Stacy Brown-Philpot on Reclaiming Abandonment

Brett and Joe interview Stacy Brown-Philpot, former CEO of Task Rabbit and founding member of the Softbank Opportunity Fund, on her journey through childhood abandonment to self discovery. Stacy identified that by choosing the path of self-exploration, she was able to feel through difficult emotions of fear and anger to find deeper love and joy. We will learn how her willingness to confront her past traumas has helped her become a more honest and empathetic business woman.

"You want to really work on yourself that deeply to process emotions like fear and anger, and on the other side of it is love and joy. How does that happen? The answer is it is a journey, and my journey is very different than what someone else’s journey might be. But the important thing is to be willing to take a step, one step."

**Full transcript can be found here:

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The Wisdom of Anger: Part II - Emotion Series #4

In last week’s episode on anger, we discussed some of the theoretical ways that this emotion impacts our relationships, families and society. In this second episode, we will follow up on what we learned last week by taking a deeper look into how repressed anger might show up and flow through us as individuals.

"If you are following the mind, it’s very hard to allow anger to move cleanly. Whether your story is they are absolutely wrong and they deserve this, or your story is no, they deserve compassion. Any kind of thick story around it is going to really make the anger have a hard time coming out in a clean way."

**Full transcript can be found here:

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The Wisdom of Anger: Part I - Emotion Series #3

 "I think it’s most dangerous if someone is like I should be good with other people’s anger. No, you shouldn’t. You either are or you are not. If you aren’t, take care of yourself. If you are, great, lean in. Just worry about loving your own anger, and all the rest of it will take care of itself."

It may be that the most misunderstood and hated emotion in our society is anger. At some point in probably everyone’s life, words spoken in anger have cut us deep to the bone. Actions taken from a place of rage have broken relationships and door hinges and turned families and societies against themselves, but where would we be without our anger? How can anger point to what we and others love and care deeply about? What does anger look like when we allow ourselves to feel it fully and cleanly?

**Full transcript can be found here:

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Ant Taylor on Embracing Emotions

Brett interviews Ant Taylor, founder and CEO of Lyte, on a profound self-reflection that changed his life and business. Ant discovered that shifting from living largely in his head to operating from a more intuitive and embodied space allows him to tap into the wisdom of his emotions. We will learn more about how he now embraces the ebb and flow of emotional intensity, resulting in the uncovering of deeper truths.

"This moment, when he called out the anxiety, I didn’t know it at the time. It just triggered a different kind of, I guess, leadership style that was a little bit more like I am going to jump into that pit over there, guys. I’m pretty sure it is filled with snakes. I’m pretty sure I’m going to get my ass handed to me. It’s going to be at least funny, possibly dangerous, but if I live, come with me." 

**Full transcript can be found here:

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Embracing Intensity - Emotion Series #2

There are emotions inside all of us that can sometimes be difficult to fully feel — anger, sadness, fear and even joy often have an intensity that causes us to brace ourselves against them. What if instead of running away from a feeling, we leaned into it? How would it change our experience to turn towards the thing giving us discomfort, asking us to expand in some way? In today’s episode, we will explore how to embrace intensity in order to allow transformative change to flow into our lives.

"The person’s willingness to embrace intensity will mark the amount of change they will feel in their life in the short term. It’s a great leading indicator."

**Full transcript can be found here:

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Stages of Emotional Development - Emotion Series #1

Today's episode is the first of a new series on emotions. To kick things off, we’re going to explore the process of emotional development that we all go through as we start to work through each of the emotions that we’re going to discuss the next upcoming episodes. 

"Managing our emotions is maybe a short-term solution sometimes, but it is really not a good long term one. That feeling of our emotions really actually brings us the freedom and the joy we want."

**Full transcript can be found here:

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Welcoming Fear

Joe and Brett jump into Brett’s background in extreme sports, business, and relationships to explore a key shift in mindset: from setting out to conquer our fear to welcoming it as a focusing and energizing force.

"The relationships and connections I have now feel much more real and much more robust than they often used to be when I was holding and carrying this belief that I had to hide my fear from the relationship, or it would damage it somehow."

Joe: Hi, everybody. This is Joe Hudson. 

Brett: This is Brett Kistler. 

Joe: Welcome to our podcast. Today we are going to do things a little bit differently. This is the beginning of a series we have put together, and the series is all about how self-discovery affects the rest of your life. It is particularly around interviewing CEOs who have had a moment of self-discovery that has changed their life and their business. Brett, what’s the self-discovery that you want to talk about? What’s the breakthrough that you feel has changed your life and the way you have done business?

Brett: Like many breakthroughs, this is one I have just had repeatedly over time, over years, but it has been related to my relationship with fear and that fear is something to be welcomed rather than overcome. 

Joe: I remember at one point we were talking, and you said I used to think that I wasn’t scared, and now I realize I am scared all the time. What did you mean by that?

Brett: Growing up, I developed this self-concept of being brave and courageous, so I judged the fear in myself, judged the anxiety and judged anxieties in others and just felt I was not an anxious person. Of course, that wasn’t true. Of course, there was anxiety all the time. It was controlling me in a lot of different ways, but where a lot of that went in my life is that I started to do a lot of things to prove that I didn’t feel fear and that I was conquering it. Early on I got really into rock climbing, and then I got into skydiving, base jumping and other air sports, which helped me feel like I was in control of my fear, initially. That was my initial approach to it. 

Joe: Awesome. How did it affect your business at the time?

Brett: At the time, I mean even before business, in school, I presented with ADHD, and I had a really hard time concentrating a lot of the time. I now recognize that when that’s occurring to me to this day, it is generally because there is something unfelt, often some form of anxiety that I am just not letting myself feel. The avoidance of that decreases my working memory and makes me go distracted, switching apps left and right or going to the fridge three times in 20 minutes. Those are all really good signs that there is something going on on the surface, and it is usually something fear related. 

Joe: That’s an awesome recognition to be able to see what your body does and what your habits do when you are in fear. One of the things I have noticed in fear is that my mind becomes binary. I start thinking of answers as this or that instead of the thousands of answers that are usually available with any issue. What a great tell that is. 

So that’s how it was in school. How did the ADHD affect your business? How did the fear and anxiety affect your business before, while you were still trying to overcome it or while you were still conquering it?

Brett: My business started out as I was doing programming, freelance. In order to focus and concentrate on programming, I needed to feel somewhat clear on what I was doing. If I started to fall behind or if there started to be something that just wasn’t going right with a project or something with a timeline or something with scope creep or expectations, I would start to get anxious. I wouldn’t let myself feel that anxiety, and so I wouldn’t recognize that it was affecting me. Suddenly, I just wouldn’t be able to focus on what I was doing. That would snowball the entire process. 

I would keep this whole keeping it together attitude of powering through and staying positive and staying task and goal oriented, but that would be a farce because I would actually be doing anything but my work in those states. 

Joe: How did it affect your business when you started interacting with people besides yourself, when you started having employees and you started to take on bigger clients? How did the fear that you were trying to overcome find its way in there?

Brett: That’s interesting. The fear, itself, would start to magnify because my problems would become bigger, and failure modes would be harsher, and more money involved, and more people involved. Even more so starting to become a CEO from being freelance started to be like my job is to keep it all together. My job is to make sure that nobody else is afraid. Everybody just believes that everything is going according to plan, and that also didn’t work very well. It definitely blew up in my face a number of times. 

Joe: How did it blow up?

Brett: Ways it would blow is people would start to bring fears and concerns to the surface, and those concerns would be uncomfortable and inconvenient. I might even see them as potentially damaging morale or distracting people from the goal of the project. Oftentimes those concerns were very, very valid, and if they weren’t valid, the feeling that somebody had around them was also very valid. If it wasn’t addressed, it led them to feeling disconnected from the project or from the team. In either case, the fears were very important signals that by ignoring them or by trying to change them into some kind of positivity or sometimes even just boldness or courageousness. We are afraid, but we are just going to do this anywhere, stepping on the signal and not listening to it 

This occurred over the course of like 15 years in my business at different levels. This is one of those things that I continued to learn on a new level every time the business grows and I jump into a larger version of the same picture, I then have a new layer to feel through this, like welcoming people’s fear and welcoming my own fear and also holding space for it in a way that allows it to be processed and not just resisted and turned into low level anxiety in the team. 

Joe: I am going to dig a little bit further here. What specific? Can you give us something really specific? I know a lot of people out there would be very much in understanding of what you are saying. They can resonate with it. My question is if you can give us something really specific so potentially somebody who is still in that place where they don’t think they have the fear might be able to recognize it. 

Brett: One good example was on this project where I had been leading this project before, and then one of our heads had been leading the project later. Then the company grew, and we started to get bigger clients. Myself and him started working on bigger projects with the bigger client, and we needed somebody to take over this smaller project. We put together the people that were available and gave them the task of taking over this project, diving into it, understanding it and then meeting the next year’s goals. 

Along that process, there were fears that were brought up by a number of people on the team, like I am not sure if I quite have enough handle on this or I am not sure if the time zone is working well between this other team member and myself. I am not sure what exactly milestones we are trying to achieve here, and what it is going to look like. A lot of that stuff I just brushed off a little bit. It’s okay. The team is going to figure out. I know this is a rough beginning, but it will all get sorted out. 

As a result of not listening to those things, the project started getting off track, and ultimately the fears were realized. We started to have issues that were starting to be pretty big issues for the client. We corrected course, and the process of correcting course was me just having this breakthrough of everybody has actually been saying very important things all along that I wasn’t listening to and that I wasn’t bringing into the conversation, and I wasn’t permissioning. 

Joe: What I am hearing is what they said would bring up a fear in you that you didn’t want to feel and, therefore, I think you said as step on the signal. Before we move on to the next section, which is how you made the discovery and what that process was like, I would love to just understand how your relationship to fear in the past affected your relationships. What did it do with your relationships with lovers or family or friends?

Brett: There are a couple of things I could get into there. One is in relationships with partners. There might be a fear of being engulfed and then just not naming that fear of being engulfed would lead to just putting up walls, and then those walls would lead to lack of connection, lack of charge. Early on, really, in my relationships, I just had a hard time actually having any relationships because I was constantly so afraid of doing something wrong or scaring somebody away or just being weird. 

That’s the relationships, but something that’s also really interesting is it is interpersonal but also out of the business context was in air sports and in base jumping. There would be a group of us on top of a cliff at an exit point preparing to jump together, and we are young, early 20s, mostly male. There would be a lot of ego and just signaling and wanting to fit in. 

A phenomenon occurred a lot where somebody or even everybody on the exit point would be feeling a particular kind of fear about something, like the conditions really aren’t that great right now. They were great while we were hiking, but now they have deteriorated. I feel uncomfortable about this, but nobody else seems to feel uncomfortable so it must just be me. I don’t want to be the one to suggest that we all go hike four hours back down this mountain. That led to some really uncomfortable situations at best, and at worst led to fatalities. 

There is where some of these breakthroughs really come in. I love these people, and here we are together. Because we were trying to be something for one another that was some vision of courageous, because of that, now somebody is injured, and they are in the hospital. It could have been us. It could have been any of us. That was really where this particular kind of breakthrough really started happening for me. 

Joe: The first question that comes to mind for me, particularly if I am thinking about the audience, is what the difference is in your mind, your experience and your body between overcoming fear and feeling fear. 

Brett: There is a difference between fear and excitement. Both of them show up similarly in the body as cortisol and adrenaline making your body be ready to act swiftly and sharply, but there are different components of it. If you are about to do something dangerous where you have to perform well to survive, there is going to be some component of that that is fear of actual danger. Your body is going to be inhibiting itself from doing something dangerous, and then there is another part that's the excitement of feeling competent, prepared and your body readying itself to perform at its best. 

Both of them are always present, but the difference that I feel between them is when it is excitement, I am feeling expansive, more aware and sharper. But if it is fear of something that I should not be doing, if I am in over my head or I am not paying attention to a variable consciously that subconsciously I am aware that is going on. There is something wrong with my equipment or conditions have changed, and I am just not letting myself see it. Then the fear will actually feel more constricting and closing in. 

The difference between overcoming it and welcoming it is the difference between standing on an edge and feeling the fear closing you down and just pushing through it anyway or feeling the fear and then welcoming it and seeing how it transforms and how much it transforms into excitement. The same thing can be going into a meeting in business. The same thing can be going into a difficult conversation with a partner where it is like I don’t know what’s going to happen in this conversation right now. I may lose my partner and we may have a deeper connection after this. My body is scared, but also I am ready to step into my truth. 

Joe: When you feel into your fear in air sports, the signal seems to be whether you should do it, or you should not do it at that moment. What generally do you find the signal to be in the rest of your life?

Brett: The signal isn’t just a do it or don’t do it, a go or no go. It is what to be looking at. The signal is telling me if I listen to and feel into the signal, the signal is telling me what I care about. The signal is telling me what threatens it, or at least what I perceive threatens it. If I don’t listen to that signal and I just want to overcome it, then I may assume that I understand what the signal is and ignore it. 

That can be to my detriment, but feeling the signal and then being like I am afraid of this happening. I am afraid of losing this project. I am afraid of losing this client. I am afraid of not being able to support my team. I am afraid of not being able to pay the bills. I am afraid of my business collapsing. I am afraid of being a failure. Then if I let myself actually feel those fears, then I can see what’s on the other side of them. Just letting my body process those unwanted outcomes makes it that if I find myself in the direction of those outcomes, I have already mapped the landscape. My intuition will be more calibrated to lead me in a workable direction. 

Joe: It also feels like something that you are saying is that one of the signals in the fear is there is a self-care signal. It means one of my needs might not be getting met, and I need to address that. 

Brett: Yeah, absolutely. Then the attempt to overcome the fear is the opposite of self-care. It is like this need of mine doesn’t matter, and I am not listening. Instead, I am going to prioritize this other thing. Sometimes that works, but in the long-time frame, if you do that every time, statistically it just doesn’t work out as well when you are actually paying attention to what all of your needs are even if not all of them can be met at the same time every time. 

Joe: That’s something I see all the time with the people is that this generalized anxiety that they have is perpetuated because they are not getting their needs met and they are not seeing the signal of their anxiety of I have needs here that aren’t being met that I can ask for. 

Brett: I have come to understand the difference between fear and anxiety in myself is that something that I am afraid of, there is usually something specific. I can point a finger to it. If I am feeling just anxiety, then it is general. I might be confused about what it is, or I might feel like it makes no sense but if I listen to that anxiety, the first step for me is often just to feel my dissociation, to feel my numbness because I have that patterned really deeply. My system just shuts down anxiety so that I don’t feel it so I can continue doing whatever I am doing, rock climbing or whatever. That was patterned in very young. 

I feel into that pattern, feel into whatever numbness or dissociation there might be in my body. Slowly, the anxiety will start to rise to the surface. I feel that anxiety. I am like wow, something feels tingly here and butterflies. This feels uncomfortable. Then the more I feel it, the more that anxiety turns into some specific fear or constellation of fears that come with the signal of what it is that I actually need that I am not getting. 

Joe: That makes a lot of sense. That story that I started out at the beginning where you told me that I used to think I wasn’t afraid and now I feel like I am afraid all the time, tell me what that transition was like. How did you become aware that there was this constant fear? What was that journey like? How could somebody who is right now thinking to themselves I might be that guy, I might be that woman who feels like I am not scared at all?

Brett: I started to notice it part way through the 18-month course that I did with you. I found that there was a period of a couple of months where I was paying very little attention to my work and to my business and doing a lot of going to authentic relating workshops or circling, just going to the tea house and hanging out with people and talking about all kinds of things that were related to my business, but I wasn’t actually taking action on it. It just started to dawn on me that I was clearly avoiding heavily. What am I actually avoiding? 

Through the tools I learned in the program, I started to recognize that there was fear there. I was like huh, that’s strange. I had never thought of myself as being fearful. I had the exact opposite self-concept, building a life around being somebody who is in a deeply healthful relationship with my fear or at least aspiring to be. This idea that I was living with low level or maybe even high level but not felt anxiety in just my day-to-day life in San Francisco where I had all of my basic needs met just broke my brain to realize. 

When I started to feel it, I realized of course, I have always been feeling this kind of fear. This is why I used to be really awkward around women when I was really young, and why over time I have been working through discomfort and fear in business scenarios and with boundaries. This fear, this anxiety would be the thing that I wouldn’t recognize that I was feeling that would make me walk away from an opportunity because I was afraid of failing at it. 

Joe: What were some of the tools? What were the tools that helped you in this process? You speak about this 18-month course, but if I am listening to this thing, I am going what tool, what can I do. 

Brett: A lot of what we did in the course was exercises that brought us into feeling different emotions and witnessing each other feeling those emotions. This alongside recognizing that the world is a project, and that the judgments that we have of others is something that we are judging in ourselves. With those two things superimposed, when I would see somebody in fear, I noticed that I judged it. Huh, interesting. 

Joe: Yeah, that’s such a great hack in general is when you really notice that all of your judgments are just a way for you to stop feeling something or to resist feeling something. It is a cool hack because it lets you know everything you are avoiding. That’s awesome. It’s great to hear that from your perspective. I have one perspective going through the course. It’s cool to hear the other perspective. 

You are going through this journey of understanding your fear. You have this recognition that actually the fear is always here, and then you have a recognition that there is a signal to the fear that’s really important. At some point, there must be some transition from taking that information and acting on it instead of taking that information and trying to overcome it. Can you tell me about that process? Can you tell me about the process of learning to act on the signal of fear?

Brett: There are a lot of little moments this occurred. An example in air sports is I would be preparing to do a jump of some kind. I would have this fear that was sort of abnormal, not just a normal level of elevation but like something else going on but logically everything seems to be fine. I would ignore it. Then we are about to jump and then somebody points out something that I had completely missed that was dangerous, and I am like oh, yeah, that was the fear. That was what the fear was pointing to, so having that little recognition. 

This is something I need to be listening to more and it is a fine line between those different signals of fear and excitement. You never find the exact edge between them, and I don’t know if there is a binary edge. Having these close call experiences, and also in business, too, also in personal relationships, but just recognizing how much the cost is of not listening to it, not listening to the fear, not feeling it, how much the cost of trying to overcome it is. 

Also, another thing in flow sports with your body is that if you are second guessing your body while your body is doing something, then it takes it out of flow. To be feeling fear and then suppressing that fear is just a way of fighting yourself. It decreases your connection to what you are doing. 

Joe: What I notice is that oftentimes when people start to recognize I have this fear, and it is telling me I am not taking care of myself. It tells me that I have a need that’s not met. There’s another thing they have to jump over, and that thing seems to be asking for their needs. You might be sitting on the top of the mountain, and you might say I have that fear and probably nobody is saying anything. Maybe other people have it. It is really important to say it. Then there is the actual act of saying it. 

In something like air sports, it makes sense to say it pretty quickly because it could be your death. It is a high consequence. But in a business environment, oftentimes people really hesitate to ask for their needs to be met when they realize the fear is indicating there is something not being met. How do you do that? How did you learn that? Have you learnt that?

Brett: You would be surprised how long it can go in air sports without learning this or continually learning it. Also, in business, I have a client who is also a very good friend. We worked on a project with them for 8 years. Over time, it started to grow old and stale. The tech was growing stale. There wasn’t really money to be putting into it, and so it started to just reach this point where it was we really need to be rebuilding this from scratch. It is also going to cost a lot of money. I don’t know if you guys have that kind of money. I am really scared to tell you that I don’t know that we can continue to work on this project without resources I don’t know that you actually have. I really want to do well by you. I don’t want to leave you abandoned, and I am scared. What are we going to do? 

I don’t want to be working the way we have with the resources we have had. I apologize for continually trying to make more and more happen under the same budget constraints when my assumption is that can’t increase. That’s one example of a conversation that’s happened a number of times in business. I’ve done a lot of business with friends. With or without friends, there is often a caretaking aspect. Now that I am working on this project with you, it is my responsibility to make sure it is going well. If you have business needs otherwise, then you should tend to those. I will just make do with what we can. That very often did not serve the clients in the end. 

Joe: What I heard you say is one of the ways in which you have learned to ask for your needs to be met is by being really vulnerable and speaking out, saying I am scared here and just owning the fear and then seeing how that lands. What other ways have you found to be able to speak your need or speak the fear that’s happening in a way that can be handled by people or in a way that feels really true and authentic to you?

Brett: Just drawing a boundary. I have a need that I am afraid it’s not going to be met, and it is going to be difficult for me to be moving forward with this uncertainty of not knowing if this need is going to be met, so what I really need is this. I need not to have this be happening. 

Joe: What, if anything, was your way of becoming comfortable with drawing these boundaries that have potentially these huge consequences, losing lovers, losing business, losing friends?

Brett: Feeling the thing I am afraid of happening and then grieving that occurrence. Pre-grieving the loss, recognizing that maybe I am in a codependent relationship with a partner or a client, and that the moment I draw a boundary to make sure that my needs are met, they will attack me. That can actually really happen. They might even leave and then badmouth to everybody. That could actually happen. That’s the situation I have gotten myself into through avoiding fear. 

Now is the time to feel it, and be ready for the consequences, which in the short term may hurt a lot and in the long term the result is living more authentically and having better relationships as a result even if it is not the same relationships. 

Joe: That’s a great transition for focusing on the third part of this interview, which is how life is now. If you were to ask the people in your life, whether it be business or your air sports friends or your relationships or your family, how would they describe the difference? They might not describe the difference as he seems like he is really in touch with his fear. They might not even notice that. What do you think they do notice?

Brett: I’ve heard people describe me as being more confident. I am not sure that is quite the right word for it, but my internal experience is being more willing to feel afraid of whatever it is I am stepping into. Externally, people see it as having courage. 

Joe: How about the dissociation? You talked a bit earlier about your dissociation being one of the first things that happens in fear. What are people’s reflections about your dissociation compared to before? 

Brett: I haven’t gotten a lot of feedback from people on my dissociation or lack thereof. Sometimes I do. People are like where are you right now. There is a way that I am not defensive about that. I don’t have as much shame around being distracted or preoccupied by a fear, and so if somebody points something out to me. They are like where are you right now, what are you thinking about. It used to be the case that I would come up with a bullshit excuse, not an excuse but something that wasn’t really what I was afraid of, and I hide the fear. 

Now I am much more likely to share vulnerably what it is that I am feeling. It often just evaporates the moment I do that. 

Joe: What is all of that doing to your sense of connection with your friends, relations and their sense of connection to you?

Brett: I feel much more loved for who I actually am, and I feel like my fear is much more permissioned and welcome. Others feel that their fear is welcome with me. That deeply increases connection and also leads to a lot more difficult conversations that are had earlier rather than later, finding what’s actually real. The relationships and the connections I have now feel much more real and much more robust than they often used to be when I was holding and carrying this belief that I had to hide my fear from the relationship, or it would damage it somehow. 

Joe: How does that look in a business meeting? What did a business meeting look like before you were feeling your fear and after you were feeling your fear?

Brett: An extreme example, before feeling my fear, I would overpromise, underdeliver, speak to the positives that are going on in the project and be afraid of sharing anything negative. That went predictably poorly every time. Now there is just a much deeper sense of trust. Clients and I feel much more comfortable that neither of us are going to move forward into something that really doesn’t work for us or that doesn’t set us up for success. There is also trust that if anything changes course as something always does, that we will be able to have the conversations to correct course and flow with reality as it is coming at us, which leads to a much deeper sense of safety. 

Joe: My experience of that is it is not just safety; it is trust, which I think you just mentioned. As you feel the fear, instead of overcome it, what is your sense of trust in life? How has that changed at all, if at all?

Brett: My trust in life has deepened immensely. For example, if I go through this fear process of what happens if I lose a client, what happens if I lose the business, what happens if I lose everything, what happens if I break my legs, I have a much deeper trust that whatever happens, I have strong relationships. Even if I lose my relationships, I have an ability to develop connection anywhere, with anybody. Whatever it is I have in my life is less dependent on the thing I am attached to that currently makes me feel safe. I feel that I could approach a much wider range of possible scenarios and situations and unexpected curveballs and be able to navigate it with self-compassion and in connection with whoever is around me and just be much more resourceful than I used to. 

Joe: To wrap this up, I would love to hear about a specific example of something that happened in the last year where you had a big oh crap moment, a big fear moment and you felt into it, and what happened afterwards. 

Brett: Several months ago, we had a really big client that reduced the team size for our projects. They had to go back to the drawing board and do a bunch of internal rewrites. Our contract with them, which was an ongoing, very large contract for us, was significantly reduced, which brought us from being cash flow positive to cash flow negative. Immediately, I was like this is Covid times, things are crazy. What are we going to do? I just let myself feel that fear, like oh no, this is the end. Everything is going to collapse. I let myself feel that. I laid down in my bed and just let my body shake, just let my body shake it out a little bit. 

Then I came out of that, and I was like this is a really great opportunity for me to get out of the golden handcuffs of having one client bringing in most of the money and to start really leveraging some of the business development we have been doing and go out and find more clients and expand into new areas and upscale. That was a couple months ago. Right now we are in a much better position than we had been. I am really, really grateful for both that challenge and that experience and also for having this relationship with fear that allowed me to just feel it because that could have easily been another multi-month avoidance fest that would have led to collapse in a previous iteration of myself. 

Joe: I am just so curious. How did you approach your team with this? This big thing happened. You feel your fear. How did you come to your team? What did you say?

Brett: That’s also interesting. I think a previous way I might have brought that to the team would have been like this happened, but don’t worry. We got this. Then people would have been do we really got this. I don’t know.  The way that I approached the team with it and also I just have a really great team, so they were approaching me in the same way when we discovered this information. It was like this has happened. This is good for a lot of reasons. It is also scary, and we are going to flow with this and do what we need to do. There are many reasons we are in a good position right now, and there is also uncertainty. Let’s step into it and see what we can do. 

Joe: How did that go as far as people getting nervous and saying I’ve got to leave? The fear that you have that I have to tell everybody I have got it all together and it is all going good, how did people actually respond to that level of openness? There are good things. There are bad things. It is scary. It is uncertain. How did people react to it? 

Brett: There was a lot of excitement actually. There were some fears and there was some discomfort, but also there was a lot of excitement. This is awesome. Let’s grow. Let’s expand. Let’s get into new markets. Let’s find new clients. Let’s get out of the comfortable zone we had been in. Of course, there were some who didn’t take that approach. We did have a couple of people end up leaving, and I am not sure entirely what their internal reasons were. I think some of them were just getting a better offer elsewhere or maybe they just felt uncertain, so they left. 

But those that are with us are fully onboard. It has led to a lot of really great team cohesion. There has been a number of difficult conversations and there has been a number of celebrations of achievements and small wins leading to bigger wins. Now there is just a bigger potential for what the company can be now. I think that a lot of us are feeling it. 

Joe: Just congratulations on a two-month turnaround from losing a huge client or losing a huge portion of your revenue. To turn that around in two months is pretty amazing. 

Brett: Thank you. Also, there was pretty good timing with it, too. Q1 is a pretty good time. A lot of hiring happens then. People have been starting to come out of the Coronavirus. Timing worked out well for us. I had just recently hired a VP of Sales to start bringing in leads, so we had a pipeline that was ready and just hadn’t fully been capitalized on yet. But a lot of that came down to listening to early fears of what would happen if we lost a bunch of business. Let’s be ready for that. It was a bunch of stacked fears having been listened to that led us to be in a position that we could turn it around that quickly. 

Joe: That’s awesome. Thank you very much for spending time with us. I hope it was as enjoyable for you as it was for me. It was good to share these other aspects of you with the audience and to learn so much of it myself. It is interesting how I’ve known you for years now and there is still so much of your life that is a constant surprise to me. It was a pleasure to get to see these aspects of you. Thanks, Brett. 

Alright, everybody. Thanks for listening to the Art of Accomplishment podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, we encourage you to rate and review the show and share it with your friends. We want to hear from you, so send us your feedback, questions or suggestions for the topic of our next episode. To join our newsletter and learn more about the AoA community and online courses, or to find the show notes from today’s episode, visit

Group Cohesion vs. Cult Dynamics

The essence of a cult dictates that you hand over your power to someone else, which is the antithesis of the VIEW mindset. Is there a way to retain autonomy and have individual needs met while also deeply contributing to the needs of a group? In this episode, Brett and Joe unpack the differences between cult dynamics and group cohesion.

 "I want to bring people to their own wisdom, and I don’t want to bring people to my wisdom, somebody else’s wisdom or a group wisdom."

Brett: We were talking about the vow and cults and some of the people coming back into AoA from having done ESF and other kinds of work, and there is a tongue in cheek that sometimes people joke about. I am back in the cult. This is a cult. This is not a cult. A question for you that somebody asked that was tongue in cheek was what if you just stopped resisting that you are a cult leader. 

Joe: It is funny. As soon as you say this and I know it is being recorded, I become self-conscious, and I don’t even want to put that thought in anybody’s mind. I don’t know if it is a semantic thing. It is like when other people use the word cult, and in my mind cult means another thing. I don’t know if it is even generational. But to me, the essence of a cult is where you are handing over your power to somebody else, which is the antithesis of the work that I want to do in the world. 

By the way, I don’t think that all cults are bad. I actually think there are things that are cults that we don’t call cults. I mean I have definitely been in companies that have a very cult-like thing where it is very hard to leave. There is only one way of thinking, and dissent is not appreciated. I’ve definitely seen it in places like political systems, some deep cult-like behaviors, but it is such an antithesis of what I want to be doing in the world that I just want an association with it, which is there is something in it for me in that. 

Brett: For sure. It brings me back to something you said once. When we did our one-on-one session that was recorded, there was a thing that you said when I was feeling a lot of tension. You said if you took all of the tension out of a cell, it would die. Tension is part of the system. I am seeing this here. In any group, there is like a desire within the people of the group to start to surrender to the group. Please just solve my problems, meet all my needs, make my decisions, make life easy for me, and heal me, change me, especially in personal development type groups. There is that particular force that is kind of driving towards group cohesion and group healing. As it does that, there is some level of critique and critical thinking, or personal wants and needs can start to slowly fall to the wayside. 

Then there is this other opposing force, which is I think the one that you are living in a lot whenever somebody brings up this is a cult. You are like ooh, I don’t want to use that word, which is no, no, no, we want everybody to have their own autonomy and we want everyone to have their needs met and not sacrifice a large portion of their needs so that the group can as a whole can get a small sliver of needs met and then completely be unhealthy in other ways. There is this tension. 

Joe: I also see that when groups subjugate themselves for the group, there is no healing that happens. As people in a group subjugate their needs, it just creates trauma. It doesn’t actually create healing. I think there is a tendency for it. I think it is very similar to the same tendency that two people get into a relationship and both of them start making sacrifices to their authenticity to make sure the other person is happy or stays happy, walking on eggshells or saying the exact right thing or doing whatever they need so the other person doesn’t get upset with them or angry at them or get sad or whatever it is. 

I think it is the same thing that happens, and I think it is really unhealthy in a relationship. I think it is really unhealthy in a group. At the same time, there is no judgment towards it in my system, but there is a deep dislike for that kind, dislike as in I don’t like the taste of that. Just like I don’t like cooked fish, and I want to eat fish. I will eat raw fish. There is that to it. 

I think the other thing that bothers me about the cult thing, and I would love to explore this because, like I said, I know there is something in this for me. What I notice is when people get involved in these programs, they have a way of interacting with each other which is deeply fulfilling. People come and say I really miss doing the work. I really miss the groups. People who do this work together stay friends for five, six years, and they get to know each other. The community builds. There is nobody telling them what to do, no leadership in it. They just enjoy it. It feels to me that to say this is cult behavior, it diminishes it. It is saying we can’t be this way naturally. We can’t just be happy naturally. We can’t just be deep and intimate naturally. It is only okay because we are in this cult. 

There is something about that tongue and cheekness that I think dismisses the idea that this can be your life. This is my life. This is many people I know. It is their life and they have never done this work. There is something that is like hey, don’t dismiss. Don’t. That only can happen in Vegas. No, it can happen any God damn place you want it to happen. This is your life. There is something in that that I get a little defensive towards. I am like hey, no. 

Brett: There is this idea that can happen when you find a group and a set of tools that bring you a deeper place of self-acceptance and self-love, and your life starts changing. There is a stage where you believe that these tools and these people are either required for it, or just that you are far more likely to get it if you are with those people. It starts to create the sense that there is a boundary between us and then everybody else who is not on this page. That is a thing that just happens anywhere in any group, a sports team, fans of the Browns, anything. It is like these are our people. Those are the other people. Our religion is the ones that eat chicken. The other religion is the ones that eat pork. It starts to create this boundary. 

There is something in the way that you relate to this, which is even if we are playing with the idea that this is a cult or not a cult, letting ourselves play with the idea of letting the concept of cult show up in our jokes so that we are at least self-referential and self-aware of the tendency that we might have to become insular, but there is also still this. 

Joe: Hold on. I’ve never thought about it that way. Never thought about it that way. What you are basically saying is on some level potentially the jokes are a way to keep it in consciousness. It creates an awareness of it so it doesn’t get out of hand potentially. 

Brett: Yeah. 

Joe: That actually makes me really appreciate it in a different way. I hadn’t thought about it that way. 

Brett: I think it also puts a little bit of framing around the kind of behavior that might occur. For a group of us that moved to Hawaii recently, we have a particular way of relating to each other. We have these tools, and some people would come and hang out with us. They would see us doing things differently, like go deep into emotions with these particular techniques. We actually had a couple of people be like are you guys a cult. If we were just defensive, like no, we are not a cult, then that would be maybe a red flag. 

Joe: What’s the answer? What do you say? 

Brett: The answer is I don’t know. If things got out of hand, we could let ourselves accidentally devolve into a cult if we weren’t actually careful. It is easy to recognize this group has something that I need and that I want that seems to be filling my needs more than I have found other places. Then I start getting attached to the group. Then my fear and my control mechanisms start coming in, and then somebody might start trying to control the group. Then people might sacrifice themselves for the group cohesion because the group is so important and it feels like you aren’t going to get it elsewhere, which goes back to the thing you were saying, which is buying into the story that all of life can’t be the work. There is a tendency that that could just happen if you are not watching for it. 

I think there is a way that being self-aware of we have a different culture developing in this group of people than is the broad culture out there. That might mean others project cult onto us, and that might also mean that we accidentally start exhibiting those behaviors. 

Joe: What’s interesting to me here is that I watched the Vow thing. Some of the tools and values were similar to some of the tools that we use, and so I remember the immediate response. I watched it with Tara, my wife. Our immediate response was, mine more than hers, I just don’t want to do this at all. I’ll give up the business. Maybe I won’t even coach. I don’t want anything to do with this. I was having a hard time, and I remember watching it and I am like where does the cult begin and where does the cult end. Then I started doing the research on the cult stuff and how to control groups, and then I started seeing it everywhere. 

I remember this one scene in the Vow where the Dalai Lama is talking to Keith Raniere, and the Dalai Lama has a problem with the thing, and then everyone is like this is a problem. He gets talked out of the fact that it is a problem, and then everybody goes oh. I am like wow, it is like one cult talking to another cult. Now, obviously there are huge differences between the two. I really like what [unclear] and I like some of what [unclear] has done in the world, but I saw it in companies. I saw it in political groups. I just saw that this behavior is almost everywhere. I remember after watching it, there was kind of this thing that happened to me is almost like there is just no way to do this. It was kind of like a giving up or something. There was something in me that was just like no matter what you do, humans will make it a cult. No matter what, and by humans, I mean me. I am not excluding me from them. 

It was just like no matter what you do. This is what it devolves into or evolves into because people like to have a clear understanding of what’s going on. They like to have roles. They like to have hierarchy. That was the arc of my adventure watching that, and somehow or another in there, when I started to really research, I remember 25 things that let you know you are in a high control group or a cult. I was like we don’t do that, we don’t do that, we don’t do that, and we don’t do that. All of a sudden, there is a distinction, and this is the difference. That’s the only thing that actually I think got me interested in doing the work again. It was so much not wanting. I want to bring people to their own wisdom, and I don’t want to bring people to my wisdom, somebody else’s wisdom or a group wisdom. 

I sometimes don’t see my own wisdom. I see the group wisdom or someone else’s wisdom. It is something that it is impossible to completely let go of. It is an interesting journey for me. I wonder how much of the word is charged. I think about the word narcissist. The words narcissist and victim, they were bad words in my head. If you are a victim or you are a narcissist, and then seeing we are all narcissists and we are all victims. There is no bad word here. I haven’t found the place where cult isn’t a bad word. In my world, I don’t see the place where giving up your will to a group is not a bad thing. 

The funny thing, the thing that hits me first is that giving up your will generally is a beautiful thing. As a matter of fact, I think that level of surrender is like one of the most enormous gifts I have ever had in my life, but it wasn’t to a guru. It wasn’t to a group of people. I think about something Gareth, who runs this thing called Conscious Cult, and he says what happens if you are surrendering consciously with the full understanding that there is imperfection on all sides of it. Even there, I would say it is far better to surrender to the ineffable than it is to a person. 

Brett: The ineffable, that’s one of the things I can imagine someone hearing and being like what the fuck does he even mean with it. You said before surrender, but the way you have this feeling about this word surrender that is like I don’t like the way people use it normally because it is like what are you surrendering to. I’ve seen you make a distinction between surrendering to something outside of yourself that is not tapped into your wisdom and surrendering to whatever it is coming from within you and through you. That brings me into something that actually really relates this sort of unavoidable phenomenon of group cohesion into cult behavior that just exists in all humans even if you become part of the cult of personal development gurus who doesn’t want to be a cultist, which could be its own cult. 

Joe: No way out. 

Brett: No way out. On some level, there is this fundamental pattern in life to self-organize into structure. Structure becomes control, becomes rigidity. That can occur on a group level, but it can also on an interpersonal level inside us. That’s actually what a lot of this work is, to recognize where in some sense we are a cult of one with our own beliefs and our own sub selves and parts that are colluding in some cult-like way to be us against the world. The work itself is to be swimming upstream of that and finding what’s underneath it and relaxing those constraints and letting a broader intelligence come through. 

Joe: I have so much joy in me right now hearing that. I love that, how you have shown that the cult is a projection of the internal cult and how our internal structure is very cult-like. We have a guru that’s a voice in the head that says things and we believe it without questioning whatsoever. I just thought the whole thing. If I want to take the principle and say if my internal world is that of abuse, then I look outside and see the external world as abuse. If my internal world is one of love and I look outside, I see the external world is one of love. I see how love acts. The question I have for myself is if I am rejecting the cult externally, if I am rejecting the cult externally because I am not sure if I am entirely rejecting it. But let’s just assume I am. 

I am definitely rejecting one of those things. Then I am rejecting that in myself. What does it mean to reject the cult in myself? Because the fact is if there wasn’t that cohesion, if there wasn’t this is the worldview that I hold, then there would be like a deeper level of collapse. It would almost feel like you lose your center. Wait, hold on a second, which every major transformation has been a losing of the center or the fear of losing the center. 

Brett: There is some level that each of us is afraid of losing the center for a reason because we could just fully dissolve, and yet dissolving is exactly the direction that is most healing for most of us to go, not all of us. 

Joe: The way I think about it is I am a cult of one, and that’s okay. There is a tremendous amount of joy with that statement, and there is also a nervousness. I am a cult of one, and that’s okay. That’s like somehow I define myself incorrectly. Somehow I define myself incorrectly as someone who can almost entirely see through my own belief patterns. It is almost like an acknowledgement and an okayness and a love of the fact that I can’t see through my own. There are ways that I can’t. Maybe every way I can’t see through my own belief patterns. I am sitting with that. I want to see what that does. 

I am going to say it again. I am a cult of one, and that’s okay. What turns in me is like it is almost like there is no group of people who don’t have a set of beliefs. It is like seeing humanity of cult, and it reminds me of this thing when I saw it the first time or the only time. I remember thinking to myself a couple things, like wow, they get so much goodness out of this. There is so much goodness out of this. Then the next thought was why do you have to mess this up. What would anybody do? Then, the other thing that I saw was like everybody is in a cult. The cult of materialism, the cult of technology, there is just major thought processes. If you went out into society and said I am just going to give them all technology, the society would be like what the fuck, and they would call you a cult. 

They wouldn’t see they are the cult as well, and so I think there’s a freedom that comes with this of saying cults of one, and that’s okay. No matter how I try, I will never, ever be able to see the water that I swim in. 

Brett: A characteristic of the experience of being in a cult must be that there are parts of you that are aware that you are being controlled or that you are allowing yourself to be controlled, and those parts are being resistant, disassociated. I am curious in you, in this I am a cult of one, you have this belief that I will never be aware, or I don’t see through, but what about the part of you that does see through whatever sliver of the structure you think you have. 

Joe: That’s how I identify. It’s the destruction of that identity that is, I think, the cult, meaning I identify as somebody who can see through it. It is the death of that identity, and I agree. I mean I agree that all of us see through it, and I also agree that all of us are [unclear]. There is definitely just some stuff. We don’t know what life would look like if we didn’t have eyes or we had different sensory organs. We are limited in our ability to understand by the nature of our organism if nothing else, by the colors that we see. But that’s an extreme version. It is an interesting thing. Literally it is like the death of the identity. 

Yeah, I can see through stuff and I can’t see through stuff. There are ways in which I am open minded and ways in which I am not open minded. I can’t even see the ways I am close minded in some cases. I can see the ways I am close minded sometimes and then trying to ignore them. 

Brett: Which is a necessary thing to do in order to weave our experience together into any cohesive story that can have any consistent plot line at all. There has to be information that’s lost and that is essentially some micro level of cult behavior inside ourselves. 

Joe: Let me test it. Give me a cult joke or something like that about this work being a cult. I want to feel what happens in my system. 

Brett: We are getting a bunch of shirts made with your face on it, and we are going to save the world. 

Joe: You got the double duty on me, even the saving the world part of it. There is more humor in it, for sure. I can laugh at it. I couldn’t laugh so easily at it recently, so that’s a good sign. I had this idea that if we ever did have a center, if there was ever a place where everyone was coming together to do this work consistently, that we would have a picture of a guru on the wall in five or six places, but every month it would change. We would pick one of the people and put them in the guru picture. 

Brett: At least two of them would be cartoon or something mythical, an animal. That’s great. 

Joe: Thank you for that. 

Brett: I enjoyed it. 

Thanks for listening to the Life in View podcast. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please subscribe. We would love your feedback, so feel free to send us questions and comments. To reach us, join our newsletter, learn more about VIEW or to take a course, visit 


The Vow,

Seeing Through Family Dynamics

Many of our beliefs about the way the world works and our role in it are formed in our early years of life. As adults, the family dynamics that we had as children can show up at work, in our relationships and other areas. Family dynamics gives us a chance to identify and heal patterns that are no longer useful to us so that we can empower ourselves to consciously choose how we show up in our lives. 

"My brain isn’t in a place where I can trust my thoughts, so I am going to go get my brain in a place and my body in a place where I can trust my thoughts, where I am out of my trauma so that I can think clearly because if I am acting out of the trauma, I will recreate it over, over, over and over again."

Brett: So wow, that was quite an opening Q&A. 

Joe: Yeah, Art of Accomplishment is on. Holy crap. 

Brett: People went there. 

Joe: Oh my gosh, unlike any start of anything I have ever been in. It was amazing how vulnerable it got and how quickly. It was really cool. 

Brett: I remember the first Q&A after the first week of work went really, really deep, and we were all blown away. But this was just like the orientation. You are going through a bunch of PowerPoint slides, and it was like oh man, I can bet half the people here are probably bored to tears. Then, before you know it, a couple questions come through and it is straight to the core. 

Joe: Straight to it. Sara was saying to me. She said I was scared. Last year, we got lightning in a bottle, and it might not happen again. She says that fear is completely gone. First thing she said when I called, she said I miss AoA calls. This was great. It was awesome. 

Brett: Something I wanted to talk about today is something I saw today in this call. So many of the things we do in this work, so many of the times I see you work with people, it often boils down to some form of family dynamic. We have talked about this before. We have these projections we carry from our childhood, people who are caretakers, parents or family members, but also projections of society, projections of money. But in particular, there is something to this concept of family dynamics that just continually comes up. I have noticed it comes up in my life a lot, in my relationships. I have projected my mother onto basically anybody I have ever dated to varying levels of effect. I have projected my mother and my father onto the management in the company, in my company and in friendship groups. 

A lot of times when we do this work, there will be a group. It is often in a group setting, and I know that you size those groups such that family dynamics can come up and then be worked with. So let’s talk about that a little bit. Tell me a little bit about what family dynamics means to you, and what makes this important. 

Joe: Something that is most interesting about it is that family dynamics are cool in the fact that they allow you to see why things are coming up, and they are also cool in the fact that it gives you one way to heal patterns that are no longer useful to you in your life. That’s what makes them cool. If you look at Freud’s work or a lot of the early psychotherapy work, it was all very focused on that early family stuff. There are a lot of ways to have significant transformation without ever really going into it. I say that at the front end just to say that there is lots of avenues of transformation. There are lots of ways of healing. There is no one way, and so this is a cool thing to talk about but if anybody is listening and thinking this is the only way, please let that go in your head. 

The way I think about it, the best explanation I have ever heard is that our brains, there are many brains that hang out. There is delta, alpha, beta, and theta, and theta is kind of the brain wave that we get into right before we go into sleep or right as we are waking up. It is the brain wave that happens when you are under hypnosis, and it is the brain wave basically you are in basically from zero to seven, eight years old, for the majority of it. It is really a way that you are being programmed just like you would under hypnosis. As kids are young, they are in this theta brain wave. It is why fairies are real for them, and it is why they are in a magical reality. It is that dream state, between that dream and awake space. In the American Indian culture, it was represented by dragonflies, which I just think is a beautiful imagery of what that is. 

We are being programmed in that young age, and we are in that brain state that tells us what reality is. This is love. Love is what we experience mom and dad doing and how we experience their interactions with us. This is what money looks like. This is what power looks like. This is what nature looks like. We get taught this whole way of looking at the world in those young times. If you are three years old and you are scared and you run to mom, and she is like it is time for you to be strong, that’s what you are going to learn. If the mom pulls you up and holds you, that’s what you are going to learn. If the mom slaps you and says why do you always bug me, that’s what you are going to learn. That’s how you are going to react to fear. That’s the way I think about it. 

That zero to 8 years old particularly is very much your programming. I think it continues. I think we learn things. Traumatic events can teach us and unteach us things, so there are other experiences we can have. Therefore, that’s reality. If we stay on that path, whatever we learned in that time frame, even though it might be painful, it is very easy to stay there. It is when you move out of that path that it becomes challenging. The other thing about this, which is ancillary, but I think cool to think about is that most of the transformation techniques I have seen be very useful tap into the theta brainwaves. Oftentimes, when people finish Groundbreakers, that week-long course that we do very rarely, people are like I can’t remember anything that happened. I don’t know what happened. When you and I did ESF together, people were like what the hell happened. I spent 3 days, and I don’t know what the hell happened. 

Brett: I still can’t remember 95% of what happened there. 

Joe: It is because you are in that theta space, and that’s where you are doing the reprogramming. 

Brett: To bring some examples into this, in the Q&A today, somebody made a comment in a session with you. They were like I am enduring the storm. I am weathering the storm. You were like wait a minute, in that, there is still an enduring going on. You can see the whole fractal family dynamic show up of like I was taught that life is a storm to be weathered, and you could see how that might create a pattern. If I am carrying that belief, then I will be attracted to people who are also experiencing life as something to be endured, and then we find this thing where we are enduring it together. That could be one way. If my mother was that way to me or was that with life and taught that to me, then I might find myself in a relationship. If I am resisting that and I am like I don’t want to live a life that feels like enduring, then I will find myself living a life where I am resisting the perspective that it is being endured and finding others in my life to feel that resistance with. 

Joe: Yes. Sometimes you are finding people who are seeing the world that way you see it, but you are also finding people to prove the way you see it is right. If you are somebody who believes that the world should be endured, then you are probably also finding somebody who makes you endure life. You will find people who both become the thing to be endured and the people who you can say isn’t true we have to endure together. That seems to be the pattern that you recreate over and over again. 

Brett: Right. Let’s talk about a couple of other example patterns just to make sure we are not in one particular zone here. Another thing that might happen is that somebody might grow up with a father who is somewhat emotionally absent. They are always working, but they are providing for the family. Their role is creating space in the home, but they are not as present maybe because they can’t be. Then that person grows up, and then they find themselves doing the same thing or also just expecting the same of others. 

Joe: Or marrying that exactly. They might become the role of the father, or they might marry the role of the father and expect that is just normal. 

Brett: Maybe another example, to paint a third example into this picture, is a mother who has a hard time accepting the way that her child is different from her or following a different path and struggles with that, so then the child grows up with a belief and then dating people who have a hard time accepting parts of them and feeling judged. 

Joe: There is an immediate step there, which is mom doesn’t fully approve of me. Therefore, the voice in the head doesn’t fully approve of me. Therefore, I date other people who don’t fully approve of me. That’s all part of that scheme. We can find one of those for all of us. We can all find one of those, but there are also ones that almost pertain to almost everybody, not everybody but almost everybody. 

I will just give a really simple example of that. As a kid, one of the things that you learn is that there is a mother and a father. They are authority figures and they have control over your life. Most people walk around the world with a boss, who is an authority figure and who has control over their life. Not everybody, but most people walk around the world with that. Now, I will often tell clients you don’t have a boss. You have a client. You have a customer. Unfortunately, you are not diversified. You don’t have lots of customers. You only have one, but you have a customer. They are not your boss. They are not your authority figure. They are somebody who is a customer, and you can lose them or you can get another customer or another client, however you want to look at it. Just even the perspective that you have a boss who has some sort of control over your life is a projection of a family dynamic typically. 

Brett: Yeah, and that points to something which this family dynamic thing is, which is when you were growing up, it was real. Your parents had authority over you. You didn’t have certain kinds of power that you do as an adult, but the perception continues. 

Joe: Yes. 

Brett: That’s the way that the lives that we lived in our family become the lives that we recreate in subtler and subtler ways as we mature and develop. 

Joe: That’s right. That’s exactly how it works. 

Brett: What are some examples of how this shows up in the workplace? You just had the boss projection. What about in a team? What are some ways that perhaps some people’s family dynamics issues interact with one another? What are some examples you have seen?

Joe: One of the coolest things, you just said in the team. One of the tricks I will teach to executives is that if they aren’t the authority figure in the room that everybody is reporting to, then a lot of these dynamics diminish. One really cool way to stop those kinds of projections that we are about to speak to is to make the team report to itself, meaning every time you have a team meeting, somebody else is responsible for holding accountability, meaning that the team when somebody fails, it is not the boss who says hey, what happened. It is the team that says hey, what happened. To really make the accountability to the team, which is really where the accountability lies. It is not to a boss. 

That’s just a cool way that you can create a structure inside of an organization and that changes a lot of this kind of dynamics, which is just a drag on an organization. The drag can be so many ways. It can be I project onto my boss that I need to please them. I project onto my boss that they are never happy with me. I project onto my boss that their opinion matters more than my opinion or that they have more authority than me. One of my favorites is I project onto my boss that they are a bad authority figure and I need to rebel against them. One of the more destructive ones I see a lot of is if I grow up with a father or mother who I always disappointed, I will recreate ways to disappoint my boss. You see that happening all the time where people are creating ways to disappoint their boss, but they can’t see that they are recreating it. 

All of that happens, and then the boss also has projections back, like I am responsible for these people. No, the boss is not responsible for them. Everybody is responsible for themselves. Or these people, I cannot depend on them. I have to do it all myself, or I can’t let them down or nobody can do it except me or I am necessary. That’s one of my favorite ones that bosses have. You see this especially at like not exactly the top tier of an organization, but that level below that. When I work with executives that are not quite at the C level, oftentimes those people, the big thing they have to do to get to the next level is learn that their job is to become unnecessary. They aren’t necessary anymore. They can create a structure that basically makes them irrelevant. When they do that, they just take it to the whole next level. It’s when they think they need to be needed or that they offer something special that the team can’t offer without them that they hold themselves back. All of those are projections of family dynamics as well. 

Brett: Absolutely. That kind of points to something you said earlier about how family dynamics is an interesting way to think about things and it can be useful, but don’t get too hung up on it. I can imagine some of these dynamics that come up, issues with authority, might not have actually come from your family. It might have come from your school. It might have come from a mixture of those things. 

Joe: There is a tremendous number of men in Silicon Valley who are in the top tier of their game who got bullied pretty heavily. These are a lot of the billionaires, a lot of the biggest players in Silicon Valley are men that don’t have an inherit large social intelligence that got fully bullied. They learned there is such a thing as power, and it is real. It is a dog eat dog world, and they need to be in the place where they have the power. They are incredibly smart and they can do it. That also in itself is a project. Obviously, it is not the only people who are near the top tier of Silicon Valley, but there is quite a few of them. 

Brett: Seems like a common cluster characteristic. This then also brings us back to what we can do about this. If we are using this kind of framework to start recognizing that a lot of the patterns that are occurring in our lives are being recreated from our family of origin and then kind of spreading out from that to our community or whether we were bullied or how teachers treated us, how church treated us, various things, and we are still recreating these patterns, let’s talk about an example of a team or a personal relationship or a group of friends. When people’s stuff comes up, they start to slide into these roles where one person will have a set of projections onto the group. Then that will just happen to click into place when someone else has their set of projects, and so on around the group. 

Joe: I would say it doesn’t click into place unless they meet the right opposite or right corollary projection. It is like they find themselves, and they are like click. This happens in almost every marriage I ever seen where their traumas overlap in this perfect way where they can play the opposite roles with each other where they can therefore learn to grow and transform because of the relationship. 

Brett: It is like people find each other based on the complementary surface area of their traumas, and that’s the thing that makes a team. 

Joe: And the best part is when they get into blame, one of the main moments when I am working with a couple where something gets undone is when they realize it’s perfectly matched. There is no one to blame here. I am holding my side. You are holding your side. That’s a great moment when people see that. It loosens the whole thing. 

Brett: Then the dynamic can change and loosen. The relationship can grow or develop, or they can move in separate directions, whatever is right. 

Joe: If they move in separate directions without healing it, they will most likely create another relationship that’s very similar. 

Brett: Yeah, that sounds right. It is interesting. There is almost this way that you could frame our family dynamics or our family projections as something that holds us back in the world, but it is also the exact kind of thing that is heat seeking, seeking us into exactly the kind of situation we need to solve those dynamics and grow through them in connection with people. 

Joe: The reason I said don’t make too much of the family dynamics is because knowing this doesn’t help you heal it very much, a little bit it does. But let’s take this exact same metaphor, but we will talk about it on an emotional level. Instead of saying family dynamics, we will say what’s happening emotionally. In your family, you were taught certain emotions you couldn’t have. Your body needs to get homeostasis. Just like if you were taught you couldn’t pee, you would be walking around trying to find a place to pee. Your body is trying to get the emotions to move through so that you can get back to homeostasis. What the subconscious is doing is it is recreating patterns where that emotion can come up so that it can be felt. As soon as you fully allow that emotion, you fully surrender into that emotion and let it move all the way through you, then you will stop recreating the pattern on an emotional level. 

The intellect, understanding it is useful. It loosens it up. Emotionally, feeling the thing that the pattern has taught you not to feel will very much loosen it up. That will change it pretty dramatically, and the other thing that helps on a nervous system level is that when you are in that pattern, there is a felt sense that is different. If you think about the time that you got most angry for no good reason, or felt most out of control for no good reason, even though you might identify the reason, you realize this doesn’t make logical sense that I would be this upset. That’s the sensation that you have, not the upsetness, but the sensation that’s carrying that upsetness. That’s how you know you are in your trauma. There’s a felt sense of going I am in my trauma. I am in the pattern here. I know this, and then that’s where the rational brain can be really helpful and say when I am in my pattern, I just can’t believe my thoughts right now. I can’t believe this. 

I remember in my journey there was this really wonderful moment where somebody came to me. It was in a business thing. They were like hey, what should we do. I said I can’t trust anything I think right now. My brain isn’t in a place where I can trust my thoughts, so I am going to go get my brain in a place and my body in a place where I can trust my thoughts, where I am out of my trauma so that I can think clearly because if I am acting out of the trauma, I will recreate it over, over, over and over again. 

Brett: Yeah, it seems like a great way for the rational, intellectual mind to be able to support the emotion and its process, and then on the opposite side of that, I can see that the thing you just said. My emotion that just came up is way more than it should be. I could also see that being a rationalization for I should down regulate that emotion and not have it because it is clearly too much for the situation. Somebody just looked at me a certain way and I am all upset. But another way to frame that is this is exactly the amount of emotion my system needs, and this thing brought up a bunch of bottled up, pent up stuff that maybe I don’t want to bring up right now in this environment and attack people with, but it is a pointer to the fact that it is there. 

Joe: Yes, and it wants to be felt, it wants to be processed, and it wants to be loved. That’s exactly right. That is beautifully said, better than I could have said it. 

Brett: Keeping on the topic of family dynamics, there is another thing that I can see that occurs. People will go through a story of life. This is maybe one of the ways this can be a trap. They will say I just keep dating my father. I keep dating my mother. Then that becomes a belief about themselves, and it becomes a learned helplessness within that. It seems like the emotional stuff we were just talking about is a way through that. It seems like there is something useful about recognizing that. I can see what is happening here because that might be one breadcrumb back to the thing for me to work with, the emotion to be felt. It also might only be a breadcrumb back to the thing next to it, and it might not have been a family thing. 

Joe: Intellectually, you can learn this thing. This is a family pattern, and then it can not change. Then you can start the belief system of I can’t change this, and then you can start the belief system of I am always going to be in this. Or you can notice the pattern and you can have the belief system of this is going to be really tough to change. Then you can say look, I have changed it a little bit but I am not making progress quick enough. All of those things are more of the projections from your early childhood. 

Brett: The belief that I am not quick enough. 

Joe: Emotions are hard. Transformation is difficult. I am not quick enough. I can’t do it. I am helpless. Mom was helpless. Blah, blah, blah. 

Brett: I will always be controlled by my emotions. 

Joe: Or I can’t trust emotions. Emotions can’t be trusted. All of these things are learned from somewhere in the childhood. What often happens is somebody sees the first thing that they have been working on, and they stick right there on that thing. But they don’t see it is held in place by a whole bunch of other ones. As one or two start falling apart, it is easy that the rest to start collapsing. 

Brett: If somebody is listening to this episode and they are starting to look for family dynamics in their life from the perspective of this might be interesting, might be helpful or it might be a trap, not to take it too heavily, and they start to see something. What’s the next step for somebody who starts to recognize I have had this pattern all of my life, I can see how it comes from some form of these dynamics. How can I start to see people as an individual, unique human that they are and not as the people that I was raised by?

Joe: The next step to take outside of learning to recognize it, and the best way to do that is when you are triggered, to know that you are in it then and to feel through it, which is another great step. The other thing that is like a couple really cool tricks to play with are if you find yourself in an emotionally triggered space, stop everything you are doing, feel the emotion and without any intellect, just feel that emotion. Trace it back to the first time you ever felt it. That will really teach you where this thing came from. That’s a really useful trick. 

Sometimes just feeling where it came from, and this happens oftentimes with things you don’t expect. You might be triggered over a boss and you find out it has something to do with a babysitter, or you might be triggered over money and you find out it has something to do with dad. That’s a cool trick. 

Another really trick as far as next steps of dilapidating the program is to remember that all of these programs came for good reason. If you were striving your whole life to find your dad’s love and so you are programmed to strive for love, that’s your job as a kid is to make sure you are loved by your dad or you might not survive. It is instinct, and it is beautiful. Can you love these patterns? Can you respect them for what they tried to give you? Can you just help them find new ways of doing it more effectively rather than move into you shouldn’t be doing this? I keep doing that. What’s the problem here? Because that’s just more of the pattern. 

Learning what the pattern has done for, how it has served you, its intent even if it is mean and vicious, its intent is to take care of you. To see that and honor that also is really effective in allowing the patterns to become more useful and more effective and more functional. 

Brett: It is almost like honoring your path to have been perfect as it is, and your behavior to have developed according to very logical, environmental shaping. It makes it easier to step forward and say that my future behavior is also going to make perfect sense in some regard, and I don’t need to be self critical. I can just feel what’s true for me. 

Joe: I was just dealing with a person recently, an old friend who I love dearly, and just going through the heat. At some point, he looked up and said to me I realized that it doesn’t matter who would have been put into my position, this is what would have happened to them. He saw that it wasn’t personal to him. The life, the patterns, all of it wasn’t personal to him. Anybody put into that situation would have ended up that way. It was so much relief in that. 

Brett: Do you have any integration questions for us about family dynamics?

Joe: Yeah, the first one would be what’s the pattern in your life that you most feel holds you back, and then the second question would be what’s the way you try to avoid it that is actually keeping it in place. What’s the way you are trying to avoid that pattern that actually holds the pattern in place? That would be the other way to say that. Then the third question is what is it about this pattern that has been serving you, has tried you and has served you in the past. 

Brett: Great questions. Thank you, Joe. 

Thanks for listening to the Life in VIEW podcast. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please subscribe. We would love your feedback, so feel free to send us questions and comments. To reach us, join our newsletter, learn more about VIEW or to take a course, visit 

It's All a Projection

In today’s episode, we will be taking a deeper look at projections. What exactly does that mean? The parts of ourselves that we cannot own — either good or bad — are what we project onto other people. The concept of projection is rooted in the idea that we create beliefs based on our past experiences. We carry these beliefs with us into the present, where they subconsciously shape our current reality.

"People think somebody who really sees through projections is really smart because they come up with really cool, unique, innovative ideas, or they act in a way that is seemingly not normal but yet it works. It is not so much really that they are smart or not smart. It is that they don’t see the same level of limitation on everything that somebody who fully buys into the projections sees."

Brett: Today we are going to talk about projections, so Joe, you have talked about projections a lot in our courses, this idea that from our past experience we create these beliefs that we carry into the present. This shapes our reality in the moment, and I would like to get into that a little bit further today. Joe, what are projections?

Joe: It is such a complicated subject because the word “projection” is used for many things. There is the psychological projection, which somewhat stems from Young’s work and some other psychologists. That is this idea that the parts of ourselves that we cannot own, the parts of ourselves that are either good or bad, but that we cannot have full ownership over. We project onto other people. This is something that happens when you are deeply triggered. 

An easy way to look at this just briefly is you look at most politicians, and if you see them really just accusing somebody else of something, you can see a way in which that is true about what they are doing as well. If you are dealing with somebody and they are like they are so arrogant, that comment in itself is arrogance. It is as if you can presume to know what their reality is. That's projecting the unknown parts of ourselves, and it can be positive things too, like oh my gosh, they are so smart. They understand everything, and I don't. That can also be unowned parts of ourselves, positive unowned parts of ourselves that we then project on to other people. There is that. That is what we will call psychological projection 

Then, there is this projection onto the world, and that's more about how we lived our first eight or nine years of life when we are theta brain waves and where we are basically learning what life is. We might learn that love is associated with shame or money is associated with lack. Authority is associated with anger. Then we go and recreate those projections in our life because we are like that's what we learned it is, and so you go into the world. You are in your 20s, 30s, your 40s, and you find out that everybody who you choose to have a romantic relationship with has a tendency to shame you, or you see money as something there is not enough of and then you are not able to have the money that you want or need. There is that kind of projection onto the world. 

Then there is the projection of self, and the projection of self, which is closely related to the next projection, but I want to make a distinction between the two, the projection of self is that we don't really see the world. We see ourselves, or we don't really see reality. We see ourselves in reality. That would be like if somebody is a thief, they see the world as a world of thieves. If somebody has a deep relationship of self-love, then they see the world as love. Even when they see the atrocities of the world, they see it as people trying to love themselves, and they are not capable. The way that we see ourselves and relate to ourselves then is how we interpret the world. That's another level of projection, the projection of self. 

The final projection that I see is the projection of I, which I am making a distinction here though there is not a real one, but I think it is useful to make the distinction. That's just the idea that there is a you that is separate. We have this identity. The way humans work is we have a sense of identity, and we don't know if other animals have that sense of identity. But we have a sense of identity. At the very core of that sense of identity is the idea that there is an I that exists as separate, and a tremendous amount of spiritual modalities. Ramana Maharashi is the most known example where a lot of the work is really to see the self not as something to be protected, not as the body, not as an emotional state, not as something that has existed for 45 years or whatever it is, but as illusionary in nature or to see the self as the awareness of all of those things. That's the last way that I think about projection. It is those four ways I think about projection. 

Brett: You have got psychological projection where you are projecting onto essentially someone else’s psychology making assumptions about their intent or their experience. 

Joe: In that case, it is disowned parts of yourself, parts of yourself that you don’t want to fully accept about yourself. 

Brett: These can be parts that you judge about yourself, but also parts that you judge about yourself not having. 

Joe: Correct. 

Brett: Like in the case of admiration towards somebody. 

Joe: Specifically, they can be things that you don’t actually see in yourself. It is so disowned that you cannot even see it in yourself. If you see somebody as super brilliant, there is no person I have met that doesn’t have their own level of brilliance in some capacity. If you see that, admire that, put that up on a pedestal, it is a strong indicator that you cannot see it in yourself. Similarly, if you are like that person is a thief, and you cannot see that you also have in that in you and in your actions, then that’s the psychological projection. 

Brett: That’s the psychological projection, and then you have got the projection onto the world, which is sort of your baked in assumptions about how the world works from your early childhood experience. 

Joe: Yes, right. 

Brett: You have got this projection of self. This isn’t a projection onto yourself, but it is a projection of yourself onto the world, seeing the world the way you are internally organized. 

Joe: Correct. That’s right. I use the example of the saying in love, but if you think that it is really important to be dressed and put together, then you are likely to think it is important for other people to be dressed and put together. That’s the simple version of it. What’s good or bad for you is good or bad for the world. The way that you see yourself and relate to yourself is the way that you relate to the world. 

Brett: If it is weak for you to cry, then it is weak for others to cry. 

Joe: Correct, great example. 

Brett: Then the last one is the projection of I, which is you are distinguishing from the projection of self as this one is more of a meta projection that you are a separate self from the world. 

Joe: That you have an identity. 

Brett: There is some boundary that is you. 

Joe: If you think about that, if I cut you in half. If you think you are your body and I cut you in half, which half is you?

Brett: Or a [unclear] experiment where they cut the corpus callosum and people had basically two very separate identities, each controlling half of the body and at odds with each other. 

Joe: Exactly, or people think I am emotional. You were emotional, but what happens if that emotion just stops? Are you still emotional? Is it essentially you? What is essentially you is the question? Ramana Maharashi uses language like who am I. The deconstruction work of almost all spiritual traditions are getting to the basic underlying question of what you are essentially. What is that you are that you have always been? From the moment of birth to the moment of death, what is the unchangeable, immutable part of yourself?

Brett: Which I suppose is just a process of seeing through projections of the self, which changes our experience of the world as we do that. So as you mention emotions, how do emotions play into projections? How do they interact? 

Joe: When we have big emotions, we learn differently. Part of how people brainwash folks is that they create big emotional experiences for them, and then that’s what allows them to change habits. When we have big emotional experiences, it allows us to learn. If you want to redefine somebody’s idea of themselves or idea of the world, basic training is an example of this. You create these big emotional experiences, and then they have a different sense of themselves at the end of it. Emotions are useful in that way. They are evolved to do that. If I get bit by a snake, and I have this big emotional experience and a big physical experience, I am less likely to be bitten by that snake in the future. 

What this does is it makes traumatic experiences really key definers of who we are. If we have had long-term abuse or we had a car accident or if we have been in a war, it starts to define us because it upends our learnings from those early days or maybe it even happens in those early days of life. They are really important that way. I think the nuance that people often don’t quite get is that oftentimes people recognize when they have big emotions that they are out of control themselves. You could say they are acting in trauma, or you can say they recognize that when that big emotion takes control, they do stuff they don’t want to do. 

The natural movement when they see that correlation is they assume causation, and in that assumption of causation, they say I need to manage my emotions so that I don’t have big emotions, or I need to be in control of my emotions. What that path ultimately leads to is a level of disassociation. The emotions are still there. They are still moving us, but we disassociate from them. They become harder and harder to recognize. 

The other way to think of it is to assume correlation. These things are together, and my job isn’t to control them or suppress them or push them down. It is to learn how to surf them and to love them and to accept them deeply and to find the joy in them or to not resist them. If we take that step, then what happens is the emotional currents of our life become vitalizing. We fall in love with them. There still isn't control, meaning that we don’t find ourselves succumbed to these big emotional experiences because we start to see that that is just another level of resistance. But we don’t disassociate from them, and we don’t stop to see or recognize the massive impact that these emotional currents are having even if we have pushed them so far down that we don’t feel them anymore. If we don’t dissociate, we start to recognize that these big emotional currents in our lives are more like road signs rather than causation. 

Brett: It almost sounds like you are describing sort of chicken or egg thing with projections or emotions where the emotions we have in our early youth. Children are very emotional, and that correlates highly with their learning rate and how quickly they soak up information like a sponge. They create these projections, and then we carry these projections into our lives and tend to see the world as it was when we were kids, which will then tend to bring us back into those emotions we had when we were kids. If we let ourselves feel those emotions and process them, then being in this emotional state can allow us to shift our projections. 

Joe: That’s exactly it. I would say it is not that we only see the world. We create the world. When we are living through a projection, it is not just that we see the evidence that it is true. But you also attract the same experiences. You also manipulate events to create the same experience. On an emotional level, what’s happening is that emotion that wasn’t allowed to be felt all the way through, that wasn’t allowed to move all the way through you is looking to recreate circumstances so it can move all the way through you, and then the circumstances stop getting recreated. That's how it works on an emotional level. 

Brett: Then feeling the emotion completely allows the projection to shift into maybe some generalized form because it seems like a projection is a limiting perception on the world. 

Joe: Yeah, and that doesn’t mean they are bad or good. They are just useful or more useful or less useful, meaning I project onto snakes that they are deadly. Now obviously all snakes aren’t deadly, and I might find a snake and think it is deadly and jump away, but it is not deadly. The question is what the projections are that are useful, that create peace and joy, productivity, love in our lives, purpose, whatever it is that one thinks they are after. What are the projections that create the things that we are not after? 

When you are doing the deep work, the stuff that was programmed in the early days, like if you were lucky enough to have parents that just deeply loved you and were attuned to your emotional experience and wanted you to feel safe and protected and weren’t emotionally trying to cajole you into certain emotions and not other emotions. Then, it is really easy for you to reproduce that kind of love in your life. But if you didn’t get that, it is more challenging. It is those early projections because we have a rational conscious mind, we can say that is the world I want to live in. Do I want to live in a world where love is conditional, or love is shame or love is control? Do I want to live in a world where love can be different?

We have the choice, and then the work is not just feeling the emotions but falling in love with them on an emotional level. Intellectually, to be able to just see them, to just identify them can be incredibly freeing, and then to work with them and say wow, I am in a projection. What if I take a contrary action? Intellectually, that is that way to work on them. 

Brett: It also sounds like falling in love with the projections is part of this path, too. I’ve definitely seen and experienced in the process of discovering that projections exist and that everybody is doing them, there can be a process of I’ve identified a projection. That’s bad. Projections are bad, which is just another way of disowning yourself. The only way you can navigate a chaotic world is to create some kind of sense-making system of projections. 

Joe: I have never thought about it as falling in love with projections, but it is beautifully said. Fighting against your projections is only a way that increases their stability. 

Brett: I imagine going birdwatching, but you don’t like birds. How many of them are you going to find? If you love finding a projection, it is like wow, I am projecting right now. That might be useful. Also, it might be useful to do it a little bit differently or experiment with it a little bit. 

Joe: That’s great. When you say how many birds you will find, it is like proof. For instance, if you talk to somebody and you say tell me about a trauma that you had, and let’s say their trauma was that when I was a kid, I had a dad who would always yell at me. The lesson that I learned was that I had to be quiet to not get yelled at. Let’s just say. Let’s keep it simple. That’s the data they picked up. The data that they didn’t pick up was the ways that they still asserted themselves even by not speaking up. They didn’t learn that wow, I can survive a tyrant in my home, not that I have to, but I can. The information that they didn’t pick up was that mom was actually loving me the whole time, or I didn’t pick up the information that dad did love me from time to time. There was this love that was available. 

What’s interesting is our brain is adapted to pay more attention to the negative things, and so oftentimes one of the ways we recreate these things is to only see the evidence that supports the pattern, the projection. 

Brett: What is the practice then of becoming more aware of these projections and reengineering them? 

Joe: I mean it is different for the different levels of projection. In the psychological projection, everywhere you are triggered, you are triggering an unknown part of yourself. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be triggered. It doesn’t mean that you are not right. It just means that you are also projecting it on to somebody else. Every time that you are triggered is a great example of how you are projecting a disowned part of yourself or anyway in which you idolize somebody, you are projecting a disowned part of yourself. That’s a good way to work on the psychological projection. 

The projection on the world is just a really easy thing to do is just list out 10 things that are important to you, like money, love, authority, decision making, whatever they are. Then, ask yourself what the essential learning was you had from your childhood about money and love and authority, and notice how you are recreating those things and notice how you are manipulating the world into it. I’ll give you an example in a second here. How you are attracting it and notice how you are proving it. 

An example of this is just like almost everybody at some point in their lives, you keep on dating the same person with different names. I used to attract or create this world in which I was going to be emotionally abandoned. One of the things that I did was I attracted people who were more likely to emotionally abandon me. I was attracted to them. The other thing I did was I manipulated the world to do that, so when I felt unheard, instead of saying ouch, I feel unheard and I would really like to be heard, I would get angry. You are not hearing me. Because I was in my trauma, and then that of course would push them away even further. 

Then I would look around the world and I would say that person emotionally abandoned me, and that person emotionally abandoned me, but I wasn’t noticing all the people who weren't or who really wanted not to, and I wasn’t allowing it. I was abandoning them. That’s the way to look at it as far as that level of projection. Then on the projection of I, I mean the easiest thing to do is say what I am, and really sit in the question rather than to look for an answer. But there are other things you can do as well, which is just notice the part of yourself that has always been there or put your attention on to a tension. There are lots of things that help you see through the false sense of identity, the kernel of that identity being that you exist as a separate thing or as a non-separate thing even. The kernel of the identity is that I exist. 

Brett: Another area that I have heard this concept, kind of a metaphor, is something called object fixation or target fixation. If you are flying a parachute and you want to land in a field, but there is a tree in the field, if you look at the tree, you are probably going to hit the tree. Driving a motorcycle around a corner, if you look into the ditch, you are going to go into the ditch. 

Joe: That’s a beautiful metaphor. I really like that metaphor. 

Brett: There have been lots of times in my life when I have seen some kind of disaster coming in business or in a relationship. I am like not wanting it, but I am scared of it, which makes me think of it more, which makes me see and look for the evidence of it more and not see the other paths available to me, and then the thing happens. I am then surprised for some reason. 

Joe: Right now, I got in touch with an old friend, and he is in a state of believing that he is bad and incapable. You can watch this reality that he is living in create itself. He needs to do something at his job, and he doesn’t want to feel the anger of his boss, so he doesn’t need to do the thing that he needs to do to make sure that job is done right because he is trying to avoid the anger. Then, by not doing the thing he needs to do, he has got more evidence that he is bad and incapable because he is trying to avoid the feeling of being bad and incapable by being yelled at by his boss. That’s how the whole thing moves. It is like as we see ourselves as a certain way, subconsciously or consciously, we are recreating that over and over and over again. 

Brett: So that’s how that ties into this projection of I being the base level projection of all of these really. Because the more you see yourself as any certain thing defined by any particular characteristics or identity, then that’s going to set the context for the projections you are going to have in your relationships, in the world and upon yourself. 

Joe: That’s right. Unfortunately, even if you see through the I, it doesn't really resolve the emotional stuff. You can have a lot of cognitive freedom. You can have a lot of intellectual freedom when you see through the personal I, when you have that kind of awakening, but it doesn’t change the emotional experience of stuff. In fact, it can make the emotional experience harder to access because it starts operating at a more disassociated way or in a lower-level way harder to recognize way. The freedom of the intellect is great, but it is far more productive to meet it with the emotional freedom as well, with the loving of all of the emotional experiences that are happening. 

Brett: That’s really interesting to me. I am very intellectual, heavily weighted on the intellectual, personally, and so the more I start to recognize some of my own projections, they can easily just become a way to be not good enough. I am still living in this. I don’t know how to get out of this particular projection, but I see it. I am frustrated by it now. There is this layer of frustration as an emotion to feel on top of whatever emotion is driving that projection to begin with. 

Joe: That’s one way it happens. Another way it happens is the emotional scenery becomes more and more in the background, but it is still driving you. I know we have talked about this. We cannot make decisions intellectually. All of our decision making is emotional. If you remove the emotional center of a brain, then a person ceases to make decisions even though their intellect, their IQ is still operating at the same level. The emotions are still moving us, but they have become so far in the background. There is this kind of way of saying nothing is real, nothing is true, there is no I, and yet all of these emotional decisions are still happening. Still there is this level of drama and chaos in life even if you go and move to a monastery. It is still there. 

Brett: What then is the way to take the information from this episode and understanding this existence of projection become more aware of them and use that as breadcrumbs into the emotional experience underlying them? 

Joe: On the intellectual level, I think the underlying problem that people experience when they start to recognize projections is they will be confronted with a reality that everything is a projection. There is nothing that we see or do that isn’t a projection. If you want a direct experience of this, just look at a tree. It is better if you look at like a living thing and see it as a tree. This is a tree. I see it as a tree. Then, see it not as a tree. See it as this is just this thing that’s in front of me, no label, no projection, no need to identify, classify, and just be in the presence of the tree. 

When people talk about deep presence, this is what they are talking about is to have a moment or two without the projection operating at full speed. Not that it is not always operating, not that it is not accessible to us at any time, but to really just be in what is in this moment without any of the labels and stuff. You can get that really direct sense of being more in projection and less in projection. The issue that arises, like I was at least trying to say, was that at some point you see the whole world as a projection, the whole thing. There is no thought you can fully trust. There is no emotional experience you can fully trust. There is no body sensation you can fully trust. It doesn’t mean you can’t trust, but it is literally like the world becomes a kaleidoscope. 

That’s some scary shit. Because if you interpret it as I am in control, oh my God, it is a kaleidoscope, I don’t know what to do, I am out of control, it can be very, very scary. It can be something you really, really want to avoid. The idea of projection itself is something that often people will accept and embrace very slowly because they have to confront this thing. If they do it really quickly, it is just really important. If you really can all of a sudden just see this whole world is a projection, it is really important to see that essentially that’s not going to stop you from operating at any level at all. It just is what is, and there is this huge freedom to it. Oh wow, I don’t have to take anything seriously, and yet I can still enjoy myself and yet I can still have purpose and yet I can still be productive. But I can take everything with this light-hearted joy that comes about. So that’s the intellectual issue is that at some point you come across this idea that everything is a projection, and you are like crap. There is this fear. 

As far as the emotional part goes, it is kind of different for people who haven’t had the kind of identity of self switched to awareness or to the infinite and those who have had that switch happen. If the switch hasn’t happened, then leaning into your emotional states, loving your emotional states, inviting your emotional states, seeing the emotional states when they are out of control is just another form of resistance. Allowing them to move through your body, looking forward to them, that’s the work. That’s the really powerful work. If it is afterwards, that’s the same work, but you have another step on top of it, a step for the before, which is to dig them out. It is to really deeply go in and look for the most nuanced little emotional shift and plumb the depths of that and almost magnify it. 

One of the people who taught me about this stuff, he used to work with monks. I think he worked with Trappist monks and Tibetan monks, all sorts of monks. He said when I do the work with them, it is like dragging them back into hell because they have to go back into the emotional experience they had pushed so far into the background. When that is happening, the thing is that you see people who have that peace but without the joy, when they have calmness, but they don’t have the exuberance of life, like if they don’t laugh easily, that’s a pretty good indicator that the identity has shifted but the emotional experience has been suppressed. 

Brett: A lot of this conversation is reminding me of this psychological test that can be conducted. You think of an object, and then you have 10 minutes to write down how many uses for that object you can think of. Let’s say for a brick. Your projection would be this is a brick. It is used for masonry, and you could build a wall with it. But the more you start to see the brick just as an object, as just something that it is not a brick, then you could start to see other purposes for it, like counterweight for an elevator or you could break into sand and make play doh out of it, or a million other uses. 

I think the same thing can be true for an emotion that a projection might come from. I am angry. That means somebody else has wronged me, and it is their fault. That’s one projection of this emotion, but if I just go into the essence of the emotion and feel that, then what else might that mean for me. What other richness might there be in that experience?

Joe: That’s cool. First of all, never heard it explained that, and I am really digging that. Second of all, I thought you were talking about something different, which it also applies to. Let’s start with the emotional experience. That anger could be an indication that I haven’t drawn the boundary I need to draw. That anger could be an indication that I am not taking care of myself. That anger could be an indication that somebody has wronged me. You are right. All of that is levels of projection. 

The thing I thought you were talking about, which also seems like a really cool idea to me, which is the brick could be this, the brick could that, it is the same with projections. Oftentimes something that happens when people start seeing through their projections, they have a lot more opportunity in front of them. They see a lot more options. The array of possibilities opens up to them, and so a lot of times people think somebody who really sees through projections is really smart because they come up with really cool, unique, innovative ideas, or they act in a way that is seemingly not normal but yet it works. It is not so much really that they are smart or not smart. It is that they don’t see the same level of limitation on everything that somebody who fully buys into the projections sees. 

Brett: Right, that is something that I meant by that as well. I went the emotion route, but really I think this applies everywhere. This is really kind of the core of how VIEW can change our lives because particularly impartiality and wonder but also vulnerability for other people to have this experience with you with getting more information and empathy, being curious about other people’s experience and being with them in it. These characteristics or these traits lead us to have a more granular awareness of reality beyond the initial assumptions we might have had even though those initial assumptions still exist, and they still can guide our behavior and allow us to act quickly and effectively. The more we can become aware of them and the more we can see them for what they are, as projections, then the more granular our awareness of the world around us can be and the more we can start to see other possible interpretations of the world than the ones that we have started with. 

Joe: Again, that is the third time on this podcast. I have seen it that way, and it is such a beautiful articulation of it. It is such a great story to build around it because that’s absolutely how it works when you look at it that way. 

Brett: Of course, that’s also just a projection. 

Joe: Of course, that’s also just a projection. That’s the thing. That’s another thing that’s really cool about this work is I know you have seen this in my work, but I will go and pontificate on something because that is what I am asked to do. Then, they will say you are totally wrong about that. I will be like yeap, that’s true. I can absolutely see the world in which everything I am saying is incorrect because I can see that there is some correctness in every point of view and some fallacy in every point of view. The fear for me when I was entering into that way of looking at the world was oh shit, I will never be able to act. How will I act if I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong? How will I be able to act if I know that everything is and isn’t true and act the same way that you would if you were an animal or a dragonfly? 

Actions still exist, and you are still processing information. You are still having emotions, but what happens is you start choosing the projection that serves you best, the projection that allows for more freedom, that allows for more love, that allows for more joy. You start choosing it, but you can’t stop seeing through it. You just realize at some point if all of it is true and not true, then I actually just get to be who I am, who I want to be. 

Brett: I think the more that you accept all of your projects rather than labeling some of them as good or some of them as bad, then the more all of them can kind of be present in each moment and your entire past experience can sort of average out to one statistically most likely scenario, one specific next step from each scenario that is likely to have the better outcome, but nothing is guaranteed. 

Joe: Yeah, and you don’t really give a shit if it is guaranteed or not because whatever shows up in your field, it is not resisted and it is not labeled. If I was to choose, do I want to go to prison and love myself or do I want to stay out in the free world and hate myself? Consequences become less important than the actual freedom to see yourself in the world in a way that is enlivening, that is joyful. 

Brett: That seems like a great stopping point for this episode. Do you have any integration questions for us, Joe?

Joe: One question that arises is if you write down four of the things that trigger you most in the world, in what ways are you judging or disowning that part of yourself. In what ways are you judging or disowning that part of yourself? Second question is, if you are looking deeply at who you admire or who you put on a pedestal, what are the parts of them that you admire and how do you not own that aspect of yourself? The last question is, what’s looking out behind your eyes? 

Brett: That’s a good one. 

Joe: I encourage you not to answer that question, just be in it. 

Brett: Wonderful. Thank you, Joe. 

Joe: Thank you, Brett. 

Brett: Thanks for listening to the Life in VIEW podcast. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please subscribe. We would love your feedback, so feel free to send us questions and comments. To reach us, join our newsletter, learn more about VIEW or to take a course, visit 


Ramana Maharshi,