Safi Bahcall: On Hypnosis, Conquering Insomnia, Incentives, and More – The Tim Ferriss Show

Check out The Tim Ferriss Show Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Tactics to Combat Insomnia
    • Tactic #1 – The Short n’ Easy (works 60-70% of the time)
      • Close your eyes and get extremely curious about whatever visuals you see
        • If you see a chair, you might ask: “What does the chair look like?” or “What’s it going to change into next?”
      • This redirects all of your racing thoughts to the object of interest
    • Tactic #2 – The Big Gun (works nearly 100% of the time)
      • Think of a random double digit number between 11 and 99
      • Then assign your brain the task of seeing that number
        • “I imagine a cannon launching these numbers into the sky and watching them go by – 22…. 56… 77”
    • Tactic #3 – The Chairman of the Mind Routine (works 100% of the time)
      • Personify each of the thought patterns racing through your head
        • If one train of thought is about family, call it Mr. Family
        • If something finance-related is keeping you up – call the train of thought “Mr. Finance” or “Jeff” or “Helen”
      • Then, put each thought pattern around a table 
        • Assume each thought pattern has positive intent, you might say – “Thank you Mr. Work for raising those thoughts. I know the reason you’re replaying the video in my head is because you want me to learn a lesson. I know you’re just watching out for me. How many minutes do you need to explain the lesson?”
      • Next – Go around the table and allot each character the time needed to explain that lesson
        • Afterwards – END IT… it shouldn’t need any more time to speak
  • Anger is a gift and should be used as fuel
  • Advice for creatives – “Just make something beautiful. Don’t worry about anything else.”
  • If you’re depressed, realize there are MANY tools which can help
    • “There’s a growing toolkit of things that can help. The great thing about this is that different tools will work for different people. The bigger that toolkit, the more likely it is that something will work for you.”
  • A tip from Safi to help to lose identity with your emotions:
    • Identify your emotion as “#emotion”
      • Ex. – Once you feel anxiety, in your mind think “#anxiety”
      • Oddly, this reduces the power of the emotion at affecting your overall state
  • A practical tip for combating depressive symptoms:
    • Identify the default question you always ask yourself:
      • For depressed people, it’s often something very disabling such as – “What’s wrong with you?”
      • “If that’s the search function for your brain, your brain is going to come up with answers… How could you not end up depressed if that’s your default question.” – Tim
    • Once you have it identified, decide on a replacement, such as: “What can I learn from this?”
  • When you get angry, ask yourself – “What does this anger say about me?” or “How does this anger identify something in me that’s an unresolved issue?” or “Why does this bother me?”
    • Asking questions like these has a magical way of diffusing the anger you’re experiencing
  • Incentives, whether rewards or punishments, govern behavior
    • Incentives drive and help create company culture (which is just a shared set of beliefs and behaviors)
    • When you see something that doesn’t quite fit a conventional story that’s a clue incentives are ruling the situation

Books Mentioned

Intro

Hypnosis 101

  • Safi first became interested in the subject when he stumbled upon a hypnosis class as a grad student at Stanford
    • Eventually, he sat in on one of the classes
  • Hypnosis is the act of bringing your focus solely down to one object/thought
    • Practically everyone has the ability to go into a hypnotic trance
      • There’s an evolutionary reason for this – if you’re being chased by a tiger, you really want to be focused on ONE thing (escaping the tiger)
    • “That state of incredibly heightened focus is the same thing great athletes do”
      • If you’re about to hit a baseball, everything else disappears

Using Hypnosis to Combat Insomnia

  • Tactic #1 – The Short n’ Easy (works 60-70% of the time)
    • Close your eyes and get extremely curious about whatever visuals you see
      • If you see a chair, you might ask:
        • What does the chair look like?
        • What’s its texture?
        • Is it moving?
        • Is it floating?
        • Is there something on it?
        • What’s it going to change into next? (Safi really stresses this one)
    • This redirects all of your racing thoughts to the object of interest
    • The sharper the object comes into focus, the deeper you get into a hypnotic trance
  • Tactic #2 – The Big Gun (works nearly 100% of the time)
    • Think of a random double digit number between 11 and 99
    • Then assign your brain the task of seeing that number
      • “I imagine a cannon launching these numbers into the sky and watching them go by – 22…. 56… 77”
    • Safi adds:
      • “All those inner racing thoughts… you just take them away from the task they were doing – keeping you up – and focus them on a task you would rather have them doing, a task that helps you get to sleep faster”
  • Tactic #3 – The Chairman of the Mind Routine (works 100% of the time)
    • Personify each of the thought patterns racing through your head
      • If one train of thought is about family, call it Mr. Family
      • If something finance-related is keeping you up – call the train of thought “Mr. Finance” or “Jeff” or “Helen”
    • Then put each thought pattern around a table 
      • Assume each thought pattern has positive intent, you might say – “Thank you Mr. Work for raising those thoughts. I know the reason you’re replaying the video in my head is because you want me to learn a lesson. I know you’re just watching out for me. How many minutes do you need to explain the lesson?”
    • Next – Go around the table and allot each character the time to explain that lesson
      • Afterwards – END IT… it shouldn’t need any more time to speak
    • In summary – “Instead of making enemies with your thoughts and trying to suppress them, you become partners and friends with them”
      • At the end of the day, your thoughts are there to improve you and are present for a reason – they’re trying to teach you various lessons

Expanding on the Above – Making Friends with Your Thoughts

  • “Our mind is a tool for survival. All of the stuff going on in your head is about survival… enhancing the propagation of the genes in your body. The thoughts going on in your mind are about learning lessons form stuff that’s happened so you can improve your probability of surviving.”
  • BUT – in the last 100 years, the world has gotten far more complex
    • We’re not evolved to handle the flood of inputs
      • “The evolution of our body and the evolution of our brain hasn’t kept pace with the rapid evolution of technology”
  • “Instead of fighting and trying to suppress your thoughts, flip the perspective and say, ‘Oh, thank you for being here. Let’s see how what you’re doing is really helpful.'”

The Best Applications of Hypnosis

  • Guiding one’s thought patterns and allowing one to take control of what’s happening in their mind
    • Safi has a good analogy – “Meditation is like a volume control on radio. Learning to guide the thought patterns in your mind is creating a new station.”
    • “I think the most effective tool is creating inner peace or inner calm”
  • Serving as a tool which helps individuals quit smoking (or other bad habits)
    • “It just gives you a new set of tools and techniques for helping reverse bad habits”
    • An example, with someone who overeats:
      • Perhaps they have an association which originated in childhood – their mother may have always encourage them to finish their plate of food
      • A hypnotist would help create a new association (imagining the plate half full) – thus fixing the overeating problem
  • Hypnotherapy is NOT effective for treating serious biochemical disorders (like depression)

Reframing Anger

  • Safi has a unique way of reframing anger as a gift:
    • How? – Use it as fuel
      • Use every rejection as personal gas which only makes you work harder
      • “Anger, when someone screws you over, is a gift. Your job is to figure out how it’s a gift. What are they helping you become better at? … They’ve just given you fuel, how are you going to use it?”

Make Something Beautiful

  • Safi is friends with Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus
    • “One piece of advice he gave Safi – “Just make something beautiful. Don’t worry about anything else.”
      • Safi kept this in mind while writing his book
      • Tim adds – “The desire to create or recognize beauty has become much more of a driver for me in the last 5 years… It seems to check off a lot of other boxes. Rather than try to solve 20 different problems, if I have a compass that is pointed toward creating something of beauty… it seems to really solve a lot for me.”

How NOT to Treat Depression

  • The wrong thing to do with depression: look for areas in life upon which the patient can improve (i.e. Look on the bright side, change your mind to focus on the good, etc.)
    • “That is a disaster when you’re dealing with someone with depression”
      • Why? – Depression is literally the result of a biochemical imbalance and has nothing to do with how you’re thinking about the world
        • “It’s really no different than having any other damaged organ”
    • These types of quick fixes only make things worse
      • It invalidates their depression 
      • It tells the patient they’re weak in character (“I have a strong personality because I know how to look at the glass as half full, your point of view is inferior”)
      • Lastly – someone with depression is literally unable to think this way
        • “It’s like telling someone who’s infertile to think positive and they’ll have a baby”
  • What can you do?
    • “Listen, accept, and recognize. Do NOT say, ‘Let’s look on the bright side.’ That’s literally the worst hing you can do.”
    • Encourage them to get professional help
      • “It’s AMAZING how effective pharmaceuticals are”
      • “Even small doses of the right medication will totally transform you”

Depression – Part 2 | Tim Lend His Thoughts

  • There seems to be genetic factors that predispose one to bipolar depression (Tim says he fits this category)
  • “I know people who’ve had their lives changed using SSRIs… but I know other people for whom SSRIs have had no effect whatsoever”
  • There are recent tools/medicines that seem to be working
    • Intravenous ketamine
    • Current and future studies plan to examine the effectiveness of using psilocybin to treat depression
      • Read more about treating depression with psilocybin in these Podcast Notes
  • In summary – There ARE tools out there which can help
    • “You may not be Usain Bolt, but you can get faster. You can train with subpar attributes to develop capabilities that no one would expect given where you started with your raw materials.”
  • “I think for a lot of people who are depressed, it’s not the feeling shitty or seeing darkness or highlighting the negative that’s the scary part… it’s the fear that it will never change. No matter how good things get, no matter how much money you make, no matter which partner you’re with, you’re always going to look at the negative and it’s something you can NOT escape.”
  • Safi adds:
    • “There’s a growing toolkit of things that can help. The great things about this is that different tools will work for different people. The bigger that toolkit, the more likely it is that something will work for you.”
  • If you’re depressed (whether diagnosed or not), Tim recommends reading the following:

Boosting Baseline Happiness | The Tim Ferriss Protocol

  • Tim has suffered from quite a few depressive episodes throughout his 40+ years, but has largely avoided any within the last 5. Here’s what he credits to have helped:
    • Supervised psychedelic sessions which downregulate activity in the default mode network (DMN) (the part of the brain linked with ego/rumination)
      • Michael Pollan touched on this more in these Podcast Notes
      • Psychedelics allow one to “zoom out” and aid in seeing the bigger picture, bringing one out of their obsessive rumination
    • Identifying coping mechanisms which exacerbate the condition you’re trying to avoid
      • For example, ask yourself: “When do I tend to feel depressed?’
        • Does it correlate to a lack of sleep? Obsessive use of stimulants? Social isolation?
    • Meditation
      • Tim highly recommends Sam Harris’ Waking Up meditation app
      • Why does meditation help? – “If you don’t have the awareness of your state in a given moment, it’s very hard to catch yourself.”
        • This awareness then allows one to separate themselves from the emotion they’re feeling 
          • You might say – “I am experiencing anger” rather than “I am angry”
          • A trick from Safi – Identify your emotions as “#emotion”
            • Ex. – Once you feel anxiety, in your mind think “#anxiety”
            • Oddly, this reduces the power of the emotion at affecting your overall state
            • This trick originates from Joyful Wisdom by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
              • “I’ve probably given that book to more people than I can count”
    • The Where of Happiness
      • People commonly think of the how and why related to happiness, but the environmental factors also play a huge roll
        • Tim has found moving to Austin, where it’s always sunny, has played a huge roll in increasing his baseline
    • Tim has also found exercising first thing in the morning has helped boost his mood
      • For more on the brain benefits of exercise, check out Spark
    • Here’s something Tim learned from Tony Robbins:
      • Identify the default question you always ask yourself:
        • For depressed people, it’s often something very disabling such as – “What’s wrong with you?”
        • “If that’s the search function for your brain, your brain is going to come up with answers… How could you not end up depressed if that’s your default question?”
          • “That was my default question for decades”
      • Once you have it identified, decide on a replacement such as: “What can I learn from this?”
  • Tim adds – “I never in a million years thought I’d be where I am now”

You Can Edit The Script

  • “Just as genetics are inherited, so are patterns of thoughts and behavior”
    • The playlist running in your head may be one you picked up from childhood, just know – “You have the ability to edit that script”
      • Realize – YOU ARE IN CONTROL OF YOUR THOUGHTS

Methods For Diffusing Anger

  • When you get angry, ask yourself – “What does this anger say about me?” or “How does this anger identify something in me that’s an unresolved issue?” or “Why does this bother me?”
    • Specifically ask this when you find yourself getting angry about totally irrational things
    • When you see others get angry, ask this in relation to them as well – “What does the anger tell me about their struggles?”
  • Tim adds – “A lot of acute responses, like anger, come down to entitlement”
    • So when you get angry, you might ask yourself -“What do you feel entitled to receive right now?” 
  • We known that happiness= reality – expectations
    • If you’re frustrated with someone, ask yourself if it’s because of the reality or expectations

Depression Treatment Loonshots

  • “In many ways MDMA is a loonshot”
    • Many have dismissed the drug as crazy that it may help therapeutically, but it may turn out to be incredibly important
  • TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation)
    • Many people think it’s “nutty” but it’s actually been through phase III trials and has proven to be useful for treating depression
    • As it turns out, the brains of people with depression may have abnormal “blinking rates”
      • A blinking rate is the rate at which the brain emits certain frequencies – the average is ~10 Hz (this can be measured via EEG)
      • TMS is an oscillating magnetic field which nudges someone’s blinking rate back to normal (which may be slightly above or below 10 Hz)
        • Oddly enough, the approved FDA protocol advises to treat everyone according to the same average rate of 10 Hz (even thought someone’s blinking rate may be slightly different)
      • The treatment efficacy is similar to that of medication
        • However – it’s not used as much as it could be due to the stigma (but younger psychologists tend to be more hip to the treatment)
      • Research groups are starting to do more personalized TMS treatments by examining/treating only the brain regions which are “out of alignment” (rather than the whole brain) with a person’s personalized blink rate (rather than using 10 Hz – the society average – as the FDA protocol advises)
        • These groups have seen remarkable results with PTSD (which is very similar to manic depression on a biochemical level)

The Power of Incentives

  • Incentives, whether rewards or punishments, govern behavior
  • When you see something that doesn’t quite fit a conventional story that’s a clue incentives are ruling the situation
    • Odd Paradox #1 
      • Individually, people all love some crazy new idea but when brought together, the group rejects it
      • The explanation – whenever you put people together into a group, you create two forms of incentives:
        • The stake & outcome (AKA equity % – which shrinks with more people)
          • Thus – one’s incentives for helping a a crazy idea succeed are reduced as a company/group grows larger
        • When people are organized into a group with a mission, a “perks of rank” incentive is created 
          • As a small company, perks of rank are irrelevant (everyone makes a similar salary), but if a project works – it might results in a huge upside
          • As a company grows, perks of rank become more important
    • Odd Paradox 2 
      • Myth – big corporate CEOs/companies are risk adverse and thus don’t generate many good ideas
        • But – this is far from true. They’re just like young entrepreneurs. They all want to be responsible for the next new gadget/drug/etc.
      • The explanation – incentives
        • If that particular individual is surrounded by startup incentives – he’ll sure as hell be innovative
        • But give him the incentives where it’s all about politics & promotion and he’ll be shooting down new ideas like there’s no tomorrow
    • Odd Paradox #3
      • How can it be that a company which attributes it’s success to company culture can eventually hit the toilet a few weeks later? Why does the same company with the same people suddenly transform?
      • The explanation – similar to paradox #1
        • As a company grows, the balance between the two main incentives (stake & outcome and perks of rank) changes – stake & outcome matter less and perks of rank matter more
          • When this occurs, people start caring more about politics/promotion and less about the success of a crazy idea

Companies Should Have a Chief Incentives Officer (CIO)

  • Isn’t it important employees are rightfully motivated? (Isn’t this just as, or even more, important than the work a CTO does?)
  • How might it work?
    • The CIO gets a compensation budget and their ONE goal is to maximize the motivation of employees
  • A CEO simply does’t have time to think about how their employees are incentivized
    • It’s a job for a solely one person – a CIO
  • Safi calls it “bringing a gun to a knife fight”
    • If all your competitors are letting incentives slide to the wayside, it’s a huge advantage to lock them down 

Common Problematic Incentive Situations

  • People 5 levels down from a CEO in a large company don’t really play all that much of a roll in the company’s yearly success. Thus, they’re not very incentivized to work their ass off (even if the company does some sort of profit sharing – it’s not likely their efforts play a large roll)
    • This is known as a “wasteful resource” or the “free rider problem” in economics
  • The Uber Example
    • During Travis‘ reign as CEO, everyone wanted to be the “captain of their own speedboat” and work on the next thing Uber was up to (Uber Eats, Uber Health etc.)
      • Safi recalls hearing that Uber employees, at this time, in order to hit their bonuses, had to 8x their expected targets 
        • This incentivized people to explore niche projects and go for home runs
    • But after Travis left, the incentive structure also changed (away from the above to more of a group-based structure)
  • Another unique point of view – take managers out of the decision loop when it comes to deciding on bonuses/promotion
    • Imagine two scenarios (the better option is clear):
      • A 30-person consulting firm has 4 VP positions and one spot opens up. The 3 VPs decide who gets to become the 4th and join the ranks – this results in a TON of ass kissing from the rest of the employees.
      • The above, but the consulting firm flies in a third party to make the decision
        • That person would spend a few weeks interviewing broadly among candidates, current VPs, customers, etc.
    • The above comes down to the following – the return on politics (the incremental value of you increasing your odds for a promotion vs. the incremental hour you spent on politics/policing)
      • When that value is high (the first example) – you hurt innovation
      • When that value is low (the second example) – you improve innovation

Incentives Sum Up

  • Incentives (and structure) drive and help create company culture (which is just a shared set of beliefs and behaviors)
    • Focusing on them is a competitive advantage
  • “Whether or not you’ve deigned them, you’re responding to incentives” – Tim

Wrapping Up

  • Buy Safi’s book – Loonshots
    • “If you have a crazy idea or you’re being told your idea is crazy, just keep going There is some gold out there if you just persist through the stumbles.”

Additional Notes

  • Check out Trip of Compassion – a documentary Tim helped produce which details the use of MDMA to treat people with severe PTSD

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