Join David Tian on the “DTPHD Podcast” as we explore deep questions of meaning, success, truth, love, and the good life.

For over a decade, David Tian, Ph.D., has helped hundreds of thousands of people from over 87 countries find happiness, success, and fulfillment in their social, professional, and love lives. His presentations – whether keynotes, seminars, or workshops – leave clients with insights into their behavior, 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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Resources mentioned:

Leil Lowndes, How to Talk to Anyone

David Lieberman, Get Anyone to do Anything

Ray Dalio, Principles: Life and Work

John Gottman Institute: https://www.gottman.com/

Harville Hendrix, IMAGO Relationships Institute: http://imagorelationships.org/

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Episode 2 Show Notes

1:00  What kind of people look for “tips” instead of Principles”?

3:43  A quick and easy way to tell which kind of person you are

9:15  The single, most powerful word when it comes to learning or mastering anything

11:07 Why relationships never fail because of lack of communication skills

11:39 What’s really required to succeed in long-term relationships

12:50 What are the main issues in relationship breakdowns and success?

13:15 Why relationships are the best context for self-improvement and maturity

14:49 Where all relationship problems can be traced back to

Truth, love, and the good. Here we go.

David Tian: Welcome to the DTPHD podcast. This is the very first solo podcast I’ve done ever, I think. As far as this one goes, definitely. I am in Bali, Indonesia, and it is the beginning of rainy season so you might hear some thunder in the background. It’s been raining all day, but I got a nice pool in the villa, a private pool, and half of it is covered. I was tempted to go out and swim. I might still do that tonight, but going out for dinner, so I thought I should get this done as soon as I can. Otherwise, I’m going to put it off, so here we go.

This podcast is on relationship communication tips, and why I don’t believe in them, and why you should really think hard about yourself in the way you learn if you’re the type of person who looks for communication tips. That’s the topic, and there is a whole cottage industry around tips, tips and advice. Back in the day when there were book stores – even nowadays, you’d see them in the airports. There are still airport book stores for people who want to pick up a last-minute read for a boring plane ride or something. You’ll see that a lot of the books that are given a lot of real estate space are tips books, because those are perennial best sellers.

If it’s a high-selling tips book, people always have this inherent laziness in them to look for quick tips. This is an attitude or a habit of somebody who is mediocre or unsuccessful. Mediocre and unsuccessful people look for tips. Successful people and high performers look for principles. Let me break that down for you. And then what I’ll do is I’ll break down distinction down for you, and then I’ll address it specifically when it comes to relationship and communication and conversation issues.

This is definitely something that my usual co-host, Henry Chong, likes to talk about principles. Hopefully, we’ll be able to explore that in a future episode or future podcast. This issue about principles versus tips. I get that a lot as a coach, and I was a dating coach for many years before this, and before that I was like a pick-up coach before that. So that industry tends to draw a lot of lazy people who cheat, who hack.

They’re looking for quick hacks so that they don’t have to do the actual work. They’re the type of people who when they go to the gym, they want to learn how to do the two movements that will get you the results, the glamour muscles so that people will look at you and think you’re fit, when maybe you’re not really that fit. Maybe you gas out pretty early, or maybe you don’t have any functional fitness, or maybe you have no flexibility. But if you just stand there and look good, your glamour muscles, that’s all they’re looking for. That’s a sort of person that is drawn to that industry.

It took me many years to figure that out, to realize that, why I was so frustrated in servicing some of these client demands. But even to this day, I still get plenty of messages and emails asking for quick tips. It’s one of the most frustrating things. So what I do, I have a Facebook group called Man Up, and that’s for men looking for help with dating, and masculinity, and relationships. I have a primer in there. It’s a free primer. They can sign up for it. It’s hours of different video courses.

I think we have over 13 specific segmented video courses on everything from how do you approach a woman that you see and start a conversation, to how do you make new friends, to how do you reignite the passion in your relationship, how do you get out of the friend zone, and lots of different topics. They are quite broad. What I do is I say “Go and watch the basics, and then if you have questions beyond that, then come in the group and ask those.”

Inevitably, more than half of the questions, so far, and we’re getting better at policing them so that they become better questions. But generally over half the questions, specifically up to this point, especially in the past, were ignorant questions. They were questions where the poster hadn’t done any homework, hadn’t even read the basic instructions when he joined the group.

The instructions to get the free courses are in the group description before you even join, and then they’re in the cover image when you join, and then they’re in the pinned post inside the group. We also have a guy who, in our admin team, whose job it is to post every day an announcement saying, “The free courses are here, and here’s a link.” And yet still, over 50% of these guys are lazy and they don’t take the initiative. They’re not masculine. That’s probably why they were drawn to the group, looking for help.

I know immediately – I think most of the world, because I said mediocre and unsuccessful, right? Most people in the world are not A players. They’re not A students. They’re lazy. They’re looking for shortcuts. They’re looking for cheats and hacks. They don’t want to do the foundational work. They don’t want to actually learn it for real. They don’t want to actually get fit for real. They just want to make everybody think that they are fit. That’s the type of person.

Can that person change? Yeah, definitely, but only with a massive change in thought paradigm. That’s something I’m challenging you, if you’re listening to this now, to think about. Recently, I saw a review of one of our courses called Rock Solid Relationships. It was a review from somebody who was given a review copy. That is, the person didn’t buy the course, and then as an alumni, want to review it. He asked to review it.

And because he was a friend of a friend, and I owed that friend a favor, and they said they had a pretty decent list size and they were going to promote it. So, I let them in. The thing is, because he wasn’t motivated himself to buy it, he wasn’t in the right frame of mind to actually understand the course.

In his review, he mentioned this thing which prompted this particular podcast episode, which was on the fact that he was looking for relationship communication tricks or tips, and that the course – even though it was over 40 hours and super thorough and comprehensive, didn’t include many tips or tricks. I would say they didn’t include any tips or tricks, because I don’t do that. That’s for idiots, and mediocre people, and dummies. Literally, it’s like relationship for dummies. That’s the type of book you should read, not my material.

There are a lot of great tips books that would be a great jumpstart for a complete beginner. If you have absolutely no knowledge and no experience whatsoever, then definitely, these master classes that I do, the free courses that I do, the tips and tricks books in the airport bookstore will help. There’s a series on how to make friends with people and how to talk to people by Leil Lowndes. You might’ve seen it in the airport. It sells very well. She has got a lot of great books that are just a list of tips.

There’s another one that’s a little bit more Machiavellian but very good as well: David Lieberman. That is along the same lines but a little bit more Robert Greene style Machiavelli, a little bit more manipulative. There are those. There’s a lot of those, so go to those. But if you want to actually get past white belt level, if you want to attain any kind of level of mastery or anything approaching mastery, you’re going to need to get into the actual principles of why those tips work, why the tips that do work, work.

Many tips don’t work – why the advice works. The only way to do that is through principles. Now, there’s a really great book called Principles and it’s by one of the most successful investors in all of history, Ray Dalio. You might have heard of that if you’re an intelligent human being or educated human being. You would’ve known this book already because starting from 2012 or 2011, he had been circulating this as a PDF for free.

He is the head of Bridgewater. It’s the biggest privately-managed hedge fund in the world, and he wrote this book called Principles, which was sort of like a manual or a guideline for his employees to understand how they run their company, how they run their hedge fund. It was brilliant. He put an updated, revised version that’s not available, repackaged, and you now buy in on Amazon as a proper book.

I highly recommend that. I have not yet actually read the revised version, but I’ve read in multiple times the free PDF that was circulating. And it’s a great read, because it really hammers home the message that real mastery and knowledge and facility with any area doesn’t come from random not connected – like, random in all ways, unsystematic tips. You’re never going to get anywhere in life like that. Instead, what you should be looking for are the underlying principles for why the things that work on the surface work. That’s always deeper than do this, move a little bit to the left here.

The tips will always be contextualized, and they will always be very situation-specific. Unless you get further down into the reasons why those work, you will not be able to apply that wisdom to any other situation that deviates from the situation in which the tip was derived. So, you can actually make your own tips book by just literally writing down everything that worked well in your life. It could be if you brush your teeth well, you can write down that tip on how to brush your teeth.

It’s easy as fuck to do that, and that’s why I have very little respect for that, besides from the marketing perspective how well it taps into this human weakness of the intellect, and the laziness of the will to actually go deeper than surface-level tips and tricks. So as soon as somebody asks me for quick tips – here’s an example from my dating coach career. If a guy gets my contact info somehow – well, his email or Facebook message or something – and I’m nice to him or he joins the group and he finds out I’m a nice guy, he starts to abuse that channel. He sends me a message, “Hey, I got a date in an hour. Any tips?”

I want to strangle this guy. No, anything worth saying is not worth saying an hour before you got to go out and do the thing. If you didn’t have the foundation down, then you’re looking at most a 5% variation in success from a tip just before you go on stage or whatever it is you’re going to perform in. Imagine a fighter going in and having had no training whatsoever, but having to go and step into the ring, and he’s like, “Hey, any tips?” I’m like, “Yeah, don’t get hit. Keep moving.” What more can you say at that point? You can’t actually get anything that’s deeper than that.

There are people – it boggles my mind how anyone who has any respect for intellect can still respect people who ask for tips or tricks or anything like that. Now, we get to relationship issues. Relationship communication tips was specifically the phrase I think that I saw there on that review. This is a common thing I get asked for.

Now, communication – not just tips, but communication tips. Communication is an important thing to understand in relationships. Yes, you have to be able to communicate. But the problem is never the lack of skill in communication. Like, if you can speak a language that the other person can understand, then you have the communication skills to do it. What you don’t have are the emotional, psychological ability to be vulnerable and communicate your true feelings, often because you don’t know what your true feelings are because you’re triggered by something and you regress to basically survival-level emotional facility, right? And then you can’t think straight.

So it’s not a communication issue, it’s an emotional-psychological issue. I take issue with the fact that people think that relationships have anything to do with communication. If you are in the relationship and it was not an arranged marriage, then you already have the skills, all the skills necessary to communicate with your wife or husband. You already have that to be in that relationship. Why? Because I know that at the beginning of a relationship, for you to be in it now, it must’ve been going pretty well.

So, you obviously were able to communicate at that time. The problem is not the relationship per se. It’s not even the communication in the relationship, it’s you and her – or if you’re a woman listening to this, it’s him. It’s the two of you individuals. That’s the problem. The relationship problems are never problems in the relationship per se. They are problems in the people involved in that relationship. Let that sink in.

Why in the relationships courses do I spend so much time on personal therapeutic issues? That is, understanding your childhood coping strategies, understanding the communication and coping mechanisms that you use to deal with your parental figures, and so on, and why the different attachment styles that you have as an anxious or avoidant person, how you slide from secure to anxious or secure to avoidant given certain triggers? Those are all personal issues.

Now, in relationship, the other person is simply the precipitating cause to create that emotional turmoil in you, but the emotional turmoil is in you. Yes, if you avoid that relationship, you may just never get triggered and you go on your whole life, the rest of your life, never knowing that you had this issue festering in your unconscious mind, and you might die not knowing that. It’s possible that you can lead a blissfully ignorant life in doing so. But notice that the problem is not the relationship between you and the other person. It’s not even the other person who triggers the issues in you, it’s always you, and it’s always the other person too in so far as that other person’s dissatisfied in the relationship.

So, relationship problems are always problems in the individual. It’s never, philosophically speaking, a problem that is part of this thing called ‘the relationship’. It’s not like the two of you are perfectly amazing, ideal human beings, and that when you come together you have all these fights. That’s never possible. That’s not possible. That never happens. The problem is, there are two imperfect human beings who are likely attracted to each other because your imperfections are complimentary, and then you, over time, trigger each other, and each of you regressed to your coping mechanisms that you had since childhood to deal with your parental figures, who are the primary source of love.

And now because the primary source of love is not around you now, you consider the partner to be the primary source of love so you repeat the cycle of coping that you had when you were a child. That’s why if you don’t deal with that, just breaking up, divorcing, or separating won’t solve the relationship problem. You end the relationship doesn’t mean you end the relationship problem, because if there’s a problem in the relationship, the problem is you. You got to think why in a relationship course we spend so much time on the relationship per se and no time looking at the individual issues of the two parties.

Yes, when they come together, those issues become more salient, but that doesn’t mean that the relationship caused those issues in each other. They were there already, and they were just triggered. Now, relationship tips in terms of communication issues like being able to practice the skill of communicating your needs and wants, and what’s going on with you to your partner is an important skill. It’s actually a necessary skill.

And if you’ve progressed in your relationship to the point where you can sit down and go through relationship communication exercises that are always two-way, it’s like with your partner, then you’ve come a long way. You’ve done 80% of the work, and if that person is willing to sit down and do that work with you, you’re very likely going to succeed just because of the willingness to sit down and do it means that you’re going to power through very likely. If you’re both open-minded and optimistic about – and that you’re positive about doing it.

In that case, there are a lot of really good relationship counselors and relationship counseling institutes that really can help the two of you. The classics, the standards in the field are not fucking pick-up artist people like David DeAngelo’s courses on love or whatever. Don’t go to any internet marketing people, go to a proper institute run by real relationship counselors who have been in it, in the fire.

John Gottman was written about by Malcolm Gladwell as a therapist who could – after looking at a couple interact in a video, even with it on mute, can predict within 15 minutes at 90% accuracy whether that couple will stay together after 6 months, which is pretty astounding. Anyway, John Gottman is a major figure in the field, and he has an institute called The Gottman Institute. It’s not just him, of course, it’s his whole team. They have a series of trainings that you can do, and you can also go to their workshops as a couple and get work done with them.

But if you read their books, it’s a lot of – basically, you ask each other 100 questions every week that help you get to know each other better. If you’re willing to do that, you already know your relationship is going to be fine, it shows you got to go through this work to get – I mean, if you do that, you’re good. The hard part is, how do you get somebody to sit down at the table with you when you’ve been fighting for years? That’s the hard part. If that’s the case, then you’re not going to be able to use any of these relationship communication tips, or even exercises that will help you, because the other person is not willing to sit there and go through it with you, because they’re not going to vulnerable with you anymore, because they’ve been hurt so many times and you’ve had so many fights that you’ve said so many things that you regret, and so forth. That’s been layered over the years or over the months, or whatever it is, of hurtful things you’ve done to each other.

And then you have the distractions of the kids, or sending the kids to school or your work that allows you to avoid the issues for so long. And the longer you avoid them, the harder it is to get at them. But if you’re at that level and you are looking for relationship communication exercises, in addition to Gottman, there’s the wonderful Harville Hendrix and his institute of The Imago Relationship Therapy Group.

There’s also emotionally-focused therapy, EFT. That’s different from EFT tapping, but those are all good ones to look at. They will have a ton of exercises that you do with your spouse, your partner, with questions that you ask each other, and you sit across from each other, and you work through this. They will work if you stick with it. The problem is, a lot of couples aren’t even at that point where they’re willing to sit with it and work through it. And then what do you do? It’s just because you’re triggering each other and neither of you are willing to be vulnerable with each other because you actually don’t feel safe.

And then also, almost all of this is happening in your unconscious, so you’re not even aware of it. You think that it’s the surface issues that are the problem. Like, she said this and this, and she doesn’t like this and this about me, and I think it’s reasonable too. As soon as you go into any kind of logical argumentation which many men do, you’re already not looking at the real issues. The real issues in relationships are always emotional.

If you think about it like when you were first going out, what were you willing to do for your partner like in the first month or two or three of falling in love? You’d do anything. Tony Robbins gives the example of like, if she asks you to take out the trash, you’re like, “Sure, I’ll take out the trash.” And then three years later or ten years later, she’s like, “Hey, can you take out the trash?” You’re like, “Take out the fucking trash. Wait until I finish watching the game and then I’ll take out the trash.”

This is the fact that relationships are an emotional thing. It’s never really about the logic. When it comes down to logical issues, if you love each other enough, if the right emotions are there, you will think of a way. You will get resourceful and think your way into a solution. It’s when you’re unwilling to deal with the work of thinking through a solution that causes the issue. And the reason why you’re unwilling to do that is because of unmet psychological needs in you and in your partner that are being triggered in this relationship dynamic.

But it’s not the dynamic that’s a problem, the problem is located in the individuals. This is why it’s so important to do work on yourself, especially as you go through a relationship, especially as you have kids and they go through their stages, and especially as your relationship goes through the various stages, and having kids, and then going forward from there, and so on. There’s many stages in a marriage relationship where people change. It’s important to understand that.

Relationship problems are never problems in a relationship, they’re problems in the individuals involved. Also, actually, there are quite a few lessons that I mixed together here. So, tips versus principles, focus on the principles if you want to be successful in life and a master at any area in life. If you want to go deeper than the bullshit, surface-level. Secondly, it’s not about communication per se in relationships, it’s about the vulnerability in the emotions work that you’re doing with yourself, whether you’re growing and willing to –

First of all, have the self-awareness to know what’s going on with you, and then the emotional fortitude to be vulnerable with somebody who could trigger you very easily. Of course, being able to hold the space for your partner to be able to do the same thing. And then thirdly, if you are mature enough in the relationship where the both of you are willing to sit across from each other and go through therapy and counseling together, then you’re well-serviced already by the existing resources of counseling.

In addition to getting your own private counselor, there is The Gottman Institute, there is the Imago Relationship Therapy Institute, and they have their own books which are very good. In the back of every chapter, they’ll have these exercises that you can work through. There’s a lot of resources there. Where I feel the unmet need in the market is, or among people is, in the early stages before – or early, if you actually succeed, right? The stages pre-counseling, before you’re even willing to be fully open-minded, and vulnerable with each other, and engage in these exercises and worksheets with your partner. What do you do then? That’s where you got to take the lead and do that work in yourself first.

Nothing will be solved from you looking for relationship communication tips. That is the wrong level of analysis, and unfortunately, most people are mediocre by definition. The mediocre look for quick shortcuts, hacks, tips, without having to do the actual foundational hard work, that makes the difference. We’ll end there. I’m on my very first solo podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. Please give me feedback on it. What should I tightened up and so forth?

I’d love to hear your feedback, and see you inside the Facebook group, the DTPHD Podcast Facebook group. Also, look for the show notes in our website DavidTianPHD.com. I’ll see you inside the Facebook group, and I’d love to hear from you. Until then, David Tian, signing out.

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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