John Parkins: Most of us know that stress is not good for us. Anybody in the health care professionals know that physiologically, stress is a terrible thing. We don’t seem to have taken the leap into the deep understanding that relaxation is astonishingly good for us, is the key to healing, is the key to good relationships, is the key to good decision making. We listen, we talk from a completely different place when we’re relaxed.
We all somehow know it when we talk about it, but we don’t have that really strong inners that it should be my priority to relax by 20% every single day, and it will change my life and change the life of others. It’s almost like a kind of evangelical movement of like, we need to calm down, please.
Rachel Morris: Do you find yourself wound up as tight as a spring, going from one situation to the next feeling a constant kind of low grade stress and tension? Do you know there are things you can’t control and need to let go, but they seem so important that you just can’t accept that? Or perhaps you’re looking for a way to stop caring so much about outcomes, which in the grand scheme of things don’t really matter.
Whatever is causing you overwhelming stress right now, be it workload, relationships, teenagers, finance complaints, etc. It can be counterintuitive to learn that the only way to deal with it is often to accept what’s going on, lose your attachment to the outcome and then relax. This is something I really struggle with. I’m very happy teaching people how to make changes and helping them get the courage to act on things and change things which they can control.
When the difficult situation they’re facing lies outside their control, when they can’t really do anything about something, think COVID, patient demand, a serious illness, all that annoying partner, what do you do then? How can you accept the difficult things without going under through sheer stress and worry? That’s my current obsession. I asked John C. Parkin, writer and Western teacher and author of the book Fuck It, to come back onto the podcast to help me out with this.
Contrary to how it might sound, Fuck It is in fact a very powerful philosophy, and is really a shortcut to accessing our right brain thinking and loosening our attachment to outcomes we think are important, such as what people think of us or what we think we should do. John and I talk about why saying a wholehearted ‘fuck it’ to stressful situations can be so powerful, and how focusing more on relaxing will help you in almost every area of your life.
Join us in this episode to find out the surprising power of the simple phrase ‘fuck it’. How to safe ‘fuck it’ to those situations where you really can’t say ‘fuck it’. Why becoming obsessed with being ridiculously relaxed just may be the key to everything. This episode will contain swearing but for a good reason. Sorry, Mum.
Welcome to You are Not a Frog, the podcast for doctors and busy professionals in healthcare and other high stress jobs if you want to beat burnout, and work happier. I’m Dr. Rachel Morris, a former GP now working as a coach speaker and specialists in resilience at work. Like frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water, many of us have found that exhaustion and stress are slowly becoming the norm, but you are not a frog.
You don’t have to choose between burning out or getting out. In this podcast, I’ll be talking to friends, colleagues, and experts, all who have an interesting take on this and inviting you to make a deliberate choice about how you will live and work. Wherever you are, whatever you do, I really hope you’re gonna get some time off this summer. Sometimes when I finally stop and try to relax, I just don’t know what to do with myself.
It seems to take a while to decelerate, switch my brain off and really rest. We’ve put together some a playlist of different podcasts, good books, stuff to watch on TV, blogs to read, and Ted Talks and films to check out. They’ve all been things that have brought me great joy and have helped me relax a little bit. If you’d like to get hold of our summer, download playlist, then do click on the link in the show notes. It’s totally free.
Maybe, it will just help you get some inspiration, get some perspective and above all, get a little bit of rest and relaxation. It’s really wonderful to have with me back on the You are Not a Frog podcast, John C. Parkins. John, welcome back.
John: Hello, Rachel. Thank you. I’m really pleased to be back. Hi.
Rachel: John, you were one of our first guests, I think ever, on the podcast.
John: Late 2019, I think it was, wasn’t?
Rachel: Yeah, I think.
John: Before the great plague.
Rachel: Before the plague. Now, John is a writer. He’s a coach. He’s a wisdom teacher, and he’s also the author of the best selling book, Fuck It, the ultimate spiritual journey or path. What’s the background there John?
John: The way, ultimate spiritual way. Yeah.
Rachel: The ultimate spiritual way.
John: Slightly sounds, it’s slightly tongue in cheek, isn’t it? That’s what it sounds like, suggesting that swearing can be a spiritual path. That is what I argue in the book.
Rachel: I love that. If we think about Fuck It as the ultimate spiritual way, how can that be? Can you tell me why? Because there’s lots of good concepts around. There’s lots of good ideas. There’s lots of good models and things and I teach lots of models in the Shapes Toolkit course, but you’ve found this as like a spiritual way. How did you end up with that sort of take on it, as opposed to it’s just a great model to help you?
John: When we first understood the power of saying fuck it, and when I say we, I mean Gaia, myself, my wife and myself, we just set up a retreat center in Italy. We’d spent the last the previous few years setting this up, and the reason we were setting up the retreat centre is because we were into meditation, and Taoism, the kind of going with the flow philosophy, and Buddhism, the kind of supermarket mix that the pick and mix version that is modern spirituality.
We’re into a lot of alternative health, and alternative spirituality, which if you can mix it up in in a few sentences is about giving up on attachment, letting go, going with the flow, dropping into presence, those kinds of ideas. What we found was having, meditating every day doing Tai Chi and Qigong every day. We found that when we were really stressed, we were saying, fuck it, and that had the peculiarly similar effect to a lot of those things that we’ve been practicing as these Eastern, mainly Eastern philosophical elements.
When you say fuck it, you kind of give up on something. You let go of something. You drop out of this kind of world of meaning that we’re locked in the mind. That was how it became this really neat, quick, very Western, it’s quickly is a tool that you can use it really quickly. It’s a very Western phrase, obviously, it came a Western version of a whole bunch of Eastern philosophies.
Rachel: It’s just that shortcut to get you to that point of letting it go, accepting it, not having the attachment.
John: Yeah, yeah, it’s a shortcut in lots of ways. It is because it’s very particular in our language bucket, because you kind of know what it means. You know that your problem, the stress that you’re feeling, and the tension that you’re feeling is related to something that you’re placing too much weight on and therefore you could do with saying fuck it. There’s hardly anything, apart from the use of the swear word, which is proven scientifically to be very powerful in our brains.
It does a very particular thing just with the linguistic context of it, the meaning context of it. There is that thing that they found that most of our language is generated on the left brain, and the swear words are generated in the right brain. It looks like whenever we swear, there’s a jump, in very simplistic terms, and I know you have many scientists in your audience.
In very simplistic terms, it looks like we jump to the right brain and right brain again, in simplistic terms, if left brain’s more language in a planning past future, kind of more logic, if right brain very broadly as more and calm, playful, uninhibited. The spiritual connection, if that’s over there, then just saying the F word takes us into that part of the brain, which I think is amazing.
Rachel: I was reading that last night in your book, actually. I hadn’t really got that before. Even though I listened to the episode, the podcast that we did before, and you talked about that there as well, but it’s suddenly just clicked for me that ah, that’s why we need to access our right brain to deal with a lot of this stuff because puzzling it through, thinking it out, works to some extent. Then, you just get stuck, don’t you?
John: You’ve hit the nail on the head, really. Yeah, you can’t. You can’t really sort this stuff out. With the left brain, the logic brain, you can’t deal with anxiety, stress and everything else by thinking it through, because thinking is the problem; for most of these things, thinking is the problem. Anxiety, most of it’s about doom laden scenarios into the future. We have no idea what’s going to happen into the future, but we create a false idea world of what might happen, whereas it hasn’t happened yet. It’s entirely mentally created.
Most of the source of our stress is entirely mental, entirely mind, that part of our mind created. The solution is, very rarely, in thinking it through, and certainly not thinking it through from that side of the brain. That the solution, quite obviously really, is to go somewhere else not to try and use that to figure it out, to use something else, which is to try and let go to get into a different state, literally, as well as the different parts of the brain being activated that we drop into a different frequency.
The brain is at a different frequency, and the whole body will change under relaxation, so the body mind is changing. Then, the problems it’s like, looking at problems from a completely different angle, a different space, and then the answers come quite more easily.
Rachel: Yeah, there’s a clip, I think it was Mark Twain that said, ‘I’m an old man, I’ve known many troubles, but most of them didn’t happen.’
John: Yes. Beautiful.
Rachel: Right. When I think about the stress and the anxiety that a lot of our listeners go through, I’m going through a lot of people working in these high stress jobs, it is thinking about things that haven’t actually happened yet. There’s probably a bit of dwelling on the past, but mostly it’s worrying about the future. Yeah, you’re not going to use the same tool to solve it. So just using the right brain, it’s got to be helpful.
I had a quite an interesting bit the other night where I did a free webinar. We had loads of people signed up to it, and Zoom had changed its settings. Yes, even though I had bought the large meeting, paid a lot of money to make sure everybody could get in, I hadn’t clicked the button to convert it, something had happened, it changed. Normally, it had been fine, changed overnight, and only a limited amount of people could get in.
Luckily, I didn’t find this out until after the webinar. Then, I got messages, and I just felt awful because people have given up time to calm and they’d really want to come. Immediately, I felt this weight of stress. I knew I was so consumed this week, actually, and I just I said, you know what, fuck it. There’s nothing I can do and genuinely it worked, because even though the problem was still there, and I did what I could to make sure people had the replay and make it up to people and stuff. Just that thing, fuck it, really, really helped, and it was quite surprisingly powerful.
John: Yeah, yeah, it is. I always imagined it as acupuncture is that more than I’m used to with when I have something going on. I get some needles stuck into various bits. It feels like the needle going into just the right spot, just the perfect thing, when that when the tension and the pain really builds up. Yeah. I’m mixing the metaphors now. It’s puncturing the balloon of meaning, isn’t it, of massive meaning attachment to that thing. This is so important to me. You’re so brilliant to kind of reframing it and as you say, making up to people, yeah. It helps, no end.
Rachel: I guess when it’s something that’s happened, that you can’t change what’s happened, even though it is really important to you, there is genuinely nothing you can do to change what has happened in the past. That’s really, really helpful.
John: When you think things have gone wrong, and there’s been a mistake, and then something else comes out of it. Later on, you’re able to see that, oh, my goodness, that wouldn’t have happened, unless that apparent mistake had happened. It does seem to be the case that you know, when you’ve lived long enough on this planet, and you look at the big things that went on, that was awful. When it happens, it’s like awful, it’s terrible. You look a bit later, and well, that wouldn’t have happened if that bit hadn’t gone wrong, or whatever it is.
Rachel: This whole thing is about letting go of the attachment that we have to the outcomes of stuff. That right? Then, the meaning behind it. I got that, right?
John: Yeah, you could argue at a real kind of basic psychological level. That it’s our attachment to the meanings of things that don’t matter so much, so it’s getting perspective over things. If we’ve got a kind of, let’s say, energy in terms of traditional energy bandwidth, we use our mental energy bandwidth, and we’re using some of it to worry about, as an aside, won’t worry about the bills. At the moment, we have good reasons to be worrying about the bills. Some of its worrying about the bills. Some of its worrying about whether the government’s going to change. You’re basically using more and more and more of the bandwidth to worry about things that in the end don’t matter so much. Then, the bit that we worry about the things that we shouldn’t be worrying about, which is health, kids, of all the survival stuff, really survival of us and our loved ones, takes up this little bit in the corner. Fuck it partly is about going ‘Why are you taking up so much energy, worrying about that stuff? At least if you’re gonna worry, worry about the shit that matters.’
Rachel: I think that’s been a big wake up call for anybody, hasn’t it? During COVID, we have all started worrying about the shit that matters. Maybe, I’ll rephrase that we started realising that some things really, really matter, and other things really, really don’t. Although, I think probably after COVID, we’ve all started slipping back into the way we were before. What, for you, the whole Fuck It philosophy and spiritual way has changed since the pandemic?
John: As you say it, it was a big reminder of what it was, a massive fuck it for all of us in many ways, which was a recalibrating of the priorities
Rachel: For doctors, people in health care, people in the frontline, it’s been really traumatic, obviously. I think coming out of COVID, the workload was really bad beforehand, is even worse now. A lot of the work that I’m doing is helping people accept their limits, embrace their limits and go, I’m a human being, say no, set priorities. The issue is not saying no and setting priorities.
The issue for people, I think, is that when they try to do that, they get pushed back or they worry. They get kind of upset people or they feel guilty or whatever. Then, their boundaries crumble, and so they just keep going and going and going and going. The thing I’m trying to teach people is how to accept the pushback they get, accept, maybe, upsetting a few people, accept not being able to be everything, everybody, just accepting that stuff that’s outside, the stuff that you can directly control.
It’s interesting, like I said, I work with lots of professionals, high stress jobs, and we’re very left brained. We try to think our way out of everything. Actually, you can use the zone of control to think, okay, what am I in control of, what am I not in control of. Whatever I’m in control of what can I do, what are my choices, set some actions, brilliant, that’s easy. The bit I struggle with is the bit outside your control.
The bit, then, that you have to try and accept, other people’s responses, other people being a bit annoyed with me when I’ve said no to them; accepting my own human limits, or even accepting when relatives that error or things like that. This is why I was really keen to talk to you and just find out how this whole fuck it way can really help with that acceptance of stuff that is outside our control.
John: It’s those areas that I actually added to this new edition of the book, so I was writing it mainly last summer, so in the second part of the second year of COVID. It did feel an urgent matter to address really that I hadn’t really addressed much in the first round of writing it, which was about and I called it How To Say Fuck It When You Can’t Say Fuck It. How you say fuck it when you can’t say fuck it to death and dying, not a small subject and not easy to write about.
How you say fuck it when you can’t say fuck it to being down, low mood, and depressed, saying fuck it when you can’t say fuck it to being broke, and so on pandemics, climate change, what I call first world problems. There’s no kind of international scale of suffering. We can really suffer around things that other people might not regard as particularly strong or important. There’s no relativity scale or relativity for that.
Yeah, a lot of what I was talking about there, which is how to use a fuck it in these contexts, these really, really difficult contexts where you can’t say, well, that doesn’t matter so much. Because that’s what we can do most of the time with fuck it, we can say, fuck it, it doesn’t matter so much. I can confirm that this does matter. It does matter, the relatives dying and ill health and everything else.
So much of what I ended up writing in each of those bits as I came to them was about saying fuck it to ideas of how we should be around these things, and feeling our feelings as they are. It’s a kind of fuck it to whatever you think I should be doing when I’m supposed to be grieving. In the end, fuck your ideas of what grief is and what the stages are and how I should look, dress, act, speak and behave. This is how I’m feeling now.
We’re talking about acceptance there of one’s own feelings, in the context of the world where people are telling us how we need to behave or act. Fuck it is the kind of permission to listen to ourselves, feel and express what we feel. Acceptance as you’re talking about, it is often the way through if we can get there. The problem is just the word acceptance brings up as much difficulty and resistance as it can help with, because it can sound quite passive.
It can sound as if we should accept it and not ask again, or push through or tell people how we’re feeling. When we find a way to understand acceptance in our lives, that’s not a form of passivity. That it’s incredibly powerful. It works for me in terms of flow, a kind of Taoist idea of how life can be, which is in Taoism, everything has a natural flow. Things are moving naturally in one direction or another.
The trick is to try and move with the flow somehow, and not resist the flow. That doesn’t mean being passive. It means that if the flow is towards, let’s say, really expressing ourselves. If you can feel it, there’s something that’s absolutely not right for me. That everything in me is saying shout. Everything in me is saying protest about this. Then, protesting is the thing to do. We will all have different ways of picturing this, and starting to make it work in our lives.
Rachel: I guess if this philosophy works, it works just as well for the little things as for the really big things, isn’t it? It’s really interesting you say about accepting standing passive, because I’ve had exactly that thought recently. When we use the zone of power, we sometimes talk about the Serenity Prayer, give us the ability to courage to change the things that we can control, the serenity to accept the stuff that doesn’t.
I didn’t like that, that really sounds a bit wishy washy. It sounds really passive. Then, I looked up the definition of serenity in that context, and I loved it. The definition of serenity is unclouded acceptance of this. It’s almost like this very clear acceptance of what is. It’s almost like an active acceptance, as opposed to I think, a lot of us really resist the acceptance.
Like, I’m gonna accept it out, like, I’m going to rail against it, or trying to fudge it and say, well, I’m going to accept that and not accept that. This clear, this unclouded thing means if there is some things that you really aren’t going to accept, like, if you put in a boundary, say, well, I’m not going to deal with that urgent test result, and a patient will come to harm. Then, your unclouded acceptance will be that, well, I’m going to do something different, because I’m not prepared to accept that consequence.
You can change depending on the consequences, but there are some things that you just forced to accept, like a serious illness because you actually can’t change them. In which case, no matter how much you shout and scream about it. This is not gonna make any difference, so you do need that on kind of accepted in those bits as well. I’m still trying to work out. Really what that looks like, but I think like you said, about the feeling the feelings and not being scared to go there.
John: Well, yeah, I mean, even in that context, I’ve never received that diagnosis. I’ve been ill in my life, but I’ve not received the diagnosis that would probably knock one but the natural flow is probably, ‘don’t want to face it, don’t want to face it, don’t want to face it’ then there’s gonna maybe complete upset, anger. Then, there may be a bit further down the line at the level of acceptance, I don’t know.
It’s like fuck it is often fuck it to the messages from the outside, the shoulds and the oughts about how we should behave, about what we should do in certain circumstances, which usually are just fashion. I mean, fashion, clothes, the fashion of what one should do in certain situations, this isn’t an etiquette, fashion or things we should think or say it’s very different now in a more individualistic and individualistically spiritual society or a more agnostic atheist society that would have been 100 years ago as a fashion that any one time.
Fuck it is about whatever’s going on out there, and what people are saying we can or should think, should do, should respond to what’s going on here for me. What if when I tune in what’s happening here, I want to hear that, I want to listen to that, and I want to express from there.
Rachel: That does make sense at the moment. A lot of my friends have children going through A levels and I hope we came through next year. Some of my friends children have had COVID. Some of them, maybe, haven’t done as much work as they should have done. There’s all this sort of anxiety and this worry over stuff that really, really matters. It’s also out of their control.
What you’re saying is, if they said, fuck it, it’s not fuck it, I don’t care about my child’s future, and it’s not fuck it, I don’t care about my child. It’s fuck it, I’m going to lose my attachment to the fashion of they should get these amazing grades to go to this, and that’s what needs to happen, blah, blah, blah.
John: Absolutely, it’s absolutely they’re right. It’s always one of the hardest areas to apply. Fuck it. Another way of expressing this is extreme listening. It’s an extreme form of listening to ourselves, rather than the conditioned way we have, which is listening to everybody else. Include putting so much weight on people with letters after their names, or before their names, or in white coats, or journalists or politicians or whatever, much as it’s going to be important.
What we receive from the outside to listen as much within is part of that, which is a spiritual direction as well. In those cases where we’re talking about our children, just listening and listening and listening to what they’re saying, and to what the situation is, and to being open to, as you say, not to have an idea and a preconceived idea in our head about where we’d like them to be, but listening to them about what’s appearing for them,
Rachel: I can see that it’s saying fuck it to the way, the traditional way everything should be done. It’s very much fuck it to preconceived ideas, or what should be happening. How do you say, fuck it, when you’re overwhelmed, overloaded? You can’t see a way out. You’ve got a business depending on you keeping going. You’ve got patients that won’t be told no, et cetera, et cetera. How does that work?
Then, because I was really interested in you said, you’ve been writing stuff about how to save fuck it when you can’t say fuck it, which would be an awesome title for this episode, by the way. I’ve actually written down before, how do you be imperfect in a job that demands perfection? How can you fail when you know you shouldn’t fail, when failing might mean that somebody dies? How can you embrace your limits in some professions, which just ignore the fact that you have limits? How would you say fuck it in those situation?
John: We can pick any of the things we’ve been talking about really, and apply them as ideas. Just to apply the listening, the listening thing, and I suppose listening in a healthcare context, as well, listening is interesting, because it’s often about listening to people, isn’t it? It’s then listening to ourselves. I’ll tell you a bit about the tiny summary of the process that we actually have had for Fuck It, for years and years and years.
When we teach it on retreats and workshops, we would always be something like this is amazing things happen when you are willing to relax, and then it’s relaxing. You have to kind of relax down, and then, you have to listen deeply. If you listen when you’re not relaxed, it’s often not the greatest result, because you get a kind of agitated, stressed response there. You have to try to relax first, and then you tend to get quite strong messages when you listen. It might be you. I’m completely exhausted.
I just need to go to bed for a day, or I need to say no to that social engagement, or whatever it is, but there may be messages coming up both about from our own bodies and systems, but also more mental things. The listening process needs to be preceded by some form of relaxation, and then needs to be followed by some form of action where you’ve basically adjusted the value. You play something.
Normally, we’re placing the value as we talked about, on the outside or on certain obligations, certain shoulds and oughts. You raise the value relatively, for the inner messages, for the listening inside doesn’t mean that you give up the rest of it, doesn’t mean that you walk straight out of the surgery and people are falling apart around you. You’re in a kind of mixing desk of importance and priority.
You’re upping the level of internal listening and listening to the situation. By doing that, listening more and valuing it more, you then make sure you act on that. Again, it’s like a radical form of listening, and then acting from responsibility, whatever the context is. If we get into some kind of difficult conversation, if you go with a scenario where there’s absolutely no way given the responsibilities of that person, that people would die if they gave up even 10 minutes of they’re really pushed the day.
Then, it gets more difficult, but the answer always and only is for that person to listen and listen and listen, I think, and then the answers come. There’s almost always an answer to make things even a little bit better, and usually a whole lot better. Even if, let’s imagine that nothing changed objectively, the first part of the process of relaxing is going to help, because relaxing will always help everything, apart from the moment where we’re faced by the tiger, or we’re in an emergency room.
That is the question I’ve often had from people, I got that question from a doctor who was working in a war zone, whom I was teaching relaxation to, and she went, it’s not very helpful relaxation in my job,
Rachel: Actually, relaxation is helpful, because even as a doctor, there’s very few situations where you truly require to be in your fight flight or freeze zone. I’ve had an incident recently, where we had to do a full on CPR resuscitation on somebody. It wasn’t in practise. It was in the middle of nowhere. It was awful, really stressful. You really needed your adrenaline there. You really needed to be in your stress, so to get into, this is what we’re doing, do it now.
Do this, do that. Actually even in a war zone and yes, if someone’s rushed in and they’re bleeding from every orifice, yes, okay, you need that. I was still think most of their work was in a time where actually being calm, having a calm hand doing the surgery that you needed to would be much, much better than that absolute urgent, literally every second makes a difference. Even in a war zone, I don’t think every single second will make a difference. There are times when you need to be in that zone. But actually, most times you need to be in your-
John: Well, that’s perfect. I’ll quote you on that, Rachel, because you’re right. Even in the war zone, we imagined even the war people are fighting all the time. There’s patches of not fighting. It’s the same in any job wouldn’t even if you’re right there in the emergency.
Rachel: Well it’s interesting, you know, and if anyone’s working in the emergency department, and wants to comment in writing, I’d love to hear from people. Because, yes, in a resuscitation, in the crash course, that’s where the adrenaline kicks in. There’s an awful lot of stuff that goes that goes on around it like communication with people, like communicating with relatives, like all that sort of stuff, where you don’t want to be in that stress zone much.
Where actually to be in that stress zone would be very deleterious to your practise. The problem is, in health care, most of us are in that stress zone, because of, like you said earlier, anxiety and worrying about things that haven’t actually happened yet. When you were saying about you’d find it difficult to tell someone to say fuck it if, obviously, the decision that we’re going to make every 10 minutes means somebody’s going to die.
I completely agree with that. Obviously, you can’t really say fuck it then. I’ve literally just done a webinar where we asked people in the poll, what stops you from saying no and setting boundaries. I gave them the options: feeling guilty, don’t want to upset people, fear of missing out, it might have a serious patient safety consequence, or something else. 42% said they don’t say no, because it makes them feel guilty. 3% said, they find it difficult to say no, because it will cause patient harm.
Rachel: 3%, only 3%. The rest of that stopping us is guilt, and fear of what other people might think. Isn’t that interesting?
John: It’s fascinating. It’s fascinating. It sounds like we’ve been talking about boundaries at the same time, because I was on a retreat recently talking exactly about boundaries, and why we don’t say no. I did this retreat, whether, two and a half weeks ago, on Paradise Island in Stromboli, just off Sicily. We had 20 people come to learn how to relax, being ridiculously relaxed was the week.
It took me the first three days to persuade them that relaxation, like a lot more relaxation in their lives, is a good idea. There’s actually an issue where most of us, I think we’re lost a bit because most of us know that stress is not good for us. Anybody in the health care professionals know that physiologically, stress is a terrible thing. We don’t seem to have taken the leap into the deep understanding, kind of embodied understanding, that relaxation is astonishingly good for us, is the key to healing, is the key to good relationships, is the key to good decision making, is you’re talking about you know giving people news listening to people.
We listen, we talk from a completely different place when we’re relaxed. We all somehow know it when we talk about it, but we don’t have that really strong sense that it should be my priority to relax by 20% every single day, and it will change my life and change the life of others. It’s almost like a kind of evangelical movement of like, we need to calm down, please.
Rachel: Oh, I totally agree. We all need to calm down. You’re right, everyone’s going on about how bad stress is. They’re not talking about relaxing. There’s a lot of talk about mindfulness stuff, which I absolutely think is really, really important, taking control of your thoughts, noticing the fact that comes your mind down. Yeah, I know so many doctors that are wound so tight, so tight, and they just bounce from one situation to another to another to another, because that’s really what the job is done to them. I know we talked about this on the last podcast, but I really get to go to it again, a lot of us don’t know what to do to relax, John.
John: Well, we need to go to the scientists to look at that, because there’s so much science now, isn’t there, around stress and relaxation, the effects of meditation, et cetera, et cetera. Even as you say, mindfulness, what made me think was that we detach the idea, even when we think about the fact that I’m stressed, and I need to relax, we kind of putting it into a box that feels quite difficult to open.
When you’re in the thick of things, and somebody says, you need to be a little bit more mindful. You’re likely to tell them to eff off. It’s like, we need things that we can do like this. That become part of our lives, because we need to develop like a kind of real, pretty much unconscious response to stress in ourselves to relax and practise does it but we need very quick things.
One of the quickest things I know, and this is relatively recent studies on I can’t remember who it was, but I think it was an academic, and I think a Dublin University. One of his PhD students was doing something around meditation, and they focused it on what happens in a particular part of the brain. I think it’s the produce noradrenaline in the brain is another type of noradrenaline and the brain.
Rachel: Neurotransmitter, yes.
John: Here we go, thank you. This breathing was affecting that part of the brain. What they found was if you do this incredibly simple, breathing technique of breathing out more than you breathe in. See, he thing was you breathe in on to four, and you breathe out to six, and you breathe in to four, and you breathe out counting to six, or adjusting it as need to. Main thing is to be breathing out more than your breathing in.
It would actually change the amount of that hormone that it was producing, and would calm you down. I remember that listen to the interview, this chap, and he said, this is the most potent non pharmaceutical tranquilliser you can get. I love that. That does it for me. It’s like, okay, that works. Another aspect of that is that you can do the opposite if you do the opposite breath.
You breathe in more than you breathe out, it starts producing this stuff, so it kind of gets you going, just in the breathing. We’ve worked with breathing a lot over the last 20 years. Gaia, my wife, is a breath worker. We’ve always talked about the breathing as a pump. This is it. This is the scientific. This is the evidence for what happens when you adjust the ratio of at least time and in terms of how you breathe.
I want more energy, breathe in more than a breathe out. I want to calm down, breathe out more than a breathe in. It’s very, very quick and it’s effect. That’s working for a lot of people, chatting with them, sharing this stuff with. It’s really quick stuff like that not becoming mindful. It’s just becoming aware of the breath. If you do it enough, what we’re after is building in kind of pretty much a perpetual and relatively unconscious awareness of our stress levels.
So that we build in an almost automatic response to those sensations of stress in our system, where we do know we need to breathing. For example, what I would do is I do the breathing. I slow down in the way I talk. I’m talking a bit quickly now, because I’m excited. When we slow down, when we’re talking about actually just calms us down, calms everybody else down, it’s not good if you’ve only got 10 minutes with a client.
If the slower you go, the more calm you’re gonna feel, they’re gonna feel. I slow down if I’m walking anywhere. If I feel stressed when I’m walking, I just calm down my pace. The other thing I do, because I’m sensitive to sounds, is that I then tune into any sounds around me, and that calms me down. The people that I’ve worked with over the years in the kind of mind-body-spirit game. They are really good at the meditation, et cetera.
They do have this thing of, they’re always aware of how they are. They really are, they’re super sensitised to stress, apart from it, knowing how it affects them. They adjust when they’re feeling any form of tension. They sit more still when they’re feeling any type of tension, I’m thinking of two people in particular. One person, she was a Chinese doctor, and a Western doctor. She was trained in the West as well. Dr. Bizhong Guo is her name.
I remember she used to talk a lot about keeping your kind of battery full effectively. Most of us only, I like the phone as a metaphor for this. Because I really haven’t got it plugged in up, I like keeping my battery quite full. I get a bit bothered if it’s getting below about 30%, and I’m out. Most of us only really pay attention to our health or to our state, when it’s pretty much beeping that the phone’s about to turn off.
That’s the case I’m guessing for people who provide him the health services and the people coming in. The warning signs are going off and way too late for us most of the time. The trick is to try and charge the battery, try and get it higher and higher and higher. Then, get it so that we fill up again. We feel relaxed and we feel okay, and the space in our lives. We feel calmer and then sensitise ourselves to the signs much earlier than the beeping light and the 5% left or whatever it is.
You get to 75%. Whoo, I can start to feel something. I feel a little bit tired. I should rest. I should slow down a bit. Now, this may be pie in the sky stuff, Rachel, for some people really in the thick of it. This is what I’ve seen. People that really are into the relaxation with health stuff.
Rachel: I think it’s good to look at the extremes though to think about the stuff you can do in other things. If you have got a huge long list of patients, you’ve got to get through even just going and sitting outside under a tree for five minutes doing a bit of breathing. It’s going to help, isn’t it?
Rachel: Maybe, slowing things down. Then, I’m thinking business, we think, ‘Yeah, but I can’t stay things down, so I’ll have lots of people waiting!’ And that’s probably when you have to go fuck it. What I’m gonna do, I’m gonna practise in the way I need to practise in order to be safe and effective and good. I love that thing about being a little bit more sensitive and what you were saying about the whole breathing.
I think this is just another way of saying exactly what you said that those long out breaths get you into your parasympathetic, so away from your sympathetic adrenaline basin. It’s your noradrenaline based parasympathetic zone and Paul Gilbert said a lot of work which really resonates with me about the three different zones we go in, out. You’ve got your threat zone, lio. You’ve got your drive zone, achieve, achieve, achieve, your dopamine.
They think I’m good person in some good, and then you’ve got your rest and digest. Frankly, in the Western and particularly with doctors and other people listen this podcast and probably myself as well, we bounce between driving threat, driving threat. If it gets go anywhere near that, that rest and digest so which is where we need to be to come off physiology down otherwise, you are in that heightened state of physiology the whole time,
John: We should probably flip it. Let’s take the classic kind of Pareto is 80/20 that we can apply to almost everything. It’s probably that we’re at least 80%, isn’t it, in the driving thread. Probably, the only time we’re resting and digesting is when we’re unconscious or asleep. We’ve been knocked out by alcohol or something, or whatever, whatever the poison is, for people to come and knock ourselves out.
To flip it might be too much, but one way to start to flip it so that we’re more in the wrestling a lot more of the time, maybe not 80%, would be to challenge the idea that we have to be in a certain state to do certain things. We have to be in that state to get that done, or to be with a client or to make decisions. You beautifully, kind of, responded around this emergency room in a war zone thing by saying, actually, you don’t have to be in that state.
That much of the time, even in that situation. Relaxing, a lot of the time, would probably really, oh, I love that. It’s a beautiful example because as you say, we’ve gone to the extreme there and I do this in my kind of what I do, which is mainly the laptop most of the day and talking and videoing things. I’ve got a to do list every day. I’ve got my stuff and I really find that the idea that I have to be in a certain state to get through the to do list.
In fact, just these last couple of weeks, I’ve really, having done the relaxation retreat. I tried, I experimented again, with what it’s like to be basically sitting in a coma space most of the time in a real tranquil, peaceful, present state, and operating from there, because that’s what matters. That matters more than anything on my to do list. If my to do list suffers, I don’t care because I want to be a mistake.
I’ve been in that state, meditating a lot and meditating. I love meditating when I’m walking, because I get two brilliant things done at the same time. I walk, which I love, and it does me a ton of good and I meditate. You have to do on your own, but it’s great. It takes a little bit of practise, but I can do that. I do that, again, to a very kind of quiet space. Then, I’m bringing that quiet space into the desk.
The amazing thing is these last two weeks, I am getting stuff done that I’ve been had on my list for months. Somehow I haven’t really analysed it yet. I just know that it’s happening, that I’m getting more important things. I’m more productive than I normally am. I’m coming from a really slow and calm space. It’s the question. It’s like an experiment experimenting with, okay, I have this thought that I can’t be that to do that. Flip it.
Well, let me just try and do that from there. I was doing this in my job. When I had a job long time ago, in the 90s, which was in advertising, I was doing this with things like meeting so I’d go into really important board meetings and things. This effectively meditating and seeing what happened. Interesting things would happen. You’d basically kind of half off zone out.
Then suddenly, you get the best creative idea and say, and then it would be an important contribution. It’s worth flipping it, I think, and looking at the possibility of what it’d be like to come from a more relaxed state, and whatever we do. Whatever we do, maybe apart from the person coming into the emergency room in that moment.
Rachel: Don’t be too relaxed, when there’s a tiger heading towards you. That’s when you want to be in your stress, they did run. This remind me of the saying that there was some sort of famous preacher that said, he got really early and prayed for an hour every morning and someone said, well, what if you’re too busy. He said, well, if I’m really busy during the day, I need to pray for three hours.
It’s always like that, the more busy and stressed you are, the more you need to relax. The more you need to be in that relaxed, though.
John: I haven’t got time for meditation. Yeah, that’s true.
Rachel: Totally, totally. You can access your breath. I do remember quite recently, I was listening, I think a meditation from you, basically saying, you are really relaxed. You’re very relaxed, just relax. Does that sort of thing really help as well? I must say, I did feel quite relaxed after I listened to it. With your permission, it’d be good to put that in the show notes for people to access.
John: Yeah, please. This is around kind of affirmations and how they work. One of the tricks there is to say something that you’re not already. If you say, I am when you’re not relaxed, when you’re very obviously not relaxed. If you say I am relaxed, it sends a whole range of signals all over the place. I’m not going to try to guess what exactly is happening there. Your body is kind of going, oh, really? Okay, then. It starts to relax.
This happened, honestly, with relaxation. You could do almost anything. It seems to be a little magic trick. They’ve done research on these forms of affirmations. I think it’s what they’re saying is for some people, if it’s too far, from what your actual status. Let’s say, I don’t know what, let’s say you’re really seriously anxious. You say, I’m the most tranquil person in the world.
The discrepancy between your state and the message doesn’t have the beneficial effects that we would like, but generally speaking, it’s a really way of, it’s a kind of, faking it till you make it, which is that’s what a lot of relaxation exercises are from the earliest, kind of 1950s autogenic training type of things. They watch people. This is our relaxation, as we know, it now develop, wasn’t it?
There’s people, is scientists watching people relax, and seeing what happens to them when they’re relaxed and asking them what happens to them when they’re relaxed. Then, kind of going well, okay, so that this is what happens to them. This is now a technique. It kind of works like that your body kind of goes okay, yeah, my limbs are heavy. I’m feeling the weight of my body on the chair, feeling a sense of sinking.
One of them is my forehead is warm. There’s a whole range of things, kind of works, but the best the better thing to do with relaxation, though is work out what your own bespoke things are because we all have. What is it for me like the sounds, the sounds really does it?
Rachel: You know what, you talking about that affirmation about, yeah, fake it till you make it. Bringing it all the way back to fuck it. Do you think fuck it works in that way as well if you really can’t think back about something just actually saying, okay, fuck it. I guess that’s what helped me with a webinar. I really cared and I was really worried about it. Just by saying, fuck it, it helped me.
I was like, okay, well, I can say that even though I’m not really feeling it right now. Yeah, it just helps you a little bit more to that journey, not that I didn’t care about it. It’s just there was nothing I can do about it. Like you said, we don’t know what the outcome is? I don’t know.
John: Yeah, I think it’s working in a variety of ways. Fuck it. It’s certainly in terms of thinking ourselves into being more fuck it would be there. I do think one of the main reasons it helps is it makes that a little jump from one side of the brain to the other, from the bits of the brain, where whatever it is, is the biggest thing in the world, to the bits of the brain, that not so bothered.
I don’t know whether we’ve talked about this before, Rachel, but there’s a book and a TED talk actually by Jill Bolte Taylor. It’s called a Stroke of Insight. If anybody Googles it, a Stroke of Insight, do you know that?
Rachel: Oh, it’s fantastic TED talk.
John: I got such a lot of clarity around what’s happening in this area, just from hearing her story, because it’s so extreme. Somebody’s having a stroke where that part of the brain that we’re normally thinking in, is basically haemorrhaging. It’s not at the bit of the brain that we’re mainly in is knocked out in the person who’s in neuroanatomist knows what’s going on, even as it’s happening, kind of picking up what’s happening from the fact that the sounds are very strong, which is running the bath and that that part of the body is.
After a while, she knows she’s having a stroke. She knows, after a while, she won’t be able to remember numbers, so she won’t be able to get help. Yet, she feels this astonishing sense of calm, and okayness, total sense of peace and entirely connected. It’s an astonishing testament, exploration in to what happens. It’s like you couldn’t design an experiment better good.
For somebody who knows what’s going on to then go into that thing, and they share her story when she obviously survived to write about it. She talks in the book to Alabama tour, but in the book about the rehabilitation, and her mother was helping them. There are certain exercises you could do to try and rehabilitate the left brain. She had this decision to make at one point. She was in this completely calm, beautiful space where she was very intuitive.
She could tell if somebody walked into her hospital room, whether their intention was good or not so good. She was working at a completely different level, because her left brain was effectively out of it. She had to make the decision: do I get my kind of practical ability back by rehabilitating the left brain and be able to kind of navigate my way around the world and do things everything else?
Or do I stay effectively in this heaven? Practically, no good, but I can just see a kind of like a monk meditating for the rest of my life. Clearly, she, in the end, decided to rehabilitate, but her mission then became to remind us all, don’t forget the right brain. Don’t forget the hobbies, the relaxation, the letting go, because we’re too far over there, and that’s the problem.
Rachel: Wow, that is just such a good message if we could just shut off that left brain thinking access to the right brain. Hey, we can easily fuck it, right?
John: We can, and the breathing. Fuck it really does it. Yes, it’s like the breathing is very quick, even quicker than the breathing. Combine it and work out your own ways to relax. First of all, and this is the thing I learned on that retreat, we have to massively value relaxation, not just recognise that stress is a problem. Let’s raise relaxation and a kind of calmer state to right the way up our priority list in life.
Also, knowing then that the things that probably are high up the priority list, we’re going to get more easily, more automatically if relaxation is there. Come on people, what’s important to you? My family is important. My friends are important. It’s like the weekend. Whatever it is we achieve and why. All those things that are even easier when we’re relaxed.
Rachel: You’re a better person when you’re relaxed, aren’t you? You’re more patient, tolerant, less snappy, just better fun to be with. It’s win win for everybody. You feel better and so does everybody else quite frankly.
John: It is true. We all know it that way, and yet we still let ourselves get frustrated and everything else, tetchy.
Rachel: Because we feel it’s not productive, John, it’s not productive. I’m just relaxating. Relaxating, I’ve created a new word. I’m just relaxating. They heard it here first. If I’m just relaxing, or not getting anything done, am I? I’ve got all these things to do, so it’s just not a good use of my time to relax.
John: That’s the left brain, is it? If you want to go more spiritual about it, that is mind. That’s what the ego is always going to do. The ego is going to always persuade itself and everybody else, that relaxation is no good. That kind of calming is no good because the only thing there is thought. The only way through it is this all the time. It’s like there’s a bind, and there’s a there’s a bind and addiction. I think at so many levels.
I’m guessing there’s a bind in terms of the hormones as well. I’m guessing that you guys will know this better than I do. I’m guessing there’s an addiction to the adrenaline and the cortisol, et cetera. There’s an addiction to being busy, probably some kind of fear of the gaps of the space of quietness, because maybe we’re scared about what would come up.
It’s not quite as easy as just relaxing, because there’s going to be reasons where we’re stuck in the not relaxing, I think. You kind of have to think about that, as you’re going is like, am I addicted to this state? Probably am. Why is that? What would I have to give up if I’m going to give up on this state?
Rachel: I think business, it particularly for very high achieving people, high-stress jobs. It validates you as important. I remember last year, I took a week off work and I did a tennis course. I love playing tennis. I wanted to get better. It was in Cambridge. I was doing the tennis and then I was going into my emails and stuff like that. The tennis coach said to me, it was about 4:30 I was going home.
He said, ‘So you have to just chill out now Rachel.’ I said, ‘Oh no, I’ve got to go into all my emails, and I’ve got all this stuff to do.’ He just said to me, said, ‘Oh, congratulations, you must be a very important person.’ Oh, my God, listen to how I sound. It was very catty. I thought okay touche. Absolutely.
John: That’s the guru speaking, isn’t it?
Rachel: Yeah. Oh, my gosh, we could talk about this for a long time. I’m so grateful for you coming back on and I just advise people to go listen to the first podcast because we talked about a lot more of the evidence around the use of the word fuck. Reason why swearing actually can be quite helpful, and some more of the sort of main principles. This has been really, really helpful relaxation, stuff about acceptance, left brain, all that sort of stuff.
I know you run lots of retreats. You do lots of work with your wife about this. If people wanted to do more stuff, how could they find out about it? How can they get hold of more of your work?
John: The best thing to do is to get on our email list, so just going to our website, which is, if you Google fuck it, actually will come to it. It’s called thefuckitlife.com. Just signing up for anything on there will basically allow people to get an email from us once every couple of weeks where we talk about what we’re doing, as we’ve been talking about in one way or another therapeutically spiritually, but mainly about letting go and relaxing.
Rachel: Brilliant. I’m definitely going to try and come on one of your very relaxed retreats.
John: I love doing it because it relaxes me so much.
Rachel: Yeah, very, very beautiful places as well.
John: You say relaxing places, the place I do it is on a live volcano, which adds another element to how to relax on a volcano, that’s exploding every half an hour.
Rachel: By the pool, and there’s like bits of molten lava dripping on them. You’re like, ‘Just relax.’
John: Not quite. Yes, but there’s externally the explosion of like a booming explosion of the volcano kicking off. There’s a genuine threat so that’s the kind of fight or flight thing. There’s a genuine threat, and we’re there to learn how to relax.
Rachel: It’s a bit like working as a GP, with any emergency visit might come in at any time. Brilliant, brilliant training, right?
John: Yeah, exactly.
Rachel: Right. Before we go, have you got three quick top tips for our listeners? Maybe the thing we’re talking about. What are the three main things you just wish everybody would know?
John: Well, we’ve talked a bit about this. Number one, understanding the power of relaxation. Remembering, for those that know about what stress can do, remembering the power of relaxation and really contemplating how powerful it is in every way in our lives, what it can do with our health, etc. Number two, once understood this power of relaxation, number two, prioritise it like nobody’s business, like you wouldn’t prioritise anything else prioritise relaxation, and then watch your lower priority start to work themselves out.
Then, number three, practise relaxation. Not just as a, half an hour, maybe that 10 minutes on some relaxing apple or something. Let’s practise it, so that becomes an every moment thing. There’s always some awareness there, of what level of stress to relaxed you are. Making it almost automatic to adjust your breathing when you’re, it’s getting a bit quicker, you’re a bit stressed, so that you build in another system into your self-regulation system. It’s putting relaxation right at the heart of your self-regulation, on moment to moment self-regulation system.
Rachel: Brilliant. Well, thank you so much for coming on. That ‘s been really interesting, my pages and pages of notes here. Thank you.
John: Thank you, Rachel. I love talking to you. We get some really fascinating stuff. Also, because of your audience, I understand this, the importance of this as well, the importance of your audience to the rest of us, but also the importance of these kinds of messages for your audience. Thank you for inviting me. It’s lovely to chat.
Rachel: Thank you. As ever, I’d love to get you on again. We’ll hopefully get you back, and we’ll speak soon. Thank you.
John: That’d be great. Thank you, Rachel.
Rachel: Bye. Thanks for listening. Don’t forget, we provide a self-coaching CPD workbook for every episode. You can sign up for it via the link in the show notes. If this episode was helpful, then please share it with a friend. Get in touch with any comments or suggestions at email@example.com. I love to hear from you. Finally, if you’re enjoying the podcast, please rate it and leave a review wherever you’re listening. It really helps. Bye for now.