A leading expert on emotional fitness, Nataly Kogan is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, and keynote speaker on a mission to help millions of people struggle less and thrive more in work and life.
Nataly’s science-backed Happier Method™ and her contagious energy have helped over a million people live, work, and lead with more connection, joy, and meaning—even during difficult times. She and her work have been featured in hundreds of media outlets, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, TEDx, and SXSW.
Stop struggling and start living your best life—with the inspiring, proven program that’s transformed over a million people.
We are all experiencing unprecedented levels of stress and burnout. Exhaustion is at an all-time high. Leaders are depleted, employees are burning out at an alarming rate, and parents met their breaking point long ago. We are struggling and in desperate need of a new path forward.
In The Awesome Human Project, Nataly Kogan, emotional fitness and leadership expert and author of Happier Now, shows us the way. She makes the compelling case that while challenge in life is constant, struggle is optional. Here, she shares an accessible, super-practical, and unboring guide for reducing daily struggle and burnout—so you can live, work, and lead with more energy, joy, and meaning, even during difficult times.
Nataly wrote The Awesome Human Project in response to her own journey. A refugee who achieved tremendous success, she had come to see struggle as a way of life. But her burnout taught her a powerful lesson: you can’t give what you don’t have. She writes, “Strengthening your emotional fitness is an essential investment in your success and leadership, and an act of love to everyone you care about.”
Filled with simple, science-backed practices and Nataly’s contagious energy, The Awesome Human Project will teach you how to strengthen your emotional fitness skills, create a more supportive relationship with yourself as well as your thoughts and emotions, reduce self-doubt, and cultivate more honest and meaningful connections with others.
The Awesome Human Project is a book that you do—not just a book that you read. It includes:
• Nataly’s proven, science-backed, five-week program to boost your emotional fitness
• Bite-sized neuroscience lessons so that you can learn to be the boss of your brain
• What awesome leaders do differently and why it matters
• Ways to get rid of guilt around self-care for good
• An “SOS” section to get you unstuck right now
• Nataly’s wildly popular “Notes to Self,” with inspiration to support your progress
• Awesome Human Awards!
There is an Awesome Human within every single one of us. The Awesome Human Project is the essential guidebook to help you embrace your Awesome Human and become the best version of yourself—with courage and compassion.
Nataly hosts the popular Awesome Human Podcast and weekly Awesome Human Hour live show. But she loves nothing more than knowing that her work has made a meaningful difference in the lives of Awesome Humans who practice the science-backed emotional fitness skills she shares in her books, talks, courses, leadership and Happier @ Work programs.
Listen to more great episodes at Next Level Soul Podcast
Follow Along with the Transcript – Episode 048
Alex Ferrari 0:09
I'd like to welcome the show Nataly Kogan. How you doin' Nataly?
Nataly Kogan 0:13
I'm so happy to be here. Thank you!
Alex Ferrari 0:14
Thank you so much for coming on the show, I believe that the world needs a little more happiness in it right now. And you, I'm not saying that you're the Messiah, but but you can help us become a little happier with the work you're doing. And I wanted to bring you on to see if we can dig in a little bit of why we are unhappy what we can do to become more happy how to avoid burnout in our lives, and so on and so forth. But before we get into that, how did you start your not only your journey, doing the work that you're doing now, but also, I'm assuming your spiritual journey that has kind of brought you to this where, because generally this kind of work, has some sort of spirituality attached to it? If not, I haven't met anyone who teaches happiness is not a spiritual person.
Nataly Kogan 1:01
Yeah. Well, I agree. Although mine was, the way that I'd say my journey began is by being really unhappy for a long time. With the beginning of my journey. I never when I was five years old, you asked me, What did you want to what do you want to do when you grow up? I wasn't like, hi, I want to teach people emotional fitness skills for a living. Ah, so I grew up in Russia, of all places in the former Soviet Union. So yeah, with everything going on, it's pretty surreal and awful. And we're Jewish Jews were persecuted at the time. So when I was 13, my parents and I left as refugees, literally a couple suitcases, a couple $100 That was it to try and come to the US. And, you know, we got here and it was the American dream. We got after two and a half months in refugee camps, we got permission. And I say all this because you think like, Oh, my God, what an incredible experience. It is on one hand and experience incredible experience. On the other hand, it was awful and traumatic and difficult. And everyone made fun of me. And I spoke English with a horrible accent. And, you know, my parents could no longer guide me, right? Because they were children. And so it was such a difficult experience. Plus, have you ever met a really happy Russian Jew? I haven't. You know, we're not quite like, you know, I always say my I have a black belt and suffering. But I just I don't want to mislead you or your listeners, I'm not in first place. And my family, I don't want to lie. My grandma who passed away a couple years ago, she had the top choice to have a seat, my mom is in second place. I love her very much, but my mom can find suffering and anything. And then I'm firmly on third, my natural inclination. You know, I just thought life was about struggle and suffering. In fact, I grew up where struggle and suffering was elevated to like, godly status. You know, my mother is a pianist. My father is a scientist and like, great scientists, and great pianist, they're all miserable. That's how they create. So I'm just like, that's, that's my, you know.
Alex Ferrari 2:52
That was the model that was the model you grew up with?
Nataly Kogan 2:57
Well, it was also my religion. Like, I grew up as a very, like, no spirituality, no religion, religion is actually illegal in Russia for anyone, not just us. So I grew up you know, super intellectual, like from the neck up, very cerebral. no religion, no spirituality. And so, you know, I spend my life in struggle. And I thought, that's the way you're supposed to be, you know, and so I have this career and technology and finance and five time entrepreneur and like, I don't all the American Dream thing that you can imagine. And but the whole time I was suffering and struggling and things like happiness, or well being like, I didn't even pause to think about them. And then several years ago, I went through a really horrible burnout. And when I say burner, I've just my flame went out, I just, I stopped, the world just turned black, it was really scary. And that was the beginning of my journey. Because as you know, as probably listeners know, often we have to be brought to that very darkness to actually go inside for the first time. And actually, speaking of spirituality, I want to share this story because I love my story of how I came into it. So it was one of my investors actually, because I was running a startup, I was the CEO of a company called happier, not able to function. I just wanna.
Alex Ferrari 4:10
As a dark as a dark.
Nataly Kogan 4:14
I was so miserable, I started a company to teach other people how to be happier. There's literally you know, it's like those who can't do teach that that was me. I was like, Well, I can't feel happier. Let me start a company and help others. So when I was like, nearing bottom, one of my investors sat me down and he said, Listen, you're not okay. To which I said of course, I'm fine. What do you mean because so much shame around say, we're not okay. And he said, I you need to get help. And so here's the name of this woman, her name is Janet, and you need to go see her and until you see her, I'm not going to talk business with you. You know, I kicked and screamed and said, I don't need a therapist, you know, all that kind of, and he said, I don't care and she's not a therapist, and I refused for months, but he literally refused to talk to me and the company was spinning. out I needed help. So finally I called and I went to see this woman, Janet. Now Janet ended up being my spiritual teacher. I write about her and my books. Thank God she didn't say the word spiritual for the first two years, Alex because I would have been out of there super quick. So she was really smart. And I write about this in my first book happier now. I remember after my first couple of sessions with her, I came home and I typed a Google entry I'll never forget. And I typed an entry of how to be more spiritual. So even though she didn't use that word, like it came to me and but that was my Google search. I just want to say it like I Googled how to be more spiritual and the book that I ordered what because it came up as a search result was by this we are dude rom Das, whatever, whoever Who is this, whatever, but it was shiny. It was really shiny. Yeah. It you know, because it's I just blanked on the title, the mirror, what is it? What is wrong?
Alex Ferrari 5:59
Oh, God, I forgot the name of the book. But I know which one you're talking about everybody? Yeah. Google Ram Dass, and you'll find him.
Nataly Kogan 6:06
It's funny that I'm so bad with title. So I ordered it, and it came. And I started and then I ordered his other book be here now, which for anyone listening, you know, it's like square and it's on newsprint. I mean, and the stuff came some steps. And as my teacher, Janet slowly started to leave me, I would say inside myself, for the first time of my life, that was the beginning of my journey. And so that is how I came to happiness and spirituality, stumbling and sideways and like a child. But it began an incredible part of my life. And the thing I always say is, first time I went within myself, it was the first time in my life where I actually looked within AI, as many people looked for happiness outside of me for most of my life. And this was the first time that I started to look inside.
Alex Ferrari 6:59
And isn't it isn't a true that most, most of us look for happiness outside of ourselves. Because we're not trained to look inside. It's not in a religious dogma. It's not even societal, like, No, you want to be happy by the Porsche, you want to be happy by the new TV, you need the new iPhone, even though the old iPhone that you just have is pretty much the same, but they change the color, another $1,000. Like it's, you're always, they're always telling you, you're not enough, you're not happy unless you buy you buy you buy.
Nataly Kogan 7:31
And the thing is, I actually think it's worse than just buying stuff, you're not happy until you become the best version of yourself, right? You're not can't be happy until you look a certain way or you become the best at something. So I think it's actually worse than just buying stuff. And for me, it was I literally lived my life. According to this, I'll be happy when. And it had nothing to do with buying stuff. It was like, I'll be happy when, you know, I launched this new company, or I'll be happy when like I finished this new project I'll be so it wasn't even buying stuff. But it was all in my book, I call it the curse of the moving baseline. Right? So you know, you our brain pictures go on the horizon, because on a macro societal level, we need to look ahead and we need to be building like to, you know, that's how that's how we work. So our brain looks ahead and picks a goal it says you will be happy when you get there. And you know, a brain geek, I love understanding how the brain works. So the brain actually starts to release dopamine. Dopamine makes us feel really good. So as you start working towards this goal, the brain is giving you a lot of dopamine, you feel really good work really hard. Then you get to the school and you feel happy for like a week you're you feel amazing. Oh my god, I look great. I've launched a company, I've written a book, you feel amazing. And then you know what the brain does. That's really some dopamine, we all know that feeling. And on a deeper level, this new shiny thing is now the new normal, the baseline has moved. So now this is the new normal and your brain goes Aha. Here's the deal, though. That next thing when you get there that will make you happy. And this is how most of us live. And this is what I also call from the neck up right I was you know, there's this great quote who said it? Actually I don't know if I ever found a source but your brain is a terrible master but a great servant. So I spent most of my life until I burnt out my brain was the master of all things I just whatever my brain did I just went there whatever thoughts I got whatever. And so I think a huge part about happiness and the reason it is spiritual is we have to go beyond we have to go beyond just instinct instincts in our brain because if it were to our brain our brain is always going to do this I'll be happy one external thing.
Alex Ferrari 9:48
Oh well the brain our brain is our best friend our worst enemy all at the same time. I mean, it's it's it's a horrible, horrible thing, but it's the best thing in the world for you. It's it's such a weird duality that our minds have with us. I agree with you 100% We constantly are looking for things outside of us to make ourselves feel happy. And the mind is, Did you ever hear of the cheesecake?
Nataly Kogan 10:14
Yes. Oh, no tell, I thought you were gonna say somebody else. Sorry.
Alex Ferrari 10:18
Did you say that cheesecake example that I've talked about this on the show before. It's a great, great analogy of the of the brain and what how evil and wonderful it is at the same time. Whereas you're at dinner, you have a full meal. You're stuffed, completely stuffed. And you're like, Oh, I couldn't eat another bite. Then they card out the cheesecake. And you're like, Would you like a cheesecake before you go? And you're like, and then your mind goes, it's okay. You deserve it. You'll just work out a little bit more tomorrow. You you indulge in the cheesecake, then you get home that night, same brain, you take your clothes off. And that same exact brain goes You fat pig. How could you have eaten that cheesecake? What in God's green earth were you thinking? And that is the cheesecake dilemma. That cheesecake? The ego in the cheesecake, which is right, but it's so true. How many times does that happen to all of us at one point or another.
Nataly Kogan 10:22
100%. And also, you know, our brain is our friend. Like we need our brain to function. The brain is awesome at making decisions that having this conversation right now listening. But it's why I love that quote like our brain, you know, one of the I teach us a lot in my work. Your brain is mostly concerned with your survival. Right? Your name is number, your brain's number one priority is not your happiness, or your well being or your brain wants to keep you safe from danger. And that is actually a really wonderful thing. Being happy is being alive is a wonderful experience. I really like being a lot. Okay, so but but because your brain is only caring about your survival, it developed a bunch of stuff, we've just talked about it. It has a negativity bias, it focuses much more than everything that's wrong. No, it's right. It's very adaptable, it gets used to everything, and so keeps us chasing things, right, all these other thing our brain does. But that's because it's only focused on survival. And my view is we're not here to survive, we're here to thrive, we're here to live with a capital L, we're here to actually have joy in this experience and have the fullness of this experience. And that's where we have to train our brain to be our servant, because our brain doesn't naturally help us do that.
Alex Ferrari 12:35
And when you were saying that, that that line that keeps moving that goal, like I'm only happy if this happens, or when this happens, I'll only be happy. So when I weigh this much, I'll be happy when I get this job, I'll be happy. And I've had the pleasure of talking to some amazing, high performing people in the US some of the highest performing people in the world, especially in the film industry and in the music industry. And when you win the Oscar, I'll be happy when I win the Oscar, I'll be happy. When I win the Emmy, I'll be happy when my movie bakes $100 million, you set these goals. When that happens, it's there, you're happy for a night, maybe two after the Oscar. And then and then over the next couple weeks, it starts to wane. And then you're like, now what because your entire existence has been building up to this point of happiness. Whereas if you, you know, if you if you work on the journey and enjoy the process, then you'll be happier a lot longer because the world because life is not an event. It's a journey. Correct?
Nataly Kogan 13:38
It's a journey and you know, you know just to I think it's such a such a great example because I think when I talk about this, you know actually ask people say okay, like, think about it, reflect on it, like Be honest with yourself, what's your, I'll be happy when right? And I asked people to tell me, you know, people say I'll be happy. When I retire, I'll be happy when I moved to a new house. And then there's this feeling well, the brain is the same, the brain will always remove the dopamine, it wants us to chase a new thing. And the thing about what you said life is a journey, you know, I have a pretty unique definition of happiness, which took me a while for myself to arrive to. I just want to share it because again, I'm 46 this is this has taken a lot of kind of inner work. So my definition of happiness is being at peace with myself. That's my definition of happiness. Good definition. So I can be really sad. I can be really upset, I can be really disappointed. I can feel all kinds of what I call difficult emotions. There are no positive or negative emotions. That's the other thing. We need to stop sorting our emotions into positive and negative, they're positive and negative thoughts, but all of our emotions are valid. So even if I feel a difficult emotion like sadness, if I'm not fighting with myself, if I'm not telling myself that I should feel a different way I should be different. I'm at peace with that emotion. And that to me is happiness and I think that, you know, for me that definition, it is very spiritual. And it also, I mean, it has fundamentally changed my approach. It's not that I'm any less ambitious, I'm crazy ambitious, I'm trying to make the world happier, one awesome human at a time, right? Like you, I'm running my own business, I am the product of my business, like I am, like, you know, like, it's hard to imagine like, this is really hard to do. I also work a lot. I work harder now than I did before I burnt out. But my inner experience, it's fundamentally different. My inner experience is different. Do I want my work to succeed my books to succeed my art to succeed? Yes. But do I actually experience happiness and peace with myself? As I go there? Yes. Are there by the way, moments where I'm fighting with myself? Sure. But my inner experience, and my focus in terms of what I try to cultivate is to be at peace with myself, and I just didn't, you know, you and listeners, what if that was your definition of happiness?
Alex Ferrari 15:58
That's a great definition. By the way, that's a fantastic definition of happiness. I have the concept of emotional health is been is a very kind of opaque concept. For many people. People don't even talk about emotional health. It wasn't even a subject that we would even consider talking about, up until recent years. So what is your definition of emotional health and what we need to what do we need to do to contain good emotional health?
Nataly Kogan 16:27
Focus, I talked about emotional fitness. So I'm going to define emotional fitness, which may be a little bit different for emotional health. So I define emotional fitness probably also in a unique way, like I do happiness. So for me, emotional fitness is about creating a more supportive relationship with your thoughts, your emotions, and then with other people. So think of like physical, right? We all know, physical fitness is when you want to become physically fit, you want to improve your stamina, you want to improve your muscles, you want to improve your health, right? What do you do when you want to be more physically fit, you work out some you get fresh air, you eat healthier, we all understand it. And we also all understand that you can't just do that stuff, and then stop, you'd have to keep doing stuff, you have to keep exercising and eating healthy if you want to be physically fit. So emotional fitness, think of it as like a an example. So instead of training your body, you're training yourself and your brain you're training yourself to have a better, more functional, more supportive relationship with your thoughts. Because we are the editor of our thoughts, we need to choose what to do with our thoughts. You become your training your ability to handle different emotions. So for me, that is at the core of emotional fitness. Again, it's all about creating a more supportive relationship with your thoughts, your emotions, and then as a result of that with other people.
Alex Ferrari 17:54
Now our thoughts. Let's discuss our thoughts for a minute.
Nataly Kogan 17:59
Let's discuss our thoughts,
Alex Ferrari 18:01
Our thoughts, you know, I use the term and I'm not the one that came up with it. But the monkey brain, the brain that just the constant chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter, what can we do to control or help us deal with this negative chatter that is constant around us? Like, you look fat, you're not good enough? Why are you here the imposter syndrome? This is constant within all of us that we have to constantly be battling. One, how do we deal with it? And two, why the hell does it happen in the first place?
Nataly Kogan 18:34
Yeah, so. So I in my book, especially in my new books, I actually have a slightly friendlier frame on our brain. Instead of thinking about as a monkey brain, I invite you to think of your brain as a small child. And you don't need to be a parent, you we've all interacted with small children. And we know what small children are like, they're kind of like our brain. They're unpredictable. One time one moment, they're crying the next moment, they're happy. You give them this toy, but they're thinking about the other toy. That's your brain. And the other thing, small children, they're scared a lot. They're really scared a lot. You leave the room, they freak out, you think they're never coming back, right? So I invite you to think of your brain as a scared small child. And the reason that our brain is giving us all of this, you are not good enough. You're not this enough. It's from fear. It comes from fear. It comes from fear of being isolated, being judged, being rejected, because we talked about right, our brain just wants to help us survive. Well, danger isn't just physical danger is also psychological. Right? One of our core human needs is to be connected to others to belong. So if our brain thinks we're too fat, that means other people won't like us. That means we'll be isolated. That's danger. So all of that you're not good enough. It's coming from fear. And I think for me, it's been a life changing frame to think of my brain as a small scare child. So you know, I'm an artist. I started painting when I was 40. After my burnout, I never let myself paint before. In fact, fun fact that my book cover this is a painting of mine, which is pretty surreal for me, I'm like totally coming out as an artist, that's part of this too. And it's really, when I put my art out there, I'm self taught, you know, my brain tells me Oh, my God, you saw up here, who is gonna want this art? What a wonderful way Oh, my God, you. Yeah, who are you to paint? And who are you to think this is any good. And oh, my god, Picasso was so much better. You know, my brain is like, the next level is Picasso, right? So basically, to my brain, only two ways, mean, and Picasso, you know, nothing between. So Where's that coming from. And it's so helpful to realize that just when my brain being a very scared little child, I'm doing something where I could be judged, I could receive negative feedback, and the brain wants to protect me from that it's scared. So I think it is really powerful to think about that it actually softens the impact right away. Which leads me to the second part of your question, what do we do with that? Well, this is where my kind of core concept of my work comes from is, I want everyone to recognize that you can be the grandparent. Right? So if your brain is a scared child, you can be the grandparent and you can edit your thoughts. Just because your brain gives you a thought doesn't mean you go along with it. Right? The small child is having a tantrum, the grandparent doesn't just go along with it, right. And you'd like the example I use, you know, remember when my daughter was little, she came into the kitchen was like three or four. She came into the kitchen one day, she was hysterical, you know? And after I like realized she wasn't heard. I was like, What is the problem? And the problem was that the pink shoelace on her sneaker broke, and this was the end of life to her three year old, obviously, the end of life. These are that's it that band, and what did I do? Right? You can't scream at her to shut up. You can't you know, like, you can't control her. So I actually don't use the language of controlling our brain. What did I do? Now, in this case, I was the parent, I use the example of a grandparent because I think we all know what grandparents are like, they're wise, they're calm, they kind of don't get as triggered. But what did I do? I sat down on the floor with her. And I talked to her and I was like, alright, so I understand this is terrible. This is really bad, that it's horrible. But let's just, let's talk about it. Um, you know, do you have other sneakers? She did. And I was like, and also, you know, we could go to the store and get other shoe laces. I edited her thoughts, right. So instead of being like, wow, this broken shoe laces, the end of my life, it became this really sad. But we can get more shoelaces. And I use this example. Because this is, to me, a big part of our inner work is to be the editor of our thoughts to embody that wise grandparent. And when our brain tells us you're not good enough, you're too fat, you suck as an artist. Instead of controlling those or ignoring them, which we can't, or yelling like, Oh, my God, brain, I hate you. You are so mean, the most helpful thing is to recognize, wow, that's coming from fear. And to get really honest with ourselves, like what is the brain afraid of right now? Like, what is it really afraid of? And then address that and edit those thoughts and get honest about the fear and then choose a different thought that is more productive? Right? They give the brain something else to focus on. Because you and I talked about the brain of the turbo master, it's a great servant. You we can refocus our brain just like a child who's having a tantrum, you can absolutely redirect them. What do we do when a kid is having a tantrum? We sit down, we acknowledge and then we redirect. And that's our work. So be the editor of your thoughts.
Alex Ferrari 23:45
It's fantastic. That's a fantastic analogy. It really is a great way to look at your brain in your mind, because you're absolutely right. I am I have children as well. And you can't, you can't control them. You know, you know, you know, you just can't You can't go inside their brain and tell them to stop crying from a piece of plastic.
Nataly Kogan 24:07
That's a really bad idea is you and I No, no, no. I mean, you can tell them to stop crying that'll just get them to cry.
Alex Ferrari 24:13
You can you can do all you could try to create as much you might be able to control the exterior of that you could put them in a room you could you could punish them. You could put them in a timeout, but you can't get in their brain unless you sit down and talk it over. One thing I've come to realize in in my old age, I'm only a year older than you by the way. So in my in my journeys through this life, Young Life frustrations I think we all have a lot of frustrations and a lot of anger that definitely hinder our happiness. I was like you said you were very unhappy. You were suffering. You're a professional to suffer. I was a professional anger. Hurt. I was so angry. My Most of my life because of frustrations of my filmmaking career not going the way my mindset so again, why aren't you where Spielberg was at 27? Why weren't you at where Orson Welles was at 23? Like these insanity, these insane markers that, by the way, after talking to a lot of famous filmmakers, they hold to it. Every single one of them like, Oh, I'm 23 I guess it didn't make Citizen Kane yet. 27 didn't make Jaws yet. Like, I'm 32 Didn't make Star Wars yet. Like, yeah, it's just the top, just give it up. Why even why even do it. But I was very angry for for a long, long time, very frustrated for a long time. And I came to realize that frustration is just the lack of being able to control something that is not within your hands to control. And being a parent. You live that you live every day of your life. I started to realize for myself, though, and what made me happier was when that feeling of anger or frustration comes in? I acknowledge it by let go of it. Because before I used to hold it, I held on to it, honestly, for decades, and I let go of it. Do you find it in your work on how to did Is there any other tips you could give the audience about how to deal with anger and frustration?
Nataly Kogan 26:24
Yeah, and I love the examples they give, we all feel it right? Because again, so I actually in my book, I have an illustration that where I draw I actually call wages describe I call it the Valley of struggle. So the way that I define a valley of struggle, and we all live create so many of these, and we'd really do create them. So the Valley of struggle is the space between how something is and how your brain has decided it should be. So you're a filmmaker working on movies, and your brain has decided you should have already had an Oscar Blue Valley of struggle there you are completely of your own creation, right? I'll give you an even smaller, tinier example, like more every day. So I live outside of Boston. And I take a five mile walk every morning. That's kind of my jam. That's my like workouts and whatever. So you know, winter is horrible here. And I hate winter. I'm from Russia, and I hate winter. I hate it. So you know, now we're getting to like mid March and March, no snow, it's warming up. So there I am yesterday, I walked out for my morning walk and it's like warmer outside. So I didn't work put on my warm coat. And it's freaking freezing. You know, my brain says, Oh my God, it is the middle of March, it should be much warmer, boom. Because the weather something I obviously cannot control is not how my brain has decided it should be. I'm now suffering. I'm in a valley of struggle. Right? So I use this example because that's like a very everyday example. But we all do this right? The valley struggle like oh, I should be more successful, I should be thinner, I should have an Oscar by now. Boom, we create our own valley of struggle. So for me, the way to get out of it is what I one of the five skills I teach is what I call acceptance, right? And my definition might like there are two steps in practicing what I call the lens of acceptance. The first is to just observe the situation with clarity, just focus on the facts, versus, you know, this the dramatic story The should that your brain has created. So instead of like, oh my god, I should have already had an Oscar. I'm only 23 years old. I must suck. I'm never going to have a successful career. Now I have struggle. You would the first step would be alright. What are the facts? I'm I'm young, and I'm a working filmmaker. And I haven't yet gotten an Oscar. Those are the facts. All this whole dramatic story about oh, I'm never going to succeed. I sock that. That's your brain sphere. Okay, so we're in my weather example. It is mid March. And it is really cold facts. Okay, so that's the first part to just separate the facts from the drama, the stories. And the second thing and this is really the path out of frustration and anger is to say okay, given how this is like, given this is the situation and how I feel feelings like we have to learn to accept our anger or frustration, whatever. What is one thing I could do to move forward with less struggle? What is one thing I could do? That maybe moves me along the path I want to go? So what did I do yesterday when I stood there freezing my ass outside? Well, I said okay, so it's mid March, and it's 30 degrees. What's one thing I could do to move forward with less struggle? Go back inside and get a scarf. And I went back inside and I got a scarf and I had a nice walk and it was fine. Right? What can you do? If you're a filmmaker? You're like, Oh, I'm 23 I haven't gotten an Oscar. I messed up. Okay, I'm 23. I haven't I haven't yet gotten an Oscar. And I'm kind of frustrated. What's one thing I could do to move forward? Well, in that situation, I'd say one thing you could do is instead of focusing on what you don't have, can you focus on what is purposeful? For you and your work, or can you focus on like, doing something on whatever it is you're working on that brings you some joy, right to focus? Or maybe can you focus on like, wow, like what what is meaningful to me about this project. So those are the two, those are the two steps. And I think this I call it the lens of acceptance, I think it's a gift we can give to ourselves to do that these steps because it really gets us out of this self created valley of struggle.
Alex Ferrari 30:25
And we boy, we love creating that valley boy, we love it every day, every moment like I should have had that parking spot I should have. And I think it was Wayne Dyer that said, there are no shoes should haves or could have that that doesn't exist, that's not a thing. And but our brain lives and should have. And could haves should have Zara should have should be like in the now or the future. And Kudoz are like Oh, in the past that could have, I could have been a billionaire, if I would have bought Bitcoin at five cents. You know, what I mean?
Nataly Kogan 31:01
I remember, I was I spent a couple years of my career at Microsoft, because I was you know, in tech for a long time. And there is someone like a developer at Microsoft has hacked a little calculator do you can put in like the the date. And if you had bought shares then and it shows you how much money you'd have. And that's literally the illustration of the valley. And everyone does it all the time. And I'm talking about these are people at Microsoft who actually have Microsoft shares, which are growing like crazy, because Microsoft is actually great. I'm a huge fan of Microsoft, great company creating good stuff. So they already have wealth that's being created. But that that's not the brain doesn't want to accept that. So it wants them to feel. Uh huh. But if you did this earlier, then you would have more. So we literally put ourselves and that's the other thing. You know, I think, for me, one of the huge things you know, awareness is such a powerful thing. But I call this like work struggle, awareness, just to come aware when we're putting ourselves in this valley of struggle is huge. I spent my life in it most of my life until I burnt out in it, I just wasn't aware there was another way. Like I thought that is how you live. So just that awareness of I am in struggle, because my brain is telling me that things are not how much how they should be. That awareness is really huge. Because I think awareness is so powerful, it gives us choices. Once you become aware, you get to choose, you can choose to get out of it now. It takes courage, it takes guts it takes you got to talk back to your brain, you got to get off that internal treadmill. So I'm not saying it's easy, but it is simple, you can make the choice to get out of the valley of struggle, but first you have to recognize you're in it. And I think that's actually the first big step I spend most of my life in it, I just didn't know I was in it, I just assumed that that's the way it is.
Alex Ferrari 32:57
You can choose to hold on to anger, you can choose to hold on to frustration, you can choose to hold on to any feeling or you know, any kind of emotion you want to hold on to. But you could also choose to let it go. And that is something that I've only discovered, honestly, very recently in my life where I said, You know what, let me not ruin my entire day because some other did something that I didn't want or didn't like or something like that. Because at that point, you're just giving them the power to rule over you as opposed to because you're not hurting them. You're hurting yourself. It's insanity. It's a true insanity. And once you start letting go acknowledge it, feel it, hold on to it for like, a minute or two, maybe an hour or two, but then let it flow out of you. It has changed the way I look at life. And it's been so much so much easier to just function
Nataly Kogan 33:57
Totally at the core of what you're talking about, though. This is I think the kicker is the recognition that we can make that choice we can be the grandparents, we can edit our thoughts. And that if I'm really honest with myself, for most of my life, I didn't want that choice. Like it was way easier to be the victim it was way easier to be like wow, you know, that's that things never happened for me the way they do for others, you know, that's That's me, or, yep, I'm just That's how my life as you know, it's so much easier because then you don't have to put an effort that you just get to spin and those emotions and so like I do want to call that out. I think that's actually such a, you know, I used to think of spirituality actually wrote this down in my journal when I was just starting my work with Janet because I love to write things down. I'm so grateful because I go back and read. And I wrote down that I felt like doing this kind of spiritual stuff as I called it. I felt like wow, I wrote to myself you failed at real life so now you're doing this spiritual stuff like that was my view was that spirituality is like opting out of the hard things, and you just float and I say this with love for myself and compassion for that Natalie who just was just clueless and really suffering. I think spear doing spiritual work is work. It requires practice, it requires courage, it requires constant remember my best friend Sharon, when I started telling her some of the stuff I started to do, like editing my thoughts and really becoming more aware. She said to me, Oh, my God, you really are talking to yourself all the time, aren't you on? Hawaiki? Yeah. all the freaking time like, it. It's, it's, I think the opposite. I think it's the greatest work in our lives. But I just want you know, want to share with you like I thought spirituality is like, opting out of real life and doing the hard work. And it's the opposite, it's actually truly living with a capital L. But it requires the hard work, including recognizing we have this choice and making the choice.
Alex Ferrari 36:05
Isn't it funny how, when, when, when our brain gets into a comfort zone, whatever that comfort zone, so it could be a comfort zone of abuse, it could be a comfort zone of being fat, or out of shape or unhappy with your our comfort zone with your job or comfort zone with anything. When something else is presented, it fights against it. So your mind saying spirituality that could lead to like self awareness and inner work and being happy, we're miserable. And we know what miserable feels like, happy is scary for us. And I really don't want to go down that road. So I'm going to do everything in my power to get you to not do that. Because that could lead to being happy and content with life. We don't know what that feels like. And maybe if we're content with life, and happy, other people won't like us. And then you start building this insane narrative in your head. And as I've gone through my work, I realized that as well as like, you can like oh, you don't want to work out? Don't Don't do that. Don't go to the gym, because then you might get too. What if you get too shredded? How about if you get too muscular? And then people are gonna look at you like, look at that guy. He does he all he sell stuff. And you start building all this up? And then and this is what happens. You're on the couch, eating and drinking and going. Yeah, you're right. Right, you're right. That's a waste of time. I don't want to feel healthy or say it. I don't want it. I know. It's I've done it. We've all done it in every aspect.
Nataly Kogan 37:36
That's the thing, right? So again, because change the outcome of change is unknown, right? So your brain hates uncertainty, uncertainty is the hardest thing for the human brain to feel. Do you know that research studies have shown that human beings would rather experience physical pain than face uncertainty. So why is uncertain because our brain doesn't know how to protect us from danger. So our brain hates uncertainty, it will do anything to provide certainty, including make up the worst case scenario about a possible outcome so that we don't go there. I think self doubt literally comes from our brains fear of uncertainty. So you're you want to do something new, you want to start working out, you want to start writing a book, you want to make a film, you want to be an artist, whatever. And your brain is like, oh, that's uncertain. I don't know how I'm going to protect her. Oh, I know. Let me tell her she's not good enough, this isn't going to work out. Because then she'll stop doing it. I literally think that's a seed of our doubts. So what you're talking about is exactly that. You want to do anything that is a change from your current environment and your current behavior, your brain will do anything in its power to stop you, not because it hates you, but because it's trying to keep you safe. And again, like understanding that is really powerful, because then we can talk to it. But it's exactly that, like our brain will try to sabotage anything we want to do. That takes us out of our comfort.
Alex Ferrari 39:03
And the thing is that that I call it the tiger around the corner. It's always trying to protect you from the tiger around the corner. Because in its mind, we're still in the in the forest somewhere in the jungle somewhere. And uncertainty means death. Because if I don't know what's around the corner, the tiger could eat me. Where now that's completely translate. I'm gonna write a book, write a book, who the hell are you to write a book? I don't, I don't know. What can I do? There could be money and success and happiness there. I don't know what that feels like. I'm going to keep you here. So the tiger now becomes the potential of being happier potentially being fulfilled, because it just uncertain so I call it the tiger on the corner. And it's we're always your brain is just trying to save you from the tiger and being eaten.
Nataly Kogan 39:48
You say I always talk about pack of wolves, right. It's like, the wolves, you know. Exactly. And the the other thing is, and I think it's like this has been a really, like, useful thing for me too. recognize, that's why I keep calling the brain like a scared child, like the brain is not trying to be nasty. I think it's really important to not be in an adversarial relationship with your brain, because again, being happier is at peace with yourself. So if you just realize that that's just the brain being really scared, then you can do something with that. If you're like, well, that's just how it is. That's how it is. But yeah, we are ultimately, really scared children in our head.
Alex Ferrari 40:27
Now, can you talk about the power of self compassion, because we beat ourselves up so much in life, that a little bit of compassion with ourselves would be helpful? So can you talk about the power of self compassion, compassion.
Nataly Kogan 40:45
I was really afraid of self compassion, because I thought self compassion meant, you say, I am great the way I am. I never have to change or improve. And that's it. And I'm perfect. And I hated that. Because I like I thought it would make me a lazy slob, you know. And again, I just share this like, just to be transparent. I had a lot of people, I do work with so many teams and companies and people and they tell me like, no, no. I'm compassionate to myself, I'm never going to like, achieve my goal. So let's just define self compassion. Self Compassion means that you acknowledge that you are a human being. And because you're a human being, you cannot be perfect, you cannot do all things perfectly always. And at the core of self compassion is you treat yourself in a way that reduces suffering. Because what happens when you reduce suffering, when you reduce your struggle and suffering, if you and I've just been talking about this, you actually have more of your capacity, more of energy to do the stuff you want to do. So that's why there are literally mountains of research that show that people who fail at something or maybe they don't do well on something, when they react with self compassion. Again, they're like, they don't pretend they didn't make a mistake. They acknowledge it. But then they don't add on to their struggle, they actually support themselves. People who practice self compassion, when they fail, work harder, they are more motivated to improve, they're more successful at reaching their goals. And I say this, because again, my fear of self compassion always was like, Oh, my God, if I'm compassionate to myself, I'm never gonna grow, improve. It's the opposite. And so, to me, at the core, really, self compassion is about treating ourselves like we would a friend, because, you know, like, a friend makes a mistake, and they come to you and they tell you like, I screwed this up. What do you say to that? Wow, you're an incompetent human being. You're horrible. You should never do. He would never say that. Something like, hey, that sucks. You really screwed that up. But listen, hey, it happens. Okay? Like, how can you move forward? Or what can you do? Right? That's what we would say to a friend. What do we say to ourselves when we make a mistake? Oh, my God, I can't believe I did that. That's like the worst thing ever in the history of the world, like you are a horrible person, Natalie, for doing that. So self compassion is really treating ourselves with the same care and support as we would a friend. And I think it ultimately comes down to our self talk, which is so much of what you and I have been talking about. And so this practice that I made up for myself, when I was learning self compassion, I'll just share it i. So when you notice, like that harshness, that self judgment, that beating yourself up, take a moment, take a pause. Imagine you're talking to someone you love. Like I imagined my daughter for this all the time, my daughter, Mia, imagine you're talking to someone that you love, and this, whatever this thing happen, happen to them. And then I use these three steps. I love these little acronyms like ASM. So the first step is acknowledge, like, acknowledge, like, Hey, I messed this up, or I made a mistake or whatever. I wish I were further along in my film career. Okay. Acknowledge Step number two is say something supportive to yourself, you know, research shows that supportive self talk has the same in positive impact as supportive, talk to ourselves from people who love us. So say something supportive, like what would you say to a friend like, you know, your human being, it happens, dude, you're still young, etc. So acknowledge support, and then the final step is actually really important to shift the brain inertia. So step three is move forward, identify one thing that you could do to move forward from the situation, maybe it's something you've learned, maybe if you screwed something up, there's a way to go apologize. Maybe you focus more on something that's meaningful to you. But that move forward step is really important because our brain has so much inertia. And so when it's in this like, self criticizing self judging cycle, we want to give it something else to focus on. So I use this practice all the time, like when I find my brain is tell me like, oh my god, Natalie, you're launching this like NFT art collection. Who are you? You're like an old lady at 46. You don't even know what you're doing and blah, blah, blah. So I go, Okay, stop. Let's let's imagine my daughter just came into my room like Mama, I'm launching an app 50 art collections, what would I say to her? I'd be like, alright, that's cool. And I realize you're scared. And I realize you're new to it, like, I got it, too. I'd say something supportive, I'd be like, You know what, but it's great to try new stuff. And then three, I'd give her a way to move forward, I'd be like, you know, instead of like being scared or doubting yourself, like, you know, can you just focus on making your art better? How can you focus to reaching out to other people? There it is. That's compassion. That's compassion for other people. And so it's just turning that lens onto ourselves.
Alex Ferrari 45:30
I heard someone say once that if, if we had a friend who spoke to us, like we speak to ourselves, we would run the other way so fast. It's so true. We are so I was so hard on myself, I beat myself up so badly. I mean, like, brutal. My wife would be like, you've got to stop this year. And it would, I would literally beat you down to a place where you like physically couldn't move any more. Because it was just this constant pounding 24/7 of like, you're not good enough. You're not this, you're not that. Which brings me to my next question. Can you discuss the concept of you being enough? Which is such a powerful, powerful statement to say to yourself when you truly believe it? Because there's always you're not good enough? You're not that yet you're not. You don't have the skill set of Steven Spielberg yet you don't have the skill set of of Dali yet. You don't have the you know that you're not enough concept. And we're bombarded with the from the world and from society that you're not enough. You're only enough if you buy this, if you make this, then you're enough, but that are here achieve this, or you achieve this year enough? Can you discuss the concept of you are enough and how powerful it is for us?
Nataly Kogan 46:47
Yeah, and I think it really comes down to me what your enough is all about self acceptance, right. And I think a really important insight for me has been is that self acceptance is not the end, it's the beginning. So saying I am enough does not mean that I will never improve or do other things or that I don't want to learn and get better at stuff. That's not what self acceptance is, it means that I love myself, my being as I am right now. And there are things I still want to get better at. And there are things I still want to do. And I think that's a really important thing to recognize. And in my work with so many people, I find that the challenge to saying I am enough, it's feeling like it's like the period at the end of the sons. I am enough. And that means Oh, okay, so I'll never make that great movie. Like, I'll never be a great artist. No, your enough is we're talking about your being, you know, one of the most important things my spiritual teacher ever said to me, she said at the very beginning, and I completely ignored it. Because I was like, I don't know what the hell this means. She said, Nathalie, you're a being not a doing. And I remember when she said it, I was like, I don't know what this means. I spent my whole life earning my own self love, and earning the love of others by achieving things like I have, always over effort at everything, because I thought I had to earn the love of other people and my own respect by achieving and doing and doing and doing, it was never enough because it can't be. And she was asking me to consider that I am a being and my being is enough, then we can choose to do things from that place. So to me, it's really about that self acceptance. And the recognizing that accepting yourself does not mean that you never do things to improve or that you don't do more. It's that you do it from a place of self respect and self love versus a place of fear of not enough. And that's a really powerful place to begin. So I can say, I am enough. And I want to get better as an artist. I am enough. And I really want my book to reach millions of people. But it sounds different from what I say, wow. I'm not good enough. As an author. I don't think my book can ever reach melodies, but you can hear it in my voice, you can hear it in my energy. So to me this concept of I am enough is really about respecting your being versus having to earn your own love through action. And recognizing that it's, it doesn't mean that you don't do stuff or that you don't want more. It just means that you do it from a place of love for that being who you are.
Alex Ferrari 49:36
And a lot of that pain that you're talking about of us not being enough does not come from comparisons to others. I mean, we've compared in our examples to dolly to Spielberg, comparing yourselves to the masters of a field, whatever that means. You could be if you're in tech at Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, like you, when you compare yourself to these kinds of giants. There's only A handful of these human beings in a generation. So to compare yourself to them, first of all, you shouldn't be comparing yourself to anybody because you are walking your own path. But when you do compare yourself to these kinds of masters in their fields, you're setting yourself up for absolute defeat. That's why you bring does it because it's like, Oh, you'll never ever get an Oscar, you'll never ever, ever, ever get to the heights of jobs, or, or Bill Gates, or Elon Musk, or any of these guys, because, you know, they're just way they're gods, the gods of the day sit on Mount Olympus somewhere, and, and you are just a lowly human. But it is that you're not enough. Because if you you know, look, if you're, if you're a boxer, and you compare yourself to Mike Tyson in his prime, or Muhammad Ali in his prime, I promise you, you're not enough. Because there was nobody enough at that moment in time. So Is that Is that a fair statement?
Nataly Kogan 50:58
Yeah. And I think well, I mean, you know, we say comparison is a thief of joy. I think comparison is also a thief of progress. And it's a thief of competence, right? If you always comparing yourself, you're not going to get motivated to get better. Now, if you look at those masters and say, wow, how did they get where they got? What can I learn from them? Cool. That is actually so motivating. But if you're sitting there comparing yourself, then you're never going to do the thing, right. And I think the other I read this the other day, I think it was an I think within a tower text, I'm not sure. But I read something really beautiful about comparison and talked about how like, if you have a blade of grass, and a bamboo stalk, and they're growing next to each other, the bamboo doesn't look at the blade of grass and grow. Oh, I wish I were like the grass and the grass doesn't look at the bamboo stalk, go, I wish they were like that. But there is a purpose for each of them. We need the grass, and we need the bamboo. And I just thought it was so beautiful. Because it's like, we all have a purpose here. We all do, we really do. We are here on purpose, this is not an accident. So we need the blades of grass. And the bamboo is in the oak trees and the roses in the tulips. And like I think it's really ultimately like, recognizing your own worth. As a being like, we're all this is, you know, we're all on the spaceship called Earth Spin around it crazy. You know, it's been spinning for five, 5 billion years, and we're on this thing. And we all have a purpose. Steven Spielberg doesn't so to you, right? And Brene, Brown does instead of why, and so does my daughter. And so this person walking outside my window. And I think that it's really, you know, we live in a very external world, right? Everything is external, like, oh, Alex has more social media followers than I do. That means Alex is better than me. Like, we live in the scenario where like very shiny celebrities, whatever, all that bullshit. And I think it's what you and I began with, it's like about really going inside and respecting your own worth, like, you matter, you don't have to be Steven Spielberg to be a worthy being.
Alex Ferrari 53:04
Correct. And I find it that when you stop looking outside, and you start looking inside, naturally, you start coming, these things start to come up, you start connecting to these concepts, so much easier when you start to go inward. And I mean, I meditate all the time, I'm a very heavy meditator. And that calms my mind that allows me to go deeper in and connect spiritually with myself, my higher self, and so on and so forth. And I found that when I started to meditate, things started to change concepts started to become clearer. But when you're constantly stuck in the material world, which is where we live in this existence, it's so intoxicating. This is a very intoxicating planet. It's very intoxicating. I mean..
Nataly Kogan 53:52
Were realy busy you know, we're very, very, very spiritual. You know, I've only recently started to dive into the work of Osho is that how you say it?
Alex Ferrari 54:02
Oh, yeah, yeah, sure. Yeah,I think it's Osho Yeah,
Nataly Kogan 54:06
I think so. Um, so I'm only recently and I'm completely taken by it and so many ways and there's this one concept he talked about I recently I'm listening to him that I'd like I was on my walk and I literally like stopped. Like I was like, okay, hold on. This is so you talked about the difference between action and activity. And activity is what we're all doing a lot of the busy the doing the autopilot busy we're always busy. We live in a world that's very busy and everything is very busy. Like we're all busy. Everything's we're constant activity, right? Have you met anyone? And you say, how are you? Has anyone said you know what? Okay, I have a lot of free time. I'm relaxing. We're all like, oh my god, I'm so tired. I have so much to do, right? That's like our epidemic, right? So that's activity and he says action is your spontaneous reaction to whatever needs to be done in this moment. And so you come you ask From a place of full presence and attention, and it's not that you're lazy, it's not that you don't do anything, it's that you're, you're just, you're open, and you're present. So whatever needs to get done, you're doing it. But I just thought that contrast between action, like I don't actually meditate, like, formally, sometimes I do, I wouldn't consider myself up. But I spend a lot of time which I never used to do before I burned out. I call it I spent a lot of time just being still in silent. It could be I'm sitting in this big red chair reading, it could be I'm painting, but I'm still I'm relatively still. And silent. It's such a scary part of being human is to have those times, you know, I don't know if you're familiar, you know, the famous mythologist. He talked about? Was it. Joseph Campbell, of course, Joseph Campbell. Yeah, of course. But so he talked about this concept, in an interview once called the bliss station, if you follow your bliss, and I love that, right, so bliss station, how he describes it is a place or it could be a time of day. And I love that it doesn't have to be a place like you could be traveling. But it's a place or a time where you get to go and withdraw. You are completely withdrawn from the outside world. I love what he says he's like, when you're in your bliss station, you don't know what your friend is upset about. You don't know what's in the news, like you have no you withdraw, and you go into that place or time of day to just practice your bliss, whatever that is for you. And to me, that is my meditation. So for me, it's sometimes it's journaling, reading, sitting painting, but it is withdrawing from all this activity and the busyness and kind of being with yourself. And I think that is an essential part of being and again, I spent 40 years, never daring to even think to go there because, well, it was scary.
Alex Ferrari 56:57
It's the pack of wolves, the pack of wolves in the Tigers. They're both working together to get you basically. Exactly, exactly. Now, I'm gonna ask you a couple questions asked all my guests. What is your mission in this life?
Nataly Kogan 57:10
My mission in this life is to help people reconnect to the goodness and the uniqueness and their humanity within themselves. And when we do that, we naturally see that more and others.
Alex Ferrari 57:25
And why are we all here?
Nataly Kogan 57:29
I think we are all here to create something. And creating doesn't have to be art, or anything at all creating is about leaving this world a little bit better, a little more beautiful than before. And I think that's why we're here.
Alex Ferrari 57:48
And where can people pick up your new book? The awesome Human Project and and follow your work?
Nataly Kogan 57:54
Yeah, I'm easy. It's natalykogan.com. You can go there. You can pick up the book, wherever you love to get your books. And I'm nataliekogan on all the socials one word.
Alex Ferrari 58:03
Nataly, it has been a pleasure talking to you. I feel happier already. Just talking to you. So thank you so much. And hopefully this has helped a few people listening to ask different questions, have better dialogues with their internal child scared child and and hopefully help them on their life's journey. So thank you so much.
Nataly Kogan 58:23
No, thank you. I really appreciate the thoughtfulness and the openness. I learned a couple things and that's awesome.
Links and Resources
- Nataly Kogan – Official Site
- The Awesome Human Project: Break Free from Daily Burnout, Struggle Less, and Thrive More in Work and Life
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