0:00:00 Michael Port: Welcome to Steal the Show with Michael Port, this is Michael. Today’s guest is Jonathan Fields. As a podcast listener, you’re likely familiar with his podcast called the Good Life Project, and the video series by the same name. Both have millions of listens and views in more than 150 countries. His guests include the world’s leading voices like Sir Ken Robinson, Elizabeth Gilbert, Milton Glaser, Brené Brown, Gretchen Rubin, and hundreds more. Along the way, Jonathan has built a number of community-driven ventures or as he calls them, Businesses of Belonging. He’s taught everything from yoga and mindfulness, to entrepreneurship, branding, and innovation to thousands. Along with his faculty, he now offers a growing catalog of events, trainings and courses that range from mission-driven entrepreneurship to building innovative cultures and living good lives.
0:01:00 Michael Port: His most recent book, How to Live a Good Life: Soulful Stories, Surprising Science and Practical Wisdom, is not just a book to be read, it’s a gateway to a better life to be lived. Jonathan is regularly featured in the media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Businessweek, Fast Company, O Magazine, SELF, Vogue, and many others. He also speaks for organizations and events of all sizes, from keynoting private meetings for clients like PayPal, GE and Twitter; to taking the stage at mega events like South by Southwest, World Domination Summit, and others. Hey, buddy.
0:01:39 Jonathan Fields: Hey, man.
0:01:39 Jonathan Fields: Hey, man.
0:01:39 Michael Port: How are you?
0:01:41 Jonathan Fields: I’m doing pretty well, how about you?
0:01:43 Michael Port: I’m great. First of all, congratulations on the success of the book.
0:01:48 Jonathan Fields: Thank you, thank you.
0:01:49 Michael Port: A couple or two months ago… I went about two months ago, maybe a little less than, I went to Amazon to pick it up and I couldn’t, it was sold out, which is amazing.
0:02:00 Jonathan Fields: Yeah… We blew through a lot of copies pretty quickly, so I can’t complain about that I guess.
0:02:07 Michael Port: Look, who doesn’t wanna live a good life?
0:02:10 Jonathan Fields: Yeah, it is a good question. Surprisingly I bet there’s a few curmudgeons who don’t, but I think for the most part, most people do.
0:02:19 Michael Port: But it was interesting, one of the things that you posited in the book or asked I suppose, is a better way of putting it, is “Who am I to write this book?” That’s a big existential question, how to live a good life, and who am I to go tell people how to live a good life? And I loved the way that you considered the answer to the question, and I’d love you to share it.
0:02:46 Jonathan Fields: Yeah, that was a huge lingering question for me. ‘Cause as much as I have a bit of a public profile, it’s never been the thing that I yearned for or needed, and it just allows me to do certain things, so I built that. But this is something where it’s putting me out there and saying, “Hey, this is… I’m gonna explore maybe the single most vexing question in the history of the human condition.” Where so many smarter people than me have come before and tried to answer it in so many different ways, and there’s incredible wisdom out there in the world already, and do we really need something more, and do I actually have something to add? And I felt like I couldn’t put a book out that explored this without also speaking to that question, in part because I knew people who picked it up would be asking that question, and part because I needed to work through it myself as well.
0:03:47 Jonathan Fields: But what I really realized was a couple of things. One is that the problem isn’t so much that we don’t have the right information, there’s been… And I say this in the book, there’s very little that’s truly new in the world of personal development, even spirituality and growth, probably in thousands of years. Yet the human condition is still the human condition, there’s still vast amounts of suffering on so many different levels, in so many different societies and cultures. And I got curious, if there is a ton of information out in the world and there’s still so much personal suffering, what’s going wrong here? Where is the disconnect? Now where I came down on the question is really that, sure, information is important, but there’s something about the way that it’s being conveyed where it’s just not landing. And what I realized, and after…
0:04:40 Jonathan Fields: You and I have this interesting past-life background in the world of health and fitness, having both now had the chance to spend years sitting down with these incredible embodied teachers and learning from them, and also having worked and lived and built companies and communities and taught thousands of people in the health and wellness world, what I really realized is that we don’t have an information problem, we have a digestion problem, is that so much of what’s conveyed is conveyed in a way where it’s either mired in dogma or requires you to buy into a belief system, or you have to execute a complete system from end to end, or so heavy with complexity that people just give up on it. That in a world where we’re increasingly busy, and we can talk about that separately as well, where the reality is people don’t wanna have to work just to understand what to do, we’re forcing people to do that. And by the time we say “And here’s something to do,” their eyes have glazed over and they’ve used up their bandwidth already, and they just walk away ’cause they don’t wanna have to wade through so much just to figure out what to do, and then turn around and have to do more to do it.
0:06:07 Jonathan Fields: So my quest became to take what I have learned over… It’s really been a few decades now, working personally with people in my own life, studying at the feet of incredible teachers, and figure out how to distill it in a way that was so simple, almost deceptively simple, that you could hear it once, remember it for life, and then there would be simple ways to actually take action on it, where your behavior will actually start to change. And it didn’t require any major disruption, it didn’t require you to blow up your life, or jettison friends from your universe. It was just like, “Hey, here’s an idea. Here are a whole bunch of simple ways to test that idea. And you don’t have to buy into anything, you don’t have to implement a system from end to end, you can cherry-pick among all the different things.” The idea was, take the wisdom and actually make it actionable. And that became my driving motivation here, was not so much that there’s profound new information, but I’m gonna share the information in a way that hopefully for the first time for so many makes it actionable. And that’s really what I was looking to do.
0:07:20 Michael Port: Let’s talk about all of this doing because you address busyness, punch lists. We move so fast, we’re so reactionary. And it’s one of the things that often disconnects us from the things that are super important to us, the meaningful things. And we live our life based on checklists, and we evaluate ourselves based on how well we did with our checklist for the day. And you’re right about reactive life syndrome. And I’d love you to address that and help us still get a lot done, but not feel that our life is just filled with unnecessary hyperkinetic activity.
0:08:16 Jonathan Fields: Yeah. This has become a bit of a… Something I’m fiercely committed to exploring these days. And it’s funny because a couple of years ago, I was probably down in general on the concept of busyness. And I think most people, it’s been labeled the devil these days, “Busyness is a horrible thing that consumes our lives.” And I’ve come to a more nuanced understanding more recently, which is that actually busyness is not the problem. Busyness is a bit of a distraction from the real problem, which is reactivity. Yeah, ’cause if you wake up in the morning and you’re busy… From the time you open your eyes to the time you put your head on the pillow at night, your day is really busy, but it’s busy with meditation, mindful eating with deep conversations, with doing meaningful work and serving others, with being creative, with standing in your strengths, with all these things, then that’s not a bad thing. That actually is a beautiful thing.
0:09:21 Jonathan Fields: The challenge happens when we open our eyes, and from the moment we… The first action we take is a reaction. If your average person opens their eyes and they have their phone right next to them, which most people do right now, and the first thing they do is check email, check Facebook, check Instagram, check Snapchat, whatever their source is of input, where they see other people’s sort of stream of demands that say, “This is what’s interesting to you today. This is where your attention needs to be from the time you open your eyes. This is what I need from you. This is how… This is what you have to respond to from the moment you open your eyes.” It’s like we’ve lost from that moment forward. It’s actually really hard to get ahead, so we then stack on top of that. We go, and very often we go to our to-do list, which is made up of things that very often are just a mindless compilation of other people’s stories, demands and agendas, and sometimes there’s stuff that genuinely matters to us mixed in there.
0:10:26 Jonathan Fields: The challenge is we don’t actually just pause for a moment and ask ourselves the question, “What’s genuinely meaningful to me? What will move the needle in my life, and the things that genuinely matter to me?” We just react. Basically we turn off discernment and we become reactive and mindless, rather than aware and intentional. And it destroys so much of our day, it destroys our mindset, it destroys our sense of possibility and optimism, it destroys our sense of agency. And it moves us from this incredible, graceful, generative state of possibility to a place where we feel like we are just… Our job is to just try not to fall too far behind before the sun goes down today because the idea of getting even or even actually getting ahead and being generative is almost a foreign notion, and that is just incredibly destructive to the human condition. It’s destructive to our ability to live good lives.
0:11:35 Jonathan Fields: Step number one is just to own the fact that this is the reality for so many people. And step number two is to start to cultivate a sense of awareness through either mindfulness practices, or what I call mindful triggers or awareness triggers. And step three is to start to become more intentional. But you can’t become intentional, you can’t actually start to make choices that matter, until you actually become less reactive and more aware.
0:12:06 Michael Port: Let’s talk about intentions. One of the things that I often address on the show with guests is the concept of role play. That we often play different roles in life, and sometimes we let other people cast us in roles that maybe we didn’t wanna play in the first place, and sometimes hopefully we choose the roles that we play. And you tell this lovely story about your mother and a change in your role, or something that happened with your mom that changed the role that you played with her. And I started to see you addressing this question of role playing in the book, when you as an adult needed to embrace the role of the personal development guy. It seems to me that when you’re being intentional, you’re choosing how you wanna behave in any given situation, and you’re playing the right role in that situation in order to produce the kind of experience you want and outcome that you want. Can you address this concept of role playing, how you see it, how it’s affected you, and how it relates to being intentional?
0:13:39 Jonathan Fields: Yeah. It’s such an interesting concept. And you definitely keyed in on… I introduced a personal struggle of mine with that story about just a really challenging time or moment in my life when I was actually a teenager with my mom, where roles reversed just momentarily, and it sparked an awakening in me that there was some capacity to affect the emotional state of others, to affect the state of others. And then I pretty immediately backed away from that and spent decades largely ignoring it because it was uncomfortable for me, until much later in life I’ve started to come back to it. I’m a student of Eastern philosophy. And one of the classic scriptures actually, it’s an epic poem in… Is something called the Bhagavad Gita. And there’s a line from the Gita which has always stayed with me, which roughly translates to, “It’s far better to live your life imperfectly, than to live another’s perfectly.”
0:14:44 Jonathan Fields: And I think we all get trapped in that. We all get trapped in… Society wants us to play a certain role. So many of the roles that we take are based on societal expectations, familial expectations, professional expectations. And it basically says, “If you wanna get ahead in this part of your life, this is the role that you play. This is how you behave. This is what should matter to you, and this is what shouldn’t matter to you, and this is who should or shouldn’t matter to you.” And which kinda assumed that if this has been the way it is for everybody else and everybody else seems to be getting ahead by doing that, then that’s the role we have to play if we wanna “get ahead”. The challenge being, it’s a complete and utter illusion. Those who are getting ahead very often are miserable inside, when they play those roles.
0:15:37 Jonathan Fields: And role playing, when you’re… And it’s funny, I talk about this in another exploration. There’s a chapter which… I’m blanking on the title of my own chapters. Dance Like Nobody’s Watching, Because They’re Not. And the idea of role playing really hit me hard when I spent some time sitting down with Liz Gilbert, this incredible real woman, an author that’s world-renowned. And we were recording a conversation, and it was just this magical window and we had so much fun, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was happening. I had that entire episode transcribed, and when I finally actually looked at the written transcript, that’s when it hit me what was happening. And I saw that there was not a single minute that went by without the transcriber noting in brackets, “She laughs.” And what I realized was that, here was a woman who was in a state of unapologetic joy. And there was a lightness, there was a majesty and a magic to her that you just got swept up in.
0:16:54 Jonathan Fields: And I realized that I had experienced that with other people too. And I started wondering, what is it that allows certain people to access that state of lightness, that state of unapologetic joy, when so many of us struggle to be there? And I started drilling deeper into it, and what I really realized is there’s actually something else going on, and this is where it ties into your idea of roles and role playing, which is that you cannot be unapologetically joyful until you are unapologetically yourself or unapologetically you. And what I realized when I looked at… I went back at so many of these incredible embodied teachers that I’ve been able to spend time with, and to the one, the ones where you just felt this sense of joyfulness, this sense of lightness, you also knew that they were being utterly real, that there was… They had found a way, they had found access to drop the facade and to play the role of themselves, of their true selves.
0:17:57 Jonathan Fields: And what I realized is that when you… It takes so much energy to prop up the facade of a role that is somebody else, the role that is a societal expectation of who you should be at any given moment in time. We don’t realize how much cognitive and emotional and spiritual bandwidth it takes to keep that facade, that role propped up, until we drop it. And then all of a sudden, you’re like, “My God, I have so much more energy to devote to just being light and being real in the world, and it’s incredibly freeing.” That was a huge awakening for me. So for me, it’s interesting, I think we all play roles at any given moment in time. The question is, are you willing and ready to drop the role of expectation so that you can stand in the role of your true self?
0:18:58 Michael Port: Another thing that I took from the book was this idea that everything’s perfect, but nothing is working. It’s something I think a lot about and I see a lot in folks, especially in students, where the expectations that we have set for ourselves publicly are so grand that we feel that we need to embody those expectations to such a degree that we look perfect, but underneath, it may feel like nothing’s working. And when you were illustrating who the book is for, you didn’t say that specifically. You didn’t say, “Everything’s perfect but nothing is working,” but you were demonstrating or illustrating some of the issues that the reader faces. And one of them seem to be this concept that out in the world, you may be doing all of these things really well or it may seem to others that you’re doing all of these things really well, but it may not actually feel that way. Maybe we’re lying to ourselves, lying to others. And “lying” is such a strong word, it feels like some sort of real betrayal. And I don’t mean it like that in this situation. I mean, maybe we’re hiding in some way. Maybe that’s a better word to use. I would love you to talk about this, because I think the expectations that we set may create this dynamic where we feel like we need to demonstrate that everything’s perfect, but maybe things underneath aren’t really working.
0:20:55 Jonathan Fields: Yeah, it’s such a good point. And I know this is something that you speak to a lot. And it’s interesting also, with the work that you do with speakers and being on stage. It’s been really interesting, as our friendship has evolved over the years and I’ve seen you work, and we’ve had conversations about this idea of us as a storyteller or speaker. Sort of, how you bring yourself to an audience or a stage, and you’re one of the people who’s helped me realize that it’s not about perfection. It’s not about this illusion of being utterly dialed in, it’s about “Can they feel your humanity through your words, through your movements?” And I think it’s the same thing, we’re terrified of being called out. We’re terrified of having the truth of our stumbling, bumbling, haven’t-yet-figured-it-out selves revealed in public. It’s mind-blowing to me how many people I know who appear to be, to the outside world, bastions of society and intellect and commerce who have privately shared with me their fierce sense of impostor syndrome; and that on any given day, they’re gonna be figured out. [chuckle]
0:22:22 Michael Port: Yes.
0:22:23 Jonathan Fields: And I’m guessing with the people that you work with, this has gotta be something that comes up often with you as speakers, right?
0:22:28 Michael Port: It is because when you’re on stage, it’s very very difficult to hide. That’s why I love the stage. I have so much reverence for it, because you get found out on stage. And that’s the beauty of being willing to get on stage and perform in front of others. Because it’s very, very difficult to pretend you are something other than you are and be effective.
0:22:56 Jonathan Fields: Yeah. I totally get that.
0:22:58 Michael Port: And so when people do extensive development on their speaking, they’re often surprised to discover that it’s an extraordinary journey of personal development. Not just learning better technique for using your voice or how to move on stage or block a speech, it’s an opportunity to be fully self-expressed.
0:23:28 Jonathan Fields: Yeah, I can’t argue with that. And it does lay you bare like almost nothing else. There have been times where I’ve been on stage, and I realized that I just have to be completely real. There have been times where I realized I’ve messed up, and I’ve had to just in a moment say, “Okay I’m here to serve, and the audience is with me.” I’m not here to impress, and you’re like “The audience is against me,” and just own my humanity, and it’s humbling. But when you move into those moments from a place of humility, there’s a sense of grace that you open the door to, that is not available when you move into them from a place of pride and false perfection, as you were saying.
0:24:34 Michael Port: And it’s where most of our stage fright comes from. And part of our stage fright comes from not being prepared, not knowing what we’re actually going to do, so we don’t know if we’re gonna be able to pull it off. But a large part of our stage fright comes from the fear of being rejected. And if we are going out there and working for approval, then we are worried about rejection, we’re worried about not getting that approval; rather than focusing on being helpful, which produces the result that you’re trying to achieve with that audience, the thing that you promised them if they sat in that room. One of the things that surprised me, and I don’t know why it surprised me exactly, but one of the things that surprised me to learn about you is that you… And even though I’ve known you for years, I didn’t know this, that you were a gymnast when you were younger.
0:25:31 Jonathan Fields: Yeah. [chuckle]
0:25:32 Michael Port: I don’t know why it surprised me. I told Amy, and she said, “I can totally see that.” I’m like, “What? How?” She’s like, “He looks like he could be a gymnast.” I said, “I don’t get it.” But I was amazed by that. I thought that was so incredibly cool because it’s not something that most people do. And I wanna know what gymnastics, competitive gymnastics taught you about performance.
0:26:01 Jonathan Fields: Yeah. Man, so much. I was pretty competitive through till I was, I don’t know, 19-ish, something like that. And I trained year-round. It’s a sport where you compete on a team, but it’s very much an individual sport. You have an individual score based on how you do on any particular thing, and there’s quiet in a room, and there are a lot of eyeballs just watching you. And you are judged for a 30 to 90-second window on how close to perfection you can come. And there are measures and numbers and tick marks that accumulate based on that. So one of the things that it taught me is that preparation is massively important.
0:26:54 Jonathan Fields: It’s funny thinking back to it too, my earliest experience with the visualization, with physical visualization came as a gymnast. What we used to do as gymnasts is before you would go on a piece of equipment, you close your eyes, and you’d literally see yourself. You’d watch yourself doing your whole routine over and over and over and over again. When you competed on the pommel horse, a lot of gymnasts got into this habit, and I did too, literally you’d use one hand to make the slab of the pommel horse, and you put the other hand next to it with two fingers pointed down, and those will represent your legs. And you would literally do the entire pommel horse routine with your two finger legs swinging across the horse, visualizing the perfect routine.
0:27:43 Jonathan Fields: What I didn’t know back then was that actual visualizing physical performance stimulates the same neurology in your brain that actually doing the performance does, and it reinforces those neural grooves. It actually has a very real effect on your ability to then perform physically afterwards. We just did it because we just knew that for some reason, there was something intuitive that said, “Hey, this helps us. This helps us be more calm. It helps us nail our routines when we actually go up and it’s go time to do it.” It’s funny, I’m just thinking this out loud, that was really one of my earliest introductions to the idea of visualization as a really powerful tool for physical performance.
0:28:31 Michael Port: One of the things that strikes me about that is how hard it would be to visualize your performance if you had not rehearsed it, because what would you visualize? You’d visualize getting on the thing and doing some stuff, but you’d be making it up.
0:28:50 Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And you would have… Similar to a speaker on stage, I had one routine that I would work for a year. [chuckle] And I would just keep doing it over and over and over, and trying to become more and more perfect, and…
0:29:05 Michael Port: ‘Cause it would be hard to visualize a speech that you hadn’t prepared.
0:29:10 Jonathan Fields: Yeah, yeah. Exactly.
0:29:11 Michael Port: You can visualize yourself going on stage, you can visualize yourself connecting with an audience, but other than that, it’s a blank.
0:29:21 Jonathan Fields: Yeah. It’s not a visualization anymore. It’s a fantasy.
0:29:24 Michael Port: Yes. That’s exactly right. That’s right. Just like it’s a fantasy that, “I’m gonna rise to the occasion, and I would go out there and just kill it. I don’t know how, but I’m gonna do it.”
0:29:34 Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And every once in a while in the movies, those fantasies play out, but for the most part, they end up being disastrous. So that was definitely really important to me. And then the idea of preparation like you were saying, I would just work stuff over and over and over. Gymnast is fun, I remember a day in high school where… We were male gymnasts and this was in the ’80s, where it wasn’t all that cool to be a male gymnast. We competed in Lycra tops and long white tights with toe caps, and I remember coming outside of…
0:30:12 Michael Port: That’s what I’m wearing right now actually.
0:30:14 Michael Port: I don’t know what’s wrong with that outfit.
0:30:17 Jonathan Fields: Is your podcast recorded? Yeah. [laughter] We need photographic evidence of this…
0:30:24 Michael Port: Never, never. No pictures allowed.
0:30:28 Jonathan Fields: But I remember coming outside after one practice. And I’m walking down the steps of the school, and there are a bunch of guys in the high school team looking at us, like “You guys are a bunch of… Pick a real sport.” And I had a short conversation with one of them, and I opened up my hands to show him my palms. And when you’re a gymnast, especially back in those days, your hands took such fierce abuse because there’s incredible friction on the bars and your hands. They were layered with calluses, and eventually these calluses from the friction and the torque would tear off. So your palms were this mess of bloody stuff, and it was painful and disgusting. And I opened my palms and showed him, and his eyes widened. He’s like, “Oh.” This is evidence of really fierce commitment to practice.
0:31:23 Jonathan Fields: But I think it also instilled in me, at a really young age, a sense of discipline and working towards something and committing and saying, “This is gonna be hard. There’s actually gonna be a fair amount of suffering and pain involved in it. But I love feeling good.” That place when you actually hit a level of not even mastery, but real competence, when you hit that, it feels so good that I loved working towards that. And I was willing to do the work, to feel that way. And that was training that has stayed with me my whole life.
0:32:00 Michael Port: It’s fun to feel competent.
0:32:02 Jonathan Fields: Yeah.
0:32:03 Michael Port: It sounds obvious to say, but if you’re asked to do something like give a speech say, and it’s not something you typically do, it might feel like a grueling process because you may not feel competent. Or you want to do it, you wanna give more speeches, but you don’t feel competent. And then all of a sudden, this thing that you wanna do becomes painful.
0:32:28 Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And I think also my sense is that competence that comes through extreme effort feels so much better, than competence that comes just magically, with little effort. Because you’ve worked so hard. It’s that work that went into getting there that makes it feel so incredible. If it came easily, it just wouldn’t be the same.
0:32:56 Michael Port: Yeah. As you know, I work with a lot of professionals, and sometimes when they come and work with us, it’s their first time working with coaches or directors. They’ve been doing what they do for a long time, and they’ve been doing well because they have a natural ability. And they’re often very anxious at the beginning because they’re afraid that they’ll lose that natural ability if they start to learn how they do it. And sometimes that’s the case, at the beginning, there’s this place of pain and confusion when you’re trying to do something in a way that’s different than you’ve done before, with the goal of making it better than you’ve done before.
0:33:45 Michael Port: But it’s like when I went to grad school, we came in there feeling very confident as actors. They only selected 15 to 18 students out of a couple thousand who auditioned, and you feel pretty good about yourself. And then over the first two years, you start to feel like you have absolutely no talent, you have no idea what you’re doing, you’ll never work because you’re breaking down your natural ability to do this thing, which will only take you so far, and you’re learning a craft so that you can leverage your natural ability and use a craft and have a craft that will allow you to do this thing over and over and over again, and better and better and better over the years. But there’s a real anxiety that comes from being decent at something, but not knowing how you’re good at it or why. The fear is whether or not you can repeat it.
0:34:44 Jonathan Fields: Yeah, I so get that. And I think this… It also… It gets us into Carol Dweck’s territory of fixed versus growth mindset, is that there’s a certain peril to things that come easily to people. It’s very easy for somebody to say “I’ve got this natural ability, and my ability to perform is based on talent. It’s based on something that I just have, it’s not a trainable thing,” because then when things stop coming easily, the natural assumption is, “I guess I’ve hit the edge of my talent, there’s nothing else to do here.”
0:35:24 Michael Port: Right.
0:35:24 Jonathan Fields: And most people retreat, or they give up, or they walk away because they feel like they’re just cooked, rather than the approach that you’re saying is “Actually, this is largely trainable.” Sure, you may have had a bit of an accelerated path because there’s just something in your DNA that let you access something more easily than others, and that’s gotten you to a point where you need to access craft to get to the next point. But it doesn’t mean you’re done, it just means that this is where the work begins. And Carol Dweck, who’s researched this, coined that as the difference between a growth versus fixed mindset, and showed how those with this growth mindset saying, “Okay this is a new invitation to actually go deeper and to learn, and that the next level is trainable. Getting there is not purely a matter of inborn talent.” The people who are willing to take on that mindset are the ones who actually push past and move to the next level and do extraordinary things, but…
0:36:28 Michael Port: And it makes you feel like you’re living a life of contribution…
0:36:33 Jonathan Fields: Yeah, totally.
0:36:33 Michael Port: Which takes us to the Good Life Buckets. And the three Good Life Buckets are vitality, connection and contribution. And I would love you to outline this concept because I think it’s so straightforward, it’s such a lovely way to think about living a good life.
0:36:54 Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And this goes back to our earlier conversation. I felt like my job is to create a really simple model that you hear once, you remember for life, and it got your behavior. I played with so many different and worked on so many different ideas, and really distilled it into this simple… Almost deceptively simple idea. If you think of your life as three different buckets, a vitality bucket, and that’s about optimizing your state of mind and body. And I talk about them as one thing because you really can’t differentiate them anymore, we know they’re one seamless feedback mechanism.
0:37:25 Jonathan Fields: The connection bucket is about cultivating deep and meaningful relationships, and this is generally along the spectrum of friendship to love, to belonging. And then your contribution bucket is about how you bring your gifts, your strengths, your values to the world, how you contribute to the world. Most people equate this with the work that you do in the world, and it can be and often is, but one important thing to note is that it’s not always the work that you get paid to do. Some people feel like their greatest contribution is as a caretaker to a family member or as a parent or as a volunteer to a community or an organization, and that’s equally valid.
0:38:06 Jonathan Fields: I’m always cautious to let people know that you can fill your contribution bucket and contribute greatly, and it may not be the thing that you call your living. And that’s okay, that’s actually an okay thing. The idea is to live a good life, what we wanna do is develop a practice of daily filling those three buckets, until we can make them as full as we can possibly make them, and then just continue everyday that daily practice of doing a little something everyday to fill each one of the buckets. In my mind, one of the cool things about this also is a good life isn’t this big disruptive thing, and it’s not even so much a journey, it’s not a place at which you arrive, it’s simply a daily practice. And you have access to that starting today.
0:38:54 Michael Port: It seems so simple, why does it feel so hard sometimes?
0:39:01 Jonathan Fields: I feel like we make it harder than it is.
0:39:08 Michael Port: Do we have this desire, subconscious desire to punish ourselves, to make everything into a struggle?
0:39:19 Jonathan Fields: I think we live from a place of fear very often. My sense is that so much of life is controlled by fear, fear of judgment. If you step outside the norm, fear of being outcast. Fear of just uncertainty, fear of being in a place where you don’t know how this is going to end, and fear of loss. And that could be loss of money, loss of status, loss of prestige, whatever it may be.
0:39:47 Michael Port: Isn’t it interesting that loss is a stronger emotion than gain?
0:39:57 Jonathan Fields: Yeah.
0:39:57 Michael Port: It’s really fascinating.
0:40:00 Jonathan Fields: It is, and we hate to admit this because we like to say to ourselves, “I don’t wanna focus on avoiding the negative or removing that stuff, I do wanna focus on the desire and the aspire side of things.” And that is and can be a powerful source of action taking. And at the same time, there’s really clear data that came out of a lot of the work of Daniel Kahneman and Tversky, that…
0:40:25 Michael Port: And everybody needs to read Daniel Kahneman, I think he’s just such an important behavioral scientist.
0:40:32 Jonathan Fields: So important. And it’s crystal clear that loss aversion is a really, really powerful force for behavior. And I think it’s important that we understand that about ourselves and we own it, and also acknowledge the fact that, if we bring in multiple sources to motivate our behavior to take positive action and build better lives, that’s an okay thing, even if it means acknowledging stuff that isn’t good.
0:41:01 Michael Port: Okay. That’s one bucket, and we wanna keep that bucket full, right? If any of the buckets are out of balance, they drag on the others.
0:41:15 Jonathan Fields: Yeah. Three simple laws of the buckets, one is that they all leak. And the further into life we get, the more they leak. We can fight against that, but it is what it is. There’s never a time where you can say, “You know what? I’ve worked out, I am in peak fitness. My nutrition is phenomenal, my brain is 100% perfect. My vitality bucket is completely full, which means that I don’t have to exercise or eat right or take care of my mind for the rest of my life now. I’m good.” We never hit that point because all of the buckets leak. They slowly will run empty. Our job is we have to keep filling them.
0:41:55 Jonathan Fields: The second rule is what you were alluding to, which is that the height of any bucket is always capped artificially by the least full bucket. We see this so often in people trying to actually do great things in their work and their career, their livelihoods. Sure, they’re working really, really, really hard to fill that contribution bucket, to make maximal contribution, to have a big career, build a company. And they got to a point where they’re like, “You know what? I’m doing well, but I have this really strong sense that my bucket is still at a 7, and I can’t figure out how to get it to a 10. I just can’t. I’m working as hard as I can possibly work, and it’s not getting there.” So I think, “I know the answer. I have to work smarter. To fill my contribution bucket, I have to work smarter. That’s the problem.” So they focus on productivity and efficiency, and they get really smart. And then they go from their bucket being a 7 out of 10, to a 7½, or an 8 out of 10. And it’s a little bit better, but they still have this really strong sense of untapped potential. They know that it can be fuller, but they can’t work harder anymore, they can’t work smarter anymore.
0:43:02 Jonathan Fields: And the problem is not that it has nothing to do with that bucket, it’s that in their mad pursuit to go big on their contribution bucket, they have abandoned their vitality bucket and/or their connection bucket. Their body and their state of mind have fallen apart, very often their relationships have fallen apart, and those buckets are quickly cratering towards empty. And as long as those are really low, there will be this artificial cap placed on how high you contribution bucket can ever go. And the counterintuitive answer to being able to access your full ability to contribute is not to work harder and smarter anymore, but is actually to pull back a little bit and allocate energy to refilling your vitality bucket and your connection bucket. And as soon as those start to rise, that artificial cap will start to just dissolve by itself, and you’ll find that all of a sudden, you can step into a much fuller level of potential and contribute on a much higher level. That’s the second rule. And the third rule is simply that the buckets don’t lie. We like to be a little bit delusional, and say “No, it’s fine. It’s okay, it’s full.” But eventually, you gotta face the truth.
0:44:12 Michael Port: Yeah, you gotta… And also recognize I think that they won’t always be the same over the course of your lifetime, meaning, when I was young, the vitality bucket, poof, that thing was overflowing, at peak physical condition. Felt like my brain was pretty sharp. But maybe my contribution bucket was a little low ’cause I was focusing on myself and my physical being. And maybe my connection bucket was okay, but I think probably not as full. But now, at this point of my life, I feel like my connection bucket is really full, my contribution bucket is really full, but I don’t feel the same kind of vitality that I did even a few years ago.
0:45:00 Michael Port: I’m having some muscular issues. I’ve had a couple of injuries this year, but then I’m also having some sort of systemic muscular issues, which we’re trying to figure out what’s going on. And so I have pain regularly just throughout my body. And it’s very disturbing when something that normally is so comfortable and so strong, all of a sudden, that bucket is leaking quite quickly. And then of course that influences negatively, as you’re saying, the connection and contribution bucket. ‘Cause if you don’t feel good physically, it’s a little harder to get up and contribute to others. So it changes over time.
0:45:42 Jonathan Fields: Yeah… It definitely does, and that’s why actually the language that I use especially when it comes to the vitality bucket is very intentional. If you remember back, what I offered was filling that bucket is about optimizing your state of mind and body. And I use the word “optimize” deliberately because what that telegraphs is that we do change over time. And as we shared out, I was a gymnast for many years. The beautiful thing is it taught me so much. One of the challenging things is over the years, it’s also led to laxity in my joints, which eventually led to… I’ve had my left shoulder reconstructed twice. Now as I’m 51 years old, I’m starting to feel more repercussions from that, and I have certain constraints that I just ignored or blew past when I was younger. And so there’s… I know that the range of motion of one arm on my body actually is constrained, and so my goal is to make it as good as I can get it.
0:46:53 Jonathan Fields: There are many people that are living with chronic conditions, and to the extent that you can do whatever you can to resolve those conditions, to make them better through whatever means you can, by all means, do it. And there may come a time also where you have to say, “Look, I’ve done everything that I can and I’m gonna hold myself open that there may be other things that I can do. And at the same time, I’m going to try and optimize around whatever my very realistic state is as much as humanly possible.” And that may look different than it did when I was 20, and that’s okay.” So the word “optimize” is designed to give people permission to say “Okay, you still have a responsibility to do the work, to get it as good as it can be. And at the same time, as good as it can be may be different than it was 30 years ago. And that’s okay.”
0:47:52 Michael Port: When you give a speech, you often… I don’t know if you always do it, but you wrote about something that you do, that you keep with you, say on the podium or somewhere near you or even in a pocket, to remind you of what your work is about. And I thought it was absolutely beautiful, and I’d love you to share this with the audience and tell them why you do it.
0:48:26 Jonathan Fields: Yeah, this is something that started about five years ago. I was out in Portland, and I was the closing keynote for an event. It was the first time I spoke in front of a room of 500 people, I was pretty nervous. And before I left for that, my daughter, who was then I guess nine or nine-ish, eight or nine years old, took a little piece of paper and she took a bunch of colored markers and she drew a whole bunch of hearts on it. Basically one big heart outlined in a whole bunch of different colors, and she stuck it into my bag, and I took that with me. And then when it was time for me to go up on stage, I don’t generally… I don’t map out, or I just… I had a little envelop with a couple of ideas I want to talk about, and then right next to it, I placed the heart on the little confidence monitor on stage. And it was there because it needed to remind me of something. And it just sat there, and I didn’t tell anyone it was there. This was just for me.
0:49:29 Jonathan Fields: And at the end of that talk, because I was the closing keynote, a couple of other speakers came up on stage, we had a quick panel. And at the end of that panel, somebody asked “What inspires you?” And everyone went down. And as the different speakers were answering, I just kept looking at the hearts. And when it came my turn, I stood up and I walked over to the monitor. I picked up the piece of paper, and I held it in the air to show the audience, and I said this, I said, “My daughter, my little girl, she inspires me.” And I said, “This is something she gave me, and I take it… I now take it with me when I speak because I know that it’s a reset for me. It shows me what matters. I know I come home and no matter what I do, no matter how I perform, that I’m gonna come home to hugs and open arms and everything’s gonna be okay.” I take it with me when I speak very often because it grounds me in what really matters, which is just decency and gratitude for those beautiful relationships that I have in my life. And that’s…
0:50:46 Jonathan Fields: It’s funny, ’cause I did the… I returned to that same stage this summer, and did the opening keynote. And I didn’t tell anyone that I had that same thing with me and I had brought it, and it was sitting on the monitor. And I told this story in the beginning, and at the very end, I circled back to it. And to close the talk, I walked over and I grabbed the same picture and I held it up in the air. And I could… It was so hard for me to talk because it was just really meaningful to me. And the other thing that was really meaningful was that my daughter and wife were in the audience. And yeah, I knew that, now a teenager, it was probably just horribly embarrassing for her. Yeah, that was part of my job as a father. All these people were gonna look at her, but yeah, it was just really meaningful.
0:51:37 Michael Port: And one of the things that you helped the reader do in the book is to find their unique expression of life. And in closing, I would love you to share your unique expression of life and how others may find theirs.
0:52:01 Jonathan Fields: Yeah, this is one of the big questions for so many people. There are two words that keep returning to me and have been for a couple of years now, that I’ve come to really see as been guiding what I’m creating, at least in this season of my life and that may change. And the words are “To incite possibility”. And it takes me back to that original story that we opened with, with my mom, where there was a momentary role reversal and there’s something that I said that was this thing that it just happened really quickly, it was a glimmer of a moment that opened me to the possibility that I may have the ability to, in some way, incite possibility in others. And that has been something that I pushed aside because it felt a little too trippy, and a little too arrogant, a little too forward-facing. And I’ve come back to and say, “No, actually, that’s a lot of what I’m about. A lot of what I do is… And have done for years without realizing it, is to create experiences, moments, programs, media, whatever it may be, that are designed to light a match. To wake people up to possibility in their own lives, to allow them to see what they wouldn’t see before.”
0:53:26 Michael Port: Even the store at your website, goodlifeproject.com, which is phenomenal by the way, even the store with the sweatshirts, the hoodies, the posters, the pens, the umbrellas, the hats, all of that, it does really inspire possibility. It is some of the coolest stuff that I’ve seen that people can wear and use, and I’m not doing some kinda promotional pitch for it, but I was just looking at the site before the interview, and I was like, “I want that. I want that poster. That’s so cool.” And I just wanted to comment on it because it demonstrates how you bring this expression into all aspects of your work, and of course I imagine your life as well.
0:54:16 Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And thanks for the comments on the store by the way. For me, it’s more of a guiding ethos. And I saw this in so many people that I’ve sat down and recorded conversations with. I sat down with Milton Glaser at the age of 86, and who told me that he has known what he was here to do since he was six. Milton, for those who don’t know him, is the most iconic living designer in the world. He also founded New York Magazine. He has created so many things, so many brands, so many logos, so many things that people know all of his creations. Although most people probably… Unless you’re in the design field, you wouldn’t know who he is.
0:55:00 Jonathan Fields: The one thing that everybody knows is the single most ripped-off logo in the history of logos, which is “I heart NY.” But I said… He told me, he said, “I’ve known what I’m here to do since I was six.” And I said, “What?” He’s like, “To make beauty.” And that didn’t necessarily… He didn’t know he was going to be a designer, but he knew that he was here, that was his thing. That was his spark. And that can sometimes change for people over time, but that was his thing. And the thing is the rare person knows that at such a young age. Most of us have some blend of different things.
0:55:38 Jonathan Fields: One of the things that I explored in the book was this idea of what sparks us. And there are a whole bunch of ways to explore what are you here to do, looking at strengths, looking at values; but there’s this idea of being sparked, of feeling lit up. And what I started to see over time was a pattern of five different types of sparks that emerged, that most people will key in as being, “Yeah, that.” There’s a curiosity spark, which generally takes the form of a burning question or a problem that you want to solve. Are you sparked, or do you have a curiosity spark where you genuinely latch on to a burning question, or you wanna solve a problem? And it almost doesn’t matter what field it’s in. This is just the way that you’re wired, you’re most lit up when you’re working towards a big solution or a burning question.
0:56:34 Jonathan Fields: There’s a fascination spark, which is basically when you latch on to a topic or a field where you’re just deeply fascinated by it. You would literally pay just to study it. There is an immersion spark, where the nature of an activity itself, you become lost in. You feel completely absorbed and lit up when you’re doing it. People who are crafters very often speak about this. Sure, maybe you’re a quilter, and it’s wonderful to have this finished product. But the deeper reason that you do it is you just lose yourself in the process of making. And that’s really powerful for a lot of people. There’s also a… I’m blanking on my own sparks here. There’s a service spark, which is really important because basically there’s some people who are lit up purely by the idea of being of service. And that could be being of service to somebody else, being of service to a whole bunch of different people. It can be being of service to nature, or to the environment. And the fifth spark, I can’t believe I’m completely spacing on it. [chuckle]
0:57:52 Michael Port: I love that you are. I think it’s great because it’s just a demonstration. I’ve done this, too. Sometimes people ask questions about books or even books that I wrote years ago or books that I wrote recently, and they’re like “In Chapter Five… ” I’m like “I don’t even remember what you’re talking about.” But…
0:58:08 Jonathan Fields: I just got it, by the way, not to leave your…
0:58:08 Michael Port: There you go. That was my filler to give you the time to get it.
0:58:12 Jonathan Fields: It’s a mastery spark. What really lights you up is actually working towards mastery. And that may not mean that you’re the best in the world, but it means that you’re really, really driven to become the best that you can be at something. Most of us have… What I found is that most of us actually will key in on one of these sparks as a primary spark. And very often, we’ll have certainly one or two as secondary sparks. But if you understand of those five types of activities what sparks you, very often that can help focus your energy on finding the type of thing that really lights you up most.
0:58:50 Michael Port: That’s beautiful. Listen, I think everybody should read this book. I think it is the personal development book of the decade and who doesn’t wanna live a good life? At least every single person who’s listening to this, I know wants to live a good life. That’s for sure. So pick up the book anywhere books are sold. If you go to your local bookstore and they’re sold out, just go online and get it. Amazon, Barnes & Noble. If they’re sold out, go somewhere else. It was a hot book, so it was selling very quickly. That’s number one. Number two, goodlifeproject.com is one of Jonathan’s sites, and you should go there and learn more about what you can do with him. One of the things he does is something called Good Life Camp… Or you call it “Good Life Camp”, is that what you call it?
0:59:37 Jonathan Fields: Yeah. Camp GLP.
0:59:39 Michael Port: Yeah, Camp GLP, that’s it. And they rent a camp in the summer, and it’s just this massive event where you actually go to camp as an adult and have an amazing time and find yourself in the process. Also his podcast is one of the most listened to in the world of personal and business development. If you read his book, you’ll meet some of his guests. And I’m just a big fan. A great friend and a good man and somebody who’s really, really making big contributions to the world. Thank you so much for being here, Jonathan.
1:00:15 Jonathan Fields: Yeah, thank you so much for inviting me and for letting me share some time with you and with your listeners.
1:00:20 Michael Port: Indeed. That is it for today. Keep thinking big about who you are, and what you are for the world. Thank you for the opportunity to serve you. I never take it for granted, I know my guests don’t either. It’s a privilege and an honor. And we’ll see you next time. Bye for now.