Ayelet Waldman: Microdose, Maybe? — Transcript
Ben: Welcome to Simplify! I’m Ben Schuman-Stoler
Caitlin: And I’m Caitlin Schiller
Ben: So today we have… Ayelet Waldman. Did I say that right?
Caitlin: You did! Perfect.
Caitlin: Ayelet. It’s a lovely name.
Ben: It is a good name. And why did you want to talk to her?
Caitlin: So, I wanted to talk to Ayelet Waldman because, well, there are a couple of reasons. I heard about her new book that she released just a few months ago called A Really Good Day and it’s about how microdosing LSD improved her mood, her marriage, her life and her work, too. And I also wanted to talk to her because we know that Michael Pollan has a book on LSD. We know that dudes write books about drugs sometimes. And I thought it was really interesting that this woman who is an author, a New York Times bestselling author, she writes fiction, she was a federal public defender, she was a professor at the UC Berkeley Law School… She’s not the type of profile that I would first imagine to jump to microdosing LSD and doing an experiment on herself to figure out how it affected and improved her life, and I just loved the combination of person and story so I wanted to hear directly from her how that was for her.
Ben: And so, what stood out? You guys covered a large range of topics but what do you remember?
Caitlin: The thing that really stood out for me is that, people take psychedelic medications every day. People take antidepressants, mood stabilizers, without really investigating the repercussions for themselves. And they don’t because they’re prescribed by a doctor. That’s really not that different from taking LSD, or experimenting with psilocybin. It’s just that one comes from a doctor’s prescription and one does not but we don’t know that much more about SSRIs than we do about LSD.
Ben: What’s an SSRI?
Caitlin: So, an SSRI is Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitor and it’s used to treat major depression. So anyway, what stood out to me is that we don’t know that much more about SSRIs that doctors prescribe for us than we do about psychedelic medications like LSD and psilocybin and that kinda fascinated me.
Ben: So, we have two episodes this season about drugs, so are you interested in this right now or…
Caitlin: [laughs] I’m especially interested in enhancing my experiences. Am I interested in this right now? I guess I am, to be honest. We live in Berlin, right? And I took a psychedelic breathing course earlier this year which was really interesting and that made me curious about other psychedelic stuff and I had friends who had tried mushrooms for the first time a couple of years ago and had these really interesting, I dunno, insights about life? And I’ve been just sort of intrigued by all of it. Also that marijuana was recently legalized in Canada was in the news so yeah, I guess I have sort of been interested in these things but they’ve also sort of been top of mind because of situational stuff. Not because I’m going to go home and take a bunch of mushrooms tonight.
Ben: Macrodose! No, but I think you told me the other day, there’s also something about the effectiveness, right? Now that more and more research is being done, we actually have hard numbers. That what did you say, that LSD use is associated with…
Caitlin: … with a 36% drop in suicidality among people who are suicidal. That is vast. 36%. Do you know how many people that actually would be in a year? That’s kind of amazing.
Ben: And for me, I really liked the story, like you said, the personal story of Ayelet Waldman.
Caitlin: Yeah, so let’s roll the tape. She’s really funny and tells a great story, so let’s hear it. We’ll be back at the end with a book list in the section called The Bookend. If you’re unfamiliar with it, Ben and I will make some recommendations and we’ll be back to talk to you down from this psychedelic interview.
Ben: Alright, see you in a bit.
Caitlin Interviews Ayelet Waldman
Caitlin: Would you mind introducing yourself the way that you like to be introduced?
Ayelet Waldman: My name is Ayelet Waldman. I’m a writer and a former criminal defense attorney, and I live in Berkeley, California with my husband and my four kids.
Caitlin: Very cool. And you recently tried––and maybe not so recently, but recently enough––tried an experiment with microdosing. What is microdosing? Do you have a quick explainer that you like to give people?
Ayelet: Yeah, I have a sort of one-line. Microdosing is taking a small amount of a substance; amount so small as to be sub-perceptual but large enough to show metabolic effects in order to achieve some goal. So in my case, I was microdosing with a psychedelic drug LSD in order to combat depression and suicidality.
Caitlin: Right, and you wrote about his experience in your book A Really Good Day. And you’re pretty open about really everything in this book. And you started out as a skeptic, not just a little bit of a skeptic, but someone with a substantial amount of, it seemed to me, fear also, when it came to psychedelics. What were you worried about before you or when you first started to think about trying this out?
Ayelet: You know, it wasn’t necessarily that I was a skeptic as much as I was terrified. You know, I’m not old enough to have experienced the psychedelic boom of the 60s and 70s. I mean, you know, I think the first time I tried marijuana was well into the 80s. And those drugs just weren’t really that popular when I was younger.
And what I knew about them, I knew from the media scaremongering. And even though I’d worked in the fields of drug policy reform, I hadn’t managed to shed that anxiety about psychedelic drugs. And as someone with a history of mental illness, it seemed to me that if anybody was likely to experience a terrifying bad trip that would cause long-term psychiatric consequences, it was going to be me. And I was just afraid. You know, I’ve had a bad trip at, you know, a pilates class. I was really scared about what was gonna happen to me.
Caitlin: I’ve had a bad trip in a hot yoga class. I totally get it.
Ayelet: There you go. It’s horrifying: you feel like you can’t get out, it’s never going to end––that would seem like exactly what was going to happen to me, but worse because it was all in my head.
Caitlin: And there was a lot of stuff going on for you that even got you to this point. What was it that made you decide to jump in and try microdosing? What got you to the point? And what were you hoping to achieve?
Ayelet: Desperation got me to the point. I was just at my wit’s end. I had tried everything that I could think of to make myself feel better. I’ve been struggling with cyclical moods probably my whole life, but really noticeably since I started having children. And that kind of hormonal ebb and flow is very hard on someone who’s reactive. And my brain is reactive to whatever is in its environment. So that’s the hormones in my body—it’s reactive to that. If it’s external stress—it’s reactive to that.
And I was going through the period of perimenopause, which is that multi-year period right before you stop getting your period. And my brain was just not tolerating it very well. I had a very clear effective system to handle my mood cycling up until that period. I was diagnosed with something called PMDD, which is premenstrual dysphoric disorder. And it’s basically PMS on steroids.
But there’s a very clear treatment modality. I would keep very close track of my cycles, and then a week before I expected my period, when my mood would begin to drop, I would take a week of SSRIs––in my case I took the SSRI Celexa––and that would eliminate that period of anxiety, anger, depression that I had been experiencing probably my whole life. And it was really effective, and it was really wonderful, and I functioned very, very well for a very long time.
But then, the thing about perimenopause is that you can no longer predict your periods with any kind of accuracy. Because sometimes you have two periods in a single month, sometimes there are 60 days between periods. And without being able to do that fine-point prediction, I couldn’t use this treatment system because I never knew when to start taking the Celexa.
And things got worse, and worse, and worse, and worse, and worse. And eventually I found myself staring at the contents of my medicine cabinet, wondering what would kill me most effectively. And that’s a terrible place to be, especially if you’re a parent. And I tried every other kind of solution—none of them worked, or if they alleviated the depression, they did it at such a high cost from the point of view of side effects that it wasn’t worth, you know, it didn’t equalize.
And so I’d been reading a ton about microdosing, I’d been reading a ton about the psychiatric benefits of various psychedelics. The research coming out of places like NYU, Johns Hopkins, Imperial College in London was incredibly compelling about the utility of psychedelic drugs, specifically psilocybin, but also LSD in alleviating treatment-resistant depression. That I felt like I wanted to try it, but I was too scared to take a big dose. I was too scared to do one of those big on trips.
So I thought, “Well, microdosing—that’s more my speed.” So I decided to give it a 30-day trial run, and see if it helped.
Caitlin: Jump forward to the moment when you first tried it. What did it feel like? What was going through your head when you microdosed? And what did that look like exactly: was it was it a strip or was it a pill?
Ayelet: Well, it can look like a lot of things. Some people take, you know, a tab of acid, like a little piece of paper usually printed with some cartoon character and they cut it up into ten little pieces. But in my case, I had received a bottle of diluted LSD. It’s usually diluted in distilled water. So it was like a little cobalt blue bottle and I took two drops under my tongue.
…and then nothing happened, at all. So I’m sitting there and I thought, “Well, I think I’m just going to go to work.” So I sat down at my desk and started working, and working went well, and you know, it was fine. And then I looked up and I looked out the window, and the dogwood tree which was then in my yard had burst into bloom. And I had this thought which wasn’t like, “Oh the flowers were taking flight from the tree.” It was just, “Oh, look how beautiful the dogwood is in bloom.”
And it was an astonishing thought because up until that moment and for probably close to a year previous, I had been all but anhedonic. If I understood and took in something beautiful, I wasn’t able to appreciate it. But mostly I didn’t even see it. I was so focused on my own misery that I couldn’t appreciate the beauty around me. And that moment of understanding, appreciating and taking pleasure in something beautiful was revelatory and revolutionary. And that’s when I knew that this drug, this tiny quantity of a drug, could change my life.
Ok, you know what I love to do before I try something new? Like a typical nerd, I research. And I usually do it by reading books. But, if you’ve got a broad topic, like say, microdosing, and you’re not sure where to even start with it, there’s an app for that. It’s Blinkist. So Blinkist is an app that takes the key ideas from today’s bestselling nonfiction books and transforms them into this super-condensed, audio or text piece that takes just 15 minutes to finish. Blinkist is pretty awesome because it gets you familiarized with a high dose of expert knowledge, super fast, so you can hit the ground running. So, start your newest research project by giving Blinkist a try. Ben and I made it easy, and free, so just go to Blinkist.com/friends, type in the voucher code micro, and you will get 14 days of Blinkist, for free. Ok, now. Back to my talk with Ayelet Waldman.
Caitlin: I want to back up just a little bit. I got a slight bit ahead of myself. I was wondering, if you started out so fearful—you did a lot of research, which is very clear from your book, it’s just chock-full of it—what was it that helped you feel safe enough to try this experiment?
Ayelet: Well, you know, I’m a person who believes in science. And I am a person who believes in the, you know, established scientific method. And there has been a tremendous amount of research done on LSD and psilocybin. And we also have this vast number, something like I think—I can’t remember the number—but I feel like it’s something like 20 million people in the United States have taken a psychedelic drug. So we know that we have an anecdotal sense of the long-term effects of these drugs—at least in periodic large doses. So it was easy enough to assuage my fears.
I mean, you know, what I always find so ironic is that so many people take psychiatric medication: they take SSRIs, they take other kinds of antidepressants, they take a mood stabilizer without any research being done. You know without doing their own personal investigation of the science. And if you start to dig into the science, we really don’t know that much more about SSRIs than we know about psychedelics.
I mean we have these studies that have been done but there is not the same kind of long-term study that there are of other drugs. I mean we’re only getting into the point now where we can see people who’ve taken them for 20-30 years, when we don’t even really understand the mechanism. We think we understand the mechanism, but when I talked to neuroscientists, our understanding of how the brain works changes all the time. And what we believe to be true right now may be completely different than what we believe to be true in 10 years.
Caitlin: It’s amazing to me how very maligned psychedelic drugs are. Actually you cite a journal of—I think it was Journal of Psychopharmacology—study that proved that using psychedelics could produce something crazy, like a 19% reduced likelihood of psychological distress, and I think something like a 36% reduced likelihood of suicide in people who used it and that seems, that’s remarkable to me!
Ayelet: I mean, so again, one study doesn’t necessarily prove anything, it has to be replicated. But there is compelling evidence that psychedelics drugs are inversely correlated with suicidality, meaning that similarly situated individuals who take psychedelics are less likely to experience suicidal ideation or to attempt suicide than similarly situated adults who don’t. I mean I would like to see a lot more research to verify those results, but that’s a pretty compelling result. And you know, the research coming now out of Johns Hopkins, and UCLA Harbor, and NYU bolsters that, that these one or two psychedelic experiences seem incredibly effective at alleviating the terror and depression experienced by individuals specifically confronting the inevitability of their deaths due to fatal diseases. And that’s astonishing.
The idea, that we have a medication that seems to have that effect, and you know, every pharmaceutical company in the world isn’t figuring out a way to monetize it, is remarkable to me.
Caitlin: Yeah, and me too. There is a researcher with whom you had a lot of contact, who’s done a lot of work in the field of psychedelic research. That’s James Fadiman. It sounded kind of like he was your psychedelic sherpa in a way.
Ayelet: Jim is one of the most warm and loving people I’ve ever met. And he really helped me in this. So he was a psychedelic researcher in the 60s doing the kind of research they did back then, which was studying the drug. He was specifically interested in creativity. He was working in Stanford. He was bringing in all of these computer scientists, and academics, and nascent entrepreneurs into his lab and having them work on intractable problems under the influence of LSD, and showing that many of them had insights into problems that have been resistant to them before. But under the influence of the LSD, they had these insights that then led to a solution to this problem they’ve been working on for however long.
But so he was doing that research in the 60s, and then continuing to work in all sorts of different other therapeutic fields. And then he started collecting reports of individuals who had microdosed. And hundreds of reports and even more since my book came out. And, it is research, right? But it’s a particular kind of research because you don’t know what people are taking, you’re relying on their self reports. The drugs are illegally obtained by and large, so it’s very… it’s very hard to know what you’re taking if you get a drug illegally, unless it’s, you know, a mushroom that you grow yourself. But even then, the quantity of the drug is harder to determine.
But he’s been collecting, and digesting, and assimilating these reports for a while, and has made some really interesting conclusions, and is calling for more research—which I think is the most responsible way to approach this. You take all this out anecdotal evidence, and you assimilate it, and you document it. And then you say, “OK. Here’s here’s an opportunity for more traditional scientific research to either prove or disprove what we seem to have found from this anecdotal evidence.”
Caitlin: It’s good he was out there with the right approach for you to feel like you could do this.
Ayelet: I would never have done it if he hadn’t talked to me. I mean, I don’t think I would have felt safe enough. I mean and he never encouraged me to do it, let me be clear. He just said, “This is what I found. This is what people are reporting. This is what you should look at to determine the safety and efficacy. And you know, I’m here if you have any more questions.”
Caitlin: When you decided to give this a try, to give microdosing a try, you were at a place of desperation. What specific areas were you hoping to see improvements in other than obviously just the sort of overarching, “am I going to make it through the day?” What were you hoping would happen to your work, for example, and what did happen?
Ayelet: Well, all I wanted was not to kill myself. That was really what I wanted. But there’s a reason people seek out microdosing, and it’s a kind of the same reason that a lot of people take Adderall, right? They want to work better, they want to be more focused. And for me, it was a side effect because I was really really focused on my depression, but on the other hand, it was remarkable to me how readily I fell into that state of flow.
So flow is this kind of magical experience when you’re creating—in my case writing—where your ideas are coming out quickly, where you’re putting them down on paper. It almost feels like you’re channeling something, and of course, you’re not, you’re channeling your own mind, you’re channeling your own thoughts, you’re channeling your own sort of even subconscious in that sense. But I had experienced it before but only at certain times under certain circumstances. And while microdosing I seemed better able to just drop into it.
So I would look up and, you know, four hours had gone by, and I had been working with the kind of incredible focus, and intensity, and pleasure that was unique in my experience. Or all but unique, you know, I’d had it a few times before but only say at a writer’s colony, when I didn’t have to think about my family, and I was just focused on a novel, and the novel was going really well. And I had never sort of had that experience sitting at my desk, you know, next to my kitchen. And that was really exciting.
You know, I wrote the first draft of A Really Good Day in that month. An entire first draft of a book. And that book was a really complicated book. I often say that “it’s the book that LSD wrote,” not because it’s trippy, but because what psychedelics like LSD seem to do—and again, we’re just learning what they do—but they seem to do is allow different parts of your brain, that don’t normally communicate, to communicate in unusual and novel ways.
And this is a book about different things, all of which integrate in unusual and novel ways. So for example, it’s a book about microdosing experiment, but it’s also a book about the history of psychedelic drugs. It’s about the neurochemistry of psychedelic drugs. It’s about the drug war. It’s about my marriage. It’s about my mental health, and my family’s history. And all of those things, you know, they seem very disparate, they seem unrelated, but I think that they braid together to create a really interesting whole, which is not a surprise if you think about the way LSD functions in your brain. But the fact that I wrote the first draft in a month—that’s amazing. And you know, how much do I wish I could do that now with a novel that’s been kicking my ass for the past three years.
Caitlin: Oh man. I can only imagine. I did notice exactly that actually. I noticed that the ways in which the disparate pieces of the story where weaved together, it was really different but really comfortable. The parts in which you verge into speaking about the war on drugs, and then just back to your marriage, and then all of a sudden I’ll have an update on, you know, how you felt that morning. It was all very organic, and felt really good, and it kept me interested in the story. But at no point did I feel like anything didn’t belong there.
Ayelet: Oh, I’m so glad. That makes me feel really happy.
Caitlin: I wanted to ask you… People, when they take macrodoses of psychedelics, they tend to have these huge realizations about how they relate to the world, etc. A friend of mine said that her takeaways “that there’s a whole universe inside all of us,” which sounds like something on someone on psychedelic drugs would say. Did you have a macro…?
Ayelet: No, I did not, I didn’t have that. I mean and I always think that those like, you know, those reports of psychedelic insights sounds so trite. But if you actually think about them, they are deeply profound. They just sound trite because they seem so familiar. But on the other hand to really have some deep understanding of your place in the universe is a profound idea and experience. I did not have that, but what I can say is that I had perspective. I was able to look at my life with a tiny bit of remove. I was able to have a little distance from the emotional experience that I was feeling in my body at any given moment.
So the way that I had always felt about my emotions and my reactions was that everything was very conflated. So there would be a stimulus, say, let’s take Twitter. There’ll be stimulus—a tweet that made me angry. There would be an emotion—anger. And they would be an action say, lashing out on Twitter. But all of those things would happen almost simultaneously. So that before I knew it, I had read something, gotten pissed off, lashed out in a way that was stupid, you know, impulsive, problematic. All that happened right away and led to lots of problems in my life.
Now, what seemed to happen while I was microdosing was a kind of slowing down of that experience. So there would be the stimulus. I would read, say, the tweet, and then I would have the reaction. And then I would think to myself, “Oh, you’re feeling angry. That made you upset. Is it anger or is that the secondary emotion? Is there something more?” Oh, you feel judged. You feel afraid. You feel embarrassed. Whatever if you feel, shame, one of those primary emotions that actually that anger just tends to be sort of a front for.
And then I would have the impulse to, say, reply with the angry tweet, but I would have a moment where I would say, “What’s going to result from that? Is that a wise thing to do?” And so to the external I, everything is happening at the same time. But internally there was room, and that meant there was room for me to say, “You don’t need to send that tweet.” That is revolutionary for someone like me, who moves so quickly and whose impulses have gotten her into so much trouble. Just having that kind of space.
And just being able to like remove yourself a tiny bit from your emotions, and interrogate that to sort of think about the physical sensations is profound in terms of controlling your behavior, the behavior that is distressing to you.
It makes the experience of being buffeted by emotion really different. It’s the difference between acting on emotions in ways that ultimately caused you to feel regret and shame, and not acting on the emotion. Because the truth is, you know, the emotion doesn’t go away. You just understand it as an emotion rather than you know feeling it as some profound truth that you need to act on immediately. And that’s what I learned during that period of microdosing.
Caitlin: That sounds like a really powerful lesson. It also strikes me that it sounds like what maybe one of the things that the experience with microdosing did for you is almost give you an ability to parent yourself, to coach yourself through those tough moments.
Ayelet: Right? I mean, yeah, to be your own coach, to be your own, I guess, parent is a good way to describe it. You know, it’s interesting because insight doesn’t equal—I don’t know what the word you’d use because “cure” isn’t the right one. But so insight doesn’t alleviate distress. You know, you could spend your whole life in therapy. You know, it can be really interesting to spend five days a week in psychoanalysis and gain profound insight into the source of your distress. But it doesn’t make you better. So insight is just the very first step.
What ultimately, I think, individuals who suffer from, you know, that vast category we call mental illness, what you need to be able to do is translate that insight into a change in behavior. Because if you can look at a mood, like a period of depression, and when you’re in it, you feel like you’ll always be in it, and the only solution to not be in it anymore is to kill yourself, say.
If you can look at a period of depression and you could say, “This is a period of depression. Here are all the ways that my body experiences depression. Here are the thoughts that I have.” It doesn’t make those thoughts go away. It doesn’t make your body stop feeling it, but it allows you to go through that period and know that there will be something on the other end. That even the most intractable depression will end. And it’s the hopelessness, I think, and the feeling that you will you have always been and will always be depressed, which is not a true thought, but it’s that thought that at least in my case and I think in others leads to the desire to commit suicide.
Caitlin: And that sounds like a really good thing. I know you have a hard stop in about four minutes. There are two things I want to ask you. One’s really easy, one’s little bit harder. We’ll start with the hard one. Is that cool?
Caitlin: Awesome. The hard one and if you don’t feel like you have a way to answer this that’s also totally fine. But if there’s something that you wish people knew about psychedelics, if there’s just one thing you want them to take away from having listened to this, what would you say?
Ayelet: Well, it’s not going to be what you think. I mean, the one thing that I want people to know is that anybody who tells you that a medication practice is all good is a charlatan. There are risks associated with these drugs. For example, there is some very preliminary, probably not particularly trustworthy research out of Poland that seems to show there could be some heart damage associated with frequent use of psychedelic drugs. That research has to be done in a way that you know, 10 rats does not prove a problem. We need to have a larger study. We need to use animals perhaps, or models that more closely resemble humans. We need to replicate that study in a way that will give us a more accurate answer.
But there’s a possibility that that’s true. There’s a possibility that long-term use of psychedelics could be damaging. And I want people to understand that just because the research doesn’t show now any long-term detrimental effects doesn’t mean that it’s not going to. So everybody needs to think very hard about risk and reward before embarking on any kind of adventure like this.
The other thing I want to say—and this is mostly for the kids out there—do not put anything in your mouth that you haven’t tested yourself. Because what is available illegally is very rarely what you think you’re getting. Somebody tells you you’re taking Molly: you’re not getting MDMA, you’re taking most likely some kind of synthetic cannabinoid that might kill you. You don’t know. So test your drugs. Whatever you put in your mouth, make sure that you’ve tested it. And you can buy your tests on amazon.com, by the way. So now the easy question?
Caitlin: Amazing. Well, I hope you get a cut for that Amazon plug too. The easy question is, you’re a writer and are around books a lot. I just always like to ask people what they’ve read lately that they’ve enjoyed.
Ayelet: Oh great. I have some amazing books that I have enjoyed recently. First of all, If you haven’t read Jane Gardam. I am so jealous of you, because you have just the most delightful experience in store. Old Filth is a marvelous book. Everybody should read it right away. If you haven’t read Lore Segal, she is a tremendously underappreciated magnificent writer, who you should also read right away. And the last plug I’ll give is for a book that just won the Pulitzer Prize, Less by Andrew Sean Greer. And if you want to not be depressed, this wonderful delightful beautifully-written, hilariously funny book that is just scrumptious.
Caitlin: I do not hear that word enough. Thanks so much!
Ayelet: All right. Well, thank you so much. Nice talking to you.
Ben: Welcome to The Bookend, where we end with books!
Caitlin: Hooray! Books! Alright, so.
Ben: So, is there anything that you want to nail down from the interview? Anything that people should really walk away with?
Caitlin: Well, apart from what we talked about in the introduction, the thing that was interesting to me anyway about Ayelet’s experience is how microdosing allowed her that little bit of space, that buffer time, between having an emotional experience and reacting and that’s really what unlocked everything for her. For some people, meditation does that. For others, microdosing LSD does that. For still others, I’m sure there are other things. Like, what do you do to make sure that you don’t fly off the handle?
Ben: I had a coach, this comes from Viktor Frankl, one way to think about this is Frankl’s, it’s called The Pause. There’s a stimulus and then there’s your reaction. There’s always a space in between and that’s how you decide how you’re going to respond. And you own that space, you own your response. And for me it was really just drawing it on paper, because my coach kept being like no no no, look! There’s a stimulus, then there’s a break, and then there’s whatever happens after that, so just give yourself that break. Just let it sit there for a second and then you can decide your reaction. I mean, and then you practice it. I’m still not great at it, but for me it was seeing it on paper, being like a straight line that stops, then there’s a little break where the pause is, and then it keeps going and there’s a reaction, and then you see it on paper and for that, it clicked.
Caitlin: That’s really cool. Drawing it out always helps. Big fan of that. Big fan of diagrams. Pen and paper. Who knew?
Ben: Let’s get into books. You got books? I got books. You start.
Caitlin: I will. Alright. The first book was actually written by another guest on this season of Simplify. It’s called Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. It’s by none other than Dan Harris. Who is Dan Harris? Dan Harris is so many things that it’s hard to list them all off. He’s a correspondent for ABC News, he’s been an anchor for Nightline, he’s a co-anchor for the weekend edition of Good Morning America but most recently, he’s been a meditation evangelist. And he got into meditation because he had a little bit of a breakdown on TV which he’s totally comfortable talking about. It’s what his meditation empire is based on. And he didn’t really want to meditate because he was again, skeptical of it, hence this title. He wrote a book called 10% Happier which is about that journey into meditation and how it helped him focus, get more in the flow more often the way that Ayelet talks about and do better work and just have a better life and better relationships. It also helps him achieve that emotional space. But he wrote this book most recently called Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics and it’s a bunch of really practical exercises that you can do, if you’re a person who is a fidgety skeptic. You don’t necessarily identify as a meditator. There is a thing that he refers to as free-range meditation which is just ways to make things that you do in your everyday life into a meditation like walking, like taking a pause for literally one minute, and making that into your meditation moment. I was a little bit skeptical at first but I read it and a lot of what he says makes sense. I’d recommend this one because his voice is a nice complement to Ayelet’s. They’re both very funny, self-aware people who are like, this isn’t necessarily a thing I would always condone and I tried it and now I believe it, goddamnit. But in a really approachable, warm way. So, yeah. Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, Dan Harris.
Ben: Cool, you got another one?
Caitlin: I do. The other one is called Emotional Agility and it’s by Susan David. The basic premise of this book is that we all have narratives about ourselves that we create for, y’know, one reason or another, and maybe that’s something like, you’re an extrovert in a shy, reserved family so you think you’ll always been too much and unloved because you’re off-the-wall, and these distorted stories can make us emotionally really unhappy. And emotional agility is the ability to step back from the emotions, and figure out what needs to change, kind of like that space again, so this is two different ways to approach finding that emotional space that Ayelet talks about. Yeah, LSD did it for her. Maybe this book could do it for you, or meditation could do it for you. So, these are just some options.
Ben: And, can I say my book, because mine is kinda similar in that it involves self-awareness, it involves approaches or names an approach but it’s less about self-improvement I would say and a little more academic. It’s called Flow. It’s by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
Caitlin: It’s so good.
Ben: The name? Everyone loves the name.
Caitlin: Everyone loves the name because it’s so hard to say and you just did a great job.
Ben: I feel like if you listen to podcasts you know how to say it because he’s referred to so much.
Caitlin: And if you listen to Ben you know how to say it because he’s written it out phonetically.
Ben: I’m not gonna mess that up on mic. What are you, nuts? Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, all day. The book Flow is about how to get into that state of flow where time flies and you have your highest state of focus you can and all of a sudden you realize it’s time to go home, I did an amazing day’s work, why is that? And the answer is that flow comes from the right mix of challenge, so you’re not going too much easy stuff and you don’t get bored, and novelty, so you’re not doing the same stuff all the time. What happens is, when you’re in a state of flow, your brain makes new connections and you’re sort of confronted by the right amount of new connections to deal with and it’s just a great feeling. And it’s sort of like the runner’s high for your mind. So what I love about this is that it requires some self-awareness, which is something you and Waldman talked about a lot in the interview. You have to know yourself. You have to sort of be aware, is this too easy for me, is this too hard, is this the right amount? You have to set it up. And the result is not you channeling something. It’s not otherworldly. It’s you. You’ve just set up the structures to succeed. You’ve set up the structures to be the best you.
Caitlin: You’ve set up a channel for yourself essentially.
Ben: Yeah, so that’s it. I think flow is a super-important concept or book. I feel like it’s been pretty much swallowed into every sort of self-transformation, self-help book now, but this is sort of the basic, so check it out. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
Caitlin: Cool! Great. I like that we have three book recommendations that have nothing at all to do with drugs because actually, this experiment…
Ben: It’s kind of not what it’s about
Caitlin: This experiment that Ayelet did wasn’t about drugs. It was about finding a way to access the better self which is what meditation does and learning more about your own emotions does and figuring out how to get yourself into flow does.
Ben: Yeah, it’s really cool.
Caitlin: Yeah. Awesome.
Ben: Takin’ it home.
Ben: Today’s episode of Simplify was produced by me, Ben Schuman-Stoler, Caitlin Schiller, Nat Darozhkina, and Ben Jackson who wanted us to tell you that you should be very careful about these “smart” home door locks. He reminds you that there is no perfect home security system!
Caitlin: All right, if you enjoyed this episode Simplify—send it to somebody like. You can find us on Apple podcasts, you can find us on Spotify – all the places you find podcasts. If you’d like to talk to us, you can write to us at [email protected]. I’m on Twitter @caitlinschiller, and Ben you are?
Ben: @bsto. By the way, Caitlin and I work for a company called Blinkist. What Blinkist does is that it distills the most important, best, I would say, highly relevant key points from the world’s best nonfiction books, and we distill it into our format which we call blinks which you can read or listen to in 15 minutes or less. So you can go to blinkist.com to check it out or go to blinkist.com/simplify to put in this voucher code, micro, pretty simple. And you can try Blinkist for two weeks for free and if you have any questions, tweet or email Caitlin or I about Blinkist. We’ll be happy to field your questions or let us know your story about microdosing.
￼Caitlin: Alright. That’s it for this week. We’ll be back with you soon.
￼Ben: Yeah, this is Ben checking out.
Caitlin: ￼Checking out!