Dan Harris: 10% Happier – Meditation, Kindness, and Compassion | The Peter Attia Drive

Check out The Peter Attia Drive Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • We’re ALL addicted to something
  • Mindfulness = the ability to know what’s happening in your head at any given moment without getting carried away by it
    • The skill of mindfulness can be developed through meditation
  • Advice for new meditators:
    • You WILL get distracted (and it’s okay), just notice your attention and come back to an object of focus
      • The goal of meditation is to notice your distractions
    • Meditate to get better at life, not to get better at meditation
      • “Meditation isn’t about what you’re feeling right now, it’s about knowing what you’re feeling so that your feelings don’t own you”
  • The best meditation advice you’ll ever come across:
    • “If you try too hard, you will tangle yourself up in knots. One of the classic hindrances to meditation is desire. If you want it too hard, you’re going to shoot yourself in the foot. It’s like a weird video game where the only way to move forward is not to want to move forward.”

Books Mentioned

  • Dan’s book – 10% Happier
  • Peter highly recommends In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Dr. Gabor Maté
    • The book takes a deep dive into the true causes of addiction
  • The Craving Mind by Judson Brewer examines the idea of addiction as a spectrum (we’re all addicted to something)
  • “There’s only one self-help book that I can think of that’s been successful about compassion and that book does not advertise compassion on its cover. The book is called, How to Win Friends and Influence People.” 
  • “I read a tiny bit of a book called, Assholes: A Theory; it was kind of the academic treatise on assholes. It said the quintessential asshole rallying cry is, ‘Don’t you know who I am!'”
  • Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now sparked Dan’s initial interest in meditation
    • Although the first time he read the book he thought it was “f***ing bullshit,” it eventually grew on him the more he dove into the practice
  • To learn more about the science behind how meditation changes the brain, check out Altered Traits by Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson

Intro

Dan’s Panic Attack on Live TV That Ultimately Convinced Him to Start Meditating

  • In 2004, while filling in as Good Morning America’s newsreader (the person who comes on the air at the top of each hour to read off news headlines), Dan froze on live TV:
    • “I lost the ability to breathe, my palms were sweaty, and my lungs seized up. I couldn’t talk. My mind was racing, and the more my body freaked out, the more my body freaked out. I had to do something I’d never done before… just quit in the middle of the whole thing.”
      • Watch a video of the incident here
  • What caused the panic attack?
    • Dan had spent a ton of time in war zones after 9/11
    • Shortly after returning home, he became depressed and picked up a cocaine habit (it wasn’t regular, just during parties)
      • “I was depressed after coming home from the war zones not because I was traumatized, but because I missed the action. I liked it and I was in withdrawal from the adrenaline. The cocaine was a synthetic squirt of that adrenaline and it made me feel better.”
    • Long story short, after multiple doctor’s visits, it was concluded that the cocaine changed Dan’s brain chemistry just enough to allow his panic attack to occur

We’re All Addicted to Something

  • “Addiction is a spectrum. You may think you’re not an addict because you don’t have a needle hanging out of your arm, but that needle hanging out of your arm is just the extreme end of the spectrum. We’re all addicted to lots of things. What’s your relationship with your phone? What’s your relationship with professional success? What’s your relationship with sex, shopping, gambling, and drinking? We are rats in a maze and we go where the pellets are.” 
    • This idea is discussed more in The Craving Mind
    • “The socially acceptable addictions actually have a disadvantage. If there’s one advantage to having a needle in your arm, it’s that at least everybody realizes it’s wrong and you’re more likely to do something about it. But, if you’re a perfectionist, or if you’re a workaholic, you’re getting a lot of ‘attaboys’ before someone comes along and says, ‘Let’s examine your relationship with this thing.'” – Peter
  • Peter highly recommends In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Dr. Gabor Maté
    • The book takes a deep dive into the true causes of addiction
  • There’s really not that much of a difference between an opioid and a sex addict
    • Both opioids and sex serve to light up the pleasure center’s of the brain and numb negative emotions – one’s just slightly worse than the other

The Origin of Dan’s Drive for Self-Protection

  • “As a young person, there are three primary needs we have: love, safety, and belonging”
    • This was taught to Dan by Jerry Colonna, his personal executive coach (check out the Podcast Notes from Jerry’s stellar appearance on The Tim Ferriss Show)
  • Intergenerational trauma is real
    • Dan’s great-grandparents escaped the Cossacks
    • His other great-grandfather killed himself after losing a large amount of money
    • Dan’s family tree consists of tons of alcoholism and depression 
    • “My dad’s a severe worrier”
  • “I never felt unsafe in the home, but I think the world has always felt unsafe to me”

A Selfish Reason to Be Kind and Compassionate

  • This is the subject of a new book Dan’s working on, which he hopes to finish by early 2021
  • “There’s a lot of evidence that shows that compassionate people are happier, healthier, more successful, and more popular. It also feels good on a moment to moment basis.”
    • We’re wired to experience “feel-good” chemicals when we’re good to other people (it can be as simple as holding the door open for someone)
  • “There’s something called ‘helpers high.’ When you give to charity, the same regions of your brain light up that light up when you eat chocolate.”
  • A simple framework: When you feel the impulse to give something arise, follow through with it – you’ll be happy you did
    • Whether a compliment, sending a thank you note, or giving spare change to a homeless person 
  • Related – “There’s only one self-help book that I can think of that’s been successful about compassion and that book does not advertise compassion on its cover. The book is called, How to Win Friends and Influence People.” 
  • “We’ve got epidemic levels of anxiety, depression, and suicide, especially among young people. We have epidemic levels of political polarization. We’ve got global problems that require cooperation like climate change. This is the time where we actually need to start pulling our heads out of our asses.”‘
    • The world needs you to be kind and compassionate more than ever

Using Mindfulness to Avoid Being Controlled by Anger

  • Mindfulness = the ability to know what’s happening in your head at any given moment without getting carried away by it
    • The skill of mindfulness can be developed through meditation
  • “A couple of minutes a day of meditation helps you have more visibility to your own inner weather and then you’re not so yanked around by it”
    • With mindfulness (AKA a meditation practice), it’s possible to see that although anger may feel good in the present moment, it’s a toxic emotion overall
  • Dan recalls an expression about anger from the Buddha – “Anger has a honey tip but a poison route”
    • “Mindfulness has allowed me to realize in the moments of anger what the half-life is of the honey” – Peter
  • “I read a tiny bit of a book called, Assholes: A Theory; it was kind of the academic treatise on assholes. It said the quintessential asshole rallying cry is, ‘Don’t you know who I am!'”

The Voice in Your Head

  • Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now sparked Dan’s initial interest in meditation
    • Although the first time he read the book, Dan thought it was “f***ing bullshit,” it eventually grew on him the more he dove into the practice
  • We ALL have this running dialogue going on in our brain (and most of it’s negative or self-referential)
    • Tolle preaches – “When you’re not aware of the non-stop conversation going on inside your head, it owns you”
  • Eventually, Dan came to realize – “The mechanism one can use for taming the voice in the head is meditation”

Advice for New Meditators

  • You WILL get distracted
    • “The game in meditation is simply to notice you’ve become distracted, and in the moment that you notice you’ve become distracted, throw a little party for yourself because you are waking up from the automatic pilot, the daydream, the hallucination of your life, this constant discursive thinking. Then, you’re actually here paying attention. The whole game of meditation is not to stop thinking, which is impossible; it’s to notice when you become distracted and start over again.”
  • Meditate for the trait, not the state
    • This is discussed more in the book – Altered Traits
    • Sure meditation changes your overall state temporarily, perhaps even in a negative aspect (many people, like Peter, don’t find meditation enjoyable)
    • “If I meditate for 20 minutes, I’m not meditating for those 20 minutes, I’m meditating for the other 23 hours and 40 minutes”‘ – Peter
      • Meditation helps you escape the washing machine of your own thoughts and stop negative emotions in their tracts
    • Similarly:
      • “When you look at things like psychedelics and MDMA… when done correctly under therapeutic settings, they’re remarkable, not so much because of the state which they clearly altar, but much more because they can change the traits outside of them.”
  • Meditate to get better at life, not to get better at meditation
    • “The point of meditation is not to feel any specific way, it’s to feel whatever you’re feeling right now so that you learn not to let your feelings push you around”
    • “Meditation is not about what you’re feeling right now, it’s about knowing what you’re feeling so that your feelings don’t own you”

The Difference Between Mindfulness and Being Present

  • “Being present is necessary but not sufficient for mindfulness. You need to be present but then there’s a metacognition that also happens; you know that you’re in the present moment and you know that you know you’re in the present moment.”
  • An easy way to think about this:
    • A 4-year old (or a dog) is undoubtedly present, but there’s no way they know they’re present

A Few Quotes to Ponder

  • One of the Buddha’s fundamental teachings – “Everything is impermanent. Suffering is a part of life, and if you try to pretend otherwise, you’re going to suffer even more.”
  • “We are suffering so much in our minds, probably more than in reality, and so much of that suffering is due to thought and projection. It’s due to playing out scenarios and, if we’re going to be brutally honest, we don’t have a clue what’s going to happen. Yet, so much of our suffering is drawn out by those projections.” – Peter
  • “Every man is a bridge spanning the trauma of his past and the legacy of his future”

Lessons from Dan’s First 10-Day Silent Meditation Retreat

  • After meditating for ~1 year, never surpassing a 20-minute session, Sam Harris (along with his wife) convinced Dan to have a go at a 10-day silent meditation retreat
  • It was anything but easy, but around day 6, Dan received the following advice which was absolutely GAME-CHANGING
    • “If you try too hard, you will tangle yourself up in knots. One of the classic hindrances to meditation is desire. If you want it too hard, you’re going to shoot yourself in the foot. It’s like a weird video game where the only way to move forward is not to want to move forward.”
      • He now carries this with him during every one of his meditation sessions

Has meditation made Dan a better husband and father?

  • Almost definitely
    • Meditation helps you recognize emotions for their true nature. Therefore, Dan’s WAY less likely to say something negative or get angry (which would then spiral into a fight that lasts for 2 days).

Lessons in Parenting

  • “That’s how I think about it in my life; there were a whole bunch of things that shamed the hell out of me. I think of that as my single greatest purpose in life at this point; what do I have to do to make sure that none of my shame makes its way to my three kids?”
    • We ALL have our baggage. The best thing you can do is to become aware of it and do whatever you can not to pass it on to your kids.
      • If your father was angry and frequently beat you, make sure the buck stops with you – be the kindest, most compassionate soul you can be to your son
  • Ditch the need for perfectionism, it’s SO important to let your kids see that you, like everyone else, are a flawed human being
    • You’re not helping your kids by letting them think you’re some indestructible force who never struggles, doesn’t have remorse, and who never makes mistakes
    • Why is this important? – Your kids WILL have flaws and they need to know how to relate to them

The 3 Pillars of Emotional Health

  • Peter plans to discuss this more in his upcoming book which is still far away from a release date
  • 1) Mindfulness – the capacity to be mindful
  • 2) Developing the ability to reframe situations (AKA Stoicism)  
  • 3) Relationality (unfortunately Dan and Peter don’t discuss this one) 

Additional Notes

  • Peter, in addition to Dan’s app, is also a massive fan of Sam Harris’ Waking Up meditation app
  • “The science has had the least impact on my interest in meditation… In fact, I would argue that if you told me meditation raised my blood pressure 10 points, I would still do it for the benefits on the reduction of my suffering.” – Peter
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