You’re Already Awesome. Just Get Out of Your Own Way!: Judson Brewer at TEDxRockCreekPark (Transcript)

Judson Brewer

Here is the full transcript of Psychiatrist and addiction expert Judson Brewer’s TEDx Talk: You’re Already Awesome. Just Get Out of Your Own Way! at TEDxRockCreekPark conference.


So what’s the difference between a fairy tale and a war story? A fairy tale begins ‘Once upon a time’. A war story starts ‘No shit, there I was.’ No shit, there I was barreling down this mountain bike descent near Salida, Colorado.

It was one of descents where there’s a whole lot of descent and not a lot of trail. So I was really focusing on just staying on the trail, and at some point in that ride, there was no me, no bike, not even a trail. There just ‘was’. That’s the best way I can describe it. It was effortless.

It was selfless. It was immensely joyful. I wasn’t there, yet there I was in one of the most awesome events of my life. When my sense of self came back on line, it looked back on the trail and said, ‘Wow, what was that? When can I do that again?’ This was flow. I was in the flow state and it was delicious.

Now, we’ve all been in flow at some point of our lives. Maybe we were playing sports, playing or listening to music, or even getting really immersed in a project. Let’s say, you get really immersed in a project, you look up, it’s five hours later, it’s dark outside, and your bladder’s about to explode because you’ve been so focused on what you’ve been doing. Now, if this is so great, why don’t we do this all the time? The answer: We get in our own way. Here’s an example.

Remember Lolo Jones, an American hurdler, favoured to win the 2008 Beijing Olympics? What do you remember? She was in the lead at the ninth of ten hurdles and then what happened? In an interview with Time magazine, she said, ‘I was just in this amazing rhythm, and at some point, I knew I was winning the race. It wasn’t like “Oh, I’m winning the Olympic gold medal”, it just seemed like another race. And then I started telling myself to make sure my legs were snapping out, so I overtried. That’s when I hit the hurdle.’ Instead of letting herself do what she had trained to do, she got in her own way.

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She tripped herself up, literally. She tripped on the ninth of ten hurdles and finished seventh. Now this is an important point here. It’s not that she was thinking, it’s that she got caught up in thinking as she said ‘I overtried.’

So how often do you think we get in our own way? If this is any indication, there was a study at Harvard that found that 50 percent of the time we get caught up in regretting things from the past, worrying about what we’re going to do in the future, 50 percent of the time.

Even when we’re daydreaming about that perfect Hawaiian vacation, we’re no happier than when we’re in the present moment. They concluded that ‘A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.’ I’d amend this to: ‘Dude, get out of your own way! Flow is awesome and it doesn’t show up on drug tests.’

So as Lolo and these Harvard researchers are showing us, getting caught up in self-referential thinking can get us in our own way. Are there other ways that we can do this as well? Well, I’m an addiction psychiatrist at Yale, and my lab is looking at ways to help people quit smoking.

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