Practical Tips for Balance & Sanity: An Interview with Scott Barry Kaufman

Practical Tips for Balance & Sanity: An Interview with Scott Barry Kaufman

For the full podcast episode visit:  The Future Is What You Make It: Practical Tips for Balance & Sanity

Sub-section topics within the interview include the following:

  1. The History of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  2. Having Peak Experiences, Even During a Global Crisis
  3. Radical Self-Acceptance 
  4. What is a Transcendent Experience?
  5. The Difference Between Fulfillment and Happiness
  6. Thriving Amidst Struggle
  7. Self-Actualization is an Ongoing Process
  8. How Transcendent Experiences Contribute to Self-Actualization
  9. The Gifts Abraham Maslow Left Us With
  10. The Loneliness Epidemic: Advice to Foster Connection Amidst Physical Distancing
  11. Safety and Security Needs
  12. The Being Realm vs. The Growth Realm
  13. Putting the COVID-19 Pandemic Into Perspective
  14. Tips for Staying Sane While Staying at Home
  15. Further Information on Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.
  16. Face Your Fear: An Exercise SBK Did with His Students at Colombia 
  17. An Opportunity to Build Resilience
  18. Everyone Should Get a Therapist

The History of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Heather Sandison, ND: Welcome to Collective Insights. I'm your host today, Dr. Heather Sandison, and I am joined by Scott Barry Kaufman. Thank you so much for being here.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Thanks for having me, Heather.

Heather Sandison, ND: So this is an interesting time. We are in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, and you talk a lot about in your work the tension between safety and growth. So can you talk about that even just in the context of what we're experiencing today?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Sure. It's even more relevant today than I could ever have imagined. This dialectical between the two. So Abraham Maslow was a humanistic psychologist in the '50s and '60s, and proposed his famous hierarchy of needs. Many people are familiar with it in terms of the triangle, the pyramid, which he never drew a pyramid at all. And he didn't even really emphasize that we have to meet each of our needs in this kind of lockstep fashion as though life were some video game that we have to reach one level before we can get to the next level. And then we get to that level connection, some voice from above is like, "Congrats. You've unlocked Esteem." And then we never ever return back to the connection again.

He was very clear that life is always a two step forward, one step back dynamic. We're always moving along. We think we're growing, and then something catastrophic happens that we never would have predicted and we fall down. But it doesn't mean that we have lost our growth all together by any stretch of the imagination. He really focused on this connection between security and growth. And sometimes talked about it as defense versus growth because the opposite of security is insecurity. And when we're pitched into this state of insecurity, that's when we erect most of our defenses. And the defenses are to protect ourselves and to protect the ones we love. But when you're in protection mode, you're not in growth mode. It's a different mode than growth. And I think the important thing in this time is to find out how we can still leave room for self actualization and even dare I say transcendence.

I know we seem so far away from that right now. How can we possibly have peak experiences in a moment when everyone around us is screaming? Well, it is possible. It absolutely is possible. And also just because everyone else around you is pitched into this state of panic doesn't mean that you can't stay calm and rational and still try to in the best you can uplift all the other boats around you, metaphorically speaking.

Having Peak Experiences, Even During a Global Crisis

Heather Sandison, ND: What are you doing to stay grounded and look for those peak experiences through this?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: It's not always easy. And I really do like viewing it as human development, as this two step forward, one step dynamic because I have good days and bad days, and I think everyone can resonate with that. I have some days where... Let me put it this way, I'll have a whole string of days where I'll feel like I'm being really productive and I'm just not worried about this thing anymore. And then I'll hear about someone I know who got it, and it might be in fighting for their life. And then you're forced into that state of concern and worry. I'm just trying the best I personally can to put out positivity and beauty into the world. I do it mostly these days through Twitter because that's where... We're all on Twitter now where there's not that many sources of connection that we can get. So we got to take it wherever we can get now and just kind of play my own part.

Radical Self-Acceptance 

Heather Sandison, ND: That's a good reminder just to have self compassion no matter what the circumstances, right? During your best and giving yourself a little bit of grace to not get it right every single time.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: I love that you brought up self compassion. Yeah. I think that's quite right. And just accept... One point of framing it is self compassion, but it's also just full acceptance, radical acceptance, as Tyler Brach would say, of the moment, of where you're at. Where am I today? Some days not the greatest place. But part of being in this game is you got to play the game. Part of human existence is realizing that there's a lot of paradoxes and they come along with just the fact that you're alive.

Heather Sandison, ND: Yeah. Being in the arena, right?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Yeah.

What is a Transcendent Experience?

Heather Sandison, ND: So tell me about transcendent experiences. How do you describe that, or can you share with us one of yours?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Transcendent experiences range in... It's all in a continuum, and you can have... What is the continuum? The continuum as I see it and as my colleagues see it is a range of connection with self in the world. So we can call it a unitary continuum. How unitary are we will the world? And then most extreme, you have the mystical experience known as through the ages Jesus had a mystical experience. And we don't all have to have a mystical experience to have a transcendent experience in life. And that was a point I wanted to make in the book is that we can all rally around some kinds of transcendent experiences. And it's a whole range. So on the other end, opposite end, we have the flow experience that is often described where just reading a nice book and I'm so deeply absorbed in the book that I forget all my concerns. Well, when that happens, I have made a connection with the world in a way where there's emerging of self in the world.

But we can build that up to inspiration when we feel a great moment of inspiration or even moral elevation where we feel morally elevated and inspired to do good, and we see a role model that inspires us. Or even just having the all experience I see that as a transcendent experience being in wonder and awe and having a bit reverence for something greater than ourselves.

All these peak experiences or transcendent experiences, might as well called the peak experiences, all of them are these wondrous moments in our lives that make life worth living, and we should never try seeking them out or helping others to engage in them.

The Difference Between Fulfillment and Happiness

Heather Sandison, ND: Even in the most difficult of times. So tell me about happiness and sort of your concepts around happiness, whether that's a good thing to aspire to or maybe not so much.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: I'm not a big fan of happiness. It's overrated because you're bound to be disappointed if you want to live a happy life. I hate to say it. I think striving for other things will actually make it more likely the happiness will come along for the ride as opposed to just shooting straight forwards. When I say I'm not a fan of happiness, I suppose I should clarify that. I'm not a fan of happiness as the goal. Certainly am a fan of joy and feelings of happiness and life satisfaction and fulfillment. But our moments of deep fulfillment tend to come when we focus on meaning as opposed to happiness, and that's what all the research bears out.

Heather Sandison, ND: So what does that look like? Can you give a concrete example?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Well, what does it mean to search for meaning? Is that right?

Heather Sandison, ND: Well, I guess in my mind what's coming up, I just want to clarify this concept. So maybe if someone feels happy after they buy an expensive dress lets say or shoes, and that is very transient, right? Maybe there's that hit of dopamine and then it goes away very quickly, but someone might feel like, "Okay. That made me happy to buy these shoes." Probably one would make you unhappy and uncomfortable. And then on the other side, if we're looking for more meaning, purpose and meaning, it might be that you help... Like in this time, this day and age, maybe you get meaning from helping someone who's in need or who doesn't have enough toilet paper or who can't get out to the grocery store. Am I picking up what you're putting down?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Yeah. You can view fulfillment as its own hierarchy and from shallow fulfillment to deep fulfillment, on the other end of the spectrum. You can tell I like continuums. Can you tell?

Heather Sandison, ND: I do.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Did you pick up on that?

Heather Sandison, ND: Shades of gray.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Yeah. I'm not big into types. Like people seem to like the types, type psychology. Like what's my Myers-Briggs and all that stuff is not panning out scientifically to be accurate, including all the DSM as well.

Heather Sandison, ND: Oh, interesting.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: But anyway, that would be a whole tangent. But fulfillment, let's stick on the fulfillment continuum. Shallow fulfillment tends to come from short lived pleasures. We adapt very fast to these kind of dopamine hits as you put that particularly the dopamine projections that have to do with what are called repetitive rewards. Deep seeded, deep evolutionary evolved or intrinsic rewards that we have for fatty foods, for sugar, for sex, for lots of things that have been manufactured by humans to really ramp that stuff up, like cocaine, gambling. I mean, these are human inventions that play off of evolutionary old systems. But those things tend to be very short lived because that was part of the design. They were designed to repeatedly get us wanting it again. It didn't design us to be satiated ever with it. I mean, how many of us have had sex once in our lives, and we're like, "You know what, I'm good. I'm done for the rest of my life. I get it. It was nice. I'm fulfilled." People are just crazy about sex. Have you noticed that? It's like, "What the heck. Everyone, calm down." And you can take any example. We don't just have to use sex example if that example doesn't sit with people. You can take chocolate. How many of us have had chocolate once in our lives? We're like, "Ah. This is delicious. I'm good."

But there are things, believe it or not, that we can do in our lives that lead to a deeper sense of fulfillment. And those are the things that usually come after a long period of time of overcoming some sort of challenge. Deep fulfillment of a marriage after 50 years comes after 50 years. I hate to say it. But some of these things take time, takes patience. It takes going through and reconciling the paradox of human existence, reconciling conflict, and getting to the other side. It's that getting to the other side that tends to bring this deep part of... The neck end of the continuum, the deep fulfillment end.

Heather Sandison, ND: So-

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Is this making any sense?

Thriving Amidst Struggle

Heather Sandison, ND: Yeah. So part of it, what I understand is kind of getting through a struggle. So getting up and over a hump, which there's ripe opportunity for that at this moment.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: There's ripe opportunity for sure. I think that people are not even having a hump and they're panicking. Because I could be going fine in my day, it's not like there's zombies outside of my window yet. We haven't had the full zombie apocalypse yet. And I'll be like, "You know what, I feel at peace." Then I'll turn on CNN and they're yelling at me. Like, "Run! Emergency! Emergency! Breaking alert! Breaking Alert!" And you're like, "My gosh. What happened to all the inner peace that I had today?" It all went out the window because someone's telling me, "How dare you have inner peace. Breaking alert. You need to be as worried as we are." Now it's one thing to be concerned about your loved ones, be concerned about the state of world. But don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we need to turn into hedonistic individualistic people and take care of ourselves. That's really truly not what I'm saying. But I think we need to cherish the moments we have that are peaceful, and don't let anyone take that away from us.

What's his name? Viktor Frankl has this great quote. He was in the concentration camps, and he saw that even in the concentration camp there was joy to be found, there was meaning. People were making plans for what they were going to do when they got out of the concentration camp. They were still able to find meaning in it. And Viktor Frankl has this great quote, something along the lines of, "In the last of the human freedoms that one can take away from you is your ability to choose your mind in the moment to choose your own way." And I think we should never forget that.

Self-Actualization is an Ongoing Process

Heather Sandison, ND: Yeah, those concepts have been coming up a lot for me as well. If someone can find joy and a little bit of freedom in a concentration camp, then certainly through this period we're stuck on our couches, comfortable in our own homes, I think we can find opportunities for joy and connection with our families, whoever we're maybe isolating with. So tell me about self actualization. I think that that's kind of, again, these continuums. And you've talk about transcendence, personal growth. Where does self actualization fall on this continuum?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Well, which continuum are we talking about?

Heather Sandison, ND: Oh.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: There's so many.

Heather Sandison, ND: Yeah. I want to give you a white board so that you can drawn them all out for us, but you'll have to do it-

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: There are so many continuums. The personality continuums. You have all the different needs, basic needs and their continuums. You just asked me what is self actualization basically?

Heather Sandison, ND: Sure. Well, why don't we start there?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Because it's not ever a state that you achieve. It's an ongoing process, and in a lot of ways, it's really just a north star goal. It's just something we're shooting for. It's something that we're striving for, and you could see it at the most basic level of definition. Becoming all that you're capable of becoming. But you don't want to become all you're capable of becoming. There are sides of you that we're full of so many potentialities. Their potentialities that you, if you're on autopilot, you don't want to fully actualize. But there are sides of ourselves that we could put more of our attention and focus in, and if we actualize them, they will to a greater world.

So I think focusing on the potentialities within you that reach the highest version of yourself, hopefully the best version of yourself is what we can just conceptualize self actualization as.

How Transcendent Experiences Contribute to Self-Actualization

Heather Sandison, ND: And do we get closer to that if we're spending more time having these transcendent experiences, or where does it fit into kind of the greater... How do the models interact? How do these continuums create a whole? How do we put them back together?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Well, I do think it's very important to recognize that humans are greater than the sum of their parts, and we do have a hodge podge of evolutionary drived, evolutionary evolved modules, mixed in with personal experiences within our own lifetime, mixed in with our own temperament and cognitive ability and relationships. You take all these things together to make a human, you get something that's greater than each of them individually. And I think all of us strive to feel as whole as possible.

Abraham Maslow said it's often like we're walking around with a Civil War being fought within us. And I think that the process of wholeness is, it's a lifelong journey, but it's a journey where we reach higher levels of integration within ourself. So we just don't feel like all these parts are fighting with each other. You see even within the romantic domain, we evolved multiple modules that often conflict with each other. You have the caretaking module. You have the drive to lower the suffering of someone you care about. But then you have the passion, the romantic passion module where you feel that great sense of West Side story-esque I'll do anything for you. But then you have the lust module. And so many of us can have lust for someone that we hate their guts. You know what I mean? You literally can have no caretaking drive for someone that you're in lust with. And then all these things, we come part.

The highest form of love, I talk about in my book, I call it whole love is one where all these things are integrated. And by the way, this is not me saying that I don't believe in polyamory for instance. Don't get it twisted. If someone's listening to this from a polyamory movement, they're like, "Are you saying there's only one person that you can have everything with?" That's not what I'm saying. You absolutely need to find the arrangement or the life that works best for you. But I think that you can... Even if not with just one person, you can reach a... It's best to minimize the amount that all these different modules are spread across your lives. If you can integrate as much as possible within yourself and minimally with the people in your lives, I really do think that will lead to the greatest level of fulfillment.

I think even the most polyamory, the polyamory would admit that if you have 100 partners, that's not as fulfilling as maybe four. You know what I'm saying?

Heather Sandison, ND: Right. Well, it goes back to sort of that deep connection. Like you were describing a 50 year marriage takes 50 years. And so there's just so many hours in the day. If you have many superficial relationships versus deeper relationships, the fulfillment that comes from those is going to shift.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: That's exactly right. That's exactly right. I have nothing to elaborate on that one because that was great.

The Gifts Abraham Maslow Left Us With

Heather Sandison, ND: So Maslow is clearly has influenced you significantly. But you have sort of a re conceptualization of some of the things that he described in the '50s and '60s. And then also you've already alluded to the fact that some of how... Like I definitely think of Maslow's hierarchy of needs as this pyramid. And you're saying that he never even drew this pyramid. So-

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Never.

Heather Sandison, ND: ... would you just go back to some of Maslow's gifts that he gave the world, what you really think they are, and then how you've built on them?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Yeah. Sure. He did focus on the dynamic between security and growth. That really was his focus. It really wasn't on the lockstep needs. Like you need this, and you can't get that until you got this. They made it very clear that we can work on multiple needs simultaneously. And none of us are 100% in any of the needs at any moment in time. For instance, I could go down the list with you and be like, "What percentage connection are you right now?" And you could probably estimate something. It probably wouldn't be... Do you think you're at 100% on connection, or... Well, maybe you are. But-

Heather Sandison, ND: No, we're all very isolated right now. So no. I actually feel very disconnected.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: I know.

The Loneliness Epidemic: Advice to Foster Connection Amidst Physical Distancing

Heather Sandison, ND: And I think that that's when we talk about the cost of the cure of this pandemic, that certainly is a huge cost is the amount of disconnection so many people may experience. Now others, for others [crosstalk 00:22:20] fine.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: I worry about it so much. I worry about it because we already had a loneliness epidemic, and this is certainly going to contribute to it. I'm engaging in a virtual dance party tonight, which I'm looking forward to. So we need more of that. But yeah, I mean, I could go down the list. Where are you on your esteem from others? How's that being... Do you feel respected? Where are you in safety? A lot of us are not too high on that these days at least in the terms of the uncertainty. So he made it very clear all the needs. It's not like this lockstep level of we're all somewhere in any moment and time. But he also was-

Safety and Security Needs

Heather Sandison, ND: Sorry. I'm just thinking across the spectrum of let's just say financial inequality or social inequality, there are certainly if you don't know if you can afford to go to the hospital or if you can afford to get medical treatment, there is a need there. Or if you don't know where your next meal is coming from, certainly you will be distracted by that. That is your primary focus. So this hierarchy, it does exist to some degree. Yes, we're all working at multiple layers. But if you're hungry or if you're sick, you're just focused on survival.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: That's exactly right. So that's why I wanted to emphasize that dynamic between the two in a way that hadn't been emphasized by the standard pyramid. So I have new metaphor in the book, which I think really tackles exactly what I just said at a better level and that's the sail boat metaphor. So we really do need to secure that boat before we have any movement at all. And we're certainly not going to feel safe and vulnerable to open the sail fully and sail it on the sea if there's a leak in the boat or if we feel like it's not secure. So I talk about safety needs of, and the safety needs I focus on are the need for safety. Well, sorry, I call them security needs. The need for safety, the need for connection, and the need for self esteem. All these things when they're severely deprived, they really throw us out of whack, and they really limit our possibilities to grow to our full height. The point here is that all this stuff is integrated. So we can't grow to our full height if our focus, like you said, is... Our attention is really narrowed to the deprivations. And this is what Maslow very much focused on.

I was just saying we shouldn't have to talk about there's like a set level, a set order of needs in which you have to go through. That's what I was challenging. But I absolutely think that there was great wisdom in what he was focusing on about the deprivation of these needs has been really problematic. When things are so severely deprived, like he said, we snap into a certain world view. Each of these needs are associated with a world view. And when they're deprived, that's what we see in the world. So when we're deprived of food, everything looks like food to us. That's all the world we're snapped into that realm of cognition. When we are severely deprived of connection, every human we see is a potential connection, and we're needy because we're deprived of that need. We're literally needy for that. But unfortunately that's not where the realm of growth lives.

The realm of self actualization lives in the being realm of existence. And Maslow distinguished between the deficiency realm versus the being realm or growth realm. When you're in the deficiency realm, you're trying it impart onto the world something. You're basically walking around being like, "Feed me. Love me. Respect me." But when you're in the growth realm, you're not trying to make those demands. You admire people and things for what they are, and you see reality as clearly as possible. And you don't try to impart those demands. You don't try to treat people just the useful they have for you. You admire them in their own journey of self actualization. It's hard to get there, but I do think that we still need to, even under times of great deprivation, focus on be love, which Maslow called love for the being of others, and that's a higher form of love than connection.

The Being Realm vs. The Growth Realm

Heather Sandison, ND: So how might this play out right now?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Yeah. These are just timeless transcendent truths that like being on the sail boat right now, it seems like we're desperately trying to secure that boat. I mean, even just by toilet paper. I'm out of toilet paper. My parents in Philadelphia, God bless them, went to BJ's, which is one of these wholesale clubs, and they bought toilet paper. And they're like, "We're going to ship you toilet paper," because I'm literally out of toilet paper and I can't find it anywhere. I know it's like do I admit that on air? But-

Heather Sandison, ND: I think there's probably a lot of people listening who can relate.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: I mean, I'm espousing self actualization and transcendence. But I'm personally freaking out half of my day in terms of my book tour was canceled. All these things, all my talks that I thought I had this year that we're going to sustain me economically. Boom, over night, they're all gone. And I don't have any income. So I think a big part of what I wanted to do in this book, and I really hope I succeeded to any degree in doing that, is showing how any one of us at any moment in time can be snapped into a state of deprivation. And just knowing that fact, we need to cultivate more of a common humanity. And I think this is a real moment for us to cultivate that because we can have a greater level of empathy for people who are suffering, perhaps more than we ever had in the past.

I would love to see if there's any upside to this at all, that we all obviously get through this on the other side healthy, and our loved ones are healthy, and even our not loved ones are heathy because we're all in this together. And this was the main point of my whole book was that we're all in the same boat and these are human basic needs that have to be met that if we just shot for... I don't like people who just shoot to self transcendence without integrating their other needs without recognizing these other needs are important. I talk about healthy transcendence in this book, which I distinguish from unhealthy transcendence I guess you could put it. I haven't thought about the term for the opposite, but yeah, unhealthy transcendence. And healthy transcendence is not being above others in this kind of guru sort of way where I'm enlightened and I'm staring down at people. I define healthy transcendence as an emergent property of an integration of your whole self in the service of the good society. That's just a big mouthful for saying you're part of humanity, and you feel part of humanity in this onus sort of way rather than standing on top of it. You're not above humanity.

Heather Sandison, ND: That's really beautiful. Thank you for sharing your personal situation right now. I certainly can also relate to that. My clinical practice depends on one to one contact with people, doing physical exams and bringing people in. So I don't think there's a single one of us that isn't affected financially, which is that security, right? And your book sounds extremely timely for this. It's like how can we find the good? How can we still get to that self actualization or being going in that direction despite these very scary times? So it sounds like a phenomenal quarantine reading.

Putting the COVID-19 Pandemic Into Perspective

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Yes. Well, thank you so much. And I also want to say these terrible times, there are people in Africa who their whole life from day one of their life are going to die. Just put this in perspective in one sense because I'm not at all. But yes, you're alone in your room. But if you're healthy, you still have an opportunity to help others. You still have the opportunity to put beauty into the world. Put this in perspective or at least in the sense of be as mindful as you can every day because it is true it does feel like there is an impending doom. But until that moment happens, put your all into your existence.

Heather Sandison, ND: Yeah. It's such a great reminder. There are people all around the world who live in a great deal of suffering, and we are very healthy to be as healthy as we are and to have the prosperity that we have. And this is an opportunity for some compassion and empathy to really understand what it's like to live in a place where you maybe are fearful for your life or the life of your loved ones. And that can help with creating greater unity.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: That's exactly right. That's exactly the point. Yeah.

Tips for Staying Sane While Staying at Home

Heather Sandison, ND: So do you have any tips for staying sane while we're staying home?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: I mean, reframing. The issue is reframing. What a great opportunity... Let me put it this way. I have friends who... I have a friend who was a monk for a year or a year and a half. I mean, he was on the top of a mountain in Nepal waking up at five in the morning and meditating for 10 hours for almost a full year. And when he came back, he felt like his entire life changed. He felt like he was able to see things so much more clearly. Look, if people can do that, you can stay in a room with TV and try to be as present and try to use this as an opportunity to better yourself, to better others, to help others as much as you can. I really think that practicing... This is the time, if you ever wondered, "Should I take up a mindfulness practice," this is your opportunity to become a monk.

Heather Sandison, ND: Yeah. Precisely. Is there a meditation practice or anything that you recommend or mindfulness practice that you recommend or you practice yourself?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: I really have been enjoying Sam Harris' meditation course on the app, and I don't get any proceeds for saying that. I'll tell you there are two I really like. I like Sam Harris'. I also really like the Calm App. Tamara Levitt's. She brightens my day with her voice. And then Sam Harris has a voice of rationality. So I tend to like that sort of yin yang. I listen to Tamara Levitt, "You are loved." And then I'll listen to Sam Harris, "We must pay attention to our cognitive thoughts." And then I'm like, okay. I get both sides of my self balance. You know what I mean?

Heather Sandison, ND: That's great. That's great. I love it.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Yeah.

Further Information on Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.

Heather Sandison, ND: So tell us more about the research and work that you're doing.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Well, as of today, March 20th, I'm unemployed. But look, I hold that with a bit of hilarity because you got to just realize how absurd life is. Prior to this moment, I was a professor at Columbia. I have a book coming out April 7. I'm a writer. I'm an author. I'm a podcaster. Still going to keep that up, the Psychology Podcast. Love talking to really interesting, unique people and hearing about their own journey of self actualization and their own thoughts on how we can all self actualize and live a life of well being. Very active on Twitter now. These days more than ever. I really am just going to be an apostle of Maslow right now and humanistic psychology, all the humanistic psychologists, not just Maslow. I fell in love with an idea. The whole field of humanistic psychology and their focus on timeless themes such as freedom and responsibility and creativity and spirituality and humanitarianism. I think all these thing, they got it quite right, and they didn't use words such as happiness or achievement or peak performance. All these words that people love to use today. That was not their lexicon. I think their lexicon is they speak the language of being itself. And well, this is an opportunity to develop our being. That's for sure.

Heather Sandison, ND: Certainly, certainly. So the name of your book again.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: It's called Transcend: The New Science of Self Actualization.

Heather Sandison, ND: And we can find that on book shelves or on Amazon on April 7th.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: If we can go to bookstores on April 7th. They'll be in the bookstores. But if not, you can find it on Amazon or support your indie bookstores. And also you can pre order it right now on Amazon if you want.

Heather Sandison, ND: Oh, fantastic.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Yeah.

Heather Sandison, ND: That's great. So you had been teaching a class at Columbia University. What was the class?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Great source of meeting for me. I'm going to get tearful right now if I think about the fact that I'm blocked from coming back to New York right now. But it was a really, really wonderful moment for me to spend two semesters at Barnard College, which is the all-female college at Columbia that we allowed the guys in from Columbia's campus to take this class as well. So it was mixed gender.

But I taught a course The Science of Living Well, and what I did in this book is I... To kind of give the knowledge away to everyone, I put in the exercises. I call them growth challenges that I had for the students, and the students seemed to really resonate deeply with these growth challenges. And they're not your standard be happy kind of things. They're kind of like get outside your comfort zone, explore your dark side. Students love to explore the dark side exercise, growth challenge. Or accept your whole self. Work on your assertiveness skills. All these things are just important for being itself and that's what it is is how can you maximize this existence that you're bringing into this world. As you walk around, it's a miraculous thing when you think you occupy this space for this brief period of time. What are you going to do with that space? I really try to uplift my students to realize the best version of that existence. And I put those exercises in the book though, at least 80% of those exercises. So anyone can take my course so to speak by reading this book.

But I just want to say I really hope I come back to New York and continue teaching.

Heather Sandison, ND: Fantastic. It sounds like you certainly are good at it. So take this-

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Oh, thank you.

Face Your Fear: An Exercise SBK Did with His Students at Colombia 

Heather Sandison, ND: Yeah. Can you take us through a couple more of those exercises that you did with them?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Oh, boy. Well, we have, like I said, explore your dark side exercise. But do you want me to give the listeners of this podcast... I'll read an entire exercise right now.

Heather Sandison, ND: I would love that. Something experiential that we can do together.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: And I call them growth challenges. It's kind of cute, right? Okay. How about we do face your fears? They're all good. I like them all. Face your fears, grow together, cultivate a secure relationship, foster... How about foster a high quality connection?

Heather Sandison, ND: Sure, sure, sure. Well, face your fear sounds very relevant to me right now. Can I choose that one?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Yes. Well, the problem with that is there's a whole psychological fear of scale where you have to assess which of these five sources of fear you want to focus on the most.

Heather Sandison, ND: I'll defer to your expertise.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.:Yeah, yeah. Let's do the challenge because I'll just say at this point just think in your mind what your greatest fear I because I'm sure you can conjure up something in your head right now, right?

Heather Sandison, ND: Certainly.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: So think about some of your own fears. For some, these might come immediately to mind or you may read through the scale that I presented. Determine which fear you would most like to work on based on your current life experiences and taking into account the scale. Again, you can ignore that part. In a written reflection, explore the following... Because I recommend that people who go through this buy a journal. This is a great time, by the way, journal. Keep your journal. By the way, this is a historic moment as well. So future generations, your grandchildren might actually want to read the journal of your experience or this crazy time.

So in a written reflection, explore the following: What am I afraid of? Why is this so scary to me? What is the worst possible outcome of this happening to me? What could be a potentially favorable outcome of this fear unfolding? In what ways might I grow as a person? What might I learn? What parts of myself can I rely on? For example, specific qualities, strengths that could help me overcome my greatest fear. Throughout your daily life, try to notice when your fears are getting in your way. Commit yourself to facing this fear and being even handed with what positive things might ensue as you feel yourself panicking or avoiding these adversive stimuli.

It does seem more relevant now now that I read this out loud. I'm like, "Well, maybe my book is relevant."

An Opportunity to Build Resilience

Heather Sandison, ND: Your book is extremely relevant right now. I think going through those hypothetical scenarios of what's the worse case that can happen and then seeing when you really face it, what is the true fear. So for me, something happening to my parents is just absolutely terrifying, and I think for a lot of people our age perhaps, that's scary because we've heard over and over again that this virus affects people over 60 more than those of us that are under 60. And so that fear of losing your parents, and what are those things... How could I grow from that? How horrifying. But there's probably a way I could grow from that. I would have to provide for myself in ways that I haven't. If your parents aren't around, you have to kind of grow into that.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Yes. I love the way you think, by the way. I think we're on a similar vibration is what they say. But no, I agree. And I think this is also a good time to practice the fine art of managing uncertainty. The more that you can practice this art, maybe for some people this is the first time in their life they've ever had to practice it. There are people who enter this situation at different stages of life experiences. There maybe some that have gone through so much suffering in their life that this is like, "Everyone's freaking out over this? You know what I've overcome?" You know what I mean?

Heather Sandison, ND: Oh, absolutely.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Yeah, yeah. So for all of us, this is an opportunity to see and experience what would it be like for our life to be turned upside down in a day? Now for some, they go their whole lives without that happening, and then their parents do pass and then for the first time in their life, they're like having to experience what that's like. But we can start to learn this skill right now of acceptance and appreciation as well for what we do have in our lives right now and building up that resiliency scale. I do believe at the end of the day that we're capable of deep reservoirs of resiliency that we never even knew we had within, and I think there's an ultimate uplifting message about all the research I've conducted and that I've read in the positive psychology literature about the amazing, amazing resiliency of the human spirit. I think that we often don't even realize it until we're faced with the situation itself.

Heather Sandison, ND: Yeah. And that kind of ties back nicely into Viktor Frankl's concepts and his quotes, his work. The idea I guess here of building resilience, kind of like self actualization, there's not a final destination. But it's just like this muscle that you continue to work.

Everyone Should Get a Therapist

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Yeah. It's not all together different from why we go to the gym and get a trainer, personal trainer to go through it. Analogously, I would really recommend everyone get a therapist right now. There is a website called Better Help where you can find a therapist online and a lot to choose from. But you could also find others. Therapists are doing their telecommunications. Their telecommunication game is flourishing right now. So I would recommend that or even just a coach. There are positive psychology coaches. But I would start with a therapist, a trained therapist.

Heather Sandison, ND: That's such fantastic advice. In normal times, my bias is that everyone should have a therapist.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Yeah. It's so important. And you need someone at least once a week that you can look forward to freaking out with. It's not just a friend. But yeah. Avoidance is paradoxically when we most want to avoid something, that's when we should go toward it, within reason of course. If there's a wide chasing you, I'm not saying you shouldn't run the hell away. But in terms of our fears, our psychological fears. In social isolation as well, you may feel like all you want to do is curl up in a ball. If people are calling you and want to hang out, go against your immediate instinct to avoid and thank your later self. You'll think your later self later for making the right growth choice in that moment.

Heather Sandison, ND: Yeah. There's this invitation to lean in. What does this have to teach me, right?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Yeah. Yeah.

Heather Sandison, ND: Fantastic. Is there anything else you want to share with our listeners today, Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: No. You got a lot out of me.

Heather Sandison, ND: I feel like we did. We downloaded a lot of the magic in your brain.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: You did. You did. Brought to you by Qualia. No. I'm joking. Brought to you by Qualia Mind. No, but that is my cheeky way of saying I love the work you're all doing there. And not just with the products you put out but this podcast is so special and thoughtful. And I remember last time I was on it, I was interviewed by Daniel, and that was special too. It's just always a real treat for me.

Heather Sandison, ND: Oh, thanks for joining us again. It's really a pleasure to have you here.

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D.: Thank you so much. And I wish you and all our listeners well.

Heather Sandison, ND: Same to you. Same to you.

1 Comment

  • Bambi Lee Dean
    Wow. Amazing. I cannot wait to read the book. I have been using maslow's hierarchy of needs to develop a program/organization/non-profit or I have also called it a loving assistance program. It would be focused more on the top portions of the pyramid chart (as it seems others forget those upper aspects). I cannot wait to read the book and apply the adjustments you suggest to this yet unborn project. About the "everyone needs a therapist" part. YES!!! A resounding yes from me. I have said for ages that, "everyone needs a therapist in their back pocket." But the 2 biggest issues that stand in the way of this detrimental need are: - cost/access - social stigma So Scott Barry Kaufman, how do we address and rectify this? I could go on and on with the ways that many on certain economic circles are neglected/omitted/forgotten in regards to access of mental health. But I am interested in refocusing on REAL solutions. I look forward to any responses regarding this.
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