In this episode, we discuss:
- Pedram’s framework for finding balance
- Using COVID-19 as an opportunity for reset
- How to bring more structure and focus into your life
- The importance of adding hobbies and passions to your to-do list
- How to tackle daily habit change and build integrity
- Remember: there’s no silver bullet to health
Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of Revolution Health Radio. This week, I’m excited to welcome Dr. Pedram Shojai as a guest.
He’s a doctor of Oriental medicine, master herbalist, and acupuncturist, and is the New York Times best-selling author of The Urban Monk and The Art of Stopping Time, and founder of Well.org. He is an acclaimed Qigong master and Daoist abbot with a practical approach to modern living using Eastern thinking and practices to help himself and others overcome the westernized challenges of everyday life and to wake up and live their lives fully.
He’s also a filmmaker, the producer of the movies Vitality, Origins, and Prosperity along with the series Interconnected, Gateway to Health, and Exhausted. So we’re going to be talking about Pedram’s new book, Focus: Bringing Time, Energy, and Money into Flow, which I think is particularly relevant in these pandemic times. And we explore topics like how to find the bright spots and silver linings in COVID[-19] and use it as an opportunity for reset, how to bring more focused attention and clarity to your life, and why you should consider adding your hobbies and passions to your to-do list. So, without further ado, I bring you Pedram Shojai.
Chris Kresser: Pedram, it’s been a long time coming. I’m glad we could finally make this work out. Welcome to the show.
Pedram Shojai: Thank you, buddy. Here we are.
Chris Kresser: So this is probably a really apropos time to talk about the topics you discuss in your new book Focus: Bringing Time, Energy, and Money into Flow. Did you start a global pandemic so that it would be more timely for you to talk about this stuff?
Pedram Shojai: When there’s blood in the streets, sell books, huh?
Chris Kresser: No, I mean, in all seriousness, people are understandably losing their minds at this point. And a lot of us are stuck at home, kids running around, trying to figure out how we can balance work and some semblance of self-care, focus, and productivity—which I think are always a challenge in the modern world, but they seem particularly challenging now. So how do you approach this? What’s your overall framework for thinking about this stuff, especially now during [the] COVID[-19 pandemic]?
Pedram Shojai: Yeah, I mean, let’s start with context. When you fall ill and you’re in bed with a fever, it’s probably the only time people get around to thinking about, like, how they got there.
Chris Kresser: Yeah.
Pedram Shojai: And on a cultural level, look, we got grounded. And it was an opportunity to become introspective, but it was also an opportunity to go absolutely bananas, because the circumstances at home, the work-life balance, all the things that were easy to look away from, were right back in front of us. And one of the things that became very stark, even before COVID[-19] when I started writing this book, was that the attention economy is basically in [a] full-court press now. Whether it’s social media, or traditional media, or Netflix binge-watching, there are so many places that are gaming for our attention, that are outside of our lives, our priorities, our bodies, all the things that we say we want to do.
Our time is precious heartbeats that we’ve been gifted. Who knows how many more we have left. It’s just ticking into someone else’s clock; they’re going into someone else’s vision of reality. And [I’ve] got all these people complaining about being completely flustered in this era. And it’s like, wow, bring your focus back. Look, the nature of attention in Chinese medicine, based on the word “shen” or “mind,” also translated as “spirit,” and it’s really important to understand the energy anatomy of this—if we’re going to get metaphysical for a second because it’s said that the “chi” or the “energy” follows the shen.
So if your shen, or your mind, is scattered outside your body, focused on things that are less relevant to your future, your priorities, your world, guess where your energy is going, and guess where your reality is going. You are helping co-create chaos instead of the life that you feel like you should deserve.
Chris Kresser: That’s right. One of my Buddhist teachers, and my listeners, have heard me say this over and over, so forgive me while I say it again. One of her favorite sayings, and now my favorite saying, was, “the focus of your attention determines the quality of your experience.” So just exactly what you said in different words. If our attention is fragmented in 100 different directions, then that’s going to define the quality of our experience.
And I had Tim Kendall on the show a few episodes back. He’s the CEO of Moment, which is the app that helps you get your relationship with technology under control, prior to all that stuff being built into iOS and Android. He was the president of Pinterest and the director of monetization at Facebook. And we had a long conversation about exactly what you just mentioned. How with all these free products, you are basically not the customer, you’re the product. And they’re hacking your attention so they can sell it for a profit.
And I think it’s so important to be aware of that in this day and age because, [as] you said, there [are] just so many competing demands on our attention and they’re backed by a lot of brain hackers who are trying to exploit vulnerabilities in our brains to get that attention. So what are some of your own hacks, and your own frameworks, that you set up for not becoming a profit driver for some of these global corporations?
Pedram Shojai: Yeah, I mean, it’s starting to look more and more like The Matrix, isn’t it?
Chris Kresser: Yeah.
Pedram’s Framework for Finding Balance
Pedram Shojai: So the framework I’ve been teaching for decades now is something I started doing for myself. It started working [for me], people around me started doing it, and it just spiraled from there. It’s the metaphor of the life garden. If your life was a garden and you had room for five plants, what are they? For most people, it’s, family, friends, health, career, desires, [and] passions. What is it for you? I don’t suggest what they should be for people. I just say, look, there’s a way of looking at this. And how much water do each of these plants need? And to me, water is time, money, and energy. It’s an open exchange between those three. You’re trading your time and your energy for money. You can buy other people’s time with money. I mean, just look at the resources that you have, that move things on Planet Earth. How much of them are required to, honestly, water the plants that you say are important to you?
And then start looking around for what’s pulling the water, and start finding the weeds, and start reconciling what you say you want with what you’re doing to get it. And that becomes a framework, almost an operating system through which to look at future yeses and nos in a decision-making matrix that really sits in your prefrontal cortex. We could talk about the neuroanatomy of all that and why it’s important to have your brain working. But if you don’t have an operating system through which to take in new input, and have a yes/no matrix for it based on what’s important to you, man, you’re screwed because you’re being told what to buy and what to think and how to vote every minute of your day.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, yeah. I think it’s one of the most serious societal problems that we face right now, actually, right up there with all the others that [we] are talking about: climate change, other social and political threats that we’re dealing with, and economic issues. But this is arguably more fundamental because it sits at the foundation of how we will approach everything else, right? If we can’t pay attention, we can’t focus, we can’t have conversations with people [who] we disagree with, we can’t get clear on what our priorities are, and what’s important to us, then we won’t be able to show up in our life the way that we need to [in order] to address those other problems.
Pedram Shojai: Yeah, I mean, say I went to dinner and drinks with the guys last night, instead of going to the gym and spending time with my family. I got up and I had a headache, I took Advil, I [drank] more coffee than I needed, and then I stopped at Starbucks and got the plastic lid that just goes in the dumpster; it drips plastic back into my system. But I’m too far downstream to even think about the planet or the downstream effects of any of it. Because I’ve already been dealing with bad decisions that keep coming. And so, if your focus is scattered, it just creates chaos so far down the timeline that it’s really hard to come back. And you’re a Buddhist, a student of Buddhism, right? Buddha called us, “hungry ghosts” in that capacity. We just weren’t embodied and present enough to even make decisions on our own behalf.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, let’s talk a little more about that. That’s one of the foundational concepts in Buddhism, “hungry ghosts.” And you talk in your book about how important it is to really live life and show up to start living your life, rather than living as a hungry ghost. So what do you mean by that?
Pedram Shojai: Well, it all starts with a point of reference. If you’re looking for a solution set to any of your life’s problems, outside of yourself, you’re already putting the cart before the horse. So the nexus of control, the agency, and the point of orientation through which this thing called “consciousness” needs to sit, is this three-dimensional reality where it has to come from the inside out. And looking for some pill, or some book, or some podcast, or some guru, or doctor to fix all your problems—it’s just insane.
Yet we’ve been trained as children and been sold sugar cereals since we [were] young, and so we have fallen into this realm of looking for answers outside of ourselves. I mean, let’s go back to the attention economy. It’s the perfect situation to put someone in. You rattle them, you challenge their sense of safety, and their sense of security and their survival genes to feel imbalanced, right? Let’s just say you fundamentally throw someone off their perch, and then you start putting solutions in place to say, “well, this will make you feel safe. This will make you more attractive. This will get you what you want.” It’s created a multi-billion dollar industry that has us stumbling around trying to find the next thing that we’re told is going to solve all of our problems. And it’s never true.
Using COVID-19 as an Opportunity for Reset
Chris Kresser: Yeah, absolutely. So another one of the major concepts from your book is the idea that a significant challenge, like COVID[-19], can actually present an opportunity. And this is something I’ve talked and written a lot about, as well, the importance of finding bright spots and silver linings in the challenges that we face. So how are you approaching this during COVID[-19]? How can people use this as an opportunity for a reset?
Pedram Shojai: Well, first off, look at the people who are getting sick. I mean, some people just get unlucky. But we know that if you carry more weight, if you have blood sugar issues, if you have inflammatory cascades that are out of control, you put yourself in harm’s way, right? You are more vulnerable to this outside attack.
So what does this mean? It really brings us back to vitalism, the origins of medicine before allopathy took its stride with World War I and World War II medicine. How do I enhance the resilience of my system? How do I bring up my vitality? How do I bring down my inflammation? How do I give my body what it’s asking me to give it, whether that’s a 10-minute nap or stretching my psoas before trying to move my body? And just allowing us to retroflect our attention back inwards to be like, “Okay, what’s this thing? I’ve been running this show for 40-some odd years. What’s going right? What’s going wrong? Now that the plane is on the ground, let’s go check the fuselage. Let’s go check the wings. What do we need to do before we put this thing back up in the air?” If you don’t take that opportunity right now, man, what an opportunity lost, right?
I’ve written books about work-life balance, but all of my films and projects had me out of town 90 days a year. And my kid would look at me like, “oh, there’s that guy” when I’d get back after two weeks of travel. And I’d be like, this ain’t right. So how do I adjust that now? And so it’s just shifting the fundamental dynamics of your life. How hard is it to do Zoom meetings versus fly to a dumb thing for a couple [of] days? And so I think there’s a lot of opportunities for us to think about our carbon footprint, our personal burn rate in terms of energy out, our time away from family, our time exercising, and what that means to us. And I mean, we all just got slammed down on the ground. And to me, when that happens, you think about your life, and you think about what you could do better with the next round.
Chris Kresser: Absolutely. When you look in the media and see how the discussion around COVID[-19] has been, does it stick out to you that there’s very little discussion about baseline health and how much of a factor that is in the progression of disease, and specifically with COVID[-19]? [As] you said, there [are] definitely situations where somebody gets sick, really sick. We’ve both even known people who’ve died from COVID[-19] who were relatively healthy. But, by and large, we know that pre-existing conditions put you at greater risk. Vitamin D deficiency puts you at greater risk. I’m sure you’ve noticed that that’s not really a big point of discussion in the mainstream media. There’s a lot of talk about vaccines and monoclonal antibodies but not much else about that.
Pedram Shojai: Well, I mean, that’s the whole reason I ended up leaving healthcare because it’s the sick care model. And if you want to work in the [Mobile Army Surgical Hospital] (MASH) unit your whole life and be covered with blood and feel good about it, it’s one thing. But you’ve got to swim upstream and negotiate peace, right? What I’m going to say right now might be a little controversial, but just roll with me. We live in a messianic society. Right? It’s been imprinted in our consciousness, “help me,” or “save me,” whether it’s “Oh, Lord,” or “Oh, doctor,” or “Oh, police.” We’ve given our God-given agency over to different professions and different sectors in society. So the priest is the middleman to God, and the doctor is the arbiter of all things health. That disintermediation, that’s what’s happening right now.
You’ve got to wake up to the fact that you’re ultimately responsible for saying, “I put powdered sugar and syrup on my empty waffle this morning. And maybe I don’t feel as well; what is breakfast supposed to look like? What is my diet supposed to look like?” Again, it’s a return to vitalism. It’s a return from the feeding trough of media, and all these industries that are fundamentally designed to extract value from customers. And if you’re not looking at that stuff right now, then you’re still tumbling around in the whitewater of the matrix. It’s time to take your focus and your attention back. Because this, to me, is a crisis of consciousness. We are just not awake to what’s happening around us, so we keep falling for the same things, looking for answers outside [of ourselves]. “Oh, Doctor, tell me what to do. Give me a vaccine.”
Chris Kresser: Yeah, I don’t deny that vaccines, and monoclonal antibodies, and a lot of other treatments are going to play a big role in helping to end the pandemic. But we’re preaching to the choir to people listening, and you and I are on the same page about this, that something as simple as correcting vitamin D deficiency could have a profound impact on the course of this.
So some people might be listening to this thinking, “Okay, I get it. It makes sense that focusing my attention is what I need to do in order to improve the quality of my experience and direct my shen a little bit better. But how do I do that when I have three kids running around, playing electric guitar in the house, I’m trying to work on a Zoom call, and I have to go to the store to get groceries … How do I do that?” You talk about a number of different strategies in your book that you recommend for bringing more structure and focus into life, even in really crazy times like we’re living in. What are some of your favorites?
On this week’s episode of RHR, I talk with Pedram Shojai about how to audit your time, energy, and focus to allow space for what is really important. #optimalhealth #chriskresser
How to Bring More Structure and Focus into Your Life
Pedram Shojai: Yeah, first off, you take the morning for you. Whether it’s 15 minutes of meditation, or some mind-body practice, premeditation. I don’t care what’s going on, just set your alarm for 30 minutes sooner. Take the time to build resilience. What do we know about these mind-body practices? They help suppress the expression of the [nuclear factor kappa B] (NF-κB) pathway, so cytokine expression. We know that mind-body practices will do this. They will bring down inflammatory cascades. This is like the golden elixir of medicine, except we couldn’t figure out how to put it in a pill. And because it’s stuff you have to [do], everyone ignores it. Right? You just meditate and that would set the tone. The [nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2] (NRF2) pathway will help support detoxification and put you in parasympathetic dominance. And what does that do? You rest and digest. Your immunity isn’t on the fritz.
So whatever the circumstance of your life is, you have to incorporate fuse-lengthening practices into your day. Because the kid’s going to play the air guitar, the chaos is going to happen, the sky is going to fall, and so how do you build these things into the hygiene of your day? Whether it’s just the bookends, morning and evening, or whenever you could get it in, start to build this as a practice for when something snaps. I think meditation has been taught all wrong. Everyone’s kind of trying to replace quaaludes with meditation, or some mind-body practice. The point of these practices [is] to build up the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that allows you to negate impulses, say no to the dumb things that would knock you off your perch, higher moral reasoning, all the wonderful things that come with being a human and having a more advanced brain. The vasculature of the prefrontal cortex is supported with meditation and mind-body practice.
People hear about that and they’re like, “Oh, that’s cool. I tried that once.” It’s like, no, no, no, no. What are you doing every single day to lengthen that fuse, to water that plant? And I used to be like anyone else who realized that people don’t want to do it. I became one of these meditation apologists, where I’m like, “I’m going to tell you to meditate, but I know you’re not going to do it. So let’s try something else.” And I’ve come full circle saying, “Dude, it’s the thing that would help you with every single other decision in your life. It’ll help you stay focused on your life. It’ll help you say no to the cheesecake. It’ll help you understand that you’re feeling moody and cranky, and it’s time to go out and get some sun versus drink another espresso, or whatever it is, and it will help you with the decision-making matrix that allows your life to move forward according to your plan, instead of falling victim to the attention economy.”
So what’s it going to be? Are you going to wake up 30 minutes earlier and do some practices that will enhance every other part of your life? Or are you going to say that’s too hard, and then live a very hard life?
Chris Kresser: Yeah, I often say, “the simplest way of looking at meditation is it’s attention training.” We’re talking about the focus of our attention being probably one of the most important things that we have control over, that determines the quality of our experience. So it follows that idea. You might want to learn how to train and focus your attention. Right? So, for me, it helps to talk about [meditation] that way because it demystifies it. It’s really just about having more agency in your own life. And like you said, when you see yourself getting irritated or activated in some way, you’re able to notice it and then make a choice about how to respond, rather than the knee-jerk response that tends to happen if you haven’t cultivated that witness perspective.
Pedram Shojai: And look around the world. Just go onto social media. People are just reactive gorillas throwing poop at each other right now. They’re just not living in the part of their brain that allows them to stop and say, “oh, wait a minute, I went to high school with Barry. Just because he has different beliefs doesn’t mean I need to get into a mud-wrestling match in front of the universe with him.” Right?
Chris Kresser: Yeah, that does seem to be the moment that we’re living in at this point, for sure. You mentioned 100-day gong. That’s something that I’m sure is a pretty new idea for a lot of people. So tell us about that.
Pedram Shojai: Look, we know that neuroplasticity is kind of a moving target. We know it’s somewhere between 21 and 900 days, depending on the person, circumstance, genetics, and all of it. We know that somewhere in that sweet spot of 90 days is where habits really start to lock in. I started doing these 100-day sprints years ago because every day you’re 1 percent closer. I’m a results guy; I like to check things off a list. So, you pick something, whatever it is, maybe it’s just taking 10 breaths to your lower belly. And you remember to do it every day, for 100 days. If you miss a day, you start over.
What does this do? It starts to pull weeds and plant the seeds of what you say is important to you. It reminds you to keep your focus on what you said is important to you every day for 100 days. And I’ll build five-part plans and things to really focus on where I want my life to go, almost like navigating. So like, “hey, I’m going to get to that mountain; I’m going to look at where I want to go. I know my overall destination, and I’m going to go around that river.” Right? The 100-day sprints have proven to be incredibly effective, because you get three of them in a year, with a little bit of downtime in between to journal, reconcile, and figure out what you did right and what you did wrong, where you want to go, basically get your bearings, and then set the course for the next hundred days.
And these little micro sprints have really gotten my students to fulfill some of the promises they’ve made to themselves. It’s helped them realize that this “six-minute abs,” or “three-day challenge,” all these kinds of things that just keep bringing the line lower and lower to the point where none of these results are possible, those are just marketing. I mean, [if] you want to change your behavior, it’s going to take a minute, right? You want to change your life. You might think 100 days is a long time, but I promise you, 100 days from now, you’re going to be 100 days older one way or another. So what’s it going to be?
And so instead of going with the tabloid media and trying to come up with quick-fix solutions that don’t work but make great headlines, I’m just going back to the basics, man. You need to bait and tackle. You need to figure out what behavior needs to be changed, what positive behavior to replace it with, and then just spend 100 days changing that. Whether you’re smoking cigarettes and you go out and do five stretches instead, or you’re changing your breakfast routine for 100 days. I found that once you go through these gongs, or these sprints, you realize what it takes to change, you become more patient with yourself, and you learn a really important lesson. Talk is cheap.
If you want something, or you say you want it, then you have to back it [up] with action, with energy, with some effort to see through what you’re saying you want. When you do that, and when you learn how to complete that circuit, you’ve done something very important for yourself. You’ve proven to yourself that you could win. Because every single New Year, present one coming included, a gajillion people are going to make some dumb resolution that they’re going to bail on within a week or two, which reinforces the fact that it’s okay that they fail, that everything they do just doesn’t come to fruition. And that creates a downward spiral of breaking integrity with oneself. And so do you want to build yourself back up? You have to build your integrity back up, which is your word to yourself. Okay?
You say you want to lose 40 pounds? What are you going to do to do it? How are you going to do it? What action can we attribute to the intent? And what focus do we need to maintain on that long enough for you to get the intended result?
The Importance of Adding Hobbies and Passions Into Your “To-Do” List
Chris Kresser: So far, we’ve been talking about focusing attention, and maybe largely, not explicitly, thinking about habits we want to change. Maybe bad habits that we want to change or new, positive habits that we want to adopt. But I know, both from your book and also because we’re neighbors here in Utah and we spend some time together, that you’re a big fan, as am I, of making time for hobbies and passions. So we’re not just talking about taking bad things away, or even adding in healthy habits. We’re talking about passion and fun, right? So why is that important?
Pedram Shojai: I mean, what are we here for, right? If you don’t live the hours that you have been given in this God-given gift of life—whatever it means to you—if you’re not enjoying it, or getting what you need out of it, you resent your kids, you resent your career, you anesthetize yourself, and you live a life that starts to deplete water from all the other places. One of the fundamental, important plants in your life garden is withering and it’s starting to smell like decay.
Everyone talks about work-life balance, but it’s like, “I’m going to work 40 years and wake up one day with these strange children, be on my third marriage, have diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and somehow the money didn’t really work out for me the way I thought.” What if I got to ski with my buddies, hang out with my kids, keep my health intact, enjoy my life, and push my career forward in a balanced way? How can I do that? Without giving it lip service, how can I actually do that to have a fulfilling life today, instead of the pipe dream of a better tomorrow?
And I think that’s also a false, broken promise that is part of this attention economy, media distortion [time period]. People are delaying gratification in the form of living life because they’re just being wage slaves and debtors to a system that keeps selling them crap they don’t need. So that’s also part of the hungry ghost equation. Like, [you’ve] got to wake up, man. I don’t know if there’s reincarnation; I don’t know if there’s life after this. So what am I going to do with this life? I mean, I’m not quite the hedonist. But I enjoy my skiing. Right? I want to be with my friends and family and I want to enjoy the days I have here.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, absolutely. So some people might be listening to this again and saying this sounds good. I mean, I recognize that that’s the direction I want to go. But I feel exhausted or depleted. And I think a lot more people are in that boat in the last several months. I’m still treating patients, and we have the training program for the doctors and the health coaches that we train. And we’re hearing day in and day out that people are really overextended and fried. So what are some of the strategies that you focus on for reclaiming that energy and vitality if people are feeling less than vital and energetic to start with?
Pedram Shojai: Yeah. And to me, that’s the first plant to get back online, because that’s the power plant. Right? That’s where the energy comes from.
Chris Kresser: Everything else stems from there.
Pedram Shojai: That’s it. Energy is the currency of life, in a non-metaphysical way. Think about what this energy is. It’s starlight from this thing called our sun that somehow plants turned into packets of storable energy that we consume or consume the animals that consume them, and that’s the currency. It’s your life. It’s what you run off. So I tend to look at energy economics as a study; where you look at someone’s life almost like a company and say, “okay, where are the profit centers? Where are we leaking? Where are the deficits, right? Is it sleep? Is it exercise? Is there toxicity?” And you start really looking at all of the reasons people are exhausted.
I just finished a 10-part documentary series called Exhausted. And there isn’t one answer, right? There isn’t one answer. Everyone’s looking for the one answer. For you, it might have been the lead paint in your house growing up in the Bay Area. For another, it’s the mold. For another, it’s just really poor blood sugar management or insulin issues. You name it. Functional Medicine has a lot of ways to shake out those answers and start creeping back into the right area where you’re starting to net more energy in life. Look, to me, it’s a simple equation. If your body, burden, and stress are more than available energy, you just don’t feel any vitality; there’s just not that joie de vivre. You don’t have the optimism, the enthusiasm to just run out and do stuff because you’re dragging, right? You don’t have the energy.
So the question is, where’s the energy being wasted? Is the energy not converted? Is the energy not being used the way it should? Is it not available energy from [the] food you’re breaking down? Are you storing it as fat because you’re in some sort of stress response? Are you burning the fat? Are you too toxic to burn the fat because then your body keeps saying, “hey, I need to store this somewhere safe?” And so there’s a lot of places we look, and a lot of rocks we look under in Functional Medicine, as your listeners obviously know.
And to me that, if you don’t have the energy to map out your life or look at tomorrow with any enthusiasm, you have to retroflect back and say, “what is happening with my body right now? What do I need to do to fix my sleep? What do I need to do to clear these toxins? My number one priority is to create better efficiency so that I have some more energy coming out of this process called life.” And then, once you get it, don’t go blow it on poker night. Reinvest it into your life. Keep reinvesting it until you basically have compounding interest coming out and you have more energy than you know what to do with; you’re overflowing, you’re a better neighbor, and a better dad. Right? But until then, don’t squander any bit of energy that you get back out on anything other than your health until you’ve resolved those issues and your body is this lean, mean, energy-producing machine again and you actually feel like living life. Right? If you’re dragging, it’s just very hard to think about the future because you’re stuck in the now.
Chris Kresser: Yeah, I mean, as we both know from our experience in the clinic, some people have an underlying medical condition that needs to be addressed, before they’re going to get their energy back. Full stop. But even in those situations, and in many other situations where that’s not the case, there are small changes that can be made that can make a pretty big difference.
And, for me, it always starts with an energy audit, to where I’m spending my energy throughout the day. And I try to look at that with as little judgment as possible, almost like a video camera would see it. And when I do that, what I often find is that there are places where I’m spending energy unnecessarily. There are energy and time-sucks that are devitalizing me, and not giving any return on that energy investment. So it seems to me that that’s a good place for people to start.
Pedram Shojai: Well, I mean, now we’ve come full circle. I’ve run around these circles long enough, and have gotten caught in those eddies. What is the missing ingredient in what you just said with that video camera? Is your focused attention back on your life to see where you’re leaking, what weeds you’re watering, and what plants need to be getting that water? The more I went through these iterations in the clinic and all that I’ve done over the years, it always came back to focus being the missing ingredient. If you can’t focus on where your energy is going, you don’t have the awareness enough to even audit your energy, and you’re never going to figure out where it’s leaking or where you need to bring it back.
And so I’ve realized over the years that that needs to be front and center in any recovery program. And I don’t mean drug recovery, I mean all recovery. Recovery for fatigue, or any issue that you have. If you can’t stay focused on the resolution for long enough to become aware of your own behavior in a 24-hour period, there [are] too many places where your energy is leaking, and your attention is just not seeing it. It’s in the blind spots of your life. And that, to me, is where the juicy stuff is found. That is where I’ve helped most patients recover and come back. We’ve all got 24 hours a day, don’t we? Where are yours going, right? Whether it’s hiding in the bathroom and playing apps on your phone because you can’t deal with your kids in the house, or whatever it is. People are hiding. Nobody is that busy. So where is it going?
Chris Kresser: Yeah. Also, to come back to something we talked about earlier, I think social media and screen use is a really good place to start, in terms of an energy audit. I think most of us are spending more time there than we did certainly 10 years ago, maybe even a year or two ago. I know a lot of people, especially during the pandemic, whose screen hygiene just completely fell apart.
They were doing pretty well before the pandemic and then they just felt like they had to be checking the news and social media all the time. So it might not seem like sitting and looking at a screen takes much energy, but it does. What I know from my own personal experience, and from working with a lot of people on this is, when I go away and do a four-day digital detox, no screens at all, I always feel so much better after. And I realize how energy sucking the screens can really be.
How to Tackle Daily Habit Change and Build Integrity
Pedram Shojai: You had asked me for tangible things for people to do. One of the things I want to challenge your listeners to do is to take 21 days—just 21 days, let’s not even do [a] 100-day gong—where you set your alarm for 30 minutes earlier every morning because that’s time found for you. Before you go to the bathroom, which is the first mindless thing that we biological creatures do when we stumble out of bed, or now it’s like you check your phone, then you go to the bathroom, or you check your phone in the bathroom. But before you go to the bathroom, take 10 minutes and meditate. And I could give you a specific meditation.
But what I’m trying to do is hack into your day and allow you to do something that brings your awareness squarely back into your body, and anchors your consciousness on your breath before the circumstantial world of Apple News, or Instagram, or your calendar, or your emails pull you out. And before you’re like, “here’s what the world is asking of me. He said this, she said that, drama, drama, drama.” Before you could even boot up the operating system of your mind, the media is grabbing your attention and pulling you out of your body.
So I’ve been helping students anchor before their very first biological process. Do 10 minutes of meditation, gather your awareness, focus your attention back on yourself. I do 40 minutes of Qigong and meditation in the morning before I urinate. And so what? People say, how do you do that? It’s like, I’m waking up 30 minutes earlier. You just train your body. It’s not a big deal.
Chris Kresser: Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s a really helpful strategy or tactic that we also teach in the [ADAPT] Health Coach Training Program. It’s called habit stacking, or changing your environment. So you know you’re going to be getting up in the morning and getting out of bed, put your meditation cushion right there where you’re going to see it when you get out of bed. Or design your environment so that you’re never going to be able to forget that habit is what you’re supposed to be doing. Those seem like small things, but they can really make a difference when you’re trying to solidify a new habit and build those neural pathways that you’re talking about.
Pedram Shojai: Yeah, and listen, we have a hard time with the infinite, the formless. So if I say, hey, I’m going to do this every day for the rest of my life, that’s a long time.
Chris Kresser: Yeah.
Pedram Shojai: But if I say, “hey look, I’m just going to do this every day for a 21-day sprint, it’s enough to say, you know what? That wasn’t so bad and I kind of feel like I was a better person because of it. Maybe I’ll just keep going.” And so then you start stacking habits in a way that [doesn’t] feel so oppressive because the rest of your life is a long time, hopefully.
Remember: There’s No Silver Bullet to Health
Chris Kresser: Yeah, yeah. That’s shrinking the change, right? It’s a lot easier to commit to something small like that. All right. So tell us, your book Focus: Bringing Time, Energy, and Money into Flow. I think it came out on November 10th. Is that right?
Pedram Shojai: Yep, it just came out. What I decided to do with it was, I could lead a horse to water, I can hold your hand all the way there, but I can’t drink it for you. You’re going to have to do the practices. The practices will transform your life because they’ve been around for 6,000 years, and that’s what they’ve demonstrated. But no one can do them for you. Don’t buy into the narrative that there’s some magic silver bullet that will. But as you start to become more aware and focused, you start to become better and better at life.
So what I did was I created a 21-day program that has a daily meditation, a daily lesson, and things to think about that support my readers. These are free to anyone who gets the book. Just go to TheUrbanMonk.com, scroll down, [and] you’ll find the link for the book. Click there, put in your information, and you’ll get access to the free course. I’m doing everything I can to help people find their way out of this mess. But I cannot do it without you, the person listening to this podcast right now, being involved in your own life. I’m no superhero, I’m no guru, [and] there’s no magic bullet for it.
You’re the missing ingredient. And your focus has been the missing ingredient in all of these currents in your life. The start stops, the failures, the wins, and all that. The more you can focus your attention, the more you can build agency, the more you can layer on strength to your prefrontal cortex and the parts of your brain that allow you to say no to the monkey impulses, and yes to the things that are important for you, the better life starts to look, and then it becomes an upward spiral instead of a downward spiral. Right? But you are the missing ingredient. You’ve got to do the work. And there are guys like me [who] can help show you the way, but don’t fall for the narrative that there’s something outside of you that will fix you. You need to be there.
Chris Kresser: Great. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show, Pedram. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you. And where can people find the book?
Pedram Shojai: Anywhere books are sold, or [if] you go to TheUrbanMonk.com, there are links to all that. But also, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, all of those. Yeah, it’s available now on audio, Kindle, and hardback. And just go to TheUrbanMonk.com and follow the book links to where you can get the free course.
Chris Kresser: Great. And you mentioned Exhausted, the 10-part series. Where are you with that? Is that out in the wild? Can people watch that yet?
Pedram Shojai: It’s out in the wild. Yep, it’s streaming. We have a streaming service called Whole.TV. Exhausted is on there, Interconnected, Remedy, Proven, Broken Brain I and Broken Brain II from Mark Hyman, Betrayal from Tom O’Brien, tons of films, tons of yoga, [and] fitness. We’re bringing on cycling, [and] we have therapists doing online life coaching with our audience. It’s a really cool streaming platform called Whole.TV. Right now, we’re doing a two-week free trial. So just go to Whole.TV and check it out. And then we have a 10-part series on healing trauma that launches in February on Whole.TV, as well.
Chris Kresser: Great, fantastic. Thanks for coming on the show and I’ll see you soon.
Pedram Shojai: See you on the slopes.
Chris Kresser: All right, everybody. Thanks for listening. Keep sending in your questions [to] ChrisKresser.com/podcastquestion, and any suggestions for guests that you’d like me to have on the show. And thanks for listening. We’ll talk to you next time.