Because even if you look at that, it’s almost like the teacher said, well, they’re good. They’re ready to bloom. 

Nate: I mean, imagine if there’s a student that comes to you and your belief system is, they’re ready, they’re ready for this, and they’re like, I don’t understand this, how much time are you going to spend with them? Are you going to say, you know what, you’re smart. I know you can figure this out. You’ll figure it out. And then they just do that.

Tony: It almost shows you when you have those students that supposedly are, they’re bored because they are so smart. I mean, I wonder if that would make some sense. Here I am trying to make sense of who knows, but, where if that person isn’t challenged, and maybe one of the reasons they’re not challenged is because the teacher does know they’re smart, and so says, well, you just sit back. I’m trying to teach these other kids because you should get it.

Nate: Yeah. There’s other studies in that particular chapter where research indicates that teachers are inherent for whatever reason, again, based on our belief systems because we’re trying to make sense of the world. You know, teachers that are aware that certain students are poor are more likely to view those students as not good students that they’ll struggle, and the author brings up the possibility that maybe these people are just meeting the expectations of those around them. Again, going back to what you said about what we experienced in childhood.

Tony: Right. And it’s funny, I was in the airport yesterday and just walking around and you do, you just make these inherent observations and judgements that just go hand in hand. And somebody just because maybe of the way they look or present or it’s the brain just continually making predictions. If this person’s safe, this person’s not. I could probably have a conversation with this person, maybe this person I couldn’t. And I feel like we don’t even recognize that we’re doing that constantly.

Nate: Yeah. There’s evidence that this is going outside of the book. There’s evidence that a lot of these things are just inherently built into us. There was a study that I was, I was listening to a presentation and the, the presenter was talking about this study that they were showing a bunch of pictures and then looking at what was going on in the brain, and what they found is me as a white man, if you show me a picture of someone non-white, my amygdala , just lights up a little bit. So I immediately feel a little bit weird. It’s possibly the in-group, out-group bias. But, but, there’s, I have no control over that. Right. It just happens, which is fascinating in and of itself. Like why would the brain associate that with potential danger? I don’t know.

Tony: Well, and then, and then what I like about that example is then the book On Being Certain in essence says at that moment not to try to make sense of, but then say, oh, I’m noticing that and now is when you can take action on something of, okay, now I can address this bias, or that sort of thing. But I feel like so much of our experience in life but this is how I feel so I need to then, I need to figure it out and then I’m not doing the work and I don’t want to be uncomfortable because if I have to then self confront, then that might be uncomfortable. And I might realize that I might not have a very open mind about a situation and that’s the part that I don’t know if you, and as a therapist, that’s the part that I don’t want to say is frustrating, but boy, sometimes I just want people to be able to fast track their way to accountability and then this self confrontation and know that it’s okay. It’s actually, we all need to recognize the areas where we don’t, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. 

Nate: Yeah, and that certainly is a challenge in therapy, and I think that it might go back at least partially to how entrenched are people in their belief systems. Like my experience, I don’t know if you, if you see this, when people come in and they have a certain amount of openness to not only what I’m saying, but to the possibility that maybe there’s things that they don’t understand, or whatever, I feel like those clients tend to do better. What do you think?

Tony: Oh, yeah, I’ll sometimes jokingly say that if somebody comes in and they’re willing to be pretty open or take ownership of their behavior or they even recognize that, okay, I obviously don’t know what I don’t know, or I continue to repeat the same pattern over and over again, that then I love to make the joke of, okay, you just saved yourself four to six sessions of therapy, so that’s a money saver which is a good thing. Should we talk about some more of the, I think this had so many good examples that I think are pretty mind blowing. Okay there’s, and I think everybody’s heard about the placebo effect. I want to also talk about the nocebo effect because that was fascinating. Do you want to talk about that?  

Nate: Okay. Well, do you want me to talk about placebo or nocebo?. Yeah. Give both. Okay. Okay. So the placebo effect is the belief that something positive will happen because you do this thing and the example that they brought up, which I thought was just incredible in the book was an experiment where, again, you know, as you can imagine, experimenters are playing their little tricks and trying to see what happens, they gave a bunch of quote unquote painkillers to people to kind of see what happens. And of course, half the people actually took painkillers and half the people took sugar pills. And what they discovered was the people that took sugar pills that believed they were taking painkillers, their bodies actually released endorphins, which is insane. I don’t even know, I don’t even know how, so for anybody that’s not sure what an endorphin is, that’s the body’s natural painkillers. So it’s endogenous morphine essentially. I mean, your body released painkillers, like the body’s natural painkillers when you popped what you thought as a Tylenol or an ibuprofen or something. That is amazing. 

Tony: Can I tell you, a client of mine actually sent me a funny video. There’s a comedian, I think his name’s Pete Holmes and my client was saying that I always talk about, oh, the brain bless its heart. It means, well. And this comedian said the brain’s kind of a jerk because it has access to all those chemicals. But it’s saying, no. Do you know what you need to do to use them? Go run. So, but when, and it could literally conjure that up. And I remember in my psycho-pharmacology class in grad school that the instructor did an amazing job of just describing an orange. To the point where it made us pretty much all salivate. And then he was just saying, power the brain. Yeah. It’s amazing. It is. So that placebo, and I remember there’s a book called You Are The Placebo. And this is where I, boy, now that I understand the way our memory works, that it probably wasn’t even in that book. It was probably just in some random article that I googled at the time when I did a podcast about it. But, there was even some stuff, and I don’t think they could get away with this today, but it was where half the people were given ACL surgeries and then another half were put under, and then they created the scars and the knee and then they followed up. And the people that didn’t get the surgery but were told they did, and that they came through it well, showed stability in their ACL. Like, that is crazy. It is, yeah, it is. That is really fascinating. So what’s nocebo then?

Nate: So the nocebo effect is essentially where the patient or client or whomever has a negative belief system built around whatever is going to happen. And they had a really just, again, fascinating studies and stories in this book. 

Tony: This one’s almost scary now that I remember what this one was. I can literally remember where I was running at the time and I was thinking about, oh my gosh. It made me immediately think of how many things do I worry about? Because what can happen, Nate? What’s the story? 

Nate: Yeah. Okay, in the 1970s was a man in Tennessee that was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. I don’t know my cancers very well, so I don’t know if it’s really serious or relatively minor. So they operated and the surgery was successful. However, further scans showed that the cancer had spread to his liver, and the doctors told him that he was going to be lucky to make it to Christmas that year, and he actually beat the odds. He survived until January. So during the autopsy they took a look at his liver. Turns out, the cancer or the tumor is not only small, but operable. And could not have killed him, they have no idea how he died, and so basically the assumption kind of became, he just believed that he was going to die and died.

Tony: You know, the reason I remember this one so well is it kind of freaked me out a little bit. And I went on a deep dive on Google and I don’t even know how many websites I clicked links to, but I found some, somebody that even hypothesized that the, some chemical that the body excretes at very low levels is non-toxic and it helps clear the bloodstream of blood clots. And I mean, but then again, I don’t even think this is a real thing. But this was somebody trying to make sense of it. And then they were saying, so this guy then must have just activated this part of his brain that just dumped this toxic chemical into his bloodstream. Which I mean, but then I even realized, oh, that was somebody trying to make sense of this, because it’s mind blowing. I think that you could just think your way through to this point where now you know, thank goodness he made it till what, January, but instead of Christmas. So he beat the odds. But he didn’t really need to die at all. 

Nate: No. Yeah. It’s fascinating. I have a non-human example. My stepson was watching my brother’s house and they have a bunch of animals and a couple of hunting dogs. And these dogs are, they’re not aggressive to people, but they’re like chasing animals all over the place. So my brother and his family got a couple of sheep, like rams, and they’re really wild and they took off and they didn’t mean for that to happen, but they just left. So anyway, my stepson calls me and he’s like, I don’t know what’s going on. The dogs are attacking an animal and he’s freaking out and then they stop and the animal’s dead. And so my wife and I run over to figure it out, and I call my brother and I send him a picture and he is like, oh, that’s one of the sheep that we had actually bought. And I guess it came back, but the dogs were out and they attacked it. So we’re looking at the sheep, and it does have injuries, but there’s no obvious like, it’s not its throat like it didn’t get it, didn’t look like the dogs had gotten it anywhere in a place that would’ve killed it. And so I just was like, this thing was just so terrified. I asked my brother about that and he was kind of thinking the same thing, like it just scared it to death to the point that it died. 

Tony: Wow. Yeah, it’s really interesting. Honestly, I was waiting for you to say, and then it looked around, no dogs around, and it popped up and ran away. I was ready for a happy version.

Nate: It was a sad ending. Sad for the ram.

Tony: Okay I want to make sure, because I know we’re going to run out of time because this is very, very easy to talk about. But let’s talk about how I can live forever, because that’s my hope. So the things around aging, I think there’s some stuff around aging.

Nate: Yeah so the last chapter is about aging and it’s really interesting, so researchers basically got a bunch of retirees, and I think they were early retirees, so maybe in their sixties, and they went through and I don’t remember if they gave them a bunch of words or they asked them to describe what getting older is like, and, and then they divided them based on their responses. So you had some people that saw getting older as painful, right. As difficult, things like that. You had other people that saw it as, you know, they associate it with wisdom, freedom, and opportunities to do new things. So they divided these people and what they found is, the people that had a positive view of getting older lived on average, seven and a half years long.

Tony: That is a long time. That was exciting to me. 

Nate: You’re like, I’m going to live until 90 now.

Tony: Or 110.

Nate: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I don’t know if I want to live that long, which I don’t know what that means.

Tony: There’s so much fun stuff to do though, Nate, right? Okay. Go lay on the couch right now and tell me more about that. I was in Salt Lake over the weekend. I flew back there to help my daughter get a car, and our salesperson was Fred, he was amazing. He was 81 and I immediately exclaimed when he told me this. Fred, you look amazing. I want to be you when I’m 81. And he already had a career retired, was bored and was just doing this kind of as a hobby, but then just sharp as a tack. And we talked about all kinds of things, not just car things, but life things. And I just, I was thinking about our interview, I was thinking about this book and I was just thinking about the fact that, you know, his implicit memory or what it feels like to be Fred is just somebody that is constantly moving, challenging, thinking, doing, learning. And so he looked the part and then also was incredibly just. And then I know that I want to be that 80 year old that’s still, I don’t know, running races or that sort of thing. But then I think it’s funny because I also look at, though, I’m also afraid of things like Alzheimer’s or that sort of thing. So then this book caused me such cognitive dissonance because in one sense I think, okay, I am convinced I’m going to live forever and be able to exercise as long as I don’t go crazy. And so which one’s going to win? I need you to tell me, Nate. 

Nate: Your expectations are going to win. 

Tony: But I expect them both.

Nate: If you go back to Buddha’s brain. The negative is like Velcro. 

Tony: Yep. And the positive like Teflon. And, I am turning my, I’m putting a bunch of sock fuzz in the Velcro of my negativity and therefore the negative things are starting to slide right past. So were there other examples of things that you thought were pretty interesting?

Nate: Yeah you know, I think for me the one that, I mean, it hit me like quite, quite heavily was around stress and anxiety. 

Tony: Talk about this. So, did it just say, knock it off? 

Nate: It was really fascinating. So they looked at some kind of societal changes that started happening around the early 1900s and maybe it was late 1800s. And so there was kind of this social movement to de-stress your life. And it was like people could do these things to kind of live a stress-free life. And there seemed to be this shift in society where it started to view stress and anxiety from more of a negative perspective. And the reason why that’s interesting is because, again, going back to the science of what they found, what happens when you stop looking at stress and anxiety as a negative, in this particular instance, what the researchers found is they got a bunch of students together taking the GRE. So you take the GRE to get into graduate school. And then they primed half of them going back to that priming word. So they gave them a blurb previous to taking this exam and then the other half, they just had them take the exam. So listen to this blurb that they gave to people. I wrote it down exactly because I wanted to do it. Hopefully it’ll pick me up because my head is turned a little bit. 

So, the blurb reads, “People think that feeling anxious while taking a standardized test will make them do poorly on the test. However, recent research suggests that arousal doesn’t hurt performance on these tests and can even help performance. People who feel anxious during a test might actually do better. This means that you shouldn’t feel concerned, if you do feel anxious while taking today’s GRE test. If you find yourself feeling anxious, simply remind yourself that your arousal could be helping you do well.”

So, that’s the only difference between these two groups. The group that got that did 10% better. Like, put yourself back in school and every time you take a test, for 15 seconds or whatever it was, you read that and every test you do 10% better.

Tony: Well, because, I mean boy, you’re getting ready for the big licensing exams and those sorts of things. And I can’t even tell you that stress and people would continually, I mean, if you fail it, you think, what if I was one or two off? I mean, so in that scenario, boy, 10% out of a four hour test of 200 questions, that’s a lot of questions you could get, right. That’s 20 questions. 20 questions from what you just read. And what is that saying though? That ‘s saying, oh, it’s normal and I’m okay. Right. Yeah. Which I love because in the world of ACT, which, you know, I go on and on about is this acceptance that of course I feel this way. I’m a human being. That’s part of the human experience. So, now what? Now I will bring it along with me while I do things of value. 

Nate: Yeah. And I love that approach because for me, the reason my anxiety was so bad, or at least again, the story that I’m creating. The reason my anxiety was so bad is because I was trying to run from it. Every time I felt elevated, I just saw like there was a problem. And I’m like, oh, there’s a problem. I need to find the problem. So I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety, which essentially, the emotion comes, going back to Buddha’s Brain, right? The emotion hits first, then it’s the brain’s decision. What am I going to do with this? My brain decided I needed to make sense of it, which again, is why I love Buddha’s Brain. It was like, that was where you went wrong. And guess what? In life, you will always be able to find problems. Always. If you are looking for problems, you’re going to find them. Absolutely. And the way to handle that is like, everything is fine. It’s okay. It’s not a problem. It’s like that blurb they gave. This might help you.

Tony: That’s a nice reframing too. Another one of the things that Mike Twohig talked about is he said, one of the lines I say is, “I think healthy, happy people are probably spending 80% of their day doing things that are important.” He said, “I didn’t say fun, but I said important. And then people who are maybe less healthy are probably spending 80% of their day working hard to feel good.” And I think we could add in there and avoid discomfort and move away from anxiety, and beat themselves up about what’s wrong with me because I feel depressed and then people feel like but I need to figure it out. And so then that’s what they’ve been trying to do for 20 or 30 years. And then that’s what it feels like to be them and then that’s the stuff that breaks my heart is then somebody can even hear what we’re talking about now and their brain’s going to just slap them up and down with the “yeah, butts”. Well yeah, but you don’t understand my situation and we don’t, so tell me more. And now let’s normalize, and then now bring that along with you while you do things of value. 

Nate: Right, and this is a long process by the way.

Tony: I don’t know if we’ve talked about this yet. I’ve been saying this on podcasts, the Buddha Brain, there’s a couple other things that I’ve read that have really led me to believe that that implicit memory or the gradual shift of your inner landscape is, you know, and he says it’s based off of the residue of your life experiences. All of that is a, it’s a long process and, but long processes don’t sell books, and they don’t sell courses and programs. So we’re conditioned to try to tell people that, no you can do this. You can turn things around right away. And I almost feel like that’s doing a disservice because then people feel like, oh, what’s wrong with me if I haven’t changed in 21 days or six months, or that sort of thing. And people will say, well, how long is it going to take? And I feel so dismissive of saying, well, as long as it takes. But that doesn’t sound very hopeful. 

Nate: No, it doesn’t. And it’s interesting you brought that up when I was 35. I will be 45 next year. When I was 35, for New Years, there was some chaos going on in my life and I was like, I’ve gotta do some things differently. So for my New Year’s resolution, I was like, I’m going to think more positively and I’m not going to change this resolution until I get it. Okay. I feel like I’m just starting to get it. It’s taken me almost 10 years. Now, I’m not saying that that’s normal for everybody, right? But that’s what it was for me.  

Tony: But I think that’s a pretty normal process, although that might make people not very excited to hear this. When I was working with a guy that does a lot of work with, a lot of research around pornography recovery and not turning to pornography as an unhealthy coping mechanism, he used to say that you can kind of count on a three to five year process. And we’ve talked about this, I’ve been pretty intentional about not necessarily laying that out there at the beginning cause I think people feel like then that sounds overwhelming. But then the reality is within the first year, there is so much of just trying to make sense of things. And then it’s almost like this comes with a little existential crisis of, oh man, what if nothing really does make sense or I can’t make sense of things, or things aren’t the way that I thought they would be or were, and then once you get through that though, now I feel like there’s this world of just acceptance and now start to just do and be. And, but then you’ve got the whole need for validation. And that’s another podcast. Willpower, talk about that because I feel like this is, not that I’m trying to debunk positive psychology but I feel like what I love about ACT or this expectation effect is so much of just, it isn’t that you aren’t to think positive. I feel like having the right positive messages are really helpful. Not the ones of, you know, I’m a handsome man that everybody finds attractive. I’m sorry, that’s not been the case for me. So that’s gonna be something my brain will say. Really? You’re buying that? But I can make changes. I am capable, I am lovable. Those sort of things. But talk about willpower. 

Nate: This is a really interesting one. So willpower in the way that it’s specifically looked at in the book, has probably more to do with what we might associate with focus. Which, you know, you and I, we have our own expectations. 

Tony: I’ve heard of this focus. Sounds cute

Nate: Yeah. We have our own expectations around focus because of ADHD or how it manifests for people. So when I was reading this, I was like, oh, that’s very interesting. And I was having my own kind of ego defenses coming up because, well see  and one of the things about this book that I think I should probably caution people if they really like some of this stuff and then go get it. I think you have, the best way to commit this is open to the fact that we might be kind of hosing ourselves. It’s kind of some victim blaming here.

Tony: Well that’s funny and you’re speaking this much better than I am because that’s where I’m trying to say, oh, how about a little existential crisis that comes when we start to realize. I think at some point people feel like, whoa, I could have done this different a long time ago. And that’s where just prepare for some radical acceptance. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. Now we know it. So that’s cool. 

Nate: Yeah. Yeah. So the willpower is again, a really interesting concept. So what do they do for this? They get a bunch of people, as they always do. They divide them up in two groups, and then they kind of see the differences. And so the way that they divided these groups were based on tests that they gave them and it was like, how do you feel about accomplishing things? So one group feels, you know, I think most people feel good about accomplishing things, but again, turning to focus. One group, when they felt like they accomplished something, they felt like they exerted a lot of energy and felt kind of drained. The other group said that they felt energized. So then after they divided everybody, they then gave everyone a pretest. It’s meant to kind of drain some focus. And then they gave them an actual task that could be scored. It was something that had to do with colors and letters. And then the test was, scored and as you can probably imagine, those that believed that completing tasks depleted energy and focus scored much worse than those that believed completing tasks energized them. 

Tony: That’s so funny because sometimes I mean, I have people that say by the end of the day, I’m shot, and then the next person can walk in and right behind him and say, and you know, by the end of the day, I’m really getting rolling.

Nate: Yeah and I’ve kind of wondered a little bit, I’m more introverted, so I’ve been like can introverts and extroversion have something to do with that? Because there you know, again, is this my brain being like, oh, I don’t know if I want to, am I setting myself up for having to make the decision? Well, I guess you’re just gonna have to work harder because you have more time.

Tony: I was gonna say, is this a self confrontation moment? Right? Although, I will tell you one of the podcasts I did on, are you a morning lark or a night owl? There was a database of chess people where they get all that data from. Do you know of this? It was so fascinating. So in essence, and I don’t know chess well enough to know that apparently there are just some moves that you make every time when you see a certain setup. And so then you could time how quickly people made these moves, and it’s all part of some international chess database that tracks all of this data. So then researchers go mine that data often. And one of them was saying, okay, this move is the move that is made. So if you look at the people that are in theory, what champion level chess players, they make it much quicker in the morning than they do in the late afternoon. Or they make it much quicker in the evening. And so there was literally this data that showed you’re either this morning lark or this night owl, but not in between. And so then I thought, okay, where does the expectation effect come into play there? Because, and it probably does because by that time, I know I’m a morning person, and so I have told myself that by the nighttime I’m pretty shut down. But then I’ve got clients that come in often and say, if I could just wake up at one o’clock every afternoon, I’m rolling by midnight. and I think yeah, but you could be more efficient if you were doing it at a different time, says me because I wanna make sure that my way is the right way. Did we leave any of these out? I know there was some stuff around food that I thought was interesting that I also wanted to ignore. Because apparently I don’t need to impulsively eat yummy, tasty food all the time. 

Nate: Yeah. So this, this one was fascinating also. I mean, they’re all just so interesting. So researchers, they got some people together and they were looking at how the brain breaks down belief systems regarding food, and so they had participants again broken up into two groups, your control in your experimental group. And they are each given these shakes. And so one shake was labeled “decadence you deserve”. And then there was a little bit more of a blurb. It was like, you know, whole milk, like rich, rich and creamy, all the buzzwords that go with that. And then one was called a shake for guilt-free satisfaction. No added sugar and this and that.

Tony: Boring, right? 

Nate: Right, right, right. So anyway, these people drink these shakes and then they do some blood work and they get in there and they’re looking at ghrelin. So I don’t know a lot about this hormone, this supplies a little bit less to therapy, so I’m more familiar with dopamine. But ghrelin apparently is a hormone that the body uses to encourage eating. So as ghrelin goes up, your body starts to fill the need to eat. Ghrelin goes down, you’re satiated. Okay. So as you would expect, the people that drank the indulgent shake, their ghrelin levels were low. Or lower than the people that had the guilt-free satisfaction healthy shake. 

Tony: So the guilt-free satisfaction, the ghrelin levels were higher? So then that meant that they were hungry sooner. Even though, surprise, shakes were the same. 

Nate: Exactly. So the same amount of calories. I mean, there was nothing different in the shakes.

Tony: So people listening, every shake that you drink from this day forward is very satisfying. Absolutely. And, it is very indulgent. And because you deserve it. Because you’re a very good person and you feel very full. 

Nate: Yeah. Do you, I don’t know if you, it’s so interesting. Did you catch the story about the man that had the damaged hippocampus? I mean, what in the world?

Tony: Yeah. It’s funny, I just said that and then I immediately thought, I don’t remember the exact story. Confabulation, sorry. So I’m like, I do, but tell it to me and then I’ll tell you what I made up around it. 

Nate: So in this story, this guy, they had to do some kind of brain surgery and damaged his hippocampus, which is really around memory formation. And so, he could never remember the last time he ate. Do you remember this now? And so experiments around this guy were really interesting. So they’d sit him down at a table and then they’d give him a bunch of food and he’d eat it, and then they’d take it away. And he has no idea that he just ate. So they’d bring him another meal and he’d eat it and then they’d take it away and, but they kept asking him if he was hungry or not on like a scale of zero to a hundred, zero being not hungry at all. A hundred being starving. And he always answered 50. He didn’t know if he was hungry or not hungry.

Tony: So he was playing it safe. I mean really. Right? Because he didn’t, I mean I even thought about, I do remember that one cause I thought about even around the world of validation and he wants to just play it safe, like nah. Yeah I could eat but I’m pretty full. Almost like playing because that’s probably, I don’t want people to tell me I’m crazy or something’s wrong with me. 

Nate: Yeah. So his memory around when he ate last and apparently even based on the shake thing, what you eat last totally can influence when you feel like you need to eat again. For a lot of people they feel like that’s really biological and apparently studies are indicating that that’s partly mental.

Tony: It’s funny and I love that we just had that exchange because I did, I confabulated the story and then I was thinking, I don’t remember it completely. And then I remember the validation piece and I made so many jokes in my brain about what you could do with that guy, you know, when they’re, you’re bringing, no, you ate this already or you like this and you’re giving him something he hates, or something like that. So, and that’s, and that’s even. Boy, talk about we’re all having our own experiences and then even have to get to the fact where you can have expectations and are they positive, are they negative? And then it’s based on what your cognitive bias is and what are the stories that you grew up with? And now as I’m saying it, it sounds like it’s so overwhelming, but I’m saying, isn’t that awesome Nate? 

Nate: It’s awesome. It’s awesome that you can change that.

Tony: Yeah, exactly. Well, and that’s on the self-limiting beliefs, I pulled up some stuff out of the ADHD 2.0 book again, and talked about the authors talking about the neuroplasticity of the brain, like drop. It’s formed at 3 5, 12 25. Any. It’s not. It’s just, I think that part where we have to, we get so deeply dug into the things that we think are the way that things work. So you have to self confront and challenge yourself, but then we absolutely can make change, it just takes a little while. And it’s even better when you’re doing things that matter to you. So says acceptance and commitment therapy. Nate, what a blast. This is fun. We’re still the world’s worst salespeople, go listen to Nate on his podcast Working Change. I probably should have said that up front. Where else can people find you?

Nate: I don’t have a website. I do have an email, if people want to reach out to me, Nate Christensen counseling and that’s a mouthful. And if it’s not, if it’s not getting to me, email Tony and he can connect you to me. 

Tony: Yeah, exactly. Go through my website, or contact@tonyoverbay.com and I know at times, yeah, we all will have an opening or two in our schedule and sometimes I think people will assume that they could never get into somebody. But, I don’t know. I think a lot of people resonate with the way that you communicate and yeah, Nate does a nice job working with clients as well. So if this is your approach, if you like the brain stuff, yeah maybe reach out to Nate, go check out his podcast. And there’s a lot of good stuff over there too. So, Nate Christensen, till we have you on again. We’ll see you next time on the Virtual Couch.

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