Charlie Hoehn – A Smarter Approach to Overcoming Anxiety

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Jonathan: Hey everyone Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim
podcast and uniquely excited about today’s show listeners because we have a gentleman with us who, very unique and very wise gentleman and he recently wrote a blog post. He’s been writing for many moons, has done amazing things and we’ll talk about his website here in a second you can check out and learn more about the things he’s done. But he wrote a very open and honest blog post recently called How I Cured My Anxiety which resonated so deeply with me and I think will resonate deeply with many of you that I had to bring him on my show to share this insight.

His name is Charlie Hoehn and you can learn more about him on charliehoehn.com. He’s done numerous things, he travels all around the world. He is an old soul because while he is young, he is wise, ridiculously wise. I brought him on the show to share some of that wisdom with us today. Charlie, brother how are you? And thank you for coming on the show.

Charlie: Fantastic. Especially after that intro, I just, my self-confidence is through the roof now. Thank you very much for having me.

Jonathan: Well Charlie I know you wrote this back in May so it’s not that recent but let’s just, I don’t want to beat around the bush here. You wrote this blog post about How I Cured My Anxiety. Can we talk a bit about your story? How you became anxious then let’s dig into how you cured it.

Charlie: Sure. So for a few years I was working with a number of bestselling authors and I’ve worked full-time for Tim Ferris, the guy who wrote The Four Hour Work Week, The Four Hour Body and in December of 2011 I believe it was roughly then I decided I’d had enough. I wasn’t really keeping my body in check, I wasn’t taking good care of myself, I wasn’t getting enough sleep and then a bunch of external events kind of hit all at once.

A close friend of mine attempted suicide and I felt like I had kind of outgrown the work and I was ready to do my own thing and so I quit which was terrifying to me because everyone around me, friend and family and blog readers of mine were constantly patting me on the back for being in that position, for working for this really successful author and I just didn’t dig who I was at that time. So quitting that was pretty scary but removing that which had been a pretty big part of my identity kind of threw me into this realm of not knowing who I was, or where I was going, or what I was doing and so I just basically spent months going around trying to figure out what I was going to do next without going into a job that was like the same thing as what I’d been doing.

I remembered going to see my doctor because my anxiety was so bad that when a couple of friends of mine had visited I couldn’t drink a glass of water. I couldn’t hold it because every time I did, my hands shook so violently that it spilled and I just felt scared and afraid and tired and paranoid all the time. It was horrible so I went to go see my doctor after trying all these different things to kind of heal myself because nothing really seemed to be helping. She prescribed me I think it was Lorazepam and I ran home to take these things because I was like so excited that potentially, there was this magic pill that could help me get over it.

Right before I took it, I looked it up, I was like what are these things? I found out like these things were more addictive than heroin, they stopped working after a week and there were all these people who were addicted to it who still had crippling anxiety. So I spent basically a year of feeling horribly anxious and finally found a way to cure it which brought you to the post.

Jonathan: So Charlie I know it’s not easy to relive this and it sounds like you practiced, ironically you worked for Tim brilliant guy. One of the things he talks about in his work, which I think has so influenced all of us in The Four Hour Work Week is the E, elimination. You practiced elimination and then you experience this anxiety. One thing I’ve noticed Charlie before we get to the cure is the cause, the
“cause of anxiety.” I’ve often found that it’s impossible to be anxious if you don’t care and in fact the more you care the more you feel, please correct me if I’m wrong, the more you feel like you’re here to do something important and there’s a dissonance like, I know I’m supposed to be often times helping people and I’m not doing that right now.

In fact, you care so deeply that cognitive dissonance becomes so powerful it turns into a crippling anxiety which is of course horrible but it seems to be a symptom of something underlying which is so promising. You have this, such a deep passion and caring that if you’re not executing that, you’re put in this other state. What do you think about that?

Charlie: I totally agree with that. A big part of me was like, man I’ve done all this cool stuff, I’ve gotten all this momentum and I’m in this amazing position to do whatever I want and I was just like paralyzed because I didn’t know what to do after and it was like this giant let down of what I was supposed to become. I thought the answer was just so, I don’t know, I was by let down by myself for not knowing and not doing more. It’s a completely, I mean it’s not entirely because I’m super hard on myself or that’s the way I am, I think it’s a product of the culture we grow up in.

America’s really intense. We work crazy amount of hours and we all want to be number one at everything and so there is this just underlying. . .I don’t know, this underlying thing that all of us experience which is if we’re not succeeding, if we’re not having everything together at any given time and doing perfectly at everything, then we’re a failure in everyone’s eyes. I think that it’s kind of an intense pressure I mean you look at Facebook and you look at Instagram and all you see are positive things.

It’s very rare to see somebody being like I’m going through an internal crisis here, throw me a life line. No one does that because we only want to show the world the best part of ourselves. We’re constantly editing, only showing the best parts. So that creates this you know, this constant sense that if you’re not doing it right then you’re failing and that’s really tough.

Jonathan: It made me think of a definition of anxiety I’m not sure where I got this from. But that feeling of anxiety Charlie, I’m curious again your perspective here because I know you’ve thought deeply about this and it seems to be a reflection of what you’ve just said. We feel anxiety when we believe that things externally are not as they should be.

Charlie: Yeah, yeah. It’s this desire to have things, I forget the exact definition I came across a while back. It was effectively that it was the desire to have things be the way that they aren’t and this constant sense, this constant fear that change, a drastic change is about to happen that never comes.

Jonathan: Yeah. It reminds me also, there is an anecdote that Wayne Dyer, who certainly has much wisdom to share, once said and it was the definition of neuroticism, which is not the same thing as anxiety but let’s call them cousins. We’re all, we all have some anxiety. We’re all to some level neurotic no one’s perfect right? These are no way criticism or anything we should feel bad about but I love this definition where he said someone who is fully functioning if you ask them what one plus one equals they will say two, totally sane, functioning, perfect person.

If you ask someone who is totally crazy what one plus one equals, they’ll say purple elephant. Right like something totally that doesn’t make any sense. If you ask someone who maybe suffering from a bit of anxiety or is feeling a bit neurotic what’s one plus one, they’ll say, I know its two but why does it have to be two? Couldn’t it be something else?

Charlie: Or like I’m sorry if that’s wrong, I’m really sorry.

Jonathan: I’m really sorry I tried too. So, how did you start to pull yourself out of this place of anxiety?

Charlie: So there were a number of things that really helped I mean the basics are, I mean this is, I didn’t cover this as much in my post but if you don’t have the fundamentals like working, like you’re on a regular sleep schedule where you’re getting plenty of sleep, that will help you tremendously. If you’re exhausting yourself through exercise, not going out and running twenty miles every day because that’s horrible for you but if you’re lifting weights, heavy weights for an hour a few times per week and that will help your sleep as well. If your diet’s clean, you get rid of the stimulants like caffeine and the depressants like alcohol, if you minimize that stuff and have a relatively clean diet, those three areas will help you tremendously.

They will calm your body down a lot, exercise especially, it’s really helpful. But the thing that had the really most transformative impact on me was remembering, after I read this book called Clay by Stewart Brown. Remembering what I’d been like growing up as a kid and approaching the world through the lens of Clay, rather than work or taking myself really, really seriously. Because when you’re a kid you literally cannot approach the world seriously unless you’re forced to, by your parents, unless you’re told to, unless you’re taught to approach the world very seriously.

Everything’s a game, everything’s play when you’re a kid and it should be that way throughout our entire lives. But for some reason or another we tend to make things very, very serious and treat life very, very seriously, even though we were just kind of plucked up out of the earth like this magical existence that we all go through. Why would we treat that so seriously? Why would you make your brain into a prison, rather than a playground? It just made me think like the way I’d been treating my life was through the lens of work and seriousness and thinking back, I say this in the post.

Have you ever seen a little kid running for miles on a treadmill? Have you ever seen a little kid meeting up with their friends to chat over coffee? Have you ever seen a little kid go to conferences to hand out their business cards? No. That stuff sucks like and treating life that way really sucks and especially if you’re surrounded by people who do treat life that way because you start to think oh, this is normal. This is how adults are supposed to be. This is how life is supposed to be. It must be very serious, otherwise you can’t get through it.

You’ll never be able to get a house and never be able to have kids and send them off to college and retire and all that American dream nonsense that was created by marketers. It’s all supposed to be a ride, it’s all supposed to be fun and why would you treat it as anything but that? So remembering that was tremendously and almost instantly liberating, it helped me breathe easier. I went through the things that I used to play when I was a kid, the games that I used to play and the things that I constantly returned to and actually it was really cool because it gave me a chance, it gave me an excuse to call up these childhood friends that I haven’t talked to in over a decade. I would call them and say “Hey man, I just want to connect and ask you what you remember us doing?”

I had these amazing conversations with old friends of mine and we were just laughing hysterically because we remembered, I used to pull pranks like a maniac. I was obsessed with getting under people’s skin and making them laugh at themselves and stop being serious. I was, all these obsessions that I used to have as a kid that I would just do naturally, no one would force me to do this stuff. It just was stuff that I would get so obsessed with. I started bringing that back into my life, those elements and it was free, it was fun, it was painless and it helped me so much.

Jonathan: Charlie I am getting goose bumps again like I did when I read the post because there was so much that I think resonates with so many here and you use the term play which I think is brilliant. I think there is, of course always correct me if I’m misrepresent things but even some synonyms for that, like for example in my work sometimes I work to, work in the field of health and wellness and always loved to talk about how, what we’re after is health and living better.

It’s not being right. So much of a conversation and for example, the eating and exercising realm where people are arguing about what’s correct, what’s right, what’s better. We are not put here to be right, maybe if that’s how you want to live, but why so serious? Why not just say if what you’re doing is making you feel great keep it up and if it’s not, try something else. If you’re like just live better don’t try to be right, just be happy and it seems that’s what you’re saying.

Charlie: Or just be, take the pressure off. Part of the pitfalls of being a guy like you just said this need to be right, this need to be logical and rational about everything. Something that women are much better at I think, is being in touch with their feelings and emotions because for guys, it’s actually, I don’t know if women are really aware of this but for guys it’s really tough to admit to our feelings and vulnerabilities and emotions. We don’t really talk to each other about that stuff because when we hang around our guy friends for the most part like we’re all just giving each other a hard time, we’re just joking around with each other.

We don’t really get into the deeper stuff because we don’t talk as much for one and it’s always kind of shot down as that’s a weakness or that makes me uncomfortable. So it’s just not as explored really so you just kind of fall in line with okay I want to still fit into the group and guys are very analytical, very rational and very logical and logic doesn’t always line up with feelings. What you’re feeling is a much better compass than the thoughts your brain comes up with.

Jonathan: Charlie what do you define as play for adults or is it any different for adults? When you play and if listeners wanted to play what do you do?

Charlie: Let’s see so it’s obviously different for everybody. So for me it’s like the play, the play thing to me is just a mindset. It’s how you view the world, this world is, my life is a ride, and it’s something I can lean into. It’s something I can embrace. It’s not something that if it pokes me in the chest I’m going to collapse and shatter. You know this is a ride, so it’s going to be bumpy, it’s going to be fun. It’s something, like when you’re a kid, you run around and you’re not afraid of hitting your head against the table. When it happens you cry and then it’s over and you go back to playing. For some reason as adults we tense up because we realize oh my God everyone’s watching us or so we think even though no one cares.

So for me like I said in the post I started doing, I used to play this everyday as when I was a kid. I used to do home run derby in my backyard where a friend and I or just myself would toss up tennis balls and hit them with a bat because I grew up with a field behind my house and right now I live, this might anger some women to hear this but one of my good friends is a guy name Tucker Max. I’m actually living with him right now and I’ve been travelling around but before I travelled he and I would go play home run derby at a high school baseball field every weekend. We’d go out there with bat and play. It’s a blast, for me that’s a blast just hitting stuff with a stick is fun but like I said pranks are really fun to me. I was obsessed with stand-up comedy.

I did improv comedy, this is something I can actually recommend to pretty much everybody. Improv comedy and if you sign up for that and if you have crippling social anxiety you will listen to that recommendation and be like that is my personal nightmare. I thought so too, improv comedy encapsulates the concept of play better than pretty much anything I’ve come across. You are going into every situation with the guarantee of looking foolish or failing. Every single situation they put you in you’re like, this is impossible, I’m going to look stupid. After a while you turn off the thoughts in your brain and you just go into autopilot and you say I’m going to have this energy going into this.

I’m not going to even think about what’s coming out of my mouth, that’s going to go. I’m not even going to think about it. Whatever comes out of my mouth is either going to work or its not, it’s not going to work. Once you reach that point, which for me happened in about the third week, I was taking a six week course, three hours each week. In the third week that finally had that breakthrough where I was like I don’t care throw me in this situation, I’m going to fail but it’s going to be fun, I don’t care what I look like, I’m with a group of people who doesn’t care if I fail. That kind of carried over to every interaction that I would have from then on because I would just like to mess with people.

I would like to play with them and see how they responded and some people in the real world you know baristas, waiters and stuff, they snap out of it for a second and they’ll play back with you but others are weirded out. Like how can you not be serious? It’s like it’s just fun, you just play around with people and you can approach every interaction in every moment of your life as improv comedy because that’s all it is. All you have is that moment right now.

You don’t have the future to worry about, you don’t have the past to regret because both are illusions. They’re gone, they’re done or they haven’t happened. All you have is that moment which is a chance to improvise and create the world that you want right in that moment.

Jonathan: Charlie you literally just encapsulated it right there because what else is life other than improv?

Charlie: Exactly.

Jonathan: That really is what it is. On the other end of things you mentioned there are some people that aren’t going to get it and that reminds me of one of my favorite philosophers the great Dr. Seuss. He has the amazing line and I might invert it here “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” So, not only does play make you happier but if you find that there are others who refuse to play, man that’s a great way to separate those who you might want to be spending your time with from those who you might not want to be spending your time with, what do you think?

Charlie: Totally 100%. A quick side note on Dr. Seuss he has another quote which I included in that post which is “Adults are just obsolete children,” and I totally agree with what you just said. Once I had this revelation about play, I realized my favorite friends growing up, the people that I always wanted to be around were the best playmates. They were the ones who liked playing the games that I liked to play and they were good at them, and they made me want to do more of it.

So, the people that I would make sketch comedy movies with just for fun. They were the people who didn’t take life seriously. They were the people who could make me laugh. I mean that’s what I look for in a girlfriend. It used to be whose the most beautiful, who’s going to impress my friends if I have this around my arm. Now I just look for who is going to be the most fun to play with and if you approach your businesses that way, how can you not have fun?

How can that not bleed over into the quality of your work? We pay, the stuff we pay for in life is the product of another person’s play. Music, art, sports, cooking, like the people who are great at what they do, even architecture are the people who approach it with a sense of play and imagination and creativity and play is what helps you bond with other human beings. So, play is what destroyed my anxiety faster than everything else, it was almost instantaneous.

Jonathan: Charlie I so appreciate you sharing this with me and our listeners because it really is so profound and just we all, just take a step back and say and Charlie it’s not just you and me saying this. I was just reminded me of traditions that date thousands of years like if you look at [inaudible 0:27:15] tradition right it’s very much be. Even if you look at Judeo-Christian tradition of unless you act as of a child you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. I mean there is this sense of play and joy and just be, and be with them. Even like the primo-paleo movement now it’s a be with nature, be one. Let’s get back to basics, let’s simplify a little bit, and let’s have some fun, that’s pretty awesome.

Charlie: Yeah, 100%, yeah.

Jonathan: Well Charlie in terms of having fun, I know now you’re playful, you’re enjoying life and you have this wonderful platform and obviously amazing mind. What’s next for you?

Charlie: What’s next for me is what I’ve been working on for the past nine months, which I’ve had to approach with a sense of play but has been the exact opposite of physical play. I’ve been writing a book on how to get a job that you love and how you can actually approach your career with a sense of play. I’ve started this book much, or way before I wrote that post. This has been an idea I had for the last five years and it was basically how I was able to land all these fun, cool gigs and I wrote an eBook on the same topic five years ago called Recession Proof Graduate and never really expected it to take off but it helped a lot of people, now the idea is fully formed and I’m going to make that into a book.

Jonathan: Charlie when you said I’ve been spending the last nine months, I thought you were going say something completely different. I thought maybe there another little Charlie on the way.

Charlie: Oh man, no, no, no. Yeah this has been an intellectual pregnancy, not an actual pregnancy thankfully.

Jonathan: Oh that’s awesome. Charlie, thank you so much. When can we expect that work to be available?

Charlie: So I’ve gotten feedback from about six editors in the last week or so and I’m going to plow through it over the next two weeks and shape it into the next working one. Long story short, I’m hoping by the end of the year for sure.

Jonathan: I love it. We’ll certainly be on the lookout for it and folks please, we only scratched the surface of Charlie and obviously the wisdom he has to offer. You can learn more about him at his website which is charliehoehn.com but its spelled H-O-E-H-N. Charlie just one quick thing I wanted to mention here is you mentioned, who knows who might have to cut this out, we’ll see. So, you mentioned the wildly successful author and entertainer Tucker Max and you lived with him and the reason I wanted to call this out is, folks who are familiar and those who will become familiar with Tucker Max after visiting your site.

I want you to understand like listen to this podcast again and Charlie lives with Tucker, you can see what kind of a guy Charlie is. I bet Tucker is very, very similar and I bet if we all were just a little bit more playful like Charlie said, we could find those similarities. We could celebrate those similarities and we could focus on what we like and what we enjoy in people, rather than what might just be slightly different with our style. Charlie I so appreciate you coming on the show because, you are a living proof that although we may write one thing or do another thing at the core man world, we all just want to play and get hugged. Right? That’s all we want.

Charlie: Yeah, yeah, exactly. It’s funny, I’ve had a few people, or I’ve read a few comments that are like you know I agree with what you said about curing anxiety, I thought it was good. You live with Tucker Max? I don’t know how I feel about that, something to that effect, and Tucker’s writing is pretty or his old stuff is pretty polarizing to say the least but I’ve known the guy for four years and I can 100% say he’s been one of the most loyal, best, supportive friends I could have ever imagined having and he’s changed a lot from when he wrote that stuff.

Jonathan: That’s awesome Charlie. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us today brother, it’s been an absolute pressure.

Charlie: Thank you so much for having me this was awesome.

Jonathan: Folks his name is Charlie Hoehn rhymes with phone. I totally forget that at the beginning of the interview. I hope you enjoyed today’s chat as much as I did and listeners please remember this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter and based on our chat with Charlie, play and live better. Chat with you soon.