Sam Harris on How to Instantly Achieve a Calm State – Impact Theory with Tom Bilyeu

Check out the Impact Theory Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • We have to be open and willing to allow others to point out errors in our thinking
    • Why? – We want our beliefs to be as close to true as possible, so we have to be open to new evidence and better arguments
    • In addition – We have to be continually open to the possibility that we might be wrong about something
  • Society needs to adopt a scientific attitude in pursuit of the truth in ALL domains
    • We can’t search rigorously for the truth in the realm of science/tech but refuse to do so in the realm of religion
  • The half-life of negative emotions is incredibly short
    • If you’re not continually thinking about all the reasons you should be anxious (or angry, etc.), the emotion dissipates very quickly
  • There’re an infinite amount of reading material out there – there’s no reason to suffer through a book you’re not enjoying
  • A few quotes to ponder:
    • “When we’re really just connecting with life in a joyful, creative, and beautiful way… when you look out the window and it’s the most beautiful sunset ever and you are just looking at the sunset and you’re fully connected with its beauty, those are the kinds of moments where you lose this sense of self.”
    • “To a greater or lesser degree, we’re always at war. We’re always fighting something. We’re either noticing something that’s wrong, feeling uncomfortable in our body, reacting to something that somebody did, navigating a social encounter that seems awkward, or trying to figure out what to say… We’re just constantly being blown around. The moments where you really feel good…. entail the dropping of this sense of self.”
  • A simple happiness hack:
    • Just think of all the bad things that could have happened to you (that haven’t)
    • If any one of them did happen to you, you would consider your prayers answered if you could just return to the current moment

Intro

How to Live a Good Life

  • What does living a good life mean to Sam?
    • We can start by listing what we don’t want – to be terrorized, to be depressed, to be in conflict, etc.
    • The situation we want to find ourselves in more and more is to be effortlessly cooperating with creative and happy strangers
  • But…
    • “We’re in situation now where it’s reasonable to worry that our default state of partisanship, tribalism, and rational fear of the incompatible aims of other groups and other people is unsustainable in the presence of more and more disruptive technology. We have to get our act together psychologically and socially in a way we haven’t yet.”

Do people have a north star they should be pursuing?

  • It depends
    • Perhaps you have a highly marketable talent that allows you to make a ton of money which you can then contribute to good causes – go for it
    • Or perhaps you’re just a really good singer and you extract psychological satisfaction from the art – that’s fine too
  • In general, aim to live in a way that you have a good impact on others – but you also need to balance this with your conscious states of pain/pleasure 
    • You don’t want to be someone who’s doing a ton of good in the world, but not able to internalize the felt sense of your connectedness to others either because you’re too neurotic or too distracted 

The Cost of Beliefs and the Search For Truth

  • “Having our beliefs map on to reality, to some degree, is obliviously good.” – (You want your beliefs to be true)
    • Otherwise – you’re just bumping into hard objects (if your belief map is wrong)
    • In general, any belief that’s too far from reality is just delusion
  • Because you want your beliefs to be as close to true as possible, you should always be open to new evidence and better arguments
    • “Really, the only mechanism we have to do that is human conservation. We have to be open to having others point out errors in our thinking and in the conversation we have with ourselves, we have to do likewise.”
      • “We have to be continually open to the possibility that we might be wrong and we are, in fact, very likely to be wrong a lot of the time.”
  • Dogmatism is so non-optimal, and even dangerous (dogmatism is holding to an idea no matter what else comes into view)
    • And the sad thing – “That is the default state of organized religion”
      • When many religious people are pushed on their ideas, they get angrier and angrier until they threaten violence
  • “What I really recommend here is we adopt a scientific attitude… EVERYWHERE”
    • We can’t search rigorously for evidence in the realm of science/tech but refuse to do so in the realm of religion

Mindfulness 101

  • “Mindfulness is just learning to pay close attention to the nature of your experience… You’re not adding anything to your experience, you’re just noticing what it’s like to be you moment to moment, but in a way that’s not reactive. You’re not grasping at what’s pleasant or pushing what’s unpleasant away.”
  • The problem:
    • “Most people identify with each thought that emerges in consciousness and live their lives as if there’s no alternative. We’re not given a rule book for how to operate a human mind and there’s no place in education that it’s even indicated that there’s an alternative.”
  • You need to realize – “If you’re feeling something like anxiety, there’s actually a place from which you can just feel it and actually be indifferent to it or anything else you might be feeling”
    • In fact, anxiety isn’t even that unpleasant – it’s so close to excitement in its actually physiology (the difference between excitement and anxiety is really just the framing – AKA the story you’re telling yourself)
  • “The half-life of negative emotions is incredibly short”
    • If you’re not continually thinking about all the reasons you should be anxious (or angry, etc.), the emotion dissipates very quickly

How can people better control their emotions?

  • The first thing you need to realize is that you CAN control your emotions (by shifting your attention elsewhere)
    • As an example – If you’re angry, but then get a call from a friend you’ve been waiting to hear from, your anger nearly disappears instantaneously

Reading and Sam’s Exposure to Information

  • Sam describes himself as a “fickle reader”
  • “The sunk-cost fallacy has completely disappeared for me”
    • He’ll very quickly put a book down and stop reading it if he’s bored – there’s an INFINITE amount of books out there, why suffer through one you’re not enjoying?
  • Sam listens to audiobooks and podcasts while working out and commuting
    • Because of this, he doesn’t listen to much music
      • Instead – “It’s just a fire hose of information pointed at my head most of the time”

Meditation is Like Jiu-Jitsu for the Mind

  • “The default state of humans is one of being attacked and ambushed all the time by your thoughts. You’re in a constant state of reactivity and being taken in by your assumptions and illusions… you’re just in a constant fog.”
  • But even when you start meditating – you’ll still be in the fog
    • It’s like jiu-jitsu in the way you’re constantly fighting to take control of your thoughts and reduce any form of reactivity to 0

The Ego

  • The sense of self originates from the idea that we’re passengers inside our body
    • We all have the sense that “we” are a locus of attention within the head, behind out eyes, looking out at the world
    • For the most part, we don’t identify with our body (we care about its state, but it’s not identical to “us”)
    • “But that person in the head doesn’t make any sense neurologically. There’s no place in the brain where there could be a consciousness that’s a self looking out through the eyes.”
  • Instead, think about it this way – there’s a flow of experience which you’re identical to
    • You are the stream of consciousness you experience
    • (Our identification with our thoughts gives us the feeling that a “self” exists behind this flow)
  • But the truth of the matter…
    • “When we’re really just connecting with life in a joyful, creative, and beautiful way… when you look out the window and it’s the most beautiful sunset ever and you are just looking at the sunset and you’re fully connected with its beauty, those are the kinds of moments when you lose this sense of self.”
  • “To a greater or lesser degree, we’re always at war. We’re always fighting something. We’re either noticing something wrong, feeling uncomfortable in our body, reacting to something that somebody did, navigating a social encounter that seems awkward, or trying to figure out what to say… We’re just constantly being blown around. The moments where you really feel good…. entail the dropping of this sense of self.”

The Experiencing Self vs. The Remembering Self

  • “Questions of meaning and a global story to tell yourself about what this life is all about are far less important than people think”
    • Why?
      • You can think of “you” split up into your “experiencing self” and your “remembering self”
      • Your “experiencing self” is the real you, but when you’re reflecting on your past life satisfaction and your place in the universe, your “remembering self” takes charge

Sam’s Advice to Those Who Are “Lost”

  • He would tell them – “You’re not lost, you’re just lost in thought”
    • If you’re “lost,” you’re likely thinking without knowing you’re thinking… every moment of the day
    • “The normal range of psychological suffering, not clinical depression, but just feeling like life sucks and you’re a failure… that is a story of telling yourself a story. It all has to do with your thinking. You can become more mindful and interrupt it more and more and start to reframe things by telling yourself a better story.”
      • In a sense – you can engineer/change the code running in your brain moment to moment
  • But also, do the basics (even if you don’t want to):
    • Exercise
    • Socialize
    • Eat a good diet
  • Here’s a simple happiness hack:
    • If you’re stuck in traffic driving to the job you don’t like, just think of all the bad things that could have happened to you (that haven’t)
    • If any one of them did happen to you, you would consider your prayers answered if you could just return to the current moment

How does Sam hope to spend the rest of his life?

  • Sam is trying to focus his time on highly interesting ideas that are also consequential – things where the difference between getting it right/wrong is enormous

Additional Notes

  • “For me, flourishing is a matter of spending your time pleasantly, happily, and creatively while having fun”
  • “Ultimately you are going to spend most of your time asleep and dreaming, in conversation with yourself and in conversation with others, no matter how much you meditate”
Bookmark

FREE! THE TOP 10 PODCASTS OF 2018, AND WHAT WE LEARNED

You'll also get our weekly newsletter with the takeaways from our curated list of top podcasts. Unsubscribe anytime.