Todd Kashdan (@toddkashdan) is a Professor of Psychology and Senior Scientist at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University and co-author of The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self — Not Just Your “Good” Self — Drives Success and Fulfillment.

What We Discuss with Todd Kashdan:

  • Why trying to be positive and happy all the time may be harming your ability to get things done and achieve the results you want.
  • How what you may think of as negative emotions — like anger — can be useful superpowers with the proper awareness and application.
  • The problem with living in a time and place when distraction from discomfort comes in an easier and greater variety than ever before.
  • Why every decision you make now is based on how you expect to feel in the future — and you probably underestimate your ability to tolerate distress.
  • How you can use the discomfort caveat to ease out of the “put on a happy face” rut around others.
  • And much more…

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Most of us listening to this podcast are lucky enough to live in a time and place where soothing ourselves with distraction as an alternative to feeling uncomfortable in any way is easier than ever. It might sound like a utopian dream come true, but is it healthy?

The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self — Not Just Your “Good” Self — Drives Success and Fulfillment co-author and clinical psychologist Todd Kashdan joins us to explain why we’re doing ourselves a disservice by not only avoiding uncomfortable situations but neglecting the development of a useful toolbox in the process. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

Please Scroll down for Full Show Notes and Featured Resources!

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More About This Show

If you’re a writer, it’s unlikely you’d tackle any serious project on the condition that you could only use words from half of the dictionary — even if you could choose the half ahead of time. Doubtless you’d eventually run into an instance where you could perfectly convey a concept if only you had access to the forbidden half. It would be a frustrating exercise ending with half-baked results.

We as human beings often go through life on the misguided advice to, as the old song goes, accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative from our attitudes if we want good things to come our way. But as Todd Kashdan, Professor of Psychology and Senior Scientist at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University and co-author of The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self — Not Just Your “Good” Self — Drives Success and Fulfillment explains, we rob ourselves of wholeness when we concentrate on showing only one side of ourselves to the world. In other words, we’re trying to write our story with only half of the dictionary.

The Whole Truth

“Wholeness is the ability to access all the psychological resources at your disposal for the variety of situations that you’re going to handle,” says Todd. “The basic thesis that (The Upside of Your Dark Side co-author) Robert and I have is that all of us prematurely rule out really valuable psychological tools, tactics, social relationships, and experiences because they make us feel uncomfortable. And because of that, we’re at a market disadvantage in life for all the things we’re looking for.

“Happiness, creativity, meaning in life, love — you name the outcome — the inability to withstand frustration, physical discomfort, and emotional distress makes you physiologically and psychologically weaker.”

To Todd, even anger and embarrassment can be harnessed into superpowers under the right circumstances.

“You can think of anger as a courage enhancer,” Todd says. “If you feel that someone is stepping in your way and obstructing your goals, the experience of anger motivates you to take a step forward as opposed to a step back. But anger in and of itself is definitely a psychological tool that is incredibly valuable for a number of reasons.”

Psychological Flexibility

The ability to pursue what we care most about despite the presence of pain is what Todd calls psychological flexibility, and it’s a concept that probably doesn’t surprise anyone who’s had any amount of success in life. Growth doesn’t come without some level of discomfort, and understanding how to get comfortable with the uncomfortable is a cornerstone to making any real progress from where we are to where we want to be.

“When people think about what is the number one strategy for you to acquire higher performance, creativity at work, higher happiness, engagement, meaning in life, and healthy, romantic relationships and friendships, probably what I would argue — that the 15 years of science will tell you — is this skillset, this ability to have uncomfortable thoughts and feelings and still be able to move towards goals that you actually care about that are aligned with your values, your interests, what’s meaningful to you, this is the gem,” says Todd. “It accounts for profound amount of variance in explaining the things that we care about and the things that organizations care about.”

Here in the United States — and it might be safe to say in most prosperous western countries — we tend to actively avoid discomfort whenever possible, preferring instead to soothe ourselves by any number of available distractions. While avoiding discomfort may be a natural instinct for any human being, we’re in a place and time when distraction comes in an easier and greater variety than ever before.

Instead, Todd says you should be “accepting that this is part of your evolutionary birthright to be a fully optimized human being in a volatile, uncertain world.”

Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about how getting acclimated to and growing from discomfort is akin to putting ourselves through physical exertion to get stronger and be able to withstand even more punishment when it comes our way, why every decision we make now is based on how we expect to feel in the future, how we underestimate our ability to tolerate distress, how anger can be useful in the right increments, how we can use the discomfort caveat to ease out of the “put on a happy face” rut around others, creative ways to harness the wholeness of our emotions without labeling them as positive or negative, the importance of distinguishing between guilt and shame, why mild discontent may serve us much better than happiness, and lots more.

THANKS, TODD KASHDAN!

If you enjoyed this session with Todd Kashdan, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:

Click here to thank Todd Kashdan at Twitter!

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And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at [email protected].

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