Melissa Dahl (@melissadahl) is a senior editor covering health and psychology for New York’s The Cut. In 2014, she co-founded New York magazine’s popular social science site Science of Us. Her first book, Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, is out now.
What We Discuss with Melissa Dahl:
- Awkwardness does not have to make us feel alone — in fact, the things that make us cringe can serve to remind us of how connected we all truly are.
- Our concept of ourselves is often constructed externally — by how we think other people view us.
- How awkwardness can help us have tough conversations about race, politics, and gender.
- How we can stop reliving embarrassing memories.
- How to remap and reframe feelings of awkwardness or embarrassment and use them to our advantage.
- And much more…
Like this show? Please leave us a review here — even one sentence helps! Consider including your Twitter handle so we can thank you personally!
(Download Episode Here)
(Subscribe in iTunes Here)
We’ve all experienced episodes of awkwardness that leave us horrified by some faux pas we’ve committed in the company of others. Memories of such episodes may even linger over the span of a lifetime, causing us to cringe anew upon every recollection.
In her book Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, Science of Us co-founder Melissa Dahl investigates the peculiar experience of awkwardness, why it happens, and what opportunities it presents to us if we allow it. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Please note that some of the links on this page (books, movies, music, etc.) lead to affiliate programs for which The Jordan Harbinger Show receives compensation. It’s just one of the ways we keep the lights on around here. Thank you for your support!
Sign up for Six-Minute Networking — our free networking and relationship development mini course — at jordanharbinger.com/course!
More About This Show
When you think about an embarrassing, awkward episode you’ve experienced, what is it about the episode that makes it embarrassing and awkward — and why is it memorable beyond the episode itself?
The Looking-Glass Self and the Irreconcilable Gap
Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness author Melissa Dahl refers to the early 20th century sociologist Charles Horton Cooley’s concept of the looking-glass self — in which we understand ourselves through how we believe others perceive us. Embarrassment occurs when our sense of self is challenged because we don’t like what we see.
“Maybe one definition of things we call ‘awkward’ [or] ‘cringeworthy’ is when you realize that the you you think you’re presenting to the world is maybe not the you people are receiving,” says Melissa. “When there’s a gap between your self-perception and other-perception.”
Psychologist Philippe Rochat called this dissonance between who we think we are and how we are reflected through the perception of others as the irreconcilable gap.
The Transparency Illusion
Perhaps because the way we self-identify is reflected in how we believe others perceive us, it almost seems reasonable to assume these others also have access to what’s going on in our heads.
“We think our feelings are really transparent,” says Melissa, “because what’s going on internally with us, it feels so obvious. You just think people can read [what you’re thinking] all over your face.”
But until mind-reading technology is cooked up by some mad scientist in a basement somewhere, it’s a pretty safe bet our thoughts remain our own.
The Shakespearean Concept
Whether we realize it or not, we tend to act differently around different audiences and different people. For instance, as teenagers, we probably didn’t behave the same around our parents as we did around our friends. As adults, we probably don’t behave the same around our coworkers as we do our families.
But when we have a mismatch or unexpected mixture of personas, things can get awkward — and this happens all the more easily in the age of social media as we interact with these different groups in shared spaces.
Reframing Awkwardness and Remapping How We Respond to It
Is awkwardness an emotion or a personality trait?
“I think it can be both an emotion and a personality trait,” says Melissa. “I think we tend to talk about it more as if it’s a personality trait — like, ‘I’m so awkward,’ or, ‘That person’s so awkward.’ Sure, it can be that, but I became more interested in understanding it as a feeling.
“The cool thing is, there’s this pretty new research on the neuroscience of emotions and it says that the way you conceptualize a feeling actually influences the way that you feel the feeling. So if you’re someone like me who’s driven crazy by this feeling of awkwardness…this new area of research on emotions means that you can start to reframe what awkwardness means and what it means to feel awkward, which will change how you feel it.”
As How Emotions Are Made author Lisa Feldman Barrett says, emotions don’t have fingerprints. No facial pattern nor brain scan has a universal map of a particular emotion. And because feelings aren’t innate, they’re created by our brains — which means we can change how we react to them.
The more emotions we experience, the larger our emotional vocabulary becomes. The better we can pin something down, the better we can experience it — and this allows us to remap the way we respond to emotions. Alison Wood Brooks of Harvard conducted an experiment in which subjects succeeded in reappraising pre-performance anxiety as excitement.
“I don’t mean to be super corny,” says Melissa, “but it’s kind of a life-changing idea that you have more control over your feelings than you think.”
Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about how Jordan uses this kind of reappraisal (aka “exercise in self-delusion for fun and profit”) before speaking engagements, how we can treat awkwardness as a signpost pointing us toward action, how awkwardness can help us have tough conversations, why we should be thankful for friends who aren’t afraid to tell us when we’ve got food stuck in our teeth, what the awkward vortex is and how we can escape from it, why it’s okay to talk to ourselves in the third-person, what the spotlight effect tells us about being too self-conscious, and lots more.
THANKS, MELISSA DAHL!
If you enjoyed this session with Melissa Dahl, let her know by clicking on the link below and sending her a quick shout out at Twitter:
Click here to thank Melissa Dahl at Twitter!
Click here to let Jordan know about your number one takeaway from this episode!
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness by Melissa Dahl
- Melissa Dahl’s website
- Melissa Dahl at The Cut
- Science of Us
- Melissa Dahl at Twitter
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
- The Looking Glass Self: How Our Self-Image is Shaped by Society by Joachim Vogt Isaksen, Popular Social Science
- Edmund Snow Carpenter
- Philippe Rochat
- Face Value: Hidden Smiles Influence Consumption And Judgment by Inga Kiderra
- Jamie Kennedy
- How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett
- TJHS 9: Ed Latimore | The Superpower of Ignoring Social Approval
- Jim Gaffigan
- Erving Goffman
- Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement by Alison Wood Brooks, Harvard
- W. Kamau Bell
- TJHS 18: Gretchen Rubin | Four Tendencies: The Framework for a Better Life
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
- The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do by Sarah Knight
- Have You Fallen Prey to the “Spotlight Effect?” by Amie M. Gordon, Ph.D., Psychology Today
Transcript for Melissa Dahl | The Not-So-Cringeworthy Truth About Awkwardness (Episode 24)
Melissa Dahl: [00:00:00] You know, most of the time we kind of walk around and then the me I have in my own head, I think that other people are seeing me the same way I do, but I think the moments where the me in my head collides with the me that's actually running our hands out there in the world and when those two things are shown to be different, I think those are the moments that make us cringe.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:20] All right. Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. As always, I'm here with my producer Jason DeFillippo. This episode is brought to you in part by The Great Courses Plus. For a free month of unlimited access to enjoy any of their over 9,000 lectures, sign up at thegreatcoursesplus.com/Jordan. On this episode, we're talking with Melissa Dahl, author of Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness. She also cofounded New York magazines, popular social science site, Science of Us, which I often read and if you're interested in the topics we have here on the show, it's a great read almost every time. Awkwardness does not have to make us feel alone. You know that whole I wished the floor swallowed me up and do a whole or I'd like to crawl into that little cave and die feeling? Instead, the things that make us cringe can really remind us of how connected we all truly are and today we're going to discover that our concept of ourselves is often constructed externally.
[00:01:12] That is from how we think other people view us and we'll discuss how awkwardness can help us have tough conversations about race, politics, and gender, and we'll learn how to remap and reframe feelings of awkwardness or embarrassment and actually use them to our advantage. There's a lot of great practicals in this one and of course we've got the worksheets as always so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways here from Melissa Dahl. That link is in the show notes at JordanHarbinger.com/podcast. All right, here's Melissa Dahl. I loved the book and you know it's great. You did a great job recording it. A lot of times when authors record their own book, they get all offended when the publisher's like, “Yeah, we're going to hire a professional”, right? And then they go and they read their book and it sucks.
[00:02:00] And it's like, “Hey, you're damaging your own sales but your ego is intact, so that's fine.” But you did a really good job because I think a large part or at least a part of this book that is magical seems like an overstatement, but I'm going to throw it there because, yeah, I bet you will, Melissa. I bet you will. A lot of the book is about things you've done that are embarrassing and at least they’re stories in the book about things you've done that are embarrassing. It's not exactly a chronicle of your life or anything but that it's so much better than some actor reading that about you having you say, so this is about the time that I had toilet paper on my boot heel or whatever or whatever even worse kind of occurrence. And that makes it a really special kind of piece.
Melissa Dahl: [00:02:48] Yeah. I'm so glad. I mean, I know it was always so glad to get the opportunity to record it, you know? So there wouldn't be to some other person's stepping on my jokes and like not landing with punch lines and, you know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:59] Yeah. The ideas behind this, the awkwardness, that awkwardness doesn't have to make us feel alone, which it often does. And I think that's an in a way why people don't like the awkward feeling. Because when I tried to think of what awkwardness meant to me, it wasn't like, “Oh, I'm so embarrassed. Other people think this about me.” There's a little bit of that. But when I feel embarrassed or awkward, I'm usually just thinking about myself. I rarely, as a kid maybe I thought about others, but now I just think about myself. And it is, it's like as soon as something happens, these giant walls go up that are transparent so everybody can see me, but I can't see out maybe it's kind of how it feels. It’s bad.
Melissa Dahl: [00:03:37] Oh yeah, that's a really nice metaphor. Yeah, I know. I know. I mean, it's so true. It feels like kind of when I started writing the book, I kind of thought it was going to be something, you know, maybe akin to like quiet, you know? Maybe something like introversion or I don't know, some other kind of just feeling that is sort of local, you know, just about you and that is how it can feel like. It doesn't have to because the fact is that like probably other people in the room are feeling the same way. It can be this really cool, genuine way to connect you with other people, and this sounds so corny, but I really believe it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:18] Yeah. I want to get into the mechanics of that a little bit later, but first there's some definitions I think that we need to get through because a lot of people are going to say, “Oh, awkwardness is when you're embarrassed because you're on stage and you pee in your pants or something”, right? We have to kind of find some common ground here, and you've got a lot of interesting concepts in the book, Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, namely the concept of the looking glass self. Obviously you read a lot of books or you're just a really big geek like me, so I appreciate a lot of these concepts in the book and the concept of the looking glass self in that we look to other people for a sense of our self-concept and it's embarrassing when we don't like what we see. Can you expand on that a little because that to me seems like my entire life except I didn't know anybody else did this too?
Melissa Dahl: [00:05:05] Oh absolutely. Okay. So let's see. Maybe I could start by talking about this story I came across while doing some research in the book and yes, I do read a lot and yes, I am a geek to answer your questions.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:17] That was a statement I didn't need to ask.
Melissa Dahl: [00:05:22] I came across this story that kind of became a really interesting metaphor to me to think about what it means when we say something makes us cringe or something makes us feel embarrassed or awkward. There was this anthropologist in the 1960s, his name is Edward Carpenter or maybe Edmund Carpenter -- Awkward. I can't remember which one it was. He heard about this tribe of folks in Papua New Guinea who he had reason to believe had never seen what they looked like. The kind of water where they lived where just too like shady for them to kind of see themselves.
[00:05:54] They didn't have mirrors. They had like little mini shards of mirrors but they couldn't see their full reflection. They certainly didn't have cameras so he kind of hops on about and takes over, you know, mirrors and Polaroid cameras and voice recorders. And the idea is for the first time these folks are going to be able to see themselves the way other people see them, kind of, you know, because until then their self-concept kind of just been formed through their own head. Maybe judging by like other people's reaction to them, but they'd never actually seen what other people were seeing or heard what other people were hearing when you know, he kind of passed around the mirrors and the cameras and the voice recorders. What they did was they kind of like hunch over and like either their stomach muscles betrayed great tension as what he wrote.
[00:06:37] And they would kind of make that face like, Oh, you know, kind of like a freaked out face, which sounded to me a lot like what we described cringing to be. So we even still have this today, like we, a lot of people talk about how they hate hearing the sound of their own recorded voice, you know, that makes them cringe. So all of these things started to make me think like maybe one definition of things we call awkward things we call cringeworthy are when you realize that the you, you think you're presenting to the world is maybe not the you people are receiving. You know, when there's like a gap between your self perception and other perception. And this psychologist, Phillipe Rashad, who is amazing and fascinating has a term for this, he calls it the irreconcilable gap between. And that's the gap between how you see yourself and how others see you. You know, most of the time we kind of walk around and then the me, I have in my own head, I think that other people are seeing me the same way I do. But I think the moments where the me in my head collides with the me, that's actually running your hand out there in the world. And when those two things are shown to be different, I think those are the moments that make us cringe which was really interesting to me.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:46] And of course on the other side of this, we've kind of got this transparency illusion where we think other people can read us as well as we read ourselves. So not only are we sort of lacking in this concept of self, so we look to others, but we also then tend to, maybe this isn't the same coin, but it's sort of seems like the pendulum swings really far in the other direction. And we go, “Oh my gosh, not only am I looking at other people to get this concept of myself, but they're gay. They know everything that's in my head right now.” And even as an adult that knows better, I still walk around thinking, “Wow, I really hope that this person can't read my mind because everything I just thought of in the last like two minutes is just so wildly inappropriate or embarrassing or terrible or something.”
[00:08:30] And I've talked about this concept a little bit on the show before where I was like, “Okay, at the risk of outing myself, does anybody ever just sit in Starbucks and think what would happen if I stood up on this table and like, or did I smacked the crap out of the person sitting across from me reading quietly? Am I a psychopath?” And like a hundred people wrote in and were like, “I do that too. And I'm a functioning human being that works at a law firm or something.” And I'm like, “Oh good, we're all like this. Thank God.”
Melissa Dahl: [00:08:56] Yeah, we think that our feelings are really transparent because what's going on internally with us, it feels so obvious, you know, that you just think that people can read all over your face. Like last week I did this show Mortified, which I write in the book and I kind of did a reprisal of it where you get up on stage and you read from your teenage journal. This is like this stage show across the country that does this. And I felt like I was shaking. I felt like I was just so nervous. I felt like I was visibly nervous. You know, everybody afterwards was like, “Oh my God, like you just nailed that. You look so confident”, you know, so because it's so obvious to us what's going on inside, we think other people can pick up on it too.
[00:09:36] And it's just not true. And this has been shown in studies as well. Where, you know, they'll have people do something like give a speech or something like that and they'll rate how nervous they felt like they looked. And then other people who watch them will rate how nervous they seemed in those. It's way off. We tend to think people can pick up on our inner states and they often can't.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:57] There's this Kool-Aid experiment, right, where they actually tested this. Can other people read our face and see what we're drinking? If what we're drinking is sour or sweet. So I guess the experiment was there's just this mysterious red liquid. Some of it's basically super sour vinegar or the other stuff is sweet Kool-Aid. And the study was, can people read on your face even when you're not able to control your emotion because you don't know what you're going to taste? Can people tell? The answer is not really. So maybe we can guess at in an educated fashion whether or not someone's embarrassed reading about their love for -- who was your favorite back then? Jamie Kennedy, if memory serves your favorite, your crush.
Melissa Dahl: [00:10:33] Oh no, that wasn't, that was another gal that did mortified, she did a whole piece about, her name was also Jamie. And so like she was very worried about when we get married, we'll both be Jamie Kennedy. But mine was Hanson.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:49] Okay. Hanson. So yeah, that's so much better. So your love for Hanson. Yeah. I don't know. I mean at least they still have a career. Not sure what Jimmy Kennedy is doing these days, but the truth is that people really don't know what we're thinking and, and it's going to take a little bit more than a Kool-Aid experiment for me and everybody else listening to internalize that because I think we always really do look to ourselves. We do that looking glass self when we look at others or look to others for a concept of ourselves. And also in the very beginning of Cringeworthy or at least early on in the book, you discuss this Shakespearian concept and I am pretty light on my Shakespeare, so I'm not exactly going to nail this one, but we act differently to different audiences and audiences of people. So we have like our family persona, our work persona, our close friends persona, our significant other persona. And the analogy was brilliant. Do you remember this? It was like when things get awkward when we have a mismatch in the persona that we're putting on for an audience. Do you know what I'm talking about here? Rescue me.
Melissa Dahl: [00:11:54] No, I think it's funny because the book is subtitled A Theory of Awkwardness but it kind of should be like any theories of awkwardness because this is one of them. Yeah. I think that awkwardness also kind of comes from when the self you're trying to present in a certain situation is shown to be incompatible with reality in some way. So, you know, I have this like, it's not like I'm faking it, but I certainly have like a persona I play at work, you know, I have a persona I play when I'm with my college friends, which is different from my persona I play with, you know, my friends now. I'm in my thirties and one of the situations we call awkward is like when kind of groups of friends mix. There's this even Jim Gaffigan joke about where he says something like, “Okay, so these guys don't know I drink and also don't be thrown off by my British accent.”
Melissa Dahl: [00:12:42] And I think it's because the self that I am at work is maybe incompatible with the self that I play with my friends, which is maybe also incompatible with the self that I play with my family. And again, it's not like we're faking it, but there's just these different roles that we play and when those things collide, yes, things can certainly get awkward and it's not just a strict Shakespearian thing. This is an idea that the sociologist Erving Goffman who kind of published a lot in like a mid century. He really played with that notion of kind of all the world's a stage. And he has some really fascinating metaphors for the front stage and the backstage. And when those two things clash, that's when things feel weird. So…
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:25] It seems unhealthy to have these different personas. I realized they all kind of evolve naturally, right? Because you're playing a role for your parents so that they're happy with you and you're sort of, you're still their kid. And then you go out with your crazy friends and your, you know, I don’t know, dancing on tables someplace and then you hang out with your not crazy friends and you don't maybe tell them everything that happened that night, but it doesn't necessarily mean you're putting on a different personality entirely. Although I think toput Jim Gaffigan's joke into context, I think some of us do this and I think that that maybe could become unhealthy if we really do have kind of a cognitive dissonance like, “Oh, I have to act really nice.” And I've seen this with teenagers too. I remember when I was an exchange student, there was a girl who seemed really boring.
[00:14:09] She was this Filipina gal and she was very goody goody. And her parents were very strict and they just thought their daughter was the greatest thing. And then we flew abroad and we went to Germany and she immediately busted out a pack of Marlboro reds and just chain smoking, getting hammered at every bar we went to, even if it was 2:00 PM and just like I saw her three or four months later and she just looked like she had aged five years and not in a good way. And she just had this story she was telling us about things that she did when she went out would embarrass, you know, like Ozzy Osborne would be like, “How dare you?” Right? And it was just really kind of, I thought the cognitive dissonance, the danger of this is you start to feel
[00:14:52] this internally, this tension and it can become, it goes beyond awkward. And I think we're probably getting a little off track here, but I think it can become unhealthy. And I'm wondering though, as a result of the research that you did in this area is awkwardness and emotion. Is it a personality trait? Is it? What is the equation that we're looking at that creates an awkward moment?
Melissa Dahl: [00:15:12] I think it can be both an emotion and a personality trait. I think we tend to assume we tend to talk about it more as if it's a personality trait. You know, people say things like, “I am so awkward,” or you know, “Oh that person's so awkward or whatever.” Sure it can be that. But I just became more interested in understanding it as a feeling. You know, it's like a feeling I was just in a work meeting and someone kind of just got a little too real and like just started ranting and you could just feel the tension sort of just like expand in the room and just like all of us were feeling this. And sometimes I think the person who maybe causes the awkwardness maybe doesn't necessarily feel it, but the rest of us can. I think I'm just more interested in it as like an internal states.
[00:16:03] The cool thing is there's this cool pretty new research on the neuroscience of emotions and it says that the way you conceptualize a feeling actually influences the way that you feel all the feelings. So if you are someone like me who is driven crazy by this feeling of awkwardness, which is kind of, you know, just there's like, “Oh, this is uncomfortable. Like things are going weird. I don't know what to say.” If you're like me, you're driven crazy by that feeling. The cool thing about this new area of research on emotions means that you can start to reframe what awkwardness means and what it means to feel awkward, which will change how you feel it, which is kind of cool.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:46] This episode is sponsored in part by MeUndies. You've heard me talk about MeUndies. You know, I'm a big believer in their product. I believe in the underwear. This really is the perfect balance of comfortable fit. And every month they have new exciting prints. They arrive at your door in a fun little bag. You know, that's kind of cool. And you know, what I really like is you get an old pair, they're kind of faded, if you're lucky they’re faded. And you can get rid of those because you have new ones. And MeUndies uses Lenzing MicroModal in their underwear, which means it's sustainably sourced. It's naturally soft. Starts with the beechwood tree -- not totally sure what that is, but it ends up in my pants, well as my pants, really that's ends up as my pants. So the results have been downright dreamy.
[00:17:29] They really have these adventures, prints, you know, most of the time I'm wearing these while I do the show now whether I'm wearing more than that, I'll let your imagination run wild. But they're great for gifts, they're great for yourself. It's a no brainer and they've got a great offer for my listeners, for any first-time purchasers, when you purchase any MeUndies, you get 20% off and free shipping and they're sure you're going to love it. So they offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee. So to get that 20% off your first pair, free shipping and 100% satisfaction guarantee, go to MeUndies.com/Jordan. That's MeUndies.com/Jordan. This episode is also sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. Knowledge, knowledge. I'm always reminded of that Tai Lopez video. Knowledge here in my garage. In your garage, you can unlock many doors in life. It's important to keep learning.
[00:18:17] Stay ahead of the curve. The Great Courses Plus is a great way to do that. You can build on information you already know, you can discover new interests, you can pick up new hobbies and with The Great Courses Plus, there is unlimited access to learn from top professors, experts about anything that interests you and with over 9,000 lectures and virtually any category. You can listen to these through The Great Courses Plus app at anytime. You can watch them on your TV, your laptop, your tablet, your smartphone. I'm always trying to learn psychology. As you know, that is my life and I recommend The Art of Negotiating the Best Deal. Negotiating is always about psychology. That's the best part, right? Money and thinking. Two of those things go together. Money and thinking critically. I should say, great tools in this for both our professional and our personal lives.
[00:19:02] Whether you're negotiating in a collaborative setting, you're competing with someone else, they'll show you how to establish respect, humility, empathy, credibility, rapport. Obviously those are key in getting what you want and I know you're going to get a lot out of The Great Courses Plus, so they're giving all of us a free month of unlimited access to enjoy any of their lectures. If you sign up through our special URL, so to start your free month today, sign up at thegreatcoursesplus.com/Jordan. That's thegreatcoursesplus.com/Jordan. This sounds like a little bit like Lisa Feldman Barrett who had been on our old show, right? And she had said emotions, they don't have fingerprints. There's no facial pattern. There's no brain scan that says, “This person feels sad right now”, right? There's not, that isn't real, even though that was kind of the preconceived or that was the previously held belief.
[00:19:55] And the extension of this is that feelings are not innate, which means that feelings are created by our brains, which means, like you said, we can change the way that we feel things. Not just change the way that we feel, we can change the way that we feel different things. So emotions are things that our brains create, not things that are built into our brain. So in a way we can kind of remap feelings. And you explained, you had a really good example of this in Cringeworthy, which was you first, you extend your vocabulary and then you do something called anxiety re-appraisal or a feeling re-appraisal. Can you take us through this, because I think this is so useful and I do this when I speak in front of large groups and it works like it works a treat.
Melissa Dahl: [00:20:33] I do too. I have written about it, I've been a health and science writer for more than a decade and mostly I've focused on psychology. I have written about like, I don't know, hundreds, maybe thousands, it's probably too many, definitely hundreds of studies and most of them, I forget about this one has stayed with me for years. This woman, Alison Woodbrooks at Harvard did this cool experiment where she had people were going to have to do some kind of like mildly terrifying task, like you need to do a speech or sing karaoke or something like that. And she told one group of folks to try to like temp down their nervousness, which is what most of us try to do. Like, “Okay, you know, just calm down, you know, we’ll be fine, calm down.” And then she told another group to just reframe the nerves and just remind themselves like in your body, it feels the same way as excitement.
[00:21:20] I'm not nervous, I'm excited. And that's true for a lot of the things that were getting psyched up to do. If I'm going into a big meeting, I am nervous. But hopefully if you love your job like I do, I'm also excited, you know, so it's just this little twist like that just telling yourself, “I'm excited.” It helps people perform better is what this is what she found in these. You know, they gave better speeches, they sang better karaoke. I don't mean to like be super corny, but it's kind of a life changing idea that you have more control over your feelings than you think.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:53] Yeah. Especially if you can sort of remap this and the only way that I've really successfully done this is the same thing. I'm going up on stage and I say, “Oh my God, I'm nervous. Okay”, I used to say, “This is normal.” You're supposed to be nervous and or this nervousness is the energy you need to do a really kick ass job. And that kind of worked. But then if you go, “Actually I'm shaking because I'm about to just knock the socks off these 1300 people and they can't wait to see me. Of course I'm shaking, they're shaking”, they're not, but you know, I can tell myself that they are. They're fine. They're checking Facebook, right? They're making sure that flash is off on their phone camera. But the idea behind this is even if that reappraisal fails, the fact that I'm thinking about somebody else's emotions or refresh trying to reframe it, at least at the very least distracts my brain from thinking, ‘Oh, I think I have to pee again”.
[00:22:49] No, you just went, “Nope, you do have to go now. It's too late now. You're just going to have to go out there.” That's my usual, that's sort of my backup plan and it doesn't work as well. So I love the idea of being able to reappraise and reframe emotions that seem like anxiety into something else. And it does take a little practice. So if you try this at home or on a stage near you and it doesn't work the first time that well, keep at it because it's kind of an exercise in self-delusion for fun and profit, right? Because you really do have to sit there and go, you have to believe it. And the more you believe it, the better it works. And I think that also comes with experience.
Melissa Dahl: [00:23:24] Absolutely. Yeah. It's not going to work the first time or maybe it will and good for you. Yeah, I know. But actually, I mean over the years I spent writing this book, I kind of managed to do this to myself with this feeling that has driven me insane, which is awkwardness, you know, like the awkward situations like we were having a tough conversation or something like that. That used to just make me want to just shut down and run and just like, “Let's get out of this as quickly as I can”. Like that's how I understood the feeling like this means something has gone weird and I got to like set this down as quick as I can. But now when I start to feel this way, when I feel that discomfort, that kind of, I think a lot of us call awkwardness that I call awkwardness.
[00:24:04] It can be a signal that yes, something weird is happening, but it can be a signal that something important is happening. And if part of awkwardness is it shows you this gap between who you are and, or how other people see you, it could be a signal that you need to do some work to become that person who you think you are. It could be a signal that you need to do some growing, do some changing. I just started to think of it more as an opportunity or a signal for do you have some growing to do and, or it's just, it's also kind of just a celebration of just how ridiculous we all are and just the absurdity of being human -- is just another way to think about it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:47] Of course. And you are a big proponent of awkwardness in your own way and in fact, I had a recent awkward experiences sort of highlighted this for me. I was interviewing a guest here on the show named Ed Latimore and he grew up in the projects. He became a boxer. He studies physics and math now. And I asked him a question, “How does a kid from the projects decide to study physics and math?” And I got a note from a listener and African American female, “Hi, Omise”. And she said, “All right, look, I love the show. You do this, you do this thing where you ask questions like that with people of color. And some people might be offended.” She's like, “I'm not offended because I've listened to the show.” But she said “It's awkward. You know, nobody wants to be an accidental racist, am I right?”
[00:25:28] But the thing is, what she said is if you are asking LeBron James, would you say, “Would a kid from the projects want to be a basketball player? What made you do that?” She was like, “Not every person who grows up poor wants to be an athlete or an entertainer. And I just, at first I went, “Oh well you know”, and then I just realized, “Holy crap, this is such an awkward moment. I'm really glad this isn't happening in person in real time because I don't know what I would do. Maybe crawl in a hole and die.” But this kind of awkwardness can help us have these tough conversations about race, politics, gender, explain how this works other than having it happened to you in real time and then you know, embarrassing yourself in front of other people. Or is there no other way?
Melissa Dahl: [00:26:10] It's a little bit about, back to that idea of kind of reframing the discomfort, you know, and just understanding it as, “Okay, this is going to be uncomfortable and maybe I'm going to have to kind of check in with myself and realize some things about, again, the person I thought I was presenting to the world and how someone else is actually receiving my words”. Reframing that as not necessarily negative. It's just, it's uncomfortable but it's not necessarily negative. It's so funny. Like we use the word awkward mostly for, I don't know, things like the office, you know, like, “Oh I just like spilled coffee on myself or whatever”. But as I was writing the book, I started to track some of the other ways we were using it. And it's things like, you know, like you said, your listener wrote in at one point I clicked on a headline on the New York Times homepage.
[00:27:00] The headline was why were awkward? So I was like, okay, click. And it turned out to be a story about racial bias. The comedians, W.Kamau Bell who I am obsessed with has been kind of at this for years. He thinks that Americans need to have more awkward conversations, which he defines as like tough conversations about race and class and gender. These like things we don't want to talk about. And so I kind of went to intentionally put myself in a situation where I was going to feel a little awkward. I mean, that is understatement, but again, it's the word we use. It's the word we use for this stuff. So that's why I used it. But I went to this kind of workshop that is put on by an anti-racist group. And the whole point of it was to have a weekend full of really uncomfortable conversations and kind of seeing yourself in a light you maybe didn't want to see yourself in and they called that discomfort.
[00:27:53] They had a name for it, they called it your growing edge, which I thought was a really cool term and to me it sort of connected to this idea I had already been obsessing over, which is that irreconcilable gap idea. And so if some of the things we call awkward, it's the space between who you think you are and how other people are seeing you. Maybe the idea of your growing edge is something you can think of in awkward moments. Like, okay, this is uncomfortable, but it's because it's a chance to grow into this person who I wish I was -- this idealized version of me in my own head. You know, it's like you're like your listener’s comment. It's hard to let that kind of thing and because it gets pretty existential, honestly kind of messes with your self-concept. You know, you didn't mean it like that, but it's how other people heard it. And that's worth considering. We tell kids the cliche advices, like, “Oh, don't pay attention what other people think. Don't worry about what other people think.” And that's sometimes good advice, but sometimes it's worth considering what other people think and thinking about how you could change or if it's necessary that you should change. So I really believe that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:57] I don't think anybody out there truly doesn't care what other people think. In fact, and you've probably seen this, there's this whole movement and a lot of it is young insecure guys. And they're like, “yeah, you know, I spent my…” clearly the guy who spent his whole life being, so to speak, an obliger as Gretchen Rubin would put it, or somebody who feels like they got walked on maybe by the opposite sex or went through a bad breakup and now their new mode is like, “I don't give a fuck about anybody and what anybody thinks.” Right? Yeah. And the truth is they just give so many fucks that they're putting on that whole thing as a persona. They give weight, they give all the fucks and so you end up making it worse.
Melissa Dahl: [00:29:36] My response to that is always like, I mean, you know, there's like that the subtle art of not giving a fuck or there's the other book, The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck. And a lot of it is about like not caring what people think and their response to that is always like, “What am I supposed to do with all these leftover fucks? I have so many.” I'm just like, if I'm not supposed to give them to anybody, I just don't think that's a great attitude to walk through life. And it doesn't mean that like other people are always right about you. That would be insane to suggest that other people always know you better. But I think it's useful information and it's worth considering and taking in. And you can dismiss it or you can use it. Why would you want to use it? It's like I kept coming back to the metaphor in the book of a friend who tells you, you have spinach in your teeth and you feel stupid in the moment, but aren't you glad they told you? I mean a good friend would tell you so. Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:31] Yes. A good friend would tell you and look to Mark Manson's book title is a good friend of mine. It's a subtle art of not giving a fuck. It doesn't mean you've run around telling everybody that you don't give a fuck. That part, that is the subtle part. You let it come out naturally. This episode is sponsored in part by Rhone. I'm literally wearing Rhone right now and whenever I record anything like this, there's an 80% chance I'm wearing something by Rhone because this stuff is comfortable. It looks good, it breathes, and you don't have to question your gear when you wear Rhone. That's why they created this salient running short sleeve shirts. It is made with a nice seamless construction. There's strategic venting and they use this fabric called salient. The first FDA determined fabric to promote blood flow, increase energy, endurance and performance.
[00:31:18] Maybe that's why I'm doing better shows now, Jason, it's got to be this shirt. The blood flow, this increased energy and endurance, but the shirt really does go the extra mile. It's great for sports. I don't know if it's better for the show, but it is better for athletic performance. That's what I will put my neck out on that one and they've added this silver tech threads that reduce odor by fighting bacteria. I think it's cool that there's a metal that doesn't like bacteria that you can put into shirts. That's kind of a fascinating little factoid there. Silver naturally fights man stink and woman stink for that matter, so they weave it directly into the shirt to keep you smelling fresh. And of course they've got their commuter pants that Jason loves. They're made from this comfortable Japanese stretch fabric. So go to rhone.com, that's R H O N E.com.
[00:32:05] Get 15% off your first purchase with the use of the code JORDAN at checkout. That's J O R D A N and this is only available to my listeners, so remember rhone.com, R H O N E.com. Use the promo code JORDAN at checkout for 15% off. This episode is also sponsored by Varidesk. Varidesk. I went to PodcastOne for a bunch of meetings and interviews and stuff. Got some good stuff coming out of that and I noticed that they all have Varidesk and these things are, man, these things are in tons of offices because top talent wants to have standing and sitting options because they want to work hard, but they don't want to bust out their hip flexors like I did for years and years at school and being more active at work, standing more, sitting less improves employee health, boost energy, boosts productivity. Varidesk also has a new Pro Desk 60 Electric standing desk that you can create an active workspace.
[00:32:54] It's first of all, it's commercial-grade materials. It's going to be stable, it's going to be durable. You can put the thing together in under five minutes so it's not going to be a POS that you have to assemble yourself and takes out three hours of your day and all products are made to last, simple to set up. You can move it after you're done. It's not going to break. You can move it if you need to add more, which you should because your business is hopefully growing and try them risk-free for 30 days with free shipping and free returns if you're not satisfied. Learn more at varidesk.com/forbes, that's V A R I D E S K.com/forbes. The concept in Cringeworthy that you bring out, I love this you did you coin the awkwardness vortex? Is this something that you created or did you?
Melissa Dahl: [00:33:39] There's decade’s worth of literature on this in the scientific literature linking nervousness and self consciousness and there are just tons of studies on this that show that when we are feeling nervous it kind of just narrows our focus in on ourselves. And you know like you know you experienced this like if you go in for a job interview and you're nervous and all of a sudden you're like, “Wait, like how am I supposed to sit? Should I cross my legs? Should I not, like is my jacket looking weird? How does my hair look?”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:06] Yeah. This is every TV appearance I've ever done in my life.
Melissa Dahl: [00:34:09] I know, I know. And so nervousness makes you more self-conscious then self-consciousness makes you more nervous and the two just go round and round and round. And so yeah, I called it the awkwardness vortex. It was something that kind of like cracked me up. Like as I was writing this book is awkward is kind of like been part of side guides for a little while. So there are all these like very like specific guides to like, you know, do exactly this and this and this and this. Then you'll like never feel awkward again, but that just makes you focus more on yourself. That is just going to make you more nervous, which is going to make you more self-conscious, which is going to plunge you further down into the awkwardness vortex. So the folks who study this say that if it is partially caused by self-consciousness, then the only way out is to focus on anything but yourself. And so, I mean I'm a really self-conscious person. I mean I wrote a whole flipping book about it basically. And so I've had to, these last few weeks, figure out how the heck to go on, you know, like radio shows and do events and do little like TV things and not feel like I was going to die of self-consciousness.
[00:35:15] So this actually really works just focusing on anything but yourself. So that can mean, you know, maybe you are focusing on the person in front of you. You want to just kind of get to know about them. Maybe it means if you are, you know, in a job interview or you're maybe trying to maybe not promote a book, then everybody's going to write a book, but talk up something you did at work or something like that. You can kind of focus on the message and not yourself. Just focus on anything but yourself. And that is the way out.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:45] This dovetails a little bit into the self-talk exercise that you had given in the book as well. You talk to yourself in the third person so I would say, Jordan can do this versus I can do this, right? So you're putting, you're kind of putting yourself outside of yourself and giving yourself advice. Can you take us through this? Seems really easy to implement.
Melissa Dahl: [00:36:04] Yes. I love this too. So yeah, there's all this research on this thing called self-talk, which is kind of like talking to yourself.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:14] Not just for crazy people anymore.
Melissa Dahl: [00:36:16] Not just for crazy people anymore. Endorsed by psychology is this idea that if you talk yourself in the third person, it's supposed to be kind of motivating. And when I read this, I was like, “Thank God because I do this anyway.” But I mean I kind of do it maybe more in the second person, but it's this idea of taking a little bit of distance from yourself and from the moment and encouraging yourself like you would a friend, you know, I do this kind of in when I'm running a half marathon or something like that, I'll just say like, you know, “Okay, you know, you can do it.”
Melissa Dahl: [00:36:49] You know, you can say they actually, what they really say is you should like, you talk in the third person. So you should say, “Melissa can do it”, which is a little intense. I think that's probably that's another way out of this awkwardness for text is taking a little bit of distance between -- between you and this third person. You, it's super helpful.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:09] So there's a lot of really cool exercises and practicals and little bits of application in here. And one that I feel like I accidentally invented due to my massively awkward childhood was the spotlight effect. And I would love if he would take us through this because this is a concept that I think many people probably know intuitively exists and yet it still feels like we're the only one that everyone remembers their awkward moment, so to take us through this.
Melissa Dahl: [00:37:39] This is this idea that the fewer people than we think are noticing our flaws, our embarrassing moments, our kind of screw ups -- it's this like really kind of entertaining little study where they had somebody kind of arrive late to an experiment and before they kind of shoved them in the room with these other study participants, they had them put on this like oversized tee shirt with Barry Manilow’s face on it. This had been like, you know, previously rated to be sufficiently scientifically embarrassing. So they threw in the room and then they were like, “Oh actually nevermind like you're going to come and do this”. And so they, then they took them out after being in there for a few minutes and everybody saw them walk in and everybody saw them walking in this big stupid tee shirt. And afterwards they asked them a bunch of questions to kind of disguise the one they're actually going at, which was how many people do you think will remember your shirt if we would ask them later?
[00:38:32] And they were like, “Oh my God, I'm sure like, you know, most people in the class, I'm sure would remember it. I came in late, I'm wearing this stupid t-shirt. And I'm sure most people remember.” So let's say they said, you know, “10 people remember”, and then they actually kind of surveyed the other folks in the classroom, you know, do you remember that that guy that walked in late? Do you remember the tee shirt he had on? And let's say that they said 12, only like three in reality actually remembered like a quarter of what they had guessed. So the point is they've just wildly misjudged how many people were paying attention to them. And this is like a really freeing concept for those of us who are overly self-conscious. I mean you don't want to like get too glib about it and just kind of say like, “Oh no one's paying attention to you.”
[00:39:20] Because people do notice like let's say in this scenario, three people noticed, but not as many people as you think.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:28] Just huge Barry Manilow fans.
Melissa Dahl: [00:39:30] Yeah, just like huge Barry Manilow fans. Exactly. Is he on tour? What's happening? There's fewer people notice than we think. And what I love about this too is I interviewed Thomas Gilovich at Cornell was the lead author on this study. And he told me that it grew out of his work on regret. And this is like such a cliche, people like post this on Pinterest and Instagram and stuff all the time. You know, 20 years from now you will regret the things you didn't do more than the things you did do. And it turns out that's true. According to his work, we regret inaction more than we regret action. So how those two things kind of dovetail is it's this idea that if the fear of looking dumb is what's holding you back, don't let that hold you back because nobody's looking at you. Nobody cares. A lot of this comes down to just no one is paying as close attention to us as we are. So…
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:26] My grandpa used to say, you spend the first 20 years of your life worried about what everyone else thinks about you. Then you spend the next 20 years of your life not caring what anybody else thinks about you. And then in the last 20 years of your life, you realize nobody was ever thinking about you.
Melissa Dahl: [00:40:42] Absolutely. Going back though, like, I don't want this message to like get out of control because it's like, I do think it matters sometimes like we were talking about what other people think of you that can be valuable information, but if you feel it to the extreme, this extreme degree like that I often have throughout my life, don't -- just please don't let that hold you back because as you said, most people just aren't even paying attention.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:08] And so there's an exercise that people don't believe us that we can take us through here. This taking a moment to remember your bestfriend’s embarrassing moments. Can you take us through this? Because I feel like people go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. No one's thinking about me.” And then they do this, they go out there and they go, “Actually, I'm still terrified.” Try this at home, Melissa, take us through this. Because this was really useful, especially for me because you can do this over and over and over with everybody you know, it never gets old.
Melissa Dahl: [00:41:35] Yeah. I mean as I was writing the spec, I just kind of conducted a thought experiment with myself and then I kind of included in the book, you know, just trying to remember my best friend from high school, like a really embarrassing moment of hers. And all I could remember were the embarrassing moments of mine where she was present and you know, like an embarrassing moment at like my first internship. And again, I could just remember mine and not my other, you know, good buddy there at the internship. Of course you do sometimes remember other people's awkward moments or embarrassing moments, but they're not the ones that are the clearest in your mind. They're not the ones that come back to haunt you later. You're not going to remember like, “Oh my gosh, in 10th grade, my friend did this.” Whereas I still do remember sometimes dumb things I did as a high schooler or certainly as a 20 something. But yeah, if you kind of do this little thought experiment, those embarrassing moments that come back to haunt you in the middle of the night, no one else is remembering them because, and you can kind of figure that out by just realizing how hard it is to dredge up someone else's embarrassing moment. So yeah, it's really reassuring.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:42] Jason remembers one of my embarrassing moments, thankfully I don't remember this and I think it's obvious why, Jason.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:42:49] Yeah, there was a time we went up for some cocktails in San Francisco and we tied one on and you tied maybe three on and on the way home we took an Uber pool and as we were getting out of the car, you yakked all down the side of the car door.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:03] I'm glad you remember that. And I'm really glad I don't remember that. I'm glad. Yeah.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:43:08] Jen was not happy. She was mortified.
Melissa Dahl: [00:43:12] Yeah. And of course, you know, it's basically like when things become the level of like they become a story, like my good friends back in Seattle, I live in New York now, but right after college I lived in Seattle and we have this big ridiculous crew where we had lots of things like that happen and so yeah, so people noticed embarrassing moments of mine, but they don't care about it as much as we care about it, I guess is the other thing to remember, you know, even if they do remember, they don't care about it that much. Like maybe they'll bring it up to tease you.
Jason DeFillippo: [00: 43:43] No, I was just like, this guy knows how to party. I'm in. Let's go out.
Melissa Dahl: [00:43:45] Yeah. Exactly, exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:47] Look at the end of the day scoreboard, Jen still married me so it couldn’t have been that bad, right? She still put a ring on it, so we're good. So yeah, try to remember three times your bestfriend in high school, embarrass themselves. Now try to remember three times you embarrassed yourself. You'll come up with 10 for yourself and maybe one or two for your bestfriend in high school. So if that's your bestfriend, the person that you barely knew or that some other sort of peripheral person, nobody knows. Nobody's ever thought about that except for you since then.
Melissa Dahl: [00:44:21] This was a couple of years ago, I went running in the morning and I'm not a morning person with my friend Marie, who is this just very chipper, cheerful early bird. And I don't know how this happened, but I literally ran into a lamppost as we were running.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:33] Oh I’ve done that too.
Melissa Dahl: [00:44:35] Really? Oh my God. And so she's read the book now and she told me the other day, she's like, “I mean, I vaguely remember that, but I don’t really remember that.” So I mean, that's just the moment that was kind of revealed to me in these last couple of weeks that like, I remember it so much and I included in this book and she was like, “I mean, I guess I remember that. I didn't think much of it.” So…
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:57] Yeah. And you're like, “I'm a really good actor because of course after I ran into a lamppost, I was like, I'm just goofing around. Yeah, I did that on purpose in some way.”
Melissa Dahl: [00:45:06] I can’t believe you did that too.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:09] Yeah, you're running and you're trying to look at the other person or like you're looking at a dog. It happened in Manhattan because one, there's a million people and there's like dog poo on the ground and stuff and you just have to, there's more stuff and cars and people and so yeah, you look away for one second and you slam into a newspaper thing or like a parking meter. Yep. And then you got to go, “I'm just being goofy. Good morning. I’m fine.”
Melissa Dahl: [00:45:36] I'm totally fine. Let's keep going.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:38] Yeah, exactly. Yeah. “Oh, there's a huge bruise on my pelvis.”
Melissa Dahl: [00:45:43] Wow! I love bruises. It's cool.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:45] Yeah, no, I love it. I totally did that on purpose. I've run into many, I've tried to walk through, thankfully. None, I guess shatterproof in retrospect, I tried to walk through those doors. You know, it's like summer, you've got this, the screen is off, and you slam into it and you leave a nice face print at a party and everyone sees it. Yeah. So speaking of reliving embarrassing memories, I think a lot of us do this too much and it causes what you've dubbed cringe attacks. Tell us what these are, because first of all, I have so many of these, I'm so glad other people have these, but how do we stop them? Because they're not really productive. They basically just make you feel dumb for a long period of time
Melissa Dahl: [00:46:29] And for no reason because as we were talking about it, you know, no one else is remembering these things. I thought I was the only person that this kind of happened to. And like I'll have an embarrassing memory come back to me and I feel it so strongly, I feel so embarrassed all over again. I literally will like shake my head or like, you know, like say out loud like, “No, no, no.” Or just do something like, “Oh how embarrassing.” I have these like, you know, just visceral reactions to it. And I thought I was the only person who that happened to until I started writing this book. And it happens to so many of us. And so I kind of wanted to find out why in hopes that that would help this stop. So there are a couple of things you can do.
[00:47:08] The reason why it's like a pretty simple explanation, if your brain just record or just hangs on to things like memories that are associated with strong emotions so it doesn't really matter what the emotion is, your brain is just like, “Oh gotcha! That must be important. I'll just hang onto that and then I'll just like throw it back at you later when it seems like an appropriate time.” that's the only reason I talk to some people who study memory and they just said that your brain just hangs on to memories that are associated with strong emotion. It doesn't really matter what that emotion is. I assumed it was negative emotions would take precedence over positive ones, but they said that's not necessarily true. It's just anytime you feel a strong emotion your brain just kind of was like, “Got it. Recording that. I'll just serve this back up to you whenever I think it's relevant.”
[00:48:00] So that's why these things come back to you. It is super not useful. It's so, but there are some ways to kind of lessen the pain that comes along with it because you know, this can really be hurtful for people who have serious social anxiety. They just are really kind of plagued by this and even people who have lower levels of social anxiety, which is like most of us. That sucks. So there was some research out a couple of years ago that said basically our instinct when these emotions when these memories come back is to kind of shut them down as quickly as possible and distract yourself and try to think about something else. But what is actually more useful to do is kind of stay in the moment. As painful as that is, but try to remember everything else you can remember about it.
[00:48:49] You know, who else was there, what did it look like, what time of day it was, what did it smell like, what it sounded like. And the idea is that, that is supposed to lessen the intensity of the pain. So that's one thing you can do. But the other thing that has really helped me, something I get cringe attacks a lot about, I've written online for the last decade or so, and some of the posts I've written are not great in quality. And so I just remember like, “Oh my God, I remember like I wrote this stupid post and it's just out there with my name on it.” You know, that happened actually as I was working on this chapter, I kind of took a break and walked around and just like remembered some dumb posts I wrote about Taylor Swift, just like, “Oh, that was so stupid.” And something that actually helps is to kind of just put yourself and that moment in it's proper place.
[00:49:42] By which I mean like don't tell yourself it wasn't embarrassing if it was, but just remind yourself that you are not the only person who has ever screwed up in this way. You're not the only person to have ever done it. So in particular, when I kind of feel sheepish about like a long ago blog posts I wrote, I just remind myself now, “Okay, everybody who has written online, everybody who writes for a living has things in their past they're not super proud of it or probably embarrassed by it.” And that's the only thing that has helped me. It’s kind of just like zooming out and putting yourself in this moment in it's proper place. Yes, it may be was embarrassing. Maybe it wasn't, but it probably wasn't the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to anybody. And it actually kind of unites me with this like community of other bloggers or people who have blogged in their past and we all feel this way. And so it's just kind of taking a wider view of yourself and seeing yourself as part of humanity as a whole. I know that sounds like really lofty and ridiculous, but that is what helps me just realizing you're not that big of a deal actually, that this isn't the most embarrassing thing to have ever happened to anybody. That really helps me.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:59] Exactly right. This is not televised for most of us. It's not something where people go, “Remember that guy?” And even now, I can't think of something that's been televised that was super embarrassing off the top of my head for somebody, unless it was like a scandal. And even then it's not like they got the clip, right? Then it's not this visceral thing. So one of the ways that most of us fight back against these cringe attacks where we sort of relive these awkward or embarrassing memories is we say to ourselves, or I say to myself, “Oh, well it wasn't that bad because of this, that, and the other thing.” But really that doesn't help because I just have to keep doing that every single time I think of this particular awkward situation or memory. So the research in Cringeworthy shows or seems to show that a little bit more self-compassion.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:45] If we acknowledge our flaws rather than trying to dismiss them or pretend like, “Well, that was somebody else's deal” or “that's not my problem”. Well basically when you feel inadequate or you feel super awkward or embarrassed, you can say, “Look, everyone has their moment that is this. Everyone has their puked-outside-the Uber-Pool-moment. It's just that mine happened to be that specific instance.” And there's, you know, there's a time when -- I'm trying to think of an embarrassing thing for somebody else that's not so gross that I can't share it on the show. And I'm drawing a blank, but those are the ones that stick out, right? It has to be something. Whenever I remember an embarrassing moment for someone else, it's so bad that it's something that I will remember for the rest of my life. And even then there's one or two in my entire 38 years on this earth that I can remember off the top of my head. And so once you start to slot yourself as in everyone has these, it just becomes something that you can kind of laugh at and go, “I do remember when I did that, I'm not that person anymore and that was not my finest moment. And everyone has a moment like that.”
Melissa Dahl: [00:52:51] Yeah. I started calling it the self-indifference, which is kind of like a line between self-love and self-esteem and self-hate. It's just kind of just being like, you know what? Like I think I defined it as like the relief of realizing you're just not that big of a deal, which is like really reassuring in a way. Just, that was not the most embarrassing thing to have ever happened to anybody that just means I am a human. We just discovered in this podcast that we both have run into lamp posts. You know, it's just these moments I guess though. But they're these moments that can be kind of just the proof that you're human and that's not so bad and yeah. So…
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:39] Well, perfect. I think what is cringeworthy often is to go back to ticket to take it home is when the version that we have of ourselves in our heads really is sort of forced to confront the version of ourselves that the world is actually seeing. So facing some sort of rejection or facing some sort of failure that our brain can't just rewrite. Because if we face some sort of rejection privately, I don't know what that would be because rejection is sort of inherently social, but if we have some sort of embarrassing thing happen and no one is there to see it, it's like a Zen koan, right? Does it? If you embarrassed the crap out of yourself and nobody else sees it, does it make a sound? Did it really happen? But the reason that cringing or awkwardness is inherently social in my opinion, is that the version of yourself that you have in your head is only really forced to confront the outside world of the version that everyone else is seeing.
[00:54:32] When there's somebody else there to see it, right? You puke in the back of a self-driving car, “Oops!” Right? But you puke in the back of a car with your fiance, one of your best friends, some random strangers who happen to take that UberPOOL, the driver, everyone's standing in the street in Chinatown. It's worse. It's an objectively worse, right? Because you like to say, “Look, I run a business, I host this intelligent talk show. I've got my shit together. Hold on, let me unroll the window partway, get my head stuck and then barf all over myself.” And that cognitive dissonance between that guy and the guy that I want to be in my head is there. There's quite a gap there and that is cringeworthy.
Melissa Dahl: [00:55:11] That is cringeworthy indeed. But one thing I did just want to say is I started this book, it's a feeling that's driven me crazy for as long as I can remember. And the entire point of the book was supposed to be avoiding the feeling that is even literally written in the book contract I have with Penguin Random House. It's supposed to be about like overcoming the feeling or avoiding it and by the end, I just sort of became almost like desperate for these moments. I love these moments. They're so funny. They're just these little, you know, if we talked a lot about like self-presentation and the show we're all putting on for each other and it's like these little moments are just these little times when our humanity kind of sneaks through and I love it when I see it in other people and I try to just kind of, you know, be kind and not laugh at them, but just kind of -- it's endearing. If these moments are, and they make me laugh and they can really just connect you to someone else to me now. I will always remember about you that you also ran into lamp posts while you go running.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:14] That's why I don't run. It’s dangerous.
Melissa Dahl: [00:56:16] Yeah, agreed. Agreed. It's just this feeling I would never actually want to lose. It's just this, the book kind of became like a celebration of just the absurdity of the human experience.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:29] This is a fun episode. She's really personable. I can definitely see how somebody as geeky as her -- and I mean that in the most loving way possible -- would really be interested in the things that make us feel awkward and embarrassed and in turn connected. Really.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:56:44] I love this episode and I think my biggest takeaway is, you know, we're just not that important. You know, people don't really remember the things that we do, like running into lightposts and your case may be yakking on an Uber, but at the end of the day, we're just getting through and those moments really kind of make us who we are and we can all get around that feeling.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:05] Yeah. And I love the practicals. Look, this is how you reframe embarrassment or this is how you reframe awkwardness or this is why this is important and this is what makes you human and look, this is how you cannot be scared shitless to speak on stage. I mean these are useful techniques, useful practicals, and a useful discussion. Great big thank you to Melissa. The book title is Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness. It's a great read. I really enjoyed this one and if you enjoyed this, don't forget to thank Melissa on Twitter. That'll be linked up in the show notes for this episode, which can always be found at JordanHarbinger.com/podcast and tweet at me your number one takeaway here from Melissa. I'm @JordanHarbinger on Twitter and on Instagram also @JordanHarbinger. Don't forget, we've got the worksheets for today's episode so you can make sure you really understand all the key takeaways and practicals from Melissa Dahl that link,
[00:57:53] As always, in the show notes at JordanHarbinger.com/podcast. This episode was produced and edited by Jason DeFillippo. Show notes by Robert Fogarty, booking back office and last minute miracles by Jen Harbinger. And I'm your host, Jordan Harbinger. Review us in iTunes. Rate us. These are very helpful. Now that we're re-launching the show, and if you're not subscribed, but you just found this show, well, lucky you, today's your lucky day. Go to JordanHarbinger.com/subscribe. It'll show you how to connect with us in pretty much every way imaginable, and it'll show you how to write a review for us in iTunes. In the meantime, share the show with those you love, and even those you don't, because we've got lots of more like this in the pipeline and we're excited to bring it to you. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show so you can live what you listen and we'll see you next time.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.