The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #113 - Amy Johnson
Amy Johnson, PhD is a psychologist, coach, author, and speaker who shares a groundbreaking new approach that helps people find true, lasting freedom from unwanted habits via insight rather than willpower. She is author of Being Human (2013), and The Little Book of Big Change: The No-Willpower Approach to Breaking Any Habit (2016). In 2017 she opened The Little School of Big Change, an online school that has helped hundreds of people find freedom from anxiety and habits and live a more peaceful life.
Johnson has been a regularly featured expert on The Steve Harvey Show and Oprah.com, as well as in The Wall Street Journal and Self magazine. Learn more at www.DrAmyJohnson.com.
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12:35 - Amy Johnson's Personal Story
15:10 - severe anxiety
15:30 - eating disorders
16:25 - the difference between preparation and anxiety
19:15 - what is the insight to fight anxiety?
24:00 - our repetitive minds
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32:50 - the way life lives you
35:20 - when can you start seeing changes?
38:15 - our triggers and cues
42:00 - what can you teach your kids
44:05 - the physical Manifestation of anxiety
44:20 - productivity & the mind
49:25 - worries & ruminations
57:10 - dealing with the voice in your head
57:45 - once we're past the anxiety
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The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #38 - Connie Zack
The Science Of Sauna: Heat Shock Proteins, Heart Health, Chronic Pain, Detox, Weight Loss, Immunity, Traditional Vs. Infrared, And More!
1:02:00 - secondary emotions
1:04:05 - what is the role of wholeness
1:06:35 - relationships
1:12:00 - what is reality?
1:13:05 - the golden buddha
1:15:15 - personality disorders
1:17:50 - the sky/Weather metaphor and working through negative thoughts
1:20:05 - feeling stuck
1:20:50 - the experience of knowing what minds do
1:22:30 - how single experiences can shape our reality
1:25:10 - what is the role of will power
1:26:20 - using mantras
1:27:20 - Meditation
1:30:00 - biohacking
1:30:35 - the main point of the book
Go To melanieavalon.com/change To register and Join The 6 Week Book Club Taking A Deep Dive Into Just A Thought
Melanie Avalon: Hi friends, welcome back to the show. I am so incredibly excited about the conversation that I'm about to have. I've been looking forward to it for such a long time. It is with a repeat guest. That's how you know it's somebody really, really incredible, really amazing. So, I am here today with Amy Johnson. She is the author of a book that I originally brought her on to the show for, which was The Little Book of Big Change: The No-Willpower Approach to Breaking Any Habit. For listeners, I will put a link in the show notes to that episode. It was so incredible. I don't know if you remember this, Amy, but I released it as the first episode of the New Year because I thought it was just the perfect way to start the New Year, because habit creation and all of that is such a part of starting the New Year. But Amy has a new book that we have her on today. It is Just a Thought: A No-Willpower Approach to Overcome Self-Doubt and Make Peace with Your Mind.
Right now, the book is not out yet, but Amy sent me a copy. And, oh my goodness, it was so incredible. It was one of those instances where I was learning so much, and it was so eye opening. I seriously just want everybody to read this book. I would text my friends, I'd be like, “You have to read this book. It's not out yet. Once it comes out, you've got to read it.” But it really just dives so deep into something that I talk about a lot on this show, which is really the role of our mind, our thoughts, our experience and how that affects our personal experience and our personal peace. And I know people often turn to a lot of biohacking modalities to work with that. And I've had things on the show for that, so meditation devices, stress relieving devices, so many different things people try to make peace with their mind. But this really just goes beyond all of that in providing true insight of which is what is happening with our minds, and that's probably sounds a little vague. We can dive really deep into everything. But, Amy, thank you so much for being here.
Amy Johnson: Thank you so much for having me back. I'm really honored to be a repeat guest. I know having my own podcast what that's like. There probably aren't many repeat guests. Not too many anyway, so I'm honored.
Melanie Avalon: There are not that. Yeah, so you understand, fellow podcaster. For listeners who are not familiar with your work, a little bit about Amy, she is a PhD, she's a psychologist, a coach, an author and a speaker. I already mentioned her book, The Little Book of Big Change. She also has another book that she wrote before that called Being Human. She's been all over the place, The Steve Harvey Show, Oprah.com, she's been in the Wall Street Journal, and SELF magazine and all the places and there is very, very good reason for that. Again, definitely check out the first episode we did.
To start this episode off, for listeners who aren't familiar with your work, I would love to hear a little bit about your personal story of your own struggles and challenges that you went through with your emotional health and panic attacks and worries and ruminations, and what led to where you are today, and ultimately, writing your new book.
Amy Johnson: I definitely felt like, it was called an anxious kid, just was around a lot of worry, and then I learned how to do it myself. “I can do that,” and so I just started making up stuff in my own head and worrying about it and thinking it was real. I make a joke about it, but obviously, it's hard to live that way and especially as a kid when you have absolutely no idea that what you're thinking and what other people are worrying about isn't the truth it. When you see adults around you worried and then your mind starts going there. It all feels very real, I think at any age.
I just felt I was in my head a lot as a kid and as a young adult, and life felt very hard. It looked to me like I needed to figure it out. I was type A and pretty hard working. So, I just felt, “Okay, well life is hard and I definitely have some strikes against me in some different areas, but I'm not going to let that get me down. I'll beat this.” And so for better or worse, that was my slant on life was, like, “I'm going to do everything I can to make myself happy and make sure that I have a nice life and that I'm successful and all the stuff.” That, I think, for anyone listening who can relate to that, it gets exhausting very quickly. It is the definition of anxiety, I think, for me because you're running around in the world or even in your interworld trying to make everything a certain way, so that you can be okay. I think at the exact same time that we're doing all that, we all deeply know that we're not in charge of all that.
We can try to have all the right accomplishments and outside stuff and all the right thoughts and feelings and health and just have everything in line, but we know we're not in charge of it. And if our peace of mind or our sense of security is based on that, it's hard, it's exhausting, and it's ultimately not working. So, that was what I did for a long time. I think at all, I was feeling it the whole way through, but it really came to a head in my early 20s when I struggled with a lot of severe anxiety, a lot of panic attacks, and I was afraid to leave my house for my apartment for the better part of a couple years, my life got very small. Somehow, I started to wake up from this fog of panic and anxiety, I had some therapy that was helpful, and I don't even know exactly, but it started to look different. I thought, “Oh, great anxiety is behind me.” But then I found myself in an eating disorder. And now I see, which we can talk about that those really weren't two separate things. They were the same anxiety, just showing up and being coped with in a different way.
I basically, yeah, which is swap issues, and it felt like, I'd hit one thing down, and another thing would pop up. Until about 10 or 11 years ago, now, when I came across what I write about and share now, and it was the only thing that really felt like it clicked and made sense and went deep enough to actually lead to lasting change when nothing else had.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, my goodness, so much that I relate to, and I'm sure a lot of listeners. I as well, I am type A, well, we can talk about the role of labels, but I always feel like I'm driven by anxiety and these restless thoughts. One of the questions I often have about anxiety, because you're talking about how it's searching to be safer to be secure. What is the difference between preparation for life and anxiety? Can we prepare for life and have maybe the same thoughts and the same mental practices of preparing for things without having the worrying and the anxiety? What makes it anxiety?
Amy Johnson: That's a great question. I actually think they're two completely different things. We prepare for life, the same way we might prepare for anything, or let's just say that it's possible to do that. In theory, it's like we can do what we need to do to show up in life to prepare to be responsible adults. The same way we just showed up for this podcast, like, “Oh, okay, my little chime is coming on saying it's time to log in, let's just do that.” It didn't require a ton of overthinking, a ton of, “Oh, my gosh, what if it doesn't work? What could go wrong?” For me anyway. It was just like, “Okay, here's what I do.” You just showing up in life, in the moment, letting life live you, following the next common-sense thing to do. I think that's how we're designed to live. That's what we're created. We're created in order to be able to just live that way. And that gives us all the preparation we need.
We don't need to prepare for something out there that might happen or even that is going to happen, because we're just here right now in life full of common sense and new thoughts and new ideas that just move us along the way. But we've lost sight of that, no one really tells us. We're told, it's serious, it's hard, think about it, prepare. And so what we call when preparation feels like anxiety or worry, or something like that, I would say that's not preparation at all, that has nothing to do with actual preparation. It's anxiety, it's a busy mind. And our mind might be saying, “Oh, no, what's going to happen? I need to prepare, I need to get it all right.” But that conversation has nothing to do with actual preparation. That's just a busy night and anxious mind.
Melanie Avalon: I hadn't really thought about that before. But literally everything that is about to happen, or could happen, we could have anxiety about it and worry in rumination or we could not. Literally every single thing. It's so interesting to think about why are some things we get more anxious about or focus on and other things that we don't, but I guess to paint a broad picture, because you mentioned before that you came to this understanding that really helps you break free from your feelings of anxiety. What is this insight about the mind and thoughts? What's the revelation?
Amy Johnson: I'll say it one way, just broad picture, like you said, and then just keep in mind, everyone listening, we’ll be talking about it in different ways throughout, I'm sure. But I guess essentially, it's this idea that, like we were talking about in the preparation conversation that life lives us that if you book it a little kid, like they just move through life. They're moved by something, ideas and hunches and preferences and desires just well up within them, they just show up from who the heck knows where. And the kid just acts on them, there isn't a lot of overthinking necessary, there isn't a lot of preparation necessary. They're just moved and they're just in life. And that's what I think a lot of us adults call like being present or something like that, which is just another concept, but we're made for that. We can just show up in that and things show up in our heads and our bodies move and so much is done through us and for us.
And somewhat separately from that, not really, but for the sake of our conversation, somewhat separately from that, we all have this what I call in the book, a narrator. The subtle narrator in our head, which is our mind, which is just constantly talking. Constantly narrating life telling us what's what, telling us what we should do, talking about the past, talking about the future, most of all talking about us, everything in our head revolves around us. Not because we're selfish, not because we're egotistical, but because we literally have a computer called a brain in our heads, that is constantly talking about us and telling us how everything that's happening out in the world and everything we feel, what it all means about us and how it all revolves around us, and this isn't a problem. Our brain does this, this is just part of how it keeps us alive, or how it thinks it's keeping us alive, how it thinks it's keeping us safe, and all evolutionary stuff that we can touch on. But it's just a brain doing what a brain does, where the center of our own universe.
You had to have on the one hand, like, life's just letting us everything's okay. And then you have on the other hand, this mind, this computer in our heads, our brain, that's nonstop talking and judging and evaluating and making everything about us. Basically, we grow up and we just start listening to the narrator a lot, to the fact, to the point that we think that that voice is us. We get so identified with every thought, every feeling, every judgment, every opinion. Every single one of us, we lose sight of the fact that that's just a repetitive voice in our heads, that is not necessarily helping us in life. We don't need to listen to it, it's not telling us the truth. I think I'm sure most of your listeners, and I think most people have some sense of that, but I don't know that we really see how big that is, that we come to see how that mind talks and then also see how redundant it is, how little it's really needed. We don't need to rely upon it because we're lived by something else.
In a sense, that's it in a nutshell. Again, I can answer that question a million different ways. But that's sort of where I went in writing this book, just the thought it's like, knowing that when we just let life live us more, wow. I mean, everything gets easier. So many things change and open up. It's just totally different experience when we were a little more grounded in what's there beyond our chatty, repetitive mind. But it's very, very hard to feel that when our chatty repetitive mind feels like it's helping us, when it feels like we need it to prepare for life or we need it because it's telling us the truth. That's why I think it's so important to see how that mind works. We can see, “Oh, that's just a brain doing what our brain does. I don't need to listen to that so much.” Then we just naturally don't listen quite so much, and we have a really, really different experience that way.
Melanie Avalon: There are a few things that you say. You say them repetitively throughout the book and you make a comment about the importance of hearing things, a lot and hearing them like slightly different so that we take it to heart, but one of the things you say is, that's just what minds do. And I've found that phrase so helpful now. As I've worked on noticing in my own mind all of these stories and narratives that you point out because, for listeners, in the book, Amy goes through, like very specific examples of all the different things that our minds do and thoughts that our minds have. I'm sure most people will identify with most of them. So, not only is it helpful to just realize those, but I've been able to, like, when I do experience that my brain or my mind is having this thought saying, “Oh, well, that's just what minds do.” It really softens the effects because I think it can be hard to-- when you become aware that your mind is doing this, like, how do you engage with that? Because it can be scary. If you see that your mind is thinking certain things that you realize are may or may not be a reality, like, how do you engage with it, as far as that's just what minds do?
Amy Johnson: It's less about even how we engage with it, then it is about just seeing how this works. So, look at like a surgeon, for example. A surgeon has a deep understanding, hopefully, your surgeon has a deep understanding of biology, as person knows exactly, we hope what's going on in there, how it all works. Like a really deep, thorough understanding of biology. If a doctor is going to cut into you and do some stuff inside your body, they have to know things like how do I make the incision, and where do I move this organ when I go to the organ behind it and do something to it, and all that stuff. There was maybe a how and a step by step to surgery, but that's the easy part. That part's no problem.
What's going to give you a successful outcome, is if your surgeon has a very deep understanding of biology. Part of understanding biology is going to help them see how they make the incision and what they do once they're in there, that's all, the hows are all going to be natural for the most part, from their deep understanding of how a human body works, physically. So, it's the same with us. It's the same with our mind. The way we relate to our own thoughts and our own feelings, it's just a reflection of what we understand about it. This is where I think everybody in the world for the most part has this backwards. Like we've just been conditioned in a backward sort of way, where everyone's out there with their minds leading, saying, from a mind perspective, saying, “What do I do? How do I relate? What should I do when this happens?” And, of course, we are. But that's because we don't understand it.
When we when we really come to see how am I in talks all the time, how it says the same, everybody's mind works the same way. It says the same stuff, all minds worry, all minds compare, all minds are constantly trying to problem solve. All minds are always creating identities that we call us and then passing them off as true and solid. When we have a sense of what all minds do, then the way you relate to it just naturally changes.
Melanie Avalon: One of the biggest, well, mind blowing moments I had when I was reading your book, it relates to what you were just saying about life living us. You talk about when we wake up in the morning and hear the alarm clock or oftentimes our mind will say like, “Time to get up.” You question, “Do we get up because our mind said to get up or were we getting up, and our mind is commenting that we were getting up?” Basically, this idea that, like, we think we're deciding to do all of these things, and then we do it, but maybe we do it and then our mind is commenting on all of it. It's like mind blown that our thoughts aren't actually driving anything.
Amy Johnson: Yes, that's huge, isn't it? I mean, because think about it. If we think that our mind is telling us what to do, and that it's the source of all of this wisdom and inspiration. What choice do we have, but to tune into it a lot? We'd be crazy not to. If we think that our mind ruminating or worrying, I hear this from people all the time. Well, worry has some protective value. Rumination has some positive stuff. If we think that, if we believe that, of course, we're going to be really caught up in rumination and worry. We'd be crazy not to be. To your point, what if it's not that way? Like, truly, what if we are lived, we just see things to do on a level that's beyond our conscious knowing? We find ourselves doing things. Don't we? If you have to go to the bathroom, you find yourself walking to the bathroom. You don't have to think. Okay, right foot in front of left, walk into bathroom, turn the light on, it just happens.
I know a lot of things in life don't feel like going into the bathroom, but if we really look, it's a really mind-blowing thing to consider. Even make decisions, even stuff with our work and big choices that it feels like were making. Aren't we really just responding to what shows up within us? We don't put our own thoughts there. It's a great thing. Sometimes, I'm careful about going there too much because I think it can be a little unsettling sometimes for people if this is a brand-new idea to them. People love the idea of control. And it's not even that people love the idea, like brains love the idea of control, and people have brains. So, your brain is going to say, “Uh-huh, I am doing this. I am in charge. I'm making my own choices. I have my own freewill.” I know that that can probably feel like a lot of comfort.
Just people listening, just consider, like, what if you're already up in the morning, and then your brain says, “Time to get up.” This is the one I noticed all the time, I'm already reaching for my sweater, and my mind says, “Ooh, it's cold in here.” Now, I didn't need to just say that to myself. I have the sweater in my hand. Something in me knows it's cold. Yet, we have a mind that just loves to talk about everything, and almost pretend like it's in charge of everything, which is great, as long as we know that that's what's going on. If we don't realize that, and we think our mind really is in charge, that's where we get into more trouble.
Melanie Avalon: It's really fascinating. I remember actually while I was reading the book, I think it might have been literally the night after I read that whole section. The next day I had a podcast recording and I needed to be-- so I always like do my last-minute prepping right before the show. Everything is very timed out for my preparation time and all of that. My toilet overflowed that morning, listeners know, I have digestive issues, like I have to have my toilet, and it was a mess. I needed to be prepping for the show. It was just the worst situation to be in, and I had this epiphany from reading your book about, like the life living us and things happening, and we think we're controlling up, but we're not. It's like I stepped back, and I was like all of this is happening and it's all going to resolve, and I'm really not controlling any of that. I know that tomorrow, this will all be over. In a way, it doesn't even matter my stress or rumination or trying to control the situation, literally the situation will resolve itself. So, am I resolving the situation or is it going to resolve itself regardless? I don't know if that's too esoteric, but it was very freeing for getting through it.
Amy Johnson: Yeah, that's awesome. And it's not to say that you don't do things. It's not like you're just saying, “Okay, well, this will all get prepped and cleaned up all by itself.” It's that the next thought that you need will show up. The next action to take will show up. We don't have to. And this is, I think, we're so much overthinking and anxiety comes from is, we think we need to figure out the next thought we're going to have or the next thing to do. And it just gets our mind so caught up and so busy, but if you can know, you have always figured out and overflowing toilet, you have always shown up for the podcast better or worse and just done something that makes sense. So, it's huge to have that off of us. I think as we say this, it can sound again, like this is some giant thing like your life is going to be-- this is about going about life in a totally different way. In some ways it is, but also, it's not. All we're really saying is like just be curious about that. Just notice the next thought that you have after you listen to this episode about what you're going to do next. Did you put that thought there? Are you really pulling the strings? Or, is stuff just showing up for you that makes sense that then you're acting on?
Melanie Avalon: How long did it take for you to start consistently seeing your thoughts differently or for your behavior to change or anxiety to lesson and then how did you stay consistent with moving towards that?
Amy Johnson: It's an ongoing thing, it's deepening all the time and I'm not really doing anything to make it happen. Except, I guess and I don't even know that this does anything, but staying in this curious about all this, staying in this conversation. For me, when I came across all this, it was really like I was caught up in binge eating and bulimia. And that was the main thing that I wanted to see something around. By seeing that my mind was just telling me that I wanted to do these behaviors, but that was just a machine that had been conditioned to tell me to do those behaviors. That's it. It was no different than like having hiccups, where like, you just have these reflexes. My brain just had these reflexes that said, “Binge, purge,” all these commands. But that those weren't my desires that I didn't have to listen to all that. I saw something in that very quickly.
Now, my behavior didn't instantly change overnight by any means. I don't even remember. Several months, I would say, of it looking different, feeling different. Me feeling like I don't have to just follow through and all of that. Within a few months, within several months, it was markedly different. Same with anxiety and other things, I guess. But that aside, so those are some specific behavioral things. That's almost like a cherry on top when I think about it now. So, yes, my habits, my anxiety, those all fell away. But what's happened in the eleven or so years since then, is an ongoing, just series of insights, I guess, that made rarely, like, “Wow, is this really just all thought? God, mind really is just talking all the time.” When I'm not so caught up in that, it's like there's this whole other world available that I would have never known about that it's available to all of us. Just a little more freedom, like just a little bit of being able to be curious about what's there, beyond this constant narration. Exploring that, and just-- I don't even know, the words don't really do it. But touching that space, just not listening to all my insecure thoughts so much. That's made way for just a ton of change that-- I'm not even necessarily aware of. I know my relationships are different, I'm positive that my parenting is different than it would have been, just all kinds of little ways that that's shown up.
Melanie Avalon: I was wondering if you could tell listeners or reminding me when you're talking about the binge eating and everything that you went through. You talk about the example in the book about how we make our triggers and cues and habits really personal. And you talk about, like refrigerator light coming on, when we open the refrigerator. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that. I thought that was such a great analogy.
Amy Johnson: I was talking about those refrigerator lights, probably better. But in the grocery store, like those freezer lights, so to be energy efficient, the aisles dark until you start to walk down the aisle and it detects your motion, and all the lights come on. It just really struck me as like, “Wow, that's how our brain works. Our brain has so much to do. So much really, really important stuff to do.” And it takes in so much information, and it just needs a lot of shortcuts. So, in that way, it takes a lot of shortcuts and it sacrifices accuracy for perceived certainty and predictive value. Our brain just wants to know, what's coming, what's going to happen. And it does that, because that's how it's evolved. That's how it's kept us alive.
Back in the day, there really weren't true threats around every corner. So, the brains that were very sensitive to what might go wrong, are the brains that survived because people could find, see when an animal was lunging at them to eat them or when they were about to starve, and they could remedy that situation and pass on their genes. So, what we have now, 200,000 years later, is a bunch of people in a very, very safe, external world, for the most part, with brains that are still always looking for what might go wrong.
Our brain is just always trying to connect dots and predict things and make connections. And it often sacrifices accuracy to do that. It's a little bit, like, when you walk down that aisle and all the lights come on, that's just a system. So, it's an efficient system. Those lights aren't coming on because you're there, like you personally, it's not like, “Ooh, here's Melanie. Turn on extra bright,” or like shine on this, this is what she wants to buy. They're not telling us that we should be there. They're not telling us what we should buy. It's just an efficient system that we don't take personally, and so is our brain. It's just an efficient system. But if we do take it personally, so all of these connections and stories and all of this meaning comes up. And it's just our mind trying to be coherent and make sense of things for us. But it's so incredibly helpful to see that it's not always accurate.
Melanie Avalon: I love that so much, because with the refrigerator lights coming on, they are coming on because we're there, and that's the reason they're on. But the lights, they don't know that it's us specifically, like you said, it's just programming. It's like when we are engaging in a habit or something, if we keep doing this one thing with the habit, we may think it's really personal and says a lot about us and that it can't be changed. When really, like you said, it's just programming and it could be changed. You could reprogram, the lights not to come on at the grocery store, or you could program them to come on blue or pink. And it's not final, it doesn't have to mean anything. I just thought that was incredible. I'm super curious, do you have multiple kids?
Amy Johnson: I have two, 9 and 11.
Melanie Avalon: What do you teach them about all of this, as far as their thoughts and our mind?
Amy Johnson: It's really interesting. They're getting to that age where they're starting to get a little bit more caught up in some stuff. Until recently, they really weren't. In a lot of ways, they still aren't. In a way, like kids know everything we're talking about. They don't know that they know it, but they just live by it. If you look at little kids, even when their mind is repeating something over and over again, they don't have that tendency to make everything personal and to try to find meaning in it and to try to prevent it quite as much as adults do. Kids just tend to live in this place now. By nine and 11, they are getting to a place where they can overthink and believe their thoughts and all that. But, yeah, I don't know, it's been relatively easy to just help them see, like, that's just what mind does, to help them see that's not you.
I was so proud of my daughter, she's 11. Yesterday, we're in the car and we're listening to this interview of someone who is talking about being really anxious and being on drugs for medication, for anxiety and depression. And I had some opinions about that, that I shared with her. And he was saying, “Oh, well, I just knew I had to be medicated and all of this because I got this job. And when I would go up the elevator to my job, my heart would be pounding out of my chest, and I just couldn't think straight.” This guy's conclusion was that he obviously has some serious issues that shouldn't be happening. It was funny because Willow was in the backseat as before I even commented on it at all. And she was like, “Hello, that's just called being nervous, dude.” [laughs] But that just was like, “Oh, okay, good.” There's not that instant tendency to make everything a problem. It's like, we feel stuff, every human feel stuff, and then it goes away. And it doesn't mean anything about us.
Melanie Avalon: I think you talked about this in the book as well. The physical manifestation of what some people might call anxiety, could also be the exact same physical manifestation is excitement, or, like the literal feeling could be the same. It's just how we interpret it. And you talk about like pain, and how pain is technically just like heat and pressure. Ever since I read that, every time I've had experienced pain, I'm like, “Oh,” like thought about it. I'm like, “Oh, is this really just heat and pressure interpreted as pain?”
Amy Johnson: Yeah. Isn't that cool? I love that. Pain is just heat and pressure, usually, if we are experiencing it as pain, plus a mind that comes in and says, “Oh, no, is this going to get worse? What's going on here?” That's what we feel as pain. Yes, there's physical stuff, but for it to be pain, and for sure for it to be something we might call suffering, there's a lot of thinking. And that thinking is all opinionated and resisting, and that's just stuff we learn. It's just stuff we learn and pick up over the years. And same with emotion, like you said, it's just energy. Emotion is just this amazing flow of energy through us where the energy may be picks up a little bit, or in the case of what we might call sadness, or depression, it slows down a little bit. It's just energy. But then our mind comes in, because it needs to make sense of everything because it loves us, and this is how it thinks it's keeping us alive. It comes in and tells a story about it. And it says, “Ooh, you're really depressed. And by the way, you've been depressed longer, you felt this way longer than the average person. So, you probably have a problem, or you're really anxious and this should have stopped by now.” If we can just start to sense the difference between just feeling life, and then feeling a very opinionated, concept oriented right or wrong, good or bad mind talking about life. It's huge.
Melanie Avalon: One of the things I really struggle with is, I've definitely identified or working on identifying the part of my mind that tells a story to try to keep me safe and try to keep me productive and try to keep me on point. And it's hard, because sometimes I really, truly feel that it is that voice that has brought me to where I am today. Going back to like the type A personality or the perfectionist tendencies, I see that and I'm like, “Well, that's what's led me here.” So, the idea of not accepting that story or seeing beyond it is really, really hard. What do you say to people, when the voice may manifest different ways, either saying you're depressed or being hard on you compared to a perfectionist tendency, there's all these different narrators that there can be?
Amy Johnson: It's just interesting to be curious about what we think causes what. This is just something a brain does. It makes a cause-and-effect model for everything. It says, “I've succeeded in life because of these traits and because of the circumstances and all of that.” I hope if there's one thing the book does, it's to help people be a little suspicious of their mind’s conclusions about these things, because it's just operating on very limited information, very biased information that we have conscious awareness of, and it passes it off as certain all the time, like for sure. If I wasn't type A and I wasn't a perfectionist, these wonderful things wouldn't be part of my life. And we can't really know that, but to take it even a little further, I think, it's interesting to wonder, what if we've succeeded in life to the extent that we have, not because of any kind of pain, or suffering or toughness, or anything like that, but despite it, like, what if you would have a lot more, if you weren't so perfectionistic?
I don't know how we'd study this. I don't think we can, but it's a really, really interesting thing to just be curious about, because it just starts to open you up to the other side of things, so that you're not confirming your worries and your perfectionism all the time. What if from a really relaxed mind that isn't on you all the time? What if you just naturally have hunches and ideas on a ton of creativity that you would, of course, follow? You would, of course, follow a lot of that. Just out of pure joy and interest. And then what if you have this narrator in there that says, “Nope, you need me to do this for you. So, let's make it scary and let's put some stuff on the line, and let's make sure you get this done.” But I don't know maybe it gets in the way more than it's actually helped.
Melanie Avalon: That's a huge revelation. Question about the worries and the ruminations and the fears, and maybe this taps into things like trauma. So, a lot of our worries and our ruminations are anticipations of things that usually don't come to pass, a large part of the time. It's all these imagined fears. But what happens when it does, and I can't believe the timing of this, I was a little bit distressed about it, but now I'm realizing how completely perfect it is for this conversation right now. So, one of my fears is-- so with my teeth, I have some veneers, I really like my teeth with the veneers, but I've had this ongoing fear that if it falls off, then you basically won't have a tooth. One of the most common nightmares that people have as their teeth falling out.
Last night, one of my veneers fell off. When I was eating came out, and I was freaking out, so it's out right now, it's not in right now. Right now, I'm existing in this state of literally my fear coming true of my tooth basically falling out. What's really, really interesting about this whole experience right now, so I have the appointment tomorrow with a dentist, like, it's all going to be fixed tomorrow at 1 o'clock, I will be at the dentist, we will get the veneer put back on. It's all going to be okay. My mind, all it has been saying ever since it happened, even in the background a little bit right now, and I'm sure up until tomorrow, it's just fixated on it. And it's just on repeat, like, “This is the worst thing that could ever happen and it's happening right now, and it's just so terrible.”
It's really interesting to experience it right now, because it's really hard. I feel, I don't know, what that says about what happens when the thing you worry about does happen. And then it is bad, and then even if it is going to be resolved, I still hear the voice saying the thing. That was like a whole meandering story. But basically, when our fears do materialize, how can we healthfully engage with that process?
Amy Johnson: Well, it's such a good example. What do you see about the conversation that your mind has been having since this happened, and that and that it will have as you said, you feel you are pretty confident that it's going to happen until 2 o'clock or whenever the process is done, like your mind is going to just talk about this, and then it won't, so what do you see about that?
Melanie Avalon: It is a lot of what I would call worry and anxiety, but I see it happening, and I know that it doesn't matter in a way. I really see the brain on repeat, like running this program. That's the thing is, sometimes we don't like experiencing unpleasant feelings. I see my brain running this program. It's an unpleasant program. I don't know how to turn it off. I'm just watching it. Not really liking it, not really knowing where to go from here. [laughs]
Amy Johnson: Does it have valuable information for you?
Melanie Avalon: Yeah. Well, I guess it's saying that these things that I worry about, they actually can't happen. I thought they could, but at least they'll be fixed if they do happen. But if they do happen, it won't be pleasant, but at the same time, it's still going to be okay in the end. Or maybe that's my view of it.
Amy Johnson: That's a lot of story that and that's not needed, or valuable information. If the fact of the matter, like you said, is that it happened, and you're getting it fixed tomorrow at 1 o'clock, and then it's going to be fine. That's the truth of it. That is the truth of it. Even if the dentist is sick, and they say, “We have to push it to next week.” Fine, then you'll get it fixed next week. It's not about this outcome. The information that is telling you now, like what you just said, I know that feels like it's valuable or semi true or whatever, but it's just a conversation that's completely redundant and irrelevant. It has nothing to do with life. This repetitive conversation about how this happened, and oh, my gosh, and what it means and what about next time, and here's the lesson to learn and all of that. It's just a mind talking to itself.
I know this sounds crazy, but this is exactly what minds do. They talk. It's like you're already reaching for your sweater, and your mind says, “Ooh, it's cold in here,” that is just a machine comforting itself by the sound of its own voice. It's rehashing things. It's trying to find some sense of certainty. And like, “It's okay, we have a plan.” Meanwhile, you already have the plan. The appointment is set, it's done and over with. Just consider that there's absolutely nothing relevant or helpful or necessary or valuable in that conversation. It's just a machine doing what that machine does.
Melanie Avalon: We just watch the machine or let it run? Do we try to turn it off?
Amy Johnson: I wouldn't recommend it, because I don't know if it has an off switch. [laughs] I don't think that's going to work. So, no, you don't try to turn it off. And you can watch it or not watch it. Right now, you've lost it in the back of your mind while we've been talking, I'm sure, and then it pops back to the forefront when your tongue feels the hole in your mouth. You know what I mean? It has a life of its own, and there's nothing we need to try to manage or do anything with. It's just seeing, “Oh my gosh, this is such what that machine would do.” It just wants to talk and talk and talk about stuff that's done.
It's interesting to see that when this happened, when your veneer fell out, you didn't need your mind to tell you, “Okay, here's the plan.” You just called the dentist. You didn't need your mind to make up a strategy for you. I'm sure you did, I'm sure it repeated it many times, probably changed along the way. But meanwhile, something just occurred to you like, “Okay, here's what happened, call the dentist. Done.”
Melanie Avalon: I'm a way sort of grateful it's happening because it does make it so obvious that programming and that story that's running because I think when it's your daily life and a chronic anxiety and little things, it can be a little bit harder, at least for me to realize it or to pick it out or to see it more. But when it's something so present, I really see it.
Amy Johnson: That's so true, and that's such a huge point, that most of the time our minds just having all these conversations and where, like, I say in the book, like we're fish and water, where the fish is like, “What's water? I'm just hanging out in life.” It's so present that we are completely blind to it. But in a case like this, you get to see it over and over, and you really feel the dramatic, repetitive nature of it. Meanwhile, there's nothing to do. You're just living your life, and you just show up at 1:00 and it'll be fixed. There's nothing you need. But it will just talk about it like crazy.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah. It really was perfect timing for this.
Amy Johnson: Can you imagine just having that talking exactly like it is, it not changing at all, but just really knowing? You don't have to be there anything, I'm just curious, so just play this out. If you could hear all that and just be, like, “Oh my gosh, there it goes again.” Like just sense what that would feel like if it was just this repetitive background noise?
Melanie Avalon: Or, like, laughing at it? Oh, isn't that funny? I find humor very freeing.
Amy Johnson: Yeah. Like, “Oh, my gosh, you again? The appointment’s made, I got it. This is taken care of, but you need to rehash it again.”
Melanie Avalon: That is very helpful. I'm going to be implementing that all the way up until it. There's something that you touched on a little bit earlier, is you're talking about the amazing potential once you do have this insight and this revelation about your mind, and what's beyond that? What is beyond that? What is us? What is our baseline? When we remove, I don't know if we remove it, but beyond this, the thoughts in the brain and the story, what is there?
Amy Johnson: It's indescribable. It's really hard to talk about, in my words don't really matter. It's one of those things that we can all sort of get a sense of that ourselves. And that's what will help, but I'll say, to me, it just feels, like we're looking at the space before words, before language, before judgment, before good and bad. I like it. I don't like it. This should happen. This shouldn't happen. So, before all that before there are separate identities, like, I'm me, you're you, us and them, before all that garbage, is that's all created from a mind. That's all every bit of that is mind made. There is no inherent. Like, I like it, I don't like it, good, bad, that's all coming from a mind. Before all that, it just feels to me like, is pure potential of this space of everything, but also nothing, like, no thing because there's no language. So, we don't know what things are. They don't have words and labels yet. But sort of that infinite potential that, that anything can be born out of in any moment. I think that is us. I think every single one of us listening has had multiple, multiple glimpses of this. And maybe they're tiny and maybe they just last for a second, but they're just what happens.
When your mind just stops moving to the front, to the foreground, for a minute, when it just falls quiet for a minute, when you just feel really peaceful or grateful or content for no reason, not because something just happened or you got good news or just a moment of that. That is, is what is there for us all the times, who and what we are. We are swimming in that, we cannot be separated from that ever. Everything we're ever looking for is that, and then we just have this machine that's always talking, and because it's easier to focus on a machine that's always talking, that it is this field of nothing and everything, like something with no words and labels. We just get really preoccupied with the machine as if that's us.
Melanie Avalon: Whenever I perceive that I am experiencing that state, I feel I really struggle with something you talk about which is secondary emotions. I always get really sad actually because I think I could be feeling like this all the time because it feels something that was always there. And then just when the anxieties are gone, or the fears of the ruminations, it's like, “Oh, this was actually always there.” Like Dorothy, always in your own backyard. And then my secondary emotion that usually experienced a sadness, because I think, “Oh, I wish I could always be like this.”
Amy Johnson: That's your mind coming in to fill space, just like it's doing right now. Your tooth issues taken care of, it's in the books, but your mind wants to still talk about, it's just like a dog chewing a bone. It wants to just take up space and keep making extra sure that everything's under control. So, that's exactly what that is. And it's very, very common, when we get these really quiet little deep glimpses. Sometimes the boomerang effect feels horrible, because your mind will jump in with all kinds of stuff, just like you said, very, very common, but we can just see that.
A lot of times what I see, and people I work with long term, like their minds will do that, but they'll fall into that space more and more and realize that that reality is there all the time. But then their mind will just rate them, and just like you mentioned, and it's really easy to hear that and be like, “Oh, God it's back. And I knew I couldn't really hang out in that space.” But we just want to keep seeing, that's just more of the same thing. That's just what our mind does. It doesn't like to stay quiet for long, but we don't have to quiet it. The more we can just invite it in and be like, “Okay, you're speaking up again.” It loses so much of its power, because we're not resisting it and we're not making a big deal out of it. It can't really ruin anything for us. It's just back there talking.
Melanie Avalon: The space beyond everything, what is the role of wholeness versus a void and the concept of lack? Are we all whole and okay? What is what we perceive as, as lacking? Can we actually lack anything?
Amy Johnson: I don't think so. I mean, yes, the way I see it is exactly what you said, that there can't be people with different human design, like fundamentally human designs than other people. I can't see how that could be possible. Let's just say we all human beings are made of the same stuff. We all have the same design, and I think that is at our essence. We have everything we need, there are no mistakes. There are no things wrong, even that everything is perfect. We are whole, it's all there. And then we all have this incredible gift, this incredible ability to experience ourselves as separate and different. That's what a brain does. That's that is what we have that like trees don't have. I don't know the experience of a tree, but tree is just nature. It's clearly just being lived. And it doesn't have a brain to tell it otherwise. We are clear, in my view. We are nature, literally nature, not like nature, but we are nature. We are literally being lived just like that tree is. And we also happen to have a brain that gives us an experience of being separate from each other.
Having all kinds of dualistic, good, bad, black, white, living, dying, like all of these concepts and experiences of all of them. And that's beautiful. It gives us the human experience that we have, but it's a function of a brain. So, in my view, it's not the big, big truth of things. It's what we get by having a brain, and so what's going to be our experience, because we're always going to have a brain. How amazing just to know, “Oh, that's a function of a brain.” A brain creates the illusion of separation, a brain creates the illusion of lacking, which is just thought about lacking. It's just a thought, I don't have enough, that's it. Or, I'm not enough or whatever. We're going to have those experiences, but they're just brain created. They're not the bigger truth of things.
Melanie Avalon: I loved your take in the book on things like relationships. People who identify, like, this is one of my good friends. We've been talking a lot about this. Oh, and I keep telling her how she needs bees to read this book. I'm so excited for her. I really wanted her to read the relationship part of your book, because you're talking about how relationships can't give us anything that we didn't already have. We aren't lacking anything that a relationship has to give us, but I do think a lot of people perceive that they have this hole in their heart or that they're trying to fill something with another person or with a relationship. What do you think is going on there, like when people sense that they're trying to fill something?
Amy Johnson: Really, really simply, I think we're just thinking. It looks that simple to me. When our mind is at ease, we don't sit around in this really natural relaxed, at ease place, and say, “Man, I sure need to fill that hole in my heart. And I really, absolutely need another person.” That comes when our mind starts talking. It's just this conversation of our brain, looking out at the world as if it's a separate thing out there saying, “I'm not enough as I am,” or, “I don't like a feeling that's showing up, so what can I add or bring in or do in order to make this feeling go away?”
Melanie Avalon: So, that also be like feelings of loneliness? It's just our brain talking.
Amy Johnson: Yeah, because loneliness has nothing to do with being alone. I love being alone. Sometimes I feel really lonely being alone. I think we all have the experience of sometimes feeling really lonely being with people. I mean, that's like, the worst is if you're in an awkward relationship, and you feel very lonely in that relationship, you're not alone. But your mind is wanting something other than a different feeling than what you have. And it's telling a story about how to get that, so there's a feeling there that our mind says, “Ooh, I don't like this one,” it means blah, blah, blah, whatever. “Here's how we'll fix it.” It means this is not the relationship for me, and no one understands me and it goes into its big story. And then it creates a big fantasy of, “Oh, if I just meet the right person who really is my partner, they will always understand me, and I'll never have to feel this again.” That is just what a mind would do.
We don't have to pick through those stories. We don't have to analyze those stories or anything. We can just see, “Oh, that has to be a story.” Because there are moments when nothing changes in my life and the outside world, nothing has changed, and yet, I feel perfectly whole and content. And then there are moments when nothing is changed when I don't. This is the thing. Our eyes point out at this very complex physical world. And our brains are always trying to tell stories about things to make meaning. When we feel a certain way, and our eyes are looking outward, our mind will always find a reason out there for why we feel the way we do. But they're not accurate. Things out there, they can't make us feel anything. We end up with these huge elaborate stories about why we feel the way we do and what we need to fix it. We don't have to perfectly see through that all the time, but it's just so good to have even a little bit of a sense of, “Oh, if I suddenly feel lacking or lost or horrible, that has to be my mind doing that because beyond my mind, that's not there. It's not a reality.”
Melanie Avalon: Yeah. For me, the story that happens with relationships is because I've always been really independent, not usually in romantic relationships, at least. I don't feel I'm lacking anything. But if I engage in a relationship with somebody, I have a severe fear of losing it, because then it's like, I lost something, then it's like I'm lacking something that I wanted that I could have never lacked in the first place if I never engaged in it. I guess it's the whole idea of like, attachments, maybe, I don't know. But I guess in the end is all just, like you said, it's all just stories. It's all just the mind doing what it does.
Amy Johnson: It has to be. You can have any experience in the world of being with someone, of being separated from someone, there is no inherent experience out of a breakup or anything like that. We just feel what our mind is talking about moment to moment. When it feels, when it looks like it's the outside circumstance making us feel that way, then of course, we're going to start to want to avoid that outside circumstance. And that's unfortunately, where our world starts to get small, where we start to feel like, “Oh, I'm holding myself back from these relationships or this thing over here or that thing over there because I'm afraid of how I might feel. I'm afraid of some energy in a story.”
Melanie Avalon: It's just really interesting that you could see two people in a room and if you have some sort of history or context with one person, it can create an entire state or feeling or energy or story in yourself, compared to this other person who is a “stranger.” If you step back, it's three people in a room like nothing is affecting anybody really. It makes you really question what is reality?
Amy Johnson: Yeah. Isn't that great? That's so good to see. Really it is. It's almost like reality is always changing. There's eight billion realities, and they're always changing, because it's being created in our own mind. That's so, so big to see that, like, there's nothing actually happening here. But, man, there's a mind and they're given all kinds of meaning and story to what's not happening.
Melanie Avalon: Or, if I can be angry, and in the next second, not be angry or be anxious and then not be anxious, then I can't actually be any of those things.
Amy Johnson: Yeah, that's awesome.
Melanie Avalon: I was wondering if you could tell listeners a little bit about the Golden Buddha story.
Amy Johnson: It's a story of this statue of the Buddha that was in Thailand, I believe, that was made of pure solid gold story, by the way, made of pure solid gold. This is, I don't know, 15th century or something, a long time ago. Thailand was being invaded, I'm no historian, I think it was by Burma, the details are important. But to try to save this solid gold Buddha from the invaders, they covered it up with all kinds of junk, like glass and dirt and really big, like caked on mud and all of that kind of stuff. So, it just looked like this boring old statue. And, of course, no one cared about it or wanted it, they wanted more valuable things. It's just stayed. And then everyone who, I guess, apparently who had covered it up just slowly died over the years and never told anyone. Thousands of years later, this statue was still sitting around, and someone was scratching at it one day and flaked off a bunch of junk and found that it was solid gold beneath that.
It's just a metaphor for what you were asking earlier about, like, “What's there? Who are we beyond all this stuff?” I think it's really good to see that we grow up and our minds just gather identities and traits, and I'm the kind of person who and this is how I am and this is my personality, and this is what I like and what I don't like, and that's all great. It's just our mind trying to help give us some sense of certainty and identity to help us feel stable and secure in the world. But it's as solid as some mud, it's great to experience all that but to not have it caked on to us to the point where we forget or lose sight of what's really there beyond it.
Melanie Avalon: That is so incredible. Question about that with the root source and the labels and the personalities. And actually, this goes into-- Okay, so there's like anxiety and depression and all these different labels that we use. Are there though some personality disorders that are exceptions? People have actual personality disorders or narcissism, like sociopath or something? How do you feel about the spectrum of mental health conditions that people might be labeled with?
Amy Johnson: I think they're all thought, really. I don't see anyone being born a sociopath, although for sure, there are temperaments, and there are things that seem to appear at a very early age, and that maybe they are part of someone's genetics. But I guess the thing is, like you said, it's all on a spectrum. At the one end, we might have something like a little mild anxiety, a little mild depression, or something. We can see more easily with something like that, that yes, when a person is feeling all kinds of thinking and feeling, and then when they come in on top of it and think, “Oh, my gosh, it's back. And I'm stuck and here I am and this is me.” We're just going to magnify it. it's just going to be experienced as solid and real and personal. But when that same person's mind settles down, they laugh at a joke, or they smile at something, or they have little moments in their day when they don't feel so depressed or anxious.
When a case like that, you can see how, like, I use the weather metaphors a lot, how it's just a lot of cloud cover. And it might be such thick cloud cover that they cannot see through it for a period of time. But that doesn't mean that that's who they are. There's always a through it to see. There's always a blue sky, beyond the clouds. And I truly believe that even things like sociopaths and bipolar, narcissism that feel a lot more sticky. That isn't that is the case there as well. It's just that the cloud cover really does tend to be sometimes a lot thicker. And that person is just seeing through thought in the moment. Sometimes thought in the moment moves quickly, and we can find our way to not taking it so seriously. Sometimes we are really, really misidentified with it. It just looks like how it is and how we are. That's what's happening and what looks like those exceptions are more extreme cases.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, I'm so glad you brought up the sky weather example, because you talked about that, and The Little Book of Big Change as well, and that that has stuck with me to this day. That idea that we don't usually think about this, but like, literally every day is the same. The sky is the same. It's so mind blowing to think about, but it's really just clouds and the weather that's changing. What have been some of the examples of people that you've worked with, with your patients who have different things they've tackled with this insight?
Amy Johnson: Everything. From a lot of habits and addictions, a lot of anxiety in any shape or form, and there are tons of shapes and forms that anxiety can take. Relationship patterns, like some of the stuff we're talking about, or what I wrote about in some of my stuff, from one little episode that happened when I was nine, I concluded, “Okay, no one cares about me, no one cares what I have to say, I have no ability to have any power in this life.” So, from that belief forming in a moment, it's like, it just keeps getting confirmed and confirmed and confirmed, because that's just what our brain does. It just finds confirming evidence for what it already believes.
There's so many things like that. I think that's at the core of all of it. We think we're anxious. We have this habit we say, which is really holding on to it in a sense. We think this is the kind of person we are and this is our personality. And for all of those and truly anything that people are up against, when they just start to be curious about, “Hey, what if this isn't something I am or I have? But what if this is just the way life is showing up through me?” What if your sky, like you don't have gray sky, if you live in Seattle, it's just the way the weather tends to show up there. Sometimes it doesn't. It sounds too simple to be helpful, I think as I say it, but honestly, it is so simple. If we can just be with that with anything that's moving through us. Our experience is designed to move. We cannot be stuck in it. We can feel stuck, but we're not stuck in is always changing, always moving. That goes for every habitual thought we have, every judgment we have, all of what we call our personality. It's in motion. So, even just a little sense of that being pretty fluid and always moving, just makes way for huge, lifelong things like this to start to look different and fall away.
Melanie Avalon: Well, yeah, speaking to that as far as, like, it sounds so simple. I think you might have talked about this in the book, but it's like I feel if you're playing like a video game or something, and if you didn't know it was a video game, if you thought it was real life, like that would have a lot of implications about your experience of the video game. But if you know it's a video game, you still play it the same way. You still have to engage in the actions and do the challenges or whatever the video game is, but your experience of it would be completely different if you knew it was a game.
Amy Johnson: That's exactly what I think is so powerful here. It's exactly what we're doing. You're not going to shut off your brain, it's going to talk about whatever it wants to talk about on repeat. But when you know that that's just what minds do, it's just not same. It's like when we can know that everything that we experience in this life is energy and then our mind trying to explain it. We just tend to get so much less caught up in it. It looks less personal, less solid, and it frees us up. It really frees us up to go out in life and do things, try things that we wouldn't otherwise try, because we can't get it wrong. The worst that's going to happen, is we feel some energy and our mind gives us some thoughts we don't like and then that changes.
Honestly, that's the worst I can see that can possibly happen in life, is we have a feeling we don't like, and then that feeling changes.
Melanie Avalon: Now, I'm just thinking because you were talking about how for you, you had this one thought in childhood that got intensified and repeated and confirmed and grew into this whole thing. And you talked about that in the book like how it's so interesting that we can have a single thought at one time, that could have been interpreted so many different ways, but because it's interpreted a certain way that it becomes this whole thing. For me, I have this one single thought that-- I would it my Achilles heel that I've had for a while. I've always thought to-- Well, I guess the dream version of me, I'm like, “Oh, if I just didn't have this thought, if it just wasn't there, then things could be so different.” Maybe would it be more fruitful to just accept that the thought is there, but that the thought doesn't mean anything?
Amy Johnson: Yeah. Yes, exactly. To see it for what it is, like, it may not go away, but what if you could be free with it instead of free from it. It's just a thought. Even just that, you even say though, it's my Achilles heel. It's an old thing. That’s, I think, the point of having these stories that show us like, “Wow, look at how this happens.” It happens to everyone. Our mind just assigns meaning to something that happened and it grabs on to these thoughts, because they look like they're going to be helpful or protective and then we grow up and go through life. And we see just how limiting that thing is that maybe it did protect us, or it felt like it did for a very short period of time. But before we know it, that thing that was “protection” is now limiting and holding us back. And it's not that it's not going to come up, your brain loves you too much. It's going to remember, it's very smart, it's going to keep bringing that up. But if you don't believe it, the more you just really-- I don't know, those are just words, but when we really come to see-- this is the freezer lights, the refrigerator lights going on, just because I open the fridge, doesn't mean anything about what I'm supposed to do or not do. It's just that, that's where I think we can really be free with it.
Melanie Avalon: That's so freeing, because I think there can be so much focus and effort on trying to eradicate the thought, or forget the thought or not experience the thought or reconceptualize or remove, but it's such a brilliant title. But if we just say it's just a thought, you don't have to really do any of that.
Amy Johnson: Yeah, it does that by itself. When we're not busy trying to change it, it changes. That's the irony. Honestly, that is the irony. When we aren't trying so hard to do all this stuff with our experience to make it more manageable, it just changes on its own.
Melanie Avalon: What role does willpower play? The subtitle to your book is a “No-Willpower Approach.” Does it require willpower to do all of this or not?
Amy Johnson: I think it doesn't require a lick of willpower. [laughs] Think about why, it's because when we see things differently, there's nothing to manage. That's a perfect question on the heels of your last what we were just talking about, because it's this thought, whatever your thought is, it might be there, let's just assume it's going to be there your entire life. You've already done a lot of stuff to try to make it go away, I'm sure, or to try to convince yourself of that it's not true or whatever. Obviously, none of that has worked. Why don't you just say, “Hey, come on in, thought, you're just a thought, you don't mean anything.” We don't want to make that a strategy either. I'm not saying the strategy is we welcome everything. There is no strategy that it's truly, truly just seeing it for what it is, that just strips it of its power. There's no willpower needed.
Melanie Avalon: How do you feel about mantras? The reason I'm asking that is like, if we had a mantra to encapsulate all of this, what would it be, but I don't know if would mantras be seen as an exercise or a tool?
Amy Johnson: I think anything like that is great if people love it and if it feels helpful, but the problem with exercises and tools is we start to-- our mind turns them into the end result.
Melanie Avalon: A thing.
Amy Johnson: Yeah, like the thing. Exactly. A mantra is very quickly going to be unhelpful, if it looks like, “Oh crap, I forgot to say my mantra.” Or if it looks like, “Oh my gosh, I have to say this and then I'm going to feel a certain way.” That's crazy. That's never going to work that way. But if you feel good when you say it, why not? But then if you forget for a month, don't worry about it, because it's not really the cause of anything anyway.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, actually, how do you feel about meditation?
Amy Johnson: Personally, I don't formally meditate, but I feel meditative, if that makes sense, a lot more than I used to. Just by knowing what we're talking about. My mind does exactly what yours does, Melanie. I have certain things, and it's funny that you mentioned that, because not to bring it back up for you, but I have tooth issues [laughs] and I have lots of dreams about losing teeth, like all the time.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, my goodness. I'm right there with you.
Amy Johnson: Yes. 100%. I grind my teeth a little bit. So, if I chip a tooth, yes, or something like that, my mind will just talk about it nonstop. It's weird. I don't want to make the sound like I'm crazy Buddha like special, but sometimes I can almost feel really peaceful, even while my mind is doing that. It feels meditative. While my mind is sitting there talking about what might go wrong with my tooth, or when it's going to get fixed or whatever. So, that's what I think is amazing. It's not this practice of sitting down and doing something. It's more like having the sense that we aren't our thinking and just not worrying about what it says. It naturally moves it to the background a little bit. Then I think we tend to just feel like we live a more meditative existence without having to sit down and do it, if you don't want to do it, if you like it, great.
Melanie Avalon: It's almost like, and I was saying this before, when it is something that such an acute situation, like with my tooth right now, it really makes me realize that it's a video game. So, then I can step back from it. The reason I asked about the meditation was you were describing the mantras, or the relationship that some people might begin to experience with launches. And that was how I felt when I try a concentrated meditation practice and that, like, I get a lot of benefit from it. But I also start seeing it as like, “Oh, I have to do this to be okay.” Or it becomes this regimented thing that I think-- I don't know. I don't think it's best serving me. I've been seeking how to have the best relationship with something like a meditation practice.
Amy Johnson: We've got so common, and it's just what a mind would do. We feel good while we're doing something, and then your mind’s like, “Ooh, yay, we're going to go full on into this.” And it just has a way of doing that. So, I don't know, I think that's really common.
Melanie Avalon: Actually, this is the way I feel about all of the “biohacking things” I engage with and health practices. I would love to be at a place where I just do all of them, because I want to, and because they make me feel better. I don't want to be doing them because I think I have to or because I'm not okay, without them. This is something that I've like-- I think I and a lot of listeners have probably experienced as a challenge. Was there anything else that you wanted to touch on from the book specifically? What is the main thing you're trying to get out there with this newest book?
Amy Johnson: I think just through all the metaphors and stories and little facts about how our mind works. Just helping someone see, wow, that everybody has a mind that talks in the same ways, does the same things, is up to the same tricks. And that it's really, really, really possible to just see that for what it is. When we do, we just don't care so much. That sounds like a weird goal of like, “Oh, just don't care so much.” But we're just so less preoccupied with it. When we are so preoccupied with what our mind is talking about, and we're not believing it so much, that's when people get really creative and peaceful and new ideas come up, and there's just so much more available to all of us, than the moment to moment that we tend to be living within. It's really closer and easier and simpler to just play with that and experience things that are really different way.
Melanie Avalon: Yes, for listeners, I really, really cannot recommend enough that everybody get just a thought right now. It was just such a freeing experience. And it's so nice because you go through all of these really concrete, specific examples of things we've talked about on this episode, but all of the things that our minds and our brains do and the more and more we read it and hear it and see it, the more and more easier it is to see it. So, it's really, really freeing. Are you running any online courses right now?
Amy Johnson: I am. I'm actually going to be doing a book club for just a thought. So, it's going to be great. I made a video that goes with every single chapter in the book where I go a little bit deeper and talk about some of the backstory and what was going on as I was writing that chapter, but I also just pull out the themes and go more deeply into what's going on. So, that's going to start. The book is officially available October 1st, and the book club is going to start October 18th.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, awesome. So that's something that listeners register for online, we can put a link in the show notes?
Amy Johnson: Yes.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, perfect. All right. So, for listeners, if they would like to enroll in that online course, which sounds amazing, I'm going to have to do that myself. You can go to the show notes, and the show notes will be at melanieavalon.com/thoughts. We'll put links to everything there. Amy is so kind, she's actually giving away the introduction and Chapter One of the book. Very, very exciting. So completely free, you can get that in the show notes. You can enroll in the course. Any other links that you'd like to put out there, Amy?
Amy Johnson: That's awesome. People can check out my site at dramyjohnson.com, if they want, I have a podcast and some other lots of other resources there. But, yeah, that's a lot.
Melanie Avalon: Perfect. Well, thank you so much. I'm just so grateful, words cannot express my gratitude for everything that you're doing. I already said this before, but when I first read your book, Little Book of Big Change, it just blew my mind. The idea of ever talking to you in person and having you on the show was like so exciting. And now it's happened twice, and your new book is incredible. And I really, really can't thank you enough for everything that you're doing, honestly, for humanity. So, thank you so much.
Amy Johnson: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. I've met a lot of people from my first appearance on your show, and I just love when people reach out, they're like, “Oh, I heard you on Melanie's podcast.” I just really appreciate your support. I knew when this book came out because I knew you loved the last one, I'm like, “Oh, I'm going to see if she'll endorse it,” so thank you so much for doing that and just for all your support. It's awesome.
Melanie Avalon: For listeners, Amy asked me to endorse it and literally made my life. I'm so, so honored. So, all good things, and I’ll have to bring you back for part three. Do you have a third book in the future?
Amy Johnson: I do. I don't know when yet, but it's in my head. It'll be coming out of my head soon, I hope. [laughs]
Melanie Avalon: Oh, my goodness. So excited. Okay. Well, I have to put that in the books, no pun intended. All right, bye.
Amy Johnson: Thank you.