Ep. 152 – Dan Harris: How To Reduce Stress While Keeping Your Edge

Dan Harris James Altucher

He self-medicated.

He covered stories in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. He went to Iraq six or seven times.

When he got back, he was depressed. He was 32 years old and had never touched hard drugs before.

But it became the thing that made him feel better.

Millions of people were watching. The red light was on. And right there, in the middle of his live segment, he had a panic attack.

I’m going to tell you how to deal with stress. I’ll tell you what works for me. But first, I want to tell you about my guest, Dan Harris.

Dan is an anchor on “Good Morning America” and “Nightline.” He’s also the No. 1 New York Times bestselling author of 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works A True Story.

After the book came out people had questions. So he also created an app called “10% Happier.” It teaches users easy “judo moves” to have more creativity, feel less stress, and be happier.

It helps you surrender. Be self-aware. Focused.

“The events that led up to my panic attack were a case study in mindlessness,” Dan says. “Going to wars without thinking about the consequences, getting depressed and not knowing it and blindly self-medicating.”

I wanted to know what pushed him over the edge.

“The one-word answer is cocaine,” Dan says. “The more complicated answer is I arrived at ABC News when I was 28.”

He was insecure. He worked with big names like Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters.

He wanted to be successful.

“My Jewish father has this expression, ‘The price of security is insecurity.’ I really embraced that,” he says.

The pressure never let up. He demanded more of himself.

But why do we make it so hard for ourselves?

Many people have gone through this slow-motion panic attack. Including me. It’s the stress of daily living.

Something bad happens to you. You lose a job or get a divorce. Everyday wear and tear picks at you.

Stress happens over time. And if you don’t notice it, it builds.

The voice in your head becomes meaner. Angrier. More resentful and regretful. Energy is wasted. Your creativity dies. Your idea muscle atrophies. And you’re at the bottom of the funnel dreaming about retirement.

But instead of imagining a better life later, retire now. You can retire a little bit every day.

Breathe. Feel your chest fall. That’s retirement.

It’s a fantasy. I’m going to tell you how to make it real right now.

But before I do, let me tell you what you’ll get from today’s podcast:

1. Learn How to Have More Ideas
Dan says, “When you ask, ‘What is boredom like? What does this feel like? Where am I feeling it in my body? What’s the taste of it in my mind?’ That is curiosity.” Curiosity produces creativity. And ideas. You’ll learn how to make room for curiosity.

2. Distance Yourself From Stress
Dan teaches you how to notice stress and see your problems clearly. You’ll learn to separate yourself from it. And relax. Essentially, you’re becoming a scientist of your own inner reactions. A scientist is not his experiment. The same way humans are not their reactions and emotions to things. Those are separate. You’ll learn how to separate yourself from stress.

3. Be 10% Happier
“First of all, 10% is just a joke. You can’t quantify happiness,” Dan says. “I came up with that as a bullshit answer to a friend.” But being a little bit happier is better than being a little bit miserable. But you have to practice. You’re practicing becoming aware of the angry voice that comes up and reacts. So you can be calm.

Ok, now here’s Dan’s secret to dealing with stress: meditation

“Let me just say outright, because as soon as you bring that word up, some high percentage of your listeners are like, ‘All right, I’m done with this podcast. Meditation’s bullshit. I don’t want to do it,'” Dan says.

He thought that too.

“The book is really the story of me coming to terms with the fact that meditation is not what I thought it was. It’s secular and scientifically validated,” he says.

People reject meditation. It’s a reflex. But there are a lot of benefits to it. It:

– Lowers blood pressure
– Boosts immune system
– Rewires parts of your brain

“Nobody continues to meditate because they feel like ‘my pre-frontal cortex might be changing.’ You continue to meditate because you’re less of an asshole to yourself and others,” he says. “That’s a huge value added.” And I agree.

Louis C.K., my favorite comedian, says, “It’s not up to you if you’re an asshole or not. That’s up to everybody else.” But you can be aware of it.

Louis says, “Self love is a good thing, but self-awareness is more important. You need to once in a while go ‘Um, I’m kind of an asshole.’ You have to have that thought once in a while or you’re a psychopath.”

Listen to this podcast with Dan Harris. You’ll learn how to relax, distance yourself from stress, turn boredom into curiosity and become some percent happier.

Resources and Links:

  • I started meditating this week. I’ll do my best to keep it up.