How to Flourish in Work and LifeSep 09, 2023
So as we grow in ideals, they become the common property of everyone around us, so our growth is deeply tied to our bonds with others, the health of those bonds, and the health of the other person, as well. that you can see that, um, this idea of blossoming. We never blossom alone like the trees in the forest, you know, but if we are truly blossoming deeply, we support the blossoming of everyone around us. Hi, it's Sharif with another golden hour episode joined by Dr. Kevin Majors. Kevin, it's good to be. Here with you again Hi Sharif, it's a pleasure to be back, yes Kevin, well one of the ideas that we've been discussing lately in terms of the theory of optimal
works is the idea of
flourishing, which I think is a new way to describe the objective. of how we help people with Optum
workis a word that maybe we haven't used much before, but the concept has always been there, so I wanted to delve deeper into that, yeah, that's great, I think
flourishing is a job optimal, that's what it means.
To do an optimal job is to thrive in your work and in your
life. It's a great word that we got from our friends at the Harvard Bloom program, so we've worked on and off in different ways or been in dialogue with people there for a while. For a long time, this is a concept that's been used widely in psychology, maybe more so in positive psychology, it's used there, yeah, it shows up in positive psychology, and that's why Tyler Van Der, you know, chose flourishing as the centerpiece of his idea of what it means to thrive in
life, so I like, there's a flourishing index that he put together and it has great research backing it up and we've also administered it to people with optimal work at times From the past, that's right, Kevin.
What does it mean to flourish? I'm sure a lot of people have some sort of intuitive sense of what it means that you're thriving or well, that's just using a synonym for it, but you know you're doing great. you're growing up, maybe happiness is a word that comes to mind, you're happy, but I don't know if there's a relationship with or yeah, how would you explain that to people? How would you give it a kind of concrete definition? Well, I'm not sure I can give the most concrete definition of flourishing. I think it's very tied to this idea of life commitment that we talked about and that's another phrase that I think has been traditionally used to describe what it's like. when your fundamental reasons for living, your fundamental sources of meaning are incorporated into the smallest tasks of the day, then it is a beautiful idea, you know that you are vitally committed to life, when each challenge truly highlights your highest ideals and each of your relationships is bringing out your highest ideals and I think people have this intuitive sense of when they're thriving and when they're not, and when you're not thriving, you know because your job is draining energy from you and you.
You can't be the best in the rest of your life versus when you're really thriving and your work becomes a source of energy but it's also deeply tied to your ideals and meaning and you're becoming the person you want. be through that work, so it seems like, when you, that flourishing is very natural, a natural fit and a natural conceptual fit for a school of psychology like cognitive behavioral therapy, where you are very connected to your actions and achieve May your actions align with you or with you. Know the commitment to your values, etc., so I wonder if flourishing has always had this central and natural place within psychology, even going back to earlier Freudian psychoanalysis.
Would it have had a role in those forms of therapy in all forms of Therapy has to have a sense of the goal it pursues and that is why in Freudian therapy the goal is usually seen as the resolution of neuroses, so conflicts internals that people have, um, you know, the creatures of their id are now somehow integrated. in the whole person, so they had an integrated wholeness idea that you're being authentic, you know, that's why you're not living, you know, with more neurotic styles of repressing emotions and parts of yourself, uh and So, but I think that there are very profound differences between that idea of flourishing, which is inherently negative in a way because it is the elimination of something negative, versus what later came with cognitive behavioral therapy and positive psychology of wanting to have a positive vision that has some kind of content about what it really means to be flourishing because if you were to ask someone what your job is like when you're really flourishing.
I don't know, it's not just that the negative no longer dominates, but that there are needs. to be something there that's beautiful to them, you know, and then you say, well, you know, how would you know what your closest relationships would be like if they were flourishing, yeah, and how would you handle disagreements if you were flourishing, so that's it. what we get to in optimal work with ideals and it's clear that when people thrive they are connected to their deepest ideals or their highest ideals and those ideals have shaped them in some way, so I think in cognitive behavioral therapy flourishing is seen as being built on a foundation of self-mastery so that in some ways you are habituating yourself to being able to live up to these high ideals in that habituation is, on the one hand, if there are difficulties, those difficulties are becoming easier and easier. to handle and, if there is, it is a mastery or ease that becomes stronger and stronger over time, so there is the idea that any vicious cycle in operation is only being undone and virtuous cycles are being built, so there are all these rich concepts of what it means to be. building a virtuous circle, uh, what are these?, what is self-mastery?
So I think those are the deeper questions that the field is heading toward and that's where the optimal work has really focused, is this concept of self-mastery that underpins everything is flourishing very well. I think there is a lot to understand at one point. I think in a lot of ways you just summed up probably everything we're going to talk about in this episode, but we'll definitely dig into the different pieces there. I think one point to pause is just the connection between flourishing and ideals and the way that ideals work is that they're not just states that you achieve, but I think you've often made the point like with the ideal of Kindness that never reaches a point where you say "okay, I'm kind enough" or "with Jennifer I'm generous enough." I don't need to be more generous. "No, these things support a kind of infinite growth, so, in this picture, flourishing is not a point." to which you come and they say, okay, I'm done, uh, but it's flourishing is something more dynamic, it's a state of developing virtuous cycles, it's a good, it's not a state, it's a place where you are developing virtuous cycles . cycles and growth, so I was wondering if you could explain that a little more.
I think that's very well said. If you think of a forest, what does it mean for a forest or jungle to flourish? means that every tree has reached some state of perfection in the forest, we know that for the strength to flourish there are these constant processes that are, you know, that somehow everything in it is becoming stronger and more resistant and that if there is a hurricane or high winds and it can withstand that, so no matter what happens to it, it can maintain itself and it's great, its best qualities are preserved through whatever trials may come, so the idea of that blossoming is this process that it's not something that happens to you so I'm blooming because it's not like a tree in a greenhouse where everything is made for it in some sense you could say well maybe that tree is blooming you know, but even then the thing If not It's part of the larger forest system, is it?
But clearly you can't, it's not a result of being perfectly protected from everything that goes against you or having everything in your circumstances that you most want to flourish. That means there has to be an internal state where you are able to endure whatever comes and not only get up but it actually makes you stronger, which is what happens. I think with inclement weather, the forest in a sense. it gets stronger, it goes into Naseem talib's idea of being antifragile, that flourishing is an antifragile state, meaning that the more you test, the stronger you become in the face of something that is fragile or that can be broken, that can be broken permanently by adversity, etc.
Then the next point you touch on again is that flourishing is not something that happens to you and that's where I think we get to self-mastery as the core type of inner strength that helps a person flourish, is this ability to master oneself. same. and um uh and then they act according to their highest ideals um so I guess what seems like a leap or a step is to say that self-mastery is what makes you flourish um so I wonder if we could pause there and such Maybe think or consider what are alternatives? Are there alternatives to that image that have been proposed and I don't know psychology or philosophy?
Something else leads to flourishing that's not necessarily self-mastery I know certainly some people probably have a sense of I want this promotion or I want to make this much money or you know, I just have to get through the work day and make it to the weekend and then I can enjoy myself and so on. , implicitly, maybe there is a vision of blossoming, there is something happening. If any kind of good external things happen to you, then you will be happy, but I don't know if there is a way to do it systematically, yes, because in that sense, thriving at work would be making enough money in a short enough amount. of time so you can enjoy the rest of life, yes, but that really has nothing to do with how you work, so you could have a four-hour work week but make enough money to support yourself and it's like This Well, that's what flourishing means, it means getting the most profit with the least amount of investment, but that doesn't really say anything about how you're working, what kind of person you're becoming, you know that way? of the job and are you really bringing the meaning of your life and your highest ideals to that job?
So I think that's a sense in which work is something that is essentially anti-flourishing and should be done as minimally as possible in order to because flourishing is essentially free time, you know, the, the, the, um, in a sense. , a criticism of more Freudian approaches has been that their idea of how to resolve internal conflicts, um, can sometimes be seen as aligning your actions that you know. with your desires and thus repress a desire, therefore it would always be disordered. You know, instead, you just have to accept the desire in a way and then act on it.
There is a deep division in Psychology between what is in a sense the real Foundation. of growth is aligning your beliefs and ideals with your desires or is aligning your desires with your ideals, so I don't think Freud himself would have taken this position, but a lot of people from that kind of school of thought seem to have the feeling that you have to lower your ideals to match your desires and I think that idea has a lot of acceptance and culture, but ultimately in cognitive behavioral therapy and particularly in acceptance and commitment therapy, the idea is that you accept. the difficulty that arises internally as you shape these desires, your emotions, but they are not the most fundamental thing about you, in fact, your ideals are the most fundamental thing about you and whether you can commit to these ideals and shape yourself yourself over time and precisely that is the definition of self-mastery, so self-mastery is molding yourself according to your ideals, that process of self-formation that is done deliberately and that is incorporated into every challenge you face ends up being the pattern of how you dominate. yourself and we can talk about what you are mastering in yourself, but I think that is always the fundamental idea, it is a shaping process, which means that ideals are actually the fundamental thing that you mold yourself towards and they are not the that you mold down, so, huh.
You mentioned that with this Freudian sense that you are aligning your ideals and your actions with your desires, is there some kind of pessimism? I know sometimes I hear it's like that, it's even a curtica oh, you're It's so idealistic that's okay, you might have these high ideals, but it's impossible to live up to them, so one way is pessimistic about the idea of self-control because it sees self-control as repression and not molding yourself in the best way. way pushing through negative emotions to do the right thing that kind of thing that's actually like the evil double of self-control you know where you are, clenching it with white knuckles to push your we've talked about this a number of times on the podcast you need to work your way through what it does well is that behavior matters.
What goes wrong is how you relate to the difficulty, so the correct way to relate to the difficulty isaccepting it fully. That acceptance essentially means feeling the difficulty in learning to like it. It could be resistance that you feel to doing something. Let's say there's something like filing your taxes and a person has had something like this recently where a person was just delaying and delaying and delaying but then analyzing. how long will it really take, they were basically done, it would take almost only five minutes to get it right for them, the key was oh, like I had asked for.
They showed them where the difficulty was in their body and they pointed out exactly the place in the chest where that is the key to what happens now when you try to feel it and hug it instead of trying to overcome it and the experience of how it disappeared, you know, when They were opening the feeling and then they went and then they sent it and they finished it, everything was done and then they told me that everything was done so that it was the acceptance of the feeling because um people when they are when they do not allow themselves to accept the difficulty that they have they deny that exists they avoid dealing with it and that leads to subtle self-sabotage they will sabotage themselves in all these ways because not willing to face what the core of the difficulty is, which is the way they feel while doing well, then self-mastery It always has this element of facilitating internal habituation to the pain, but allowing yourself to accept it and feel it fully, don't try to make it go away, anything you do to make it go away will end up making it stay, so you have to be willing to feel it fully now, this It does come to another topic, which is another.
I form a flourish where people sometimes what I have in mind would be to deny all negative feelings, so the process is purely emptying oneself, so sometimes stoicism falls into this where the goal is somehow it becomes non-feeling through openness to feeling now, that means, that, that, that actually is that. that is something that is not yet self-mastery because in reality there is no striving towards the ideal and now Stoicism has some idea of the Virtues and therefore it has some idea that you know that the ideal is a virtue that you use as a goal for a present action, so it is a goal at this moment to mold oneself according to it, so that what habit possesses is virtue, well, the ideal of all ideals is love, so doing things for love and for the sake of his bond with others, uh, missing. completely about Stoicism, so it's more about the size of the equation of simply denying the difficulty and getting used to extinction, but it's less about shaping positive Mastery, particularly its highest form, which is love, so I see stoicism as ideals without love.
Kevin, and you've referenced this a couple of times, so the last question I wanted to ask you was about maybe the social dimension of self-control. I think sometimes when people think about self-control, maybe that's exactly what they have. stoic view of you know, no matter the difficulty, I can be strong and I can do what I want and maybe in the context of work it's the ability to overcome distractions and just focus and get the job done, but you know, it seems to me that there's always this social dimension, uh, which you are never, you are growing a little alone, isolated from other people, but you are always growing towards other people who grow together in the context of work, you are part of a team that is working on a common mission . and then outside of work, you know that you're part of a family and we grow up together, so I'm wondering if you could address this sense that self-mastery isn't just some kind of isolated affection toward oneself, but it has this inherent tendency towards forming bonds with other people and growing with them, yes, so that's a great question.
I would go back to My Mind One Step just to clarify something you mentioned, which is that when you're not working for ideals and you're not just working to get things done or let's say you're just working to make money, well, and that's what you are. chasing, work itself drains you of vitality, it is innervating, so you might be achieving certain goals, like making a certain amount of money or other comfort goals or productivity goals, even that doesn't give you the deepest source of energy When we and this is why vital commitment is so vital, vitality actually comes from incorporating ideals into your smallest actions and as we move forward in life. ideals that energize us by the growth we achieve it is inherently rewarding to grow into an ideal that inherently rewarding nature is why it is a virtuous circle which is the essence of a virtuous cycle as it is inherently rewarding that you actually grow in the enjoyment of him and in his Mastery and in his meaning, when you repeat it, true ideals always have the feeling that we get energy from them because they are inexhaustible, but still the progress we make is deeply significant, so that feeling of Vitality Then , when it comes to our bonds with others, it makes a difference whether we shape them according to comfort, pleasure, or greed.
You know, whether or not you are greedy with another person completely changes the vitality of that relationship. You already know. You are greedy and how you deal with other people, whether that greed affects the bonds you make or not, it ends up taking the healthy vitality out of those relationships and that is what all the false ideals do that we somehow end up with. So we use other people and other people simply become objects of our use, rather than getting something else we want rather than ends in themselves, but when, like ideals, they bring a sense of vitality to our work , they also bring vitality to our work. relationships because it's not just that we grow, let's say you're trying to bring kindness or joy or be encouraging, you know, in the way you deal with other people, those things as a basis of true virtuous cycles build the bond with others, for what each ideal really is in the service of love in the end, so all, as ideals, become higher and higher and higher converge in love.
I like finding Connor's story. Everything that arises must converge. It's the same idea. The taller you are. Know that the more it becomes almost synonymous with being loving towards others, idealists also become like a common good that both of you share, so if one of you is very cheerful, the other also shares it and if one of you. It is very generous the other will come to share it if they have a basic bond of trust, so as we grow in ideals, these become the common property of everyone around us, so our growth is deeply linked to the ties with others and their health. the bonds and the health of the other person so you can see that this idea of flourishing we never flourish alone like the trees in the forest, you know, but if we are truly flourishing deeply we support the flourishing of everyone around us, great Kevin.
I think it's a very beautiful note to end on. Thank you very much for all your ideas here today. Well, thanks for the great question Sharif, as always, see you abroad.
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