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For over a decade, David Tian, Ph.D., has helped hundreds of thousands of people from over 87 countries find happiness, success, and fulfilment in their social, professional, and love lives. His presentations – whether keynotes, seminars, or workshops – leave clients with insights into their behaviour, psychology, and keys to their empowerment. His training methodologies are the result of over a decade of coaching and education of thousands of students around the world. Join him on the “DTPHD Podcast” as he explores deep questions of meaning, success, truth, love, and the good life. Subscribe now.
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DTPHD Podcast Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/dtphdpodcast/
HENRY CHONG is our special guest speaker on this episode. Henry is Director of Fusang Capital, a fund management company that manages the assets of multi-family offices. He is also a Director at the Portcullis Group, Asia’s biggest independent group of trust companies, providing comprehensive wealth administration to high-net-worth individuals, providing a one-stop shop for corporate, trustee, and fund administration services to individuals, family offices, philanthropies, private banks, and investment managers. Henry is a graduate of Oxford University with a B.A. (Hons) in Philosophy Politics & Economics and is a founder of the Oxford Economics Society. He also holds a M.Sc. in Behavioral Science from the London School of Economics and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSC). He will be sharing with us from his deep insights in behavioral economics, finance, health, and psychology.
Connect with Henry here: http://henrychong.com/
Episode 24 Show Notes:
3:40 Should you choose certainty over love or love over certainty?
6:45 This is the problem all achievers face
10:40 What is the art of fulfillment, and why does it matter?
15:20 Will achievement lead to fulfillment?
20:27 What does true fulfillment feel like?
25:06 How does fitness help us understand achievement vs. fulfillment?
29:17 What is the all-important concept of Flow?
34:53 What does it feel like to be in Flow?
39:31 What is life like without challenges?
44:02 Here’s the best way to handle internal resistance to accomplishing your goals
Achievement v. Fulfillment. Significance v. Love. Instrumental v. Intrinsic
David Tian Ph.D. and Henry Chong discuss concepts which are commonly mistaken as the same ideals.
Achievement is often mistaken as fulfillment, David Tian Ph.D and Henry Chong get down to the reason why they are different in principle.
We often mistake the need of significance for the need of love, David Tian Ph.D and Henry Chong explore the reasons why we interchange them.
David Tian Ph.D and Henry Chong differentiate when a matter is intrinsically valuable and not instrumentally valuable.
In this podcast episode, David Tian Ph.D and Henry Chong show how understanding all of these concepts can help us improve our lives.
Truth, love, and the good. Here we go.
Dr. David Tian: Welcome, Henry. And welcome, listeners and viewers. Welcome back to the DTPHD Podcast.
Henry Chong: Live this time.
Dr. David Tian: Yes, we are in person in my living room in Taiwan, and this is the end of one of our Mastermind Summits. We just had a 2 Michelin-starred lunch tasting menu that was very filling, so I’m a little bit sleepy right now, but thanks for listening and tuning in.
I’m David Tian, in case you didn’t know. And for the past 13 years, I’ve been helping hundreds of thousands of people in over 87 countries attain success, happiness, and fulfillment in life and love. And I’m joined here by my good friend, Henry Chong.
Henry Chong: Yes.
Dr. David Tian: Henry. How about you introduce yourself?
Henry Chong: Yes. Well, my name is Henry Chong and I am the CEO of the Fusang Group. And today, we build financial infrastructure for digital assets, so things like cryptocurrencies you may have heard of before. We run a digital asset custodian and also soon a trading platform where you’ll be able to buy and sell digital assets of all kinds, including company stock.
Dr. David Tian: The thing we want to have this podcast revolve around this episode is the fact that we went together to a Tony Robbins event called Date With Destiny. And at this event, we learned some things. And we had some insights and that sort of thing. So, we want to just talk about that and share that. And it’s not going to be specifically about Tony Robbins. It’s not a plug for Date With Destiny or any of that. It’s just that was the event that happened to trigger, or activate, or lead to these new insights and breakthroughs. And we’re going to talk about that.
Henry Chong: Yes. Absolutely.
Dr. David Tian: This is about five months ago.
Henry Chong: In May.
Dr. David Tian: And this is the second time we’ve done this. We were together at the first one, and this was in Australia, Date With Destiny. And this particular date with Date With Destiny, Tony only was healthy for like the first three days I think out of six, so it was an unusual one. But those first three days were action-packed, and lots of things. What’s one thing that you learned during that week?
Henry Chong: Well, I had a pretty unique experience that week because I was doing the leadership version of Date With Destiny. So, I showed up a day and a half before everyone else to work with some of the trainers who are there at Date With Destiny and look a bit behind the scenes, if you will, into how both Tony and a lot of the trainers try and work with people.
At Date With Destiny, you learn a lot of key principles, I guess we can talk about today. And Tony and the trainers use those same principles to work with all of their participants. And that was a really powerful experience for me. So, you still come in as a participant throughout those six and a half days, but you’re also working a lot with trainers to work with individuals, each of the teams, because at Date With Destiny, you get split into these teams of 30 people and working with those people through all the reasons why they came to Date With Destiny. It was a really powerful experience.
Probably one of the most powerful weeks of my life, actually. And one of the most important things I’ve learned and realized by — after working with so many people is that we all run the same patterns. And a lot of these patterns are universal. So, I’ll get into this a bit later, but I remember I was working with one participant and running through an exercise about the towards values and way values. You remember that?
When you say, “My hallucination is that if you have these values in this order, it will lead to these problems.” And the exercise that you go through with your partner is you just say, okay. Well, for example, my hallucination is that if you have a need for certainty above your need for love, that’s going to cause conflict. Love is inherently uncertain. And if you desire — you want both, but you will always prioritize certainty, and then you wonder why you can’t get love.
And you wonder why, whenever you are perhaps in a relationship, you are always a bit afraid to let things push past a certain point. And hey, look, it’s because you have this need for certainty. I found that that actually was really powerful because when you’re working with someone and you’re going through this, and you’re saying, “Oh, well, I imagine these things will happen.” And the partner says, “Wow. How did you know?”
And of course, the thing is, not that you had any special insight into that person’s life, but because we all run these same patterns. Everyone who has a need for certainty over a need for love is going to run into the same obstacles. And what I realized through that experience is that not only — we all run the same patterns, and when you watch Tony work with individuals, you realize that, again, it’s all just — it’s the exact same structure, the same patterns, the same everything.
And I found that quite powerful because it means that — I find it very hopeful. It means that if you can just understand these patterns that we all habitually run, we can all work to improve our lives.
Dr. David Tian: Yeah, that certainty over love is such a huge realization. A lot of guys, especially younger guys in their twenties, they think they’re looking for love. They think they’re feeling love when they’re in a relationship. But what prevents them from actually making connection and keeping that connection with a woman or with any human being actually is that strong need for certainty. So, the certainty will kill the love. It will stifle it. So, what ends up happening is, it becomes a sort of needy connection.
And it’s just really unattractive for one, but also, it prevents the connection from deepening. It’s like if you’re trying to swallow some food, but you’re just tightening your throat. Eventually, you’ll kill yourself because you’re strangling yourself. And sort of like strangling love, giving it no oxygen to breathe.
Henry Chong: All people have a need for significance and mistake that for a need for love.
Dr. David Tian: Yeah. So a lot of people who go to self-development events are driven by a need for significance, where it feels like their ego is leading the way that they need to get the — attain these milestones in order to feel good about themselves. And that leads to this point that we want to get to on the difference between the science of achievement versus the art of fulfillment.
And to get to high levels in society, like the elite in terms of money, or your body, or dating, often, it would require that you’re quite driven to attain those goals more than the average person. Because you’re going to work hard and you’re motivated to work hard for those things.
So, a lot of people who go to self-development events tend to be driven by significance because that’s what led them to the success in the first place. I work with a lot of achievers. That’s like the standard client profile. They’re driven. They’ve got good grades or have a good job. They have a comfortable living, and then they have problems. They have problems psychologically, maybe physically, arising out of that driven-ness.
It’s kind of like this neurotic drive for accomplishment and achievement. I’ve only been to DWD twice. Both times, it reoriented me to remind me that life isn’t and can’t be about achievement. And I just don’t think — that came up during the summit, which was the question about purpose.
One thing that a masculine energy tends to have is a need for that drive and purpose, a need for a forward motion, a need to have something to aim at and progress towards that goal. This is very natural. In fact, all of society, like your schools are like this. You pass grade one, then the natural thing is to go to grade two. And you pass grade two, go to grade three. It seems like life is going up the ladder of achievement without any kind of direction or goal to aim for.
Well, what’s the point of life? And his feeder event, Unleash the Power Within, is largely about getting people or giving people that kind of energy, the energy to accomplish their goals. And it’s really fun to do. I’ve done it eight times in five years. You walk on fire, and then day three is just fantastic, lots of music, jumping around, and it activates your physiological triggers for getting that energy.
So, you can create the energy to accomplish your goals no matter what. Now, a lot of guys in their 20s who are listening to this, that’s all they need out of life right now, and they will be unsatisfied, unfulfilled, and so on. But it’ll distract them for a good decade or two because they think that’s what will bring happiness. So, they work really, really hard to make partner at their firm, to get into law school, and to graduate. They think that’s what life’s about.
Getting into the right law school, then graduating, and then getting into the firm, and then making partner. It’s tragic that very late in life, in their 50s or 60s, they discover, and many people still don’t discover, that that’s not what will bring fulfillment. The art of fulfillment versus the science of achievement. Now, DWD, Date With Destiny is all about love. He doesn’t say that because I don’t know how marketable that is, but it’s a very different event from the feeder event, the way I feel, how I feel it.
And every time I go, I’m reminded, that this striving, the achieving, the upward movement, even progress in that sense can’t be what life is about now, because life can only be experienced in the present. What happens in the present? And if you’re not present in the present, and a lot of guys are not present in the present.
I talked to a guy today who, while you’re talking to him, his eyes are shifting around. He’s thinking about himself. “How do I look? What am I going to do?” And then he’s thinking about what he’s going to do an hour from now, and he’s not actually listening to you. He’s not actually present. He’s physically there, yes, but his mind is somewhere else.
And this is a surefire way to turn off a lot of women, unless you’re just doing that jerk player thing where you ask a question and then you look away like you don’t give a fuck. That can attract some really neurotic women. But in terms of attraction, because I have that audience too, if you can be fully 100% present with a woman when you meet her in the bar, or the club, or wherever you’re meeting her, it’s incredibly seductive.
Just put that out there. That gives you some motivation to do the right thing, which is to learn about yourself and be present. But for me, when I go to these events, he does these meditations where you close your eyes and he leads you through a process. And every time, I think of these times in my life — because he asks you to do that, think of a memory. And those times in my life when life really was meaningful.
This is what makes life worth living. This event, this memory. Every time for me, it was about something in the present. It was actually about my life, and I was living it. I was experiencing it. I wasn’t planning for it. I wasn’t like winning anything. I was just in the moment. And in every case, there was love. It wasn’t a moment of me of getting a trophy or something.
So, it’s hard to reorient yourself that way, especially if you’re an achiever, so that’s the art of fulfillment, how to bring it back to: What will actually fulfill you in life? Most of what we do in life that we think is good, making money, going to the gym, all that stuff, it actually doesn’t matter for your life right now.
And it’s a paradox because if you don’t take care of the future, like if you don’t go to the gym, you’re going to pay for it later. If you don’t eat well now, you’re going to pay for it later. There’s something too, it’s not just like, “Hey, be present.” What if your present life sucks? What if your current reality is no good? Then it’s good to escape.
And so, this is… I should stop now and get your feedback. But that’s what you see in that Fight Club scene where Ed Norton is trying like — Brad Pitt is pouring acid on Ed Norton’s arm, and Ed Norton’s thinking about his safe place in this cave. And Brad Pitt’s like, “No, back, stay here, be present.” It’s not so simple as just being present. That’s why there’s an art to it.
Henry Chong: I absolutely agree, and I think you need both. Tony Robbins talks about the science of achievement. He calls that a science. He says if you just do these things in this order, you could figure it out. There is a program, so to speak. And then he has the art of fulfillment, which is an art and different for everybody how you find that fulfillment.
I think the mistake that people make is that they confuse the two or they fall into that trap of believing that, well, first, I do the achievement piece, and then I will get the fulfillment piece. Both of us, I think, we’re achievers, striver-drivers as Tony calls them. I’m willing to bet most people listening to this fall into that camp. That’s probably why they’re listening to this. And for me at least, the realization that I had to make was that no amount of achievement will ever make you happy.
A lot of people approach it in an instrumental sense. If I get enough money / I get the right body / the right car or whatever, then one day, I will finally be happy. And the realization that people need to make is that — David Hume was this philosopher who talked about this thing called the is-ought gap. He used it in a different context to talk about how the positive and the normative, what is and what ought to be, are just philosophically and logically separate.
They’re two different things, talk about them separately. I think it’s exactly the same for achievement and fulfillment. They’re two separate things. There is an is-ought gap. One can never influence the other. No amount of achievement will ever, in any way, influence your fulfillment. That you got to worry about separately, so to speak.
But I also think you need to have both. So for me at least, achieving is an intrinsically valuable part of my life. But I have realized that it is something that must be intrinsically valuable, not instrumentally valuable. I don’t go to the gym because I think one day it will make me happy more or whatever. I go to the gym just because that’s something that is important to me, being healthy. And not even being healthy, but I enjoy going to the gym because I feel like it gives me a chance to push myself.
The gym is a very pure place. No one else is going to lift those weights for you. There’s no one else to blame. It’s just you, and you show up or you don’t. And I really enjoy that experience. It’s the reason why I do what I do at work. I intrinsically find it valuable just to keep pushing, and growing, and making progress, and see what I can build.
But I have come to realize that that has absolutely nothing to do with fulfillment, and that needs to be something that you pursue completely separately. You can be fulfilled no matter what.
Dr. David Tian: Yes, that’s right. Yeah. And in fact, like you were saying, many people do the first thing to get the second thing. They try to achieve because they think that will lead to fulfillment. And when you put it that way, like you have to enjoy the achieving for its own sake. Then, in a sense, it’s not what most of the rest of the world thinks achieving is. They don’t think of that as achievement.
So for instance, nowadays, you can get paid to play video games. All right, so you could become a millionaire video game player. In my childhood, that was not possible. I’m 42 now. So when I was a teenager, you could get paid to test video games where there are no competitions, except maybe like Donkey Kong. I don’t know man, Super Mario Brothers? I don’t know what the fuck people were playing in the early 90s, 80s.
But nowadays, you could just start a Twitch stream, make sponsorships, and then you can actually enter a real competition. Esports is like a multibillion-dollar industry now. Imagine that. What you think is achievement might — lots of people think math homework or whatever the fuck they think like achieving is, getting good grades, getting to right school, all that, and they don’t think of watching Netflix as an achievement.
But imagine a world, and this might be in the future, where you get paid to watch Netflix. You get paid to do what you do when you relax. Because people play video games when they relax, and now, you can make a million dollars playing video games. So we then take the word achievement and the category of it and see that this is historically contingent. It really depends on the external circumstances of your society, and the economic system, and all of that: what you could get paid for and count as achievement.
When you’re a little baby, walking is achievement, and you enjoy walking. So, when you go to these sorts of events that we’re talking about, or you do any kind of meditation, or you do proper therapy, you’ll discover that if you were neurotically-driven to achieve in the past the desire to continue that achievement that you didn’t enjoy, a lot of people don’t enjoy their jobs, falls away. You’re like, “Why am I doing this then?”
Exactly, you shouldn’t be. But you can almost always do something else that you’ll enjoy and find some way to sustain life with that in this modern capitalistic society that we happen to live in. So achievement then changes its meaning. If it’s meant the way we want to make it… I mean, you intrinsically enjoy it. There’s that, that one point. It depends on what you’re doing to achieve.
If you’re watching Netflix, whatever you do when you don’t think you’re achieving and you’re just relaxing, like you go to a spa or you get a massage. Imagine you could get paid. You can get really good at going to the spa. People can. No matter what you do, even in Zen Buddhism, you can get really good at wiping the floor, sweeping the floor. They put a mindfulness practice around anything, you get very good at it.
And if you reframe what achievement is, it will lead to fulfillment. In fact, they could, but then you’ve now changed the definition of achievement to do that.
Henry Chong: I guess I think of — and it’s a separate topic. We were talking about your true self yesterday. To me, the way I think of it, maybe this is very personal to me, is that I feel like when I’m being the best version of me, again, that means very specific things for me, I do feel deeply fulfilled.
And when I’m doing something for instrumental ends, it’s not always bad, but that’s not what makes me come alive. And again, that’s something very specific to me. I know what it feels like when I am being the best version of me, and that to me is deeply meaningful. It’s like that old question of, why do people climb mountains?
Some people try mountains to escape their problems. There’s a great movie out called Ad Astra about Brad Pitt literally going to the ends of the solar system just to run away from his own demons. But there are a lot of people I think who climb mountains just because. That’s their thing. And you’re like, “Why do you keep pushing and climb higher mountains?”
And they’re like, “Because that’s what I do. What else would I do?” I think all of us… Again, the things that you need to do to feel that way will be different for everybody, but we all know that feeling. We all know that feeling of just sitting on a couch, not feeling like very much. It can be good to deload and relax, but you know you’re not really living out your life purpose.
Dr. David Tian: Fulfillment is different from pleasure. It’s different from what most people mean by happiness.
Henry Chong: And we all know that moment when you feel like you have come alive. And it’s not always easy, or fun, or pleasant. Sometimes, it’s very hard. During DWD, I was there for like eight days morning to night, it’s an intense experience, but I found that deeply, it was meaningful and rewarding.
Because I did feel like I was being the best version of me, even though I was pushing the boundaries, really forced to stretch and grow. It was quite uncomfortable at times. And again, I guess that’s what I think of it. To me, and I guess these all definitions, but I think of fulfillment as the ability to be happy, you know, eudaimonia or whatever term you use.
Again, I believe honestly that the terms are not that important. You know what it means when you’re fulfilled for you. And that is something that I need to do quite separate of anything else. The mistake people make is allowing that to be conditional on anything external. In the midst of everything going wrong, you can still be deeply fulfilled.
And we all know of people, who in the midst of what should be great success, feel completely unfulfilled. That’s just something you need to do always. Living in a beautiful state is the term that Tony likes to use. And he’s like, why not? You should just do it no matter what. There’s no good reason not to otherwise.
But at the same time, I feel that it is also very important for me to continue pushing the boundaries and achieving. Again, and I fall into this trap all the time, I think we all do, of wanting something for instrumental ends. And I just need to come back to it and say, “No. I feel like the best version of myself when I let go of that and when I do the things that I want to do just because I want to do them.” I want to see how far I can push, how much I can grow.
Tony talks about how we all should grow so that we have more to give. And maybe that is a way which achievement and fulfillment are linked right, when you become a better version of you. You have more to contribute, and I do think contribution has a big part to play in fulfillment.
Dr. David Tian: Right. But if you contribute in order to feel…
Henry Chong: Exactly. That’s what I mean. Marcus Aurelius had this thing where he said, “Stop wasting time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” A lot of the ancient stoic philosophers, they never really wasted time talking about what was the good of happiness, which a lot of modern analytic philosophers do. Ancient Chinese philosophers were the same.
They were like, “We don’t need to discuss what morality is. You know. We need to talk about how to do it.” You know what it is, really, what it feels like. I think everyone knows, whatever it is for you, you know what it is when you’re fulfilled. You know what it is when you are just achieving just because, when you are doing it right, so to speak, when you’re not doing it to get something else.
We’ve all experienced those moments, those glimmerings. And the question is not what it is, because I think when we are in our quieter moments, in your true self, we all know. The question is, “How do you get there in a crazy, messy, busy world?” How do you not get distracted and focus on getting back to that place?
Dr. David Tian: When we sit here in this room with our other friends, we say we all know what it feels. We know what fulfillment… Let me tell you. I know guys who are so in their narcissism, that when they think of, “I feel fulfilled.” It was when everyone else looked at them and thought they were great. Like, it wasn’t in the quiet of their own room, because their egos required validation from the outside.
It’s like when guys… You know when you’re really happy. “Yeah, when that girl liked me.” Yeah, then they felt like, “I was the man.” And when we talk about what it feels like to be fulfilled, even when we talk about love, it’s to actually — as we like cash it out, we actually flesh it out for them, “This is what it’s really like.” Then they’re like, “Oh.” If they’re listening, they can receive it. “Oh, I haven’t experienced that.”
“Oh, you’re calling me out already.” There are guys who go do these exercises that I did, where I go into love and connection, and like I’m saying, I experience these memories where I’m fully present and there’s love of somebody else, or even my dog. So, there’s that. They do that exercise and they think of the time everybody looked at them and they clapped, or cheered, or when, finally, mom was proud, that kind of thing.
It is really helpful, I think, even just to hear about what it’s like to be free from the narcissism and not have to achieve in order to make yourself feel good or feel better about yourself because your ego is so fragile. But instead, to actually enjoy the achievement or whatever the activity is, or its intrinsic value. So, it could even be the science of activity. Because then you enjoyed being there for eight days.
I thought the days were way too long. I thought they could be much more efficient with the time, but you enjoyed that, and that’s your achievement.
Henry Chong: I think it was meaningful.
Dr. David Tian: Right. So, this is a good example. Most people, if you are really into fitness, you enjoy the burn. You enjoy the feeling of really pushing your body. But most people, when they start, they don’t enjoy that. They’re working out for an instrumental and down the road. And the point though is that they stick with it, they will — in order to stick with it, you’re going to have to enjoy it. And it’s amazing because if you tell people, “I enjoy this.” Or they’ve only worked out a little bit, they think you’re crazy.
Like, you’re lying, you’re just kidding yourself. So, from the inside though, if you get that far, you do enjoy it. You enjoy it like you enjoyed playing a game that’s difficult and challenging. It’s called flow, Csikszentmihalyi’s concept. In order to achieve flow, the thing has to be challenging enough to occupy your whole brain, like all of your capacities, so you’re fully immersed in that activity.
And that leads to, at the end of it, if you were to pull that person out of that flow experience and say, “Hey, were you happy?” They’re like, “Yeah, it was amazing. I lost track of time. It was awesome.” But was it challenging? “Fuck yeah.” That’s one of the reasons why it was so fulfilling in it, in the activity or experience. And when you go back to fitness, a lot of people are doing things that they don’t enjoy in the moment, and they’re actually not finding it challenging or fulfilling in a good way.
It might be so challenging and so hard that they give up, or they don’t know what they’re doing, or they’re just bored. Those are all going to be unfulfilling achievement activities. But going back to fitness, I used to really like having a six-pack. And if you’re watching this in the video, I imagine it’d be difficult for you to imagine I had a six-pack at some point, but I did. And I have the photos to prove it. In order to get the six-pack in my 30s, so I didn’t get my really good lean look until I was like mid-30s, which is already pretty tough, was required a diet.
I had to say no to a lot, and I had to lose a lot of weight. And you lose some muscle, but hopefully, you lose a lot of fat, to get that abs to show more visibly, more obviously. I never enjoyed dieting. I dieted in order to get the six pack, in order to attract women. So, the whole thing, all the way down was instrumental.
There were a few times, I suppose, when I was doing some activities that required a lot of core flexibility and strength. It did feel good to be able to feel the muscles and each one, but you could have strong core muscles and a lot of fat covered in them, like strong men guys.
Henry Chong: [INAUDIBLE 00:27:35] my girlfriend.
Dr. David Tian: As I got more healthy emotionally and psychologically, that drive to diet, to say no to foods that I enjoyed eating and tasting, to say no to being present — because a lot of deprivation requires mentally going somewhere else. The best way to diet is to sleep, because if you’re unconscious, then you won’t be hungry. So, I slept a lot. And when you’re under calories, you’re calorie deficit, you’re pretty tired and sleepy anyway.
I felt, “Man, if I could just go to sleep and my stomach’s groaning, if I just sleep, I’m good. If I stay awake, I will order something, or I’ll go into the kitchen and…” So, I cleaned out my fridge and all that. But still, you know. But if you are unconscious — I was not present. Now look at that, deprivation, not being present, achievement. Because at the end of that, I had a great body. I could go to the beach. We’re in Singapore, so it’s hot all the time. There’s always an excuse to take your shirt off and show it off.
And I got the benefits down the road. But in the moment, when I had to do it to get those results, it was not fulfilling. And as I matured, I realized that that was really stupid. That’s what I mean about how — the way a lot of people are achieving, like I was, is neurotic. And if they prioritize fulfillment above achievement, the achievement will sort itself out.
Henry Chong: And ironically will lead to more achievement and more performance. You talked about flow. Flow, and once upon a time, you gave me this very good book called Try Not To Try, which deals with very similar concepts. And that’s one of the ironies of flow. You can’t try too hard to get into flow. It’s something that comes when you relax into it. And ironically when you do relax into it, the flow actually kicks in performance up to levels that you could never achieve otherwise.
And by letting go of the instrumentalism, you actually become much more efficient. Something — I think we’ve talked about this on this podcast before, the example I always give of Arnold training in the gym. I just saw a video of him again a while ago where he just — you can tell that it was painful and very hard when he was training. And yet, you could also see that he got intrinsic pleasure from it, partly because he always says, “Look, I’m moving closer and closer to my goal.”
But also, you could tell that he learned to actually come to, at some level, like that activity, even though there’s a lot of pain that came with it. And that allowed him to push just a little bit further than everyone else, who was also there training. And he said, “Look, everyone else trains exactly the same hours as me.” “So why don’t they go anywhere?” And he’s like, “Half the time, people are just not quite as focused.” They’re training but not like squeezing the muscles all the way. They’re just there to make the reps.
And he’s like, “But why? Who cares if you can do eight or nine reps. Why are you here if you’re here to get stronger, get bigger?” It’s like, well…
Dr. David Tian: And the big part of it was that they weren’t present during the movement. So he’s like, “When I’m doing bicep curls, I’m visualizing my biceps like mountains. And every time I curl it, I feel the blood pumping into it, it’s like cumming.” So, he’s feeling the actual movement. Whereas some people, a lot of people in my gym, I go to a big five-story big box gym. I see a lot of people on their phones, and they’re just not present with the movement.
Like, “Oh, okay. It’s time to do this rep, this set. Let me just knock out ten reps.” But you know they’re thinking about something else. You know what’s really annoying? They have TV screens in the gym. And every couple weeks, they play Food Network or something. So, I storm down like, “Turn the sports back on.” They’re like, “Oh, sorry, sir.”
But somebody asked them to change to some… This is what I imagine, some auntie, some older lady or whatever, “If I’m going to go through this pain, at least show me what I get at the end of it. Let me see some food.” So, she’s working out, looking at food, like, what the fuck? You’re not going to actually stick with that work out. You’re not going to enjoy it. And you’re not going to get the benefits from it because every time you’re doing it, you’re not present.
And it’s an amazing thing because it seems so weird. We’re doing this stuff to our bodies. Why do I have to be mentally present with the movement? But it’s the brain.
Henry Chong: And also, I guess to be fair, we need to be a little careful because when we talk about instrumentalism, to be honest, I guess we use that to say instrumental goals that we don’t think are all that great. A lot of us, when we go to the gym, we do go to the gym for other reasons. So, I, a large part of why I go to the gym is that just for that — I go twice a week for an hour at a time, and I do have a trainer.
For that one hour, to me, it’s almost like just an exercise to see whether or not I can show up and push myself. The reality is, if I put on a little more muscle a little quicker, nobody cares at all. So it’s like, why? My girlfriend asks me this all the time, “Why do you push so hard in the gym?” Like, I don’t know, just to see what I can do. To me, it’s almost like a very pure experience. Because when you are at that edge, you’re at that moment where you can decide whether you can make that last lift or not.
Because a lot of it is all mental. It’s like, “Do I show up? Do I do it?” That’s a large part of why I go to the gym. In that sense, it is a little instrumental, but I guess I feel like the motivation is very personal, very pure in that sense. I’m not doing it because I’m hoping that one day, other people will like me. I’m doing it because of…
Dr. David Tian: Technically, it’s not instrumental, if in the moment you’re doing it, you have checked the box. If the purpose of waking up is to wake up and you wake up, you have succeeded. In other words, it’s not instrumental to wake up. Here’s another example. You can do math problems and get the same — we can set a time about working out, we’re just talking about math problems.
I had a lot of friends growing up who loved math. I have a lot of friends growing up who hated math. My wife hates math. I’m in between but because I had so many friends who love math, in the subway, while we’re riding to the next station or whatever, they will throw out random math problems at each other for fun. Like, what’s the square root of… And they’ll throw a number. And the fast person gets it.
And I’m like, “Man, you guys are such fucking geeks. But damn, you guys are smart.” And they love to do that. Now, a lot of people will find that hard to believe, but I like to do logic problems. So when I finally discovered symbolic logic as a philosophy student, I got almost 100% on those on the course. And then when they bell curved the whole thing at the end, my grade was not — like, it was off the chart. So, it was awesome.
I took it as, already, a grad student. So, I took the undergrad version to fulfill the requirement. So, I was already an advanced student then, but I loved it. I spent hours in the middle of the summer, beautiful day outside, in the windowless room in the library doing, in flow, doing logic problems. What was really enjoyable was when I pushed it to see how fast I could do it, and I made a mistake, and I look at the back of the book to see the sample answer, I’m like, “Fuck, I did these extra steps. Oh, and I learned, like great.”
If it was too easy and I look at the back, I’m like, “Yeah, I can do that.” I wouldn’t have been in flow. So, in order to get that intrinsic enjoyment of the activity, it has to have built into it, like baked into the activity, it has to be challenging enough. I don’t think it’s — I don’t think you should consider it instrumental when you go to push yourself.
Henry Chong: What I mean is I don’t expect to find validation or fulfillment from external sources, perhaps is what I should be saying, right? I do find it intrinsic, like intrinsically, extremely rewarding. Not because of lifting the weight itself because I do get something from it, but it’s something that’s very internal to me right. I don’t do it because I hope that someone will come along and be like, “Wow, you’re really awesome.”
Right, and you’re not saying to yourself, “Fuck, I wish I didn’t have to do this.” Or “Damn, I hate this thing.” Because then, you’re not in flow at all. But it’s just challenging because that’s part of something that’s enjoyable. So, that’s an important point that we weren’t explicit about: enjoyment and fulfillment, all that comes partly from some amount of challenge. That’s really enjoyable to have that challenge.
It’s not about keeping everyone — all the kids in safe spaces, not challenged, or not pushed to grow. Growing itself is enjoyable. That’s the thing. It’s not like, “I’m growing in order to do this other thing down the road and get some happiness down the road.” But just the growing itself.
Henry Chong: I’ve always liked how Tony specifically uses those words, achievement and fulfillment. Because I do think words like enjoyment or pleasure get very confusing because they mean different things to different people. But achievement and fulfillment I’ve always found quite interesting. To me, again, maybe this is just my own preconceptions, but I feel like fulfillment — you know what it means, when you are content or happy. And likewise, when you’re actually achieving.
And I think the issue is, and I think that’s a fair point, is that a lot of people conflate those things. They say pursue pleasure when they really should be pursuing finding fulfillment.
Dr. David Tian: I think that’s a good place to stop. Did you have any last comments to add?
Henry Chong: You talked about how a lot of people, maybe they don’t — maybe they just haven’t experienced as much intrinsic achievement or fulfillment. But I do believe that most people, most people at some point and some place, if you really think about it, I’m sure you can think about a time in which you just felt that flow. I think we all have those moments. Maybe it was a long time ago. Maybe it was a short time. We all know what it is.
We know what flow is. We know that feeling of just intrinsically achieving, and feeling great about it, and doing math problems in the subway. It’s different for everyone.
Dr. David Tian: Yeah, so like video games is an easy example for a lot of guys. Or even if you’re engrossed in a good movie and you lose track of time, you can be in flow, [INAUDIBLE 00:37:33].
Henry Chong: Even video games. Why do people play hard video games and spend hours? And it’s frustrating in many cases, deeply frustrating. Why do you do it? Because at some level, there is achievement there. Likewise, I think that for a lot of people, everyone has experienced some degree…
Dr. David Tian: There’s this masculine temptation. I don’t know why — well, it’s associated with masculine energy to want to summit the mountain or whatever metaphorically. And David Deida has this in one of his chapters in his book, Way of the Superior Man, that one of the greatest temptations for men is the desire for it to be done, to just get to the end and be done.
And that’s not life. That’s not actual fulfillment, either. So, there’s no end. There’s no done. I’m in these other Facebook groups for research. They are men’s groups and they suck. My group is awesome, by the way, Man Up. Join it. And we have almost 25,000 guys in that group, but these other groups, I see these questions, like a guy’s post, and instead of getting corrected in the comments or giving them a better perspective, they just get more and more validation like “Yeah, I’m the same way, the same way!”.
So then, it becomes normalized to be neurotic. And here’s one of the neurotic things that I see quite a lot, is guys are like, “Women suck because I wanted to be in a relationship, and I wanted to just be — not have to do anything more. So, I’m in the relationship now. I shouldn’t have to work anymore. I shouldn’t have to learn about her or learn about psychology or grow. I mean it now, it’s done, right? And this bitch, she wanted me to keep going to the gym. She wanted me to keep growing in my career. Why? I’m almost 40 now. I should now be able to enjoy life.”
Oh my god, dude. No. You’re not going to find any fulfillment that way. Even if we were to magically snap our fingers like Aladdin, whatever, rub the lamp, and give you your wish that you are, “Yes, okay. Now, you’re done. You have enough money that you don’t have to work for this job, or this and that.” But if you now have nothing else that you enjoy, if there’s no challenge in your life, then you have no enjoyment in your life.
Henry Chong: And organisms without stresses, they slowly wither and die. There’s this old African proverb, which says behind mountains are more mountains. You overcome an obstacle to magically enter the land of new obstacles. That’s not the way life works. And maybe this isn’t a good place to end.
But something I was talking about yesterday was that you’re never done. There’s never that point. And I make this mistake all the time, “If I can just finish this thing…” That’s not the way life works. To me, the important thing in life is to make sure that I’m trending in the right direction. So, I don’t go to the gym because I think one day I’ll be done, hit that point, then I’m good to go.
But at the same time, I’ve also learned to relax into it, where before, if I showed up to the gym, I didn’t have a good session, didn’t make as much progress as I hoped, I get very frustrated. That’s the achiever in me coming out, and perhaps my own insecurities and neuroticisms. And I’ve learned to just relax into it and say, “Look, as long as I’m going the right direction, as long as I show up and I do one more rep than I did last time, that was a good session.” Because I’ll be at the gym for the rest of my life.
Dr. David Tian: Or even if you didn’t do that rep, one more rep than last time, it’s just a bad day, but you showed up. The thing is, it was enjoyable intrinsically. If it was enjoyable… As soon as you get there, you’ve already fulfilled the purpose.
Henry Chong: And you know, sometimes, life in different aspects of your life are just not going in the direction you want. And I do think you should take focused and massive action. But as long as things are going the right direction, I just relax into it. Gym’s going well, this is going well. Just improve a little bit every day, and that magic of compounding will take over.
Dr. David Tian: Like you’re saying, if your life isn’t going well, you need massive action in this other direction. And we’ve experienced that. And if you’re successful, that’s probably how you got started on the thing that made you successful or things that made you successful.
I’m thinking now, was there anything in my life that I want that even if we were to require massive action, that I would now deem to be painful, or in the moment that I’m doing it, I’d say, I don’t want to do this? Or I hate this, I shouldn’t be doing it.
Henry Chong: All the time.
Dr. David Tian: What is that? What’s an activity like that?
Henry Chong: I mean, even going to the gym. The point is, these things pop into my head all the time. It’s a daily process for me to remember why I came in the first place. I mean, half the time, before…
Dr. David Tian: Maybe you shouldn’t go to the gym then.
Henry Chong: The thing is, we’re talking about different parts of ourselves yesterday, our true self.
Dr. David Tian: There’s a part of you that likes the gym. There’s part of you that doesn’t like.
Henry Chong: Twice a week, I’m like, “Do I really want to go?” There’s a voice in my head that’s like, “Are you sure that you want to do this?” But I do it because I know that I, at some deep level, my true self, so to speak, I know that I do want to do it. And I know that the minute I step into the gym and the minute I start that first work set…
Dr. David Tian: What I would do now for my therapy training is, I wouldn’t enforce it. I’d say instead, “Let’s figure out what that polarization is.” So, that part of you that really wants to go to the gym — and this is another part that’s stopping you, let’s talk to that other part. What’s going on with that part? Why is it holding back? What does it want to do instead? Because maybe when you’re forcing yourself to go to the gym, that means you’re not having fun in life, or maybe that means you don’t get to spend time with your kids, or maybe that means that you don’t get to read this book that this other part of you want…
In my life, there was a lot of push motivation, what Tony calls. You use discipline, and willpower, and you will yourself there. There are times when I don’t want to go to the gym because I don’t think I have enough energy. Because I know if I’m going to the gym, I’m going to push it really hard. And I might injure myself today because I didn’t get enough sleep or whatever. That’s the part that pounds back pre-workout drinks and caffeine, and like, ugh.
Henry Chong: I completely agree. I think that’s an important distinction, where there are times when it’s just like, “Physically, I’m not on it today.” But I guess I’ve learned enough about myself to know the days when I really shouldn’t be, like it’s not the right day. And when it’s just that glimmering of a resistance.
Even when I’m in the gym, work that first big work set. When you’re about to do a really heavy lift, there’s almost a glimmer of fear where a little part of you is like, “Are you sure?”
Dr. David Tian: Steven Pressfield, he’s got this great book on the resistance. Seth Godin has also written Linchpin, a book on the same theme. There’s always going to be resistance from your lizard brain. But as a therapist, instead of forcing your way through the resistance, the better way, and this is the way that DWD would take it versus UPW, I see that as a fulfillment versus achievement style of approaching the problem, the same problem, is to get to know that resistance.
What is the fear there? When did it start? How old is it? And when you unburden the resistance, then the thing flows effortlessly. One of things is, there’s a part of you that doesn’t believe that you’ll enjoy the activity for whatever reasons in your childhood or whatever. And that’s the amazing thing that therapy can do for you.
We achievers run marathons with weights on our arms and legs. That’s our lives. And over the decades, we accrete more and more weights on our legs and have to keep running this marathon that never ends. And if you burn out, you get in your 30s, 40s, and you have a midlife crisis. Luckily, I had a quarter-life crisis then I had another quarter-life crisis. So, I was forced to do that, and I realize that.
But a lot of people now that I work with getting into their 50s and now burning out, because they’ve been running this marathon with push motivation with weights on their arms and legs. What therapy and the therapeutic approach will do for you is remove the weights, rather than force it through. There’s going to be that resistance. “I don’t care. I’m going to trick it.” There’s lots of ways we use to trick, like going to the gym, leave their bag at the door, pack your bag the night before, and all that stuff.
Same with approach anxiety. There are all kinds of ways to trick yourself to do it. There are different types of openers that, holy shit, what would a therapist do with approach anxiety? A therapist would ideally get, a good therapist would get to know the anxiety. What’s that anxious part in you? When did that start? What’s that related to? How can we unburden that so he’s not so afraid of that outcome? Instead of just ignoring it, forcing it out, powering through it.
Henry Chong: I agree. I think it’s important to distinguish between, as you say, push-pull motivation. And when it’s like, “I really don’t want to do it but I’m forcing myself to do it. And I have to trick myself to do it.” Versus when it’s just that little voice of resistance. So, I go to the gym because I feel a massive amount of pull motivation.
Dr. David Tian: There are many things in life that you kind of have to do. Like, if you’re 12 years old right now, you probably have to go to school. And you probably don’t like it. But legally or whatever it is, you got to go. And we get used to that. As you become more of an adult, you get more independence and so on, I challenge you to re-examine any activities where there is some resistance.
Some of it might make sense because you don’t do it as frequently, so you don’t get the habit. But meditation is another one for a lot of people. I’m now in a meditation habit every morning, it’s just my thing, and I look forward to it. There’s no resistance to it except for, perhaps, I’m too unsettled. Like, “Oh my god, I’m too unsettled right now.” And it’s a hard start into it, but I look forward to it.
But at the beginning, did I? No. And that was an important thing to look at. Why is there resistance to getting into the meditation? You’re only doing it because of this other thing. And 99% of the world, 99% of people listening to this are running most of their lives with push force, to force themselves to go to the gym, force themselves to do meditation, force themselves to do all this.
And I have this new perspective on all of that. If I find myself or my kids do that, I’d want to figure out, “What’s the fear, and can we attend to the fear?” Instead of just expecting that little voice to always be there and then just powering through. But I might change my mind in a month or next year. So, that’s where I’m at right now.
Henry Chong: We’ll tune back in a month or a year.
Dr. David Tian: Yeah, right. We’ll have to keep the podcast going. Well, thanks so much for everyone who is listening. It’s been a long time since we’ve recorded a podcast, the DTPHD Podcast. I think so far this year, I only had one or two episodes. We’ve been growing a lot. A lot of travel and learning, so things are settling down more for me anyway, and for you, too. It seems like less travel on your schedule than usual. We used to fly every week.
Henry Chong: [INAUDIBLE 00:48:09] easier and easier.
Dr. David Tian: Right. And our priorities have shifted, too. Hopefully, we’ll get more of these out. No promises, but that’s our plan. Thanks so much for listening. If you want to get in touch with us, you can always join the DTPHD Podcast Facebook group. We have over 1,000 members in that, and you can also get a hold of Henry. How would they do that?
Henry Chong: Go to my website, HenryChong.com.
Dr. David Tian: Excellent. We have that linked in the description. Me as well, DavidTianPHD.com, and you can find the list of all of the DTPHD Podcast on our website. Hopefully, we’ll see you there and next time we record this episode or this podcast. Thanks so much for tuning in. Thanks for being here, Henry.
Hey, it’s David again. Before you go, a couple last things. First, all the show notes and links to resources can be found at DavidTianPHD.com/dtphdpodcast, or you can just go to DavidTianPHD.com and find it through the top navigation menu.
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