While we often associate Eastern spiritual and philosophical traditions with meditation and contemplation, there’s another side to this wisdom that centers on action and can help us move through depression, anxiety, fear, and just general malaise.
My guest today is the author of a book about this action-oriented philosophy. His name is Gregg Krech, he’s the co-founder of the ToDo Institute, and his book is The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology.
Today on the show, Gregg and I discuss a Japanese psychological technique called Morita therapy, which concentrates on accepting instead of fixing one’s thoughts and feelings, and acting in spite of them. We discuss how action can be a powerful antidote to depression, anxiety, and interpersonal conflicts, how to act when you don’t feel like it, how to stay motivated when the initial rush of a new project or relationship has worn off, and why it’s better to have a purpose-driven rather than a feelings-driven life. We end our conversation unpacking the idea that busyness is not the same thing as purposeful action, and why we need self-reflection to tell the difference between the two.
- What is Morita therapy? How does it compare to Western psychology?
- The action-oriented nature of Eastern philosophy
- Gandhi, man of action
- How does Morita define action? What does taking action really mean?
- The skill of using your attention effectively
- What playing some blues at a nightclub taught Gregg about anxiety
- How do you take action when you can’t get yourself to do anything?
- Why you’re only depressed when you notice you’re depressed
- Why do we put off taking action?
- How we tend to let feelings determine our actions
- Moving from feeling-oriented to purpose-oriented
- The role of kaizen in Morita therapy
- How Morita can help people who may be good at starting things, but can’t finish them
- Is there such a thing as too much action?
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- Morita Therapy
- The Upside of Your Dark Side
- AoM series on male depression
- Meditations on the Wisdom of Action
- Why Action is the Answer
- How to Deal With Anxiety
- How to Find Your Life’s Purpose
- The Kaizen Method: Get 1% Better Every Day (and the podcast on that topic)
Connect With Gregg
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
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Recorded with ClearCast.io.
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. Now, while we often associate Eastern spiritual and philosophical traditions with meditation and contemplation. There’s another side to this wisdom that centers on action and how it can help us move through depression, anxiety, fear, and just general malaise. My guest today is the author of a book about this action-oriented philosophy. His name is Gregg Krech. He’s the co-founder of the ToDo Institute, and his book is called The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology.
Today on the show, Gregg and I discuss a Japanese psychological technique called Morita therapy, which concentrates on accepting instead of fixing one’s thoughts and feelings, and acting in spite of them. We discuss how action can be a powerful antidote to depression, anxiety, and interpersonal conflicts, how to act when you don’t feel like it; how to stay motivated when the initial rush of a new project or relationship has worn off, and why it’s better to have a purpose-driven life, rather than a feelings-driven life. We end our conversation unpacking the idea that busyness is not the same as purposeful action, and why we need self-reflection to tell the difference between the two.
After the show’s over, check out the show notes at Aom.is/artoftakingaction.
All right, Gregg Krech. Welcome to the show.
Gregg Krech: Thank you, Brett. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Brett McKay: So, you run an institute called the ToDo Institute up there in Vermont, where you are basically introducing Japanese psychology, which I had no idea existed until I read your book, Japanese psychology to Americans. So, we’ll start off with talking about one facet of Japanese psychology; it’s Morita therapy, correct? Did I pronounce it right?
Gregg Krech: That’s correct, yes.
Brett McKay: So, what is Morita therapy? And how does it differ from some of what we’re typically, or you know, what we know about psychology in the West?
Gregg Krech: Well, Morita therapy was developed in Japan, roughly about 100 years ago. And most Western psychology is really kind of rooted in European culture and philosophy, going back to the days of Freud; where in Morita therapy, you really see a form, a model of mental health that’s drawing on Eastern philosophy, on Buddhist psychology, on Zen. And so, it’s really a very different paradigm than you find in most Western psychology.
Brett McKay: Right. I feel like in the West, it’s all about, you know, you lay down on the metaphorical, the stereotypical couch, talk about the source of your problems, and by so doing, it’s like talk therapy. Or there’s cognitive behavioral therapy. You figure out wrong thinking, and then you fix that. Does Morita therapy do anything like that? Or do they go a different route?
Gregg Krech: Well, I would say for the most part, they do go a different route. I think that one of the things that characterizes a lot of Western therapy, and there’s so many different models, but is a focus, primarily, on feelings. So, I think the outcome that a lot of therapy is looking at is the idea of making people feel better, or feel more comfortable, or somehow be cured by getting rid of unpleasant feelings, like depression and anxiety. And the way I’m describing it, it actually sounds very attractive, except that I would argue that it’s not an effective, and even meaningful, outcome.
And so, what Morita therapy really does is, it looks at the outcome as to really help us live our lives well, not by changing our feeling states, but by learning to coexist with those feeling states while we do the things that are really important for us to do in our lives. And so, instead of trying to kind of fix our internal world, whether that’s through talk therapy, or dream analysis, or getting into our unconscious minds, it’s really a very practical approach. And we think of the East as being mystical, but it’s really a very practical approach of learning to cope with the ups and downs of our feeling states, and the craziness of our thoughts, the chaos in our mind, and still be able to not just live functional lives, but actually do the things that are really important for us to do in our lives.
Brett McKay: So in Morita therapy, they’re going to say, you know, “Don’t wait until you stop feeling depressed until you take action or do whatever you’ve got to do.” It’s like, you know, “You have to accept that you’re going to feel depressed, but you can still take action on the things you need to do in life.”
Gregg Krech: Yeah. I think with depression, as with, I think, a lot of unpleasant feeling states, there’s a general sense that there’s a sequence to kind of curing ourselves. And the sequence is, first, to move from having an unpleasant feeling state to a pleasant feeling state, to essentially get rid of those feelings. And then, we can actually live our lives well. And what you see in Morita therapy is the idea that we can actually coexist with those unpleasant feeling states, even depression, while we do things that are important for us to do in our lives. And a nice benefit to that is that often, by making that shift to actually taking action and beginning to do those things, that’s part of our cure; that the movement from being inactive and non-purposeful, to actually doing things that are very purposeful and important to us, actually is part of what makes it possible for us to learn to cope with those difficult and challenging internal states.
Brett McKay: Right. So, you wrote a book kind of summarizing Morita therapy and other facets of Japanese psychology, called The Art of Taking Action. And yeah, I think for most Westerners, when we think of Buddhism, or sort of Eastern philosophy, you think of someone sitting on a pillow, meditating. But the way you describe it in the book, it’s actually very action-oriented. Yes, you know, there’s a place for, maybe, meditation; but no, it’s all about just getting up and doing things.
Gregg Krech: Well, and I think that as we’ve imported Buddhism, and meditation, and mindfulness, which is very popular, we focus primarily on the contemplative aspect of those approaches, which I think are, in fact, very important. And I think they’re very helpful to the kind of culture we have in America right now.
But I think the other side of that is that there is an action side to those approaches. If you look at people who are very spiritual, and the way that they live their lives, from the East, and Gandhi is, to me, the best example of that, he was very much a man of action. And so, he was actually described by people, that when he would be walking someplace, he walked so fast that even people who were half his age had trouble keeping up with him. And if you look at his accomplishments and what he did, there’s no question that he was a man of action. And yet, he came from the Eastern traditions.
So, I think that there is a side of those traditions that really focus very much on taking action, but maybe not in quite the same way as what we would find in traditional Western approaches.
Brett McKay: So, what is it about taking … Well first off, how do we, what is action in Morita therapy? Is it moving your body, like you actually have to do something that has an effect in the world? Or could it, I mean, you can define that very broadly, but is there a specific thing that they have in mind when they’re talking about action?
Gregg Krech: Well, I think from a practical standpoint, I just like to use a very functional or operational definition, which is, action is what can be captured on a video camera. So you know, if you’re turning the pages of a book, if you’re playing the piano, if you’re taking a walk, that’s action, because you would be able to capture that. If you’re sitting there, kind of contemplating your goals for the year, or contemplating suicide, those thoughts are really not action; they’re thoughts.
And so, we tend to kind of label things as either behavior, thoughts, or feelings. And the behavior portion of that is just something that we can kind of capture on film.
Brett McKay: So, what is it about action that makes such a powerful antidote to, say, depression, or even anxiety, or interpersonal conflicts that we might have in our life?
Gregg Krech: Well, I think even in Western therapy now, there’s just really an overwhelming number of studies that show that exercise, for example, is one of the most powerful forms of treatment for depression; and often on a longterm basis, more effective than even a lot of medication. So we see, even in Western therapy, the recognition that action in the form of moving your body is a wonderful antidote to depression.
I think when we talk about anxiety, what we’re really looking at is what I consider to be one of the most powerful elements of Japanese psychology, which is the work of our attention. You know, most of us, we go through our day, and we’re really not aware of how we’re paying attention and what we’re paying attention to. But in Japanese psychology, we’re really taught that attention is a skill, how to actually use our attention effectively. And so a very radical notion that when I was first studying material, that I learned, was that you’re only anxious when you’re paying attention to your anxiety.
So in other words, something that actually has happened to me in the last six months, or that I did was, I had the goal of getting up on stage at a night club and playing piano during a blues jam. And I’m not a great piano player, but I had really wanted to do this. I hadn’t been on stage playing music, probably, since I was in my early or mid-20s, so this was a big thing for me. And the night I decided that I would go ahead and go up on stage, I remember driving in the car with my wife and just this constant stream of anxious thoughts like, “What if they play in a key, and I don’t know how to play that key? What if I have to play a lead, and I mess it up? People will think I’m a fool.”
So, there’s this constant stream of anxiety that’s going through my mind, and it actually manifests in my body as well. I feel my hands kind of getting sweaty. There’s a kind of twisted feeling in my stomach. And these are all manifestations of anxiety in terms of thoughts, feelings, body sensations; very, very uncomfortable. So even though I’d been practicing this material for 30 years, I still have that experience when I’m faced with a situation that stimulates a lot of anxiety in me.
And so, we get to the club, and we’re sitting at the table. And about an hour into the music, you know, there’s a person who’s kind of facilitating the process, says, “Gregg, do you want to come up and play some piano?” And of course, I feel this surge of anxiety. And as I feel that surge of anxiety, I’m putting one foot in front of the other, walking towards the stage. And I get up on stage, and of course, I still have this great feeling of anxiety in my body. And I sit down, and the way this works in a blues jam is that they call out the song, they call out the key, and you have about four seconds to start playing. You have no idea what you’re going to be playing, so it’s a real interesting challenge.
And so, they do this. They call out the song. “We’re going to do it in the key of G.” And the song starts, and I just start playing. And within less than a minute, I’m so immersed in playing that I’m no longer aware that I’m anxious, which I would say means I’m no longer anxious. So, what we see is that that shift of attention from focusing on my thoughts, and feelings, and what’s happening in my body, to being immersed in what I’m doing, which in this case is playing piano, is really the cure for my anxiety. It’s that shift of attention away from my internal experience, to actually what I’m doing in the present moment in the world, that basically gets rid of my anxiety.
But if I was working with an approach to psychology that said, “Well, unless I feel confident, then there’s no possible way I could get up on stage,” or, “Unless I have a lot of self-esteem, there’s no possible way I could perform on stage,” or, “Unless I feel comfortable,” right? “So, I’ll just sit there and kind of do affirmations or breathing,” all of those approaches which would have basically left me at my table, sipping on a glass of beer. But it was the idea that I could coexist with that feeling of anxiety, even a very intense feeling, and still get my body to function to get me on stage, and then in the process of playing and immersing myself in the activity, my anxiety just disappears.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I mean, I’m a big believer in that, too, that the idea, once you … If you stop thinking about your anxiety or the thing that’s making you sad and think outward, it can help you alleviate that. But like, one of the, I guess, insidious things about depression, especially, is that, okay, you might know action is the answer, right? It’s going to help you resolve some of those feelings, those emotions you’re having; but when you’re depressed, you don’t feel like doing anything. So, how do you bootstrap? How do you get in that place where you’re able to coexist with, you’re feeling like just crap, to, “Okay, I can still get up and do something?”
Gregg Krech: Well, I think depression is probably one of the most difficult, particularly significant depression, something that’s been going on for a long time. And when I work with people, then they have to learn particular skills. And as you’re saying, there’s not a lot of motivation, often, when we’re feeling like that. But I think I see the ability to work with this material in life as a skill, in the same way that shooting a free throw in basketball is a skill, playing blues in the key of G is a skill. And that means that the more you practice, the better that you get at those things.
So, part of what happens is that over time, if you’re practicing working with this material, even when you sink into a period of depression, you’re also aware of the fact that this is a transient experience; in other words, it will pass. It doesn’t make you feel good, but you’re aware that this is just part of the rollercoaster that goes on in terms of the internal world of our lives. And you’re also aware that even though you don’t feel like doing something, that the best thing you can do as an antidote to your painful feeling state is to get out there and be active. And I know that I played basketball consistently up until a few years ago, where my knees couldn’t handle it anymore. And that was always the best treatment for me when I felt depressed. You know, but I didn’t feel like going to the gym and playing basketball. If I was in a period of depression, which I had been in on a period basis, the last thing I felt like doing was getting off the couch, and going to the gym, and running up and down the court.
And so again, what I found was that I could coexist with that lack of motivation, with the feeling of depression, with thoughts that were saying, you know, “Don’t go to the gym. Just kind of lay here. You know, look at your life. Everything is going wrong,” and that I could coexist with that, and I could still get my body to put on my basketball shoes, get in the car, and drive to the gym. And once I was on that gym floor, and once I was running up and down and shooting baskets, my experience was completely different. And so again, it’s this idea that you’re only depressed when you’re noticing that you’re depressed. And the best way to continue to notice your depressed is to just basically stay stationary; sit in a chair, sit on a couch, lay in a bed.
And so, part of what people have to learn, what we have to learn when we’re going through depression, is that we can coexist with that feeling, but we can still actually get up and do things in our life; and that the taking of action, including exercise, is one of the best treatments or antidotes for that feeling state. But there’s no magic to it, and I totally agree with you that often, when you’re in that situation, the last thing you feel like doing is exercising; the last thing you feel like doing is washing a full sink of dirty dishes. And that’s part of what we get good at, I think, as we go through life.
One of the things that really struck me about the practical value of this material, you know, was the idea that there is no permanent cure for anxiety, for depression, for shyness, for loneliness; that these are part of our human existence. And so, what we need to be able to do to live a good life is to actually learn to coexist with that experience, rather than the idea that somehow, we can find a cure, so that we’ll no longer experience depression, or we’ll no longer experience anxiety. And in that sense, I’ve found that this is a very practical way of going about living a good life, which is not trying to get rid of this in some permanent way, but essentially learning to cope with it when we find ourselves in these states of mind.
Brett McKay: So, taking action whenever we feel like not taking action is a way to resolve problems in our life; and like small problems, but also big problems, sort of larger. But why is it that, besides that, why is it that we have a tendency to not want to take action, besides the motivation part? Are there other reasons why we decide, “Okay, I’m going to put off doing that hard,” I don’t know, “that hard call, hard talk with a loved one that I need to have, or that talk with the boss?” Is it fear? Are there other reasons that Morita therapies say we put off taking action?
Gregg Krech: Well, I would say that there’s two really important explanations for that. And one of them is that most of us live in a world in which our feelings are the primary determinant of our behavior. And so when we’re faced with a task, we either have a positive feeling about doing it; so let’s say, for instance, if you play tennis, or golf, or basketball, and you enjoy that, or piano, then you may have a positive feeling towards doing that. So, you have an attraction towards that task; or you may have an aversion towards it, like having a difficult conversation with your boss, or with your partner, or doing your income tax, for example. You may have a feeling of aversion towards that, or you may have a neutral feeling towards the task.
But in many cases, when we have an aversion, a negative feeling towards doing something, we allow that feeling to determine whether or not we take action. So, it’s very much like opening the refrigerator door and saying, “What do I feel like eating today,” right? And that question itself is essentially a question in which we’re looking to our feelings to decide what kind of action we’re going to take, what kind of food we’re going to eat. You can open the refrigerator door, and you can ask the question out loud or in your mind, “What needs to be eaten?” And that’s a very different question, right? Maybe it’s things that are almost going to spoil, and you should eat them so you don’t have to waste them. Maybe it has to do with your diet or what’s healthy. So, you’ll get a different answer to that kind of question.
And I think one of the things Morita therapy does is to help shift people from what we call a feeling-centered approach to life, to a purpose-centered approach to life; which means that we still have feelings, it’s just that we’re not putting them in charge. So, I like the metaphor of a play within a theatrical setting; and that for a lot of people, their feelings are the director of that play. And what we’re trying to do is essentially, not kick the feelings out of the play, but just making them one actor or actress within the play. And then, your purpose or your purposes become the director of that play. What is it that you want to do with your life? What’s really important to do between now and the end of the year?
And so, your purpose essentially becomes in charge of the play, and your feelings still play a role, but they’re not running the show.
Brett McKay: So, the question you ask is, “What needs to be done?” And then, do that.
Gregg Krech: Exactly. In other words, we’ve moved the focus of decision making from how we’re feeling, to what’s being presented to us in the world. And that’s a huge shift in terms of the choices that we make in our life.
Brett McKay: And then, as you said, you don’t dismiss the feelings. A big part is, you have to just accept, that’s kind of like the first step. You have to accept that, yes, I feel anxious. Yes, I feel depressed. Yes, I feel a bit of fear. But then you still take action, despite those feelings.
Gregg Krech: Absolutely. And I think people often use the kind of old Nike phrase, you know, “Just do it,” and say, “Isn’t this what Morita therapy is?” And it is up to a point, but this idea of first being able to just become aware of and accept what’s going on in our internal experience. You know, I’m aware that I’m anxious about getting up on stage. I’m aware that I’m nervous. I’m aware that I’m having thoughts about failure or what’s going to happen if I make a fool of myself. So, there’s an awareness and an acceptance of what’s going on inside us. And to do that, we have to kind of disengage from that thought or feeling experience. In other words, we’re able to observe it in the same way, in meditation, that we would observe thoughts as they arise while we’re meditating.
And so meditation, in some ways, is actually a good model for this, because I started out as someone who was trained in Zen meditation. I actually lived for a short period of time as a Zen monk, back in my early adulthood. And you would sit there, and you would have all kinds of chaotic, crazy thoughts coming up in your mind, including, “What am I doing here? I should be out, you know, basically eating at an all-you-can-eat buffet. And instead, I’m sitting here meditating with a bunch of black-robed monks.” And you could have that thought, and you just continue to sit and meditate. And you could have sexual thoughts, and you could have all kinds of difficult thoughts about frustration or pain in your body, and you can continue to sit there.
And it was this idea that you didn’t have to listen to your thoughts, and that in fact, when you became familiar with your thoughts, you realized that the vast majority of thoughts that you have are really pretty crazy thoughts. They’re chaotic, crazy thoughts that really aren’t often providing you with very good advice about how to live. And when you realize that, you stop taking your thoughts so seriously. And that’s part of, I think, what you learn in meditation. And it’s part of what I think we want to teach people psychologically, is that, you know, you can be married, and one minute you’re having thoughts like, “I am so lucky to be married to this woman. She’s just an angel. She’s just the biggest blessing in my life.” And 15 minutes later, you’re having thoughts like, “She is just such a selfish person. She doesn’t pay attention to me. What a stupid thing it was for me to still be in this marriage.” And this is 15 minutes later.
And if you had a roommate who was speaking to you the way your thoughts speak to you, you would think that, “My roommate’s really crazy.” So, I think part of what we learn is that we can notice our thoughts, but we don’t have to listen to our thoughts. And we can notice our feeling states, but we don’t have to act on those feeling states. And so again, this is something that we develop through practice as a skill. And once we do that, we have a certain amount of freedom, because we don’t feel like we’re a slave to what our thoughts are saying, or a slave to whatever feeling state we’re in at the time.
Brett McKay: So, we’ve written about Kaizen. And we’ve actually had a podcast about Kaizen. What role … First off, for those who aren’t familiar with Kaizen, can you explain it? And then, what role does that have in … Does it have a role in Morita therapy?
Gregg Krech: Well, the history of Kaizen, as you probably know, was that it was originally developed as a method of organizational improvement that was exported to Japan after World War Two. We had an interest in kind of helping them rebuild industry, because we were at war with Korea. And we felt like if Japan could rebuild its economy, it would be less susceptible to influence from the communist countries that surrounded it. But a number of people have taken those same principles from an organizational settings, and put them into individual and interpersonal settings, in terms of making change.
And so, what I see in Kaizen is really this idea of small steps and incremental change as a wonderful companion to Morita therapy. Morita therapy is helping you deal with the psychological challenges that you’re facing when you want to move from point A to point B. And Kaizen becomes really the specific mechanics of how to make those changes, whether it’s, you’re trying to write a book, you’re trying to lose weight, you know, you’re trying to make some changes in your financial situation or in your career, Kaizen is just a wonderful system of giving you these small steps, and the mechanics of how to move forward in your life.
Brett McKay: Yeah, I think that kind of helps us figure out a way to bootstrap, when you say, going back to the example, you’re depressed, you don’t feel like doing anything. You just get up and say, “I’m going to wash one dish. I’ll put one dish in the dishwasher.” And then take another small step, because usually, those little, small steps help you build momentum; but you don’t have to say, “I’m going to clean out the whole, entire sink.” You just say, “I’m going to do one, and that’s it.”
Gregg Krech: Right. And I think that what happens is that, by taking these very small steps, in some cases, like you’re saying, the smallest step possible, you’re able to celebrate that small victory instead of saying, “Okay, I’m going to use this weekend, and I’m going to write 100 pages in my novel.” And then of course you don’t, because things come up, and you’re tired, and you oversleep, and you get phone calls, and somebody comes over. And you end up hardly writing at all. And then you feel like a failure, right? And it’s very demoralizing.
And what Kaizen offers through these small steps is this idea of momentum. We can look at the law of physics, you know, one of the laws of physics from Newton, which says that an object that’s moving remains … An object in motion remains in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. So once we start getting that momentum, we write one paragraph a day for our novel, or one sentence a day for our novel, but we do it every day. We wash one dish, right? We take five minutes and commit to cleaning the bathroom. We meditate for one minute a day on our cushion. And doing that basically develops a really healthy habit in many cases. It allows us to make a little bit of progress, but it allows us to get this momentum, and to see ourselves as capable of doing that without the psychological threat that comes with, you know, “I’m going to lose 20 pounds this month,” kind of thing.
So, I’m a big fan of Kaizen. And I think it fits very well with Morita therapy as an approach to making change.
Brett McKay: So, we’ve been talking a lot about folks who have a hard time getting started taking action. But there are some people who, getting started is like the easiest part. In fact, that’s the part they enjoy the most. They start, and they’re super excited, and they’re just like, “This is it. I’m loving this.” They’re feeling good, and then like two weeks later, those feelings are gone. They’ve lost the thrill, and they just completely abandon the project that they started because they’re just not feeling it anymore.
So, what about those folks? What if you’re able to start things, but you’re not able to finish it, because again, you’re relying on feelings to keep you going?
Gregg Krech: Well, I want to confess that I actually am one of those folks. So, this material has been very helpful to me in that sense, that I think my problem, historically, was much less around starting something than it was continuing to work on it once the newness of it wore off. And I think that’s what we see in people who have that kind of style and often leave this kind of karmic record of started, but unfinished, projects behind them; is that we’re being driven by the feeling state of excitement over something new. This, by the way, is very true about relationships as well. You know, you meet somebody. You just have this romantic period, where you’re just madly in love. You can’t bear to be away from them, you know, for more than a few hours. And of course, that doesn’t last. You know, that feeling state wears off.
And I always feel like when that feeling state wears off, that’s when you really can see what it means to actually love someone or be loved by someone. In that initial period, it’s just a wonderful, romantic period to go through; but in my opinion, it really has very little to do with love. You know, love is what is going on 10 or 20 years later, when that feeling state is not the predominant state. You can still have moments of feeling very romantic and excited by your partner. But we see this in relationships, where you know, someone goes from one relationship to another, because what they’re really working from is the excitement of the newness of something.
And again, it’s the same principle, which is making that shift from a feeling-centered approach to life, to a purpose-centered approach to life, so that you can still feel very excited about starting a project. It could be a novel. It could be renovating the basement in your house, or something like that, or learning a foreign language, or learning a musical instrument. But also, when that feeling state wears off, and you hit that wall, you’re then basically drawing your energy from purpose. You recognize that even though I don’t have that same level of excitement, I might even have a level of frustration at this point because I’ve run into this roadblock, but my purpose is to move forward on this and finish it.
And so that same issue, I think, is really in play when we see people who, once that newness wears off, kind of abandon that project; and that is that person learning to make that shift from that feeling-centered approach to what they’re going to do and not do, to a purpose-centered approach.
Brett McKay: I think there’s a phrase that’s like, “In the beginning, everyone’s a hero,” or something like that. I think you mentioned that in the book, but I remember I liked that, describing it, because yeah, I feel like a hero in the beginning.
Gregg Krech: Yeah, it’s kind of easy to be a hero in the beginning because there’s all that kind of fanfare, and applause, and everything going on. And on the other hand, again, there’s something very important about starting; you know, that sometimes there are people who, they have ideas, and dreams, and visions for years, and years, and years, but they never take that first step.
So you know, what we see is that from the point of actually getting started on some type of important project in your life, or some kind of change that you want to make, we’re up against roadblocks like every step of the way. And for me, I think the most effective way to work with those roadblocks has been to kind of develop some skill in being able to cope with the ups and downs of my feeling state, the craziness and chaos of my thoughts, but continue to keep my focus, my sights, set on what is it that’s really important for me to do here.
Brett McKay: I’m curious, you know, I can see action is a virtue, but is there such a thing as too much action? Like at a certain point, is it like, well, that’s actually, you’re going to burn yourself out if you’re constantly doing stuff?
Gregg Krech: Yes, I actually think there is. And I think that there’s actually a couple of issues. And one is that you’re doing a lot of stuff, but it’s the wrong stuff. And I think that that’s really a critical issue, particularly in our society, that we confuse busyness with productivity. And so, the real question isn’t are you busy, are you doing a lot of stuff, but are you doing the things that are really important for you to do in your life?
But even there, I think it’s important to have this complimentary, contemplative time in our lives. And the other approach that we teach is something called Naikan, which is pronounced like we pronounce the camera, Nikon, but spelled differently. And that’s a contemplative approach. It’s an approach to self-reflection. And so, having that to create some balance in our life between action and reflection, to me, is really a healthy way to see our lives. I just did a presentation last night about kind of regrouping for the second half of the year. And the first thing we do when we go into a process of regrouping is, we step back from our lives, and we reflect on the first part of the year, on the last six months, you know, with questions like, “What have the highlights of this period been? What are some of the things I did in this past six months that were really meaningful and fulfilling to me in my life? What contributions did I make to the rest of the world, people even outside my immediate family, during this time?”
So, I offered people a list of questions that they could use for reflection. And I encourage people to take that time to basically step away from life, find a little space in your house, in nature, by a river or someplace, and spend some time just kind of in contemplation of what’s going on in your life, what are you doing. And use that as a basis for kind of deciding how you’re going to move forward. It’s one of the reasons I think travel is something that’s so attractive to so many of us, because I think one of the benefits of that, that we don’t always realize, is that when we get away from our home and away from our work, we separate ourselves from that in a way that’s really healthy. We see how we’re spending our time, what we’re doing, how we’re living our life. And often, it gives us a different perspective on where we need to go from here.
But I think contemplation, to me, is really essential. And I think our society gravitates much more towards taking action. If I do a presentation on taking action, I’ll get a bigger turnout than if I do a presentation on self-reflection. And yet, I think self-reflection is really one of the things that our culture really lacks right now.
Brett McKay: So, the contemplation ensures you’re working on the right things, so you don’t feel burnt out, or like you’re wasting your time. Or yeah, you’re not feeling busy, you’re feeling … So you feel productive, not just busy.
Gregg Krech: Yes. I think one of the things we lose when we don’t pause in our lives to kind of take stock of what we’re doing, and where we are, and how we’re living, is that we just start, we’re on automatic pilot. You know, we just go through our day, day after day, after day. And the next thing you know, your kids are in college. And the next thing you know, you’re collecting Social Security. And you realize that there were some things that were really important for you to address and to do in your life, and you never got around to doing them, in part because you were so caught up in just the demands of day-to-day living.
Brett McKay: Well Gregg, this has been a great conversation. And is there someplace people can go to learn more about your work?
Gregg Krech: Yes. Our organization has a website, which is Todoinstitute.org. So, it’s T-O-D-O, like “to do,” institute.O-R-G. And if you’re interested in the action part of this work, my book, The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology, I think is a really good place to start. It’s a very practical guide to how to make change and kind of move forward in your life. And so, those are probably the two best places to start.
Brett McKay: Fantastic. Well Gregg Krech, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Gregg Krech: Well thank you, Brett. I’ve enjoyed being on your show, and I wish you a lot of luck in terms of the work that you’re doing in bringing all this kind of material to the world, so thanks.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Gregg Krech. He’s the author of the book The Art of Taking Action: Lessons from Japanese Psychology. It’s available on Amazon.com. You can find more information about the book at Artoftakingaction.com. And you can find more information about the ToDo Institute at Todoinstitute.org. Also, check out our show notes at Aom.is/artoftakingaction, where you can find links to resources, or you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at Artofmanliness.com. If you enjoyed the podcast, you’ve gotten something out of it, I’d appreciate it if you would give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher, helps out a lot. And if you’ve done that already, thank you so much. Please consider sharing the podcast with a friend or family member who you think would get something out of it. As always, thank you for your continued support. And until next time, this is Brett McKay, telling you to stay manly.