Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast, where we answer key questions in relationships, attraction, success, and fulfillment. Now, here's your host, world-renowned therapist and life coach, David Tian.
David: Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast. I'm David Tian, your host. In this episode, I'll be covering the one practice that's required for finding fulfillment, happiness and consistent success, sustainable success, in life. This practice is required to know yourself to develop the requisite self-awareness that's required for discovering your true self, and discovering the various parts of you and empowering them to enter into healthy roles in your life. [00:49.0]
In describing this, I use the word “practice” deliberately. What I'm going to describe here is something that you might only focus on once every few years, but it is something that you will need to be good at if you want to sustain any kind of success, sustain any kind of growth. It will require becoming good at this, and when you need it the most, it's really important that you be able to get into it quickly, so it’s best that you make it something that you practice on a regular basis so that you can do it effectively when you need it most. And the thing that gets in the way of accessing this practice and its benefits is actually modern life.
So, what is this practice I'm referring to? Let's use the word “contemplation.” Modern technology has made it so that our media consumption or consumption of content is almost infinite and almost effortless, and as a result, it takes a lot more willpower to say no to it and to carve out time for contemplation, when you don't practice contemplation on a regular basis, that is, making time to notice what's in your mind and what you're feeling, and to be self-aware of your thoughts to contemplate what's already in your mind and not continually feed it with more input. [02:07.7]
Contemplation is required to know your purpose in life or your purpose for the next one to five years, the stage in your life. It’s required to do any kind of experiential therapy effectively. Now, in the therapy session that you have weekly, you could train contemplation there and only there, but then you're going to be going very slowly and you probably aren't going to generate enough momentum that you are building on your abilities of contemplation week to week. Instead, you're just starting back to where you were before, and then you forget everything and you come back to it again, so therapy gets nowhere.
Another way to put it, another term for it might be introspection, to be able to introspect to close your eyes and notice what thoughts you have, what feelings you're feeling—that's a big stickler for a lot of guys—and what's happening in or around your body in terms of tension or any kind of energy that's trapped or focus there in your body. [03:09.0]
A lot of intellectual types are unaware of their physical bodily sensations unless they're extreme, like just some extreme pain or itch, but most of the time, they're lost in their world of thought. So, I would include in contemplation and introspection, especially with your eyes closed, to be able to feel inside, from the inside, your body, not needing to look at your hand, in order to feel your hand. Being able to notice your hand, for example, even with your eyes closed. Being able to tune in to your heartbeat, to your breathing and so on with your eyes closed, not needing instruments to tell you.
This basic degree of self-awareness, which is kind of a physiological awareness, requires in the modern world where we're constantly being distracted by short term gratification, that requires the ability to quiet down and close your eyes and notice from the inside. And that's just your physical body sensations, let alone your thoughts or, even more importantly, your emotions, what you're feeling. [04:13.3]
So many men are unable to even tell what they're feeling in the moment. They're so lost in their thoughts. One of the main reasons you're lost in thoughts, by the way, is because you haven't taken enough time to be with your thoughts to let them play out. That's why I've been saying for years, the busiest people are the ones who need meditation the most, because they have the most swirling around in their minds, but unattended, just sort of trapped there with no outlet.
The opposite of what I have in mind, your contemplation or introspection, the opposite of that is consumption, and that's what we're constantly doing and that's what people who are raised on the internet, Gen Z and younger teenagers now, are sort of birthed into or come right out of puberty into a world of constant distraction and very little training or even encouragement to engage in a practice of quiet contemplation. [05:13.3]
As a rule of thumb, if you take nothing else away from this episode, just remember this. Prioritize contemplation over consumption. Contemplation over consumption, or better yet, creation over consumption. Creating thoughts or creating a work of art, or creating some kind of original project will all require some degree of contemplation. Creativity requires the room for contemplation, not just constant input, but also allowing the conditions for output.
For most people under 35 years old, I would start them on a ratio of consumption to contemplation, something like 60:20, and I use these figures. I mean, that's 3:1, right? But 60:20 in terms of if you consume content for an hour, like you watch an hour's worth of YouTube or Netflix or whatever, take 20 minutes in quiet contemplation. This could be meditation. It could be honest, uncensored journaling for yourself. [06:17.5]
Contemplation is the act of deep reflection where we allow ourselves to disconnect from the outside world and all the constant distraction of input and tune into what's happening inside and tune into our inner selves, our inner systems of our parts and our physical bodies, and all the many thoughts that our various parts have, and most importantly, how we feel toward these parts of us. That's the turning point question that will take us closer and closer to our true selves.
Perhaps the main reason that people under 30 don't know their life purpose or their true selves is because of a lack of quiet contemplation, and an addiction to distraction and media consumption. You’ve got to stop filling your downtime with mindless consumption of social media, of TV or video games. [07:13.7]
I'm Gen X and I’m 47 this year. Back in my day, we had to sit through commercials on TV every time we wanted to get through a show or movie that was on TV. Now I can't even stand those five-seconds skip ads, pre-roll ads on YouTube. But often what happened is, when we're watching the commercial, we just daydream and it makes it a lot harder to just binge watch TV, because you're getting these constant pattern interrupts, whereas on a streaming services or on YouTube, you just go straight into the next video and it's so easy, it's just a tap of a finger. [07:46.3]
Again, back in my day, we had CDs and I remember, even as an undergrad, comparing each other’s CD collections and carrying around boxes full of CDs every time we moved into a new dorm room or into a new apartment each school year, and then displaying them proudly on the bookshelf or you'd get a CD tower, and this would be a sort of representation of you and your personality.
Some people would alphabetize them, some people would categorize them by genre, and this is all a representation of you and how you are. I remember having to ask myself the question, “Am I going to give up the CD cases with their beautiful liner notes and all that for the ease of one of those album books where you just slide the disc in?” You can actually save the liner notes, but they would take up a whole other slot and just carry around this big book of CDs, like a photo album kind of thing.
Then the first portable MP3 players came out. This was even before the iPod, and you could store hundreds, okay, hundreds of songs on one tiny little device as big as your keychain and it changed everything. And now we take it for granted that on multiple platforms all around the house on pretty much any of our wired-up devices, we can get access to any song, basically for free. I mean, we're paying whatever pittance, I don't know, 10 bucks a month or whatever, to all of these different Apple Music or Spotify and whatever else we've got access to. [09:07.4]
And then there's YouTube that will have the video, some video version of the song for free, and back in the day, we had to walk to the H&M or to the record store, and I was doing this even into 2008. I remember moving to Singapore in my early-30s and what was cool about H&M was when they started to bring out two decades before that stations where they'd have five or 10 different albums, CDs, and you could pick which one you want to test out by listening to these headphones that they had at each of the stations, and real musicheads could spend hours just standing there listening to music. And to recognize now that, at the tip of our fingers, literally, we have access to all of the world's music pretty much, and don't even get me started on Netflix versus how we had to navigate Blockbuster back in the day. [09:59.3]
Even back then, in my teens, 20s, 30s, I felt like there was way too much distraction already, and for me, my Achilles’ heel for distraction was books. I know that boggles the mind of any teenager or 20-something now. Books, for me, the way I could consume them so quickly, I was addicted to getting into that world of the book, it was like, I think, how people watch YouTube videos now.
It was in grad school, for me, which was my mid-20s, when I came up for myself with this mantra of creation over consumption, because it got to the point where I was doing too much research. I had 100 books piled up. I maxed out my library quota, which I already had a pretty big one as a PhD student, 100 books, and I maxed that out and I still felt like I needed to read more, and so I'd get into the journals and I’d print them out and all this. At some point, you have to say, “That's enough, I’ve got to get creating the paper, the essay, the thesis, the dissertation.” [10:56.7]
Then this also became true of my personal life, where you could check out from the video store, it's like a membership thing like Blockbuster, and then you could take out five or six, and they kept raising the limit, so you could go home with seven movies, if you wanted. Then, if you wanted, you could just sit there on your couch, watching 2-hour movies endlessly.
There was this movie theater in Ann Arbor where they only had ticket checkers on the two wings, so whichever movie you bought access to, they're not going to check if you just go to the next theater. I think there's six theaters or something like that on each wing, so you could pay for one movie and sit there for three movies, and I remember doing that as a student, and you come out of the second or third movie, definitely you’re already feeling this in the second, but definitely in the third, and you're blinking because you've been in this dark room just watching movies and it really kind of messes with your eyes, but also with your mind. You feel kind of like mush. [11:52.7]
And even though all you did was sit there for six-something hours, you feel so tired and it turns out even just consuming content past a certain point actually just makes you more tired—and I discovered this before the internet age and already made it a rule for myself that for X amount of consumption time, I would focus on X amount of creation time. If you're not paying attention yet to this ratio for your own life, this is going to be one of the main reasons why you're unhappy and unfulfilled, and enervated. That is, your energy is getting sucked out.
Almost everyone that I know under 30 actually needs to cut down their consumption type of media—that is, social media, TV shows, video games. I would even throw under their books, audiobooks, podcasts, even like this—to cut down their consumption time by a lot, and the actual number will depend on how much time you've carved out for quiet contemplation. In the end, for most people, I would recommend starting with a 3:1 or 60 minutes to 20 minutes ratio and work your way up to 1:1. [12:55.2]
Now, I would include in quiet contemplation any time that you are paying attention to what's going on in your own mind and in your own body, especially your feelings, your emotions. If you spend an hour in a therapy session, and it was experiential and it was deep and you felt a lot, hey, you've earned yourself at least in our video. Or maybe if this is relatively new to you, like your first year tracking this sort of thing or even paying attention to it, maybe you've earned yourself an Avatar 2 length movie.
Now, right now, the way I'm framing it is the consumption is the reward for your contemplation, but the only way you'll be able to sustain and grow this practice which is required for success—again, success, happiness, fulfillment, love, self-awareness, discovering your true self, discovering your life purpose at various stages of your life—the only way you're going to get good at this, this thing that's required for all of that other stuff that you want, the only way you're going to get good at this is if you see it the other way around. The quiet contemplation time is your reward. [13:55.1]
Meditation is a great example. So many people who will fail at meditation are those who use meditation for some other means, and only those who will actually succeed are those who see meditation as the reward in itself as the intrinsically pleasurable thing, like you're practicing it for itself, like listening to good music that you really like. The main reason you're listening to it is because you like it.
The idea is to get to the point where quiet contemplation is something that you enjoy for its own sake, and, of course, it will have tons of downstream benefits, but if you're just doing it for the downstream benefits, you're not going to keep at it.
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So, keep that in mind, as you're continuing your practice. At about three to six months in, you had better get to the point where it's enjoyable for you intrinsically, or you won't be able to sustain the practice. And if you can't sustain the practice, then you're not actually going to get the consistent long-term benefits of the practice, and I know that's important to start the whole practice. You’ve got to transition, just like with working out. You’ve got to transition into finding some kind of quiet contemplation, in this case, that you enjoy for its own sake. [16:04.5]
You can try lots of different things. You can even try walking in the park or in the forest, or something that you enjoy or think you might enjoy already, and trying that out and seeing if that works for you. For some people who are more physically-oriented, yoga in a kind of quiet yoga can also do that for you.
This will go against what society and all the social media out there is focusing on. Like today, I just watched, it came up on my feed, a Gary Vaynerchuk reel or short or something like that, and I'm a fan of Gary's. I love his energy and I think he's a really good marketer, and so on. But what he is going on in that video about is another one of his main themes, attention.
He's always paying attention to where the attention is. He’s always consuming content to find out where people's attention is, because that's where the budgets, the media spend for these big companies, should be going to or to any marketer should be going to, where the attention is. [17:00.5]
A great point for someone who is consulting for businesses that are trying to capitalize on your ADHD attention, but not great advice for anyone who wants to find for yourself happiness, fulfillment, peace, calm joy, and success in life. The only people who should be focusing on consuming content are those who are making money off this content, and that might be marketers, but also any companies that want to sell you other stuff.
But, of course, that doesn't mean that the marketers will themselves be happier, as a result, which, of course, they won't be, but this is part of their job. Unfortunately, it's part of my job to pay attention to what's happening in the media, because that gives me a connection to people out there in the world, and so I'm stuck on these platforms, trying to figure out what people and younger people are consuming, how they're living their lives, and so forth—all with the knowledge and understanding that unless I balance this out with quiet contemplation, it'll actually just make me more miserable in the long term, make me more rootless, empty, and lacking purpose, and more alienated from my true self. [18:05.3]
But, yeah, we live in a society that values constant activity and productivity and hustle, and the social media algorithms are set up so that they will make you feel guilty or make you feel lazy, if you're not keeping up with the Joneses, so to speak, if you're not keeping up with the trends or the lingo, and this creates FOMO, which is at its peak versus any time in human history before. Knowing this, you'll need to resist it. You'll need to say, “Okay, this is why I feel this way, because society and this media that I'm consuming is making me feel this way, so I need to stop.”
Contemplation practices could include, of course, silent meditation. I would be careful with any kind of guided meditations, if the person's talking a lot in it, though, if you're a beginner and you just need to get into the habit of taking the 10 minutes or 20 minutes twice a day or once a day for yourself to sit there and quiet meditation, and you find it more enjoyable if there's a good guided meditation, then I’ve got no problems with that. Like training wheels, you get that going and you have something to focus your mind on. But, eventually, it's best if you can practice silent meditation. [19:11.7]
You can also engage in journaling, uncensored journaling just for yourself, sitting quietly and letting your thoughts drift. It can also work, just daydreaming. You could do it while you're moving. You could do it while you're doing yoga or taking a walk by yourself in a beautiful part of nature, making the time and carving out that space to be present with your thoughts and feelings.
Of course, along the way, you get all of the other benefits of a kind of mindfulness practice, including reducing stress and anxiety, improving your focus, concentration and productivity, and this will even have physical health benefits, like improving your immune system, and so on. [19:48.2]
Just like with any practice, you've got to schedule it into your day. If this is a habit that you don't have yet, which I'm assuming it is, you're going to need to be self-conscious about it, intentional about it—and this might mean setting aside 10 minutes each morning to journal or 10 minutes each morning to meditate, or taking a few minutes each evening or before dinner is a good time to practice mindfulness or, again, journal or meditate, or yoga or something along those lines that will give you that time to be with yourself, so that you can introspect, so that you can notice what's happening inside.
If you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through your phone, the moment you recognize it, so first of all, give yourself kudos for snapping out of it, and the moment you recognize that this is just a waste of time and actually enervating you, put down the phone and take a nap. Just go to sleep, or if you can't do that because you're not sleeping enough yet, meditate or change your physical state by walking, getting up and moving while still paying attention to how your body feels as you go through those movements. [20:51.7]
I keep mentioning yoga because, generally speaking, it's slow enough that you can still notice how it feels from the inside to be in the poses to move in this way, and generally speaking, if you're going along with some kind of yoga video, they're often doing it at a kind of meditative pace. For all those pro, expert yogis out there, I know there are levels to this and, definitely, moving meditation is a legitimate and a very powerful kind of meditation. Don't forget that, often, when you're just scrolling through your phone, it's because your brain is too tired, so you need to recharge in a way that doesn't drain you, and just consuming further will actually be draining.
Now, bring you back to the guys who want to get girls or for those who first found me because of that, I'm going to draw from a key passage of a book that I recommend called The Way of the Superior Man by David Deida. Ninety percent of it, I think about 98 percent of it, I would recommend, especially this chapter on purpose. This is a chapter that has changed my life and I highly recommend especially the first part of his book. This is from Chapter 12, entitled “Be Willing to Change Everything in Your Life.” I'm going to jump down to, for my edition, Page 41. [22:02.3]
“The next layer of your unfolding purpose may make itself clear immediately. More often, however, it does not. After completing one layer of purpose, you might not know what to do with your life. You know that the old project is over for you, but you are not sure of what is next. At this point, you must wait for a vision.
“There is no way to rush this process. You may need to get an intermediary job to hold you over until the next layer of purpose makes itself clear. Or, perhaps you have enough money to simply wait. But in any case, it is important to open yourself to a vision of what is next. You stay open to a vision of your deeper purpose by not filling your time with distractions.”
I'm going to repeat that: “You stay open to a vision of your deeper purpose by not filling your time with distractions.”
“Don't watch TV or play computer games. Don't go out drinking beer with your friends every night or start dating a bunch of women. Simply wait. You may wish to go on a retreat in a remote area and be by yourself. Whatever it is you decide to do, consciously keep yourself open and available to receiving a vision of what is next. It will come.” [23:15.0]
“When it comes, it usually won't be a detailed vision. You will probably have a sense of what direction to move in, but the practical steps might not make themselves clear. When the impulse begins to arise, act on it. Don't wait for the details. Learn by trial and error what it is you are to do.”
He also mentions that, every few years, that layer of purpose for that stage in your life will slough off. It will be done where you're going to get close to the end of it, and then you'll need to take the time to go through this process again of paying attention to what's going on inside you to discover your next purpose.
One of the times that this happened for me, and this has happened pretty much every three to five years of my life since my late-20s, one of the times was coming off being cheated on by my girlfriend at the time, over a decade ago now. [24:04.6]
One of the first good things I did for myself was to take a solo trip from Singapore to Siem Reap in Cambodia to see the famous temple ruins called Angkor Wat that is actually a whole complex of many ancient temples in the whole area, and, in fact, is the largest religious monument in the world and I've been meaning to visit it since I lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and learned about it, its fascinating history and how it was built originally in the 12th century, and its connections to Hinduism and Buddhism, and so on. Then living in Singapore for several years, I still hadn't made it there, and actually at the recommendation of Mark Manson who I was talking to quite a bit at the time, he recommended Siem Reap.
So, I hopped on a budget flight there and just by myself, my first ever trip just by myself in my life that was longer than just a couple of days and that wasn't for any kind of job interview or anything like that, a trip just for myself by myself, and it was so awesome to just have that space. Especially at night when it was just me and I didn't fill it with friends because I didn't actually have any friends in Siem Reap. And during the day, it was just me wandering through various ancient and gorgeous and fascinating temples. [25:14.0]
I did go for a couple hours to some of the bars on the expat street, but they were pretty sleazy for me, and I wasn't even having fun even in the nice bars and clubs in Singapore, and one of the things that I needed to do was to get out of Singapore, because I spent several years there, all of these anchors to that old relationship. Plus, all of the old social circles were there.
Actually, it was hard to spend time alone going to places where it would be undisturbed and have the space for quiet contemplation, because it's a very dense city with lots of media kind of intruding into your mind. You have to really use willpower to block it out and create a space for yourself. I would do that, though. I was a member at the Virgin Active gyms there where they had little sleep pods that, in the middle of the afternoon, were usually free, and I would go in there for a half-hour and meditate. [26:03.8]
I'm just bringing this up as an example of taking a slightly more extreme measure of hopping on an airplane, going to a spiritual place that's in nature by yourself to give yourself the gift of this alone time of the quiet contemplation to be with yourself, and all this swirling whirlwind of emotions and thoughts that are going around. The more of that that's happening, I was coming out of a suicidal period, the more drastic the measures needed to balance it out with quiet contemplation.
For many people, a twice-daily meditation habit of a total of 40 minutes or so of meditation will often be enough, and I would add into that, if you want to go even further, getting to the point of a 1:1 ratio of consuming content versus taking the time for yourself for quiet contemplation. [26:54.0]
It was coming out of a period of quiet contemplation for me that was sort of started with that trip to Siem Reap and featured lots of other travel solo to various countries, to just be with myself in different settings that simulated new perspectives on life and not trying to fill it with being social or dating random girls or girls that I might match with, or casual flings or trying to get into a relationship.
Those are actually all distractions, but being able to just be with yourself and getting good at that to the point where it's not just comfortable, but it's actually enjoyable for its own sake, that's when you know you've got that skill under your belt. But, of course, you’ve got to make it a practice, just like you can work out and get in good shape for a while, but if you just stop all of the workouts and the diet, you're just going to regress and maybe go back to a state that's even worse than it was before.
So, by giving yourself the space and time to process and be with your thoughts and emotions, you can discover these parts of you, and this is required for accessing your true self and discovering your life purpose, and being able to make better decisions and being more creative, and live a more fulfilling life full of joy and happiness. That's the only way. This is required for it. [28:08.3]
So, schedule some time today and in your week for quiet contemplation, whether it's meditation, journaling, yoga, a walk in the park, or just sitting and staring into space in a nice cafe, looking outside, being with your own thoughts and feelings in what's going on inside you.
Of course, I recommend meditation, but whatever works for you now—and throw in some meditation—whatever works for you now, try that. Schedule it in, that's super important, and let me know how it goes. Let me know your feedback on this episode. If you liked it, if it helped you in any way, please share it with anyone else that you think would benefit from it.
Thanks so much for listening. I look forward to welcoming you to the next episode. Until then, David Tian, signing out.
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