Series 21: For the Love of Podcasts | Episode 03
“How To! With Charles Duhigg Podcast” Gets Answers to Life’s Burning Questions
We’re learning truckloads and having a ridiculous amount of fun in our For the Love of Podcasts series—lifehacks abound in these episodes, and especially in the show of our next guest: How To! with Charles Duhigg. Charles is a Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter and NYT bestselling author (who’s disarmingly charming), and he’s come up with a genius way to answer all of life’s “important” questions. Want to manage your anxiety? He’s your guy. Need tips on robbing a bank? Got you covered. Want to be ripped like Ryan Reynolds? Look no further! On his podcast, Charles talks to people with real questions we all have but never knew who to ask, and he hooks up the question-askers with experts who break down the big problems step by small step. And in fact, Charles is an expert in his own right: for his bestselling book The Power of Habit, Charles learned why people develop their habits—good or bad—and how we can fix them. And at one point, he walks Jen through her own mini-counseling sesh, peeling back the layers of why Jen (and we) procrastinate, and how the heck we can fix it. Charles’ insights into breaking down big problems into small, manageable steps are practical, applicable, and just plain fun podcast listening.
Narrator: Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people every week on this podcast. Thanks for listening! We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey, everybody, Jen Hatmaker here. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast.
We have a really great show today. I know I say that every time, but I always record these intros right after I finish the podcast, so my head is spinning, and I’m tickled, and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I cannot wait.” I immediately want to go to the internet and tell you, “Wait ‘til you hear this come out!” And today is no exception.
Okay, you probably know that we are in the middle of a series called For the Love of Podcasts, which I just keep extending, because I keep having other podcasts I want to talk about, and Laura and Amanda are like, “Well, I guess we can make this a bonus episode?” I’m like, “Yeah.” So anyway, this series keeps getting longer because of the fascinating guests like today’s.
So my guest today is someone who’s asking a lot of important questions, but they run the gamut like, how do you stop being anxious? How do you cook the perfect meal? How do you decide to have a baby? Once you have that baby, how do you go on a family adventure without murdering the baby? And on, and on, and on.
So Charles Duhigg is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter. He won for explanatory reporting, you guys, which you’ll see is super relevant in a minute. He’s New York Times bestselling author of an excellent book called The Power of Habit, which covers the science of forming habits in a funny and smart way. He’s clever. He’s also the author of Smarter Faster Better, about the science of productivity, and specifically what we’re going to talk about today is Charles is the host of a new podcast called How To!, which is described as, and I love this, “What if Dear Abby were an investigative reporter?” Isn’t that awesome? What a great tagline.
Charles takes—here’s how it works, and we’ll unfold this—he takes questions from listeners, real people who are like, “I need to know how to do something.” And then he hooks them up with an expert in that field, and then that person goes and tries out the new thing they’ve learned, and then we get to sit in on all the action like a fly on the wall. Lucky us. He interviews them, they come on the show, they walk through the process. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s informative. This is where podcasting, to me, shines. Completely innovative format, interesting people, real life stuff, I am 100% here for it.
Hey, guess what you’ll find out today? All of a sudden, Charles zigged a hard right with me when I was listening to him talk about how and why we either form bad habits, or produce good ones. And I was like, “This is making me think.”
And he’s like, “Well, what’s it making you think about?”
I’m like, “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, this isn’t about me.”
And then he took me on a deep dive on one of my worst habits, and why do I do it, and what am I getting from it, and gave me suggestions for overcoming it. So you get about a 10-minute counseling session, and find out what you’re bad at. I’m not somebody who loves to share my feelings a lot, so I was like, “Oh, this is happening. This is being recorded. I guess the secret’s out.” So anyhow, that’s in there too. He’s such a smart and interesting listener, he made me do it. He made me talk about it. That’s how he does it.
So you’re going to be tickled today, and here’s what I know for sure, you are going to be a new fan. I know that a bunch of you are going to run right over to his podcast, and start downloading it, as you should. As you should. So I’m very glad to share my interesting, very lively, very sparkling conversation with the amazing host of the How To! with Charles Duhigg Podcast, the one and only Charles Duhigg.
Jen: Charles, thank you so much for coming on the show, it’s my absolute pleasure to have you on today.
Charles: Thanks for having me.
Jen: Yeah, oh my gosh, I can’t wait to talk to you. I am so fascinated by your work and what you do. I filled in my listeners a little bit about who you are, but as someone who has spent his career explaining things to people in a way they can understand, I’ve got to ask you a question, first of all, about you growing up. Were you that kid that asked a ton of questions? You had to be.
Charles: I guess I was. You should probably ask my parents to find out for sure.
Jen: Yeah, I probably should.
Charles: But yeah, I mean, I was a newspaper reporter for a long time, and now I’m a magazine reporter and an author, all nonfiction. So yeah, I spend a lot of time asking other people to explain things to me. Luckily, many of them are kind enough to do so, which gives me a chance to better understand the world that we’re living in.
Jen: Yeah, absolutely, and then you have this very special gift of parlaying what you discover into a very manageable, fascinating way for the rest of us [so we] have a front row seat to what you’re learning.
Let me ask you this: what were your biggest questions about the world when you were a kid? Did you have a sense that your path was going to be toward journalism? I know we would love to know how you went from a kid in school to a New York Times investigative reporter, because you’ve got a really interesting life, so can you sort of walk us through how you got here?
Charles: Yeah. Sure, so I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the 1970s and 1980s, before the Internet. So when you were in Albuquerque, you were really in Albuquerque.
I always really enjoyed learning, and really enjoyed reading, and then I ended up going to Yale for college. When I was at Yale, it introduced me to this whole new world of being interested in ideas. I majored in intellectual history, which is about tracing how ideas evolve over time, and how those ideas have impact, and how they change how people behave for the most part.
When I got out of Yale, my now-wife—then-girlfriend—and I moved to Egypt for a little while, which was great. She had actually grown up abroad, so we wanted to spend some time in the Middle East and got a chance to do so, and then I went back to New Mexico and I started a company there.
From there I ended up going to Harvard Business School to get my MBA. When I was at business school—it is two years long, and you have to make this decision halfway through—you go and you do a summer internship. Usually the internship is at a place you’re going to end up working after you graduate from business school. It’s like an extended job try out. I went and I worked for this private equity firm. Every day I’d go in—they were really great people, I really loved working with them—and I’d start building these financial models for the properties that they were looking at. The best part of my day [was when] I’d put on this podcast, This American Life. This is back before anyone really knew what podcasts were.
Jen: Oh, totally, that was OG podcasting. Yeah.
Charles: Yeah, exactly. That was the best part of my day. So at the end of that summer, I had to make this decision whether to go into business, or whether to go into journalism. I just felt like I enjoyed journalism so much more, I enjoyed spending time with journalists more. And so that’s what I decided to do, was to become a journalist, and it’s worked out nicely for me.
Jen: Yeah, it has, I think you chose the right path.
So I’m curious, because I find your specific line of work so interesting and creative, at what point did you decide, “I need an outlet to tell people how to do these nagging little things that stump us sometimes?” We’re going to get into some of your content, but did it immediately occur to you that a podcast was the right medium? Because you had a lot of things at your disposal. Your skillset is broad, and you could pick several different media paths, what led you down the podcast path?
Charles: Well, I wrote this book, called The Power of Habit, about the science of habit formation. And one of the things [I noticed] when that book came out and readers started emailing me, a lot of them would have very straightforward questions like, “I have this problem and I’m trying to fix it, and do you know what the research says about it? Or, “Do you have any advice on how to fix it?” One of the things that I felt like I saw a lot was that there was this gap between what experts know and are learning, because they study this all the time, and the availability of that knowledge.
One of my favorite examples is procrastination. Procrastination’s actually this thing that’s been studied immensely by researchers, in part because researchers are often procrastinating themselves, and they want to figure out how to stop. So we know a lot about how procrastination works in the brain, we know how to fix it, but most of those insights are locked away in these scientific studies that most people don’t get access to, or that are hard to access, because it’s not explained in a practical way.
Jen: Yes, totally.
Charles: So I felt like there was this opportunity to take that knowledge, and try and share it with people who really need it, who are hungering for it, particularly if we could do it in a way that’s easy to consume, where we could tell people’s stories. And so that’s the podcast How To! With Charles Duhigg, it’s literally just that. Someone emails us, we have this email address, [email protected], that they can send questions to, and literally that’s where each episode starts. Someone sends us a question, and says, “I want to figure out . . .” or “I’m struggling with X, can you help me solve the problem?” And from there, we find an expert to solve the problem.
Jen: Okay, it’s so creative. Did you come up with this format?
Charles: Yeah, we worked on it for a long time. I have great producer named Derek John, and he and I did four pilots, actually, to try and figure out how the show worked.
Charles: It was in doing those pilots that we really figured out, This is what we need, this is how it works, this is why some episodes are better than others. And we’re still learning that, but yeah, it took us a little while actually. For such a surprisingly simple concept, it actually took a little while to figure out how to do it.
Jen: Oh, I don’t doubt it, because you’ve got several moving parts that aren’t under your control. What did you learn? Talk about the process: what you’ve learned thus far, how many—on average—hours goes into one episode, because as you’ve mentioned, now you’ve got a lot going on, you’ve put a lot of things in the soup pot. What have you learned about what’s working for your listeners? What hits and what doesn’t?
Charles: So the number one thing is that we have to start with someone who has an actual problem. In some of the early episodes, we would come up with a topic that we thought was interesting, or we would find an expert that we liked, and then we’d go look for someone who has that problem.
Jen: Oh, got it.
Charles: Those ones didn’t work as well, because in truth, the best episodes are of things where people come to us and they say, “This is a problem that I’m having,”rather than us saying like, “We found a solution, now let’s go find someone with that problem.”
And then in terms of time, my producer Derek, this is his full-time job, all he does is make the show, which is great. Then we have a production assistant who helps us out, too, who’s actually just starting today, today’s her first day.
Charles: We work with Slate to make the show. And then for me, it’s probably about, I don’t know, 10 hours a week? So on my part, I’m doing the interviews, but I’m also reacting to first cuts and to scripts.
Charles: Which is, I think, a very productive way of doing it, because it just speeds up the iteration.
Jen: Oh yeah, which is to say nothing of all the hours in the field, fleshing out the actually question, I mean, you put a lot into each show. This is some heavy lifting.
Charles: Yeah, it’s been a good show, it’s been a great show. And really Derek, the producer, is the guy who makes the show happen. But in addition, the callers—we call the people who email us callers—it’s really people sending us these emails at [email protected], and saying like, “I have this problem.” That’s really what drives the show, because oftentimes they are so generous with their time, and they have so many great questions.
Jen: Well, I love it. So what I want my listeners to know is you’ve covered everything on—Of course, it’s How To!— How To Be Funny, How To Fire a Bad Employee, How To Survive a Zombie Apocalypse. I mean, you just absolutely run the gamut, so I’m curious how you decide what to cover, because I cannot make heads or tails of any pattern, which I love. You kind of keep your listeners on their toes, and you just never know what you’re going to get.
Charles: No, that’s exactly right. I mean, I think that’s kind of the goal. Like this week, the episode is How to Put Down Your Phone, for people who feel like they’re struggling with ignoring their smartphone in their pocket, or they want to help their kids learn how to manage their screen time.
Jen: That’s great.
Charles: And then there was another one that we did about How To Look Like a Superhero, where we talked to Ryan Reynolds’ trainer, and asked him like, “How do you get these movie stars into shape before they go on camera, because they look like they’re in amazing shape?” I think that the thing that links them all together is two things. Number one, just that it’s interesting to us, right?
Charles: It seems like a question we want to know the answer to. But then secondarily, are there actual, real tactical hints or tips that we can share with people? In some of them, we actually say like, “Rule one, rule two, rule three on how to do this.” And the reason we do that is because we want this to be, not a nasal gazing exploration of life, but actual advice on how to do this thing that probably a lot of people have problems with.
Jen: Totally, I love it. Maybe step one on that one is actually look like Ryan Reynolds. That’s a good first step on that one.
Charles: Yeah, that would be. Right, right, I think that’s right.
Jen: So funneling down into your area of expertise, you’re obviously, as you mentioned with your book, a guy who has studied the way humans develop new habits. You spent a lot of time and energy on this idea. So obviously, you cannot distill this down to a five-minute answer on a podcast, but in general, how do people make lasting change, and have you seen any of your guests adapt to their new changes, and keep up with them successfully?
Charles: Yeah, when we talk about habits, there’s a basic model at the core of how habits work, and we know this from studies in the last twenty years of neurology and psychology. We think of a habit as one thing, but a habit is actually three things. There’s a cue, which is like a trigger for an automatic behavior to start. And then the routine, which is the behavior itself, and then finally a reward. That reward is really important, because that’s how your brain learns to remember this pattern for the future and make it more and more automatic. So one of the big things, when it comes to change, is forcing yourself to pay attention to what those cues and those rewards are.
So if you’re someone who struggles with procrastination, or struggles with dieting, or struggles with exercising, figure out, “Okay, what is triggering either this habit I want to change, or what is a trigger that I can use in my environment to create a new habit that I want to encourage?” And then, “What’s the behavior,” that’s usually the easiest part, but then finally, “What’s the reward? Why am I doing this thing? Why am I procrastinating? What am I overeating at night?” Or if it’s a habit that I want to create, like exercise, if my cue is, for instance, leaving my shoes by my bed so I see them in the morning, or meeting a friend at the gym every Wednesday, “How do I reward myself after that exercise in order to make that behavior easier, and easier, and easier the more I do it?”
Jen: That’s great.
Charles: So that’s the big insight from habit formation, start by taking something that looks kind of simple on the outside, and breaking it down into its parts where it becomes a little bit more complex, but in that complexity we learn how to get some control over it.
Jen: What’s something you’ve learned in that process? I mean, obviously, people are different, habits are different, environments are different, but in terms of cues and rewards, have you seen any patterns emerge?
Charles: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that we know overwhelmingly is that, for instance, boredom is oftentimes a cue for a great many habits. For instance, taking your phone out of your pocket and glancing at it. Many people have developed this almost automatic habit about looking at their phone when they feel a moment of boredom. And it’s obvious why you would do that. The reward is that your boredom is alleviated for a split second, usually not in a very satisfying way, usually you look at your phone and you don’t have any new emails, you look at Instagram, and then you’re like, “Why do I care?”
Jen: That’s right.
Charles: You don’t even feel good about yourself when you do it, but the act of doing it offers a reward. So the question then becomes, if we want to change that habit, how do we find a new way to begin exploring some other behavior that can deliver a similar reward?
For instance, I think a lot of people that I’ve spoken to—this is something I’ve dealt with—when you have young kids, you’re at dinner with your kids, or you’re trying to make conversation with them and they’re fighting with each other, you pull your phone out of your pocket because it’s just automatic, because it’s a little bit of relief.
So if you need that relief, but you don’t want to get into the habit of ignoring your kids by looking at your phone, is there another behavior you can engage in that gives you a sense of novelty? That gives you a sense of momentary distraction from, maybe, fighting kids? Which might just be a matter of asking them a new question, or telling them about your day, or doing something new, and novel, and interesting in that moment, which is not your phone, and that becomes a new habit that overrides the old habit, and gives you a better behavior to play with.
Jen: Okay, I love this. Digging under the why is always so helpful when we’re trying to figure out these sort of behaviors that we think we’re locked into, but we’re not. Change is absolutely possible.
So my next question is, if we are looking to launch our own investigation on how to do something new—other than emailing you, of course, and hoping you pick our question—now that you just have done this so many times, and in so many different contexts, where would you tell folks to start? Where is the best place to learn something new? How do we begin our own investigations?
Charles: Well, I think the first thing to do is to try and define what it is that you want to know. Oftentimes, when people reach out to us, very frequently they say, “My problem is X.” And they’re right, they know exactly what their problem is. One person, I’m just looking at the emails we’ve just gotten today, someone said, “I’m having trouble falling asleep at night, and I’d like to know how to get to sleep more easily, how to sleep better.” Another person actually just emailed and said, “I’m having a problem waking up in the morning, I always hit my snooze alarm.” So those people tend to know what their problem is, but there’s a lot of people who email us and say, for instance, one guy who reached out to us said, “I want to figure out how to sell my company to my employees.”
Jen: Whoa, wow.
Charles: When we started talking to him, it turned out what was really going on was that one of his employees was his daughter, and he didn’t trust her as an owner. So his real question was, “I want to sell my company to people who aren’t my daughter, and I want to figure out how to do that. I actually want to encourage my daughter to leave the family firm, because I don’t think it’s a good match for her.” So that’s the first step, is to figure out what the problem is.
Jen: What are you really wanting, yes.
Charles: Exactly, exactly. What is really bothering you? Is it the thing that it’s easy to say to someone else, or is there something deeper underneath that?
Jen: That’s a great question.
Charles: Yeah, even with the sleeping example. Often, when people say, “I have trouble falling asleep,” what they’re really saying is, “I have trouble managing my stress. Can you teach me ways . . .”
Jen: Right, totally.
Charles: “. . . to stop stressing when I’m laying in bed trying to fall asleep?” So getting at the root of what that problem really is, that’s the first and most important step.
Jen: You’ve got my head spinning now on a couple of things I’m complaining about that I think are surface complaints. I’ve got some stuff.
Charles: Yeah, like what? What’s an example?
Jen: I mean, first of all, you’ve got me on procrastination. You’re making me think, “What is my reward for that?” I get my cues, I think, but I’m curious what I am getting out of that that does not motivate me to change. What is my reward?
Charles: Yeah, let’s start by figuring out what the cue is. When do you find yourself procrastinating?
Jen: This is great, this is going to be a little counseling sesh for all my listeners. I generally procrastinate when I feel overwhelmed, so when all my irons are in the fire at once, or we’re firing off several different initiatives at once, or I’m juggling a lot, that is when all of a sudden I hit this sense of overwhelm, and I take my foot off the gas.
Charles: Right, right.
Jen: So I guess that . . . well, I don’t know what my reward is there.
Charles: Well, so let me ask you, when that happens, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, what do you do? What’s the routine? Do you start surfing the net, do you read a book, or watch TV? How are you procrastinating?
Jen: Yeah, this is a tricky bit for my work, because a large part of my work is housed on the Internet. So that’s where I manage a really large and wonderful online community, that is where I manage and interact with my book club community. For a long time, it’s where I wrote, where I did a lot of my writing. So the Internet is a double-edged sword for me, because when I’m using it in a healthy way it’s great. I’m using it for my work, I’m serving my community well. But I also reach for it to mentally check out of all the tasks that I feel I am behind on, or when I’m not sure what to do next, and I’m looking for an eject button, I think.
Charles: What websites are you going to when you’re wasting time on the Internet?
Jen: It’s generally social media.
Charles: Okay, okay. So why do you think that is? What is social media giving you?
Jen: Well, let’s see. Let me think about what the real answer is. Probably in terms of the way I’m wired, what it seems to be giving me is this immediate sense of connection with my readers, or with my listeners, or with my book club members, whatever the thing is, whereas the work and the labor behind all that it’s always delayed. I mean, I wrote a book, it comes out a year and a half later. You understand how that works.
Charles: Right, right.
Jen: Or we’re building something that doesn’t have communal results for another month or two. So I think for me, it’s this sense of, “Okay, here everybody is. Everybody’s in here, and with this I can kind of gather everybody around, and we can have a fun or interesting conversation real quick.” And it sort of scratches an itch for me to get to my people without the tedious part of all the work. That’s a terribly honest answer.
Charles: Yeah, so it sounds like what you’re saying is that when you go on social media, you’re getting an immediate reward, like an immediate piece of feedback. And that that feels satisfying, right? It feels productive, it feels meaningful, it feels like a connection?
Charles: So if we know that you have a desire for immediate rewards, as opposed to delayed rewards, the question is, is there a way to take your work and reshape it so that it gives you more immediate rewards? Rather than saying, “Well, I’m working on my book today, and it’s going to come out in a year and a half,” is there a way to break that down into something that gives you a reward that’s more immediate?
What I would suggest is probably if you were writing a book, and you were to break it down to a task that you could do in the next 10 minutes, which is like, “Well, I know that I need to start chapter one, and to start chapter one I need to learn more about X,” fill in the blank.
Then you say, “Okay, look, I’m going to learn more about . . .,” fill in the blank, “Whatever it is I need to learn more about, I’m going to spend ten minutes researching that, and as soon as I spend ten minutes, I’m going to cross it off my to-do list, and I’m going to let myself have a little bit of immediate gratification. Maybe that means I’m going to take a walk, maybe it means I’m going to spend five minutes on social media, maybe it means I’m going to take a shower.” Whatever it is, something nice for you that’s going to give you that immediate feedback that you’re craving, that’s the way to do it.
Since we know that so much of it is community-based, maybe it means that when you do that research for ten or twenty minutes, whatever you’ve said you’re going to do, you go and you talk to your husband, or you talk to your kids, or you call up a friend. You do something, maybe you literally just text a friend, and you trade two or three texts back and forth.
The key is to recognize that the rewards that you’re seeking right now that are driving your procrastination are short-term immediate rewards. Can you somehow link the long-term work that you’re doing to more short-term rewards, because you clearly want those, and you need those, and you should have though.
Jen: Okay, well that is so interesting. It’s really just a little channel switch, just a different sort of feedback that might actually scratch the same itch of connection, because I end up feeling lonely in my work a lot.
Charles: That’s exactly right, and part of it is I think that there’s a natural—particularly among Americans—there’s this natural masochistic tendency we have, or a stoic tendency that we have, to say like, “Well, I know that I want this kind of reward, but I’m going to pretend like that’s a bad reward. I’m going to pretend like I shouldn’t give that to myself, and just blame myself when I want it.” But the truth of the matter is that your brain is designed to want certain kinds of rewards. So the best thing that you can do is you can acknowledge what your brain wants, and then figure out some way to give your brain what it wants in a way that pushes you to be more productive.
Jen: Oh, that’s great.
Charles: You’re not going to be able to extinguish the desire for community, you’re not going to be able to extinguish the craving for immediate feedback and community, but you can find a way to tie that need, that desire, to something that’s more useful for you, and kind of almost hot wire a part of your brain that’s pushing you to do things that you might not want to do otherwise.
Jen: That’s great. Thank you for all that. That’s fantastic advice that I promise you I’m going to be thinking about the rest of the day.
Charles: Oh, good.
Jen: Let me ask you this, back to your show: thus far, do you have a favorite, or maybe even most memorable, episode? Or even one for your fans, have you had an episode where your fans are like, “Whoa, that was. . .” and you just got tons of feedback on it?
Charles: There’s a couple of them, the people loved the episode about how to look like Ryan Reynolds.
Charles: How to look like a superhero.
Charles: I think one that I loved is when we talked to this guy—It’s an episode called How To Deal With Anxiety, or How To Stop Being Anxious. This was a guy who was just a wonderful caller. He’s a former cop in Dallas, and he had a daughter who passed away a couple of years ago from a congenital birth defect. And ever since she passed away, he’s been anxious all the time. He has these panics attacks, and he’s been trying to figure out how multiple times a day, like when he gets a text message, he has a panic attack. Whenever he used to get text messages, it was because his wife was texting him to say, “Something’s happening with our daughter. She’s having a seizure.”
So we paired him with an expert—a guy named Ben Michaelis, who’s a wonderful psychologist—to talk about how we manage anxiety. What do we know about how to overcome anxiety, or to put anxiety in the right place so that it doesn’t interfere with our life, but it’s something that we can control a little bit better? I think it really helped him a lot. It was a beautiful episode, because it was just beautiful to listen to. There was another episode that I like a lot called How To Rob a Bank, where we talked to a guy who had robbed like twenty-seven banks.
Jen: What? Oh my gosh.
Charles: He told us like, these are the rules of robbing a bank, and it turns out the rules are pretty interesting. You should always rob banks near freeway entrances, because that way it’s easy to get away. You should always rob a bank where you can walk to your car after robbing the bank, and you don’t have to run, because people will look for people who are running, they won’t look for people who were walking. It’s interesting.
Jen: It is interesting. I mean, what a fun show you have.
Jen: And it’s a blank canvas, you’re just doing whatever you want on it, which I love. I’m curious, that’s how podcasts are, which is why so many of us are choosing that medium, but what has the podcast given you in your journalist tool belt that takes you a step beyond or nextdoor to writing? What muscles are you having to develop that maybe you hadn’t used before that you’re enjoying? What’s really enjoyable to you?
Charles: Well, I think it’s a very different style of interviewing, right?
Charles: I think that when I’m interviewing for journalism, I’m very much looking for very specific things, because I can reorder the conversation when I write it. So what I need are specific details, I need anecdotes. I can jump all over the place and ask different kinds of questions, but when I’m conducting an interview for the podcast, it really has to be much more linear, and so I’m much more of a passenger in the conversation rather than the driver, because I’m just trying to see where things go.
Jen: Yeah, yeah, which is kind of fun, it’s kind of crazy, it always feels like standing on the edge of a cliff, because you don’t always know where it’s going to go. You’re not exactly sure which shape it’s going to take.
Charles: That’s exactly right.
Jen: I like that part of it. I wonder, what do you ultimately hope people take away from your show, besides obviously their fancy new skills? Is it a sense of staying curious, trying new things? What do you hope people are walking away with?
Charles: Well, I hope that they’re walking away with a sense that there’s a solution to any problem, and we know this. We know that any kind of change can be accomplished. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy, and it doesn’t mean it’s immediate. But what we do know, from tons and tons of studies, is that there is often a set of strategies and knowledge out there that allows us to feel like we’re in more control of what’s going on in our lives.
Even things like depression, I think when you’re in depression, people often describe it as a sense of helplessness, and hopelessness, and despair. One of the things we know is that if people do certain things, actually they can control their depression a little bit more. Now, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy, and it doesn’t mean you can make it go away, but it does mean that people can learn to manage their own depression. For instance, we know that if they’re feeling depressed and they begin exercising, it helps alleviate the depression.
I think exposing people to studies and to the knowledge that’s been amassed on particular topics, that’s what I most hope people carry away, because it can be really, really powerful to feel like you have new tools in your toolkit for dealing with the problems that otherwise seem too big to take on.
Jen: Absolutely. So what’s next for the show? Any sneak peeks on topics we can look forward to, or new books that you’re working on? What’s coming up for you?
Charles: Well, hopefully people will send us more problems that they’re trying to [solve]. So one of the things that I really want to do is. . .we deal with a lot of problems with parenting, right?
Charles: One of the episodes we did is how to challenge your kids the right way so that you raise resilient kids, and another one was about how to decide whether to have a baby.
Charles: We’re going to be doing more on parenting, and we’re going to be doing more on questions about how people can live better lives. I also really like business topics. I mentioned we’re doing this one about how to sell your company to your employees.
Jen: Uh-huh, to not your daughter.
Charles: Exactly, to not your daughter, but a big part of it is we really rely on listeners reaching out to us. I’ll say the email address again, because I’d love to encourage your folks to contact us, it’s [email protected]. If people have problems and they contact us, we will try and find an expert to solve that problem, and then play their story on the podcast with the expert, and see if we can’t make things better.
Jen: That’s great. It’s so great.
Jen: Okay, we’re going to wrap this up. Obviously, on our show we do everything in series, and this is a series on podcasts.
Charles: Oh, great.
Jen: So this is what we’re asking everybody in this series, just kind of off the top of your head, here’s the first one: which podcast, if you have time, are you listening to right now?
Charles: So I listen to This American Life devotedly.
Charles: And actually, I’m listening to this crazy podcast, I was listening to it right before you called, called The Bright Sessions. It’s kind of fun.
Jen: Okay, we’ll link over to that, because that just seems like some good car ride listening, for sure.
Charles: It’s pretty good.
Jen: Okay, here’s the next one: what’s your favorite thing, or, I don’t know if favorite is the right word. What’s the most important, or maybe most useful, thing that you have learned from your work on How To!?
Charles: I think the most useful thing that I’ve learned is that a big part of being successful is just chilling out. So when we talk to parenting experts, a lot of their advice is to basically relax and worry less. We have an episode coming up called How To Raise An Adult, and the woman who called in has a son, and her son does well in school, he’s about to graduate from high school, but she was kind of worried, because he’s not really passionate about anything.
So we brought on this expert who used to be an admissions officer at Stanford. And she was like, “Look, some kids, they don’t know what they want to do with their lives when they’re eighteen years old, and that’s okay. Sometimes it takes until they’re twenty-five. And the best thing you can do is just give your kid the space they need. Maybe your kid shouldn’t go to college right away, maybe he should go into the military, maybe he should go to community college. There’s a lot of options for them, but the best thing you can do is just relax, and let him figure out who he is.”
Jen: Oh, my gosh.
Charles: So I feel like a lot of the advice that we get is kind of like that.
Jen: That’s so great. We need to bottle that message and send it out to virtually every sector.
Jen: Just everybody relax a little bit, just take it down a notch.
Charles: I think it’s right.
Jen: I absolutely receive that. Last question, this is a question that we actually borrowed from an author that I love, we ask every guest in every series this, and you can answer it however you want. Some people give us really earnest and sincere answers, and some people give us absurdity, so it can run the gamut. But here’s the question: what is saving your life right now?
Charles: What is saving my life right now?
Charles: I mean, I think exercise, to be honest.
Jen: Yeah, what’s your exercise?
Charles: I run a lot. But the other thing is me and my wife have started surfing a lot. We live in New York, and it’s hard to surf in New York, but she was on sabbatical earlier this year—she’s a biologist and a university professor. We were living in Costa Rica, and then living in California, and while we were there we were surfing almost every day, and it was wonderful.
Charles: So it was really, really nice.
Jen: That’s amazing, I love that answer. Gosh, I wish that I could talk to you longer. I am so fascinated with your work, and I cannot wait for my people to just flood your sites, because they are going to. Can you just tell them really quickly where to find you?
Charles: Sure, absolutely.
Jen: So you’ve given the email address, which we’ll definitely put over on our transcript, and what else?
Charles: The best thing to do is my Twitter, it is just my name, @cduhigg, or if they go to my website, charlesduhigg.com, they can sign up for a newsletter. We send out a once-a-month newsletter with links to interesting articles, to things that I’ve written, and our podcast. So just on Twitter @cduhigg, or on the web at charlesduhigg.com.
Jen: That’s perfect. We’ll have it linked, everybody. Every single thing, including the transcript, will be over at jenhatmaker.com, and we’ll link over to all of Charles’ work and sites, and podcasts, and everything.
Hey, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Charles: Thank you.
Jen: I really enjoyed talking to you, and I’m really interested in the work that you’re doing. I find it innovative, and important, and useful, and whimsical, and all the things. So keep going. Keep doing it.
Charles: Thanks so much. Well, I really appreciate you having me on. I love your podcast, so it’s really an honor to be on here.
Jen: The honor is mine. Thanks, Charles.
Charles: Thank you, take care.
Jen: I will be excited to hear how many of you head over to Charles’ podcast, and start a deep dive. Isn’t that so interesting? What a great format, what a cool idea.
I think this guy has really got something. I was happy to have him on, and now you know that I have a really procrastination problem when I feel overwhelmed by lonely tasks, and I’d rather just come straight to you and talk about something that can happen that very day. It’s so weird, because I’m an introvert, kind of textbook, so you would think that having as much alone time as I have working solo in most of the work that I do, that it would fuel me. And in some ways it does. Anyway, the sense of connection that other people get in regular jobs when they’re around human people all the time, I don’t get, and so I come and find you.
Anyway, I mentioned it, but go to jenhatmaker.com, we’ll have all this over there for you, including the transcript page, which we’re happy to provide for you. I know a lot of you use that, and love that, and we’re glad to have that for you week in and week out.
Don’t forget also while you’re at jenhatmaker.com you can pick up tickets for the For the Love Podcast live shows. Coming in hot, and really excited about these. So that’s under the Events page. We are coming to Portland, and Minneapolis, and Grand Rapids, and Atlanta, and much more to come. We are cooking it up, you guys. We have some amazing guests in the works, and those dates will be rolling out. So looking forward to that.
Thanks guys for listening, thanks for being here. More to come in the podcast series next week. More interesting hosts, and shows, and we just can’t get enough of it all. So I’m happy to introduce you to some of these amazing folks. Hey, guys, have a great week.
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!