S2E1 Change

Welcome back to WEMW with your two favorite psychologists, Dr. Pete and Dr. Rubin. Most people avoid change, and yet in 2021 there were millions of people ecstatic for it. In this first episode of season 2, Dr. Rubin and Dr. Pete discuss the relationship between change and discomfort, and how growth and evolution can’t exist without it. Tune in to learn about change, acceptance, and concepts from Buddhism such as impermanence, insight and how nothing is inherently fixed.




Nikki: Pete, we are back for season two of when east meets west. Hello,

Pete: Welcome back.

Nikki: Welcome back. Hi,

Pete: Needed the break.

Nikki: I certainly did.

Pete: I did, yeah.

Nikki: Maybe our listeners did, too.

Pete: Oh, I know that they did. Because I feel like everybody needs a break right now.

Nikki: Yeah, everybody needs a break. And we made it's 2021, we've got a new administration, where there is a shifting of things happening, even though, obviously, we're still struggling quite a bit, of course, with the pandemic. And so today, because of that we actually want to talk about change. We've done two episodes on acceptance back in season one, and we wanted to make sure that we talked about change, as the other side of this really common dialectic, acceptance and change.

Pete: Well people are petrified of change. It’s a strong word, but I think it's true, there's this belief that many of us do not accept and or like change. What's that about?

Nikki: It's funny, because I was thinking, as soon as you said that, I'm like, ‘that's true’. And people also desperately want it at the same time, so there's such a dichotomy. I think the reason people don't like it while they want it at the same time, is because change is inherently uncomfortable.

Pete: Yeah, because even if. So in light of 2021, and the Presidential Administration, I think what we're saying is there was a group about 58 million or 50%, or 51, or 2%, of the American population…

Nikki: So 70, you mean who voted for?

Pete: Oh, was it that high, I forget how many.

Nikki: 70%, it was 74 million, yeah.

Pete: So a little over 50%, wanting change, but then it's important to be mindful that there was another group that really didn't want change. And inevitably, it's because you don't know what you're going to get, in a way. I think that's part of why people have such angst around change is because it's unknown.

Nikki: Right, and I agree with that 100%. I also think it's just because the actual process of changing, of growth is in and of itself, painful and uncomfortable. I often make the joke with patients, obviously, for our non-friends, listeners that don't know me personally. I'm extremely short, I'm a very petite person. And so I make the joke to people, I'll say, “I did experience growing pains as a child I might not look like it”. I might not look like it, but I did. And I have such a vivid memory of like my shins really hurting in the night, when I was probably like, seven or something. And I said it's because growth is literally painful change is literally painful. And especially, we've talked about this on the podcast before, it's a very American cultural thing to want the change without the discomfort. It's like, ‘let's just get to it, let’s feel good’.

Pete: What did people do? They use substances, I think social media is a big piece of the avoidance right now, because you can just get into this rabbit hole of scrolling, which is a deflection, and it's a distraction technique that takes away from some of the pain that we're feeling.

Nikki: Yeah, absolutely. And so I think, of course, sorry everyone listening, of course acceptance is still part of the conversation here. Because in order to change, and we want things to change, it also requires for us accepting what's going on. And I think that's so relevant to what's happening right now that, I've had been having conversations with patients a lot lately, where in this energy of shifting, especially some people are getting vaccinated, I've had a lot of people say to me, “yeah, I mean, I wanted to start like planning a trip, I want to start…” and I'll say, “I want us to connect with this energy of change. And I want us to also be where we're at”. And I think that's such a hard thing. I mean, have you been experiencing that, too? I don't know, not just clinically but maybe like people in your life, is anybody sort of having trouble walking that middle path here?

Pete: Yeah, and middle path is something that we teach and we've talked about a lot here. So that's where clinically we would come in, and certainly that's where east meets west. Because…

Nikki: There we go.

Pete: Hey, [inaudible 4:55]. And that's the truth. Because the idea is, this behavioral change that we would study in western behavioral science links this idea of middle path, which is an Eastern philosophical principle. And one that says that really nothing's black and white. So what I often do in session is, or just with teams that I'm working with is, nickels work good for this, and I'm like, “how many sides to this coin?” and everyone's like two, it's two sides to a coin”, because you flip it, it’s heads and tail, and then I would stand it up along the fixed side of the nickel and be like, “nope, gotcha, there's three”.

Nikki: And then you drop the mic and walk out.

Pete: Hey, that’s it. That’s middle path, how do we find that? How do we find this idea that nothing is one of the other frankly, and that's part of what's been going on in our other episodes in season one, about polarization. This idea that it's not just Republican, Democrat, black and white righty, lefty. And I think that that's really a part of change, is us having to rewrite this narrative, that it's not us and them. And this is where I can get very preachy, so stop me. Stop me doctor.

Nikki: No, I don't think you're getting preachy. I think that that's the point. It’s like if we want change, and whatever it is, it could be change on a micro level, just with yourself. It could be change on a macro level, like systemically, in our political system and climate, the world. I mean, we could get really macro, really big here. If we want change, we have to be willing to let go of righteousness, we have to let go of black and white thinking, we have to cultivate curiosity. And this, said it once, I'll say it a million more times here, a willingness to step into discomfort. Because it's like, there's no change, there's no growth, there's no evolution without being uncomfortable. And I think as humans, it's just like, that is forever such a hard thing to accept.

Pete: Yeah. I mean, I like change. So yeah.

Nikki: Because you're practiced with being uncomfortable, you've seen the other side. But I'll say, because I know you very well, you don't enjoy being uncomfortable. You're just like, “Yeah, but I'm willing to do it because it's aligned with my values, and I know it's worth, like, what comes through”,

Pete: Yeah, and I think we could… listeners can practice small aspects of change. So things like just rearrange your room, or rearrange a shelf. Those small accessible things that we can practice with, because all of this is about practice.

Nikki: Yeah.

Pete: We don't just open up, we don't just sit on a cushion and meditate, all of a sudden, everything's better. We don't just go to one therapy session; all of a sudden life is more clear.

Nikki: Unfortunately, it's not magic. It'd be very boring, honestly.

Pete: Well, I would find something to fill the time with. I mean,

Nikki: Watch a lot of good shows.

Pete: Yeah, we could talk about those in a different episode. There has been some really good ones.

Nikki: There has, we could do another episode on that.

Pete: We probably should.

Nikki: Probably should. Yeah, I like that, Pete. Because, starting small, like to connect with not just what feels good, in terms of the accomplishment of things being different. Though I think what you're highlighting here is like, when you start small, it's like rearranging a shell, for example. It's like, the practice to do something that takes effort. I think I also like to joke in therapy with people, say like, “Look, I was like,

Pete: You joke in therapy?

Nikki: I joke therapy. Yeah, we do. I joke in therapy. I'll say to people all the time, I'm
like, “Look, I'm a cognitive behavioral therapist”. I'm like, “I frickin love change. Why do you think I became a CBT therapist, I like to change, that's why I got into this work, I want to help people change their lives. And in order for that to happen, it's going to take, again, sorry, back to acceptance.” It requires slowing down. It requires practice, it requires willingness here. I feel like I'm beating a dead horse here with this, I feel like it can't be said enough times.

Pete: It can't, and I'll just bring in some of the Eastern stuff. So I think the biggest teaching within Buddhism of change is impermanence. This idea that nothing is forever. And I think that's part of why I embrace change. Because one of the main fundamental teachings is that nothing is forever. And we know that in western behaviorism, it's about like this emotion that we're trying to escape won't last forever. This, whatever, fill in the blank, that nothing is forever, and that's acceptance. But what we're talking about now is,

Nikki: And they're inherently linked.

Pete: They're inherently linked, so what I was just thinking is like when we say change, we're really thinking about the behavioral, like we're actually measuring the behavior. Because yes, acceptance is a behavior as well, it's just less tangible.

Nikki: Yeah, because as we've said before, it's covert. You can’t see it, you're doing it inside your body. Though, overt change is something, yeah, we can…

Pete: Redecorating my shelf, or,

Nikki: Sure, or like not raising your voice with your partner as much, or something like that.

Pete: Going to the gym to lose 10 pounds or some change that I'm trying to commit to. So impermanence is this idea that like, nothing's forever. So we embrace that, and then like a second piece I would add, is that in some of the Buddhist teachings, it's about insight. That's like this whole idea of Nirvana, or enlightenment, that's like the fourth noble truth. But what the teaching there with insight is that nothing is inherently fixed.

Nikki: Say more about that, because I mean, I'm liking the vibes of where this is going. But I can imagine people listening going like,

Pete: “What the…?”

Nikki: “What?” Yeah, exactly.

Pete: So nothing is inherently fixed. So one thing I think about a lot in my own sitting is like, all of these accolades that we work towards and strive for, like a doctorate, for example, let’s throw that out there. I think 3% of the population get a doctorate. So maybe… maybe I'm wrong, but who cares? So that actually doesn't matter. It's not fixed, because when I die, nothing happens with my doctorate. When I'm no longer here, so all of that suffering that I put in to that degree, which there was a lot. I’ll do an episode on that.

Nikki: Just as complaining about how it was to become a psychologist.

Pete: Everyone would love that.

Nikki: Totally. Yeah,

Pete: Almost as good as our last one. We were trying to review and set goals for this year.

Nikki: Exactly. They're like, “I'm sure we lost a lot of listeners from that one.”

Pete: At least my mom is still there. But okay, good. So yeah, nothing is inherently fixed. And so whatever we've earned, or even, like, let's just say like a parenting title. Because I think sometimes people think their children are legacy, for example. That's why they put so much anxiety into parenting, for example, and then you could be the best parent the world and your kids hate you, or whatever. And I don't mean light of this, but like, or they develop some severe pathology or a substance use disorder, or they become the president, who knows what that path means. But the idea of that nothing is inherently fixed is this idea of like, gaining insight into that allows for really stepping into change.

Nikki: Yeah, I mean, it’s such a…

Pete: Did I clarify?

Nikki: No, you did, I think it's such an important point. It's back to like, you're going to laugh when I says, it's like nothing's perfect. And what's so hard about being a person is our wiring makes us continue to buy into this illusion that we can fix things we can make things perfect, we can achieve, like a life without difficulty or struggle or discomfort. And I think what you're really highlighting is the insight into radically accepting that that's not possible. And then the impermanence is like ‘and everything is always changing’. And even if we don't like it, even if we think we're resisting it. We're not because every moment is fresh. I always think of like the, I think I want to say like I learned it from you, Pete, at some point. I think it's a Buddhist teaching, correct me if I'm wrong, the idea of like, if you go look at the ocean, it's never the same ocean, isn't there some saying around that? Like, it's never the same place twice? Like you go to the river, whatever it is, the molecule... And it's like the molecules, everything, it's literally different. Like it's never, nothing's ever the same, ever.

Pete: Well, waves come in, waves go out type of thing. So…

Nikki: Or even our bodies, like our cells are constantly shutting,

Pete: Everything is changing, and what is your body? And that's where this gets to a higher level philosophy of like, what is it anyway? And that's what I want listeners… Because for me, that's where this bridge occurs between East and West of like, what’s your purpose, we talked about values, what is all this suffering about? And that's really what I try and help people put meaning to. Because we are going to suffer because that's the first noble truth, everyone does. I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't, have you?

Nikki: No, I think it's the same…

Pete: Well rich people don’t suffer though, Nikki?

Nikki: No, money buys happiness. That's not true guys.

Pete: It's not true, because people think that's… I think that's where the general population believe that that's the case.

Nikki: Well, that goes back to what you just said though. It's like nothing is fixed, there's always something that we can slap a label on and say, “well, they fixed it, they fixed it with money, they fixed it with fame, they fixed it with getting married, they fixed it with living in like this kind of house” or whatever. And it's like, “no”,

Pete: “No,” it all follow them. It’s like Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of his first books, ‘Wherever You Go, There You Are’,

Nikki: Yeah, my favorite title of a book ever.

Pete: It really is, because it's the best, it really encompasses mindfulness in the work that we're doing in the [inaudible 15:41] accurate way. Because no matter how hard we try and escape, no matter how much money we try and throw at it, no matter what we try and do in that regard, no matter, we're still there. We're still with ourselves. So our personality, our story about our self, our story about our suffering, that follows us. And so that's why within Zen tradition, we spend the time on the cushion, we do it in isolation, we do it in quiet, and that is where it's loud. And that's the insight piece. That's the insight that we gain so that we can really step into the change that nothing is inherently fixed.

Nikki: Well, and then, I think what I would add, or not add, but I don't know. What I'm taking from this, it's like, when we're able to do that, then we can be free, we can feel freedom, because,

Pete: I like that. I got the chills.

Nikki: Oh, wow. Words are powerful. It's also very cold on the East Coast right now. Because that's really what this was coming from. But yeah, and I think that for me, it's like I remember, again, I don't remember like exactly when in my own development that happened. But I remember the experience of when I finally connected with that. That when you stop fighting the change, when you start accepting it, when you recognize the impermanence that it's… because I was thinking as you're talking, I'm sure there's a lot of people listening that are becoming either hopeless in hearing that wherever you go, there you are, that you carry all that or feeling afraid of that. It’s like no, when you really make space for that, there's such a liberating feeling, it's such a freedom, because it's like, it's back to all roads lead to mindfulness, because we're only in this moment, that's it.

Pete: Yeah. And I think people believe if they just accept mediocrity or like, something that's not pleasant that then they are like, succumbing to failure.

Nikki: Well, that means, because then that's where it's the belief of like, ‘if I accept then I can't change’,

Pete: That’s right.

Nikki: And what we're really saying is like, “No, those things go together”.

Pete: Once you accept you can commit better to change, with better insight. I feel like that is really the Buddhist teaching there, that nothing's fixed, is that we have to have insight into that. You have to accept that before you can actually take this step of change.

Nikki: Right, because if you don't have the insight, you're going to continue to buy into the fairy tale, that there is a way out of suffering, there's a way out of pain. It's like no, there's not, this is built into... I mean, obviously this is where we could cross into the spiritual meaning of things. It's like, because some believe that's why we're here, is to learn, and as we go, to link it back to where we started this episode, is that we can't learn, we can't grow without discomfort, without being uncomfortable.

Pete: Might we share an example of our own change? Dare we?

Nikki: I mean, yeah, sure. I mean, so many things I've had to work on for myself and worked on and continue to work on. I'm trying to spot a little…

Pete: So much for our new year's resolution of

Nikki: Well, yours, not mine.

Pete: Sorry, my new year’s resolution of preparation. I just thought about it and I thought about the question, I don't necessarily have an answer so maybe that's like a cliffhanger we have for another episode. Because again, I think for me right now I'm thinking about like, how much do I share versus not sharing? But I guess an easy change thing for me was my first step to meditate. Easy story to tell not process, so what I'll say is like this was very uncomfortable. I started to find it during like competition. I was like looking for something to calm. It's like working with athletes now, I recognize that some of us need to listen to like rocky or like heavy metal to get going, and other people are like an enigma, and I needed more like chill liquid mind. I got so revved up myself. And so I started to find like Tibetan literature and started to read some of that. Anyway, I found my way to my current teacher, and getting there was hard because the idea of sitting for like an hour was like, “how am I going to stay in this place for an hour?” And so I think that was like the best example of change, but one that I'm so thankful that I did. And now has had a tremendous impact on my life and it took that discomfort of like, I remember some of the first time sitting where I was like, ‘I can't wait to get out of here’. I would find the clock somewhere in the zendo, to see like how long it would take to get out.

Nikki: It's like that itchy feeling, it's like you're coming out of your skin. Yeah. And I'll follow I mean, it's not unrelated. My example of change, which I feel very comfortable sharing, because it's something I'm open with, it's like, mine has been really… So as I was saying about the freedom, it's like this letting go of trying to problem solve what's going to happen, which is obviously a common thing all humans do. And I definitely was in the category of people that really held tight to that, especially when I was younger, like in my 20s. And it's something that I've really worked on, and mindful practice has been an essential component of that. Though, I will say that, like, that's what's connected me with this fun, like that sense of freedom, as being able to let go of that. So, look, I think, for our listeners, I want everyone to just see if they can start from a place of, and here's a dialectic coming.

Pete: Our first one for 2021.

Nikki: Yeah. Beginning to practice accepting that change is a part of our lives, it's constant. And the more space that we make for that, the more freedom you open up for yourself.

Nikki: This has been When East Meets West. I'm Dr. Nikki Rubin,

Pete: And I'm Dr. Pete Economou. Be present. Be brave.

Pete: This has been When East Meets West, all material is based on opinion and educational training of doctors Pete Economou and Nikki Rubin.

Nikki: Content is for informational and educational purposes only.