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The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #219 - Dr. Jennifer Guttman

Dr. Jennifer Guttman, PsyD received a doctorate in clinical psychology from Long Island University. In her debut Audible book, BEYOND HAPPINESS, THE 6 SECRETS OF LIFETIME SATISFACTION she lays out a roadmap on how to move beyond happiness to achieve authentic life satisfaction by becoming more confident, self-empowered, self-reliant, and resilient. Dr. Guttman uses six strategies to empower people to gain control over their lives by focusing on an enduring mindset, not a transient feeling.

Dr. Guttman fuses traditional cognitive behavioral therapy with her own core methods, which she developed during her thirty-plus years of practice working with clients from diverse backgrounds. She encourages people to stop chasing something that is fleeting and focus on an attainable goal: sustainable satisfaction. She demonstrates how moving beyond happiness to contentment is achievable.

Over the past five years Dr. Guttman has launched a motivational brand platform Sustainable Life Satisfaction® with four SLS® YouTube web series which have cumulatively netted over two million views and published a workbook with the same title. She is a regular contributor to Psychology Today, Thrive Global, MindBodyGreen, and written in articles for the Washington Post, NBC.com, Readers Digest, Redbook, Health, TeenVogue, among others. Dr. Guttman has been a guest on over two dozen podcasts including “Unshakeable Self-Confidence,” “Harvesting Happiness,” “Resilience Unraveled” and “The Hidden Why.”



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Beyond Happiness: The 6 Secrets of Lifetime Satisfaction

Jennifer's Personal Story

What is happiness?

6 Life satisfaction techniques

how difficult are these techniques?

Avoiding assumptions

people pleasing

social learning theory

rewarding yourself

daily written affirmations

saying "no"

the role of not apologizing

Decisions are guessing

Making Decisions

there is always an exit

intrusive thoughts & unfinished tasks

what is the role of gratitude?


Melanie Avalon: Hi, friends. Welcome back to the show. I am so incredibly excited about the conversation that I am about to have. It is with the author of an incredible book that I honestly, truly think should be required reading for humanity because it contains so much practical information that will provide paradigm shifts to how you approach life, interpret life. and possibly achieve although we can talk about whether or not this is the goal, [chuckles] the concept of happiness. So, I am here with Dr. Jennifer Guttman. She is a clinical psychologist and the author of Beyond Happiness: The 6 Secrets of Lifetime Satisfaction. She's also the founder of Sustainable Life Satisfaction. She has a related YouTube web series. She's been featured in Psychology Today, Thrive Global, Washington Post, NBC, Reader's Digest, Teen Vogue, all the things and friends, I'm just so excited to talk about this book because I have been practically implementing so many of the things that I learned in the book daily honestly.

Dr. Guttman talks about basically these six different techniques you can use to achieve satisfaction in life. So, avoiding assumptions, avoiding people pleasing, facing your fears, making decisions, closing and self-reinforcing. I'm just so excited. Dr. Guttman, thank you so much for being here.

Jennifer Guttman: Thank you so much for having me. Melanie, I'm excited to talk about the book.

Melanie Avalon: I'm not making this up. There've been a few things I've learned from the book where I literally daily use them, especially the avoiding assumptions. And when you hear something from somebody or interpret something from somebody, asking yourself what assumptions are you making? And would your interpretation stand up in court? Like, do you have evidence that what you're thinking is accurate? But in any case, before diving into everything, you opened the book with your own personal story, which you experienced a lot, which led to your epiphanies surrounding the concept of happiness and what we all seek in life. So, would you like to tell listeners a little bit about that story and your relationship with your son and everything that happened?

Jennifer Guttman: Sure. I wrote Beyond Happiness and started to think about sustainable life techniques after I had three watershed experiences in my life. A lot of people have watershed experiences, but for me, it was a crisis time in my life where I had three events happen in a short period of time in an 18-month period. My son had a life-threatening event that required open heart surgery, and then I had a life-threatening event and then after that, my father passed away. It was during that time that I decided that I needed to look at my life more critically and decide if I was doing the things that I set out to do after graduate school. I paused and tried to think about what it was that my clients were really struggling with. I realized that what a lot of them were struggling with was this idea of happiness. It was during that time that the kernels of sustainable life satisfaction were born.

Melanie Avalon: With this concept of happiness, where have you arrived as to what happiness actually is?

Jennifer Guttman: What I've recognized is that the problem is that people think that they're supposed to be happy all of the time. But happiness is an emotion and like all emotions it comes and goes. It's not meant to be long lasting. So, it's not surprising that I have had and had thousands of clients come into my office over the past 30 years telling me that they felt like they were failing at being happy. But you can't fail at an emotion. Happiness is temporary. So, people kept chasing a fleeting emotion and I recognized that happiness is the wrong goal. I wanted people to start focusing on something that was achievable instead of something that was unattainable.

Melanie Avalon: I love that. It's similar as far as the achievable versus unattainable. A lot of what you talk about in the book is analyzing the way we think. So, it seems a little bit esoteric in that it's how you're thinking about things. But what you end up providing is actual implementable actions which I love and actual [chuckles] things that you can say. So, to go through some of these, these six life satisfaction techniques well, first of all, how did you arrive at those? Did you sit down one day and come up with them or did it evolve over time? How did you come up with them? 

Jennifer Guttman: The way that I came up with them is when I was looking at these events that had happened in my life, my son's illness, my illness, and then my father dying, I reflected on what was it that kept me resilient during that time? What was the thing that made me keep getting up every morning with all of that happening in such a short period of time? I was trying to figure out what was the resilience made out of. I came up with six things that helped me build up enough of an empowered self-concept to continue on. I realized that I was avoiding assumptions because it would have been easy to fall into a lot of assumption making during a period of time, let's say with my son and doctors telling me that there was nothing wrong with him when there was actually something critically wrong with him. 

I realized that reducing people pleasing behaviors was something that kept me going for a similar reason. People telling me that I shouldn't pursue further diagnoses for him because the doctors had told me that there was nothing wrong with him and that actually wasn't the case. Then, I also tried to figure out what also kept pushing me forward was decision making and how I curated decisions both for my own health and his health and tried to figure out what made sense authentically for me, even if it might not have made sense authentically for other people. Facing my fears was important because I was terrified for him, for our family. How could I persevere despite that? What did that look like? What did moving into the unknown look like for me? How was that building up resilience and then also closing out tasks?

Once I made a decision about the avenues that I would take for his health, for my health, or when I was going through the grieving process with my father, how did that contribute to me continuing to move on? And then the last piece of it was how did I take care of myself during that period of time? And what role did self-care take in allowing me to continue to persevere? Don't get me wrong, there were definitely times when I wanted to curl up in my bed and not move but how did it contribute to me being able to continue to move on from one of these traumatic events to the next?

Melanie Avalon: I love the sense of agency that is created by all of this. Okay, and I'm so excited to talk about these individually. First, some questions, just in general, because you make a pretty bold statement that all of these are required for life satisfaction. Do you find with yourself and with your patients that do most people struggle with most? Do some people struggle with some? Does everybody struggle with at least all of them a little bit? What's the range of how people experience these?

Jennifer Guttman: In my experience, I've never met anybody that didn't struggle with at least one of them. So, I would say that most people struggle with one, some, all of them. But I have yet to meet a human that doesn't struggle with at least one of them. I think that it's human nature to struggle with at least one of them. Which is why what I'm asking people to do is actually make a cognitive shift in the way that they think about how they live. It's a big ask, but it's definitely doable. I'm asking that of people because I think that it creates more effective cognitive optimization for people to live their lives in a more effective and efficient way and create more resilience and a better sense of self-empowerment and self-respect and also a better sense of inherent lovability. And because of that, I have yet to meet somebody that doesn't struggle with at least one of them.

I think that your point was prudent when you said that when you read the book, right away you thought, “Oh, I can at least work on avoiding assumptions.” I myself work all of the time on avoiding assumptions because I think that's a very common one that people work on. That's a hard one.

Melanie Avalon: You created the order of discussing them for a certain reason. But I'm just like looking at the order and I think they're almost in order of how hard it is for me because avoiding assumptions is definitely my biggest thing probably. Then people pleasing, I'm always actively working on that. But then at the end I feel like the one I struggle the least with is closing and then the self-reinforcing is a really interesting concept. So, I'm just going to say for listeners, get the book because there's so much information about all of these. And like we just said just now, different people will struggle with different things, so there's no way we could touch on everything. So maybe I'll just dive into the things that really resonated with me. Okay, so with avoiding assumptions, my biggest question about this, because you talk about why evolutionarily we make assumptions and it's really, we're making predictions to have a sense of control because we can't control life.

So, we're always trying to interpret what's going to happen and what people mean and what they're saying and what they're actually thinking. So, are we supposed to literally take everything everybody says at face value? Because I'd have to assume that people do lie, people do people please, and people do not say what they mean. So, to what extent should we try to interpret what people are saying as it may be different from what they're actually saying or doing? 

Jennifer Guttman: The problem is that although it may be that people aren't saying exactly what it is that they mean, because we are coming to the conversation also with our own history, our own lens, our own baggage, even if they are not saying what they mean, we too are interpreting what they may not be saying what they mean through our own histories. So, because of that, it is critically important that we only use the information that we actually know before we act. The reason for that is once we decide that we think that we're clued in to what they mean, even though they haven't said it, we can start to make social changes in how we interact with that person. So, let's say I think somebody has rolled their eyes at me and maybe that person doesn't believe that they did that. Maybe it's a reflux that they don't even know that they did. 

I'm interpreting an eye roll as meaning something about dismissiveness or that they're angry at me and maybe that person didn't mean to dismiss me at all. Maybe they eye rolled for some other reason or didn't even realize they were eye rolling at all. Then I come up with lots of scenarios about how I feel about the fact that this person may have a problem with me and then that affects my next interaction with them, which then affects their next interaction with me. That's the problem with us deciding that we're going to look at nuanced behaviors and act based on nuance because even though, sure sometimes we could be right. There are plenty of times when we could be wrong.

When we're not sure, let's say, we go through a period of time where somebody is not verbally saying that they have a problem with us, but we're regularly catching nonverbals that would indicate to us that there's a problem. That would be a time to mindfully ask them a question. But I would recommend waiting until you have some evidence of repeated nonverbals. Not just once, but repeated nonverbals before you say something along the lines of, “I'm picking up something and I'm not sure what it may be, would you like to share?” Because now you're not putting any words in their mouths, you're not making any assumptions, you're just opening up an avenue for a conversation should they want to have one. But again, I wouldn't do that based on one situation. I would try to gather more nonverbal information before jumping on it. Apart from that, yes, I firmly believe we should base information on verbal concrete behavior. And as you mentioned before, unless you have enough concrete information that you could present it to a jury of your peers and convince a jury of your peers do not act on assumptions that you're making because it will change the next social dynamic that you have with that person. 

Melanie Avalon: A few years ago, a girlfriend and I, we were both in a period of time where were both obsessed with individual-- We had crushes on two different boys. We realized we were just going crazy trying to figure out what they were thinking or meaning. So, we came up with a mantra which was no hypotheticals. So, every time we found ourselves basically making assumptions, we would just say the mantra no hypotheticals and just like stop. [laughs] So, I really love that. But since then, so since reading the book, I've really started to implement this. I found myself doing it the other day where I was getting a lot of emails and literally everything was being said to me upfront and objective and I was just creating this whole entire story and I had to just keep coming back to this and tell myself no assumptions, like just take everything at face value. I love this so much. So, for the people pleasing I feel like I'm a recovering people pleaser. I definitely was much more intense about this in the past when I'm trying to work on it. So, people pleasing I think it's so, well, first of all, why do we become people pleasers in the first place?

Jennifer Guttman: For all of these, we come by these behaviors honestly and that a lot of it has to do with social learning theory. Bandura, who's the father of social learning theory, talks about how we learn behaviors from our caregivers through observation, imitation, modeling, and if we are praised for certain behaviors, for example, guessing about what somebody needs, anticipating their needs. If we're reinforced for anticipating somebody else's needs or putting somebody else's needs before our own. If we're praised for that as children, then we go off into the world thinking, “Oh, this is a great way to be praised. This will be appreciated.” The problem is that the outside world is fickle and unreliable when it comes to reinforcement. Even if you do put yourself last or anticipate somebody's needs, the likelihood that that's going to be acknowledged or validated or reinforced by the outside world is slim because people tend to not notice what we do and then resentment starts to build. So, it comes from early years of modeling behaviors and that's one of the reasons that we need to try to break the habit. 

Melanie Avalon: That sparked my memory about something really practical that I learned in that chapter that sticks with me, which was basically you can identify if you're doing people pleasing behavior. If when you do something for somebody, will you feel resentful if they don't respond in kind or do something back for you or don't appear grateful or thankful? I've really started using that technique and that tip, actually, that reminded me of a question about how you're raised. Two parts, first part is with social learning theory and how the effects of childhood, clearly, it's really important and it's shaping why we do what we do today. How important is it that we actually know that personally? And what I mean is, do you need to know why you're doing what you're doing? Or can you just see the behavior and address it? Like, how important is it that somebody goes and revisits their childhood with a therapist? Like that aspect of it versus just making the changes now? 

Jennifer Guttman: It's not necessary. You can just go ahead and make the changes now. [laughs] 

Melanie Avalon: Nice. [laughs]

Jennifer Guttman: Please just go ahead and make the changes now. [laughs] 

Melanie Avalon: Oh, my goodness. I love that. That's my takeaway quote. [laughs] That's amazing. Okay, that's great. See, this is another reason I love this book. Like I said, it's action driven. Okay, so second question. This does relate to childhood though, but I am so, so fascinated by this. And you talk about how children are often praised for the process and not the goal. This might have been in a different chapter, but okay, well, just while we're talking about it, because I was so interested in this, what is the issue with children being praised for the process, not the goal? And how can parents encourage children along the way without making that error?

Jennifer Guttman: The problem with overpraising children, praising children for the process, not the goal, is that when you get a lot of praise for starting which is starting a project or the process is that they're getting so much praise, they're not learning that there's any validation that may come with finishing it. And so, because they've received so much praise either along the way or at the beginning, they don't see that there would be any real reason to complete it and completing tasks is very difficult for most people. It's boring, it's mundane. The most difficult parts of completing a task are the fact that you've lost a lot of the energy and excitement that comes with the beginning. So, when you get a lot of your initial praise at the front end, where it is the most exciting, and that's when you're getting the praise, then when it starts to get boring and you've already gotten the praise, what would be the motivation to continue anyway?

Then abandon it, start a new project where you're going to get a lot of praise again. And it would be easy to abandon it at the point when it gets boring again. The problem is that because we're so eager to encourage ideas, it becomes more and more difficult to praise people for project closure as opposed to project progress. This was brought home to light very clearly to me Because my son, who was interested in being an entrepreneur when he was young, he would come to me honestly every other day or every two days with a new idea in the beginning, very enthusiastic about all of these ideas. Then at some point, it occurred to me that my enthusiasm was actually not helping him, it was hurting him. That's why he was so frequently coming to me with new ideas. At some point, I sat him down and I said, “Look, instead of coming to me with the new ideas, come to me when you finish one,” and then we'll talk about how excited I am for you that you actually finished it. [laughs]

Melanie Avalon: I love that. I actually thought about this chapter. Right now, I'm going through our storage unit and I found all my awards and trophies, and I found this one award, and one side it says Arbor Day, so I'm not really sure what we were doing. On the back, it says participation award. I'm like, [laughs] I don't even know where we planting trees and getting awarded for participating. So, I just think it really saturates culture more than I think we even realize. I will come back to the people pleasing. But that also relates to the last chapter where you talk about self-reinforcing ourselves along the way as we're making these choices. I think you literally say this is not a participation award. Well, I should probably let you define first what you mean. How do we reward ourselves in our journey and win and how do we do that? 

Jennifer Guttman: We are taught so much from an early age that all of reinforcement should be delegated to the outside world. We learn it when we get trophies in Little League. We learn it when we get participation awards. We learn it when we get awards. Now, they won't even allow awards in schools for different types of behaviors that are good, because then the kids that don't get the awards are left out. So, you get an award for absolutely everything. So, no matter what the message is, external rewards, external validation is critical in order for you to develop self-worth. You see that not just with the awards that you get in school or the trophies that you get in Little League, but then you are also immersed in it in all of the award ceremonies that you see. And not only that, but then you also see it in sports events and everything with the trophies.

So, you grow up in an environment where it feels like value and worth are determined by somebody else. Because of that, then it's not surprising that you would look to the outside world as a barometer for am I doing well? But again, as I mentioned before, the outside world is fickle and unreliable when it comes to reinforcement. And even when somebody does think that you're doing well, it frequently doesn't go from their brain, the thought that you're doing well past their lips to your ears, that they thought that you were doing well, so they could think you're doing great, they just don't remember to tell you. Which is why it's critical that you create your own idea bar for which you think you're doing well, and then you figure out how you're going to reinforce yourself for it, how you're going to validate yourself, and then follow through on doing that thing.

And there are so many ways that we can do that in the world. We can decide that if we do this, we're going to make a nice meal for ourselves, we're going to take ourselves to a ball game, we're going to go for a walk, we're going to go to the movies. I mean, there're millions of ways, it just has to feel authentic to you. 

Melanie Avalon: To that point you mentioned we're waiting for people to tell us that we're doing well. You also make the distinction with doing it for ourselves, that we can't just stop. It's not just verbal praise though, so we can't just tell ourselves we're doing well. We have to actually do something physically to reward ourselves. 

Jennifer Guttman: Yes. Tangible reinforcement of some kind is critical because when you just are telling yourself, “Hey, I did a good job,” your brain doesn't absorb that as anything truly meaningful. If you write down an affirmation that reflects some pride, that is good because that is tangible. And any other activity that you do, it doesn't have to be costly. It just has to be any activity where you're telling yourself, I'm doing this because I did that. Because remember that the outside world is providing a tangible reinforcer. So, if they're providing a tangible reinforcer, then you need to also provide yourself with some tangible reinforcer. I have a lot of clients that when I tell them to reinforce themselves in some way and then I check back in with them the next week they tell me, “Well, I told myself,” and I'll say to them, “Well, how's that working for you?” 

And they'll tell me, “Not so well.” I know it's not working so well, but if you open the notes folder of your phone and even just write down the affirmation, it will work a lot better for you than if you just tell yourself, because your brain is dismissing you telling yourself that much quicker than it would consider dismissing something that you wrote down.

Melanie Avalon: And to clarify again, when do we do this? So presumably it's not just along the way of doing well, because that would be participation. It has to be like an actual accomplishment of something or when are we doing this behavior?

Jennifer Guttman: My recommendation and I talk about this in the book, is that you decide what the bar is that you hurdle, because we're the best evaluators of ourselves. We are also our own worst critics, but also the best evaluators of ourselves. So, anything that we feel like is challenging. In one of my chapters, you face fear. So, if you faced a fear that day, you may want to reinforce yourself. If you had a difficult decision to make and you made it, reinforce yourself. If you closed out a task that you had promised yourself, you would close out by a certain deadline, reinforce yourself. So, anything that you recognize that you say to yourself, “Wow, I did that or it would be nice if somebody noticed that I did that.” Reinforce yourself. 

Melanie Avalon: I think we have similar reinforcers. I really appreciate and love your love of theater and I do the same thing with orchestra seats, [laughs] I'm so jealous of you in New York. We have the Fox Theater here where they have the touring Broadway shows and it's just like my favorite thing in the world. I try to go to as many as I can.

Jennifer Guttman: That's awesome. Yeah. For your listeners, if you don't know, I write a story in the book about how myself reinforcer is to take myself to the theater. When I went to pick up tickets at a Will Call, at one point, the person handing out my tickets made fun of me and said that I treated myself too well because I was buying myself orchestra tickets. In the book, I reflect on the fact that if he's not treating himself as well for the things that he is proud of himself of, that it would be nice if he-- I thought this, I didn't say this it would be nice if he considered treating himself better.

Melanie Avalon: I was super curious when that happened. Was he actually joking or was he actually being a little judgmental?

Jennifer Guttman: I mean, my impression and it would be an assumption. 

Melanie Avalon: Assumption I know, [laughs] this is [crosstalk] in real time. Oh, my goodness. [laughs] I realized that while saying it. I was like, “Oh.” [laughs] 

Jennifer Guttman: My impression was judgment, but I do not have enough information to really say. All I said to him was, “Yes, I do treat myself well.” Because I didn't have enough information to do anything than give him a generous evaluation of a comment. If I was going to just stick to it verbally, then it would be generous. I just said, “Yes, I do treat myself well.” 

Melanie Avalon: See, that's a good example, though, of just how often it happens, the potential of making assumptions about people. What show were you seeing? I'm just curious. 

Jennifer Guttman: Oh my gosh. That story was written about a show I saw a long time ago, and I see a lot of shows I really don't remember. [laughs]

Melanie Avalon: Okay, I will stop myself because I could go on that tangent for a long time. Okay, so going back to the people pleasing and we're back something I really love from that chapter and it's something that I have to work on all the time and I talk with a lot. I had a conversation yesterday with my cohost for the other show all about this, which was saying no to people. So, the concept of saying no, why do we struggle with it so much? How can we do it more? And why should we do it more?

Jennifer Guttman: It's important to be able to say no because it's a way to protect yourself from putting yourself last and a lot of my clients will talk about how they don't like to say no because they think that they will be perceived as mean or uncaring. But it's a way to set up a boundary about that you value your time and it's also a way to start building interdependent relationships with people as opposed to codependent relationships with people. So, learning to say no is really critical. I give some examples of how to say no, some scripts for how to say no in the book. I'll give you some examples now because I think that they can help people and they are examples of how you can say no mindfully and in a way that doesn't come across mean or uncaring. There are things like, I would really love to help you, but unfortunately, I'm already committed at that time. 

Or that sounds like a lot of fun to me. I don't think that that activity is exactly right for me, but I would love to do something else with you, or thank you for offering to include us in that celebration. I love spending time with you and your family and I'd love to be there, but I have a lot of work that I need to get done, so maybe we can figure out another time to celebrate. I would love to come this weekend, but I've been doing so much driving lately, so I was wondering if we could look at another date. 

Melanie Avalon: I love that hearing the actual practical things to say is so, so helpful. Some nuanced questions about saying no just because it just so-- it just resonates with me so much. I was thinking a lot about it the other day. What happens when you find yourself in a situation where you have to say, like, where you want to say both yes and no. My example is, say that there is something you really want to do, but in order to do it's with another person and so you would have to compromise. You would have to break prior plans with yourself in order to do this thing that you want to do more. Where's the nuance of honoring your prior plans and your commitments to yourself versus when you do need to compromise with other people to ultimately get what you both want.

Jennifer Guttman: If what you want to do is the activity with a person more than what you-- and it's not that you want to do it more because you want to do it more for them, then do it. [laughs] I think that there is nuance in everything. If you've made a plan with yourself and I think it really is very important to keep plans with yourself and not drop all of the plans that you have with yourself because somebody asks you to do an active service for them. But if you have a plan with yourself and then somebody comes along and tells you they have amazing concert tickets, then sure, go to the concert. [laughs] I think that there's nothing in the book that is a hard and fast rule. I talk a lot about gray areas and everything falls in the gray area. So, it is about trying to figure out where you fall in terms of what you authentically want to do.

One of the things that I talk about in the book is something called a resentment check in where you check in with your body. If I don't do this thing or if this thing were to never be validated or appreciated or reciprocated, how do I feel in my body? So, in your example, if I don't do this thing, how do I feel in my body? And if you get a twinge somewhere in your body that it wouldn't feel good not to do that thing, then maybe you should do it. But if you feel a twinge at the idea of not following through on the plan that you had made with yourself, then maybe you should say no to the new thing that was offered to you. So, I think a lot of it has to do with checking in with your body and asking yourself will I feel resentful if the person that is asking me to do something doesn't appreciate it? Because this is really about me and what I want to do. 

Melanie Avalon: I love that and just to iterate on it, I love what you just said now and what you say all throughout the book is honoring the plans with yourself because I feel like we definitely or at least I often put it on the totem pole beneath like that they're not as important as plans with other people or external commitments. Yeah, I just love that concept. What's the role of not apologizing while saying no or explaining or justifying? 

Jennifer Guttman: The reason to not apologize or justify a no is because it demonstrates ambivalence. Once you open the door to the reason that I can't do this or I'm sorry is that if you have been in the role of a people pleaser or somebody that engages in a lot of acts of service. It wouldn't be uncommon or honestly unreasonable for the person that's asking you for the favor to push a little bit because they're used to you saying yes. And when you seem overly apologetic or overly legitimizing of a no, then pushing to try to see if they can convince you wouldn't be surprising because you've opened the door for it.

And since it's already so hard for people pleasers to say no, to be in a position where you'd have to say no again would be really difficult. So, that's why it's really important to not apologize for yourself, legitimize yourself, you want to have the freedom to just say no, and you also want to have the ability to say no if you don't want to do it. And once you start legitimizing the no's with reasons that you can't do it, what about the situation where you just don't want to and it's just because you don't want to? Not because you have another plan, but just because it's something that you don't want to do and it will get people around you used to the fact that you just don't always do all of the acts of service that are requested of you anymore.

Melanie Avalon: That's so true. It's a lot easier to argue with somebody who says no and then gives the reasons, because then you just argue against the reasons. But if they just say no, [laughs] then what are you going to say to that? And then I love that you can sub out, essentially, the apologizing, because if it's coming from a place of wanting them not to feel bad or wanting to validate them, I guess, instead of apologizing, you can say two examples like you just gave earlier, where you're thanking them and showing gratitude and telling them that you would love to do it, but you can't for whatever reason. This is so ironic. So, I take notes on this notebook that has a different quote every page. So, for prepping this show and the quote one of the bottom-- I'm just going to read it. So, I'm curious your thoughts on this quote. I think it's probably talking to a slightly different concept, but I was like, what are the odds. This is literally where I was writing my notes about saying no. So, the quote at the bottom says, I once asked a monk how he found peace. "I say yes he'd say, to all that happens, I say yes.” What are your thoughts on that quote? 

Jennifer Guttman: I mean, it's hard to say because it's a monk. [laughs] I feel like the monk is more interacting with the universe than people. [laughs] So, if what the comment is that "The monk is interacting with the universe," then great. Then I think that the Monk is saying that he accepts whatever comes and doesn't expect to control the variables that are happening in the universe. And actually, I am in support of that. I don't think that we can control variables in the universe. And a lot of the book is about how do you cope with the fact that you can't control the variables. The only thing that you can control is yourself. I don't think that a monk would be saying that they are comfortable with saying yes to people. I think that it's more I would imagine a commentary on the fact that it's accepting of whatever the world puts in front of him and not fighting it.

Melanie Avalon: I agree. I think it's talking to a different concept entirely. It's just so interesting how the words yes and no can have so many meanings and layers to them. We need more words for them.

Jennifer Guttman: [laughs] There're a lot of languages that have a lot more words than ours.

Melanie Avalon:  For yes and no specifically. 

Jennifer Guttman: I think that may be true, but just a lot more words to describe a lot of different things with a lot more nuance than an English language. [laughs] 

Melanie Avalon: Oh, man. Goals. Okay. The Making Decisions chapter, I really loved that section and it was so freeing because I definitely will get wrapped up in making decisions and so stressed about how it needs to be the perfect decision. Okay, so first of all, well, you say this is fascinating, that we make 35,000 decisions daily. That's a lot of decisions. How can we helpfully make decisions? And what is the role of the actual outcome? Do most decisions actually matter in the end?

Jennifer Guttman: I think that the key thing is to recognize that decisions are guesses. People see decisions as binary. They see them as permanent. And in that way, all of a sudden, all the decisions that we make become very high stakes. And then it becomes appealing to delegate decisions to other people. People that we feel have more experience or more education or knowledge of us. But if we can realize that actually there are no right or wrong decisions, anybody that tells you that there's a right or wrong decision is also guessing about decisions because decisions are by and large, almost all decisions are impermanent. You can change them. People can change what college they go to. People can change what job they have. People can change what car they have. We are all just guessing. There's no magic wand that's going to say this is the right decision for you and this is the wrong decision for you.

I think it gives people comfort to believe that there's a right or wrong decision, but there really isn't. If you think about it like that, it should be very liberating. The most important thing to remember is that because they're guesses that should allow you to remember that you can pivot and change course if you chose a decision that you don't love. One of my clients had gotten a lot of pressure to move out of his home because he was an empty nester and his friends were telling him that the house was too big for him. He listened to them and put the house on the market. Then one day, he was walking around the house and he's like, “What am I doing? Why am I doing this? I don't want to leave this house.” He made the very brave move to take the house off the market and stay there because he realized that he was making an inauthentic decision for himself even if it would have been an authentic decision for them.

But each one of us has our own DNA and our own fingerprints. So, really the only person that can make a true and authentic decision for us is us. And even though, we can ask some trusted individuals to help us with that opinion shopping, to try to get a consensus isn't really going to work.

Melanie Avalon: Yes, this is just so freeing to me. There were some things you said in that chapter that just really stuck with me. Like you talk about how statistically there are more decisions that are neither right nor wrong than that are right or wrong. That was really freeing. [laughs] Then also, so not only the concept of making the decision, but having made the decision and then looking back on the decision and evaluating it. Something I have struggled with a lot is making a decision and then beating myself up, saying I should have done something alternative, something different, when really you will never know if you had done something different, if it would have been better. You'll just never know. So, there's really no point in making that judgment. 

Jennifer Guttman: Exactly. And that brings you back to the assumption, right, that you're making an assumption that it would have turned out differently. I could say, well, make the other assumption instead of making the assumption things would have turned out differently if you had made the alternative decision. You could make another assumption because you're just guessing that your life would have been different the other way because we don't have any knowledge of any of it. So, the only option is to just move on. Everything is a learning lesson. You guessed this way and that was a learning lesson. What did you learn from it? And how are you going to pivot now? Take that information and choose your next course. Choose the next journey based on what you have without going backwards and trying to do a postmortem on what could have been or would have been when it would have been based on all assumptions anyway. 

Melanie Avalon: So, how much time do you recommend people actually spend both leading up to making a decision and then how much time do they spend reflecting on it once it's made?

Jennifer Guttman: I mean, I encourage people to not spend a tremendous amount of time making decisions, especially when you start with the smaller decisions, very short periods of time. I mean, I've had clients who labor over very small decisions what restaurant to go to or what nail polish to buy. So, for those decisions, I encourage people to try to bring those down to just a few minutes. And then, I've had clients where I've tried to get them to bring down decisions where they've belabored over what car to buy for many, many months and then tried to bring that down to do the research, make the decision. If you end up not liking the car, you can turn in the lease for another car or sell the car and bring that down. Because over researching all that sending a message to your brain is that you can't cope with the possibility that it doesn't work out the way you want. 

It's not that the over research is the thing that's going to help you make a better guess, because it's not. It's just taking up a lot more bandwidth than you need to spend on this project. So, I try to get people to make the decision quicker in terms of assessing it afterwards. That is more like buyer’s remorse to me and I try to steer people away from that. Once the decision is made, you make the decision. If you feel authentically that it wasn't the right decision for you because it's actually not working out, not just because you're making assumptions that something else would have worked out better. Then you can decide if there's another exit you wish to walk through and how are you going to start pivoting to change course?

Melanie Avalon: Speaking of exits, what is the concept of leaving the room? Is there always an exit?

Jennifer Guttman: Yes, so there is absolutely always an exit. I firmly believe that in life we get curveballs all of the time. Nothing works out the way that we anticipate and we should go into most situations expecting that things aren't going to work out the way that we planned. It's a great way to build problem solving, coping, resilience, and if we go into it assuming that things are not going to work out the way that we planned it, we can also go into it knowing that there is always an exit. Is it going to be the exact same outcome that we had initially anticipated? No. But could it be some close approximation of what we had hoped for? Yes, but the only way that we're going to get there is if we approach the problem calmly and rationally. 

I've had clients that have said to me, “That's not true. I can control outcomes.” I've asked them sometimes really? What can you control? One client said to me, “Well, when I leave here and I leave your office, I'm going to get in my car, my car is going to start, and I'm going to get home.” I was like, “Really?” [laughs] You really believe that, that for sure is in your control? [laughs] Because there are plenty of times when that might not be in your control. I mean, anything could happen, all of these things. But would there be an exit for that if her car didn't start? Of course, there would. And would she be capable of solving that problem? Of course, she would. And in that same way, whenever I traveled with my children, I would travel and make these itineraries of these exciting things that we wanted to do. I always went into it with an understanding that some of them were not going to work out, something was going to happen. It was a joke that my kids would have where whenever something would go awry, they would say, “Okay, she just needs quiet because once she is quiet, she'll figure out what we're going to do next.” 

Melanie Avalon: One other topic to touch on, we touched on it a little bit earlier, but it is the idea of closing and accomplishing goals and tasks, like I said, so this is the thing I think I probably do the best with and it's funny. So, your exercise that you give where you talk about writing things on paper and having the lists of more long term and short term, like the big massive to do list, that's literally the way I organize my calendar every week. Like, I have one long list on the left that's all the things that I need to do, like ongoing. And then every day I write over the individual things. I really don't know how people function honestly without that system. But I know we all have our own systems. So just some quick questions about that. So, for people who do struggle with closing, accomplishing tasks, what happens with unfinished tasks and intrusive thoughts.

Jennifer Guttman: So, it's very interesting. Our brains don't like to leave things undone and we become very preoccupied with tasks that we haven't finished. There's been a lot of research on this. It's called the Zeigarnik effect, which means that our brains pay much more attention to things that we have left hanging than things that we have actually completed. Which is why some of you may know that when you go into your house and you're looking at a pile of unpaid bills or you know that you should have renewed your driver's license, those things, when you walk into your house, they're haunting you. They're saying to you, you didn't do me, you didn't do me, you didn't do me. It's annoying to you. They are undermining your sense of self-respect or your sense of self confidence because they're there and you know you can do them, you just haven't done them. 

And that's because of this phenomenon where our brains can't let go of things that we know we should finish we just haven't finished. That's why it's so important to close out tasks, because it does have a significant impact on our belief in our levels of competency. Then even if we are super successful in one area of our lives, if we know that we're not as on top of things in other areas of our lives, it's very hard to take in compliments in areas of our lives where we are successful because we're so frustrated with ourselves in the areas of our lives that we don't have under control.

Melanie Avalon: There are two really practical ways. It's ironic because I was saying that this is the thing, I feel like I do the best with, but also, obviously there's a lot to learn and a lot I do struggle with. So, two things from what you just said that I have very practically implemented into my life. So, with the intrusive thoughts I realized with checking email, for example, I would have this habit of opening emails and reading through them all and then coming back to them later, like seeing what I needed to answer right then and answering them. But then I realized that what that creates is intrusive thoughts about all of these emails not answered. So having a habit for me where only opening the email if I know I can answer it, if I have time to answer it right then if needed, that's been really helpful. 

Then this explains so much. I was like, how did I not realize this before? You talked about how all the things that we need to do and accomplish and tasks and to-do lists and how it's really important when you're making that list of everything to do because you talk about what to do first, how it's helpful to do things that are related to something that you're seeing all the time physically in your space. I realized, “Oh, because I'll have a list of things I need to do all the time and it's very long." Some of the ones that I won't do because they don't seem as important and they're literal physical things in my apartment that I want to address, but they're low on the totem pole. So, I don't do them, but because I'm seeing them and every time I see them, I get a little bit annoyed that I haven't done it. I was like, “Oh, I need to knock these out right away.” So, that was just so practical. Thank you for that.

Okay, well, we have touched on so many things. I think listeners will understand now we just barely scratched the surface. There is so much in this book that just gives people agency for life to address the way we see the world and can seek what is “Beyond happiness,” which actually appropriately enough, what is the role of gratitude? Because that actually relates to the last question that I ask every single guest on this show. 

Jennifer Guttman: Gratitude is really, I mean, it's extremely important because we have a natural negativity bias. As mammals, we come into the world with that because when we were being sought by predators as mammals, we were looking for danger all over the place. So, we still have some of that. And in order to balance our negativity bias and some of our assumptions come from that negativity bias, one of the things that we can do is recognize that we have that. But while we're balancing the negativity bias, remembering to be grateful for all of the positive things that we have in our lives is a good way to remind our brains to light up the side of the brain that is grateful for the things that we have, whether it's our jobs or our families or hobbies that we have in our lives that we love or vacations that we've taken or our children. Whatever it is that will light up the portion of our brain that sometimes can go a little dark when the side of our brain that is negative is lit up a little bit too much.

Melanie Avalon: And since the brain is always listening, do you have to actually feel it or can you just say it to yourself and you'll eventually believe it?

Jennifer Guttman: I personally am a big fan of writing things down. I think that even though the brain is always listening, I think that we are much more at risk of the brain listening to all of the negative things we say all day long to ourselves and that our brain dismisses a lot of the positive things that we say. So, when we're trying to engage in positive thinking or gratitude or affirmations, we should write those down and that we should very carefully monitor the negative things that come out of our mouth because our brain is listening to all of that. But I think that when we're trying to light up the part of our brain that is trying to build the neural pathways for optimizing positivity, we should be writing those down.

Melanie Avalon: Awesome. Well, like I said does relate to the last question that I ask every single guest on this show and it's just because I think it's so, so important what you just talked about. So, what is something that you're grateful for? 

Jennifer Guttman: I'm absolutely grateful every single day for my children and everything that they've taught me because I am a much better human being because of them and would definitely not have built or learned anything about a life sustainably satisfied if it wasn't for them.

Melanie Avalon: I love it so much. And for listeners, Dr. Guttman shares a really inspiring story about her daughter and her daughter's resilience in the book. So, definitely, definitely get Beyond Happiness: The 6 Secrets of Lifetime Satisfaction. As you can clearly see, it literally affects my life every day, the techniques that I've learned from it, and the insight. So, thank you so much, Dr. Guttman. How can people best follow your work?

Jennifer Guttman: You can find me on my website at guttmanpsychology.com. You can find everything that I'm doing on there, including my book or you can find me on Instagram at @guttman_psychology, and you can also find my book at any of the bookstores.

Melanie Avalon: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. If you write another book in the future, I'd love to have you back. I would love to read it as well. So, thank you so much for all that you do.

Jennifer Guttman: Thank you so much. Thank you so much for having me on. Thank you to your listeners. This was great. 

Melanie Avalon: Have a good day. 

Jennifer Guttman: Take care.

Melanie Avalon:  Bye.

Jennifer Guttman: Bye.

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