December 2, 2021
What is the vertical conception of cognitive development? Do developmental stages always occur in a predictable order? To what extent are adult humans able to continue their cognitive development? Is it better to be a specialist or a generalist? What is the "pre/trans" fallacy? What is the importance of coaching as a meta-skill? What sorts of questions precipitate insights and/or clarifications of values?
Eben Pagan is a well-known entrepreneur, teacher, and technology investor. He's launched and invested in many companies, selling over $100 million in products and services in the process.
JOSH: Hello, and welcome to clear thinking with Spencer Greenberg, the podcast about ideas that matter. I'm Josh Castle, the producer of the podcast, and I'm so glad you've joined us today. In this episode, Spencer speaks with Eben Pagan about the developmental conception, levels of emergence, and the role of the coach.
SPENCER: Eben, welcome. It's so great to have you on.
EBEN: Great to be here, Spencer, thanks for having me.
SPENCER: So the first topic I want to ask you about is the vertical conception of development. What is that?
EBEN: Okay, so if you've studied developmental psychology, or Piaget or gotten into Ken Wilbers’ work, or Keegan, or any of these folks, you come across this model of human development, which is called the developmental conception. And basically what it says is that we go through these emergent levels of development or evolution. And just like we go from single-celled multicellular to having organs and bodies, and then even beyond that, to social groups, and so forth, we go through these emergent levels of development psychologically. And let's see, not to get too geeky here. But when they talk about Piaget, they talk about the Constructivist Developmental Model. And I think this is important because constructivism means that each of us has to construct our own model of the world, and of reality. And this is cool because what it does is it gives you a hint, if you've got children, or if you're teaching people or if you're learning yourself, gives you a hint that there needs to be experiences involved, where you try things out, and you see what works. And you build a paradigm or build a model of reality, and then you do that. And in Piaget’s model, you do that for three or four years as a child. Then all of a sudden, some new brain wiring comes online. And then you get some new superpowers. And then you transcend to that model, and you go to a new level. And then you build another more sophisticated model of reality that is transcendent to or emergent to that model. And you keep doing this every few years, and they nest inside of each other. And let's just stop there, if that's the vertical conception of development.
SPENCER: Awesome. So as I understand it, if we think about Piaget’s theory, I think it breaks into four stages. You have the sensorimotor stage, then you've got the pre-operational stage, the concrete operational stage, and then the formal operational stage. And each of these comes with sort of different characteristics like the sensorimotor stage has things like infants know the world through their movements and sensation. Children learn about the world through basic actions, such as second, grasping, looking and listening, and then you go to like the pre-operational stage where it's like, children begin to think symbolically and learn to use words and pictures to represent objects, and so on. So that's the Piaget model, right? So it's like children are interacting with their environment. They're figuring things out, their brain is developing during this process. So it's this interplay between their experiences, and then also their brain development. So is this the main thing you're talking about? Are you actually talking about further stages of development past these stages that we develop as a child?
EBEN: Yeah, I mean, I'm more interested in the idea that you can keep going, probably the first big breakthrough that happens is this idea of self-concept or something that happens at around age four, where all of a sudden, you can take other perspectives, and you can empathize. You can imagine what reality looks like from the point of view of another person. And I'm not the world's expert on this particular topic, but I'm just very interested in it. It's been the vertical conception of development and evolution, psychological development, it feels to me like it’s the most important model that we can learn. Because once you understand it, some of the adult developmentalists believe that once you become an adult, you can just keep going by continuing to do practices, meditate, just keep evolving, keep learning, having different experiences, adding different models. And this is interesting to me because when you start thinking about it creatively, you start asking questions like, “What does reality look like from an emergent perspective?” and “What do I look like from an emergent perspective?” and “How can I keep developing myself? How can I keep self-evolving?” And when you start doing this in different domains, physically, in your relationships, in business, artistically; to me, it just makes reality a lot more interesting. And it helps to make you more impactful, powerful and creative in the world.
SPENER: So when you think of these stages of development, do you think of them as coming in as a predictable order? Like, you go through one stage? And then that leads to the next? And that leads to the next, and that will be similar across people? Or do you feel that there are many different stages that are overlapped, and might differ in order for different people?
EBEN: Yeah, different developmentalists have different ways of looking at it, but I tend to be interested in what is similar, and what is different when I'm looking at basically anything. And so I think both of the things that you just said are probably true. There are some aspects of these stages that seem to happen in a particular order for everyone. But then again, some people seem to be able to almost skip stages, or have capabilities or superpowers that come online, where they didn't really seem to have to do the work at some of the earlier stages. I do tend to think, though, that they're like math, I don't know, if you don't learn your times tables, if you're still counting out what four times four is, on your fingers and toes to figure it out, when you get up into more advanced conceptions of math, you're going to go a lot slower than you could. So, I think that it's useful to think about these stages as being almost like stages in a video game or something. And if you go play the whole stage out, and you see how the whole thing works, you understand it all a lot better. So yes, and yes.
SPENCER: So let's take the details a little bit. What are some of the stages more concretely that you've identified or that you think it's important to work on?
EBEN: Yes, well, different domains have different models. And to talk about, I don't know, something that might be maybe a little more unusual, or at least interesting. So entrepreneurially a lot of people have seen Robert Kiyosaki books right, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Cashflow Quadrant, are you familiar with these books?
SPENCER: I've heard about them.
EBEN: These are very interesting because he's a very pragmatic investor entrepreneur thinker. And in Cashflow Quadrant, he introduces the idea that you go through these four levels. I mean, he doesn't introduce it as a developmental model. But he says, you start out as an employee, and then you typically become self-employed. And then you become a business owner, entrepreneur, and then you become an investor. And I think this is a really neat application of the development model, when you look at it this way. Because if you want to be a great entrepreneur, like a lot of young people, they want to jump right to entrepreneur, before they've been an employee. And before they've been self-employed, contractor, consultant, coach, this type of thing. But actually, the really killer entrepreneurs that I've known, most of them have gone through different processes of working for other companies, they've been employees, and they've seen what it's like to work at that level. And then they've been self-employed. And they've taken on some of the skills, a little bit more baby steps, where they're thinking and longer time horizons, they're learning how to go out, and prospect a little bit, and do sales and marketing, and get business for themselves, and deal with collections. And these kinds of things. And then when it comes time to become an entrepreneur, you're able to see from these lower levels of development. And when you're hiring people, you're thinking, like an employee, or like someone that works for the company, when you're hiring contractors, and you're hiring people to do projects, and outsourcing things, you understand that reality, even if you've just done it for a year or two, it brings so much richness. And when you think of these four stages as being emergent to each other, it causes you to want to make sure you go back and fill in any gaps that you have. And at least do a little stint in each of these. Because ultimately, when you get to the level of investor, when you're looking at businesses or other investments, particularly ones that involve groups of people or teams, it's just very valuable to be able to look through these reference structures of the experiences. So there's one example.
SPENCER: That's a really interesting one, you’re bootstrapping your skills up along the way as you go through these different levels. Now, some people argue that the best way to do entrepreneurship is to just throw yourself into the fire, knowing that you're not going to know how to do it, and you're hopefully going to learn really fast as you do it. And that's in contrast to sort of this more staged view that if you start working at a company, you can learn good practices. And then if you become, let's say, a consultant, you can learn about, prospecting and marketing yourself and so on. So how would you contrast those two approaches like throwing yourself into the fire versus going through the stages in a sensible order?
EBEN: Well, I mean, I think you should always just frickin throw yourself into the fire. I think you just got to do that in life. When something becomes interesting to you, you just go and you do it. And every few years, at least in life, I think you've got to pick up a passion project, and just go try something new. And I think you have to explore different things. You have to explore physical things and fitness, and you have to explore emotional things, and social things, and relationships, and get into them, and learning, and business, and art, and psychology, and philosophy, and all these different things, at least a little bit. Now, with that said, when you take on the developmental conception of the world, and you start looking at your own development, as being these nested orders, and you start thinking, to use a metaphor, almost like the floors of a building or something, if you're building a 10-story building. If there are places where one of the floors isn't fully built out, or it doesn't have structural columns, your buildings are going to be weak. I mean, Jesus talked about building your house on sand, it can be that thing. And so as you go through life, if you want to be more omni-successful, or universally successful, or multidimensional successful, it helps to look at where you didn't go through development, where you didn't learn things, by throwing yourself in, and actually experiencing it, and then go and get some experience doing that thing because it makes the whole structure a lot stronger, and it helps you be more, we could say, holographically, reconciled or aligned. Because when you have the real experience of doing something in life, a particular role or responsibility or project, and it can be entrepreneurial, it can be social, it can be working for another person, there are lots of different types of roles, but when you have different types of roles, and experiences, they fill in pieces of the puzzle. They fill in pieces of the map. So that later, when you're doing more advanced things, more creative things, whether that be designing a business, or collaborating with someone on something that's complex, like a piece of software, or helping someone solve a problem in their life, you've got more perspectival reference points that you can drop into in your experience and your imagination. And you can look at things from more useful kinds of valid perspectives. And then this allows you to create things that are more robust, more sustainable. The downside of this is if you get too much experience in a particular area, it can constrain your thinking, and you can start to over-identify with it. And I think we all know people who have done their thing. They've been a math teacher for 40 years. And when you talk about something with them, they just use all math examples. And everything is this math that doesn't add up its probability, and you're like, wait a minute, can we jump out of that reality for a minute, and jump into this other one? So there's a balance here. But I think basically, what I'm saying is that in this model, where you're thinking emergently, and you're thinking more dimensionally, that it's useful to have at least a bare minimum of experience in all of these different domains, all these different roles, and reference points, so that later, when you're being more creative, when you're modeling when you're designing things, you can think with more reference points.
SPENCER: So what are some typical examples, you see where someone has a gap? Or maybe, maybe they're conventionally successful, but you see there's something missing in that in the series of development, and so their foundation maybe isn't as strong as it could be.
EBEN: I'll introduce another model here. My favorite model that I've ever learned is the Triune Brain Model. Okay, Paul McLean's model, this idea, he was a neuroscientist, and he was studying comparative brain anatomy. And he basically noticed that we have brain structures in common with lizards, and brain structures in common with mammals. And then we've got this big neocortex. And he created this model called the Triune Brain Model. Now, I know a lot of scientists don't like this model. But for me, I use it a little bit metaphorically, but it's been the most useful model that I've ever learned. Really by a longshot.
SPENCER: It's funny you say that because I was about to say the same thing. Like, it's not maybe that useful, sort of a literal description of our neurology, but it seems like it's getting at something that's true that we sort of have these competing drives, if that makes sense.
EBEN: Yes, exactly. And also when you look at it, right, the ancient, the hindbrain, the lizard brain, then the mammal brain grew around it, and then, the thinking human brain grew around that you get to see these three-level nested fractal brains. And I've even made some visuals around this just so you can get a mental conception of it. And one idea is that we essentially have a physical brain, which is the reptile or lizard brain. And then we have an emotional social brain, which is this mammal brain. And then we have this thinking brain, that's the one that allows us to do abstract representational thought. And I like this as a way to break reality up, or break at least the modeling of reality up because it helps you to get that. There are three fundamental ways of looking at doing, experiencing, succeeding, in reality, there's physical material success, in your body. And in the physical material world, there's emotional social success in your, your feelings, your emotions, or effect in your relationships. And then there's mental conceptual success in learning, and meaning, in life, and then maybe beyond that, you can say, their spiritual success, which might be emergent, too, and maybe integral to all of them. And so if we take this vertical conception of development, this developmental model, and then we look at ourselves physically, and then emotionally and socially, and then mentally and conceptually, and we just say, okay, in life, it's important to keep developing in all of them, to just keep some development going in all of them. So, for example, physically, I mean, I'm a big Pareto Principle, 80-20 follower. So, I'm always looking for the 1% that gets me the 50. I just believe that I can go learn 1% that's going to give me about 50% of the benefit of whatever the domain is. So I'm looking for what is the 1%, that gets me the 50, or the, or up to the 20%, that gets me the 80. And that is in the foods that I eat, and the exercise and sleep that I do. And then over in, social and emotional, it's in the relationships that I have, and in my feelings, and in the thinking brain, it's in learning, and representation, and learning models, and so forth. So I think to answer your question if you get a handful of models that really work for you. And then you continually ask, how do I be a good practitioner in this domain? And then, what's next in that domain? And how do I keep developing? I think it just makes life so much richer, and has more meaning, you can also have more health, and more energy, and I think, avoid a whole lot of disease, and so forth. And I think it makes relationships much more fulfilling, and rewarding because you're asking questions like, what is the identity of this relationship? Like, what is the emergent identity? And how do we have this relationship itself produce lots of value for us and for the world, and it creates more opportunity mentally, because you're asking, literally, what is at the next level, in terms of knowledge. One of the insights that I've had is that there's essentially infinite potential in the emergent dimensions. And I think of it as a value that's waiting to be unlocked, that's just beyond me, that I just need to learn to poke my head up, or my mind up into the next dimension. And then I can tap into it. It's almost like there's oil in the ground right under me. And I just need the right tools to drill down, a few 100 feet and tap into it. But in this case, I just need to get a conceptual periscope to pop up. And that there's infinite, pent-up value waiting to be discovered, and experienced, and ported to this reality. And that if you start looking at things this way, I mean, if I'm making it sound it's almost a little magical in its thinking, but it really turns out to be this way, in my experience.
SPENCER: I like that metaphor - a lot of the periscope and pairing up. I'd like to make it more concrete because I think people struggle with abstraction. So, could you maybe give an example from your life where you felt yourself creating a model of reality, and then popping up to the next level?
EBEN: Yeah, probably the one that's been the most valuable is my relationship with Annie, with my wife. When I met her, I was doing pretty well in my life. I had a successful business, I was single. Relationships, I would have a girlfriend for a year or two and then I'd be single for a year or two. And I just started accepting, okay, I think I'm probably going to be single, I don't think relationships are going to work out. I was in my late 30s. And then I met her, and it was a wonderful delight, and surprise because it really transformed my life. And as we started building our relationship, and as we started getting to know other couples, and I started really looking into relationships, I realized that there's something beyond me, there's an identity beyond the individual Eben, called my relationship with Annie. And so I almost think of it like the yin-yang symbol or something, there's the black side, and the white side that each have the little dot inside of them. But then there's the whole symbol itself. And the symbol somehow has more than twice as much meaning, and profound significance as the individual parts. So when I think about our relationship, and as I've been developing it over the last several years, I relate to it, as if it's an entity that I'm a part of, almost like, I'm a heart and it’s the body, or, I'm the brain and it's the body or I'm a member of a family and it's the family. And as I do that, this gives me a new way of relating to things like disagreements, and problems, and friction in the relationship. Because what I realize is, whereas when the relationship started, if were to have gotten in an argument with Annie, I would be trying, more unconsciously, to win the argument, or just do things my way or get my values to be represented. Now that I apply this developmental paradigm to our relationship, and I look at myself as being on one level, and the relationship being emergent to that, on good days, I remember that I'm part of the equation. I'm half of that yin-yang. And she's part of it. And what we have to do is tessellate our two sides together and figure out how to fit them together like puzzle pieces. Because when our two values - whatever we're arguing over - when they come together, and they actually fit together, the thing they're going to make is going to be better than I can probably imagine it because I can't imagine it with her values. I’ll only give you an example.
SPENCER: Yeah, that'd be great.
EBEN: Okay, so here's an example that we like to talk about. So we moved into an apartment in Miami in Florida several years ago. And when I met Annie, I had a bachelor pad. And I had this big bed in my living room. I had gotten a new bed, and I just took my old one. It was a king bed. I put it in the living room and put some cushions on it. All my friends loved it, they would come and flop on it. And if I have people over, they just are always crashing on it. And so I said to her, we should have some beds in our living room because people love to flop on them. And she said, “That's crazy. It's ugly,” and “No way, we need to have nice furniture,” or whatever. And so we started going around shopping, and I'm trying to talk her into it. I was like, “Honey, what about this? What if we get some circular beds that look cool.” And she was just not having it. And so one day, we were at this furniture store in Miami, and we were talking to them about these, they had these big couches and so forth. And they said we could make you anything you want. And I said, “Could you make me a couch that's as big as a bed?” and they said, “Whatever you want.” So we sat down, and we started jamming together. And they were inexpensive, too, which was amazing. And so they had to make us three, six-by-six foot, low modern couches, and two of them fit together. So they look like one big giant 12-foot long couch. And it really has all the benefits of a big bed. But it looks like a cool, sleek modern couch. And when we were finished with this, after many going back and forth and arguments and so forth, when these things finally showed up, and they were in our living room, and then our friends all came over and just jumped on them. And you have to put your feet up to sit on these things. We just said that those are amazing. That's just better. It's a hybrid. But it's some emergent thing that neither of us there's no way that either of us could have come up with that. And it's only through the process of going back and forth, and collaborating, and having some friction, that something like that could emerge.
SPENCER: It reminds me of this idea that as individuals, we're trying to think about how we improve our own interests? How do we execute our own values, and then when we're in a relationship, you can easily get into a dynamic where each person is sort of like trying to execute on their own values. And then of course, they have to compromise. But there's this other way of looking at it, which is you think of yourself and the other person together as having a set of values. And then you're trying to maximize the total set of both of your values which I think ends up leading to sort of different types of solutions than just saying, “Okay, we're going to compromise between what each of us wants.”
EBEN: Yes, exactly. Sometimes I call it rational faith because you have to believe in the emergent. You have to believe that there's something that you have no way of being able to understand or predict or create yourself, and then you have to stay in the friction until it emerges until it actually shows up. And this, by the way, is in romantic relationships. In a business partnership, in teamwork together. I mean, it even comes across time as you learn the ideas of other people, and you integrate them with yourself. I'll give you another metaphor for it 20 years ago, like reading some pop psychology-ish book, and it talks about this experiment that I really love. It was about rats. And so what they would do is in this experiment, they took rats and they would put them in a fish tank full of water that they had to swim around in. Imagine a glass fish tank, and it's full of water, and the water is milky opaque. So you can't see under the surface. They drop a rat in there. And the rat is just swimming and swimming around, and it can't get out because the sides are just flat. And so the rat would swim for several minutes. And then at some point, they run out of energy and breath, and they just slip underwater. And so what they would do is time how long the rat would swim around before it would give up and slip below the surface, and then pull the rats out and rescue them. And so the experiment was in one of the tanks that they would put the rat into, they had an island underneath the surface, and it was in some part of the tank. And it was down far enough that the only way to discover that it was under there was to swim around the tank for a couple of minutes. And accidentally one of the back feet that was paddling would touch it. And as soon as it touched it, the rat would realize, wait a minute, there's something here, and it would swim around until it found it. And then it would push its little back foot on this hidden island, just enough that it could keep its nose up above water, and it could survive. And then some of the rats didn't have this island underneath. Then what they would do is they would take both sets of rats, one set that was conditioned in a tank that had no Island, and then one set that was conditioned in the tank that had the island. And they would put both of them into a tank that had no Island. And then they measured how long they would swim around. And what was interesting is the rats that had had the island underneath the water would swim for twice as long before giving up and slipping underwater as the rats that had first not had an island. And so it made them ask the question, is it the illusion that there's an island somewhere enough to keep these rats going for twice as long to create this optimism, and it's always really stuck with me. And that's how I think but in the emergent dimension. Instead of it being an island that's underwater, I have an illusion that there's an emergent island that I can find. Sometimes it's through collaboration, sometimes it's through imagination, sometimes it's through experimentation. Sometimes it's just through not giving up, just persistently continuing until I discover it. And it always arrives, and always emerges that always shows up. And emergent by definition is a surprise because you can't predict an atom from subatomic particles, and you can't predict organs from cells. There's some relationship between the patterns and the behaviors. But emergence is always a surprise, but somehow to believe in it, and to pursue it, and to study the nature of it across different parts of life I've found, can just help you to find it.
SPENCER: Right. Whereas if you didn't believe that they have this emergent result that's better than what you can come up with in your own frame existed, then you may just not even look for it, or you may stop early or you may not be as creative and so on. Is that what you're saying?
EBEN: Exactly. Or when it shows up, you won't recognize it.
EBEN: One of the things that I've learned from Ken Wilber that I think is just really spectacular is this idea of the pre-trans fallacy. And that is the idea that when most people look at something that is at the next level - that's developmentally emergent, or at a higher order - what they see is something that's at a lower level or a lower order.
SPENCER: I see. So you're looking at this thing that looks one level ahead of you. And you don't recognize that it's ahead of you. Is that the idea?
EBEN: Exactly, instead of seeing that it's ahead of you, you actually see that it's behind you.
EBEN: And that's because things that are beyond you are different from where you are. But, if you haven't really practiced thinking in this way, and looking at reality, and asking is what I'm looking at right now beyond me possibly, and then checking to see what you'll just assume is, well, it's different. So it's probably less developed than me, right? It's probably beneath me. And that is really interesting. That's called the pre-trans fallacy. When we're looking at something that's transcendent to us, we usually see it as being something that's less sophisticated than us. In relationships or in politics, if you're on one side of the political spectrum, and you're looking at the other side, if they have an idea that's different from your ideas, you're going to automatically see them as being less developed than you. It's just automatic, rather than asking, is there at least some aspect of what they're talking about over there that might be at the next level, and that if I went and took it on, it could be beneficial.
SPENCER: I like that politics example. Because it seems to me that almost every really controversial issue where you have huge tribes on either side of it, there's something to be learned from both sides. And that if you can't see that, then you're missing part of the story.
EBEN: Yes, exactly. I have hippie parents, and I grew up dropping out from normal, consensual reality. I was born in New York, and they moved out to Oregon, out to the woods. And I wasn't raised with really conventional religious or political insights or understanding. And so a lot of these things are new on the scene to me. And I find politics as I look at it more really interesting, because I don't natively relate to any political perspective. And when I listen to the arguments of different political perspectives, they all make sense to me in some way.
SPENCER: Does that make people suspicious of you? Because they assume that you must be part of the wrong tribe?
EBEN: Probably, possibly so.
SPENCER: That's really interesting that you weren't raised with a political viewpoint? Does tribalism resonate with you? Like, do you get tribalism? Or does that also seem foreign?
EBEN: Define what aspect.
SPENCER: You may not have a strong political orientation, but you may still feel part of a particular group of people that has a particular viewpoint, even if it's non-political.
EBEN: Okay. So Claire Graves, who was apparently a student of Abraham Maslow, my teacher and mentor, while it would be small, is an expert in his work and has taught me a lot about it. And the tribal folklore is that Graves was looking at Maslow's values stuff in his values hierarchy, and was asking, is there a way that I could test this out and validate it? And so what he did was he devised a series of questions to ask people about their values. And his innovation was to ask them questions about their values, and then come back a few years later, and then ask them the same questions about their values, and then look at the answers compared to each other. And he would follow people for 20 years or something. And what he discovered was that there were different types of answers that people would give, there were different constellations of values, and that people's values would change, but that they would change relatively predictably. And that they would go through these different levels of values. And he created this model that's a seven-level model that now has an eight-level to it.
SPENCER: What's that model called?
EBEN: The popularized version is called spiral dynamics. You've probably heard of it in that form, but it really is from the work of Claire Graves, and he was really profound and it's amazing. He apparently said that he was at about level 5.5. And it's amazing that someone that was at a level 5.5 could come up with something that had seven levels. So there were levels beyond which level he was at, and he could discover them through this process. So for the first six levels, as you go through each of them, what you do is you exit the level that you were inhabiting before, and you come into a new reality. And you say, “Oh, that's the old way of looking at things. Now I really get it, this is the new way of looking at things.” And you don't even really take that old way seriously anymore, in fact, and you say, “Oh, they don't get it.” And so the common denominator between people that are inhabiting these first six levels or so, is they always make each other wrong. They think that the other people that are inhabiting the other paradigms are stupid, criminal, insane, weak, bad. And then something happens at this seventh level of development, and there are different dynamics involved with us. But there's something that happens at this level, where all of a sudden, you wake up, and you realize, I actually have lived all of those different levels at different parts of my life. And I am all of those things. And so when you interact with people that are living in different ways, whether those ways be political or religious, or in business, or even people who are, I don't know, stealing food to feed themselves, or doing things that just seem outside of wherever you're living. Instead of projecting and making them wrong, you can see how their way of living and doing things make sense. And you can relate it to the part of your life where you have lived this way. And in fact, it goes all the way to the point where you can interact with anyone, you can talk with anyone, you can relate to anyone at their level. And it's cool. I'll give an example. When I was about 15 to 22. I was an artist musician. I was a long-haired rock and roll metal guitar player and I worked in a metal shop as well. I worked for Copper Smith, and I made jewelry. And it was an artistic phase in my life. And, I made at my height $75 a week as a guitar player. And so when I was 22, I said I can't live this way, I couldn't take care of myself, I couldn't move out just making hourly and making $75 a week as a guitar player. So I went into business, and I got a real estate license. I had no idea where to even start in business because I had no rich friends, no entrepreneurial friends. So I got a real estate license because I reasoned, people that had made money had either made it in real estate or invested in real estate. So let's just go learn about that thing. And when I did that, in order to succeed, so I started out I had a two-door Camaro and a ponytail and I was trying to sell real estate. And not surprisingly, no one was buying or selling real estate with me. So then I cut my hair, and I got a white four-door car. And I started being a little more like a quote-unquote, straight person. And, some of my musician friends, some of that, he's selling out, he's cutting his hair, he's dressing differently. And I had to leave that world. And I stopped really playing my guitar very much. And for many years, I really left that thing. Like I left that whole phase of my life. And I stopped thinking, and relating, and identifying that way. And I almost looked at that part of my life as being less evolved or something like I just didn't get it back then. And then later, several years ago, as I started looking at my life differently, I realized, wow, that's such a really valuable part of my life. And I started making friends with guitar players. And even lately, I've started getting more guitar lessons. And I've realized how much I love who I was then, and relating to the world that way and thinking like a musician. And so now when I talk to musicians, and guitar players, in particular, I can really drop right in, and I'm right there in that version of reality, and talking about musical metaphors and so forth. But I then also have the ability to go and have this conversation with you, or go and think creatively about an art project that I'm working on, or have a business meeting, and be totally focused on a marketing project, or we're talking about direct response marketing, and we're writing headlines and we're doing all of this capitalist, make money type thing. But I don't have to be too identified with any of these things. I'm not trying to suggest that I'm particularly developed, although the more I work with these models, and I try to develop myself, the more positive results I get. But what I am trying to say is that we all just need to get out of the house a little bit more, and learn the way other people live, and reintegrate our past lives, and put them all back together, and realize that we're unique being, and we are all of those things, and learn to relate to other ways of living in being and looking at reality.
SPENCER: I really like this exercise, which you're implicitly suggesting, which is like one, think about the way you used to think about things. And can you get to see the world that way. And then what are the sort of the benefits of seeing the world that way. And then secondarily, can you adopt the worldview of other people temporarily? Can you see things from the point of view of a long haired 22 year old guitarist, or from the point of view of Trump supporter from the point of view of a devout Christian? It does seem to me that there's real value in being able to temporarily adopt another perspective like this, both from the point of view of empathy, but also just from the point of view of better understanding the way the world is.
EBEN: Exactly. When Trump became president, I mean, I found that to be totally fascinating, very surrealist, and super interesting. Because 20 years ago, I read all his books, I studied him, because I was studying entrepreneurship. I was trying to learn about money and business and how it worked. And I found his books to be very interesting. I learned a lot from them. And so as he was rising, and so forth, I was watching this, and I wouldn't describe myself as either a Trump supporter or like an enemy. I understand why certain people like him, and I understand why people don't. But I remember when he was elected president, I was talking to a couple of friends of mine. And these are cool, smart people. And they were just disgusted by them basically, how can an idiot like that, be the president? And I said, “Well, I get that you don't like his values. Maybe you don't like the way he treats democracy. And you got a bunch of legitimate complaints, but I definitely wouldn't call him an idiot.” In fact, I feel like everybody's really underestimating him. I mean, we're talking about somebody that, if you just read his books, and understand how he does deals, and levels of complexity that he thinks in that he became successful in real estate, then he went and became successful in casinos, which is a whole other reality. Then he went and became successful in reality TV, like becoming number one in TV. And if you look at it strategically, like he was building this whole platform over decades, to then launch himself into the presidency, this looks like a genius to me. Maybe not your kind of genius, but remember the one I said, the pre-trans fallacy. A lot of people look at him and they go, idiot. What an idiot because they see the things that he does that seem unsophisticated to them. And so then they typecast as idiots. But man, I really think that you want to be careful if you're going to make enemies. If you're going to have an enemy or project that you've got one, you don't want to make the mistake of thinking that they're an idiot when they're not, then you're really going to get screwed, in some way.
SPENCER: I think Trump is a really interesting example when it comes to intelligence because there's a certain type of intelligence that I think we would both agree that he lacks, which is sort of like the academic, nuanced way of thinking and speaking, that is often what intellectuals want to see from someone. Whereas there are other levels of intelligence, for example, having a really good intuition for what will make people excited, and what will piss people off. And I think that's something he's sort of a master at. He has an intuition of what to say that's very different from coolly analyzing all the pros and cons, and having a probabilistic nuanced viewpoint.
EBEN: Exactly. Robert Sternberg - he's got this great model, he calls it successful intelligence. And he points out that IQ tests basically measure your ability to take the test. But what we don't do is we don't throw the kids in the school into a situation and say, now figure out how to succeed doing this thing, you need both of these kinds of things. And Donald Trump - he has success intelligence, he has a pragmatic gut instinct for success, the way a Genghis Khan kind of person. Maybe he wasn't that educated, you know what I mean? Maybe he was, at the outskirts and a little, a tribal clan and thrown out into the wilderness or whatever, but he can kick ass. And I feel like you just got to respect that. And you got to know how to appreciate it, to have a sense of how to respect it, and how to appreciate it, and how to understand it. Because I think you can learn from everyone, and whatever your values are, whatever your processes are, whatever your objective is, in life, it's important to be able to learn from all of your experiences. That's the way to profit. I think in the long run.
SPENCER: I suspect that some people are listening to this or thinking that piece of shit. I'm just learning from him, he's bad. What would you say to that?
EBEN: There are a lot of different types of people who are different from you that if you look at them superficially, if you just look at what they're doing, and you don't really dig in and understand them, you will say, they're bad, or they're stupid, or they're criminal. But if you take the time to go and understand them, if you take the time to really look at where they came from, what their personality structure is, why they're doing the things that they're doing. At some point, you'll slap yourself on the head. And you'll say, “That's really incredible, that they figured out how to do this thing.” Because every human is a genius, like in their own way. And once you understand how they figured out how to do that thing, then you can have an insight into how to do something that you're trying to do better.
SPENCER: Are you saying even if you think what they're trying to accomplish is bad, or you don't like their values, you're saying you could still learn about how to be effective in the world?
EBEN: Exactly. One of the things I learned reading one of Donald Trump's books years ago, is he's famous because he built all these big skyscrapers. And one of the things that he does when he's building a skyscraper is he goes down to the construction site every day himself. And he looks at the progress. He shows up, puts on the hardhat, and goes and walks through the site every single day. And I remember reading that and saying, “Wow, that's pretty smart.” Because then everybody knows you're going to be there yourself.
SPENCER: Nobody can bullshit you.
EBEN: That's exactly right. And speaking of bullshitting, another thing that I learned from one of his books, I think it was a big building, he bought downtown in Wall Street. I think, was it 40 Wall Street, I lived downtown in Manhattan for a bit, I think it was 40 Wall Street. It's a big one. And as I recall, in the deal, whoever owned it was trying to refurbish it, and they got locked up for years with all these contractors, and the elevator systems they were installing got all screwed up. And basically, they were underwater, and he got it for a song, like got it for nothing, maybe just assumed all the debt and took it. Now, he had experience with all the contractors in New York, and how the whole system kind of works. So once he had it, he called them all up and said, you can't bullshit me anymore, you've been taking this other owner for a ride. So stop all that shit. And now it's time to get to work. And so he got him to forgive a bunch of loans and whatever. And then he got people that were effective. And he turned it into a real win. And I learned from that one, that a lot of people are just getting hustled in life, because they don't know how a game works. And they don't know how the politics of a particular thing work. Or they come into a particular type of situation. And they don't like the fact that there's a game. And listen, there are games everywhere. I don't care if you're a musician, if you're a politician, if you're an entrepreneur, if you work for the government. If you work for a nonprofit or an NGO, I don't care who you whatever, world you play in, there's a game, there's a political game, there's a status game, there's a whole way of doing things, just like in different types of businesses, there are different models, there are different ways of creating value and making profit. And if you go and you learn some of these different games, you can stop taking it so personally, like some people, they get so upset that in business that people do each other favors or, in politics that you have to compromise to get bills through, and people get frustrated with all kinds of things because they get hung up on this one values injustice. Now, sometimes that can be great, because some people will dedicate their whole life to one type of injustice, and they'll make a difference. But for every person that is a Martin Luther King, and who says my life is gonna stand for fixing this one value, there are probably 100 or 1000, that waste a lot of our most of their life, feeling the pain of injustice, and they're immobilized by it, and they're stopped. Because they just can't stand that feeling, they're taking it personally, they're identifying with it. Whereas I think that if you look at things a little bit more in the way that I'm suggesting, which is you go and you study each of these games, and you study both people that you admire, and the quote-unquote enemy, and you learn the different strategies, and you learn why they're doing things, the way that they're doing them. And you learn how they think, and how they make models of the world and how they approach things. You can become so much more successful because you don't get stuck. You don't get involved in these ego games as much that can pull everyone down. You can be a little bit more flexible, and mobile, and effective.
SPENCER: Yes, I had this really amazing experience talking to activists, because usually, activists focus on one problem in the world, right? So the other day, I was talking to an environmental activist, and she was telling me about how screwed we are with regard to climate change. And during that conversation, I could really feel the weight of that frame, this really feels so serious. And it feels like the world is not taking it seriously enough. And we keep not taking enough steps and so on. And then later I'll go talk to, let's say, environmental activists, and they'll be talking about the vast amount of animal suffering in the world. And during that conversation, I'll really feel that frame like, wow, this moral atrocity of how we're treating animals, then you'll go talk to someone who's trying to fight inequality, and then you'll be considering the statistics on the massive wealth inequality between, let's say, white people, or black people, and you'll feel that frame. And it's within each of those perspectives, you could feel this incredible moral weight and importance of that argument. But then I feel, where you can really gain a lot of perspectives isn't stepping back to being able to pop into those frames, and understand the incredible moral weight of that, but also pop back out and say, but there are many problems going on in the world. And we need to think about which ones we each want to devote our lives to, and how to prioritize them. Because there are so many things that you could take on as the most important issue. But of course, no one person can do all of that. At the end of the day, you have to think about what are the things that you're going to work on.
EBEN: That's exactly right. So Annie, my wife, she's a love coach. And I was a dating guru in a past life for a few years. And we're both really interested in helping romantic couples to have more successful relationships because we feel that out of that specific type of collaboration, the most emergent value can flow, and the most creative potential can be realized. So in our work together, sometimes we teach courses, and we work with couples. We actually just did a talk maybe a week and a half ago for a group of couples. We sometimes work with couples and help them to relate to each other better and to collaborate better. And I've learned something interesting. And that is that when a couple is in a fight, which romantic couples are known to get into pretty often, that if you side with one of them, the whole dynamic gets thrown off, like it doesn't work. Whereas if you side with the relationship, if you identify with the relationship itself, then you realize each of the partners has values that are sacred, that are important to be represented. But each of them also has some crazies, and some neurosis, and some wackiness. And if you try to do too much, or control too much, they're not going to learn how to find their own way. And so there's this stance where if you practice it, you take it results in everything working out a lot better. And that is to support each of them in what they're trying to do individually, in order to support the relationship. And so if the husband is trying to fight for being more frugal, and saving more money, and the wife is trying to fight for spending more money, and going out and doing more things, and investing in more experiences, or traveling in the world, let's say, and they're fighting over this, there's a way to support the husband in communicating why he thinks it's important to be frugal and save money, and his values, so that the wife understands it, not necessarily so that she buys into it, but at least so that she understands him where he's coming from, and then helping the husband understand where the wife is coming from. And again, not necessarily agreeing, but just really getting an empathizing and understanding of where she's coming from. In that process of supporting each of them, in the other one, understanding their perspective. Usually what happens is some third emergent comes of it, like our couches, and they can both have an aha moment. And then they can get to collaborating and coming up with something that works for both of them. And usually, it's something that's better than either of them could have figured out individually. And when that emergent insight comes, like our couches, you recognize it, and you say, there it is, in both of you or if you have a group, the group says Ah, there's the solution. And it was right there all along. It was always obvious. It's that hindsight is a 2020 thing. But maybe that's one way of thinking about this, because if you can remember that all sides have a good point somewhere in their point, then it causes you to be more curious, and to seek to understand and to make sure you get at least a little bit of everyone's values into the situation, knowing that you're going to create something that's stronger, and more sustainable, more robust.
SPENCER: It reminds me of this thing I tried to do in relationships where if I feel like another person is being unreasonable, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt and say, okay, let's assume that they're being this way for a reasonable reason, and let me go investigate what that is. Even if on the surface level, it really feels like they're being ridiculous or irrational or unfair, or something like that. And I think that that frame is really helpful because often there is a reasonable reason. But also, it just allows you to have a much more open mind going into that experience rather than trying to prove them wrong.
Eben: Yes, exactly.
SPENCER: You mentioned in the past to me the importance of coaching, it's a meta skill. I want to talk about that.
EBEN: Yes. My wife and I, we've been for about five years now. Our day job business has been teaching coaches, teaching life coaches, and life coaches, business coaches, different types of coaches. I've been a coach for about 25 years, she's been a coach for 15 or 20 years. And we took this on because we really saw that coaching was important. And we also realized that coaching was this relatively new skill set that was emerging. And so now at this point, I really think that coaching is one of, if not the most important personal slash professional skills to learn. Because once you learn it, and you practice it to the point where, let's call it a developed aspect of your personality, where you identify as a coach, where if someone says, what kind of work do you do? Or what professional are you? Where you just answer, I'm a coach. And again, maybe it's one aspect of what you do, but it's part of your identity, we all need to get to that place, I think because it helps you to do this thing that we're talking about developmentally with others, and to help them do it, and support them in their own growth. And to do it in a way that is very energy efficient, because great coaches are not doing something quote-unquote, they're supporting another person as the other person is doing. And so we can, this one can unpack in a lot of different directions. And I love talking about coaching, so wherever you want to go?
SPENCER: I'm trying to empathize with the listener here. And I'm thinking what would the listener think at this moment, and I wonder if people have a negative connotation towards coaching sometimes, because it's so amorphous, it's like, anyone can call themselves a coach and like, what does a coach really do? Do you want to respond to that for a moment?
EBEN: Sure. The role of coach is, it's a new cultural role. It's a new thing on the scene. And that's a very important thing for us, to all understand, is that up until recently, we didn't have a person playing this role in our lives. So what is unique and distinctive about coaching, and about coaches, right, so a coach is someone that comes into your life, and helps you figure out, this is my definition, but it's someone who helps you figure out where you want to go in the future, what your ideal life or what your potential looks like. And then helps you to actually manifest, and realize it, and create it. And for the first time now, we have a role. We have a title, we have a type of person that you have been part of your life that helps you to do this thing. Now I've done a lot of teaching of coaches, and I've created a lot of presentations for coaches and so forth. And one of the things that I do is oftentimes if I've got a roomful of people or a big zoom call People all say, Okay, who here? As you were growing up regularly, had people come into your life and ask you, where do you want to go in the future? Okay, what is your potential? What do you want to create for yourself and in the world, and then help you make a plan, some step by step actions here to get to that future reality to manifest that vision that you have or to actualize your potential, and then meet with you, let's say weekly, to support you, as you took the actions to make that future thing come true, are come real. And probably, usually, it's maybe one or two or three out of 100 will raise their hand, almost none of us grew up in a paradigm where we had someone come in, we had a role, someone playing this role, where they asked us to vision, our future and ourselves, and to believe in it, and to make plans to have that thing come true, and come real. And so that's really at a high level how I think about a coach. Another way I define a coach is someone who supports another person, through a transition or a transformation in their life, in other words, supports a person through a change. And all of us now are going through more change, and more transition, and we need more support. And paradoxically, we're going through more changes across more dimensions of our lives, and we need more support through those changes. But we have less social support than we've ever had. Right, friendship is going down, social support is going down, we are mediated with social media, we have this fake friendship. And so the role of the coach is rising in terms of the need and the value very fast.
SPENCER: So as with any profession, you imagine there's sort of a bell curve, or some distribution of skill for coaches. And I'm wondering how you feel about, let's say, a relatively low skill coach, like someone, who's new at it, hasn't developed the skill of coaching that much? Do you feel like that person would typically still be useful? Because they're still at least getting you to reflect on what you're trying to achieve? And why? Or do you feel like it actually, it's something that until you develop quite a high skill level, it's hard to be useful as a coach?
EBEN: I guess, in a general sense, I think of coaching as a skill set. It's a new set of skills, like design, let's say, it's becoming a little bit more normal to know basic design, basic design skills, to understand not to push the center, underline italic bold buttons, left align things, and how to use fonts, and so forth. Now is someone who has only read one book on design and learned a little bit about design, is that somehow not valid? No, I would actually prefer it if most people learned a little bit of design, I don't think that it makes the world a worse place. I think it makes the world a better place. And I think it's the same thing with coaching, that when you learn the skill set of coaching, when you learn the skills, as you learn them, what you're really learning humaning skills. And if you go to a coaching class for one day, and then you say, I'm the best coach in the world, I think that that's a little bit diluted, but the skills and the tools that coaching has produced are, I think, just spectacular. I think that they're really amazing. And I think that they're universal. And I think that they're some of the most important things that humans have produced. And I think that everyone should learn the skills of coaching because they help you be a much more effective second position in life, they help you become a much more effective collaborator in life, they help you become a much more effective mentor in life. They just help you in so many ways.
SPENCER: So what are some of the most important coaching skills?
EBEN: I can give you the basic coaching model that I use, and that I teach to other folks. So I call it achieve-avoid act. And it's a combination. It's an integration of 15 different models that I've learned from psychology, sales, persuasion, marketing, coaching, and so forth. And it's built on the basic idea of toward and away from values. And if you ever study values and like NLP, neuro linguistic programming, and so forth, eventually you realize that we humans are we tend to be motivated to move toward the things that we want, and away from the things that we don't want. And that this is what activates our emotions and our motivation. And if we don't have anything to move toward in anything to move away from, we will often not move anywhere, or we'll just go in circles. And that when you see people that are very effective in life, they often have big reasons why big things that they're trying to do and big things that they're trying to avoid. And so again, generally speaking, maybe you can almost imagine two spheres in the air in front of you. And one of the spheres is light, and one of them is dark. And one sphere represents all of those things that you want to have happen in life, all those things that you want to create, or manifest or move toward. And then maybe the Dark Sphere represents all of those things that you want to avoid or prevent, or stay away from, in some way. This insight about values is important. Because when you remember that each person is moving through the world moving toward the things that they want to create, toward some values, and away from things that they want to prevent, or avoid. It reminds you to get interested in what those things are. Because if you don't know, and you just start talking, you're likely to maybe step on some of their values, or trip over some of their values, let's say. Or talk about things that they don't value, without, or might be some of their away from values without even realizing it, and generally just not be in their world not be in the same version of reality that they're in. And so what I recommend that coaches do, is start off by asking the question, what do you want to achieve? And most people when they have arrived in the type of conversation, that would be roughly like a coaching conversation, because they're talking to someone about a problem they're having or something that they want to do in life, if you say to them, what do you want to achieve? Or what do you want to create? Most people have an answer. And so they'll talk about what they want to achieve, I want to lose 20 pounds, or I want to get into a relationship, or I want to start a business, then you say, great, what happens if you achieve it? What other benefits come if you realize that vision or that goal? And then someone will talk about these second-order things or these implications. And they'll say, “Well, if I lose this 20 pounds, I'm going to have more energy, I'm going to feel better about myself,” or “If I get into a relationship, then I'm going to have more companionship, and I'm going to feel less lonely.” “If I launch this business, I'm going to have more income, or I'm going to have more freedom.” So what do you want to achieve? And then what happens if you achieve it? And then the next question is, what do you want to avoid? So what do you want to avoid? Or what do you want to prevent? And the person might answer something like, “Well, I want to avoid gaining more weight,” or “I want to avoid being single for the rest of my life, or I want to avoid being stuck in this dead-end job.” And then from there, you ask, great. So what happens if you avoid that thing? Basically, what happens if you're successful at avoiding that thing? And then they will give an answer. If I'm successful at avoiding gaining more weight, then I'm gonna feel better about myself or whatever it is. So once you ask these questions, what do you want to achieve? And then what happens if you achieve it? And what do you want to avoid? And what happens if you avoid it? It then puts a person into this really interesting state. And it took 20 years of experimenting with this to actually realize this, that it actually prime's them emotionally and psychologically, for clarity and for a big insight. And the next question is, what's your next step? So what's your next step? So once someone has pulled up in their mental screen, what they want to create or achieve or manifest, and then what the benefits are of doing that, and then what they want to avoid or prevent, and then what the benefits are of doing that? I don't know what happens if it releases some emotional cocktail, or if it puts them into a trance, or I don't know what it is. But if you then ask, what's your next step? Almost every person has an answer. And they say, “My next step is I need to sign up for a gym membership,” or “I need to make an online dating profile,” or “I need to set up my website.” They know what their next step is. And then from there, you can keep going and say, Okay, what could you do first, what could your action step be, and then ask them if they'll do it and put it on the calendar and then start holding them accountable. And this little sequence, this, epitomizes coaching to me, because there's no advising them, you're not putting your two cents in, you don't necessarily have an agenda necessarily. You're just facilitating and holding space and helping the other person stop for a minute, come out of the hyperspace of their life, and just the automatic monkey mind that most of us are living in most of the time, and to stop and orient for a second to where they are, where they want to go, where they want to avoid, why they want to do these things, what the benefits are of creating the outcome that they want and avoiding the thing that they want. And then see for themselves, in their own mind come up with their next action step to realize their values. And then there are some other tools that you can use to help them make a plan, and then go take action. And when you're finished, what you've done is what I would call coaching, you've guided them. You've held some space created a little bit of structure, so that they can see where they are, they can see where they need to go, they can get motivated, I sometimes call this the Inspire Formula, because if you facilitate someone through this, at the end, they usually feel inspired inspiration, right, it's to breathe into, to breathe inspiration into. And it's just really valuable to be able to do this. Now, there are lots of other coaching models and other ways of approaching things. But that could be a great toolset that you could start with, to see how this works.
SPENCER: I like that sequence. Because both sound useful. And it sounds very pragmatic step by step. But you can imagine someone learning to apply those series of steps, and it doesn't require them to be great geniuses to be able to really help someone a lot.
SPENCER: Exactly. And so when we teach people how to coach, you can learn this model, and you can sit down and do it with someone tomorrow. And you don't need to present yourself as some big fancy coach, or say, I'm the greatest coach in the world, or even have a lot of confidence in your coaching ability, because you're just facilitating someone through a structure. And then you can keep building, and learning more, and more tools. And at some point after doing this, and getting a certain level of experience, you start feeling more confident. And I mean, frankly, a lot of people that learn the coaching skills, they don't go and become coaches. A lot of people come and learn coaching skills, the corporate world, now leadership is actually becoming about coaching. Because it's a leadership skill. And then if you want to go and become a life coach, or relationship coach, or business coach, that's great as well, you can keep following it, and developing yourself and getting more education. But I think that it's just really useful to think of coaching as a skill set, and a set of tools you can learn. And if you just go and learn the basics of them, you will still get a huge amount of value, and you'll become a much more valuable collaborator, you'll become more effective with other people, you'll be better at empathy, better at helping other people become successful. And then if you want to go on, and have this become your life's work, you can totally do that, too.
SPENCER: What are some common mistakes you see people engaging in when they're first starting coaching?
EBEN: The biggest mistake that I see people make is, they get really nervous, and they've got this their self-worth, there's fear, there's self-consciousness because they've got this performance anxiety, a lot of it comes from a misconception of coaching. When people start with coaching, they usually think that what coaching means is they have to show up and tell the other person what to do, they've got to have all the answers. They think of coaches as being some, all-powerful God being that other people come to, and then they give them the right answers. And this also then prevents them from proactively reaching out to get clients to, building their coaching practices or consulting businesses because they are afraid that if they reach out, and they, try to talk to someone who might be a new client, they're not gonna have the right answer, they're going to get rejected, they're going to take it personally, and so forth. So a lot of it has to do with just the paradigm of what coaching is. And so when we teach coaching anyway, you learn a model like this one, and then thanks to the miracle of the internet, you get into breakout groups, and you practice this with other people, and you watch it work a few times. And then you realize, coaching is not like me being a smart one and telling other people what to do. Coaching is me facilitating and supporting as they figure out their next steps and their answers. And then if I have some value to add by giving them some advice once in a while, that's fine as well. So once you shift your role, you shift your eye, your perspective on what a coach is, and what a coach does, it can relax some of this stuff, so that you can approach anyone in any situation with the mindset of being helpful and helping facilitate them getting more clarity about what they're trying to create in their life and what they're trying to avoid and what their action steps are. And you can literally have this conversation with just about anyone in your life, anyone that you care about friends, family, professional relationships, and it'll add a lot of value. So there's the mistake and potentially how to solve it.
SPENCER: When you're coaching someone to what extent do you take their answers at face value, like if they say, I'm sure I want to achieve X. Do you assume that they're right about that, or do you sometimes feel like you have to push more and see? But why do you want to achieve that? Is that really the best way to achieve the thing you're trying to achieve? And so on?
EBEN: Yes, that's a great question. The way I basically look at reality is each of us is born. I mean, with this incredible gift of having been human, just being born human, and with a unique personality structure, and archetype, and complex of skills, and gifts. And it's up to each of us to get out into the world, and to try them in different places to try them in physical situations, and to try them with health, and food, and with business, and success, and to try them with emotional, and social situations, and relationships, and feelings, and empathy, and collaborations, and to try them in mental conceptual abstract symbolic situations, and learning and communication, and teaching, and these different types of things. And as we try them in these different domains, we see how they work. We see how the world works. We learn how other people work. We can get a feel for who we are, and where our gifts can create value, and can make sense. So to answer your question, I think it's important to just help people to get out of the house a little more, to just go try more things, to take more intelligent risks in life, to meet more different types of people, and create collaborations with them, to visit new places, to learn about new ways of thinking, to do different types of passion projects. And so if I ask someone, what do you want to achieve? And they say, I want to be a millionaire. And I think to myself, well, that's probably not the most productive thing, I would probably just be more interested in, well, why do you want to be a millionaire? Why is that? And if the person says, it's because I come from a poor family, and I want to be financially successful, I can then put that into my equation, as I'm trying to help support them in figuring out what to do next. And I feel like, if they're going to try to become a millionaire, in order to fill this feeling of taking the burden from the family. The family wasn't successful, so they got to become a millionaire. In order to do that, I might just point out that your parents are talking? Are you trying to do this because that's what they wanted, I might just ask the question. And if the person says, maybe, I would say, great, well, just remember that as you're doing this, not necessarily because I want to help them change the thing that they want. I feel like it's through each of us doing that, which we feel like we need to do, and then reflecting on it, and making sure that it's getting us closer to the values that we have, or that we're trying to achieve, that we see that the whole thing is a big illusion in some ways. But it's through dropping into different types of matrices, if that makes sense, like the movie The Matrix, and inhabiting different realities and different worlds and trying different careers, and different types of elaborations. And looking at things from different philosophical perspectives, that we wake up to these illusions, and these games, and I don't know, playing out one type of illusion, fundamentally, I don't know, is it necessarily better than playing out any other one? So that's a long answer. I don't know, sometimes I point out if I think so. But I think that helping people just vision where they're trying to go, and just hold that in their mind, and then get clarity on what they're trying to avoid, and hold that in their mind. And then take action steps in the notice whether it's working and to really learn by doing and have meta consciousness, do meta learning, have some meta awareness, we can become a lot more independent, a lot more self guiding.
SPENCER: Well, what you said reminds me of a situation I had once where a friend of mine was very unhappy in her relationship. But she was very confused about this. She came to me, and said I don't get it. I'm not happy with my boyfriend, but he's really awesome, he's such a great guy. And so well, what's great about him when she made this long list of things that are great about him. And I said, okay, and why don't you make a list of the things that you really value? What do you look for in a person? She made a list of things she really valued and then we compared the two lists and there was almost no overlap. And what we realized is like her boyfriend was a great guy but also was not what she was looking for. He was what her parents were looking for. She would have found someone who met off her parents criteria for a match. Not her own criteria for matches. That's the thing, I think about someone who says, I want to achieve X, I want to be a millionaire. And that's like, I liked your answer about getting underneath that, and be like why do you want to build a millionaire? And then maybe that will help them realize that they're living for someone else's values, or that maybe that isn't the best reflection of their values. Or maybe it is, but it's just that necessarily clear face value that might be, I think they've been saying to themselves and say routinely that they want to be a millionaire.
EBEN: Exactly. In self-help, there's this insight that if you ask any human being, you just say, what do you value most, and you have them write down their top five values, and then you say, great turn that piece of paper over and put it aside, now make a list of what you spend your time doing. And then they list the top five things that they spend their time doing. And then you put the two lists next to each other, that they're always totally out of whack, that almost none of us are living according to our values. And that exercise all by itself just brings, I think, a lot of awareness. But the meta awareness that comes from realizing that almost no one is, really very aligned with their values, there's something else there. And it's values clarification exercises are, I think, pretty universally valuable, because they help us to see these things. The fact that we can somehow open up our inner eye, and remember, holy shit, I'm alive. I'm a consciousness here, that is somehow integrated with this body. And once in a while I can direct myself, I can choose where I'm going, I can take myself off of autopilot, and I can take the wheel, and I can pilot the vehicle. This is quite a miracle. It's quite spectacular. And I think that we should each practice that in our lives, and we should do it physically. In the material world, we should do it emotionally in the social world. We should do it mentally in our thinking world. We should contemplate what it means to do it spiritually. And creatively, we should collaborate on this. And we should help other people to do it, and we should be good role models for it. Because to be creative, it's a miracle. It's a miracle to be able to be creative.
SPENCER: Awesome, Eben. Thanks so much for coming on. This was a great conversation.
EBEN: Yes. Thanks, Spencer.
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