Thanks for joining us for episode 74 of The Ancestral RD podcast. If you want to keep up with our podcasts, subscribe in iTunes and never miss an episode! Remember, please send us your question if you’d like us to answer it on the show.
Dallas Hartwig is a Functional Medicine practitioner, Certified Sports Nutritionist, and best-selling author of two books, It Starts With Food and The Whole 30. He is also the creator of the More Social Less Media program, and he believes deeply in people.
We know that the modern world has in many ways altered our relationship with food. But how much do we understand about how it has also changed our relationships with people?
Join us today as we discuss with Dallas life altering truths about the often unperceived consequences that the prevalence and ease of technology and social media has on our lives individually and as a society.
You’ll learn about the far reaching effects technology has had on human connection and come away with ways you can begin to make more informed choices to re-cultivate this vital piece of human nature to positively impact your health and our society.
You’ll also hear about Dallas’ exciting free program More Social Less Media that will help you reassess your use of technology so you can focus on the meaningful in-person social connections humans thrive on.
Here are some of the questions we discussed with Dallas:
- Can you tell us how you evolved to start talking more about human connection coming from a strictly nutritional background?
- There’s a lot of ways that we feel like we are connecting with people through technology. Would you say that those things truly count as human connection? Or is there a big difference between that kind of connection and sitting down and having a cup of coffee with someone and having a conversation?
- What is it about vulnerability that is so crucial to these human connection benefits that we’re going to talk about today?
- When we talk about human connection, when we talk about vulnerability, I think we all inherently know that these things are probably important. Do you have a way to describe why we as humans need this even though our brain will actively avoid things like vulnerability when it seems like it is important?
- You mentioned that there’s a difference between socialization and connection. What is your definition of the two and how they overlap or not?
- Where does human touch come into play ?
- Would you mind telling us a little bit more about your More Social Less Media program?
- More Social Less Media
- The Living Experiment podcast
- Follow Dallas on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Laura: Hey everyone. Welcome to episode 74 of The Ancestral RDs podcast. I’m Laura Schoenfeld and with me as always is Kelsey Kinney.
Kelsey: Hey guys.
Laura: We have a really, really cool interview today and we’re not going to do a super long intro just because we don’t want the episode to go on for hours and hours, as much as you guys like hearing our voice. But we did want to just do a little intro to the topic because it’s something that we’ve been talking about a lot more recently not only on the podcast, but I know for me working with my clients I’ve been bringing it in a lot more. I would definitely like to do more either writing or work on this topic in general because of the impact it has on people’s health and wellbeing. But today we’re going to be talking about social connection. We have an awesome guest with us today.
But Kelsey and I have just really been kind of latching onto this topic and seeing something important to discuss because we don’t see it being discussed as often as we think it should be, and we’ve seen the difference that it makes in people’s lives when they do focus on it even to the almost exclusion of the other health behaviors like diet, and exercise, and stuff.
Laura: If you are prioritizing this component of your life then generally you should be doing pretty well even if your diet and exercise aren’t totally perfect. Kelsey, why do you feel like you are interesting in this topic of social connection and getting off social media and the internet as much as possible?
Kelsey: Well I think partially for the reason you just mentioned which is that I’ve seen it have such a profound impact on the clients that I’ve worked with. I can think of one person in particular where she was fairly sick, like really didn’t feel good a lot of the time, but just had these amazing social connections in her life that her outlook on the whole situation was in my eyes truly incredible.
Just even in my life dealing with I don’t want to say minor illness because to me it feels pretty major and it has an impact on my life, but compared to hers, it is pretty minor. I get down sometimes and I don’t feel probably as positive as at least what I was seeing in her and how she felt. But part of it I truly do think was because of all the people in her life she really felt had her back and that she could count on anytime she needed help. I just saw what an amazing impact that had on her and how she felt about life and the progression of the way things were going for her that it was just truly amazing to me. I wanted my other clients who maybe aren’t dealing with something as severe to feel the same way like they have these connections that really lift them up and make them feel so much more positive about life and about the way things are going.
That’s one piece. Then on a personal level, I just feel like I’ve had times in my life where maybe I haven’t felt as connected to people, and times in my life where I felt very connected to people. And I think as you go through life, you’re going to have pieces of both. There will be times where you move somewhere different, or your friends are off doing other things and everybody sort of just becomes a little bit more disconnected. But when I’ve been in times where…even with my husband I just have this really amazing relationship and I feel deeply, deeply connected to him. That to me is such an important bond and I honestly can’t imagine my life without it. That to me makes me able to get through things that otherwise I would be like I would have a really, really difficult time doing.
I’ve talked about this a little bit about my blog when I wrote a post just about dealing with chronic illness, just that having family, friends, and an amazing husband that are there for you and I know that they will be there for me always is such a great feeling, but it’s something took work to get there.
Kelsey: It’s not an easy place to get to initially necessarily. It takes vulnerability, it takes risk, and that can be scary, but the payoff has been so, so worth it. I’m more of like an introverted kind of person I’d say, so for me having a few very close relationships that I can spend time with and not feel like…to me, the connection, true deep connection, is when I can sit in the room with someone and not feel like I have to talk to them, if that makes sense. I don’t feel this anxiety around having to have a conversation, we can just sit there and be connected. I sort had to like learn how to cultivate that with people, but I feel like it’s made my life so much more complete to have done that.
I think we can always be better and there are people I’ve been closer to in the past and maybe we’ve drifted apart, so after this interview I’ve definitely been more motivated to reach out a little bit more and create those deep, vulnerable conversations that we could be having but we’re just not because neither one of us is reaching out.
Kelsey: Sort of a long winded answer. But I feel really strongly about this topic and I think it’s just something that everybody should have in their life and it makes me really sad to know that there are a lot of people that don’t feel like they even have one person that they feel that connected to.
Laura: Right. Like you said, it can sometimes happen because of life circumstances that that starts to feel that way. I do think having relationships where there is an in-person element is really important. For me I moved to North Carolina for grad school I guess it was just over 5 years ago at this point. After I graduated, moved to Raleigh, which wasn’t super far from campus, but honestly most of my connections when I was in grad school have since left the area.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Laura: I basically had to start from scratch. For the first, I guess it was probably the first year living here, I had people that I was spending time with. I wasn’t like a total hermit or something, but I wasn’t necessarily feeling deeply connected on a regular basis. My parents were still living in New Jersey and I didn’t have any family in the area. I was socializing, but I wasn’t connecting with people.
I guess I went through a period of time where I just like was feeling kind like, I don’t know, not depressed because it wasn’t depression, it was more like just kind of blah about everything and feeling like I’m not super happy about my life right now. I had nothing to be upset about, it was just kind of like why do I feel like I don’t feel fulfilled right now?
For me a big piece of it has been it started with pursing my Christian community that I’m a really big part of right now. That has been awesome because it’s kind of pushed me to develop friendships with people, like other women and even other men that involve a level of vulnerability that has been somewhat unusual for me. Focusing on practicing vulnerability with people ,and we have a small group that meets basically every Wednesday night, so it’s kind of like a scheduled vulnerable group dinner essentially, which I think has been super awesome. I do think the faith piece of it makes a big difference in terms of the conversation, but also if that’s something that people schedule outside of a religious connotation that it still would have similar benefits if you’re having a group dinner where you just talk about things that you’re struggling with or things that you have been having positive in your life.
Laura: That’s been something I’d say over the last maybe almost 2 years at that point at hive been cultivating that, which at the beginning was super awkward. I came into this group, they all knew each other for years, moved down here from West Virginia and Ohio, and I was like just kind of like showing up as the random girl that was the “local” but not even really a local. And just building that group connection and that community of like-minded people that live in the area that I get to see in person on a regular basis and do things together, like we have our church plant, so creating that with the other people has just been really awesome in terms of giving me a sense of purpose outside of work, and nutrition, and all that stuff.
And then more recently, I was joking with Kelsey on the phone before we got on today that I recently have been talking about my boyfriend a lot, and I’m like I need to stop talking about it, it makes me sound ridiculous. But just to me it’s more because of the level of involvement in my life right now that that situation is having and just kind of it being such a big part of my life. We talk about our personal experiences and it’s hard not to bring that in. But I think that situation for me is very, very relevant to our topic today because our relationship is not only long distance, but we also met online.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Laura: The first six weeks of dating was all digital, either texting or phone calls. We never even did like a Facetime or whatever before we met in person for the first time. It’s interesting because on one hand, I valued the role that technology not only played in our meeting, but also in our current maintenance of our relationship. But as I was talking about last week in the intro, there’s that piece that comes from the physical proximity to a deep relationship that you really can’t get when you’re not in person.
Laura: We’re going to talk about this today, but even just from a physiological level, the hormones that get released when you’re next to somebody, or holding hands with that person. It’s funny I feel like because we only see each other every couple weeks, when we’re together, we’re physically attached to each other.
Kelsey: At all times.
Laura: Yeah, we’ll be driving somewhere for a couple hours and literally just holding hands the entire time. Once in a while I’ll be like I have to look something up on the phone, like let me have my hand for a second so I can type with both fingers. And even sometimes, I’m like actually I think I can just use one hand. I don’t have to take my hand away. I just think it’s funny because it’s almost such a really extreme example of the topic we’re going to talk about today where it’s like yeah, the connection online can be used in a positive way to maintain relationships. The amount of time we spend on the phone talking, we’ve built a lot of our vulnerable connection through a phone conversation.
So I’m not saying that a phone conversation with a loved one isn’t a good thing, and we certainly encourage people to do that especially if you’re in a situation where you don’t have a lot of close friends, or you just moved to an area, or your family lives far away so you only get to connect with them digitally. I would never say that that’s a not a positive thing that people should be pursuing. But I think from my experience with my boyfriend and also what we’re going to talk to our guest today about, the in-person piece is so important that I think to not work on building your in-person relationship, even if it’s just a friend, not a romantic partner or anything like that, that that piece is so important that it’s something that should be prioritized and worked toward if it doesn’t exist in your life already. If it does exist but it’s not as I guess life giving as it could be, like if you are married and you live with your spouse but you don’t really get into deep conversation very often or if you’re having a rocky relationship and not feeling connected, just because the person is physically there, it doesn’t mean you’re connecting with them.
Laura: Our conversation today is really going to focus on not only the benefits of social connection beyond technology, but also just practical tips for building that connection whether the person is in person, over the phone, whatever option you have for developing close relationships in your life, that’s what we’re going to help you guys do today.
We’re really excited. It’s an awesome interview. It’s a long one for sure, so if you’re used to our shorter interviews or our shorter episodes, then just prepare yourself for maybe a multi-part listening experience. We’re super stoked and I think before we introduce our guest, why don’t we hear a word from our sponsor.
Kelsey: Alright. Today we have Dallas Hartwig on our show. Dallas is a Functional Medicine practitioner, Certified Sports Nutritionist, and best-selling author of two books, It Starts With Food and The Whole 30. He is also the creator of the More Social Less Media program and he believes deeply in people. Welcome Dallas!
Dallas: Thank you.
Kelsey: We’re very, very excited to have you on today because we have been on some previous episodes of our podcast talking a lot about social connection and human connection and how important that is to health overall and how it really fulfills us as humans. We’re really, really excited to talk to you about this topic today. I’m sure a lot of our listeners are probably familiar with your work from The Whole 30. Like I said, we’ve talked a lot about your newer work with the More Social Less Media project on our previous podcasts. But can you tell us how you sort of evolved to start talking more about human connection coming from a strictly nutritional background?
Dallas: Actually, I’m glad you framed the question that way because most people think about me from a strictly nutritional perspective, but my background being in healthcare was a very sort of holistic, big picture perspective. I joke, but it’s not really a joke, originally when we wrote It Starts With Food, that was supposed to be sort of be our treatise on food and we were supposed to move on and talk about other stuff.
Dallas: We ended up sort of having this like 5 year detour into food. It wasn’t really envisioned or intended. My background is not actually food even though that’s what I’m kind of most known for. My background has been fitness, nutrition, lifestyle stuff, exercise, all the other broader stuff. Then being able to do some food stuff, be like okay cool, I said what I need to say about food from a really practical, useful standpoint. Let’s go do something else.
Dallas: That was the original plan. After we wrote It Starts With Food, the original idea was we would write this larger kind of broader lifestyle book. The Whole 30 program just very organically kind of took off and sort of a community demanded that book to support The Whole 30 program which is how that came about.
This social connection stuff has been something that I think has been equal parts professional interest and personal interest. Even the nutrition piece grew out of personal experience of mine several years preceding when I started to write and speak about tit. I think it’s as much the same with this social connection piece where personally, I look around the world and I look at my own life, and we’re so busy, we’re distracted, we’re in this sort of overstimulated, but under connected kind of situation.
Dallas: I’ll credit where credit is due. Jamie Scott and Anastasia Boulais, dear friends of mine in New Zealand, kind of just like came to me on the social stuff a few years ago and were like hey, you should be doing more work on this, I think you’re under addressing this. At the time they were absolutely right. They kind of lit a fire under me to start doing more with that. It’s sort of equal parts personal, professional.
But I look around and the way we are super connected, and especially we are the way we are on mobile devices, and especially the way we are on social media, we have gone awry, and I don’t hear enough practical tips, and tricks, and recommendations as far as how to kind of correct that. I don’t just to be the fear monger and the guy who stands on the street corner with a sign that says “the end is coming.”
Dallas: I was just want to actually say hey, here are some reasons why we need to kind of do things differently and here’s what you can actually do. Pragmatically, that always been our focus there too.
Kelsey: Yeah. I think there’s really not anybody talking about this stuff in the way that you are talking about it right now. I think it’s probably because it’s a little difficult to strike that balance between technology is good in a lot of ways and it does keep us connected in certain ways where we may not have been connected otherwise, but at the same time it’s disconnected us in a lot of way.
Kelsey: I think you talk about it in a very intriguing way that doesn’t make you feel bad for using technology, but just pointing out that there are some serious detriments and that we need to be careful.
Dallas: Totally. To that point, I’m not anti-technology, I’m not anti-social media. I think that’s something that I need to kind of make a little clear because a lot of people who are like oh I read about your More Social Less Media, or I read some of your stuff, and I think they’re left with the impression that…I think honestly a lot of times people who haven’t read the whole way through much like with The Whole 30, they’re like, do you ever cheat? I’m like well, if that’s the viewpoint you come out of the conversation with, you haven’t kind of read my kind of body of work.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: Similarly with More Social Less Media, I’m not making a case against technology, I’m not making a case again social media. I am making a case for conscious, present, mindful use of technology. Kind of the question that I continue to ask that kind of forms the core of this whole project is how do we use these technological tools without being used by those tools? I think that’s what it comes down to because the tools, if you want to think of them as powerful tools, and undoubtedly they are, those tools are unlike tools we created in the past from a human perspective. If we developed a hammer, or a knife, or a wheel, basically it was a totally inert object until we did something with it, until we enact its force onto it.
Dallas: Your smartphone complete with web searches, and social media, and notifications is not at all the same as that inert tool. It’s a portal, it’s a gateway. On this case, it’s a way for corporations to gain access to the way you think. I think it’s funny, people talk and certainly in the political climate, you hear lots of conversations and reference to 1984 with governmental oversight and this sort of kind of very authoritarian kind of perspective. But what’s interesting to me is that in 1984, big brother, the government, has this way of watching everything you do, you have a telescreen in your home that can observe everything that you do and everyone thinks that’s an absolutely horrible, and invasive, and all this stuff. But what I think is fascinating to me is we have as a society absolutely embraced that degree of invasiveness.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: But like times 100 and we haven’t even noticed.
Dallas: Google, or Apple, or AT&T, or any of these companies know about the way you work and they’re ability to influence and manipulate your behaviors so much more than telescreen in your home.
Kelsey: Mm hmm. Yeah.
Dallas: I don’t hear that conversation going on, the degree of insight and influence that these corporations have. The tools then are not really tools in the sense that we are not fully in control of them. They act upon us with some sort of outside influence or outside set of interests. To me they’re less and less tools and the tool is actually just a façade for the access to our mind.
Kelsey: Yeah. When you say that they’re tools that we used to make were inert compared to what we have now, are you referring to just like when we get notifications on our phone or something like that where we’re not actually even doing anything like turning on the phone to jump into that knowingly? Or are you referring to something else?
Dallas: Well I was kind of comparing and contrasting a tool in ancient human history, again like a hammer or a wheel that didn’t do anything unless we did something to it. In that sense it was a way of manipulating the world around us, but the tools now…let’s take a Google search, just a really basic Google search which is available in our hand pretty much everywhere we go all the time. Powerful tool, powerful way to access information. However, it’s the tradeoff. It’s kind of one of these things, what’s the expression? If the product is free, you’re the product.
Kelsey: Yeah. Right.
Dallas: So you think about Facebook, or Google searches, or any of the services are provided through social media or otherwise online for free or largely for free, there’s a trade. There’s a barter that goes on. We give Facebook information about how we think, and how we operate, and who we are friends with, and where we go, and what we do in exchange for the conveniences of being able to connect with friends online.
Dallas: That’s the barter that goes on, right?
Dallas: The tools are really not tools that we’ve created for our own kind of personal or species wide evolution. They’re something that was given to us by a company to buy access to our mind. I’m not a crazy tinfoil hat conspiracy theory guy, but that’s actually just how it works, right?
Dallas: Like Mark Zuckerberg is not just trying to be benevolent to everyone by providing these free services. There’s a barter that goes on there and I think that there needs to be a little more discussion around what we’re actually giving up in exchange for the convenience of connecting with people online.
Dallas: Or in exchange for us kind of being able to grab data and find information.
Kelsey: Yeah. Let’s jump into human connection as a topic because I think that can be in this day and age a little bit of a confusing topic because of these social media outlets that we’re talking about where you can instant message someone online or you can Facetime with someone and there’s a lot of ways that we feel like we are connecting with people through technology. Would you say that those things truly count as human connection? Or is there a big difference between that kind of connection and sitting down and having a cup of coffee with someone and having a conversation?
Dallas: It’s a super good question. I think there’s kind of two parts to it. I think three quarters of my answer is no, and one quarter of my answer is yes. Like no it doesn’t really count, but like yes it kind of counts. Let me explain the no side first. Human communication, so much of that…I forget how they kind of label the percentage, but like the vast majority, 70 or 80% of human communication is nonverbal, right?
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: It is neural hormonal, it’s electromagnetic, there’s body language, there’s tone of voice, there’s eye contact, there’s all these different things that have nothing to do with the words that you actually say. When you communicate with people online, you condense and distill everything you have to say down into alphanumeric characters. You strip it down and make it data, little packets of data, and you exchange packets of data over the internet. But that’s a very small percentage of actual communication. It’s like you’re 20% communicating, right?
Dallas: So yes, there’s communication there, there’s connection there, there’s the exchange of data, but there’s not really a true connection. I think that’s kind of a bit of a distinction. And how do we label it? I don’t really know. But there’s powerful connective pieces that go on when you’re sitting across a table from somebody or sitting next to somebody that are really meaningful and important parts of communication that simply can’t happen online. It’s because human communication is not alphanumeric characters.
Dallas: There’s all of this other complex stuff that goes on. Whether you’re talking about from a hormonal standpoint with oxytocin and vasopressin, or whether you’re talking about it from a stress response perspective, there’s so many different angles to look at this thing. If you’ve ever read any of the Heart Math data on what happens with electromagnetic fields between two people when they’re in conversational distance interactions, it’s amazing stuff that is all sort of subconscious and below our levels of perception, but still very, very impactful in the way that we connect with each other. When you digitize that, that all gets stripped away.
I think there’s the other piece of it too, and vulnerability is a huge part of this conversation when it comes to communicating with people online. I’ll say this because everybody feels this, most people I know would much rather text message or email a difficult conversation than sit down and it have face to face.
Dallas: I have friends who work in business and who have employees and it seems to be the case, and this is not any sort of judgment or criticism, that’s just an observation by these friends, that it seems to be the case that they millennial generation does this more so than people in their 40s, 50s, and beyond. But I think we all tend to gravitate towards lower vulnerability situations. When you strip away 80% of the communication, the messy part of eye contact, and body language, and tone of voice, and all this other stuff, the stuff you can’t really control for in real time, and you just turn it into packets of data and you exchange it via the internet, you’ve stripped away the vast majority of vulnerability, right? For us, one of the really meaningful things of human connection, meaningful parts, is that vulnerability and we strip all that away when we digitize it. It feels safer, right? That’s the paradox.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: It feels safer because they say something via text message, I’ve got some time to think about how to respond, I can carefully craft my words, I don’t have to deal with anyone interrupting me, nobody gets emotional and starts crying.
Dallas: You can sort of sanitize the whole thing and kind of control it. But then of course, the paradox of that is we’re left with the sensation that we didn’t really meaningfully connect with somebody even though we exchanged alphanumeric characters.
Laura: Yeah, the vulnerability piece I think is really interesting and I remember reading some of the stuff you wrote on your blog about that. I read a lot of Brene Brown’s work and she talks about vulnerability. And it’s like I’d say vulnerability is one of the major topics that she covers in a lot of depth. Over the last year or so, I feel like I’ve been focusing on that as a piece of my social connections. It’s something that I wanted to really focus on and kind of almost dive into where it’s like, like you’re saying, there is a lot of risk that comes with vulnerability. But realizing that without that vulnerability, that the depth of the connection that you’re developing is not where it needs to be to really get the benefits.
I’d love to hear a little bit more about that in your opinion with vulnerability. What is it about vulnerability that is so crucial to these human connection benefits that we’re going to talk about today?
Dallas: Let me take one step back because I think I’ve got an analogy that works fairly well to kind of address that, the desire or the need for human connection. I think the sort of simplest way to kind of talk about the opposite of that is loneliness, right?
Laura: Mm hmm.
Dallas: It’s sort of the presence or absence of enough meaningful human connection. I’m not talking about just so much how much we socialize because people who are introverts and extroverts have different amounts of needs for how much you have social interaction. I’m talking about do you feel deeply, powerfully, meaningfully, connected to enough people in your life? If you don’t, I’ll just label that loneliness sort of as a really, really simple rubric for organizing that.
If people are hungry, let’s say you’re end of the workday, you’re tired, you’re hungry, and you can choose something that is highly rewarding, that’s tasty, that’s convenient, that it feels really good. Maybe you eat some Pop Tarts or something that’s just like super uber processed, obviously not very nutritious, but it’s something that sounds good at that time. It will actually for a brief period of time stave off that hunger. You have this evolutionarily novel thing that was created that does temporarily, partially meet some of the needs that you’re looking for. If you’re hungry, yes, that’ll actually make you less hungry for a minute, but of course it doesn’t satisfy any of the deeper needs for nourishment.
I think that also is true of loneliness. If we’re lonely, we can have a digitized connection that temporarily staves off the loneliness, but doesn’t nourish us on a deeper level. I think that analogy, that really holds true. I think the irony of course going back to food is that if we do that cycle, if we give ourselves a low nutrient, processed, high glycemic index food when we are hungry, each time we do that we’re more likely to do that again in the future either from a habit standpoint or from a reward pathway standpoint. We’re going to groove in that pattern so that next time I’m hungry, I’m going to do that same thing again, or I’m more likely to do that again instead of reaching for something really nutritious like steak and broccoli or something like that that’s a much more deeply nourishing, satiating choice.
I think that’s also true with the digitized connection. When you frame it that way, I’m like, okay, if I’m lonely, yes, I could jump on Facebook, or I could send a friend a text message, or I could get on Instagram and post a selfie that I know people are going to give me lots of compliments about, and for a second maybe stave off that loneliness and feel like I have some sort of hologram or façade of human connection. But it’s not the same thing and it doesn’t satiate us, it doesn’t give us that deep sort of satiation for what we really need which is that powerful, meaningful, present, vulnerable human connection.
I think vulnerability is a big piece of that because I think vulnerability is the opportunity for us to be seen for who we really are and accepted anyway. That’s a universal human need. If by virtue of stripping away our vulnerability, of avoiding those vulnerable situations, by digitizing a lot of our communication where that vulnerability is massively reduced, we’ve denied ourselves the opportunity to be seen and accepted for who we are. We’ve literally undermined one of our deepest needs as humans.
Kelsey: Right, and I think like you were saying before that avoidance of vulnerability is a protective mechanism in a way. We have this ability to avoid it and our brain is probably like I don’t want to feel vulnerable necessarily because it’s hard.
Kelsey: And so because we have these ways of digitizing these tough conversations, we choose that because it’s just easier, even though it’s not necessarily better.
Dallas: It’s the path of least resistance, totally.
Kelsey: Right, exactly.
Dallas: Maybe it’s the equivalent of like eating food that you don’t have to chew.
Dallas: Like if you think about chewing up raw plant matter like it’s a lot work versus something that’s like cooked and pureed, and filtered, and processed, it’s just easier.
Dallas: There’s that path of least resistance there.
Kelsey: Yeah. When we talk about human connection, when we talk about vulnerability, I think we all inherently sort of know that these things are probably important. But it seems to me, and I don’t really know a ton about this space, but it seems like it’s hard to maybe explain why they’re so important. Do you have a way to describe why we as humans need this even though our brain will actively kind of avoid things like vulnerability when it seems like it is important?
Dallas: I’m not sure I have a great way of explaining sort of the paradox of why we do that. As far as the importance, and again I go back to an evolutionary framework on this, in our ancient past, in our kind of developmental history as a human species, we had to be kind of cooperative and collaborative. We had to have a tribe. We had to have a group of people that we shared resources with, tools, ideas, sort of cultural artifacts, all these kind of things. We existed as small groups and we cooperated on stuff. From a protection from predators, from a kind of sharing and pooling food resources, shelter, that kind of stuff, if a human is alone in the world where they’re away from the tribal group and they don’t have protection from predators, no one’s got their back, there’s no kind of shelter, and clothing, and shared food resources, a human has a reason to be afraid.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: From like an anxiety stress standpoint, essentially that loneliness, that social isolation…and what’s interesting is a lot of cultures used to use, and some still do, basically used ostracism as a way to punish people who couldn’t behave in society.
Dallas: We literally were like you’re not allowed to be part of the society and we’re going to punish you by removing your interaction there. And so I think that the fact that, to kind of answer your question partly about why it matters so much, is that we’ve evolved to be creatures that require sort of social and cultural tribal groups to survive. It’s hard wired right into us. We’re not solitary creatures. We’re not grizzly bears that live a lot of their life kind of doing their own thing and are totally self-sufficient. The absence of that situation sends our kind of subconscious brain, our midbrain, hindbrain the message that we have a reason to be stressed.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: And that’s where the connections of loneliness and social isolation are powerful corollaries of things like depression and anxiety because it is actually a stressful inflammatory state to be alone. Not alone in the sense of like I’m peaceful, present, mindful, meditative. Alone where like no one’s got my back, I’m on my own. That’s a profoundly stressful inflammatory place to be. Knowing what we know about the neurochemistry where depression is so tied in with inflammatory kind of milieu in the CNS, those things all kind of make sense.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: And of course the paradox, or the irony, or whatever the right word is with depression is that when you’re in that situation, when you have the sort of inflammatory thing going on, a lot of the messages that you’re receiving are for social withdrawal, and for reducing risk, and for self-protection. Because if you frame depression just as an inflammatory context, inflammatory situation…even think of an animal, if you have a dog that breaks its leg or a wolf or something that lives in a group environment, any injury or inflammatory process, if the animal is sick or the animal is hurt, they’re vulnerable not only to attack from predators, but they’re also vulnerable to someone within their tribe upsetting that social hierarchy. If an alpha male wolf is injured, there’s a tremendously stressful thing that goes on there because then the number two and the number three are going to be like hey, here’s my chance, here’s my opportunity.
Dallas: So there definitely is this thing that happens with that inflammatory context where loneliness drives the inflammation, the inflammation itself sends a message to sort of socially withdraw and kind of step away where there’s just less of that vulnerability both socially and physically.
I think that that’s a part of it too. We’re in the modern world. We have this chronic stress response that depression is so common. We have so many other inflammatory drivers, whether it’s environmental toxicity, or chronic sleep restriction, or micronutrient deficiency, or whatever it is that that inflammatory world that we live in actually increases the chances that we’re going to want to reduce vulnerability.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: Does that makes sense? Does that kind of connect those dots?
Dallas: I think in a way it’s a somewhat modern phenomenon that everybody wants to reduce their vulnerability.
Dallas: I think almost like a societal inflammation that does influence societal behavior where we want to reduce vulnerability across the board. And what I’ve noticed is that…and I’m an extrovert, I like people, I like meeting new people, I like going places. But I definitely have noticed that when I’m in a really good health situation where I’m like well rested, well fed, kind of have a well-managed kind of stress in my personal life, I’m much more interested in speaking to strangers, and going places, and meeting new people, and exploring. And that’s sort of the opposite of that depressive context where I’m more sort of spontaneously exploratory with people and just with the world in general. So I think that really does apply here and really does come into we want to reduce vulnerability in part because we have a chronic inflammatory context. We all do to a certain extent. I think that the more healthful, the healthier we get, the less and less that’s true over time.
Laura: I think another really important thing you brought up about just our evolutionary process as far as being designed to be in small groups, and designed to be in community and be surrounded by people and having these really close connections with family, and community, and all that, it’s almost like the last hundred plus years or so as technology has been increasing that instead of it being almost forced on us to have these tight connections and have these constant conversations, and partnerships, and just in-person interactions that we now have to go out of our way to get them.
It’s the same thing with like diet and exercise. We actually just talked about this last week with Scott Mills about how with movement we have to now add mobility and movement into our lives, which a couple hundred years ago it was just part of life.
I almost feel like human connection is the same way where even if you were feeling not so great, or a little sick, or injured, or something, you might not have really been able to escape being around people. But nowadays it’s like you…and I found this in my own life where it’s like I have to be very mindful about choosing in-person connection and putting it into my calendar even because if I don’t, I mean I could be alone all the time as a self-employed person. So it turns into something where it’s like not only do have to be aware of it, but you have to actually choose to pursue it as opposed to it just being like your natural day to day life.
Dallas: Yes. So just to kind of side comment and small plug for my eventual project, but I’m working on some behavior change stuff, but I’m basically organizing it around the kind of themes of eat, sleep, move, and connect. And connect being connection with yourself, connection with the place, and connection with other people. The more I got thinking about this more and the more I’m looking at this, really those kind of major lifestyle pieces, those major influences on our overall health, like every aspect of those is directly undermined and opposed by the way the modern world is constructed.
Laura: Mm hmm.
Dallas: All of the movements like Scott was talking about, obviously you know about food, the whole industrialized processed food stuff, sleep, artificial light, screens, etc., etc., and then getting into the connection piece where the digitization of communication, and the busy work schedules, all that kind of stuff really does isolate us almost as a default and we have to actually opt out of that system across many different kind of parameters. And the whole paradigm is, like the whole thing, I know this is obviously not a new idea, but the whole thing is in direct opposition to what’s best for us individually. But it’s really, really awesome from a corporate interest standpoint.
Dallas: Whether it is us spending more time binge watching Netflix, or us buy more processed food, or us buying into this…I forget what the numbers are in the fitness industry now…but we have this enormous, very expensive fitness industry, or whether we use online products like Facebook to connect with each other. We’ve corporatized all of those things that used to be social defaults and used to be really healthy, and then we’ve taken them away, and then we put these like poor facsimiles and replacements in place of that. But they they’re not free, they’re for sale.
Dallas: And again, I’m not a true anarchist, but I look at what’s going on, and I’m like look, like the corporate interests have subverted all of our best interests as individuals, as healthy humans. That doesn’t mean that I am anti-capitalist or any of that kind of stuff. What it does mean is it’s really important to be cognizant that those are the influences going on so that you can make more informed choices.
Kelsey: Basically they have a vested interest in you basically doing things that are not beneficial to you as a human.
Kelsey: Yeah. So I think that’s important. You’re right. The way that you’re phrasing it is perfect, like just being cognizant of those influences on your life and knowing that you can push against them and you can opt out of that if you want to.
Dallas: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.
Kelsey: You brought up an interesting point of view earlier when we were talking. You mentioned that there’s a difference between socialization and connection. And I think I want to hear a little bit more about that because I think that some people when they hear about human connection, they think about okay, I have to go out to dinner with my friends, I have to go do all these things and socialize with people. I think that that can be important if you’re an extrovert, those things are really exciting for you. But there’s also that piece of connection that doesn’t have to be a big thing, like just one on one connection with a close friend. I just want to hear a little bit about your maybe definition of the two and how they overlap or not.
Dallas: Sure. They’re definitely overlapping, but they’re definitely not synonymous. For me, I mean socialization would be just literally having some sort of communication with other people. And maybe even socialization and communication become almost synonymous becasue you could say I’m socializing online, and you’re communicating, like you’re exchanging information, but you’re not really connecting. I think maybe communication and connection are the ones that are kind of separate and distinct.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: The sensation of being connected, of being supported, of your tribe having your back…I use that phrase of like someone’s got my back because there are people, and I put people in my life in kind of just four broad categories. These are people who I have some kind of connection with. There’s people that I work with or see every day, there’s people that I have known forever, and that might be family and might be just like longtime friends, there’s people that live really close to me kind of in my immediate vicinity, and there’s people that I know online.
Dallas: That’s how I kind of organize my world. As far as connection, as far as kind of meaningful relationships, to me it’s like which of those people, which of those groups really have my back if it came down to it? Like if my mother was diagnosed with cancer, who do I call? Who do I lean on? Whose shoulder do I cry on? Who comes to give me a hug? Who will pick me up at the airport at three o’clock in the morning like without hesitation?
Dallas: I’ve got friends that I’ve had for ten or fifteen years that they live somewhere else and I don’t see them. I might only see them every other year or something, but I wouldn’t hesitate, like I wouldn’t even hesitate for a second to call and be like I need a ride from the airport. I know it’s three a.m., but come pick me up. And they would do it, hands down no questions asked. That’s the feeling of connectedness. Like someone’s got your back, you have a tribe and you don’t necessarily have to communicate with them all the time to have that.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: Now you had to communicate with them regularly and meaningfully at some point, but that doesn’t have to be something that’s like all the time, ongoing.
Dallas: I think that that’s where socialization, where like oh we have this social stimulation, this social connection, I need to get together with friends I haven’t seen a few weeks, like I mean I don’t have this social piece, but that’s not the same as connection. So for me the connectedness does start with being connected to yourself.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: Then you have this aspect of being connected to a place, like having roots not just to a physical place, but just to having like a sort of like a background place. Roots are kind of how the how I describe that.
Dallas: And then of course the connection to others. But you can do social stuff, you can go to happy hour with coworkers after work and do social stuff. But you would never call them to talk about your divorce, or your mom’s cancer, or whatever else.
Dallas: I think that’s the litmus test I use is like who do you call? Who do you talk to when it gets bad, when it gets ugly and bad, and you need help, like legitimate help? Who you call? And that’s not generally the coworkers that you have beers with at the end of the day.
Kelsey: Yeah. Right, right.
Dallas: I’ll go one step further with that. When I kind of map those four groups of people out for me, what’s an interesting exercise…actually I’ll maybe suggest this as an exercise that everyone can do, and I’ll give credit where credit is due here as well. This is based on some of BJ Fogg’s work out of Stanford. He’s the Behavioral Scientist there, but he founded the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford, I think back in 1994 or something. He’s actually the first guy to study how computers affected human behavior. But he’s got a really cool little tool that basically is concentric circles with you in the middle and four quadrants which are those for people you work with, people you’ve known forever, people who live really close to you, and people you know online. And I’m kind of adapting it for my own purposes, but you can kind of group and kind of plot people onto that graph.
Because a lot of times, this goes back to the social support research, with social support, with this perception of like somebody has your back, what’s interesting is that the perception that someone has your back is actually more impactful to your long term health that the fact that you actually tested that, and reached out, and did that.
Dallas: Perceived social support is more impactful than received social support. Perception is reality.
Kelsey: Right, right.
Dallas: And what’s interesting of course is that you can alter perception with the wave of a hand or just literally like thinking about something differently. From an epigenetic standpoint, super interesting because you can change stuff so fast from a health standpoint. This is an exercise that I’ll sometimes get people to do because it actually in a lot of cases powerfully reframes people’s perception of their social support network.
Take twenty people in your life, people you think of as like meaningful, they’re friends, they’re family they’re people in your life, and kind of plot them on to those that concentric circle, that quadrant graph with you in the middle. How close are they to you? Kind of the questions are like how likely are you to call them at three o’clock in the morning when something’s really bad?
Dallas: Maybe it’s just inconvenient if you need a ride from the airport. But it also could be like I just got some really gnarly news, can you just come and sit with me? Something that would just be a really meaningful, vulnerable situation. Because a lot of times people perceive, especially people with social anxiety or depression, people perceive that no one has their back, like they don’t have anybody to support them.
Dallas: Like I’m lonely, no one’s got me, nobody cares. Sometimes it’s just a matter of going through and taking some of those people in your life and kind of literally like writing their names down, plotting them out and seeing like oh, I actually have three people that I could call in that really gnarly situation. Sometimes just the exercise of doing that reframes the perception of social support in a really positive way.
Kelsey: Absolutely. I would imagine because yeah, I think you can especially now in our society, you can feel far away from someone. Like you were talking about before, you have friends that are practically very far, you see them maybe once a year, but you would have no problem reaching out to them. I think we kind of forget those people sometimes in a way.
Dallas: Yeah, we absolutely do.
Kelsey: Because they’re far.
Dallas: Yeah, they’re far and we’re like I haven’t seen in a while. But those are the really meaningful, durable connections. And the thing is that because this is a perception issue, those meaningful connections don’t expire.
Dallas: They’re not time sensitive. If you established a really deep bond with somebody, you might be out of touch, you may have gotten lazy, or busy, or distracted, or whatever and not kept in touch with the sort of the what’s going on in their life. But if you have that deep bond, that’s a pretty durable thing and you carry that around with you. Like that social web, that social connectedness, you carry that around with you for a really, really long time.
Dallas: I think that’s something to remember too that you don’t have to socialize with somebody really often to still be deeply connected to them.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: And again, that’s a distinction there to kind of back to your earlier question.
Kelsey: Yeah, well it brings me to another point, which when you have people like that where you have this very intense connection with them, but maybe they don’t live in your immediate vicinity…there’s a lot of research going on now about human touch and why that is particularly important. Where does human touch come into play when a lot of the people that you are deeply connected to maybe aren’t in your immediate area and you maybe don’t get as much of that human touch that you probably should?
Dallas: I guess there’s two parts the question. I’ll change your question.
Dallas: There’s the part of like how important is human touch in connection in general?
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: And then what happens to those connections when they don’t have human touch as part of them?
Dallas: I think you kind of asked earlier and I didn’t really answer it totally, but I think there are human relationships, deep meaningful connections that you can establish in person. And I’ll thank, I’ve got a friend, his name is Jeff, he lives in Florida. I’ve known him for twenty years. He knows all the deep, dark, ugly parts of me. He’s actually the guy I was thinking of. I only see him maybe once every year or two. But I see him and we pick up right where we left off. I wouldn’t hesitate to ask him for anything ever. Like if I needed something, he would he would drop everything and do that for me. But there was a really meaningful bond formed many years ago where we spent a lot of time together in-person, face to face, like we had an actual connection that then is now, I won’t say maintained, but there’s still the wires that connect us online.
Dallas: But that was established in-person. Now there’s lots of other friends that I have met online or have kind of been facilitated through online connections that are then taken over and made real in the real world. I don’t think that you can have the most meaningful kind of human connection solely online.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: There’s a bit of an interesting situation there too. Because of the reduction of vulnerability online, people sometimes are able to share things and verbalize things that they wouldn’t do as good a job of or wouldn’t be able to do in person because it’s awkward, and it’s ugly, and it’s vulnerable, and scary. And so sometimes people get this sensation that they are powerfully connected to people that they only know online or they primarily know online because they’ve had these moments of vulnerability, they’ve shared parts of themselves. And that’s actually where a lot of online forums really come into a kind of powerful play here because of people who share things and some of those situations that are really deep, and powerful, and meaningful, and vulnerable. But that’s still not the same bonding experience as happens in person.
Dallas: That’s not me saying that those online interactions cannot have value, but they’re absolutely not the same as a relationship that’s built face to face and maintained online. So I think you can kind of categorize a relationship. That’s why in my kind of quadrant model, there’s actually a whole quadrant for people you just know online. Maybe you have meaningful conversations and say you are very vulnerable with them, but if you don’t bring that over into you know them physically in real life face to face, it’s not the same thing.
Dallas: It is a different category. It doesn’t mean it’s not valuable or meaningful, it’s a different kind of thing. So yes, there’s that piece. To get back to the touch piece, touch is obviously a meaningful part of human connection. Actually I did my graduate thesis on therapeutic touch for babies. Therapeutic touch actually has been a big part of how I’ve viewed the world literally since I was in grad school.
Dallas: But that’s a huge piece of human connection. A lot of that of course is mediated by the hormonal responses of oxytocin, and vasopressin, and some of this kind of stuff, but it’s a reassurance. It’s like hey, I’m here, I got you. If you look at primate cultures and you look at primitive human cultures, there’s an enormous degree of human touch that goes on all the time.
Dallas: It’s just it’s sort of the default state, like someone’s touching you all the time. We’ve been largely socially conditioned at least North America to avoid that either because we don’t like it and we feel it’s like invasion of personal space, or we’re fearful to do that to somebody else for fear that they’ll misunderstand, or it’ll be weird, or awkward, or whatever.
Dallas: It’s interesting because the deeper I get into this topic just in my own personal life, the more comfortable I am with just that all the time perpetual touch with just people who are close to me, man women, friends. It’s not like a romantic touch, it’s just a hey, like we’re good, like I got you, I’m here.
Kelsey: Right, like I’m here. Yeah.
Dallas: It’s a totally, it’s very meaningful thing. That’s also for me like love languages, if you read any of that stuff, like physical touches are the really important part of my way of communicating, kind of caring and love for people. And that’s increasingly true for me over time with people that I care about, just friends, and family, and romantic partners. That’s a really huge piece for me. But it’s a really huge piece for everybody not so much from like a love language style, personal preference, but just from like a hormonal, like organism level, this is a statement about someone having your back, right?
Dallas: Because you’re not going to let a stranger just like hang out and touch you. They might shake your hand, they might put their hand on your shoulder, but that’s about it.
Dallas: Anything beyond that and you feel pretty invaded. But there is a really deep reassurance that takes place with that touch and that’s just another way to bond with somebody. And you think about the most deep and meaningful ways that we bond people together, and I think a lot of it has to do with the degree of that oxytocin response.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: Pregnancy and breastfeeding in particular is a huge, huge, huge driver of that oxytocin response. And you think about bonding, mother to infant bonding as one of the most profound and beautiful ways any human could connect ever.
Dallas: So there is that powerful piece. And then you kind of think about physical touch in a sexual context and like that powerful bond that takes place. It’s a very beautiful, meaningful human interaction. There’s sort of varying degrees, the human connection varies by degree, but not kind maybe is the way to think about that from a human touch perspective.
Laura: Yeah, and I think something really important that you brought up a couple minutes ago is about how even though these are deep needs, and even if your love language isn’t physical touch…which that’s definitely my love language, so when I’m not getting that I start to definitely feel it after a while. But just because it’s something that you need or that gives you the most amount of connection with another person, that doesn’t mean that it’s automatic. That’s something that for me in my own life and something I talk to my clients about, you sometimes have to practice it before it comes naturally to you even if it is something that gives you a lot of reward when it happens.
I feel like we should probably get into a little bit of the practicalities of it because on one hand, it’s really important to understand why connection is so important, and what it does to our health, and how it affects us. But at the end of the day, I’d say human connection from a health perspective is like one of the hardest things to implement because it’s not like eating well where you can like independently decide I’m going to eat a steak and broccoli tonight. It’s like I don’t go home and say okay, I’m going to like go have a meaningful connection with someone tonight. Honestly like I said, I schedule it so it’s not like I haven’t put effort into it. But it is very challenging for people to actually implement changes in their lives that build connections without there being some period of time where it’s super awkward and sometimes discouraging even.
Dallas: Yeah, I think that’s true. I think that’s mostly true. I think what often happens with people, and this happened with me and people that I do work with as well, but I think a lot of us have this fear that it will be awkward, that people are going to think we’re kind of weird, that we’re kind of being a little bit unconventional in terms of the way society expects us to act. But I think a lot of us have similar needs, and wants, and unmet desires.
So even having a conversation with someone that might not be a like deep, meaningful, really vulnerable conversation, but something that just sort of opens a door and says like hey, here’s where I’m at, here’s kind of what I need, and what I want, and just sort of showing a part of yourself that you maybe haven’t shown to that person before. Really, really commonly instead of what we’re fearful of which is they’re going to think I’m a weirdo and they’re going to like run the other way, so many times taking the first step, opening that door, being vulnerable cues people and offers them the opportunity to kind of know show up differently in your life and they respond in kind. I’ve seen that a ton of times where I think if you’re kind of the…
Dallas: …instigator of that…yeah, I think it’s a good word…the instigator, that lots and lots of times people respond in kind. They’re so grateful that you took that first step because they’re like, I’m so happy that we have this kind of shared experience. Even if it’s just a conversation opening the door I think is something that really, it often works out better than you think it might.
Kelsey: Right. Everybody’s scared of that rejection.
Kelsey: Or that it’s not going to work, and so as soon as you extend that hand and open that door, the other person is like, oh thank God, right?
Kelsey: Relief, like I’m in.
Dallas: Yeah, and it comes down to things as small and seemingly insignificant as just like speaking to a stranger at the grocery store. Something really tiny that is low vulnerability, low risk. But people for the most part like to be seen, and really what comes down to I think a lot of times is just acknowledgment of them as a person, right?
Dallas: You go through the grocery store line and you could just do your transaction where they tell you what the bill is, and you pay, and you go your separate ways. They might as well be a robot for all of the ways you interacted with them. It only takes one thing like hey, how was your weekend? Something that just sort of like acknowledges they’re a person with feelings, and needs, and emotions. Like how are you? Like I see you as a human being. It could literally be like a two sentence exchange, but it’s acknowledging that someone is there, that they mean something, that they are valuable. And that’s really uncommon in our everyday lives.
Kelsey: Yeah, well I like that idea of reaching out and doing that. Because you’re right, it doesn’t have to be high risk, like you don’t have to do it with someone that you’re really worried about this you know going downhill for whatever reason.
Laura: You can start very small and that makes a big difference.
Dallas: That’s sort of like training wheels. Right?
Dallas: Talking to strangers is training wheels for legitimate connection because you’re probably not going to see them again, there’s extremely low risk from a vulnerability standpoint because you kind of don’t even care how they respond because I’ll never see you again, no big deal. It’s the easiest, lowest risk, training wheels version of something more meaningful because then you’re like oh, that kind of felt good. They’re like you know I had a great weekend, I took my kids out to the park or whatever. And you’re like oh, so did I, which park do you go to? You have some kind of a little conversation there. It feels good to do that. Even if you’re like hey, good-bye and you literally never see them again for the rest of your life.
Dallas: And that’s a really safe place to start especially if you have social anxiety or you’re lonely and feeling socially isolated. That’s the baby steps, small bites kind of thing. Then you can graduate that into a coworker, somebody you see more often where there’s just a little foray into something more meaningful than like hey, did you watch the game last night? Because what I think you learn with repeated success is that it’s okay to take bigger risks.
Dallas: I’ve got a 3 1/2 year old son and I watch him sort of developmentally in the way he engages the world. It’s not that he has no fear, but he’s very exploratory, and very open, very engaging with the world in general, including people. What happens to most of us, if not all of us, is that we start that way as children, we get that beat out of us through childhood, and adolescence, and adulthood, and then we have to work consciously and mindfully to gain some of that openness, and innocence, and trust, and exploratory nature back, right?
Dallas: I think there’s something that’s so beautiful about the way kids engage with each other and engage the world that I really covet. I really want to do more of that, I want to engage with the world in a way that is more much more trusting and childlike. You can’t just like wave a magic wand to do that. What you can do is starting with kind of very small things and work your way up to having bigger, more vulnerable, more meaningful conversations with people because success breeds success. Across the board from a behavior change perspective, that’s how it works. Success breeds success.
Starting with easy things is a really great way to do it and then you do successively harder things. Again, I’ll attribute this to B.J. Fogg because it’s one of his key principles, is like do the hardest thing you can be successful at doing. And if you’re already pretty good at being vulnerable, at sharing things that are meaningful, and connecting with people, don’t start talking to strangers because literally that’s below your ability.
Dallas: Do something that’s hard you can still do. And for somebody who is already really communicative, and practiced, and comfortable with themselves, and willing to be vulnerable, have a more difficult, more vulnerable conversation. Whether that’s with a family member, or a friend, or a romantic partner, challenge yourself, do harder stuff. But only you know where kind of that threshold is.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: And for a lot of people, we’re very unpracticed at that and we need to start with something really low risk, low vulnerability and go from there.
Kelsey: That’s great. I think that’s a big thing that people struggle with obviously if they’re feeling maybe not even necessarily lonely, but that they don’t have the degree of connection that they feel would make them happy or fulfilled.
Kelsey: That’s a big jump to feel like you have to go from okay, I have these couple close friends, but maybe we could be closer, or maybe I just want some more people that I feel like I can reach out to. How the heck do I get to that place?
Kelsey: And these baby steps, like you said, it’s a completely personal road that you have to go down. You have to figure out where your threshold is for what you’re comfortable with currently and then consistently build upon that.
Kelsey: But in that vein, I would say it’s probably a difficult process, but it’s also very rewarding in the sense that, what you just said, success breeds success. You’re going to do things that feel good, and it’s going to make you want to do more of it, and so it becomes easier over time I’m sure.
Dallas: Totally. Yeah I think it really does. I think also I want to kind of hammer on the distinction between socializing and connecting. Because I think a lot of times people who feel kind of adrift, alone, isolated, unfulfilled in some way in their life sometimes misidentify the need to be present, and mindful, and connected, and peaceful, and they’re like oh I must be lonely.
Dallas: And so they look for more social connection, and socialization is not the cure for loneliness. Connection is the cure for loneliness, and those are very different things. I think while socialization helps with connectedness and helps to kind of undo that feeling of loneliness, it’s not the whole story. And so I think sometimes people who are very busy socially, actually I’ll reference to Sherry Turkle’s book title of Alone Together. Lots of people that I know, honestly including me in earlier years were very social and still very lonely.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: So I think it’s an important distinction to make that more social events, more seeing people, more doing things with friends, or family, or romantic partners is not necessarily going to make you feel more connected to them.
Laura: I would think a lot of that has to do with your introvert versus extrovert status because you described yourself as an extrovert and I’m sure you got some level of reward from that socialization even if it’s not the connection piece. Whereas someone who’s an introvert maybe wouldn’t be seeking out that socialization because it’s not energizing to them, but they still do need that connection even if it’s in a smaller sense.
Dallas: Totally, absolutely. The needs for socialization vary dramatically between introverts and extroverts. I don’t think the needs for connection vary that much. I don’t think they’re actually that different. I think the needs are pretty, like the deeper undercurrent where we all need that connection and some of us need more social interaction. But those things are I think unfortunately really confused a lot of times and making that distinction between socializing and connecting is a really important thing because even people who are really profound introverts still need to feel like they have connection to some meaningful people.
I think a lot of times people who are extroverts, like oh I’m an extrovert, I need more social interaction, and they have all of the social interaction and wonder why they still don’t feel connected. I think it’s because they are actually different things and that distinction is not made clearly enough and in a lot of cases.
Kelsey: Right. Like if you have surface level conversations with people, but you’re talking to people all the time when you’re going out for drinks with coworkers or even friends, but you’re just not really getting anywhere, that feels very, very different from having a deep conversation with someone.
Dallas: Very much so. I think I’m guilty of this too because it’s the most obvious example, but the way we talk about connection, we most often think about this very like heart to heart, face to face, tears streaming down your face conversation. It doesn’t have to be something that is so almost contrived sometimes.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: We’re like oh I need to connect with somebody, I need to have like a deep and meaningful thing. Honestly, my experience, and I don’t know if this is necessarily a really scientific perspective, my just personal experience is such that a lot of those really meaningful connections take place from a quantity of time perspective, not just a few minutes of really high quality time.
Dallas: You have to actually spend time with people to develop those meaningful bonds. And that’s not to say that quality doesn’t matter, because of course it does. Because the too much socialization, not enough connection would be the example of lots of quantity time, very low quality. But people really also do need to recognize that you have to actually spend time with people and that kind of gets at a larger societal problem where we are so busy, busy, busy, busy. I’m actually working on a post for my website now that’s talking about like I’m consciously trying to delete the word busy from my vocabulary.
Dallas: Because every time anyone asks like oh how are you? I’m like I’m really good and I’m really busy. And everyone says they’re busy, and everyone’s answer is I’m so busy. Part of it is true that we are actually over-busy. Whether it is work, or kids, or extra-curricular activities, or whatever it is, a lot of us have very limited time in our schedules. But there’s also this thing where busyness is almost a badge of honor, right?
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: They’re like how are you? You’re like so busy, I got all these things going on. I think that is also partly sort of antithetical to a meaningful, connected human existence because the more busy we are, the more frantic, and frazzled, and kind of on the go we are, the less we’re able to have either quantity time with people, which is important, but we’re also less likely and less able to slow down and be truly present to have some of the quality time.
Dallas: This connection piece is also very tightly linked to this larger societal problem of not just being too busy, but also glamorizing that being busy, glamorizing the hustle, glamorizing how successful your work is, or how busy you are with all your extracurricular activities and your travel. I think that that conversation also has to happen because if we continue to glamorize being busy, the hustle of the success piece of things, it’s basically going to perpetually undermine our ability to be truly present and connected.
Laura: The time piece I think is important, but also just the energy piece. I mean if you’re constantly using all of the energy that you have to do work, and extracurricular activities, and all the chores, and all that stuff that people are doing on a day to day basis and by the end of the day they’re just too tired. Even if like say you’re married, and I’m not so I’m making assumptions here, but if you get to the end of the day and you’re just so worn out from all the stuff you’ve done all day, a lot of times you just don’t even have the energy to put into building that connection and really taking advantage of the person even being there.
So I feel like people getting this like exhaustion as a badge of honor in our society is not just that it’s the time that it’s taking, it’s just we’re just getting us ourselves into a state where we don’t even have the drive physically to then turn and say oh let me have a deep conversation with my spouse, because it’s like I just want to go to bed, you know?
Dallas: Right. Well and that’s where I talk about sort of society at large being kind of the enemy of all of this kind of healthy human existence because the consumerism glamorizing the hustle, success, all that kind of complex of the way the western modern world is constructed, all of those things undermine your ability to be connected, to eat healthy food, to get enough sleep, to move appropriately. Literally, the whole system is working against us.
I think it’s why a lot of us who have looked critically at our own behaviors and changed some of those behaviors to make it a healthier, happier, more present and engaged life feel like such outsiders in the world because the average person I meet has no idea what I’m talking about. They’re like you’re super weirdo. I think that’s where communities like the ancestral health community where a lot of us share some of the same framework and the some of the same kind of background, I think it’s actually a really meaningful thing to have because we share some of that framework and we don’t think of each other as freaks because we share some the same common values.
In centuries and millennia past, nations or city states used to be groups of people with similar shared values, and as nations have evolved over time, nations no longer necessarily represent people with similar shared values. So we almost have this tribalism that goes on. You see it online, but you see it, also again I’ll use the ancestral health community is as a good example where we’re like oh thank God they understand how I think. And there is this like you glom onto those people because even though they might not live close to you, they are people who understand your worldview and they share some of your values. And that’s what we used to have with villages, and towns, and counties, and countries, and that’s been mostly obliterated by the globalism of the world. But now we have this like well we really need that, where do we find that?
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: A lot of us find that starting online. Some of my deepest, closest, most meaningful friendships have come out of that ancestral health community because I met them, we had a shared set of common values, and they became my tribe.
Dallas: That’s a really meaningful thing. It’s an example of how we can leverage technology for really profoundly good, healthy, beneficial parts of our life, but not from a low nutrient approximation or a facsimile of something meaningful, but just as a means to an end, just as a way to connect with somebody in real life where those really meaningful connections can take place.
Kelsey: Yeah, well speaking of that, I think I would like to talk a little bit about your More Social Less Media program because I think there is that confusing piece of this whole thing like how do we actually use technology for good and not get caught up in just being constantly on there and not present in everyday life? I think your program is probably a good way to do that. So would you mind telling us a little bit about that?
Dallas: Sure. More Social Less Media is a short term intervention much like The Whole 30 was a short term intervention. It’s a way to develop awareness of your behaviors and a way to change those behaviors going forward. It’s a behavior change tool.
Dallas: Again, there’s a lot of a lot of overlap there. I took a lot of what I learned through building The Whole 30 program and applied it to a new topic, but it’s similar where awareness is key and introspection and paying attention allows them to make more educated choices going forward. The More Social Less Media program is a four week program that helps you re-prioritize meaningful human connections and also reassess and examine the way you’ve been using digital media. That’s not just social media but it’s also entertainment media, things like T.V., and movies, and video games. It helps you kind of recalibrate your relationship with that. It’s not a technology is bad, it’s not a digital detox, it’s not just a fast where you like don’t go on social media for a month. It’s actually emphasizing the meaningful positive connective pieces. That’s why I actually built it as “more social”, then “less media.”
Dallas: That echoes my perspective on our “Nutrition In 60 Seconds” that I’ve spoken about now for five plus years. I really want to emphasize the meaningful, valuable good parts of things that we should be doing more of and not just demonizing the things that are harmful. I don’t think that’s a productive conversation.
Dallas: More Social Less Media then emphasizes and facilitates those meaningful human connections. I’m actually really excited now because I’m actually kind of buried in building out a much more robust and detailed More Social Less Media online course to go with the program that facilitates those meaningful human connections, but then also helps us to recalibrate and develop awareness of how we use the digital media for good, right? For good. Those things can be used for good but a lot of it is done in a very mindless consumptive way and there’s a recalibration that needs to take place in a lot of our lives.
Just like with food, there’s a constant reassessment that needs to take place. I’m constantly assessing, and changing, and updating the way I interact with media. And that goes outside of even digital media. That goes into news radio, talk radio, newspapers, what I watch on Netflix, like that kind of stuff. What I allow, what information, and entertainment, and stimulation I allow to come into myself is something that I think I need to be more mindful of, and a lot of us really need to be more mindful of, is what information, what messaging am I allowed to let come into my brain, that I’m allowed to do this.
I think that even things like the news media, so much of that, because humans have this bias towards negativity, so much of this is this we feel very overwhelmed and over-stimulated by all of the negative stuff that’s going on whether it’s war, or famine, or disasters, or terrorism, or whatever and we don’t really know how to emotionally process something on that scale. Because again, evolutionary past, like the only people that ever existed for human history are the people that we could see between us and the horizon.
Kelsey: Mm hmm.
Dallas: It wasn’t really until the last century or two where we had any kind of real time information about what was going on in the world. And that’s very, very overwhelming to the human animal.
Dallas: We simply don’t know how to make sense of that on an emotional level. I used to sort of say well it’s the real time stimulation, overstimulation aspect of it that’s really problematic. The more research that I do and the more observation that I do, I’m starting to come around to the perspective that I almost think that being a little bit disconnected from that news in general might actually be a healthier way to live.
Dallas: I’m not necessarily advocating for being a hermit and being totally ignorant to what’s going on in the world. However, for things that you can’t change like earthquake in Pakistan, tsunami in Southeast Asia, etc., like I should be aware of those events enough that I can help in the in the small ways that I can, but more information is not better. Especially more information about negative things is not better because it only propagates that focus on the negative, that anxiety, that fear.
Dallas: And the news media focuses and accentuates that fear and focus on negative events. I’m making a case going forward that the less and less we participate in any of that, the better off we will be long term.
Laura: Yeah, and one of the important things you brought up a couple minutes ago was it’s not just about removing…it’s sort of just like The Whole 30 where part of it is about what are the things that you’re removing, that’s not enough. And if you just do a social media, or a news, or whatever media fast that you could potentially do, which in and of itself is not bad and it could actually be helpful for some people to recalibrate their usage of certain things, but just removing that stuff isn’t necessarily creating a positive outcome because like you said in the beginning of our conversation today, you do get at least a little bump in positivity or feeling connected when you do use social media. So if you just took that out and didn’t replace it with deep connections with people in your life, then you’re not going to necessarily get benefits. It’s almost like saying well instead of eating a Pop Tart, I’m just not going to eat.
Dallas: That was literally what I was just going to say. If you’re hungry, I’m not saying just don’t eat anything. I’m saying eat something more nourishing in place of the Pop Tart.
Dallas: Actually I’m really glad that you grabbed that analogy of exactly. That’s exactly kind of what I was going to come back to. It comes down to, and this is of course the approach of The Whole 30, it’s not stop eating processed food. It is choose nutritious, anti-inflammatory, nourishing stuff for a short period of time and that sort of displaces all of that other either overtly damaging and problematic stuff, or just sort of things are sort of low nutrient and a little more benign but are displacing more nourishing stuff. It comes down to like squeeze more nourishing stuff into your life and that by default tends to displace some of the more problematic behaviors right away.
I’ve noticed this across a lot of different domains, actually this is getting into my work, kind of what I see myself working on in the next two to four years is the way that the way that changing over-consumptive behaviors, whether that is of consumer goods, processed food, political propaganda, entertainment media, whatever, what’s amazing to me is that there’s a really consistent inverse relationship between over-consumption of some of that stuff and spontaneous creation. Whether that is of writing or art, but I use creation in a much more broad sense where it is giving something of yourself to the world and to other people. It could be growing a vegetable garden for your family, cooking a meal for somebody, sitting down and having a meaningful face to face connection where you’re totally uninterrupted, it could be going on a camping trip, it could be any of those things where you’re present, and connected, and giving something of yourself, again to the world at large, but more commonly to other people.
This spontaneous inverse relationship is fascinating to me because you can cue people to be more mindful, to meditate, to journal and it will spontaneously affect their innate desire to over-consume some of these other stimulating but low nourishment behaviors. And it works in reverse, too. The Whole 30 is a great example because in cueing people to stop the mindless consumption of processed food, they spontaneously very often will make changes in other areas of their life that are sort of creative and powerful in nature. So you get this like I’m to go back to grad school, I’m going to go to therapy, I’m going to start journaling, or start meditating, I’m going to quit smoking, or start exercising, or reassess my unhealthy relationship. All these thing that are like big, meaningful things that we didn’t cue them to do, that they did spontaneously.
There’s this fascinating bidirectional relationship between mindless over-consumption and spontaneous creation, and I think that’s a really fascinating idea. That’s literally like the focal point of my next several years of work is that relationship because there’s a lot of interchangeability between those behaviors. And I think that if we can understand and harness that, huge, miraculous things will happen in people’s lives.
Laura: Cool. Well we definitely have plenty of things to talk about when it comes to human connection. I’m sure we could go on for another hour. What we usually like to ask our guests if possible if there is any practical tips that our listeners can take home today to start building more deeper connections. We already talked about you know saying hi to people in the grocery store or just like asking deeper questions when you’re talking at the water cooler at the office or anything like that. When you think about going deeper, because those seem to be low risk, when we’re thinking about higher risk, higher reward type practical connection building activities, do you have any thoughts about practical either behaviors or things that people can try doing that can help build those even deeper connections in their lives?
Dallas: Yeah. Obviously both of you and I care deeply about food and I think that the connection between food and people, that social, emotional connection is a really profound and beautiful thing and that a lot of cultures have a really powerful food culture, and we don’t really have that in the same present social way here in North America. I think that’s a real tragedy. I think it’s actually at the root of a lot of what goes on with disordered eating behaviors and that kind of stuff, eating alone etc., fast food.
That’s kind of a tangent, but I think it’s a beautiful shared experience to cook and eat a meal with somebody. And I don’t mean cook and eat a meal for somebody. Cook a meal with somebody. Have someone over to your home. It’s easy to say like hey, let’s go to dinner together. But instead of doing that, which is again lower vulnerability, bring someone into your home and cook a meal with them. Say like come at 5:30, we’ll cook a meal, we’ll eat at 6 or 6:30. Do it with them. I think that that shared experience, that engagement over food, is one of the most potent human things you can do, especially with somebody you don’t know particularly well. It could be a coworker. You’re like oh they’re kind of interesting, maybe they could be a friend of mine. Have them over and cook a meal with them.
When I first moved to Salt Lake City now six years ago, I didn’t know anybody here. I literally moved, like just came, just showed up. I was like this is a cool place, I want to live here, it works well for my values and kind of my worldview. And then I was like wait, I don’t have any friends here. So actually I chuckle because I look back, there was a server at one of my favorite sushi restaurants here that I just got talking to when we were out for dinner, and she snowboards, her husband’s a chef, she has two kids that also snowboard. I was like you’re just like a totally super cool person with shared interests. I literally like asked her and her husband out on like a friend date in like the first couple weeks there. She had been a server of mine a couple different times. I literally went out on a limb, but like hey guys, do you want to come over for dinner sometime? It was a little bit weird because it’s not totally what most people would do sort of socially.
Dallas: There’s a bit of vulnerability there, but it was so meaningful to do where I was like oh, yeah. And we’ve become fast friends. They’ve since opened up another restaurant here and they’re one of my favorite places in town. But that experience was a really good learning experience for me because I kind of had to do that because if I wasn’t vulnerable, if I didn’t reach out, I wasn’t going to make friends here in Salt Lake. Then having done that, A.) it wasn’t nearly as scary and awkward as I thought it might be, and then B.) it was really, really meaningful.
That’s the things that are kind of built into the More Social Less Media program, things like of that integrate food and people. Because it’s different if you’re like hey, do you want to come and sit at my table and talk about philosophy? Maybe some nerds love to do that, I happen to one of those nerds. But most people, the food interaction sort of makes it less awkward and it’s a little more natural connection. It’s a very obvious and natural way to connect with people over food. And I think the fact that we all view food as such a meaningful thing in terms of overall health, it’s a really natural bridge to something else that’s really important which is the social health and connectedness piece.
Kelsey: Yeah, that’s a great tip. I think just having someone in your home too, I think it’s a vulnerable thing to do.
Kelsey: And that makes that connection piece a little bit easier I think rather than, like you said, going out to a restaurant.
Kelsey: I love that tip and it sounds like people can get a lot more ideas on how do foster connection in your More Social Less Media program.
First of all, this was amazing, Dallas. I think our listeners have learned a lot through this hopefully. I know I’ve learned a lot and I’m going to start to try to connect more with people more deeply in an everyday sense than I do right now. I just want to before we wrap up direct people to your More Social Less Media program, where they can find that, and then where they can just find you in general on the web.
Dallas: Sure. My home base on the web is DallasHartwig.com. The More Social Less Media program is distributed there for free. That’s the place to kind of to start with. On social media platforms, I pretty much only use Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. I’m just @DallasHartwig on those platforms. I’ll also plug in that I recently launched a podcast with a co-host. It’s called “The Living Experiment” with Dallas and Pilar. You can find it on iTunes and all the other places that podcasts are distributed, and that is also at LivingExperiment.com, and LivingExperimentPodcast on Instagram.
Kelsey: Awesome. Well thank you so much for your time today, Dallas. I feel like we’ve connected with you on this topic and I hope our listeners even through a little bit of a degree of separation feel like they’ve connected with you as well, and hopefully they’ll go out and start to build these connections in their lives.
Dallas: Thank you, first and foremost. I think it’s great, I’m really excited, and optimistic, and pleased that more people are interest in this topic. And thanks to you guys for doing the work and for sharing this style of information because it is really, really critical for the future health of individual humans and for society at large. Thank you for championing that.
Kelsey: Absolutely, our pleasure. Well, take care, Dallas.
Dallas: Have a good one.