Feb. 6, 2020

Kelly McGonigal - Author of The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage

Kelly McGonigal - Author of The Joy of Movement: How Exercise Helps Us Find Happiness, Hope, Connection, and Courage

Health psychologist and bestselling author Kelly McGonigal joins us to lay out the science behind physical exercise as a powerful antidote to the modern epidemics of depression, anxiety, and loneliness as explored in her latest book, The Joy of Movement.

"You can think of exercise as an intravenous dose of hope." ~Kelly McGonigal

Kelly McGonigal (@kellymcgonigal) is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University who specializes in understanding the mind-body connection. As a pioneer in the field of "science-help," her mission is to translate insights from psychology and neuroscience into practical strategies that support personal well-being and strengthen communities.

She is the best-selling author of The Willpower Instinct and The Upside of Stress.

Through the Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism, she helped create Stanford Compassion Cultivation Training, a program now taught around the world that helps individuals strengthen their empathy, compassion, and self-compassion.

You might know her from her TED talk, "How to Make Stress Your Friend," which is one of the most viewed TED talks of all time, with over 20 million views.

Her new book, The Joy of Movement, explores why physical exercise is a powerful antidote to the modern epidemics of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

In this episode, we talk about everything from tai chi to ultra-marathons to dance, and we really get into the science around how these different movements produce chemical changes in our brains that lift our mood and reduce anxiety and depression. Here, Kelly gives us the scoop about something called "hope molecules" and the minimum effective dose of movement required to produce them.

Connect with Kelly: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Links from this episode:

SHOW NOTES

  • I'm rebooting the Foundation podcast (past guests include Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams)! More information here: foundationpodcast.info. [00:03]
  • Who is Kelly McGonigal, how has she helped me, and how will her message here help you? [01:16]
  • What is Nia, and what does it aim to convey through music and movement? [02:43]
  • How did Kelly get into using movement as a way to facilitate mental well-being, and what compelled her to delve into the science behind it that she shares in The Joy of Movement? [05:25]
  • Two revelations about the direct connection between muscle movement and mental health that blew Kelly's mind when she started digging into this research. [07:05]
  • What's the anthropological take on why we experience a high after exercise (particularly running)? [11:03]
  • What does Kelly recommend as the minimum effective dose of exercise for us to really enjoy its mental benefits? Should it be enough to scare up a heartbeat that replicates fear and the courage by which it can be overcome? [14:40]
  • Good news regarding the minimum dose if all you want to do is feel better. [18:32]
  • The science we have so far suggests these two reasons we feel better with even a tiny dose of physical activity. [19:28]
  • What have scientists discovered by trying to take the joy out of movement? [22:06]
  • Pairing movement with nature (e.g., forest bathing). [24:20]
  • Pairing movement with music. [25:27]
  • How Kelly learned to love indoor cycling (after hating it at first). [26:04]
  • Pairing movement with teamwork/competition. [26:34]
  • Pairing movement with animal companionship. [26:59]
  • Can't dance. Won't dance. [27:17]
  • Kelly's impressions of the ultra-endurance world. [27:54]
  • Proof you don't have to conform to a certain body type or be impervious to fear in order to experience the joy of movement. [28:44]
  • Misery loves company -- but so does joy. [31:21]
  • Fighting Parkinson's disease with dance at Juilliard. [33:45]
  • How depression and grief work to demobilize and demotivate us by mechanisms eerily similar to Parkinson's disease. [38:19]
  • What's your emotional temperature? Understanding the factors that contribute to your core affect. [39:16]
  • Kelly's take on the modern need for constant stimulation via devices and how it relates to the brain's default state in contrast to different methods like meditation. [42:27]
  • Outside of movement, what other ingredients does Kelly find important for holistic mental self-care? [46:21]
  • What does Kelly hope are the chief takeaways people will remember after reading The Joy of Movement? [48:39]
  • As someone who's spent the majority of her life moving, did Kelly discover and experiment with any movement forms that were new to her during the course of doing research for The Joy of Movement? How does she feel about exercise that takes place outside of her comfort zone? [52:03]
  • Kelly gives us a brief history of the science behind her earlier work,, and how research has changed what we know about stress in recent years.
  • A brief history of the science of stress, why our initial impression of it as a purely negative force has been so hard to shake in spite of being disproven by decades of research, and what Kelly did to set the record straight by writing The Upside of Stress. [53:40]
  • Kelly's thoughts on how I've been coping with stress for the past six months or so, and why society's need to blame every bad thing that happens to us on "stress" hurts more than it helps. [59:25]
  • As a psychiatrist, what does Kelly think of psychedelics as a potential course of treatment? [1:03:05]
  • Parting thoughts, and how to best connect with Kelly. [1:07:18]

PEOPLE MENTIONED

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Kevin Rose  0:00  

Everybody, Kevin Rose here. Welcome back to another episode of The Kevin Rose show. Before we get started with this interview, I'm thrilled to tell you that I am rebooting my old podcast foundation. If you're a longtime listener, you'll probably remember I had a show here a few years ago called Foundation, where we had I think it published around 50 or so episodes, interviewing entrepreneurs, founders, CEOs, and really diving in deep and getting into what drives them, how they build their products, how they hire and fire people, lessons learned, just tons of practical advice that you can take with you into your professional life. Previous guests I've had on the show have been Elon Musk, jack Dorsey who's the CEO of Twitter, Evan Williams, and the list goes on and on just phenomenal entrepreneurs. And the same goes for this brand new feed. We have some great founders already in the queue. So you want to check it out at foundation podcast dot info that's a site that I've set up if you just head on over there. If you're on your mobile phone There'll be a one tap to pretty much every podcast app out there to subscribe. So foundation podcast dot info. If you're already an entrepreneur or a creative person or just want to pick up some tips and tricks from some of the very best, this will be the podcast for you. Alright, so today's guest is Kelly McGonigal. She is the author of the joy of movement, brand new book that she's just put out the back in 2015. She was the author of a book that I absolutely loved called the upside of stress, which really taught me how to reframe stress, to not really look at it in a negative light and fantastic book. I recommended it on multiple podcasts. And in still one you should go and check out if you have the time. Kelly is a health psychologist. She has a PhD, and she's a lecturer at Stanford University. She's known for her work in the field of science help, which focuses on translating insights from psychology and neuroscience into practical strategies that support health and well being so we really dive into her new book the joy of movement. Talk about everything from Tai Chi to ultra marathons to dance. And we really get into the science around how these different movements produce these chemical changes in our brains that lift our mood, that are anti anxiety and that are anti depression. She talks about these really cool things called hope molecules, and then we dive into the minimum effective dose required. So how much movement do you actually need to have these uplifting effects? Fascinating information. And then near the end of the podcast, we talked about her book, the upside of stress. Speaking of which, you should definitely check out her TEDx talk about stress, which has a little over 9 million views now which is which is just nuts. So I hope you enjoy it. This is Kelly McGonigal.

 

So Kelly, thank you so much for joining me.

 

Kelly McGonigal  2:45  

Thank you for having me here in Portland. Yes. I'm so happy to be here. I love this city.

 

Kevin Rose  2:50  

Oh, really? Yes. So you've been here a bunch of times.

 

Kelly McGonigal  2:52  

The first time I came to Portland was specifically to have a movement experience at Studio Nia in downtown Portland and I have always considered Important kind of a mecca for movement experiences and coffee, of course.

 

Kevin Rose  3:04  

So I don't know about this place. Tell me about this place downtown.

 

Kelly McGonigal  3:07  

It's a studio downtown's beautiful dance studio. And Nia is a movement form that integrates martial arts and dance and yoga and other healing arts. It's very freeform and expressive and creative and you do it barefoot. And at its heyday, that city was offering like six or seven classes a day being led by the black belt instructors of the world. So that's when I first started coming down here.

 

Kevin Rose  3:31  

So Nia in

 

Kelly McGonigal  3:33  

and I A Yes,

 

Kevin Rose  3:34  

yeah, cool. Yeah. Is it like Tai Chi or what do we talk? Gosh,

 

Kelly McGonigal  3:38  

it's so hard to explain what it is. But it's a combination of freeform movement and movement, that structure that you do together, whether you're doing punches and kicks or you're doing, you know, little pieces of dance movement. But the idea is that through movement and through music, you're able to connect with yourself and connect with others and experience all the different aspects of I think the psychology of movement or that you get to experience yourself as strong and fierce. And then you get to experience yourself as playful and silly. And then you get to experience yourself as feminine and sensual. And it's like everything you can experience through movement, they throw it into one package. It's definitely an acquired taste. For many though I will say

 

Kevin Rose  4:18  

it is this something that is there are actual I'm thinking of like the days my was like six and took Taekwondo, or there's like, a series of different things that you have to perform in order, or is it just completely free flowing,

 

Kelly McGonigal  4:30  

the teacher will lead you through a guided experience. So I did take the class yesterday. And the first song, we connected to ourselves and moved in any way that we lived in the second song, we were encouraged to connect with one another and the space around us and really open our awareness to not what was inside but what was around us in any way that we wanted to. And then the third song was about being completely still and listening to the music and was a wonderful jazz piece. And the idea is you let the music move you You practice like a listening meditation. And then we went into structured movement form that the teacher led from the front of the room. And then it sort of varied after that. But it's not a well known movement form as as, but I've been in that world for 20 years. There's, I think, a lot like that. They're all these little pockets of movement communities, we can have these amazing experiences, but not necessarily. They don't have like the PR campaign behind it.

 

Kevin Rose  5:25  

Yes, I'm completely new to this world. And I'm just curious. I mean, you're obviously we're here to talk about your book, The joy of movement. What got you into this? And like, why have I not heard of this, like,

 

Kelly McGonigal  5:36  

not heard of the joy of movement or the

 

Kevin Rose  5:38  

care about it? No, just like this idea of there being these different movement types. And I mean, the only thing I've ever heard of is pretty much I mean, obviously, like yoga is a form of that Tai Chi is a form of that, but like you, you say there's all these different disciplines.

 

Kelly McGonigal  5:52  

Yeah, once a one I explored the ultra endurance world which I maybe some people are very familiar with it but I was not as much and I did a whole chapter on that because I was fascinated by the fact that people were doing these unbelievable acts of endurance, you know, like the running don't 10 marathons in 10 days or that sort of thing. So there are these whole communities where people are experiencing different parts of what it means to be human. What got me into the joy of movement is movement has always been for me the primary way that I protect my mental health, and be that I connect with others. And I've taught dance and yoga and kind of traditional exercise formats for 20 years, but it hasn't really been my public face I'm I'm sort of more publicly known as a psychologist and a scientist. And I decided that I finally wanted to break down the science of why movement is so important for mental health. Why it Prime's the biology of connection like why moving your body is one of the best ways if you want strong relationships, if you want to feel like you belong, movement is one of the best ways to access that sort of our natural capacity for that. So I wanted to make that like Finally come forward and share that with the world. But it's been part of my life, you know, since I was a kid.

 

Kevin Rose  7:05  

So what have you learned in in terms of, you know, I think about what we hear in the press these days. And you hear, of course, you know, exercise is good for you. Yes. And like it, it creates new neural connections and it helps the brain and, you know, that's, it seems like, you know, science daily is publishing something new every single day on that, when you were diving into the science, like, what did you figure out? That's new and novel?

 

Kelly McGonigal  7:27  

Yes, I will tell you Okay, so I'm going to tell you two things that blew my mind that I think point to the least appreciated way that exercise changes the brain. So we should start with the most appreciated which is the endorphin rush. And I hope we can talk about that because the runner's high, the science behind the runner's high is fascinating. And it's not primarily endorphins, but let me start with a thing that literally when I learned this, it blew my mind. So you know how you have endocrine organs like your adrenal glands, your pituitary gland and they're releasing hormones and chemicals into your bloodstream that affect every system of your body and polluting your brain. So in the last 10 years, scientists have discovered that your muscles are basically an endocrine organ, and that your muscles manufacture all sorts of proteins that only your muscles can manufacture. And then release them into your bloodstream to affect your immune system, your cardiovascular system, and very much affects your brain. And the only time they're releasing these chemicals is when you contract your muscles through movement, and especially exercise. And one of the first scientific papers that wrote about these chemicals, called them hope molecules, they're actually called Mio kinds, which means produced by your muscles. And the idea is that when you contract your muscles through exercise, walking, running, swimming, hiking, dancing, whatever, your muscles are secreting these chemicals that go through your bloodstream, cross the blood brain barrier, reach your brain, and they have these profound effects on mental health and brain health. So one of them I Reisen. isn't natural antidepressants, it increases motivation and mood in the short term. But in the long term, it also helps your brain recover from depression and recover from trauma. And there are all sorts of these chemicals. That's just one there are dozens and dozens, where your muscles pump them out during movement. And there, it's like a pharmacy for your brain. And the only way you get them is through exercise. And so you can think of exercises like an intravenous dose of hope. And you produce these hope molecules, and they reach your brain and they do these amazing things to make us more resilient to live. Like the what was so fascinating to me about that is who even knew your muscles were such a good friend to you. I mean, we know that muscles can help you lift heavy things or you know, walk. But the idea that we as human beings could have evolved in a way where if we want healthy brains if we want to be brave for life, if we want to recover from difficult life experiences, that our muscles know how to help our brains, Do that. And movement is the way that that we become that version of ourselves who's more resilient. So that's one of them. And the other one is much easier to explain, um, you know, lactic acid and everyone thinks lactic acid, you know, makes your muscles sore. Yeah, Japanese is not exactly right. But we do know that you produce lactic acid as a result of working hard lifting weights, whatever. It now turns out that lactic acid works in that same way. It's a natural anti anxiety and anti depressant. And so when you are feeling the burn, in exercise, you are literally succeeding out this metabolic byproduct of movement that is an anti anxiety and anti depressant, like this, to me, this is it's, it's almost insane how much our brains rely on our muscles and on movement. So that's, I think that's a really different way of thinking about it. And perfectly because these have such long term effects that can Really not just like rewire your brain but change the whole structure of your brain?

 

Kevin Rose  11:03  

Yeah, if you think about in the days when we were going out and either being chased by something or hunting something, it's a pretty like pumped up state you have to kind of get yourself into right. So that movement would help you calm down.

 

Kelly McGonigal  11:15  

This is the new idea behind the runner's high. So anthropologists now think the reason we get an exercise high is because new 2 million years ago, human beings had to start working a lot harder to get their food sources because of the way that the environment changed. So they had to walk long distances, height run, sometimes to chase down food, to forage, and that it requires being willing to do hard work for sustained periods of time. And the idea is that somehow the humans who survived and the communities who survived were ones whose brains figured out you could hijack the reward system, and other parts of the brain sort of pleasure systems to make hard work and labor rewarding. Anthropologists and scientists have now discovered that when you do when you work The level of intensity that you would need to to hunt or to forage, you get like the maximum runner's high, which is fueled by not only endorphins, but endocannabinoids just like really interesting brain chemical that relieves pain, so that you are willing to work harder. That gives you more energy. But that has these two specific psychological effects that I think you can experience from any moderate intensity exercise. So endocannabinoids make you more optimistic. They they make you feel like, oh, if I keep hunting, I might find something. The good things are possible. It gives you this kind of perseverance. endocannabinoids By the way, that's that's what cannabis mimics. But the psychological effect is a little different when it's produced naturally through movement. It's not like getting stoned, although there's some similarities. So you feel more optimistic, and you're feeling less pain, but endocannabinoids also make you more sensitive to the pleasures of social interaction. It's like a really specific effect. So it feels better to cooperate with others, you enjoy, play more, you enjoy teamwork more. Other people's stories are more interesting. It feels better to laugh with others. And so when you exercise and so here's the idea, the anthropological idea is that the state of neuro chemistry not only makes you more willing to work hard and gather that food, but also feel better about sharing it afterward, which is really how early humans survived. It wasn't our we're all going to go out and look for the big kill. And then if I find it, I'm eating it all. And good luck to the rest of you. Then one anthropologist I talked with said that even more important than hunting and gathering was the sharing aspect. That's what allowed humans to become modern humans. And so it's kind of fascinating that somehow our brains adapted this exercise high. That makes us able to do hard things and enjoy it, and also makes us this more social version of ourselves so that when we come back and have to share the rewards of what we collected, it feels good to feed your neighbors. And to share the spoils literally. And I think that that's one of the big benefits of exercise that is so under appreciated is that, you know, if you get a runner's high from whatever your activity is, you're not only feeling good in the moment, but you're creating a brain state where you go back and you're a parent, or you're a partner, where you go back to work, and you have to connect with other people. You're now in a brain state, that makes you a sort of a more positively social version of yourselves. And I think it's one of the reasons why exercise regular exercise is so strongly linked to less loneliness, and more positive relationships with others. What are the kind of minimum effective dose that we need to do to get some of these benefits like I, I do, twice a week I do a high intensity interval training and I love that. I mean, it's,

 

Kevin Rose  14:52  

it destroys you. Like I'm like laying on the ground, like out of breath and

 

Kelly McGonigal  14:56  

I love that feeling. It's

 

Kevin Rose  14:59  

I love that

 

Kelly McGonigal  15:00  

I will tell you how to love that feeling in a moment. Okay, go ahead. So you do that twice a week. Yeah. And I

 

Kevin Rose  15:04  

you know, I feel great. Honestly though, we got to talk about cold therapy and showers and stuff like that, that I also do, which are cold showers, which I just did like 20 minutes ago. So that's a good stress yet so yeah, it's a fantastic feeling like this, these ice baths and the Wim Hof Method. I'm sure you've heard of Wim Hof. He's does these. Yep. Oh, yes. Okay. He's like The Iceman. He does, like crazy, submerge himself up to his neck and nice water. But I'm curious, like if someone is sitting there. A lot of geeks listen to my podcast, like somebody's sitting there and saying, I don't do a lot of exercise. But I want to feel some of these benefits. Well, I take it back. Because you know, your books is the joy of movement. There should be joy involved in this versus it looking at it like clinically saying like, well, if I only do you know, this high intensity interval training twice a week, I'll feel fine. Like

 

Kelly McGonigal  15:48  

a lot of good news here is I love that you asked the question because I actually have some data to give answers. And I think there's nothing wrong with trying to be strategic about this, but I love that you also mentioned so I do Don't actually view exercise as something that you have to exploit in order to get the benefits. I think that the direct experience itself can also be enjoyable and meaningful. So I, you're right, in that I don't want to overemphasize the idea that like, exercise is just one more thing, I have to get perfect. In order to get the result I want. It's really you have to hold that those opposites because you can make strategic decisions so that you are doing the type of movement form that's most likely to say, help relieve depression, or make your brain more resilient, like you can work with that. And also at the same time, there is no reason not to look for the form of movement, that while you're doing it, you feel incredible. Or if not, during then afterwards, like in that moment, when you're on the floor and your heart is pounding and you're out of breath, actually had an amazing experience of that. So I also I love high intensity interval training in the sense that when I first discovered it a few years ago, I'd never pushed myself that hard I could like not do it at all. I started the Les Mills has a program called grip. And it's like 30 minutes of just hit all all in all out. I couldn't get through any of these movements and I here as like a an exercise professional. And so it was novel and was interesting. And a couple years after I started, I found myself lying on the floor of my workout room, and my heart was pounding and like that way that it does when you're recovering. Yeah. And my rib cage was literally heaving, I felt like the universe was delivering CPR to me, I didn't even need to try to breathe, it was being breathed. And I and I was you know, sweating. And I remember thinking, I've never felt my heart pound this hard, except in moments of fear, total panic, and I was lying there and I felt so alive. And I thought, This is what courage feels like. And because you know my work on stress and so much My work in psychology is about being able to reframe things. So that you can have a different relationship too often inner experiences you don't want to have, like fear or pain, or stress. And I just felt in that moment, how much movement can teach us. And literally the next time I was an experience where I felt my heart pound from fear, I was able to say to myself, you know what, this is also what courage feels like and you have access to your heart right now and your courage. So that's when I said, I love that feeling that you know, that's what I meant. But okay, let's get back to trying to maximize the benefits. So here's the good news. If all you want is to feel better, you want to you know, have a better mood, more energy and be a slightly better version of yourself. There is no minimum dose and no sort of objective physical thing you need to be able to do. So the in the research, the shortest dose I could find was three minutes of light activity, like standing up doing a few stretches moving your spine around, it could be the equivalent of going for a walk, I've seen some studies that look at walking up and down staircases, and an office building, which seems like it'd be really unpleasant. But as little as three minutes reliably gives people more energy and puts them in a better mood. So if all you want is that, like, you'd be like, hey, exercise is going to make me happier and make me feel, you know, more enthusiastic about life. You could literally do three minutes when you need it, and you will start to get some of these benefits. Do

 

Kevin Rose  19:28  

you have to know that you that's what your your outcome, that's what you want your outcome to be? You're saying if I just clean my house, yeah, 15 minutes, I'm going to get that benefit. I'm wondering is it like also the mental recognition that I'm,

 

Kelly McGonigal  19:43  

I actually asked a lot of people who study this is called the field Matter of fact, and I asked a lot of the researchers who've documented it, like, what do you think explains it? And I basically got two different explanations. And they didn't all give both of them but many of them actually gave both of them. One. It's pure biochemistry. So when you are in an inactive state, so many things change about your your biochemistry that are not conducive to feeling good. You know, if you think about what mood is, psychologists map mood into two dimensions how much energy you have, and how positive versus negative you feel, and the latest neuroscience and emotion research suggests that your sort of, you know, just free floating mood state is largely determined by how physically active your body is that your brain is listening to all the signals from your body, about posture and movement and heart rate and breathing. And when you do not move your body for long periods of time, your mood state naturally settles for most people into less positive and less energy. And so as soon as you move your body, like the most reliable effect is you you change your biochemistry in a way in your brain and in the rest of your body. That gives you more energy and makes you feel more hopeful, happy, optimistic, because moving your body is basically like your brain interprets it. As we're living life, we're doing something, we're moving forward. And you literally have adrenaline, a little bit of adrenaline rush from any sort of activity a little bit more dopamine in your brain, not at the crazy levels that you know, that people are often scared these days, like a nice, nice little extra flow of dopamine that just makes you feel more motivated. So that's the small dose, and you don't have to know that you're chasing that. So the other thing that the researchers told me is the achievement sensation. That's what she called it. The idea that we associate all forms of movement with basically doing something useful or good for ourselves or productive making progress. I mean, we literally movement we feel movement as making progress, or taking action and that feels good. So whether you're interpreting it as I cleaned my house, and I feel good about that or I exercised and I feel good about that because it's good for my health,

 

Kevin Rose  22:06  

I love all that stuff. Anytime I check something off an internal list of things that need to be done, I get this a little rush to

 

Kelly McGonigal  22:12  

movement can give you that achievement sensation to. And so I think that's like two ways two reasons you reliably see this feel better effect and that it doesn't seem to matter what you do, as long as it is not something where you are pairing movement with something you associate with bad things like I could get rid of the effect if I tried by finding out what you don't like, you know, and and pairing movement with that. It's, you know, it's not so robust that I couldn't kill it. If I try it. Like put you in an environment you hate with people you hate and tell you what to think about while you're doing it. I could I could erase the effect. But as long as you're making the choice about what to do, you're moving in a way that you choose to. There's almost endless ways to get the feel better effect.

 

Kevin Rose  22:55  

So you could raise that effect as long as I'm believing what you're like. I I surrender to the things that you are.

 

Kelly McGonigal  23:03  

No, you're right, because I did find this one study where they tried to create the most immersive exercise experience they could. And that's right. It was such a funny study. I didn't include it in the book. I didn't know what to do with it. But actually, they could not erase it, even when they had people to exercise like people's least favorite exercises. In a group where they were being compared negatively to others, that coach was trained to make them feel bad about it, and and try to make it as unpleasant as possible military and even, even maybe, well, a lot of you have very positive experiences from moving in the military for reasons we can talk about later. I think a lot of exercise formats are actually trying to take advantage of some of the boot camp stuff we see. Yeah, the the sort of the strength and numbers, the collective energy, the meaning, like the idea that you're moving with purpose, or you're training for something. So there are lots of positive aspects to but if you could think of the worst possible version of it. And even then, in that study, what they found was they they could not create an exercise environment so aversive that people We're not not reporting feeling better afterward,

 

Kevin Rose  24:02  

there are there's a certain person that has like is like punish me like I want to, like,

 

Kelly McGonigal  24:08  

on the studies signed up and set it like they, they were randomly assigned to a supportive environment or a not supportive environment. But I can imagine lots of people would be like, this sucks, I'm out of here. But I think it's, you know, it's more important to actually try to pair your movement with as many joys as you can. And for most people, there are certain things that enhance the intrinsic joys of movement. One is being in nature for many people. This is like built into our human neurobiology that we are more likely to experience wonder law, hope, self transcendence, so

 

Kevin Rose  24:43  

you're big fan of forest bathing, essentially.

 

Kelly McGonigal  24:45  

Um, well, I personally am not. I'm Are you kidding me? It's like the best. Well, you know, I can tell that's why you live here. I am a big supporter of it. So here's the point I'm trying to make is that there are certain joys that humans have I have a natural capacity. But also we have, you know, genetic temperaments and life experiences that move us more in the direction of one versus the other. So I talked to many, many people for this book, who moving in nature is like nothing else, it saves their sanity, it fills them with, you know, peak spiritual experiences. And they would never run on a treadmill, but they will run for hours outdoors because of what that brings out in them. And that's very human. For me, my version of that is music. Like, I will do anything if you put the right song on, I can enjoy running, push ups, kicking and punching, but I needed the soundtrack. And many for many humans to this is also built into how we evolved as a species that we experience joy when we move to the beat of music, and also the meaning that's in lyrics. And often the sensation of moving to music with other people. You know, I'm one of those people who will lip sync or sing along while I exercise because of the joy of producing music. Sick. Do you have a peloton? I don't, but I love peloton for that awesome, you know. So the thing is like for me dancing is really where it's at. So I actually did certified to teach indoor cycling for it's a long story. I found a way to love indoor cycling. I hated it when I started. But it was the music that won me over I had to find the teachers with the right playlist. And then I was like, Oh, this is why people love indoor cycling. I could I couldn't get to that state without music. Otherwise, I felt like I was being tortured, frankly. So music is another one of those joys, teamwork and cooperation or competition, some version on that spectrum, sort of wherever your personality lies. For some people, they don't maybe exercise is sort of air. But then you get the right sport, the right competition, the right teamwork. And because that is its own natural dopamine rush and the endorphins you get, it changes the experience of movement in just the right way then now all of a sudden the movement is also inherently joyful. So A lot of things like that, like where you can find the joy that that really makes it work for you. For some people, it's like bring a dog along. And there are a lot of people who the only reason they exercise is because they've got their dog with them. So I would recommend that over, like, seeing if you can test the limits of the field better effect by choosing the worst environment.

 

Kevin Rose  27:17  

Yeah, the My problem is, with everything that you've mentioned, so far as I don't, I can't dance. And so like there's not a I just can't do it. I just am too much of a geek. And so

 

Kelly McGonigal  27:29  

is it that you can't do it or you don't enjoy it, because there's no reason to do it if you don't enjoy it, but it's also don't enjoy that right then it's not for that's not your joy of movement, right? And we should also get rid of sometimes I think there's these trends in the fitness world where everyone thinks they should be training for a marathon or thinks they should be doing hit or thinks they should be whatever it is and and you know, everything has its own life cycle, but you should find the form of movement that really speaks to you. What are some of the forms you covered in the book? I'm curious. Well, so the one like I said, that was most outside my My natural comfort zone was the ultra endurance world where people are running or swimming or cycling. And often in extreme environments like the Yukon, ultra Arctic ultra, where people are going there, they're following the Yukon trail. And the one year that I wrote about was the year where nobody finished because everyone fell prey to frostbite and hypothermia. And there was like one guy left at the end. And after the other person was airlifted out and ended up actually having both of his hands and one one of his hands and both of his legs amputated from Jesus. It was a really bad situation. Yeah, I love that. But I don't. The last guy out there like Congratulations, you won, it's over. So that's one world that's sort of an extreme world, another place that I visited. So I'll tell you about two places I visited that I think speak to a really important theme of the book, which is that you do not have to have a specific body to enjoy movement and get meaning and pleasure and mental health for movement. So why is a gym called adaptive fitness in DPI adaptive fitness in Fairfax, Virginia, where it's like this, this insanely badass training center where people are, are boxing and strength training. And also everyone has a severe physical disability or is recovering from a traumatic brain injury or a stroke. So it may be the case that the people who are boxing are in wheelchairs, or that the person who is is you know, has a harness attached to them and they're dragging another person across the floor is recovering from a stroke. And often the the form of movement that they emphasize in that training center are these movement forums that make you feel powerful and strong and fierce, which is something that I you know, it's really important when you're recovering from a you know, when you suddenly have lost the use of your legs or you're recovering from a brain injury. So that's a really important for most of us to feel. And I'm really fascinated by the forms of movement that are basically about experiencing yourself as powerful and I talked to a number of women who do things like axe throwing, which is not something I've had experience with. And the idea or that like, flipping tires and the Highland Games where people are just doing things that if you looked at it, you'd be like, wow, that's impressive. I think CrossFit, so sort of another genre that and tough mudder that I saw, I didn't have a chapter about tough mudder obstacle course racing, and both how it's about creating a story about who you are and what you're capable of. And also this really interesting theme that emerged from both the tough mudder world actually and CrossFit and the ultra endurance

 

Kevin Rose  30:40  

run by the way, have you done tough mother? I have not. I haven't done one I wanted that I won't do a half mother or baby mother, wherever they called the

 

Kelly McGonigal  30:47  

smaller one I need like the in utero matter, whatever, baby. Because you know, for me, my temperament naturally is like a fear. I have a fear of heights. I have a fear of like things that are disgusting and Like that, it's like, I don't want to go through a slide that's been set on fire to land and water to put the fire out. Like it's like my nightmare scenario, tough matter. And I fell in love with the company once I heard the stories of it. So I'm not at the threshold yet where I'm willing to do it. But I hundred percent endorse it for people who have like even the slightest desire to do it. So what emerged from from that world and basically a lot of these worlds where people are doing really difficult things, is the importance of interdependence, and how nobody's really doing it on their own, like the most popular obstacles and tough matter are the ones where you literally cannot do it yourself. The one that that I loved hearing about the most was it's a ramp you have to run up a curved ramp, and they coat it with vegetable oil, so that if you try to do it by yourself, you just slip down. It's like such a great metaphor for life. Like some things some obstacles or not do it yourself. There's some things we face in life, that you have to do it together. You need Ask for help. So you know you the first person gets over they like build this tower people pushing someone up. And then you don't get to the top and say see a sucker and run on to the next you lean a handout and you start lifting people up. And and there are some obstacles in the tough mudder that require you to accept help in order to succeed, and also to be the person who slows down and helps others. Like you get to experience yourself as not purely self interested. One of the ultra endurance athletes I spoke to said the reason an ultra marathon is so different from a regular marathon, is his experience of running marathons was everyone else felt like an impediment, like get off the road, you're in my way to my best time. But an ultra marathon is so hard that you at some point, you're just relieved that someone else is suffering with you. Yeah, and there will probably be a point where you need someone's help because you're you know, vomiting on the side of the trail and you need to hydrating or you, you know, you bled through your socks and you need an extra pair of socks and you don't have any more socks. All the stories I heard like the most memorable moments. Nobody told me the most memorable moment was crossing the finish line. They were telling me these stories of basically suffering and and being helped by someone else, or, you know, allowing yourself to lose your best time in order to help someone else who's like headlamp went out or who was injured. And I think like that's such an interesting aspect. That is, I wouldn't have known about it unless I really talked to people, I would have judged it from the outside and think it was only about being the superhero. How tough are you? Not how strong Are we together? Yeah. And then the other example I wanted to mention, I went to a dance class where people with Parkinson's disease at Juilliard, and, you know, so you think about Parkinson's disease. It's a progressive disease where you lose the ability to move and if you live long enough Through the disease progression, you are basically in a catatonic state. So you can imagine being someone who has this life experience of suddenly movement is harder, and it's increasingly difficult. It's hard to walk, it's hard to shake someone's hand, you lose the ability to express your emotions through your face, because you're losing all these capacities to be an agent in the world moving through life and to connect with others. And because music Prime's the brain to move, it actually gives people with Parkinson's, access to movement that is literally impossible without the music, and so it's a dance class, but that also, there are boxing classes that seem to have a very similar effect. You suddenly there are people who are have one life experience of their bodies, transformed in the moment, through music and dance, and they can express themselves they can connect. They experience, joy and freedom. 

 

Kevin Rose  34:58  

What do you mean by impossible without the Music

 

Kelly McGonigal  35:00  

like literally you can't do it. Like,

 

Kevin Rose  35:03  

like, why? Like they can't move in a certain way. And the music is when they can move in a certain Yes.

 

Kelly McGonigal  35:09  

So the primary neurological reason for the movement impairment has to do with the dopamine system, which is really important for movement. And in Parkinson's, there are a lot of changes in the system that literally make some movements impossible and other movements more difficult. It's like your brain can't produce the movement because of the changes in how your dopamine is functioning, and what music does. So if I were to put you in a brain imaging scanner and Have you listened to music, I could watch your motor system turn on in a really powerful way, the whole motor loop of the brain, the part of your brain that plans movement, the part of your brain that executes movement, the parts of your brain that receives sensory feedback from your body about what you're doing. So you can use that feedback to move more skillfully. It becomes active when you listen to music, and the more you like the music you're listening to the more powerful This is This is one reason why people actually enjoy listening to music because it's a literal dopamine rush. And for whatever evolutionary reason, it seems to be because we always associated music with moving our bodies, whether you know, it's like work songs to help people do hard labor, or in a celebration where you're dancing or religious ritual. And so music just basically brings movement out of us, and it activates the motor system, including releasing dopamine that makes things possible. And yes, I you know, I watched it in the one class that I went to. Many people came into the space with wheelchairs, walkers, and they struggled to get into the room, to in some cases take off their shoes to leave their walkers underneath the ballet bar to get into a chair. There was so much effort and just struggle. And halfway through class we did the first half of class in chairs, to stretching an arm making faces even singing along at some point Using the music, letting it get into our bodies. And then halfway through class, the chairs were removed, people who could stand stood. And then we walked across the floor was the first movement we did across the floor, you would not believe that these were the same people who had such challenges walking into the room, people who were shuffling, when they walked in, were literally striding across the floor. And then and then dancing and swinging arms and making eye contact. And it was it's not that it's going to you know, there's a, a spectrum of movement. So it doesn't take the person who's at this point paralyzed in a wheelchair, that is not the first grade, but that even in that class, there were people who had an assistant to help them lift an arm, but by the end of the class, they were able to shake someone's hand and make eye contact with them. Whereas in the beginning, it kind of looked like they weren't even really there. Again, so that was a wonderful setting to experience and I talked to people who experienced that class is very meaningful in their everyday lives. But again, I think it's sort of also a proof of concept and that when you see people at the spectrum and you see how music and community and movement allows you to engage with life in more powerful ways, so many people I talked to have that experience, it's less visible, but also for depression, you know, and grief, one of the primary side effects of both depression and grief in the brain is very similar to Parkinson's, it actually shuts down the dopaminergic system in a way that makes it makes you less motivated. It makes you unable to anticipate and experience joy makes it more difficult. And it also impairs physical movement. It's why often when you're depressed or you're grieving it, like the idea of even getting out of bed can feel like the hardest thing in the world. And I talked to a number of people for the book, for whom movement was a way to move through depression and through grief, and re engage with life. And I think that again, like it's a Maybe less visible because you're not watching someone with a neurological movement disorder suddenly walk with more ease. But people have that kind of experience, when they're able to say join a running group with one woman I spoke with running helped her grieve the loss of her son in a really powerful way.

 

Kevin Rose  39:16  

You mentioned this idea of free floating mood. Do you mean when you say that? Do you mean like your kind of baseline?

 

Kelly McGonigal  39:22  

Yeah. So there's a a term called core effect. You know, it's funny because I don't use that term in the book, because when I kept trying to ask people I've tried kept trying to explain it to people and like beta readers, and you know, on social media, and I could not explain this concept adequately, and I sort of tossed the language. But the idea is, I'll try now with you. Yeah, that moment to moment. You have like an emotional temperature that you could take if you paid attention to it, and it varies on two dimensions. How much energy Do you have, and how positive or negative is your, your sort of emotional state and it is not Fixed, although we often have like a default core effect, based on our temperament, our genetics, our diet, how often we move our bodies, our relationships, yeah, culture,

 

Kevin Rose  40:11  

that's what I was going to ask you is if you take a look at the pie of your mood, like what percent is based on movement versus my, you know, place where I'm sitting right now versus my financial situation versus like, you don't think

 

Kelly McGonigal  40:25  

anyone could answer that accurately, like you could be I could try to be asked my way through that. Yeah, I don't think the science is there that we actually know. I think what the science tells us is that people are born with certain temperamental tendencies. And then we we basically are trying to navigate that I think, you know, many of the things that we do in life are what least Okay, let me speak for myself. My core effect is existential dread and anxiety. And that's been true since I came out of the womb, left to my own devices, my brain will go into a state of basically worrying, so sort of mixed energy more negative than positive. Some people are born with a core app effect that is basically embodied optimism like their default. That's their default temperature. God bless them. I'm not one of them, which is one of the reasons why I got hooked on movement. So early in life like as a kid, I sense this is an immediate way to not feel so bad and worried. I figured that out, like age eight, and I've been using it my whole life. So I don't think we know how much is malleable. We know that some part is fixed, and people should not beat themselves up for it, that we sort of have to come to accept, there are benefits to different emotional states. Like it's great to have some people who are always happy and at ease because they're fun to be around and they'll keep things going. But it's also good to have people like me who's the canary who's like the perfect person to detect the first sign of threat. So we all have that. And then we we find things in life that help us experience more of the type of effect that we value and people actually value. Different affects differently. Some people really enjoy being calm, that sort of positive calm, some people really enjoy excited positive. Some people really enjoy energized negative effect like anger is a perfect example that some people, man, if they could say angry all day long to them, that's their ideal core effect. I don't necessarily endorse chasing that. But some people really construct their lives around that, to feel that how much energy is available when you're in a state of anger. And so there are many things in life that influence it.

 

Kevin Rose  42:27  

What do you think about this need for stimulation? I don't know. I just look at how many people are just constantly on their mobile phones and just like glued to this constant, it's like new thing. They're constantly being hitting with something new. And that's what makes life exciting.

 

Kelly McGonigal  42:43  

I think that's one explanation for I think that's been the most common explanation, sort of in our pop culture and psychology about why people get addicted to things like their devices and social media, but then you can't sit by yourself. Yes, well, so Okay, so I have a different theory about it. And I think that people used to You use radio and TV for this more often. So we know that the human brain when left to its own devices, and or something called the default state, which is characterized for most people by rumination. So thinking about things that happened in the past and trying to like figure out, Did I do something wrong? Could I could have gone better planning for the future, often worrying, social comparison. So thinking about how you compare to other people, which can quickly fall into self criticism.

 

Kevin Rose  43:30  

I think it's social media as well as debates that so

 

Kelly McGonigal  43:32  

so here's the interesting thing. So I think that so that's a natural state of the sort of the human mind when it's not focused on something else. And for many people, it's an unpleasant state. You get stuck in thinking about the past or social judgment is another one. You're like worried about the future critiquing yourself? So I think many people what we call distraction is kind of like a positive attempt to shut down and interstate That is relentlessly assaulting you, that if you if you leave your mind to itself, it's producing psychologically unhealthy content. Right? So I think for some people, it's almost like self medicating that it's I think gaming is it can be a similar phenomenon you're you're on your phone can be a very positive phenomenon in that, if it's shifting your attention, we know that meditation does this. And meditation can be a really helpful positive way of doing it. I think many things that people choose to do with their mind and their their attention is a slightly easier version of positive distraction. Like it takes a long time to write in meditation. Yeah,

 

Kevin Rose  44:39  

but meditation is not redirection. It's actually training to have no thought versus playing a video game. It's just redirection of I am having an uncomfortable feeling. Why don't I go play? You know, ps4 right now?

 

Kelly McGonigal  44:54  

Yes. So okay. So okay, let me clarify and give some context for, for you and for others, so My primary scientific research for the past decade has actually been on meditation and the values of meditation. So I'm not trying to say that everybody should play a game on their phone. Because, you know, meditation is too hard. But um, there are many forms of meditation, some forms of meditation will teach you to try to have the state of open awareness that is a bit like no thought, or sort of a selfless awareness, many forms of meditation that are actually about choosing the focus of your attention. They are about pointing your mind in a particular direction. So it's more like you're filling your mind with what you want to contemplate, like a classic example would be a loving kindness meditation. So you're not trying to have no thoughts. You're saying the thoughts I choose to have right now are of thinking about the people I care about, and extending goodwill to them. Sure. So so many types of meditations are, you know, really characterized as contemplation that's good point. So meditation gives us many skills. We're working with our minds, but I think that one of the reasons we choose distraction is sometimes you just want to gape, a mental state that is causing suffering. So I think that's one reason for it. I don't think it's only the the sort of the story that many of us tell, which is about addiction, that you get that little dopamine rush when you watch a video or somebody likes content you share. I think that's part of it. But I think that that's only part of the story. I don't even know how did we get on this topic?

 

Kevin Rose  46:21  

The reason I was asking about the whole pie of your kind of like mood is that when I when I'm curious, like when you think about your day, yeah, and you know, movement being a big piece of that and in terms of improving your mood. I think about these other pieces that that you may want to get right as well. Like, like so many people have these like desire to have more physical things or a nicer car than the person next to them. And

 

Kelly McGonigal  46:48  

that's probably less likely to work, right?

 

Kevin Rose  46:50  

Yeah. So like, how do you think about your life in the holistic sense? Like what are the things outside of movement? Do you do to keep yourself mentally Like fed.

 

Kelly McGonigal  47:00  

Yeah, part of it is contemplation meditation. I think of movement as as movement gives me access to states like pure joy, exhilaration, courage in an embodied way. But meditation and contemplation gives me access to mental skills that I often rely on when I need to relate to life when it's difficult. And an but you know, really big part of the way I think about making choices to support my well being. One is focusing on contribution. And again, I you know, I don't know that this is for everyone. But when I focus on trying to be of some use in the world, that whatever I'm doing, you know, before I begin, and I think me, you know, may this help someone who's struggling right now, that that's my primary intention, I connect to it often, or I make choices about do I do this or do I do that? Like do I think this is a value to others as well as myself? That is hugely important for my own mental health. It's probably true for a lot of people. But again, it's kind of like, the way I said that music brings out the joy for me. Or for others, it's nature. I don't imply that everyone needs to, you know, organize their life around service to others, but I realized that was true for me. And that's a big part of how I, how I influence my mental state and my mood. And another is is food and what I eat. And again, I look, I'm certainly not gonna give nutritional advice to people. That's not my area of expertise. But I do believe you can pay attention to what you eat, and you will find that it's probably you know, different biology's different genetics, different diets, and people should probably pay attention to that.

 

Kevin Rose  48:38  

Yeah. What do you hope when when someone reads this book, what do they walk away with two things? Yeah, let's hear it.

 

Kelly McGonigal  48:45  

So one, which is what will probably surprise people is so I think about my collective body of work as essentially reminding people that human nature has two sides destructive and Positive. And I'm really motivated in life to help people choose the more constructive positive side of things, while acknowledging that the destructive side is just as much a part of who humans are. Like it would be naive to think we don't have poles to, to darkness and self defeating behaviors and all of that. So, all of my work has been how do you choose to move in the direction of what's good in human nature, given that reality? This is the first book I've written the first work I've done, where the more I explored it, the more optimistic I got about human nature. I'm not a naturally optimistic person. And so one of the things I hope people will get from this book is, you know, the stories that I share about people who, you know, experienced their own strength or found community and found courage and, you know, recovering from addiction and recovering from severe mental health challenges and all these amazing stories made me feel so good about human nature. I think this book may help people feel good about humanity. And at this time, like when I was writing it, and now I feel like that's a useful contribution to the world. Because it's a really easy time to be very cynical about human nature. So I hope that even if people think that like the science of the runner's high isn't interesting, or if people are listening, and they think I've already nailed it, I love to exercise. I don't need this book. If you're somebody who is interested in what's good in humanity, like our ability to cooperate, our ability to do really difficult things to indoor, to celebrate, to find joy, even in the midst of pain or trauma, and particularly, to do it together. Like if you're interested in the importance of community and coming together. This is a book that's going to add someone I talked to recently said it was the first fitness book that made her cry. So I hope that that like this is this is going to be moving thing in the sense of like, I hope that the stories in this book move people I was also moved by the science of it like that hope molecule thing I mentioned earlier, that to me, that moves me emotionally to think that we we as humans could have bodies that could support us in that way. The other thing is, I hope that it will be actually I should say three things for people who already movement is important part of our lives. This is the book that says, You aren't wrong, you aren't crazy. Movement is so powerful, that it's not selfish to prioritize it. Yes. And if you need to explain it to somebody else, give them this book. Yeah. So that's part of it. And then also, for people who haven't found their joy yet they have not fallen in love with a movement form. You know, I have stories in this book of people who didn't start until their 50s or 60s or later, and they suddenly discovered, like they had to get in a boat and row to figure it out. Man, they thought exercise was being on a treadmill at the gym. Or they needed to start power lifting and be like, Oh, this feels really different than when I'm lifting two pound dumbbells and like, you know, grew up exercise class. power lifting is what I was born to do, that there's probably a form of movement out there that will give you that will give you true joy. Even if you think you hate exercise.

 

Kevin Rose  52:10  

How many of these Did you try? Did you try power lifting or No,

 

Kelly McGonigal  52:13  

I haven't tried power lifting in this, like the competitive sense. But I've done I guess the beginners version of it like lifting with a, you know, a barbell. And I do love the way that that feels. I tried a lot of forms of movement that were new to me. But also, I've now spent almost my entire life. So if I started when I was seven, like 35 years of experimenting with movement forms ever done an acro yoga? Oh, yes. That's I actually I'm one of the original inventors of partner yoga. Yes, my husband I used to travel around and lead workshops on it. I kind of left that part behind.

 

Kevin Rose  52:47  

But I wanted to get into it with my wife because I had Tim Ferriss over here hanging out with us for a few weeks ago, and he was had his girlfriend here and they were doing like they're really into it. Yeah, apparently there's like the biggest acroyoga conference out here in Portland. I did not. So they went to the conference and everything and it's nuts. Yeah, it's a really cool one. Yeah, it was it is.

 

Kelly McGonigal  53:08  

I mean, one of the most common forms of acro Yoga is flying. And it's like, you literally can feel like you're flying, you're with your partners assist. Yeah, but so I figured out what I need to do on a daily basis, that reliably gives me courage and joy, and it's dancing yoga, and, and something that is harder than my comfort zone. And that's the thing that often varies, whether it's boxing or whether it's high intensity interval training, it is important for me to do something harder than my body would normally consent to, but to do it with an amazing soundtrack.

 

Kevin Rose  53:39  

I wanted to touch briefly on your previous book, the upside of stress, because that was what how I first learned of your work was listening to that audio book, stress so many people, where does it stand today? Actually, where does the science stand today versus when you wrote this many years ago, which is definitely I think we mentioned before the podcast began ahead of the time. Yeah, talking about that, that book and and what what people can learn from

 

Kelly McGonigal  54:05  

like a A Brief History of the science of stress in two minutes. So the initial science of stress was basically started by Han salya, where he defined stress as what happens in your brain and body anytime you are required to adapt to life. So that's basically everything you experience in life. And he decided it was toxic that it depleted your systems and eventually would kill you based on animal research. He did never did any work with humans. But basically, he sold the story that life is stress. And distress is what happens in your brain and body when you have to engage with life. And it's toxic. And it's sort of the idea that basically, life wears you out. And you should try to somehow reduce or avoid stress. And by the end of his career, he was like, Oh, yeah, I guess that's not possible. We have to find ways to embrace and make stress work for us. But by that point, he'd sold the story so powerfully that people were like, We don't want That. So that's the initial science of stress, and then some some good decades of research that have focused on the most harmful effects of producing long term chronic or traumatic stress. And I think most people know that research. So I'm not going to review it other than to say, Yeah, it's true. There's a lot of research that chronic severe traumatic stress can do all sorts of bad things to your brain and your health and your happiness, that science is real. And I'm not disputing that science. And also, over the past two decades or so, there's two areas of science that are revolutionary. One is the realization that Honto he was totally wrong about the generalized stress response, and that human beings have a repertoire of stress responses. It's not just fight or flight. And your brain and body has this whole repertoire of responses for dealing with challenges in life, and many of them are healthy and very helpful. biochemically they don't look like fight or flight. And that part of you know, What we can do to avoid some of the negative consequences of stress is really train up that full repertoire, so that you don't have a fight or flight response to every experience of stress. But you also have a tendon befriend response, and a challenge response and a growth response, all of which are distinct biologically and psychologically. And can can either reduce or completely transform these negative effects of stress. So that's part of it. And then the other side of the science that is so fascinating, is that how you think about stress seems to play a very big role in how stress affects you. And that even though both things are true, that stress is bad for you. There's also research showing stress has an upside that it can bring out the best in you that we need stress to learn and grow. Like that is actually a definition of all living things without some form of stress. You just die, you don't learn you don't grow. That stress can help us connect with others and strengthen relationships doesn't always but it Can, stress can give us energy stress can fuel performance. So, there's this paradox of stress. And it turns out that in moments of stress or when life is very stressful, being able to remember the upside makes you much better at dealing with stress than focusing on the downside. So even though both are true, one of the researchers Allie crumb calls it the effect you expect is the effect you get. If in the moment of stress, you focus on how stress can impair your performance, or can be destructive to relationships, or can eventually you know, give you a heart attack or whatever your worst fear is, you are more likely to have a stress response that is unhealthy and is unhelpful. And if you in moments of stress, you say okay, this is stressful. My stress response is giving me energy. Stress can be a reminder to connect with others or stress as part of how I learn and grow. You are more likely to have a biological response. That helps you do those things that will help you rise to the challenge that will help you connect that will literally help your brain learn from the experience. And you can reduce some of the negative consequences that we usually associate with chronic or severe stress. So, you know, when I wrote the book

 

Kelly McGonigal  58:17  

I think this was such a new idea that people were afraid that embracing stress was like somehow denying the reality of suffering in the world. I don't know if people had this really like But wait, but it really is bad for you and what? What damage will we do if we tell people it's okay to have a stressful life I even got in the book. I don't know if you remember this. I wrote about a letter I got from a psychiatrist who was like, what you're doing is so dangerous. Literally, the quote from the letter was, you are telling people it is okay to have a stressful life. And it is not. And I just thought to myself, you know, I'm a psychologist, the reality of people's lives. It's often difficult, you cannot avoid stress, no matter how good you are at life, you are not escaping life without stress, or loss or pain and challenge. And I decided, like, I'm, I'm going to be brave, and I'm going to tell people, it's okay to have a stressful life, even though we've been so brainwashed to believe that there's a version of your life that if you just did it, right, you could have everything you want, and no stress.

 

Kevin Rose  59:24  

So when I something I've been practicing lately, over the last probably six months or so, is that when something stressful really comes up, and it hits me, if I surrender to it, and just embrace it for what it is, and kind of name it in this, let it flow with and kind of threw me in some sense, it inherently becomes less stressful.

 

Kelly McGonigal  59:45  

Yes, well, that is actually that's like a rule of inner experiences. My first book was actually about chronic pain, and sort of how I first learned this, this big life lesson that if you resist something, it almost always makes it worse, right? If you accept it, it almost always becomes more workable. I learned it through physical pain first because I have chronic pain. And the more you try to get rid of your pain, if you have chronic pain, the worst situations you end up with, like addicted to drugs that can destroy your life or unable to leave your house because you don't want to do something that's going to make the pain worse. And yet, if you make room for it, you acknowledge the reality of it. And you figure out what's possible in this moment, given what's real and true. So many possibilities open up and there's room for skillful action and agency and, and just, you know, living life well. And what's so funny is because I was so taught to view stress as the source of everything wrong, like when you're a health psychologist, stress is the ultimate enemy. You always get to, like, why is poverty bad? It's the stress. Why is discrimination bad? It's the stress. Why is losing your job bad? It's the stress like everything gets reduced to stress as the reason that that things are bad for your health, that I refuse to believe that this thing that you pointed out that when you accept something, you are a pragmatic realist, right? You surrender to it. There's so much more freedom there. I refused to accept it for stress until the science started screaming at me. This these new findings, the studies I was coming across it said, If you believe stress is really bad for you, it's so much amplifies the negative effects of stress. I was like, that's what I know to be true about pain. That's what I know to be true about emotions. And I just had not yet been willing to realize stress. It's it's a mind body experience. Of course, it's going to be true for stress, too.

 

Kevin Rose  1:01:43  

Yeah. It's so crazy how we could be sitting here and be presented with the same object and something could be recalled from childhood for you. That is it for me and it invokes this like series of chemicals and emotions and feelings and it's like the same inanimate Men like thing just sitting there. But it's all in our head,

 

like everything,

 

Kelly McGonigal  1:02:04  

everything is so powerful. And the other thing I found when this book came out initially, people were like, That can't be right. Stress is really bad for you, it can't be true that how you think about stress could help you have a healthier response to stress. And that if you believe stress is bad for you, you already believed the concept because all stress is, is it's an interpretation that your mind makes about life that produces changes in every system of your body, right? You are, if you believe stress is bad for you, you're literally saying I believe that what I think can have an impact on my body. So you already know those are the the essential tenet of the opposite of stress. And it's you know, so but it's, I mean, you know, stress is a tricky one, we our whole society, we have turned stress into like the the essential enemy, everything gets reduced to stress if you want to sell something every day or it gets a centralized distress. And so if you want sell something you sell it by reducing stress or if you want to demonize something you say it's bad because it increases. Yeah,

 

Kevin Rose  1:03:05  

well, it feels like it's like everything is like how do we push this away? How do we get rid of it? How do we, and that's like, like you said, like it's never life is is too dynamic to ever know just solve for

 

Kelly McGonigal  1:03:18  

you think about, again, the definition of stress, the definition I use is, it's what arises in your brain and in your body, when something that you care about is at stake. And so the only way to eliminate stress is to find a way to stop caring, or to stop believing that there's anything you can do to affect change in your life or in the world. And if you could completely stop caring, or you could convince yourself there's nothing that you could ever do to make a difference, then you will have no stress and in fact, one of the key hallmarks of depression is often a reduced physiological stress response. If you don't believe that there's anything you can do to make life better. You have physiological stress, I mean, people call everything stress, you might say you're more stressed. But actually, if you're looking at stresses, changes in your brain and body, there's an element of hope embodied in stress, because every stress response, even if you're temporarily freezing to try to figure out what your options are, it's all still a response that says, There's something I can do until you get to the there are actually a few stress responses called flag and faint, where basically you're preparing to be mauled by a predator,

 

Kevin Rose  1:04:29  

because I like what those goats do.

 

Kelly McGonigal  1:04:31  

Well, first, they'll fake to try to look less interesting.

 

Kevin Rose  1:04:34  

Is that with the goat? Yeah, you seen that? You've seen the videos of the girl? Yeah.

 

Kelly McGonigal  1:04:38  

Yeah, because a lot of predators really respond to moving objects so that you see a lot of freezing. But there's an end stage of the stress response cycle that's related to real severe threat, where you start to dissociate, because your mind doesn't want to be present for something as horrible say, being being mauled to death. And often when you look at people who've experienced severe trauma or are in a state of severe depression, their stress physiology actually it most closely resembles that state where it's like nothing good as possible. There's nothing I can do. And so I'm going to dissociate. And it actually it doesn't look anything physiologically, like what we usually think of when we say that we're stressed. And often when people are in treatment or therapy to try to to reverse that cycle. It's actually about getting back to something that looks like a fight or flight response. Yeah.

 

Kevin Rose  1:05:30  

What are your thoughts on psychedelics?

 

Kelly McGonigal  1:05:32  

You know, I haven't engaged with them. I loved Michael Pollan's book. And I know that the research is, is actually really supportive of the idea that they can alter your brain in ways that make a lot of positive things accessible. So I mentioned why people love being outdoors. When you're outdoors, it reorganizes the default state of the mind in a way that's really similar to what you see when people take psychedelics and have a positive experience and go live. The things that I'm interested in are like low dose, conservative ways of experiencing things that might be possible faster and in a more dramatic way with something like psychedelics, and I am a really risk averse person. So I've like stayed in that world of, Oh, you know, I'll go for a walk or I'll listen to music. I think that psychedelics are often an extreme version. And I hope that we develop some kind of industry or access, that it doesn't feel as risky as it did. Like when I was growing up, all my friends were doing rape drugs, it's a really risk, you don't know what you're taking. And I feel like, I believe enough in the benefits from the research that I think it's something that you could really encourage people to do. But I like the idea of taking a lot of the risk out of it, where you don't necessarily know what your dealer is giving you you're doing it on your own like be like, hey, let's see what happens. Yeah,

 

Kevin Rose  1:06:52  

standardized in like full care with like,

 

Kelly McGonigal  1:06:56  

yeah, I mean, I know you've had some experience with this. So

 

Kevin Rose  1:06:58  

yeah, I mean, it's it's definitely But I like you. I was I was very skeptical. I haven't gone and done iwoca or anything. I think that's the most hard.

 

Kelly McGonigal  1:07:07  

I think that's the ultra marathon version of it. It's like, you know, yeah, it could be deeply unpleasant and life transforming.

 

Kevin Rose  1:07:13  

Yeah, I've done the marathon version, but not the

 

baby steps. So where can people find you when when can they pick up the joy of movement? I you can pre order it now as I was on Amazon.

 

Kelly McGonigal  1:07:24  

Yeah. So the joy of movement is released on New Year's Eve. 2019. So it's here for you in 2020. And the best, the best way to find me is Kelly McGonigal calm?

 

Kevin Rose  1:07:35  

Do you tweet? Do you Instagram you

 

Kelly McGonigal  1:07:37  

know, I am on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. I do feel like Twitter is a little bit more of a cesspool than it used to be, but I'm hanging on because I've had such good times on Twitter, so I'm still there. And an Insta and Facebook.

 

Kevin Rose  1:07:51  

Awesome. Well, Kelly, thank you so much for being on the show. Thank you for having me. Alright, that's it for this episode. In a quick reminder, to check out the foundation podcast head on over to Foundation, podcast dot info. It'll just be one tap to subscribe. Take care