YW 80 Eric Maisel Creating Meaning and Life Purpose Boot Camp

YW 80 Eric Maisel Creating Meaning and Life Purpose Boot Camp

Today’s Young Wealth Show sees Jason Hartman talking to the author of Life Purpose Boot Camp, Eric Maisel about how we need to change our perception of meaning and anxiety in the creative world. Maisel’s atheist beliefs lead to a spirited exchanging of views, making today’s podcast informative and passionate.

Key Takeaways

02.50 – Eric Maisel’s movement is not about searching for meaning, but about creating meaning.

09.00 – It’s important to assess if your life as it is has meaning, but it’s more difficult to throw everything away because of that.

12.05 – Part of the anxiety problem is that 99% of performing artists get no feedback whatsoever.

14.00 – The key to reaching this more creative level really lies in the morning creativity practice.

22.08 – Religion still has a very strong societal hold on people and it can be this sense of community which makes it hardest to leave.

26.10 – Maisel claims we have two choices with the future of religion: perpetuate lies or be honest and see which side produces higher morality.

28.13 – For more information, head to www.EricMaisel.com, and if you’re interested in learning more about natural psychology, you can download a free copy of Maisel’s book Natural Psychology at www.NaturalPsychology.net

Tweetables

There is no specific place to look for meaning – for thousands of years, we’ve just been misled by metaphors. Tweet this!

The simple act of continuously having to make choices can be a major trigger for anxiety among artists. Tweet this!

If we posit and follow an entity or deity out there, is that then a betrayal of our common humanity? Tweet this!

Transcript

Introduction

Welcome to the Young Wealth Show, where you’ll truly learn how to make, spend and invest money for an awesome life. Get the real life stuff that wasn’t part of your school curriculum. Young wealth gives you innovative new ways of dealing with your finances, as well as the skills and tools you’e going to need to survive and be successful out on your own. Let the Young Wealth Show be your GPS to take you from clueless to clued in. Here’s your host, Jason Hartman, with Young Wealth.

Jason Hartman:
It’s my pleasure to welcome Eric Maisel to the show. He is author of more than 40 books on philosophy, religion, creativity and innovation. He’s widely regarded as America’s foremost creativity coach, and author of the new book Life Purpose Boot Camp. Eric, welcome, how are you?

Eric Maisel:
Hi, Jason, I’m great, how are you?

Jason:
I’m fine thank you. Give our listeners a sense of geography, where are you located?

Eric:
I’m 30 miles east of San Francisco in a town called Walnut Creek.

Jason:
Fantastic, it’s a beautiful place. Tell us a little bit about your work – there’s a lot to cover here, you’ve got a huge body of work!

Eric:
I do. I have three main interests. One is working with creating and performing artists and articulating their challenges and helping them live better lives as artists. I’m also interests in meaning and life purpose, and I’ve been developing something I call natural psychology, which looks at meaning in a new and slightly different way. It looks at meaning as a certain kind of psychological experience, rather than as something out there in the world. As soon as we look at meaning that way, many things change. My third area of interest is mental health reform. I’m in what’s called the Critical Psychiatry Movement, which is a movement that doesn’t think that the current way of treating mental disorders is really working, and that something new is needed.

Jason:
Fantastic. Well, gosh, I’m thinking I want to start with the subject of meaning because that is so all-encompassing. From your very brief explanation there – and I’d like to ask you to dive into that more deeply – it sounded like a lot of meaning advisers, for lack of a better word, are actually saying that meaning is outside of oneself? It would seem like that is an internal process.

Eric:
It would seem like that, wouldn’t it? We have 2000 years of the metaphor of seeking meaning, and that meaning is in a book or on top of the mountain, or at some guru’s feet. In fact, although meaning is internal on a psychological experience, we’ve been misled by our metaphors for thousands of years to think that there’s some place to look for meaning. I’ve been trying to champion the paradigm shift from seeking meaning to making meaning, and telling folks that there is no meaning to look for – there is only the meaning that we influence and create, and when you actually get that, then suddenly you understand that there’s work to be done on a daily basis to make meaning investments and to seize meaning opportunities and to spend your life in a certain way, not waiting for meaning, but rather creating meaning.

Jason:
Meaning is an inside job, if you will, right?

Eric:
It’s another psychological experience, like ecstasy and sadness and anything else. It’s a special, unique psychological experience, but that’s what it is. In fact, there are two kinds of meaning, let’s say. Let’s call the first inadvertent meaning – like you look up at the night sky and suddenly you’re filled with the sense of the meaningfulness of life. You didn’t do any work there, it just came upon you that life feels meaningful. Then there’s what I call value-based meaning making, which is the idea that by following our value and principles – first of all we have to know what they are – we can make meaning of the sort that actually makes us proud of our efforts. I think that’s what we’re actually after in life. It’s not to be happy. Happy is wonderful if we can pull that off, but it’s to make ourselves proud by our efforts. We make ourselves proud by engaging in what I call value-based meaning making.

Jason:
You talk about meaning investments, and this value-based meaning making, and that distinction that happiness is not a be-all-end-all. I think a lot of people believe that.

Eric:
I think we want to make use of ourselves. There is no-one more likely to commit suicide than a bored aristocrat – someone who had everything. We can have all the toys we want, and all the sensual pleasures and what have you, and still not experience life as meaningful.

Jason:
It’s definitely not about hedonism, is it?

Eric:
It’s not about hedonism, it’s about living our values and our principles. We all kind of know that and we know that if we could, we’d want to do the next right thing and the next right thing after that, but life gets in the way. Our responsibilities and errands and all sorts of things get in the way, but when we step back, we understand that what’s going to make us proudest is actually living a life based on our values and principles.

Jason:
How to we decide on our values and principles?

Eric:
It’s really tricky because many of them contradict one another. For instance, if you’re an artist, you might believe that one of the things that’s really important to you and that you value is getting your creative work done and having a career. But then you may also realize that you value relationships and you want to have a life with your loved ones, and in a daily way, that often conflicts. I think it’s the same for anybody in business – they discover that kind of conflict where they want their career to go on an upward spiral, but they also want to spend time with their loved ones. It’s kind of a cliche how difficult it is to do both things. It turns out that making a list of our values or our principles is far from the end of the game. It’s not a bad exercise, though. Once you have that list, it has to be put into context. You have to live those values and principles in a daily way. One of the ways I suggest to clients and readers is that they engage in what I call a morning meaning check-in. It’s just half a minute in the morning where you make conscious decisions about where you’re going to make meaning investments on that day – maybe you’ll spend two hours writing your novel and one hour walking in the park with your loved one, or what have you. We should spend our days much more intentionally and in a much more deliberate way than we typically do.

Jason:
Now more than ever. We are in reactive mode, as this onslaught of information and demands and emails and questions come at us. Peace and solitude are just really very rare commodities nowadays.

Eric:
That’s right. It’s why I think we need much more existential organization than we engage in. Everybody makes to-do lists and gets things checked off from their to-do lists, but that’s not the same as having a to-do list around meaning and purpose. To keep our life purposes close, I have folks, engaged in odd-ball type activities like ‘create a life-purpose statement’ or ‘fabricate a life-purpose icon’ or ‘create a life-purpose mantra’. That is to have some tools available so you can remember what your life purposes are as life rushes by.

Jason:
So are any of these values and principles universal? Or are they all subjective to the individual?

Eric:
I do think they shift and there are humanist values that we sort of feel are universal, but I wonder if they are ultimately. If I had to come down on one side or the other of that, I would say that values are contextual, rather than universal. For instance, we might hold as a value our survival and our health. Maybe that’s universal, except maybe our son needs a kidney and suddenly we’re going to undergo severe surgery to take care of our son because that’s now a value – we value his life. Then the next day, or the next year, he decides he’s going to enlist in a war, and now suddenly for that, even though now he’s risking his life that we just gave him a kidney for. Then another year later, we discover that the war is not a good war and now we want him back etc. So I do think that values shift according to circumstances and our understanding of situations.

Jason:
Very interesting. They definitely do, and the fact that they’re in conflict with each other. What should we do when our values are in conflict with each other?

Eric:
First of all, it’s good if we notice, because otherwise we’ll be experiencing high anxiety and not knowing where the anxiety is coming from. Even though it’s painful to understand that values are in conflict, it’s better to notice it than to not notice it and just stay in an unconscious pain. When we discover they’re in conflict, we have to make changes. One of the things that I keep suggesting to folks is to take personal responsibility for their life, which may include making large changes. If, for instance, we believe that our work is meaningful or ought to have been meaningful, but we don’t actually experience it that way – we get our phD in archaeology and we discover that digs are actually really boring, it’s just a lot of dirt; if we discover that this thing that we’ve spent so many years, even decades setting up for ourselves isn’t meaningful, we have to make a huge change or else we’re just throwing good hours and good days after bad. It’s very difficult for folks to do that, but it’s better to make those changes than to remain in conflict.

Jason:
So that’s the idea of cut your losses, right?

Eric:
Yes, that’s right. And it’s really not easy to do because we’re talking about identity, too. If you feel like your identity is based on you being a certain kind of professional with a certain kind of prestige, and now you understand that you have to throw that over because your life isn’t actually meaningful, it’s very hard to do on the identity level.

Jason:
Do creative people tend to get more anxious or more depressed than other people? Does one come with the other? Is that a bit of a curse?

Eric:
The short answer is yes. 100% of creative folks are going to experience that kind of sadness or despair which we nowadays call depression, and they’re also going to experience higher anxiety than the next person. That’s not because they’re more anxious by nature, but because the beast makes them anxious. If you think about it, the creative process is one choice after another. Put a little red here, put a little blue there, it’s one choice after another, and choosing provokes anxiety, so the very creative act of having to make one choice after another, hour upon hour, year upon year, provokes anxiety. As to the sadness, a lot of the sadness is existential in nature. By that I mean that a lot of creative folks don’t actually believe that what they’re doing matters. Who needs another photograph? Who needs some more pigment on canvas? Who needs another short story? We do need them, but individual creators often wonder on a daily basis if what they’re doing is really that valuable or if it matters that much. On the one hand, it’s hard work, which makes them grumpy on a daily basis, but they can also doubt and it’s easy to fall in despair over one’s choice.

Jason:
Usually they get so much positive feedback from the environment and from their fans.

Eric:
I’ve got to interrupt you there, Jason, because they do not. 99% of creative and performing artists get no feedback from the world. They don’t succeed. If we’re talking about celebrity artists, that’s one group of artists, but most creative and performing artists do not make it. On a daily basis, they’re not getting support from anybody, including their mates and their families who are telling them to do something else and make some money.

Jason:
Yeah, get a real job.

Eric:
As a rule, really, 95% or more of creative and performing artists are not making a living or even very much money from what they’re doing, so they’re not experiencing success and that’s another reason they’re down so often.

Jason:
Fair enough. When I referred to that, I was referring to what the world would call ‘successful’ or at least in terms of notable creative people. Maybe some of these people who aren’t experiencing success, on the other hand, aren’t really creative. Maybe they’ve chosen the wrong thing, like the starving actor or the starving artist. Maybe they’re really just not that good.

Eric:
Well, there’s no doubt that there’s some normal distribution of talent, but a lot of good people never make it. The Tchaikovsky violin concerto was booed off the stage. Things that are avant garde or special are often hated when they come out, so I wouldn’t say it’s that. Of course, there’s got to be that normal distribution of talent and some people are going to be more talented than others, but I think it’s the savvier artists that make it, rather than the most talented artists. I think it’s an entrepreneurial business and if you are an entrepreneur by nature, you’re much more likely to make it in the arts than on sheer talent.

Jason:
Right, well maybe being savvy is a form of creativity.

Eric:
It certainly is.

Jason:
Okay, so can you give our audience here any tips on how to be more creative?

Eric:
Sure, there are some real basics . One is that you probably have to institute a morning creativity practice before your real day begins because virtually everyone has a real day as a day job or another career. If you try to wait until the evening and if you spend your busy, tiring day doing your day job and then hope that in the evening you’re going to write or paint or compose, most people can’t do it. They’re both too tired by the end of the day and they’re also a little sad because they didn’t get to spend their day the way they wanted to. On a practical and tactical level, the most important thing is to get up an hour earlier – nobody wants to hear this, but spend that hour from 5am-6am getting your creative work done. That has three big benefits. The first is the obvious one: you get work done. The second is that you get to make use of your sleep thinking. Folks don’t really realize that in addition to dreaming during REM sleep in the night, we also think during non-REM sleep, and that thinking is very important, except it goes away the second we turn to the new day. If you institute a morning creativity practice, you get to make use of that sleep thinking. The night before, you can ask yourself ‘what does Mary want to say to John in Chapter 3 of my novel?’ and your brain will work on Mary and John chatting all night long, and then you can work on it in the morning. That’s a very big deal.

Jason:
So it’s really that simple? Give yourself a problem before bed and your sleep thinking will work it out for you?

Eric:
Of course it can’t be quite that simple, but it’s almost that simple. You may not get it the first day. I have clients who use this sleep thinking process to solve problems, and often it takes some days or weeks to get the problem solved, but they’re holding a certain kind of intention – namely the kind of intention to turn over their sleeping brain to solving this problem, and answers do tend to come. Just to round up the other thought, the third reason for morning creativity practice and why it’s so important is that by starting the day doing your creative work, you will have the experience of having made some meaning on that day, and the rest of the day can be half meaningless and you won’t get depressed. It’s a kind of meaning inoculation. There are a lot of good reasons, just on a practical level, to start your day with some creating.

Jason:
I am most definitely, Eric, a big fan of getting up early, and I think of that old saying of ‘Early to bed, early to rise makes man healthy, wealthy and wise’ which is there for a reason, because morning time is just a great time of day. It’s a productive time. You talk about sleep thinking. Is there an optimum amount of sleep? It probably depends on age because I notice with myself at least that the older I get, the less able I am to sleep very long. I don’t know, I don’t seem to mind it too terribly much.

Eric:
I don’t think there’s an optimal amount because it’s partly a function of how much of the sleep is deep sleep, and how much of it is restless or not really restful sleep. The more deep sleep we have, the more we’re able to manage to go on as little as 6 or 7 hours. It really depends on the quality of sleep. I have to tell you a little anecdote, it’s slightly long. I did a book called Sleep Thinking, and my publicist said “I can get you on to ‘Tell the Truth'” – I don’t know if you remember that game show?

Jason:
Right, I remember it.

Eric:
And so I appeared on the game show, and there were three sleep thinkers – there were three Erics: the real Eric, as me, and then two false Erics. One of the questions asked of me was ‘Is there an optimal amount of time to sleep?’ and I gave an answer sort of like the one I gave you, but I said it a little more closely to ‘6 hours is enough’. Hardly anybody in the audience believed that so we managed to get a lot of wrong answers and we made some money.

Jason:
That’s funny. When you’re deep sleeping, are you REM sleeping, or are you sleep thinking that’s not REM?

Eric:
That’s right. We dream in REM sleep and we think in non-REM sleep, in deep sleep.

Jason:
Oh, so the REM is lighter?

Eric:
The REM is lighter and that’s why we can get so agitated with our dreaming. Sometimes, of course, those dreams feel like very deep sleep, but there’s a deeper sleep than that.

Jason:
Okay, so anymore on becoming more creative?

Eric:
I think the morning creativity practice is one thing. Actually practicing and owning some anxiety management techniques is really important because as we were saying a moment ago, anxiety threads through the process, and if you don’t understand that, the number one thing that people do to avoid the experience of anxiety is to flee the encounter. They leave and they go away. That’s what a lot of would-be creative folks are doing; they’re never quite getting to the page or the canvas. I think it’s really important for folks to understand the place of anxiety and the process and to deal with the place of anxiety by having some anxiety management strategies at the ready. There are as many as 20 or so different categories of anxiety management strategies, so there are lots of things for folks to try to reduce their experience of anxiety.

Jason:
Did you want to maybe share one or two, or give a concept on that?

Eric:
Sure. There are many straightforward ones like deep breathing, which is an ancient technique for reducing our experience of anxiety. Smart cognitive thinking, so only thinking thoughts that only serve to not increase our sense of anxiety – smart cognitions with deep breathing is a beautiful way to marry those two things. You can drop smart thoughts into a deep breath and you can figure out which thoughts are useful for you to be thinking, and then you drop them into a deep breath. On the inhale you’re thinking half the thought, and on the exhale you’re thinking the other half of the thought. It’s a very simple but useful technique. There are relaxation techniques, there are things called discharge techniques where you get the stress out through physical activity, so as I say, there are many many tactics and techniques. Some are more body-oriented, some are more mind-oriented, but there’s something there for everybody.

Jason:
The last thing I want to ask you about is just the topic of religion. You address philosophy, religion, creativity and innovation. Tell us about your work on the religion side.

Eric:
You may have been slightly misinformed. My work on religion is that I’m an activist atheist and I’ve done books like The Atheist’s Way, so I wouldn’t say that I’m in the religion camp. In fact, I would say I’m in the anti-religion camp.

Jason:
So let me ask you about that. Isn’t atheism a religion?

Eric:
I don’t think so, but we could debate that.

Jason:
I thought I’d throw that out there.

Eric:
That’s one of those things that one could debate, but I don’t think so. I think, personally, that the idea of positing someone or some entity out there that you then follow is actually a betrayal of our common humanity. I don’t think we know what’s out there. It doesn’t make me an agnostic, even though it might sound like it.

Jason:
That’s what I was going to ask: why not be an agnostic?

Eric:
Yeah, we don’t know that, but I’m positive that the pronouncements of religious folks do not make sense. That’s a topic for another day.

Jason:
Obviously it is. The interesting thing that I think about the atheists out there – they don’t address the societal issues.

Eric:
You mean the value of religion to society?

Jason:
Yeah, I think a lot of times it’s framed in a negative way – oh, look at these hypocrite religious people, or look at the Muslims stoning people to death. Very rarely does a Christian guy kill an abortion doctor or something, versus the other side. These are examples, but I think they’re missing something there. What are your thoughts on the societal side?

Eric:
It’s an interesting question. One of the challenges that individual atheists have is that we don’t have community. Atheism, by itself, is not a reason to gather. In that sense, the community that religious organizations provide is very important. In fact, the hardest challenge for someone leaving their religion for a new atheist is losing their home church. That’s what they experience as the hardest.

Jason:
But they can always join an objectivist group. Ayn Rand was devout.

Eric:
But as we were saying, it doesn’t actually work the same way. Somehow it doesn’t go as deep. It’s an actual loss for them. I think that idea of a home church, or that experience of a home church is, in fact, very poignant and powerful for folks and it’s actually harder to lose the home church than to lose God, for new atheists. In a way, I agree with you. On the other hand, I do think that religions are more dangerous than benign – that’s my view, so on balance, I would probably disagree with you. In that one sense though, I do agree with you.

Jason:
Tell me about that, though. I want to be fair and give equal time here. Why are religions more dangerous than benign?

Eric:
I think if you’re starting from what I believe is the untruthful place of making up Gods, then you then have to force or demand of the folks around you that they perpetuate what I’m saying is a lie. Organizations or cultures or groups that by violence or by shunning or by this or that perpetuate certain dogma, and I think those are dangerous organizations.

Jason:
Here’s the thing. I almost liken it to economics. I’m quite the economist and I really like studying economics. I like a lot of things but economics is quite fascinating to me and has been for the last decade. There’s this principle in economics that talks about how you can’t hear the dogs that don’t bark. In other words, there are some economic things that by them not happening, you can’t measure them. I think that also applies to the religion debate because if you take, for example, religions. They aren’t benign – they do things, they engage in things, they burn people at the stake – Salem witch hunts etc. There’s all kinds of history out there, obviously. The thing that scares me the most is that most of them have modernized, except for one, which is still doing that kind of stuff. The question, I think, that needs to be asked, which is a fair, intellectually honest question is: Some of these people are doing bad things, and that’s true. The question is: Would they be worse if it were not for religion?

Eric:
It’s a question that’s often asked. I don’t think so. Most secular countries like the Nordic countries, or what have you, have the least violence and the least this and that, so I think it’s another long debate kind of question. I’m going to give you the short answer, which is, I think no. I think when you’re freed from having to be lying about things internally and you can actually talk about your own values and what you value, what your principles are, and these are different from what you’re told your values and your principles are, then I think you give yourself the chance of coming up with a higher morality, not a lower morality.

Jason:
Well, yes, that may well be true. The problem is it’s a maybe.

Eric:
Of course.

Jason:
Like you said, atheists don’t have community. That’s an interesting observation I haven’t thought much about. There’s no sense of community, and that is one of the great things about [religion].

Eric:
It is a maybe, but I think your other choices if you agree with me are as follows. On the one side: perpetuating lies, and on the other side: being honest and then just seeing which does produce the more moral person. If it’s a maybe, I don’t think the conclusion is ‘Let’s stay with religion, since it might be dangerous to let go of it’. I think the right direction is ‘Let’s let go of religion to see if people get better’. I think they will.

Jason:
It’s a debate for the ages. We’re certainly not going to solve it here.

Eric:
That’s right. [Laughs].

Jason:
I’m not saying it’s always a disease, but I’ll call it a disease in excess – it seems that there would be a lot of the disease of hedonism. People will just wantonly do whatever they want if all they have is the government to answer; I guess it would just be the government then. There just won’t seem to be any boundaries.

Eric:
I do think that you’re saying this to support religion, and I would say let’s see. Your argument is ‘if the shackles or if the virtues of religion were let go of, that people would go in X direction’. I say that they’d go in Y direction and we’d have to see.

Jason:
One of the things with religions is to witness and to recruit, if you will. What does an atheist believe about that? You said you’re an activist atheist. Are you recruiting?

Eric:
I think that we have a complete spectrum. I think that any given atheist would be somewhere on that spectrum from ‘This is just for me and I don’t really care what other people are doing’, to being actively against religion, and let’s call it recruiting. Yeah, I would be on the recruiting side. I would like religion to hold less sway, I would like there to be more people who see through religion, so yeah, I would say that I’m on the recruiting side.

Jason:
Okay, I just wanted to see that. I always like to ask my guests to give out their website and tell people where they can learn more about their work.

Eric:
Absolutely. It’s www.EricMaisel.com

Jason:
Any closing thoughts about natural psychology? I didn’t really get to ask you about that, although I think we alluded to it in our discussion toward the beginning of today’s talk. Any closing thoughts about that, or about anything?

Eric:
It’s not exactly a closing thought, but it’s a gift to folks. They can get my book Natural Psychology for free by going to www.NaturalPsychology.net. It’s available there for download for free, so if folks are interested in what I’m talking about here with meaning as a psychological experience and what flows from that fact, they can learn about that in that book.

Jason:
Fantastic, well good stuff. Eric Maisel, very fascinating and spirited discussion, I appreciate having you on the show and thanks for joining us.

Eric:
Thanks for having me.

Outro:
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