Fear of failure can hinder you from achieving great things in life. People that accept their mistakes and know how to practice the art of humility are bound to succeed and live better lives. This is one of the reasons why our guest believes humility is important. Stress physiologist and keynote speaker, Dr. Rebecca Heiss knows how to rewire our brains to work for us again. Traits like humility come from our brain and how we perceive things with our mindset. And our perspectives come from our ancestors, including the different human instincts. Listen to know how to fear less and make room for more amazing things!
21:20 Trusting Your Instincts
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The Importance Of Humility And Trusting Your Instincts With Dr. Rebecca Heiss
I am full-on love in my life. I was sharing with my guest that I got to start my day by having breakfast with our youngest daughter who goes to UCSD. Like many other students these days, she is off-campus having a virtual experience but at full tuition. The cool part about her being off-campus is that off-campus for her is La Jolla. If you have not ever been to La Jolla, California, it is an epically beautiful place. We went and had coffee and breakfast, then we took a walk down to Cove, which is famous for a lot of things.
It is a beautiful spot. They have a massive sea lion population in this little part of the world. It is so rad to see these sea lions like children at play. They squawk, fight, crawl all over each other, and then they surf in the waves. They are looking to not get eaten by a Great White that is out there as well and they smell like nobody’s business. It was a beautiful way to begin the day, and then to go from that and say goodbye to our little Eden as she goes off and does her thing. I get to come back here, sit in the seat and engage in a conversation with a wonderful person I’m about to introduce you to.
As an old buddy of mine would say, “This does not suck,” and it does not. I want to introduce Rebecca Heiss. She is an Evolutionary Biologist and specializes in stress. Rebecca knows fear. She has dedicated her life to understanding why we behave in the bizarre, unproductive, and potentially damaging ways we do. She has a book called Instinct. I love that title. She is the Founder and CEO of Icueity, the hottest new assessment tool for conducting continuous 360-degree reviews of yourself and your team. Rebecca, it is great to have you on the show. Thanks for being with us.
Thank you so much. What a wonderful introduction. I appreciate that. I’m glad that you stumbled over Icueity because, in my head, it makes so much sense and this is a classic self-awareness thing. It is perfect. Icueity, I’m cueing you in perfect. Thank you for that opportunity.
I bought this URL some years ago that I thought was the coolest thing in the world. My wife and my son-in-law were there, and everybody was so excited. I go, “I just got Communify.com.” I did the happy dance. I’m like, “This is a $25,000 URL. We are going to build this out. This is amazing.” A couple of days later, one of our kids goes, “Dad, what did you buy?” I go, “Communify.” They go, “I think you bought Communinify.” There was an extra N or something in there. With a term like Icueity, you got to make sure you double-check the spelling. Rebecca, this is a very impressive bio. What is one thing that is not a part of that introduction that you would love for people to know about you?
I like to serve, and part of the reason that I like to serve is I’m terrible at it. It helps me remember that failing is not a bad thing. That is something that I have struggled with my whole life, as I’m sure many of our readers do. It’s this idea of failing, being this deep-seated fear of, “If I do not show my work and value, I’m not going to be serving. I’m going to die. People are not going to value me.” This voice in my head goes off. It is a great way to remind myself. I’m pretty terrible at this and it is still fun.
There is such an important humility like getting our healthy dose, almost like vitamin D from the sun. Do you think there is a healthy dose of humility that helps us?
I’m a nerd. That needs to go in my bio. Anytime there is an opportunity to find out like, “That is an interesting question,” I go and I turn to the science. I’m like, “I bet there is a solution to this.” It turns out there is something called the Pratfall Effect, which says that the people that own their mistakes, we like and trust them more. We see them with higher leadership potential. I call it the Jennifer Lawrence effect because we love her. She is an incredible actress and we see her humanity. She stays very humble because she falls on the red carpet and instead of getting up and trying to brush it off, “Nothing happened.” She is very real about it. She is rolling around and laughing, and we like her more for it. That dose of humility is not only helpful but important for us all.
Do you think it builds the idea somehow that we are driven by fear in subtle ways. There are ways that we know when we are driven by fear because we can feel it in our body like heart palpitations and stomach-churning, but fear is driving us on a more subtle level. I know that this is your bag. Is that a true statement? What does that look like?
It is such a true statement. You started to go down that road that really says, “We are talking about stress inoculation already,” which is the thing. It is the doses of humility that we get that allow us to say, “I was stressed out because I had to prove myself and I failed epically, and I did not die.” In the back of our heads, our brain is saying all the time, “You are going to get kicked out of the tribe. They are going to reject you. You are a failure. You are nothing.”A healthy dose of humility is not only helpful; it’s really important for us all. Click To Tweet
Those stories did help our ancestors to survive because you cannot fail. You’ll die in the ancestral environment. Now, those stories are not helpful. Most of them are fairly harmful. It’s the idea of inoculating yourself by having those doses of you might fail and say, “I did not die.” It’s seeking discomfort and saying, “That person rejected me and I’m still here to tell the tale.”
We work with people on something that they are terrified of often, which is speaking in public. I know you are a keynote speaker so you have gotten over or you are okay with and have the humility to step out and deal with your fear. For a lot of people, it stops them entirely. In particular, we work with folks that want to get on a TED stage, which brings up quite a bit of fear of two things. One is that they do not have anything worthwhile saying, “What is my whole message? Is that even worth anybody’s time?”
The whole idea of what it would look like to stand up there and deliver it is terrifying. As we work people through those early stages, often what we will say is that when they deliver their talk even to a small audience like the audience that we curate for them, you go, “What is the feedback? What worked for me and what did not? What could be done differently?” Mostly, check yourself or your pulse. Are you still alive? You did not die.
The fear is relevant. It is very real because for our ancestors, if you got kicked out of the tribe or you did a bad job and you are rejected, you are dead. You do not survive without your community and people. I want to acknowledge that for people. That is real and it is important. If you did not care at all, you stepped on stage and you are like, “I’m going to blow it, whatever.” That is not good either. That does not help your performance. We talk about the inverse U-shape or the normal curve shape of stress and performance. If you have no stress, you are not going to perform very well.
You are a trust fund baby. Everything is perfect in your world. You do not have to do anything, but you have that deadline or something due on Friday. Suddenly you are like, “I need to get my butt on gear and do this thing.” Now, your performance increases. The problem is most people flip on the other side of that curve and start to have this stress response. It inhibits their ability to get done the work they want to get done or get on stage and have a great performance, and so much of that exists right here. It is the story that our brain is telling.
That’s the part of us that says we have to be a part of the herd. Anytime we are outside the herd, we are vulnerable in a pre-historic way. The question is how much rationality play into this in our decisions about, “Should fear stop or inspire me?”
When people ask me about being rational, are any of us actually rational? Do you know what the number one fear is?
I would say public speaking but I’m guessing maybe it is something other than that.
It’s snakes. It is so irrational and mind-boggling. You are nine times more likely to get struck by lightning and die. It is funny because we all think that we are cognizant and conscious thinking beings. We have the capacity or we have this conscious higher mind, but so much of our life takes place in the subconscious brain, 99.99% of the time, we are operating from those instincts or shortcuts that our brain has developed to keep us alive. Now, that is simply are irrelevant.
This concept of instincts, which I want to get into, are these instincts based on rationality? Are they rational or irrational? What is your position?
They are rational, but not for the modern environment. They were rational for our ancestors. When you look at the fears that we have, it is forward eye-facing predators. It’s snakes, tigers, bears, sharks and people. We died of those things over 70% of the time back in the ancestral times. Unfortunately, our brains had not evolved to keep pace with technology and populations in all the ways that the environment has changed. Despite the fact that most of us are living in a much more safe and abundant environment than any of our ancestors ever would, our brains are still going, “It could be a snake, tiger or bear.”
They are responding to keep us alive like surviving rather than thriving. The ping that comes in from our email, we are going, “It could be a tiger or snake. It could be that thing that I have to pay attention to.” It is not and it is okay. We are operating so much of the time on this massive influx of stress that we have not consciously taken the time to say, “I do not need to look at that now. That is a caged tiger. It’s not going to jump out and kill me.”Our brains aren't built for this world. Now we have the opportunity to tweak them right. To recognize and bring this unconscious to consciousness to know we have a choice. Click To Tweet
This is part of my training that is constantly looking for that one idea or spine. What is the throughline for the book Instinct? Is there one solid idea that you are building and making the case and the argument for throughout the book?
Our brains are not built for this world. We have the opportunity to tweak them, recognize and bring this subconscious to consciousness and say, “I have a choice. I can operate from these subconscious processes or I can retrain my brain for the world that it is living in.”
Is it fair to say that the evolution of the brain has not caught up with the technological world that we live in?
That’s very fair. If you think about the last 200 years of technology, that is two generations of human brains. Do you know how many generations it takes to have a single potential evolutionary breakthrough in something like a brain, back, knee or all the things that fail us? It is poorly designed.
Is it a thousand years? I’m being a student. I’m asking.
Probably about 1,000, 2,000, 3000-ish.There are so many factors there. It depends on the mutation rate and how big the selective force is. The reality is as humans, we have removed ourselves from natural selection. We are not getting weeded out. I like to pick on people with eyeglasses. My partner wears eyeglasses and I pick him up all the time. You would be dead. We have weeded ourselves out of this idea of being naturally selected against or for. The only thing that drives evolution is massive events like viruses, which are not exactly changing our brains for technology, productivity or any of the things that we want them to change our brains for.
You used the word cognizant and conscious. Is it possible that our brains, from a consciousness standpoint, have an ability to tune into consciousness or be more aware, awake, cognizant, etc.? That is the evolution that is taking place now that is different from an evolutionary development that would have kept had us no longer crawling on the ground, hunting from the trees or things like that.
I would like to say yes, but I’m not sure that I can. As humans, we have that capacity. It sits right here. It is the gift of human evolution. We have this huge frontal lobe where we can make those conscious choices. The problem is, especially with modern technology, we are not. We are being bombarded with input. The number that I have seen being repeated is 400 billion bits of information every single second. We can only consciously process about 2,000 bits per second. It is going immediately back to that subconscious, instinct-driven, subconscious survival mode.
We are talking about the midbrain. When you say instinct, this is the medulla or that part of our brain.
If you talk to neurologists, they are very careful not to say, “This part of the brain does this and that part of the brain does that.” There is no real absolute separation.
I’m glad to know that because it seems like there is a lot of different places that get pointed to, but we are saying overall that this is the ancestral programming. Those grooves are so deep in us to this day. How does this affect the average person living in the time of COVID?
There are seven instincts that I cover in the book. Everything from survival, which is that very basic “I have to survive,” and time becomes the biggest pressure. I’m so nervous all the time that I’m being flooded with cortisol and I’m not activating my conscious mind to think logically about, “Is it dangerous for me to do this? What information do I have?” Sex is probably not relevant in this exact instance when you are asking me about COVID, but our instinct to seek variety. We want a variety of information sources. We want a variety of people coming in and telling us, but only from certain people that we belong with, which is our fourth instinct, belonging.
The fear of the other people who disagree with me and do not look like me were real threats. It’s like, “They came over to kill us.” In the time of COVID, we have polarized and said, “Those people, we do not trust them because they are in this tribe and I belong over here.” Now, you have this increased tribalism. Our instinct undermines everything that we are doing and all the things that we are thinking about or not thinking about. When we are talking about a virus, it is something that we cannot see and is not tangible.
It is something that we are talking about in a way that is like, “How many hundreds of thousands of people have died of this?” It is now a statistic. We do not see it up close and personal and then the immediate return that we would see if it was our tribe member next to us who was attacked by a lion. That is a very real and tangible thing that I can say, “Lions are dangerous.” COVID is hard. Living and adjusting with viruses and wrapping our brains around that is a struggle.
The best piece of advice that I attribute to my dad through my young years was to say, “Trust your instincts.” He said that to me a long time ago. I pass that on to our kids. Into my 30s, I started realizing what good advice that was. If I only trusted my instincts at different points along the way, I could look back and go, “I could see how that situation would have gone differently.” Are you saying that we cannot trust our instincts because our instincts are wrapped up in a whole series of things where those neurons that are firing are ancestral in nature, and what we are looking for is real data and recon.
The short answer is yes, and. You should trust your instincts. You are going to feel that little flutter. You need to pay attention to that because your body is designed for understanding and seeing these little things that we are not necessarily fully cognizant of or in touch with our emotion or physiological response enough to say, “That is what is happening. I need to do this.” Much of that is beneath the surface of our conscious minds. You need to pay attention to that and why you are having that response. Is it relevant still in nowadays society? A lot of people will say that the easy one is when talking about biases like, “I’m not biased. I do not have any biases.”
The test that I give people is, “I want you to picture a housekeeper. Did you picture a woman? Was she Hispanic? Picture of a felon or CEO.” That does not make us bad people, but there are links that our brain creates to process all the information that is coming at us rapidly. We quickly create associations and that is fine. There is nothing inherently bad about that. If some of the associations we have are, “My people are good and those people are bad,” then we are going to have these internal responses or instincts to say, “I do not think I should trust that person. I think I will go with that instead of this.” Depending upon the context, trust your instinct and question it.Staying locked into that vicious cycle of being busy all the time and saying you don't have the time to figure out what you value will not get you anywhere. Click To Tweet
We will not even get into the part of all of the information that is flooding us all the time. It is also manipulative to the extent that people understand how we are wired. We will also be able to determine from an instinct level how somebody is going to respond to certain kinds of information that were put in front of them. What we are doing is looking at others as others. In a political context or the context of something like the virus, we are seeing people squirting lighter fluid on our instinct to see others as others.
I want to return to something else you said about not knowing exactly why you are feeling what you are feeling, but you should trust your gut thing. I’m a scientist. I trust science and I have to go back to my original training as an ornithologist. I’m a bird nerd. One of the best things that I learned in studying birds is that they see directions. They see North and South.
They see that as different colors essentially and they can see infrared. They have all of these senses that you and I have no bearing of. I think to myself, “What am I missing?” It is not something that my body can measure because I’m human. What would a bird sense? I do not know why I’m feeling this, but I probably still need to trust it because there is something that I have not been able to measure yet that is still valid.
Being present with how it is you are feeling is my best instrument for measuring my instinct at the moment. It is to check in that way. When the pace is fast or other things are heightening the moment, it’s difficult to take a breath and check in. That is a discipline and a higher level skill in terms of everything from being a parent to being a professional leader of a company or leading your life at a bare minimum. I could pause there. It is more of a statement than it is anything else.
We talked right from the start about pausing and how valuable that is.
Let’s go to that. Tell me, what does the concept of pausing mean or do in the context of your work?
I’m a big fan of the pause because life is increasingly coming at us faster. What we do is fetch water with buckets that have holes in them instead of pausing long enough to say, “What seems to be the problem here?” The issue is we are watching others “get ahead” of us because they are still filling this imaginary pool with their buckets that are leaking all over the place. If we can take long enough time to pause, slow down, be self-reflective and go, “What seems to be the problem here?” We can start to patch our buckets to realize that maybe running as fast and as hard as I can is not the most productive thing I can be doing.
If I slow down and I take in some air like, “What is that in the air? Freshly baked bread. How lovely,” and I start recording all of this in my head, time expands. Our relative sense of time increases. The pause is huge for so many reasons, even snapping us out of that stressed-out mode of busy or staying locked into that vicious cycle of being busy all the time and saying, “I do not have the time to figure out what I value. I got to get this done.” That single breath signals to the rest of our body because you cannot control your heart rate and hormones that are being pumped through your body. The only thing we have control over is that single pause, and that helps regulate everything else.
The visual I got from filling up that leaking bucket is so powerful because a lot of people are exhausted. Exhaustion is an epidemic. In part, it is because people are leaking their energy in so many ways. That bucket can be a metaphor for so many things. They are constantly rushing to fill it with money.
Everybody is after the money and filling the bucket with the money. Meanwhile, they have all these holes in the bucket. They do not manage their money well. They do a number of other things to sabotage themselves financially, then they wonder why they are not where they want to be financially and they are exhausted. Ultimately, you can feel helpless and hopeless at a certain point when you are that tired.
You are recognizing that you are like that rat on the wheel. You are running and running but not getting anywhere. To me, that is that visual of rushing to fill up a bucket that has holes in it. I cannot remember the reference, but it is an ancient text. It’s almost like Dante’s Inferno when you are talking about what purgatory might be. You would be consigned to a lifetime of attempting to fill a bucket that has holes in it.
I’m trying to remember Greek mythology, maybe Sisyphus. He pushes the rock up all day and at the end of the day, it rolls back. How exhausting and defeating. The story you end up telling yourself is “I’m a failure. I cannot get anywhere.” Your brain believes the story you tell it because we like to be right. That is our instinct. It is self-deceit. Our brains will fool us into believing things that are not true so long as we can be right.
Right is survival. Right is life and wrong is death.
It’s not brain science. I tell people this all the time. This is simple.
It involves the brain, but it is not brain science.
Our brain thinks it is going to die all the time.
Everything nets out to, “That is going to kill me.”
I tell people that all behaviors in life, whether you are out to buy a new Lamborghini or cosmetics, boils down to sex and survival. It’s either, “Is that person going to kill me or could I mate with that person?” That is it.Pause is important. Life is increasingly coming at us faster and faster and faster and faster. Click To Tweet
I have one last question for you, which I ask every guest and that is to define resilience. What does it look like to you?
Putting the gloves back on. Resilience is being knocked down and staying down. That pause is important. A lot of people talk about, “You get knocked down and you get back up.” What gets missing in resilience is the time spent laying flat out on your back, processing and thinking about, “This is what happened. This is how I failed. This is what I have learned from that failure.” It’s easy to latch onto the failure or pop back up and do the same thing again as the bucket drips out. Resilience is having the time, wherewithal and consciousness to stay down for a bit and then get back up differently.
That is the most aligned answer to that question for me in what we do in our work. We speak on that topic a lot and do a lot of research. That is the answer that is most in alignment with what we believe about that topic. Many people think it is bouncing back. We say it is bouncing forward, but the concept of bouncing forward involves taking that pause. I will do a little self-promotion. We got a book called Change Proof: Leveraging the Power of Uncertainty to Build Long-term Resilience. That book is all about what you have been sharing with us. How do you become change-proof, immune or inoculated from the virus of fear, and ultimately, for what purpose?
You have given us one of the best definitions of what it looks like to be resilient, to take the hit and not immediately bounce up to take another one. You say to pause, ask questions and then choose to take another maybe similar path, but it could be something entirely different because of what you have learned. That pause, ask and choose is the model that we are going to share in that book. You articulated such an important part of that. Thank you.
It’s my pleasure. I had the pleasure of talking with a Navy SEAL and what you were describing, I was thinking about what he said. I got to get a shout-out to Jonathan Cleck. He was talking about resilience and the idea that if you ask somebody to go out and swim 20 miles, how many of you can go swim 20 miles? You look around and nobody is raising their hand. If I drive you out to the middle of the ocean, drop you 20 miles out and say, “The shore is there,” how many of you will do it? He says, “Resilience is the idea of inoculating yourself against fear and recognizing that you are swimming along the shore for 20 miles.”
You can always stand up, but it’s the idea that you are looking out towards the ocean. You are always looking and saying, “I got the ocean. I got to keep swimming. I got to keep going.” I love that analogy so much because it is that choice of saying, “What are my options here? I can look that way and I can stand up. I can always pivot and adjust or I can look to the ocean and say, “I got to keep swimming.”
It’s funny too because the Navy SEALs have a mantra. I have had a couple of Navy SEALs on this show too, which is cool. I do not know Jonathan, but it is this idea of embracing the suck. Rebecca, what a blast to have you on the show. If you know somebody that would love this episode, please refer them to it and share it. Leave a comment for us at AdamMarkel.com/podcast. That can be a comment for me or Rebecca. We will get that question to her as well. Thank you so much for being a guest on the show.
Thank you. Thanks for the great work that you are doing. I appreciate you.
Do you love your life?
I love my life. It does not suck.
Every day, we are blessed to be here regardless of the circumstances. Is it the day to love your life? I say that only because of what you said earlier that some days are going to be knocked down days for us. As you are lying on the ground, looking up and gathering yourself and saying, “I’m going to take Rebecca’s advice here and pause, chill out on the canvas for a minute.” Can that be an I love my life moment as easily as one of those moments where you are doing the victory dance in the ring? It’s what is the difference between those two things, but what do we tell ourselves about it and how we feel it.
Not permanent, not pervasive, not personal. Just this.
Thank you so much for being here. Everybody, have a beautiful rest of your day, wherever you are. We hope you love your life.
- Change Proof: Leveraging the Power of Uncertainty to Build Long-term Resilience
About Dr. Rebecca Heiss
As an evolutionary biologist specializing in stress, Rebecca knows fear. She has dedicated her life to understanding why we behave in the bizarre, unproductive and potentially damaging ways we do. She has a new book coming in April (available for pre-order now!) called INSTINCT, and is the founder and CEO of icueity, the hottest new assessment tool, for conducting continuous 360-reviews for yourself and your team.