We are self-deception machines that employ altruism, conversation, and kindness to show off.
Learn about the hardwiring of humans for social and reproductive signalling. In other words, we are programmed to seek out social status.
The elephant in the brain is the colloquial term for the collection of dark, yet obvious, motives of homo sapiens. The Elephant in the brain is also a book written by two psychologists that explores the hidden motives for human behaviour… most of which are about reproduction.
Here’s an example of the elephant in the brain in action:
We like to think we are doing things for others, but really we’re doing things to signal that we are a worthy ally to others.
Studying the elephant has shifted my paradigm on human behavior. It has stopped me from deceiving myself. It has helped me cultivate self-compassion for when I engage in selfish behavior.
In the book, they offer analogies to describe the three segments of our brains: The Rider, the Elephant, and the Path.
The Rider is the conscious mind. It makes slow, thoughtful decisions. It is lazy and depletable. It requires effort to engage.
The Elephant is the unconscious mind. It makes automatic quick decisions. It is where the evolutionary programs live. It is socially and sexually hardwired. Motives under the elephant are often subconscious.
The Path is the environment. It is the choice infrastructure: the external situation that makes some choices hard and some easy. The path ‘nudges’ to make certain decisions. In a really significant way according to behavioural economists. When the path is controlling us, we stick to the default option. We do not opt for another choice.
Another analogy described in the book is the idea of the press secretary. We think we are the president, but really this is our unconscious mind. The press secretary of the president is the conscious mind.
Here are my insights and upgrades from the book.
We, human beings, are a species that’s not only capable of acting on hidden motives — we’re designed to do it.
We are designed to conceal egoism.
Appearing egoistic in front of others is damaging. It reduces social trust. So, the elephant hides our egoistic behaviours. It deceives us into thinking we are being altruistic, when really we’re trying to raise our social status.
The elephant conceals selfish behaviours with noble ones.
My Application — Look for the selfish motives in others altruistic motives. Be cautious with others’ selfless acts. Not everyone is truly giving without expectation of anything in return.
Social norms exist to punish uncooperative behavior.
Following social norms promotes survival. It promotes trustworthiness. Following social norms is a social signal that you’re a part of the group.
An example of the protective mechanism of social norms exists with violence. Social ostracization results from harming or betraying another human. The consequence of being isolated is far greater than the potential revenge of the person being harmed.
The risk of being ostracized as a result of transgressing a social norm encourages people to behave — it encourages people to not harm others through violence, stealing, cheating, etc.
My application — Carefully select the social norms you wish to transgress. Weigh the risk and reward.
Enlightened self-interests are interests we should aspire to adopt.
This is the term that the authors give to pursuits that are selfish, but via altruism and prosociality. A great example is philanthropy or volunteering.
My application — Adopt a service-mindset. Help others become better. Instead of competing, cooperate. Become the resource to which all others rely. This will raise your social status.
Signals are demonstrations that you are worthy of allyship or sex.
Without illustrating your virtues, they are worthless.
Signals are outward social behaviours designed to show off your fitness for allyship or reproduction. One example of a signal is our work ethic. It goes up when others are around.
Modern day signals involve our digital lives — Facebook and Instagram are just amplifiers of signals. When we share how great we are, more people want to be are friend or have sex with us.
We must accept that status-seeking is hardwired into humanhood.
There are two forms of social status: 1. dominance and 2. prestige.
Prestige signalling involves showing off expensive things, either financially or energetically. Expensiveness is defined here in terms of resource-intensity. A peacock has a very expensive tail because it is a burden to them.
Dominance signalling involves showing off one’s capacity protect one’s position in the social hierarchy, which determines one’s access to reproduction. Dominance is gained through greater capacity for aggressiveness and competitiveness.
In everyday life, there are dozens of signals.
Body language: Laughter, eye contact, and physical mirroring are all means to build rapport and gain allyship with others.
Conversation: Knowledge sharing is a means to show off how many tools we have in our backpack.
Consumption: We show off what we consume to illustrate who we are and how many resources we have.
Education: Getting a degree or certificate has less to do with competency than it has to do with displaying credibility.
Beauty: We embellish ourselves to show off our reproductive potential and dominance status (for men).
Studying the elephant has led me to lower my expectations on the average human. I don’t want to expect them to be altruistic, because I will be let down.
This book has also given me a framework for having compassion for others selfish pursuits — we are all guilty of misleading others because we mislead ourselves.
In one sentence, if I were to summarize the harsh conclusions of the book:
The elephant is selfish and almost all of its actions are intended to promote survival and allyship with our kin.
Learn why you should never lie. It does more harm to you than you think.
Lying is a choice to not cooperate with others. I have decided to stop lying. Let me give you some reasons why you should too.
Doesn’t it feel horrible to lie? Yes, it does, it haunts us for the rest of our lives sometimes.
When we lie, we refuse to give someone a clear picture of reality. When we offer false encouragement, we do the same. When we try to prevent our loved ones from experiencing disappointment or embarrassment, we are putting a band-aid on the issue. Down the line, our lies eventually surface and lead to more harm than if we had just been honest.
Do you want to be regarded as trustworthy? Do you want to be regarded as someone who offers unbiased feedback? Do you want people to trust your word? I want that. I want people to take me seriously. I do not want to be the boy who cried wolf.
When we lie, we program others to ignore our word. We give people bad expectations about ourselves. “Jacques won’t show up. Jacques won’t fulfill his commitment. Jacques is manipulating me.” I never want people to gossip like this about me. So, I pledge to stop lying.
My pledge was an outcome of reading an essay, Lying by Sam Harris. Here are my takeaways and how I am applying them to my life.
Truthfulness is different from fact-fulness. Truthfulness is a trait characterized by the intent to communicate with honesty. To be truthful is to communicate your reality — what you know and feel. To be factful is to communicate an objective reality determined by science.
Truthfulness is a virtue. It’s a sign that you want to invest in a relationship. It’s a sign of respect: This person deserves to know my truth.
When you lie, it actually increases your deprecation of others. It conditions you to dehumanize others; ‘they don’t deserve the truth.’ When you lie, you are exercising the wrong muscle — cynicism.
When you lie to another human, you categorize them differently than how you categorize yourself. You deserve the truth but others don’t.
Omission and Comission
There are two forms of lying. White lies, and blatant lies. White lies are when you knowingly exclude or omit information. Ex: False encouragement. When we make white lies, we undermine our friends’ clarity of reality. We protect their inaccurate picture of reality. We protect them from discomfort.
Lying by omission has an energy problem. It takes physical energy to step up and take the responsibility to communicate honestly with others. In some cases, it will just not be worth the potential conflict. Imagine telling people what you actually think about them all the time. That would be exhausting.
Avoiding blatant lies is a lot easier. These are lies that are committed. This is deception — when you knowingly give someone inaccurate information. These lies are active. Whereas, white lies are passive.
My application: I avoid lying by omission in relationships that really matter to me, and in high-stakes situations. I do not lie by commission.
It takes effort to track your lies. There is a heaviness to reflecting on the past so that your actions are aligned with your lies. To keep your lies from being discovered, mental accounting is required. Mental accounting drives you out of authenticity — you always have to be thinking about whether your actions will reveal your lies.
Summary: Liars must keep track of their past so that they are not found out in the future.
Those are the main ideas from the essay. In one sentence, lying is a refusal to cooperate with others; a recoil from a relationship.
Moving forward, I intend to adopt the following behaviour changes.
— Do not lie to others in front of others.
— Do not lie by commission.
— Do not falsely encourage others when you think it’s a horrible choice.
Let’s get serious — I have collected a few principles for thriving.
This document is categorized into four: expectations, principles, algorithms, and beliefs. Algorithms are specific actions that are taken under a specific set of circumstances. Principles are broader categories of actions. Beliefs are cognitive and pertain to how I perceive the world.
Love is the ability to see another’s perspective. Wisdom is the ability to let go of all your perspectives. Power is the ability to get others to see your perspective.
Expectations about the world
I expect things to go wrong, to not go as planned.
I do not expect others to keep their promises.
I do not expect others to be non-conformist, independent thinkers.
I do not expert others to have an organizational system and calendar.
I’m tired of being frustrated that most humans are zombies. They soak in their Netflix and follow the prescribed social norms. I realize that this is how the world is designed. The hyper-capitalist world we inhabit has programmed people this way.
I do not expect others to be present-minded.
I do not expect others to be conscious.
I do not expect others to be psychologically stable and calm.
Here’s why I am an advocate for having low expectations for others: happiness. When you expect others to act consciously, you don’t get your hopes up. Consistently, I have been let down. I have been left out. I have felt alone. No one reaches out to me. This is the lonely journey of being a giver. You are rare. Most humans do not give, do not create experiences for others. It’s unfortunate, but true.
Beliefs about myself
I have limitless self-control.
I have complete control over my body and mind.
I have no control over the moment.
I have control over outcomes over time.
Beliefs about others
Everyone is doing their best with the best available information and cognitive capacities they possess
Humans are quite sensitive and defensive.
Everyone is my coach for enlightenment.
Malice can often be attributed to mere incompetence.
Other people are allies, not obstacles, to my success.
Potential contact is always there for all individuals.
I pick up the trash of my guests.
As a facilitator and practitioner of service-based leadership, I make it visible that I am here to serve. I take pleasure in raising the rapport of those around me. I make it known that I am below my constituents.
I change my situation, not my willpower.
I know that relying on willpower is a short-term and exhausting play. Changing the situation such that there are no temptations, such that the default path takes you to success is much more powerful.
I apply buffers.
Expecting that things will not go as planned, I apply buffers. I have reserves. I have cushions in my schedule but also in my resources. I pay attention to the planning fallacy, so I plan accordingly.
I have no demands on the moment.
However the moment evolves is ok with me. Because I have no expectations, whenever something goes wrong, it does not affect me mentally. whenever I feel frustration with the moment, I remind myself of this.
I avoid the fundamental attribution error.
I know that there are more multiples invisible reasons, which go beyond one’s character, that explain unfortunate events or harms.
I do not attach to influencing how people behave.
When we attach ourselves to having influence over someone, we lose the influence. When we apply force, we become powerless. When we push, people push back. This principle is also related to the reasons why I avoid convincing and recruiting people. Instead, I let their passion come forth naturally.
I am virtue-finding instead of fault-finding.
Humans are fallible, fragile creatures. They are also filled with love and expression. When I look for virtues, I will find them. When I look for faults, I will find them in everyone. I choose to search for the virtues and focus my attention on the beautiful parts of human nature. I want to bring out virtues in others. Until they show me they are not worthy of my trust, I will find and recognize their virtues.
I am curious by default.
When my body starts to feel resistance. When I have an urge to disagree, I default to curiosity. I seek out more information. I broaden my mind and learn more. I diverge. I do not jump to conclusions. I do not act on being triggered. I take a walk.
I take action before I am 100% ready.
The truth is, I’ll never be 100% ready to do anything. Waiting to be ready is a perfectionist’s action. Learning occurs when you are not ready. When you are challenging yourself.
I focus on the 1 percent that leads to 99 percent of the results.
This is simply the Pareto principle, over and over again. The tasks that i focus on are what I call system-amplifiers. They are about creating systems of automation, outsourcing, and employment.
I practice coachability.
This one trait encompasses forgoing being right, de-escalating conflict, absorbing destructive or constructive feedback, and seeing the bull-shit of others as teachers.
I make others look good.
This is about raising the face of others, giving them credit, introducing them fancily, and continually complimenting them meaningfully. I give others the spotlight so that they can become successful.
I seek the truth however much it hurts.
Seeking the truth is about embracing bad news. It’s about going outside your perspective and forecasting the worst-case scenario. It’s about embracing a little healthy pessimism.
I say no by default.
I think things through before saying yes. This ensures that what I am saying yes to is a Fuck Yes. Saying no gives my body the time to be aware of itself.
I speak with a high signal-to-noise ratio.
This world is saturated with ramblers. They say the same thing over and over again multiples times. This programs others to not listen to them intently. I want everything that comes out of my mouth to be highly valuable and succinct.
I celebrate to motivate myself.
Too often we celebrate only at the end. When we break down milestones into smaller steps, we can use celebration as a source of motivation forward. This also applies to when I complete a task that required a lot of willpower, such as a new habit.
I diverge and then converge.
Before making conclusions, i take the outside view. I broaden my perspective. I seek out new information. Once i have collected the relevant statistics, i make an informed choice.
I have faith but confront reality.
Humans are naturally optimists, due to the confirmation bias and our narrow view on the world. Confronting reality is about being a wide-eyed realist. Having faith is about being belief-driven. Knowing that suffering is temporary and that consistency is the greatest determinant of success.
I motivate myself intrinsically and integratedly.
This is about finding the enjoyment in the activities you dread. It’s about re-programming yourself to enjoy an experience, or pivoting to an alternative activity that you do enjoy. Integration is about identification. When we integrate a behaviour or goal into our identity, we are much more likely to be motivated to pursue it.
I have no destination.
The moment is the end. The moment is the end. Meaning, the moment is all we have and when we focus on it, when we focus on the means, the end comes naturally.
I take calculated risks.
I make decisions consciously and slowly. I consider the outside view. I brainstorm what i may not know. I calculate the likelihood of different scenarios.
I embrace intelligent failures.
Intelligent failures are failures resulting from calculated risks. Resulting from experiments that were well thought out and had risk. Preventable failures, i do not celebrate.
I boost others’ sense of autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
(1) Autonomy — the desire to direct our own lives; (2) Mastery — the urge to get better and better at something that matters; and (3) Purpose — the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.
I recognize more than I criticize, at a ratio of 6:1.
Due to the negativity bias, we need much more praise to offset any criticism.
I present solutions.
Before presenting problems to others, I try to figure out the solution on my own. Often, with just a double-check, I will solve the problem. When we ask questions, where the answer is readily available if we had just looked it up, it illustrates to others that we are incompetent. Look before asking. Don’t just ask. although encouraging people to ask for help is great leadership, we must be cautious to not encourage dumb questions. Dumb question-asking is an act of giving up one’s independent thinking ability.
I source my self-esteem from my progress, purpose, and people.
This is in contrast to focusing on winning instead. The comparative analysis kills joy. It raises our expectations for how we should be living.
I unconditionally accept others.
This means I do not wish that they change. I make suggestions, but I love them regardless of whether they heed my suggestions. I do not resent the people who choose not to evolve. I distance.
I do what I say and say what I mean.
Nothing comes out of my mouth without a commitment to myself and my action. I do not want to be the boy who cried wolf. People adapt gradually to what you say. If generally, what you say is trustworthy, they will see your word as the word of Christ.
I favour the process over the outcome.
Process orientation aligns with the logic that “the moment is the end.” The outcome usually depends on luck. However, when we focus on the process over and over again, the influence of luck dissipates. Life is better when we enjoy the process.
I specify when and where I will do something.
The more specific I can get with my commitment, the more likely it is I will succeed. This principle mandates the use of rigorous scheduling systems.
I say thank you 20 times per day.
I practice gratitude in many ways. But, this way is simple. I say thank you when people do things for me, small or large. When someone fills me with joy, when someone calls me, when someone invites me. I find reasons to thank and recognize the generosity of others.
I spend my weirdness points wisely.
i don’t spend my weirdness points on lookism. I am wise with how I decide to spend them. If I look different, and think different, people will be less likely to be open to my thoughts than if I just thought different.
I spend my money on creating experiences for others.
If there is one principle in this essay that is most correlated with my happiness, it is this one. I live and breathe bringing people together. This is how I want to spend my money. Good company is worth all my money.
I live unrushedly.
Luxury is the privilege of not having to rush. Most of my poor decisions have resulted from too fast of a pace. Slowing down the pace of my decision-making and relationship building has proven effective for long-term thinking.
I identify root causes, not villains.
Often, beneath the villain, there is a cause. Often, the cause is not a human. It is a choice architecture or a system. The sleepy pilot is not at fault. So, when someone makes a horrible mistake, I look for the underlying system or lack of one thereof. Consider the time you crashed your father’s car, Jacques.
I think on a multidimensional spectrum (non-binary).
People are unique. Situations are nuanced. Consider the human body. Gut bacteria can cause depression. If I spend more time identifying the nuances, I get closer to actual reality.
I respond with I don’t know.
Knowledge is constantly evolving. To claim that you know something is to deny the fact that things are impermanent. Appreciating your own ignorance and collecting more data is a good approach to decision-making.
I do not delay crucial conversations.
Lying is the opposite of embracing crucial conversations. These conversations take place because I want to cooperate with others. I want people to regard me as someone who tells the truth in an empowering way. Empowerment feedback is the type of feedback that I practice.
I trust myself because I am accountable to myself.
In David Goggins book, he talks about the accountability mirror. This is his method for holding himself accountable. He asks himself in the mirror, ‘are you one to do that? Are you trustworthy?’ He embraces the reality of his integrity. Although social pressure is stronger by default, relying on others for accountability is weaker than relying on yourself. Your mind. Your voice.
I do what I can do with stamina.
Stamina is the greatest predictor of success. By nature of the compound effect, when an action is repeated consistently over time, luck and chance circumstances fade into the background. It is inevitable that a behaviour will achieve a result if repeated infinitely.
I dig beyond the opinion.
Beneath every opinion, there is a human experience. Humans have opinions because of their experiences. once we identify the experiences, we have a lot more patience in understanding one’s (potentially alien) opinions. It would make sense for someone to believe in conspiracies if their parents had been wronged by the justice system.
I make it fun to make it consistent.
I tap into intrinsic motivation to keep my habit and project engines churning. When we sincerely enjoy the journey, the activity no longer requires motivation. We look forward to doing it. Finding a means to enjoy or gamify monotonous tasks is one of my favourite life hacks.
I do not manufacture consent.
Manufacturing consent is about pressuring or manipulating people into doing something that they really wouldn’t want to do if they were left to themselves. The opposite of this is to allow people to be attracted to your project, community, or just YOU.
When judging whether to trust an expert, I evaluate whether they have skin in the game.
If someone is eager to say something, I implore them to share it and validate them.
When someone shares good news with me, I practice active constructive responding.
Recently, I gave up on a few friends. Then, I realized I was mistaken.
Recently, I gave up on a few friends. Then, I realized I deluded myself.
The story of being human: Telling yourself a story and then realizing it was a false reality. This was my recent experience leaving an accountability group I had started 8 months prior.
This article will offer you dozens of perspectives on maintaining transparent, nourishing relationships. I will share a personal account of the greatest ostracization I have experienced in my life — worse than the time some influencers didn’t like me at a music festival in the Alpes.
Ready to learn about healthy, reciprocal friendships?
I was meditating in a float tank. Some uncomfortable thoughts kept coming into my head. “Do my friends actually care about my mission? Would they reach out if I did not reach out to them?” This last question stung. I didn’t feel like they would. I knew they were busy. I knew they had lives. But I also knew that my relationships with them would die if I did not put the fuel on the fire.
The next thought: “What relationships should I be focusing on?” The answer immediately came to mind. Deep, reciprocal ones, where I feel empowered. And the ones that directly support my life mission.
In that float tank, I realized how often I felt ignored by my friends. I decided to leave the weekly accountability group I had started 8 months earlier. The accountability group was comprised of my “best friends.” But after all of them left my movement (or so I thought), called VYVE, I realized, that my definition of best friend differed from theirs.
I sent them a letter a day after one of the best meetings of my life. Hosted at the beach, in the sun. We danced, laughed, and meditated.
Yesterday, in my float tank, I was reflecting on my relationships and all the groups I am a part of. During periods of my float, I was not comfortable.
Recently, I have learnt how to dissolve my expectations on my relationships — To completely release the pressure I put on them to be a certain way. I have realized that I applied pressure on a lot of relationships, on all of you, and certainly on this group.
This learning process was difficult. But my hero dose did it for me. It taught me how to surrender to the evolution of my relationships and peer groups.
This process has led me to a difficult realization: I am way too overloaded with personal growth groups. I need to take a step back and chill, take off the throttle on my relationships.
With the prelaunch of VYVE attracting more people than I anticipated, I have made the hard decision to leave this group, to prioritize the three new groups I have with the new VYVE cohort.
I will always be including you in the experiences I create. I love all of you. I know you will understand my decision. I also know that this group will get stronger and stronger, regardless of who’s in it.”
I soon learnt that I had divorced my wife over text. Not a good move. It was shocking to all of them. Uncalled for. This was my first mistake. I did not honour the group. Nor did I explain fully why I left.
In the wake of this message, two of them reached out to better understand why I left. The largest factor was that I had started three other accountability groups related to my community, VYVE. I needed to spend more time nourishing them. The other factor was more complicated.
Do you pay attention to actions or words?
Throughout 2021, I observed a pattern in my relationships with the men in the accountability group. They’d often not return my calls. They would ignore my texts. They would never reach out. I wondered if it was me.
I took the actions to mean more than the words. Even though I had reached out to them earlier to check in with our relationship, I knew the actions spoke louder. They would forget to invest in me if I took the gas off. That was an accurate conclusion, but it didn’t mean anything about the depth or longevity of the friendship.
The story I was telling myself was that they didn’t care about their relationship with me. I was wrong. They did. They were just stressed and dealing with their own stuff. After a long call with one of my earliest friends, I got the message.
Friendships transcend regularity of contact.
My friend Brad explained it well. He showed me that the depth of a friendship does not depend on the frequency of contact. Friendships evolve in form, but not in-depth. I was feeling excluded because I felt that my friends didn’t want to see me. I realized that the lack of reaching out or reciprocal contact had nothing to say about the depth or caring of the relationship.
They were still there for me.
Brad told me that there were many alternative explanations for why my friends were neglecting me. Here are some he mentioned.
They want to hang out with me casually, but I always invite them to events and parties that they’re not really into.
I always reach out to them about my project, instead of our friendship.
They are not in any position to host events and invite me to them.
They often get swamped by their communication channels, because they are busy people.
My biggest takeaway from the phone call — sometimes, people really do care. They just don’t show it. They will only show it when you really need them. They are there for you, but the relationships themselves are low-touch. Whether a relationship is high-touch or low-touch is the form. The depth is experienced in the moment.
When I am in the moment with my friends like Brad, I feel like I am their best friend. That’s what matters more than whether or not they reach out.
The quality of the shared moment defines a friendship. Not what happens outside of that, such as text communication or invitations.
I was placing too much of an emphasis on the technical details of the friendships. I was keeping score in other words. Keeping score is when you pay attention to whether your actions are reciprocated. It goes hand in hand with giving with an expectation of return. Keeping score is not fun. Often, the availability bias results in skewed judgements about the score. We miss what really matters in a ‘friendship score’: the quality of company.
Keeping score goes against one of my core beliefs. Company is valuable. I would pay for the company of my best friends. And so anytime they show up for me is an added bonus. I do not need them to reach out to me or invite me to something.
Keeping score is a cognitive process. It occurs in the head. Thinking about relationships and how imperfect they are will lead to disaster. Instead, I opt to think as little as possible about my friendships. I would rather evaluate the quality of the shared company, in the moment. Again, here it is again.
It’s not what you think about them. It’s how you feel in the moment with them.
What I aspire to do, is evaluate all my relationships based on the quality and depth of the company the last time I was present with them. I do not want to make global assumptions about a relationship because they didn’t return a call or text. Or they decided to leave my community.
I have learnt to measure the friendship score based on how often my friends call me out on my biases and tunnel vision, and how I feel when I am in their presence.
Was my story wrong? Yes. Was I defining friendship in a flawed way? Yes. Was my feeling of exclusion based on reality? Probably not.
Unfortunately, the story is more complicated. In the week after my departure from the group, the above answers were questioned. I found out my sense of exclusion was based in reality and it did objectively redefine my friendships.
A week after leaving the accountability, I had my best friend reach out to me to borrow my speaker. He was hosting a retreat. My thought: “Hmmmmm. A retreat. Where? With who? Am I invited?” I intentionally held off. There must be a good reason why I was not invited. Maybe it was with a new group. Maybe it was not my vibe.
Then. I learnt that all my best friends had been invited. Every. Single. One. Ouch. You think a best friend would communicate why you were left out, hey? No. Instead, he asked me to use my sound system. And so I did.
Because I love empowering people to host dance parties. Anytime. Anywhere.
The action of leaving me out spoke louder than any word. My vibe was not welcome at this event. Message received. Friendship redefined. But being excluded was not what redefined the relationship. It was the excuses.
After speaking with my best friend on the phone, he made a dozen excuses. It wasn’t my event. It was only for these people. It was not for your vibe. I am so thankful he showed me what he meant to say through his word — your vibe, Jacques, is just not appreciated here.
Go where you are celebrated. Not tolerated.
I have completely let go of this relationship. I have taken the throttle off entirely. Of course, it is still a very deep relationship. This friend and I have shared some of the best moments of my life. We had gone on the craziest adventures together.
It was not being excluded which hurt. It was what this friend’s actions said about our relationship.
CHECKPOINT. Is this story I am telling myself correct?
After speaking to my other best friends and stress-testing my story, they all told me that the situation was fucked up. So, sometimes, friendships may be deep in the moment. But, this does not mean you should not pay attention to the actions, which often speak louder than words.
My friend’s actions told me an important message — Jacques’ vibe is not welcome here.
I do not want to be a friend whose actions don’t align with their words. I want to tell my friends exactly why I am leaving them out. I want to tell them exactly why I haven’t been able to respond to them. I want to give my friends a story to tell themselves which is accurate. I want to tell my friends that they are celebrated. That I do care for them.
Leaving the accountability group and then getting excluded from a retreat hosted by my ‘best friends’ showed me how I want to show up in my relationships. I want to be the greatest source of empowerment. I want to be there, reminding them of their power. I want to be their unbiased guide. I want to love them with critique and communication.
This has been a blessing. I have been blessed with great realizations.
I want to show up differently in my relationships.
Low-touch relationships can still be deep and nourishing.
Don’t think about friendships. Feel them.
Moving forward, I am going to keep less score for one thing. I am going to catch myself when I am thinking of relationships.
Lastly, I am going to continue to live and breathe the 10:1 Lifestyle — if you are not reaching out to your friends ten times more than they are reaching out to you, then you can be a more empowering friend.
I am personally addicted to empowering my friends.
Creativity and determination were applied to create a “best night of my life” moment.
In the night, in the neighbourhood of Kitsilano, Vancouver Canada, I crept up on the patio of a stranger. I knocked on their door.
At another house, I pressed the buzzer. Three times.
Yet another, I went into their backyard.
One party scientist wearing a hazmat suit, on a mission to spread love, hope, and laughs.
It was uncomfortable. It was intrusive. It was controversial. But I knew that my efforts were rooted in good intentions. I knew that the people living in the house would appreciate the surprise me and my 7 close friends had in store for them. We had been rehearsing.
Welcome to Halloween in a pandemic.
This year, my creativity was tested. My co-founders and I, all party scientists and thrill-seekers at heart, asked ourselves: How can we bring the good vibes to the city while following public health guidelines?
In Vancouver, there is a limit of 6 people you can have in your household. So there were no house parties planned. Given the restrictions, Halloween was pretty much cancelled. A normal person would have accepted this and put on a spooky movie in the safety of their own home.
My squad, on the other hand, we had different plans.
After pondering the question for some time, one of my co-founders had the golden idea.
We rented a mini-van, got 6 of our best friends dressed in hazmat suits and masks, and we hit the road. It was time to distribute some love letters while performing a very special dance for unsuspecting families.
Michael Jackson’s Thriller. We called it the reverse trick or treat!
We met at WeWork, adorned our hazmat suits, and wrote the love letters. I picked up the minivan, and we all jumped in, singing songs on the way to the first (random) neighbourhood.
I went to the decorated house, knocked on the door, and pressed play on Thriller. Meanwhile, all my friends jumped out of the mini van and launched themselves onto the street, face down, dead, like zombies. Then, we slowly twitched upward and thrilled our observers.
Five houses later, our mission was accomplished. A 100% success rate. Everyone we handed a love letter to was filled with hope. People were doing the thriller with us from their balconies. Someone gifted us a box of chocolates. A group of teenagers joined our dance and sang with us in the street.
Our success illustrated a few realities of being human.
First, we exaggerate the risk of socially edgy activities.
“Nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it.” What this means is that when humans are thinking, they exaggerate the importance of what they’re thinking about. This is called the focusing illusion. When we think of uncommon social behaviours, we exaggerate the potential negative consequences in our minds. We make it a big deal in our minds. We think about all the people we can piss off. We exaggerate the consequences of pissing people off. We fret.
Humans have a negativity or ‘haters’ bias. We’re plagued with the tendency to pay attention to the one critic instead of the ten praisers. This bias, complimented by the focussing illusion, explains why I am likely the only person on Earth to assemble my friends in a minivan and perform the thriller in front of strangers in random neighbourhoods.
What I have realized in my years of igniting impromptu dance parties across the planet, in often inappropriate places, is that the negative consequences are often less likely and less severe than I thought. This realization has led to some of the greatest achievements of my life. By consciously disentangling the risks of social stunts (like talking to a stranger or dancing in public), I have become invincible to analysis paralysis.
Somehow I have never been fined for starting very loud singalongs at 2AM…
Second, there is an inherent fear of being ostracized to human psychology.
Why do humans follow social norms? Why are 50% of people very slow in adopting new technology and ideas (according to the diffusion of innovation theory)? Why are we so afraid of rejection?
Genetic coding. Humans are genetically engineered to fit in because isolation is a threat to survival. In the savannahs of Africa, being deserted by the tribe meant certain death. And so, the fear of being ostracized was an adaptation to avoid that. But it is no longer healthy to operate based on this fear.
We certainly didn’t when we went out into the streets, grabbing our crotches, blurting ‘heeeeheeee.’
I argue that it’s actually healthy to step outside conventional social norms. Why? Because they have been engineered by advertisers and capitalists. In my article about toxic social norms, I explain why social norms are like cigarettes. If you take your happiness seriously, you MUST deprogram yourself socially.
So, it’s necessary to break free from the fear of being ostracized and practice authentic expression. To do this, we must stop showing off and obsessing over what people think of you. These behaviors prevent us from having fun in new ways and are characteristic of ‘status anxiety.’ This is a cause of depression, according to Johann Hari.
Third, the best moments in life involve shared risk-taking.
We cannot deny that there was a risk in travelling through the night, playing loud music and dancing… During a pandemic. People could have thrown stuff at us. People could have rejected our offer.
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: ‘Fun and danger are on the same wavelength.’ Replace danger with challenge, if you are more risk-averse. When the stakes are higher, people’s emotions are higher. And when an eventual success is declared, the celebration is more intense too.
This is exactly what happened last night. We didn’t know what would happen. There was the possibility of failure. We could have gotten into trouble for jumping out of our minivan in the middle of the street. But, when we didn’t, it exhilarated us. When a young boy finally emerged from his house after the 5th buzzer ring and said he’d watch our thriller, we were ecstatic.
The ‘shared’ element is super important. Humans bounce emotions off each other. We are naturally emotionally-sensitive creatures. When suspense is experienced by a group, it’s more intense than suspense experienced by an individual. When a challenge or threat is overcome by a group, the celebration is louder and rowdier, because of the amplification of emotions that happens when humans synchronize.
So. What to do?
Stop being run by social norms, your body-guard-like thinking tendency, and the idea that you are stronger if you can do it alone.
Go out and set your individualistic ego on fire. And make the fire bigger by bringing friends.
When I was 17, I discovered emotional intelligence. In 2020, I discovered prosocial intelligence, and invented a term for it.
After losing my first job as a lifeguard for making one of my students cry, I picked up Ekhart Tolle’s the power of now and started practicing self-awareness. As you know, this is one of the fundamental skills of emotional intelligence.
Throughout university, my EQ skyrocketed. I started meditating, journaling, and forgiving. My relationships improved.
But, you can only go so far with EQ. There’s no doubt that being self-aware, empathetic, and self-regulated is useful. It transformed my quality of life.
But there’s a level higher.
EQ enables another form of intelligence: PQ (Prosocial Intelligence/Quotient).
To illustrate PQ, let me share one of the highlights of my life.
In 2019, I departed on a whim to Costa Rica to volunteer as a harm reduction staff at a festival. Upon arrival, I started a conversation with a stranger in the customs lineup of the airport. I made a good impression, we shared some laughs, and I got the guy’s contact, which came in handy a week later.
I arrived at my hostel in Jacco beach, my first destination. At my hostel, I met a group of Canadian travellers. I remember hanging around the pool with them, engaging in personal story-telling and introspection. We exchanged vulnerabilities and offered new perspectives. It was a moment to be cherished. It was a human-bonding moment.
A week later, I joined these travellers and stayed with them during another giant festival, this one world-renowned, called Envision Festival.
I did not have a ticket.
So, I messaged the stranger in the airport lineup who I knew was attending the festival. Surprisingly, he offered me a ticket. For free.
I rolled up to the festival with some music and led some bear hugs and singalongs outside the main gates. The main gate ambassador approached me and told me “We need to join forces!”
Epic moments later, I was eating with festival staff and I had earned a name for myself among the marketing team at the festival.
In 2020, they invited me back and I performed on the main stage, opening night, with my co-founder and another changemaker named Gini, a powerhouse entrepreneur and community architect who I had networked with.
So, in the span of three weeks, I networked with some incredible humans, and it led to some incredible opportunities and friendships. AND MEMORIES. At any moment, I can return to these memories and fill myself with excitement for life.
When you are prosocially intelligent, opportunities originating from positive, meaningful human connections fly at your from all directions. My trip is exemplary of this. I had scheduled to be in Costa Rica for one week. I stayed for three, made incredible business connections, attended a world-renowned festival, and had my first appearance on the main stage.
That’s not all. The entire trip, my mood was higher than normal, my physical energy was perked up, and my excitement for life was flying high. When you consistently engage in powerful, expressive interpersonal interactions, your mental and physical health is improved.
These are a few of the benefits of PQ.
So, what the hell is Jacques talking about? Let me define it for you.
PQ is the ability to initiate positive, meaningful human contact. Simple.
Not so fast however! PQ is more technical than that. You must develop a few core competencies before you can transform your social interactions into fuel for social, mental and physical wellbeing. The first is the ability to create internal psychological safety.
Psychological safety equals “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.” Thank you, Amy Edmondson, for transforming how I relate with humans.
Then, what is internal psychological safety? Well, it’s a translation of your mindset. A growth-oriented, anti-perfectionist mindset enables you to justify taking interpersonal risks regardless of whether it is actually safe or not. On a plane and want to start a singalong? It’s not a safe place to take interpersonal risks.
I did it anyway, and created ‘interpersonal psychological safety.’
This is what Amy is talking about, above. This phenomenon exists within the group, not within your head. This has to do with how the group feels, not how you feel.
This is the second core competency of PQ: the ability to create interpersonal psychological safety. When this is present, suddenly play, fun, expression, and creativity become possible. The depth of your interactions increases. You get to meet the authentic human with whom you are interacting.
A natural extension of these core competencies is the ability to evoke positive emotions in your interactions. Joy, laughter, gratitude, love, excitement. Whenever I feel these emotions, I feel closer to the human with whom I am sharing them.
Positive emotions matter. They reduce stress, increase creativity, and accelerate social-bonding. They also make life exciting. They are healthy.
When you can access positive emotions through human connection, you free yourself from relying on unhealthy sources of joy: shopping, screen entertainment, drugs and alcohol, ‘likes’, (comment below if I am missing any!). The research suggests that you will live longer and happier if you source the majority of your joy from human connection.
I have broken PQ into three core competencies, but there’s one more which relates most closely to leadership: initiating prosocial activities in groups. Standing in an elevator with four strangers? Ask them to share what they are looking forward to. Sitting down at a dinner table with a bunch of acquaintances? Suggest that everyone introduces themselves with their nickname and obsession. Driving with your family or friends to a far-away location? Play a game or sing a song together.
Prosocially intelligent people have a toolkit of activities they initiate in group settings as a means to contribute MASSIVE value. The truth is, many social gatherings are poorly designed, too unstructured, and lack unity. By increasing the amount of closeness and fun in the room, prosocially intelligent people make a name for themselves.
Voila! Those are the four key competencies of PQ. Common among all of them is action.
I believe PQ is a step beyond EQ. You cannot have PQ without EQ. PQ has been the backbone for my mental health, my energy management, and my service-oriented relationship management.
I want to invite you to commit to one behaviour that exercises one of the core competencies I mentioned. Set forth and reap the benefits!