Peter McGraw plays “Truth or Truth” with return guest Iris Schneider. Prepare for some thought-provoking ideas from Iris.
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Listen to Episode #180 here
Truth Or Truth With Iris Schneider
Welcome back, Irish Schneider.
Thank you. I’m glad to be here again.
Frequent readers know you from the amazing episode on Waiting that we did with Kinneret Lahad and the more recent, Are You Thriving or Coping? episode with Geoff MacDonald. I tend to have you on here with fellow academics so we can nerd out. I thought we’d have a little bit more fun and play truth or truth, where each of us prepared three questions for the other person. We share two of them in advance. The third is a surprise. Before we begin to play, I want to tell you that you’re going to be in the forthcoming Solo book. You made the cut.
That’s very exciting.
I’m going to read the passage, so it won’t be that much of a surprise.
It’s a surprise right now.
There’s a chapter called Single to Solo. It’s a chapter that lays out these three pillars of solo living. The first one is being wholehearted, seeing yourself as a complete person. The third one is being an unconventional thinker. The second one, which is relevant, is this notion of embracing autonomy, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency, which allows you to be better connected. Connections are a choice rather than a requirement. Are you ready?
Here we go. Marriage is a commonly recognized milestone to adulthood, whether symbolically executed or explicitly stated. For instance, in ancient Greece and Rome, matrimony kickstarted adult responsibilities such as managing a household and starting a family. By the way, prior to this, I had talked about some of the other ways that people mark adulthood culturally, so I’m going to reference them now.
With such a variety of markers across time and culture and such a variety of modern walks of life, what standards should mark the transitions to an adult? Is it reaching a particular age or jumping over bulls? This is something an African culture does, where young men jump over the backs of cows. If they’re successful, they become an adult. If they’re not successful, they remain a child or tie the knot.
Irish Schneider, a behavioral scientist, proud solo, and frequent guest co-host on my show, has a simple yet profound answer for what makes someone an adult. “The difference between an adult and a child is that an adult is a good parent to themselves. Parents educate their children, provide a moral compass, and foster social skills.”
“However, the most critical responsibilities of a parent are to provide basic needs, offer food, clothing, and shelter, ensure the child’s physical well-being and safety, create a healthy and secure environment, and emotional support, love, and encourage growth. To fail at these responsibilities is to fail as a parent. ‘Solos’ parents oneself by cultivating autonomy and self-sufficiency. If you can provide for your own basic needs, safety, and security, and are able to soothe and love yourself, then congratulations. You are an adult.”
I’m not crying.
It’s okay. There’s been a lot of tears shed on this show.
You worded that beautifully. That’s well done.
Thank you so much. That was an easy section to write.
It’s nice. It’s so concise. It’s so clear.
Thank you. I think people find that idea useful. I have to ask you about this. Where did you come up with that idea? I remember you talking about it during the waiting episode and I was just blown away by it. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. I’ve talked about it a number of times on the show, and obviously, I’m writing about it in the book as an essential element to that second pillar.
This is one half of the way I think about adulthood. The other way I think about it is maybe a bit more flippant. That is that the only people who think there’s such a thing as an adult are children. That is maybe pushing against the idea that adulthood is behaving along a certain set of norms. As you grow older, you assume that somehow you will have it all figured out and that you’re now an adult by age. Most of the time, you shoot in the dark, stumble along, and wonder what’s what. The other part of that is that we often stop doing things we love because we think they’re not adults.
Put away childish ways. That’s a critique that single people receive. Time to grow up. Time to be responsible. Put away childish ways. Stop being a Peter Pan.
I’ve always thought about this. There are so many things that I can do now that I couldn’t do as a child because a child lacks the autonomy to some degree. You can’t just do whatever you want. Usually, you also lack control over resources. There are many things that now, as an adult, you can live out. You can do certain activities that you always wanted to do.
You can go to Disneyland anytime you want. You don’t have to wait for your parents to take you.
I wanted to say you can eat straight out of the Nutella jar in your bed. That contrasts with being a real adult and parenting yourself properly. It’s absurd in a way to think about it now, but this was years ago. I heard somebody say something about how you should take care of yourself in the same way you would take care of your dog or somebody that you loved. I think many people struggle with wanting something from their parents that they’re not getting. The obvious answer, but the most difficult thing to do is to provide that for yourself. Accept that your parents are humans, flawed, and probably not going to provide that.
I think these ideas coming together made me think about adulthood in that way because I also found it such a practical guide from day to day just to see yourself as a person that you need to take care of. What would a loving parent do? What do I need right now? Thinking about it from that third-person perspective sometimes makes it easier to make the right decision. What’s right for me? What would I advise my child or somebody dependent on me in this situation?
Two things come to mind as you talk about this. The first one is we know that this notion of child versus adult is made up. It is fiction. It’s culturally determined. We know this for a variety of reasons. Yes, there are some developmental things happening and some biological things happening, but childhood versus adulthood is a social construct. We know it is because what it is that transitions you from child to adult depends on culture, so it’s arbitrary. It might be your bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah in Judaism, turning eighteen in another country, and so on and so forth.
The other thing is childhood and adulthood have changed over the years. In American history, for example, children were treated as adults at a much earlier age than they are now. Once you start to recognize that these milestones are arbitrary, it opens you up for something. I think what you’re identifying is more behavioral, that you’re able to care for yourself and do it well. The other thing is it puts the responsibility purely on your shoulders to do it and do it well. If you do, it allows you to enter into a relationship should you want to, without that other person having the responsibility to be your parent.
This is inescapable when you talk about two becoming one, where suddenly someone might give up their ability or never even develop their ability to be a parent to themselves, asking their partner to do it for them implicitly or explicitly. You can’t even prepare a meal for yourself, for example. Asking your partner to do that. Should your partner disappear due to death, divorce, or disability, now it’s on your shoulders, you’re not able to do it, and you’re in trouble.
You’re right. That’s also how we got onto the topic in the episode where we were talking about couples where 1 or 2 are looking for a substitute parent. That makes people very dependent to some degree the wrong reasons on each other. Also, dependent on the relationship in a way that is not my preference, at least. It has to do with emotional maturity as well. I think we talked about that on the show a few times as well, to take responsibility for your own emotions.
I wanted to make sure I put that in there, that you’re able to soothe yourself and cope emotionally. It’s very nice having other people who can lend a hand. Whether that’d be family, friends, a romantic partner, or even your pet for that matter, that’s something I hope I’m going to be very clear about, this is not about going it alone in the world, but it’s about being able to go it alone if you need to. Thus, that creates optionality in a way that the average person who needs that other person and would be devastated without them is lacking.
The difference between support and dependency.
Yes. Well said. Welcome to the book, Iris. That was critical to developing my thinking. Thank you for that.
Very pleased. Best citation ever.
Let’s get into truth or truth. First round, I’ll start. You’re familiar with The Desire Map. You taught me about it. For the audience, The Desire Map is a personal development program. By the way, it’s not called self-help anymore. It’s now called self-development or personal development. It’s been rebranded.
That’s fair enough.
This is by Danielle LaPorte. She’s a speaker, author, and entrepreneur. This is not heavily researched, but I like the premise of The Desire Map. We often pursue a goal without understanding the underlying feelings we’re trying to achieve. What LaPorte talks about is rather than focusing on goals, focus on feelings, and so there are these five main areas. Caring for your body, caring for your livelihood and lifestyle, caring for your creativity, caring for your relationships, caring for your essence/ spirit. What I want to know from you is, do you have a preferred feeling state from this list, why, and how you might accomplish those feelings?
I came across The Desire Map by a woman I met in Los Angeles actually in 2023. Very inspiring woman. We were talking about, “How do you want to shape your life?” To think about goals is somewhat the default way. “I want to accomplish this and I want to accomplish that goal. I want to be there in my job and I want to have this kind of relationship. It’s somewhat unsatisfying. We’ve had this discussion before because what do you do when you achieve those goals? Also, why do you want to achieve these goals?
It resonated with me because there is another idea that I read somewhere, also in some self-development area, I can’t remember. It was more about like, “Don’t think about what you want to accomplish. Think about what you want your days to look like.” That’s very close. What are the experiences that you want in your life? This approach, what are the kind of states that you like being in and how can you accomplish these states? It’s very intuitive as well as challenging. Sometimes I don’t even know how I feel, let alone how I want to feel and what is appropriate at the moment.
I think it’s a very original way to think about what things to pursue, what not to pursue, what to prioritize, and what not to prioritize. It also made me realize something about myself that my mom already knew about me and I did not. That is, I want to feel both challenged and on the edge of what I know and what I can do, as well as calm and content. When I realized that, I thought, “This is interesting because these are too difficult and almost incompatible states.” As you know, my research is on ambivalence and also incompatible states. I started to realize that my whole life is permeated by this type of contrast.
I always seek out experiences or things that bring me and that make me feel like I’ve learned something, like I’ve discovered something new that I was wrong before or that what I believed before is maybe not always applicable. I want to be in that state where you feel your experience or your mind being stretched. It is very strongly related to trying new things, not just activities but also trying new museums, new cities, new people, and new approaches to work. At the same time, I’m a creature of habit. I want things to stay the same all the time. I want regularity. I want to be in bed by 8:00 PM. I want to have the same breakfast every day. I want to feel calm and relaxed.
I realized this about myself only when I started to think a little bit more systematically about, “When do I feel happiest? What do I want to pursue?” I then remembered something my mom told me. I called her on the phone. I started a new position and new positions are always challenging. At a new university, they’re particularly challenging. I called my mom and I complained. I said, “This is all too difficult. I bit off more than I can chew. I don’t know if I can do this.” My mom said, “Come on, Iris. You always do this. You like doing this. You always do something, realize it’s difficult, and then do it anyway.”
To realize this about myself was purely a consequence of systematically thinking about not what goals I want to achieve but what states I pursue. Then you also start to see that you do this in different domains in your life. For me, I always need to have one foot in chaos and one foot in order, and then I say, “Why is this foot in chaos? Yeah, because I put it there.”
If you had both feet in order, you would be bored. You would get bored very quickly.
Yeah, I get very restless.
Our similarities are striking. There’s a reason that we’ve come into each other’s lives, I think not just around singlehood, but in terms of our orientation. I had a wonderful guest on to talk about psychological richness as the alternative path to flourishing. One of the things about a psychologically rich life is it’s a challenging life. It’s not a life that’s always pleasant. It explains a lot that some people are drawn to this. I find myself at times being like, “Why did I choose this?” It’s because if I put two feet into that notion of control, I get bored. I’m seeking out some chaos as a lever of sorts.
I resonate with this idea. I’ve become much more process-focused. It’s a theme in the book. I have a whole section about the downside of goal setting and the problems with setting goals. I like this notion of, “What do you want your days to be like?” I have a little formula I’ve been using. That is that I want to create, I want to move, and I want to play. Those are the three elements of a good or remarkable day for me. I think the big question for people like us is how do you remain calm in the eye of the storm? How is it that you place yourself in the storm? You chose the storm. How do you find calm and peace in that?
Philosophers, monks, the Buddha, and great minds throughout history have worked through various tactics by which to do this. I’ll tell you one that I’ve been fussing with. The frequent audiences know that I’m trying to tame anxiety in my life, which is thankfully not profound, but distracting. One is acknowledging, “I chose this path. I chose the things that are creating anxiety in my life. I’m fortunate enough to be in a stable enough place that I have enough security that I get to choose my insecurity.” The first one has to do with the space-time continuum. If you’re nerding out and you’ve read anything about Einstein’s theory of relativity, there’s this idea that the past, the present, and the future are all happening.
Einstein or George is our Martin, I guess.
This idea essentially that the future has already happened and it’s just unfolding helps me a little bit with anxiety. The thing that I’m concerned about has already happened and I’m just going to discover what it is. I don’t have the kind of influence I think that I do over it, so I don’t have to be so vigilant. That’s the first thing. The second one is simply this. I’m well equipped to deal with the bad things that could happen. Bad things happen all the time to me, and I seem to do okay with dealing with them. Why am I anxious about something that might already be decided? For the most part, I can handle it. That helps me with that.
There is an inherent paradox again in what you’re saying. It is that I chose this, but everything has already happened.
I say that all the time. “I chose this.”
Search control and then let go of control. I chose this, yet everything has already happened, so I just have to watch it unfold. I think that is interesting. I like this idea a lot. Everything has already happened, and I chose this. I think those are very useful concepts because I think that we also have that in common. I’m also relatively on the anxious side of things.
It’s extra, it’s particular, and it’s peculiar that you would seek out uncertainty in a way. I think that is an interesting tension and it creates a lot of energy in a way as well. One of the strategies I’ve started using is taking even relatively trivial statements as long as they’re pasted over an ethereal picture of ethereal woods or something very seriously. I am a person who loves quotes. I love aphorisms. I love metaphors.
I usually try and find metaphors or quotes that help me contextualize things in a way. The idea of a storm, I think, is interesting. Lately, I’ve been thinking about my emotions as a storm outside. The weather is changing and it’s rough, but I’m inside. It’s dry here and warm. To look at my emotions, anxieties, and uncertainty as a storm that is passing somewhat inside me but passing like weather. I think I took that from there.
It’s a little bit what they say in meditations as well when you do note techniques, for instance. “That’s a feeling. There’s anxiety. It’s going around.” One thing I’ve started to do is not to take it too seriously because I’m anxious so often. This cannot be diagnostic. It’s just a thing that’s in the background, but that doesn’t tell me a lot. It tells me, again, I’m anxious about this, but it’s like a companion that’s there, but maybe not one whose advice I would always heed. I’ve externalized the emotional turmoil. I still feel it. I don’t take it as seriously anymore.
Acknowledging, recognizing, and at least getting the cognitions right around it is important.
I think experience helps a lot. At some point, you can draw on things that have happened in the past. Every terrible day up until now, you survived and you got through every terrible event that came to pass in your life. I know that’s also a totally cliche quote, but it’s true. You know what you can do and what you can live through.
Another cliché thing is, “I was born by the sea. I was born in a place with a lot of wind and a lot of rain.” I also have that vibe. I was born in a storm. I’m sorry that she died in the end because she was my hero. In Game of Thrones, there’s this woman. They call her Stormborn because she was born in a storm. I always liked this title Stormborn. I feel like I was storm born. My life was not always smooth sailing, and that’s okay. Now I take to the seas by choice.
Few people have a smooth sailing life. To be frank, in the way that exercise creates muscle and strong bones, you need to test your body, mind, and emotions to strengthen those.
That’s true to have these experiences. Let me now ask you a question. My question is profound, but I’ll give you a pointer in which direction you could try and answer it. The question is, who are you? How do you know who you are, what your values are, and how do you live by them?
How much time do we have?
People can listen at double speed.
I’m going to adjust this a tiny bit to make it a little more topical for me, but I think it’s still relevant. I have been working on this book and snuck away to the mountains for two nights to do a mushroom trip. I had a major insight as a result of this mushroom trip. I like the person I am when I’m tripping. I like him a lot. I’ve talked about this transition that I’ve been doing from single to solo, moving from Pete, the good little boy who plays by the rules and is a bit anxious, to Peter, who moves through life with much more confidence in grace.
What I’ve noticed is that when I trip, Peter comes to the forefront. He is clear-thinking, confident, a little sentimental, kind, and generous. His attention is not as focused on him and often is very focused on his friends and his community. He is not to be messed with. While he is kind, sentimental, and generous, he’s not a pushover. I like him a lot.
When I realized, the insight was, “This person that I’ve been striving to be is already inside of me.” It’s just a matter of if he’s there when I trip, then he can be there when I’m not tripping. I can cultivate this Peter who is in there. This is going to be the process that I’m working on. When I find myself regressing, how do I remind myself and keep that clarity, confidence, generosity, and sentimentality that allows me to be a better person to others, especially to be a better person to myself?
Peter sleeps better than Pete does. Peter’s a better friend than Pete is. Peter needs to be the person who leads the Solo Project and is an example of someone who is living a remarkable life within the Solo Movement. I know I’m not answering your question directly in terms of core values. I don’t know if I could even begin to answer that at the moment, but I can say that I’m starting to figure out who I am, accepting the good, the bad, and the ugly, and knowing that there is some evolution that’s still happening in my 50s, which is very exciting.
It doesn’t relate directly to values, but it relates to the question, “Who are you and who do you believe you are?” Have you ever heard this story about David, the statue? It didn’t happen as I tell it, but it doesn’t matter for the metaphor. The story is that somebody asked Michelangelo, “How did you make this statue?” He said, “It was already there. The only thing I had to do is chip away the excess.” Your story reminded me of that. That Peter, the person you want to be, is already there. It’s not so much about striving to become something or adding stuff. It’s more about letting go of what you don’t need and what you don’t want to be.
I also like the idea of finding situations where you really like who you yourself are, people, and activities, which could involve drugs or no drugs. Using that as a benchmark to see, “I like myself a lot in this situation. Why? What is this bringing out of me?” In a more directed way, try and cultivate that in other situations as well. Using your emotional or effective state to realize, “There’s something here that I want to further explore or grow.”
The saying for people who use psilocybin is it’s a non-specific amplifier, so it will exaggerate and amplify something within you, so you just don’t always know what it’s going to be. I find that it’s a specific amplifier for my identity, but in terms of other things I might be working through.
Second round. Iris, how do you curate your friendships? This notion of curation is suddenly a thing. We’re talking about curating with regard to things traditionally through things like art. A gallery owner curates an artist’s work. A museum curator decides on exhibitions. DJs curate music. People curate things that they collect, collectibles, and so on. There’s this notion of choosing, cutting, ordering, and editing process. You can think about this with regard to friendships if you’re fortunate enough to have enough friendships to curate, which, unfortunately, a lot of people don’t.
I’ve been thinking more about social connections because I felt it was a bit of an underdeveloped domain in my life. I try to make it a bit more about that, like having busier themes. I realized that most of the curation comes not from actively ejecting people out of my life but from accepting the fact that people weave in and out. A lot of people coming into your life or moving out of your life creates some sort of anxiety.
Maybe you’ve known each other for a long time or maybe you invested a lot. One way is to just let go of things that no longer serve anybody. Instead of trying to keep something going just because you are friends, just because you have invested time, or just because you’ve known each other forever. Instead, just saying, “As one person I once met for drinks, I release you out of my life.”
It’s painful. I think this year, there was one friendship that kind of pushed me out of her life. The initial response, the knee-jerk, was to work harder to not have that happen because it’s rejection. On second thought, I thought, “I think this is good. Just let it go.” That’s one thing. The other thing is not, per se, curating to edit or cut out, but rather to invest more where I feel a lot of love and acceptance.
I’ve also been thinking about, “Who are the people who make me feel good? Who do I always want to talk to? Who do I think about after not talking to them for a few days? Who makes me feel happy when they call?” Rather than, “I don’t want to deal with this right now.” To move towards that and put more time into that. That, of course, then takes away time from maybe less high-quality friendships. Also, things naturally settle in, “These are the people that I want to spend time with. These are the people I prioritize. They become where most of my time goes. Less time is left over for people who may not be such a great fit or don’t add so much.”
One final thing is that you have to be honest with yourself. There was also a person I met and at some point, I realized, “I don’t like you.” I could tell from my behavior that I didn’t like them, and then I thought, “I’m going to step away from this.” It was difficult because I had to be honest with myself like, “I’m not being a good friend. Why? It’s because I don’t like this person.” It was somebody I met new, so it was also easier, even though it was of course, not received well, but I think it was a good call. I had to say to myself, “You’re being a shitty friend and there’s a reason for that.”
I want to reflect on something. I was thinking about what a wonderful privilege it is to be able to curate friends and to be able to have friends to choose from depending on what you need and what you want. A friend to talk through professional challenges, a friend to cry on their shoulder if you’re dealing with heartbreak, a friend to go play and hike in the mountains, a friend to visit museums with, a different friend to go to the gym and work out with, and so on.
Again, the average person doesn’t have that. Especially, the average person who’s in an escalator relationship certainly doesn’t have that because they’re relying oftentimes on their partner to do all those things, even though their partner is imperfect with regard to some of those activities. Sometimes their partner doesn’t even want to do those activities but does it because they have to compromise because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Being able to even curate friends via this sort of matching task is a wonderful problem to have.
It is, but I will also say having too many friends that you need to curate from or having the luxury of many friends, sometimes it’s better to reduce that luxury because it makes you invest more in higher quality. That is the difficulty.
It’s a Laffer curve. For people who don’t know the Laffer curve, it’s this, what is the ideal amount of taxation within a country which is like, 0’s too low and 75% is too high, and there’s some ideal tax rate that’s both beneficial for society, and then also not demotivating for the individual. The idea is 0 friends is too few, and 100 is probably too many.
There’s some ideal amount in between depending on the person. I certainly feel that way. I don’t want to say I have too many friends, but I feel that I lift more than my friends in some situations. That is, if I stopped making an effort, I would never hear from them ever again. I’m a little aware of that asymmetry and a bit more focused on those friendships that I’m a little more inter interconnected with.
Here’s one I’ve been playing with. If they wanted to, they would. I think that’s a nice one. Assuming that they’re able to. If they wanted to, they would. I think asymmetrical friendships can work when you accept that it’s asymmetrical. When you say, “I know it always has to come from my side, but I accept that because I appreciate this person so much,” then it can work. If you think that this asymmetry will disappear or it will somehow payout at some point, I think asymmetry is difficult. I don’t like it, at least.
I don’t mind it in part because we have seasons with regard to friendships. I have friends who have children that are less available. I have a very close friend who is the primary caregiver for his two-year-old son and is still available to me. We still talk.
That’s curious. There are big differences. Yeah.
He’s this close a friend as you can have there. I want to remind people what I think of the criteria for a remarkable friend because asymmetry is not part of it. There’s no requirement that it’s 50/50. The first one is simply that the other person creates value in your life, that there’s affection there, that there’s something about them that makes your life better.
In the same way that I have asymmetric friendships where I never feel like I’m going to provide as much value to this other person as they do to me, I’m willing to have it in other areas. The idea is this, “Does unbalance this person make your life better?” That could be within temporary moments, a phone call here or there, or traveling the world together as I did with my friend who I just referenced.
The second is integrity. These are people who are reliable. They are honest. They keep your secrets. You can trust them. In a relationship where the other person doesn’t provide value or you can’t trust them, they are disqualified from being your friend. I believe very strongly about that. You have to excise those people from your life.
The third one is fun. It’s pulled from the poly community and it’s called compersion. Do you and your friend practice compersion? That is anti-jealousy. You’re not in competition with your friend. You celebrate their successes and you commiserate with their failures, and vice versa. If you don’t practice compersion, if you’re not anti-jealous with your friends, they’re not friends. They are frenemies.
Frenemies are rough.
A frenemy may provide value in your life, but they celebrate your failures and they are not happy about your successes. I think it’s important to have a perspective. These are mine. I’m not saying that anyone else should follow them, but I think they’re a good starting point by which to think about those people in your life as friends. It also applies to family, it applies to coworkers, and so on. I think friendships are mostly because they’re so often chosen.
You have pretty well-developed ideas about what friendships should consist of. I don’t think I’ve given it that degree of thought. I think I operate a lot on how does somebody make me feel and how much do I like myself being around them? Sometimes I don’t like myself because I don’t like the person, so I become rude. That’s not a good person for me to be around. For other people, I get too submissive in a way. I try to please them all the time. That’s also a version of myself that I don’t like, and that is exhausting. I try to go mostly on, “How does this person make me feel?” It might be a bit limited, to be honest, because it’s so dependent on my current state possibly. I don’t know if that’s a good strategy.
I’d say, on balance, how do they make you feel? You can have a friend who provides value, has high integrity, practices compersion, and sometimes makes you feel bad. They do this because they’re going to be honest with you. I have these two guys. Every 2 weeks or 3 weeks, we do an hour-and-a-half call where each of us gets about 30 minutes to talk through some personal or professional thing. Coming out of that mushroom trip, I said, “For our next call, I want you to criticize me. I want you to critique me. I want to invite a critique.”
One of them came back with a devastating critique of me, which was, “I feel your love, but I don’t always feel like your actions match.” He pointed out a series of things that I did that was disappointing to him, and I was embarrassed by that. I was deeply apologetic. I’ve tried to repair that thing. He did me a great favor by making me feel bad, in a sense. That’s an area where your feelings may not be the ideal standard.
It’s true. Maybe it’s not the right way to do it because sometimes people do make you sad and mad, but it has meaning. It’s a meaningful negativity. I think it can be good if sometimes your friends make you feel bad, but when it’s paired with high integrity and high levels of trust, that can work. I have some people that I trust a lot and when they point out something that I do that is maybe less than graceful, of course, it hurts a bit. However, I’m always then immediately willing to drop that behavior without a second thought because I trust them. I also trust them that this critique doesn’t mean that the relationship is damaged. Maybe not at all.
If anything, the critique means they care. I don’t give advice and I don’t critique people I don’t love. I just ignore them.
I want to say, yeah, but no, I’m the biggest unsolicited advice giver that there is. I’m trying to write a book on that.
I have a little of that too.
A little? You have a whole show of that.
It’s true, but I like to take advice. I like to give advice and I like to take advice. That’s my hedge, being a know-it-all.
I want to make one more disclaimer in case people are wondering about this. Maybe they’re not. I do think that friendships ebb and flow. They don’t always have to be on the same frequency. I know there are people in my life that sometimes move to the background a bit, but at some points, our paths will cross again, and then we can see, especially with long friendships. There are people in my life I’ve known for decades and there’s some permanence to them that makes low-frequency or changing frequencies of contact not at all distressing.
I think this is an important caveat. Friendships are about choice. There are people who come into your life and you choose each other, but you’re not required to maintain the consistency and continuity that is expected of the escalator. To me, this discontinuity is a feature, not a bug. The fact that I can go a year without talking to someone, we come together and it’s as if no time has passed is wonderful. You can’t do that with the people you’re dating. That, to me, is a powerful thing about friendships. To me, our disconnect does not diminish in any way.
Related to that is also the idea that even when friendships pass, that doesn’t mean that they failed. It doesn’t mean that they weren’t valuable. It just means that now they’re over and they were potentially wonderful, generative, and inspiring, but now they’re not anymore. Peter, how do you feel about aging?
As in, it’s going to happen? In that case, you’re right.
No, I don’t dread it like I might have when I was younger. Here’s why. I feel better. I look better. I’m more comfortable with my age now than I was years ago. I feel like I have a lot more control over my aging than when I was young and I looked at all these old people and it did not look great. When I looked at my family, my parents died young. My grandparents were somewhat vibrant, but they weren’t living the kind of life that I envisioned for myself come retirement or semi-retirement is probably what is a better goal for me.
I feel like I can take care of myself to go back to the original part of our conversation, to parent myself in such a way. Knock on wood, things come along and I could have an aneurysm, or I can get cancer, or have a heart attack, or get into an accident or something. In terms of what I can control, I feel very excited that I might be able to not just live a long time but live a vibrant life.
The term is health span versus lifespan. I believe it’s a commitment now that I need to make. I’ve been able to reverse my aging by being committed to sleep, cleaning up my eating, and continuing to move my body. I don’t drink alcohol anymore. That has been incredibly important for it. To see myself slowly repair and strengthen my body has made me excited that I might be able to keep up this pace into my 80s. I say that I’m training for 80 a lot of times.
The thing that people don’t understand is that there is aging, which is like, your hair gets gray. My hair got gray very early. Your hair falls out, your teeth get yellow, and your skin becomes a little less elastic. Versus decay. Decay is correlated with aging but it’s not caused by aging. Decay happens because you become sedentary, have that extra cocktail, or are not on a growth path, and stop moving your body in vigorous ways.
I know that I will continue to gray and my hair will continue to fall out, I don’t have to whiten my teeth more often, and my skin’s not going to look as good as it did when I was a young man. However, I can maintain some muscle, stay lean, have my joints work, and have energy through the day in a way that my parents didn’t and my grandparents didn’t because they were aging and decaying.
Decay is more related to maintenance. To what degree do you keep up with general maintenance of the self? I feel the same.
The same way I do my car, which has 110,000 miles on it. I care for my car.
I don’t know if you know him, Tony Little. He was an aerobics guru in the ‘90s. We somehow had a VHS tape. He used to say, “Your body is a vehicle. Do you want to drive a crappy old car or do you want to drive a Ferrari?” all while doing loads of squats, pushups, and stuff. To some degree, it’s self-maintenance. There are things you can do and there’s stuff that you don’t control, and then you’re just unlucky. I agree with you. I feel stronger. I ran a half marathon distance, which I never thought I would be able to do. I feel physically stronger. I feel mentally stronger. I feel intellectually more expanded and more myself.
I find appearance more difficult, so there’s nothing you can do about the fact that women aging is more complex to come to terms with in a way. I’m not sure how to deal with it. Luckily, I’m blessed with some delusion about how I look, so I always think I look cool, and then I see a picture of myself and I’m like, “I’m getting older.”
It used to be the other way around. I always thought, “You look terrible,” then I saw a picture of myself, and I was like, “Actually, you look great.” When I was younger, I underestimated how good I looked and now I overestimate how good I look, as long as you don’t show me pictures. That’s nice. One solution could be to remove all the mirrors from my house.
That will be, for me, a challenge. Physically, I think what is a challenge or what I think might be a challenge is hormonal changes. I don’t know what that’s going to bring and how that will change my physique, my strength, and my overall being. Other than that, I try to do the same as you. What do I want to do in the last decade of my life? What do I want to be able to do? Where do I need to get my health in order to project that into the last decades of my life? I assume that will be 4 or 5 still, so I got a ways to go.
You’ll probably live forever, Iris.
In your book, I will.
You’ll have a legacy. I often ask this question, “Is my health number one?” If I’m getting sick, I’m stressed out, or whatever it is, I always come back to, “Is your health number one? Is it the most important thing?” I believe that that is the first pillar of a strong foundation. Your health, your wealth, and your community, your connections. If you can fix those three things, that is a springboard for living remarkably. I think the health is number one.
I came across some tweet or something related to your Ferrari thing. It was like, “Do you want to own a Ferrari or do you want your body to be a Ferrari?” The average person wants to own a Ferrari because that’s, in some ways, easier. To have your body be a Ferrari takes real work. I recognize my privilege. I stumbled into athletics when I was 13, so I’ve been working out for 40 years and it’s an essential part of my day. Movement is the second part of the day. That makes it a lot easier versus someone who’s listening and is inspired and says, “I need to get on this.” My reaction to that is, “Be patient. This is something that takes years to fix.”
My reaction to that is something is better than nothing. I got that from Arnold Schwarzenegger, weirdly enough. He said it somewhere, “Something is better than nothing.” You don’t have to switch your whole diet. Do something. It’s always better than nothing. I think it’s always like this all-or-nothing mentality and I suffer from that. If I’m not in the gym three times a week or if I don’t run so many miles each week, then why even bother? Five minutes is still better than zero. One pushup is still better than zero pushups. I think that has helped me.
Start with walking.
One foot in front of the other.
We were built to walk.
Last question for you. I will say this is a self-serving question because I’ve been keeping up a bit with what you were doing and you’ve built this whole movement in the last years. I knew you before you were cool. I want the audience to know that. You were also cool then, but different. You’ve been writing a book. You’re third, I think.
Third and final.
What I’m trying to source is, how do you do it? Here’s the frame. Do you know Dieter Rams?
He’s a German designer. He says, “Weniger, aber besser.” That is less but better. It’s not less is more. It’s a design principle that he is famous for. He made beautiful stuff. What are the areas where you do less but better, surprising areas would be nice, and relate it to the Pareto principle. Where do you apply the Pareto principle that maybe you were surprised you could do it? Do you know the Pareto principle?
Yes, the 80/20 rule.
Eighty percent of whatever gains come from 20% of investing.
I have written on a piece of paper in my immediate-to-do pile, and it says, “Fewer things, better.” That is something that I started to figure out mid-career, but once I did, it changed everything. I’ll tell you a story about my pre-tenure. If you’re not an academic, this won’t matter as much, but for you, Iris, you’ll be panicked when you hear this. When I was an assistant professor, two things happened to me that put my tenure prospects at risk.
The first one is I took my foot off the gas when I got my new job. I was playing a lot more. I was a little probably too optimistic. Tenure felt far away. For seven years, I was in the distance, etc. The second thing is that I had not evolved my skillset to be that of a principal investigator. I was very good at creating studies, analyzing data, writing up the results, and leaving my co-authors to be the main driver in terms of communicating those results in terms of writing. I was a weak writer. I didn’t like writing and I didn’t do it.
The problem in academia is that you are judged by the quality and the quantity of your ideas in this particular form, a paper, which is written. I had a three-year gap in my vida where I had not published a paper. That is devastating in a field that expects at least a paper a year in the world that I live in. I realized this, thankfully, not too late and I changed everything about my habits in order to focus on creating high-quality and greater quantity papers to take these languishing projects and move them across the finish line.
What I had to do to do that was become a writer. What I did was I did my research. I’m good at that. I’m good at learning. I’m good at following the rules. I read all the books about writing. They essentially said, “Writers write every day. They write first thing in the morning. They write with a cup of coffee.” I started writing every day in the morning and I even started drinking coffee. I didn’t drink coffee before age 40.
It was horrible at first. It was so hard. It was so painful. I didn’t like it, but like anything, as I got to experience, I got to practice, and I got better at it, I started to enjoy is a strong word, but create flow-worthy moments. What ended up happening was the quantity and the quality of my ideas and my writing exploded.
The Pareto principle was that play there where I realized that 20% of my work, my academic writing, was going to be connected to 80% of my reward. That was security and the thing that the system values, which is the creation of knowledge. Once I learned that, then I could start to just apply it to anything that I needed to apply it to. I still maintain a writing process, but now it’s more about creative endeavors, generally.
For example, the show to me is an 80/20 thing. It doesn’t take that much work, but so much reward personally comes from this, then I’m focused on it. What I’ve had to do is just let go of things. At that time period when I was trying to recover from a three-year gap in my vida, I realized that I was going to conferences all the time.
For the audience, academics love their conferences, where they come together, gossip, go to talks, have dinners with their friends, and do so on the university dime. There were years when I was going to 4 or 5 conferences. What I realized was that 15 to 20 days of time and travel altogether, a loss of writing time that was there.
That’s a whole month.
It’s a whole month of work where it’s inspiring, you’re learning, but it’s not the most important thing. I scaled that way back. I was like, “I get an extra 15 days of writing,” for example. I couldn’t have done that early in my career because I was learning so much at those conferences. Later in my career, a lot of that stuff ends up being redundant. I don’t care that much about the gossip and I don’t care that much about the dinners anyways. It ended up being a net positive by subtracting those things.
That’s very helpful and very specific to my situation, which I did not expect.
I schedule my writing. That’s the way I treated it. In the same way that, when you’re supposed to teach, you never go, “I don’t feel like teaching today. I’m not going to show up to class.” If you have a dentist appointment, you don’t like, “I don’t feel like getting my teeth cleaned.” To me, I made my writing time sacred and I ritualized it with my cappuccino and with a nice place. What ended up happening is now, when I don’t do it, things seem wrong and things seem amiss. The same way that not going to the gym feels wrong if I skip that.
It’s now a part of my foot in the world of comfort, that it is the springboard. Those creative moments in the morning are a springboard for almost anything that’s happening with me professionally, in terms of allowing me to create books and podcasts on top of the escalator. It also helps that I’m not in an escalator relationship because I wrote this book in 135 days. If I had a girlfriend or a wife, either the book doesn’t get done or the relationship gets damaged. At least a traditional relationship because I had the luxury or the privilege of just putting all of myself into this.
That’s also leveraging and making use of the different circumstances that you have when you’re not in a relationship. To go out and do something with it. You don’t have to. You could do something else with it as well, but knowing that you have that may not always be the case or that’s not the case for everybody could give you an advantage.
I remember the moment that same summer. I was 38 years old. I spent the summer living with my friend, Michael, because I had to give up my apartment. I was looking for another place and he had an extra room. It was like this summer of discovery. Every day at the end of the day, we would talk about the books we were reading. He was launching a new business and I was taking on this new perspective about my career and so on.
I remember thinking, “I’m probably not going to have a family. I’m not going to spend my middle years married with kids. How do I want to use the time, energy, and money that I’ll have as a result of that?” That’s where I hatched all these plans. I hatched the plan to become a public academic. I started to develop ideas that, shortly thereafter, launched the Humor Research Lab.
I started giving talks. I started writing popular press books, etc. All of that was a conscious choice that I wasn’t going to have the opportunity cost of the family to layer this on top of my job. It wasn’t always easy. It doesn’t always work out. My books did not cut through the clutter. I have not become rich and famous, but that’s okay because I’ve been on this amazing growth path as a result.
In the end, that’s what you have, what you experienced day to day, as we talked about at the beginning. That’s wonderful.
I need to do those other things to do solo well or well enough, at least. I’ve made fewer mistakes with this process. Last question. Iris, I hear you’re reading about whales and I’ve heard a rumor that you have these fantasies and dreams of being an orca. Tell me about that.
First of all, I dream about whales on a regular basis. Usually, they’re filled with awe. I’ve had this recurring dream where I’m in a bay in Thailand. I can draw you a map and everything because I’ve been there so often. It doesn’t exist, but there’s a big pirate ship. I’m on the ship, I dive into the bay, it’s so deep, and there are huge whales there. Huge blue-fin whales and orcas, really the big ones, not these tiny tumblers or anything. I’m swimming and it’s deep and blue. I’m swimming deep, but still, there’s light penetrating. This might be for cinematic effects. It’s just great because I’m super scared and super happy at the same time.
I don’t know why I often dream about whales. That is a recurring one, but I’ve dreamt about whales in all kinds of environments. They’re always friendly and awe-inspiring, so I’m never chased or anything. Now I’m reading a book about how scientists are now trying to understand using new technological tools, especially machine learning and these kinds of things to decipher or decode the sounds that whales make or even to record them. Before the Cold War, it wasn’t widely known that whales sang. It was just because US Navy was trying to pick up sounds, and then they heard these incredible songs. They realized the whales were singing or they were vocalizing in a way.
I listened to those. These recordings are on Spotify. It’s so weird because when you listen to them, you can almost hear the depth, the width, and the vastness of the ocean, which is weird. I don’t know how you hear that. That got me thinking because there’s a lot of stuff suggesting there are differences between different families of whales in different locations. Some families of whales create songs that are then picked up by other families of whales. Many types of whales live in very strong family-bonded groups. There’s research on why grandmothers matter so much in orca families because they teach the young.
What is it like to be a whale? It must be similar, but what is it like to live in the water, to communicate in that different way, to experience the world through such a different consciousness that does have some sense of experience of the world? That is the same experience in my mind as trying to imagine how big the universe is. You cannot comprehend it. What would it be like to experience that? I don’t know, but that gets me super excited for some reason. I don’t know.
Also, this idea is that we are the standard of everything, according to ourselves, but we’re not. There are so many different ways in which communication happens. Don’t say language. I’ve learned that. Let’s say communication. Also, caring happens, bonding happens, and learning happens. That makes me feel humble and excited at the same time. I love it. If you have any suggestions on how to temporarily take on orca consciousness, I’m open to it. Although, I also heard that they eat liver, which I’m not a fan of.
As someone who likes to give advice, I have none to give. I think you’ve thought about this much more deeply and profoundly than I have, but it’s a wonderful thought.
It’s because I also have tiny obsessions.
Iris, thank you for playing truth or truth. It’s great to see you. Until next time.
- Irish Schneider
- Waiting – Past episode
- Are You Thriving or Coping? – Past episode
- The Desire Map
- Humor Research Lab
About Iris Schneider
Iris Schneider is a Professor of Social Psychology at the Technical University Dresden. She studies ambivalence and difficulty in decision-making and judgment.