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How can we steer toward work that authentically resonates with our essence? How do we align our work with a deeper sense of purpose?

In this episode, I'm joined by special guest Jonathan Fields, a renowned author, podcast host, and the creator of Good Life Project and Spark Endeavors. Together, we dive into the transformative journey of deriving a profound sense of meaning from our work and its pivotal role in personal fulfillment.

Jonathan unravels the secrets behind work-life satisfaction and introduces us to the concept of 'Sparketype'—a unique tool to identify our work inclination, aligning it with creative expression for enhanced life satisfaction. Additionally, he shares invaluable strategies for confronting resistance and navigating uncertainty, emphasizing the crucial role of trust in our creative processes.

Topics Covered

  • Jonathan's impactful projects and their role in shaping meaningful work
  • Understanding the vital role of work-life satisfaction in our journey
  • Exploring the insights and findings from The Work-Life Satisfaction Study
  • Introducing the 'Sparketype' concept and its impact on creative alignment
  • The journey of discovering personal 'Sparketype': aligning work with purpose
  • Crafting work that authentically resonates with individual essence and passion
  • Deriving profound meaning and fulfillment from professional endeavors
  • Infusing creativity into professional endeavors: strategies and approaches
  • Strategies for overcoming resistance and navigating uncertainty in our work
  • Cultivating trust and authenticity in the creative process

Jonathan's Resources


Leo 00:09

Welcome to the Zen Habits podcast, where we dive into how to work with uncertainty, resistance, and fear around our meaningful work. This is for anyone who wants to create an impact in the world and cares deeply enough to do the work. I'm your host, Leo Babauta, creator of the Zen Habits blog.

Okay. Today I am honored to have on the podcast as a guest. A friend of mine, Jonathan Fields. He is the creator of a podcast and a number of things around the title Good Life Project. So that's the podcast. It's an amazing podcast. He's had people on there Matthew McConaughey and I forget who else, Elizabeth Gilbert and Austin Channing Brown really incredible guests.

And he's just a great interviewer on that podcast as well. He's also written a book called " Sparked: Discover Your Unique Imprint for Work that Makes You Come Alive" and an incredible quiz that he's going to talk about on this podcast called "Sparketype ". We had this great conversation about creating, about meaning, about resistance and working with that and a lot more. You're going to love this podcast.

One thing I want to say about him is Jonathan is also a friend that I've known for 15 years now we've met in cities like San Francisco and New York and in a summer camp that I'm going to talk about as we start the interview. But it's just someone who I think is just genuine and authentic and just a good person. And he speaks really intelligently about creation. about meaning, about resistance and much more. So enjoy this podcast. Someone who I absolutely love and I think you'll love too.

Okay. Welcome Jonathan. Thanks for coming on the podcast.

Jonathan 02:23

It is my pleasure, it's good to see your smiling face, it's been too long.

Leo 02:27

And you are you're someone who I've known forever and we haven't talked in forever either it's just so good to be here with you, it's like an honor to have you on the podcast, on my new podcast, and I've been on yours like years ago, but you're a veteran in this industry and just a real honor to have you here.

Jonathan 02:47

Yeah. Thanks. No, I appreciate that. I'm excited that you're you're stepping into the space and sharing your wisdom in a new and different channel. I was thinking back and I think we recorded our conversation in the very early days of Good Light Project and we were filming. We had a crew on location at Samovar in San Francisco. And we were hanging out there, just jamming with the people filming us the whole time. And it was like a almost, it feels like a completely different universe.

Leo 03:19

Yeah. It was definitely high production. Some of our tea lounge, which was my favorite tea lounge back then, it's no longer around. So those are days we can't get back. But yeah, thanks for having me on then. When you were, yeah, it was your first, I think it was your first season or first iteration of that podcast.

Yeah, we've known each other for a long time. One thing that I wanted to share with the listeners and people watching on YouTube is one of my... I've had several really good experiences with you. One of them was that interview in Samovar, and we've also just hung out and drank tea in Samovar. We've had some good experiences in New York city when you were living there including like really cool, like rooftop restaurant where you had me and my daughter are visiting New York city for the first time. That was amazing.

But my favorite one was at your summer camp camp GLP. Because there I really felt you. And the things that you could create live, like there was just such a fun experience of being a little kid again and being able to explore with people who are passionate. And I met some people there who I'm still in contact with, including people I've worked with for a long time, like Phil Powis. So anyway, just... amazing experience. I just wanted to acknowledge like the way that you could create these kinds of experiences.

Jonathan 04:53

Yeah, that's awesome. It was great to have you there. We, for a little bit of context for folks for five years, we brought together people for a four days or like weekend adult summer camp. We would sweep in, take over a kid's sleepaway camp after. The kids were gone at the end of the summer. They fumigated the place. And then and then we literally have something like, by the end, we're at 450 or so people get on trains, planes, and automobiles from the other side of the world, from all over the place.

And it was amazing, I think, because it's so hard, I think, as adults to make the kind of deep friendships that you would make at summer camp as a. Like nine or 10 or 12 year old, or when you were just a kid and the shields weren't up already and you didn't have your established practices and patterns and you weren't wrapped up in the business of life.

And it's so hard to get back to that place. So just, we want to create that container. And like we did it for five years and now we're in the process of re imagining what is the future of that at this point. So we'll see what, we'll see what we come up with.

Leo 05:59

Yeah. Another person who's really meaningful to me that I met there is Yvonne. I'm drawing a blank on her last name. She's someone who I've been friends with now since then. And someone I have a really meaningful connection with. So just, yeah, there's a number of them.

But he cool thing for me, I'll just, we can finish with this now, but it was set like you said in a summer camp and it was like, I had never been to one as a kid. I lived, grew up in Guam, the little island, and, but I watched it on movies and TV shows, throughout the eighties and nineties. And whenever when I got there, it was just like stepping into my childhood imagination. So anyway, it was really cool space to be in.

Jonathan 06:48

It's you're in the movie.

Leo 06:49

Exactly. It was like New York city was like that for me too. Like you see so many movies set in New York city and summer camps and you're just stepping into the set. So anyway, it was a cool experience.

So you mentioned that was something that you're that was for five years and what you're always someone that I've seen like creating new things. What you're doing is always shifting. And so what's been the focus for you lately and what you're creating?

Jonathan 07:19

Yeah. And I think I'm deep in that question right now. So my primary impulse for effort is the process of creation. I am what I would call a maker. The whole experience of making ideas manifest for me is it breathes me. It gets me up in the morning. It moves me through the day. It nourishes me when I can actually make it happen, which isn't always.

And that's different for different people have different impulses. And, but for me that, that has driven me since the time I was a kid. So from the outside, looking in a lot of folks see just a process of constant evolution and creating new and different there's a common thread that tends to weave through all of it, which is, I'm deeply fascinated just by the human condition by how we live good lives.

So I have been deep into really trying to understand what does it mean to live a good life? What are the different elements of it for decades now. And that has shown up in, in life and in business as a lot of different things. It's shown up as books. It's shown up as everything from owning a gym to a yoga studio, to teaching yoga, to leading retreats, to then launching this thing called Good Life Project, which was over a decade ago now, which had media and events and gatherings and to similar to writing books and then producing a podcast, now two different podcasts.

And in 2018 I start to really follow a thread that tugged on my fascination around work in a much more explicit way. And I've always been deeply fascinated by work because it is the thing that most of us spend the vast majority of our waking hours doing for our entire adult lives. And these days, many of us don't retire. We just we go until we go.

And I got really curious, like, how do you use that time well? And how do you use it in a way that doesn't just provide basic sustenance, which is important, very important, but also, allows you to experience belonging and expression and actualization to the extent that's available to you in the moment that you're in life.

And it became really clear that most people don't experience that and a sad fact is that most people don't experience that on a meaningful level for their entire lives. And I think part of it is because we don't actually realize that it's available to us and we were never given any sort of instructional educational process to understand how to pursue it.

You're so deep into similar questions, you have been for so long. We go at it in very different ways often and from different angles. But I got really curious then about the underlying impulses for work or for effort and whether there was a common set of impulses that could be identified across all people, no matter who you are, where you came from to start a research project back in 2018 to see if these things existed and if so, could we identify them.

And over a period of about a year identified 10 that tend to show up in people in different balances, different plans. But there usually is a one or two are really just strong impulses. And there's also on the other side of the spectrum a really strong impulse away from a particular type of work that tends to be much more draining and emptying and requiring a lot of recovery.

Once I identified these and started sharing them I started to realize that around each one of these impulses or they would start to form like profiles or archetypes. And they would have preferences and tendencies and behaviors that were really common patterns that wrapped around them. So we started calling them 'Sparketype s' because it's just a fun shorthand for the, the archetype for work that sparks you.

But I wanted to get a lot more intel. on what these were, how they functioned, whether they were real. So we spent most of that year also developing a tool and assessment in part to go deeper into the research side of it, and in part to create a public facing tool that anybody could actually experience, spend 10, 15 minutes and get the profile.

I was not prepared for what happened with that. When we came out of beta at the end of 2018. It, if I had hair, it would have been blown off my head. And the response is just tremendous because we were speaking to something that I think a lot of people are really craving, which is a better understanding of what drives them and how to then better align the work that they're doing in the world with those impulses.

And it just explained people to themselves in a whole different way. So as we have this conversation, I haven't looked at the numbers actually in the last couple of months, last time I checked in about 850, 000 people have completed this assessment. So we're sitting on a data set of about 45 million data points at this point, which also makes it one of the biggest work life satisfaction studies that's ever been done.

And we've done much smaller scale correlational surveys after that to try and identify because the theory was that the more you do the work of your Sparketype, the more likely you will feel meaningfulness and purpose and energy and excitement and easier access to flow states and more fully expressed. And now the data actually proves that out with a really strong statistical correlation. People tell us the more we actually do this work, the more we feel those things. And the opposite is also true. The less we do this work, the less we feel those things.

So that whole project has taken on an entire life of its own. This is a really long setup for what have you been up to lately? So I find myself running two different organizations right now. One is Good Life Project, which produces this longstanding. Media property and over the years produced all sorts of different events and retreats and trainings, and we will be doing more of that in the future.

And then Spark Endeavors is the organization that holds the intellectual property and all of the developing solutions and programming and training that we're doing around this data set, which it's really just focused in the domain of work, like 'How do I find and do work that makes me come alive?' Or 'How do I look at the work that I'm currently doing and re imagine it in a way that actually gives me so much more of what I want', which I think is also such an important inquiry these days because a lot of people really don't have, or they may not feel that they have a lot of opportunity to just walk away and start something new or look for something entirely different. They have a really strong value around financial security for her family. And they're not, they don't want to blow things up and go through that disruption.

So we look a lot also at how do we realign and reimagine what you're currently doing. To actually feel much more alive or spartan what are the processes, what are the things that we look at? So we've been developing programming, we training coaches in a whole methodology. Now we work with some of the largest companies in the world and their leadership to try and integrate these ideas. Into the businesses. So it's amazing. And it's a lot.

I know it's you're somebody who's who's been so focused on how do we streamline? How do we minimize? How do we simplify? And I feel like I've gone in the opposite direction in the last five, five years. And a lot of my work now just personally is how do I return? How do I actually, how do I support what we've supported? Keep it growing, but return more simplicity, return more serial processing rather than parallel processing into my daily experience just so that on a personal level, I can breathe more easily.

Leo 15:37

Ah, I love that so much. A million questions now. We don't know if we have enough time for all of it, but there's just so much richness in that to dig into. In terms of having people like create this kind of meaningful work for themselves, like the things that you found the most effective I'm sure we can talk about it for days and days. But if you were to like, give us maybe three really important things, three to four to five like things that were are really like the most crucial things, elements for creating that for yourself.

Jonathan 16:18

One, I would say discover what your Sparketype profile is. And literally, you can throw it in the show notes or whatever. There's an assessment that anyone can take, it'll take you 10 or 15 minutes and it could be really eye-opening for you. It often explains a lot of why you felt the way that you felt in all sorts of different work experiences. And it's also not just about work in terms of the job that you have, but anything that requires you to exert effort in life, that could be a hobby, a passion, a devotion. You could be a parent or a caretaker...

Leo 16:54

What kind of Sparketype are you?

Jonathan 16:55

My what we call my primary or my sort of strongest impulses maker my shadow, or that would be like in our language, the runner up, the next strongest impulse, is a scientist. And the impulse there is to problem solve, is like burning questions, puzzles, like figuring the thing out, the kick of figuring the thing out using Richard Feynman's legendary language, that jazzes me. And that really supports my maker in a lot of different ways. Cause when you're making things and creating and building, you're always going to hit problems. And then I go into problem solving mode and then I go back into the generative maker side.

The opposite end of the spectrum, what we would call your Anti-Sparketype . This is the impulse, the type of work that tends to really empty you out, deplete you, require the greatest amount of recovery. For me, that's what we call the essentialist. And the work of the essentialist is to create order from chaos. It's about systems, process, streamlining, clarity, utility.

I love when I can operate in systems like that. And we have people on our team that are amazing at that. When I have to be the one who creates it, I just want to curl up in a corner and cry.

Leo 18:02

Okay. Got it.

Jonathan 18:05

So I think knowing those three elements about yourself, it just, it explains so much of why particular types of experiences make you feel the way you feel. And oftentimes it makes you realize that you're not broken. There's nothing wrong with you. You're not a slacker. You're wired in a particular way that lands where some things you're really drawn to and other things you're really almost repelled from. And it helps you make choices to better align what you say yes or no to by doing that.

Leo 18:35

So something I'm curious about, I'm sure you've asked this question yourself. I'm asked many times this question is this set in stone or is it something that can be shifted over time? Like intentionally?

Jonathan 18:49

Yeah, we've been asked that from day one, and so I'll give you two different answers. It's pretty much impossible to answer that question empirically. And the reason is you would literally have to identify this profile in somebody from like the youngest days. And then follow them longitudinally through all the seasons of life.

So the closest thing I've ever seen to any kind of study that has done that is the Grant Study. And that basically was a study that was funded and then curated by various curators at Harvard over a period of years where they actually blended two different studies together. And they tracked people, they tracked all sorts of different metrics for people over a period of that eighty years to see basically what makes the most difference in your ability to flourish in life.

So to be able to see is this a static thing? Is it just is it you for life or does it change in different ways? You'd have to be able to do that. So empirically. It would be brutally hard to be able to run that experiment or just incredibly resource intensive to do it. And we're five years into this work right now, we would have about another 75 to a hundred left.

That said, the question comes up all the time. And what I can say is zooming the lens out anecdotally from a, now a massive data set that over a period of years, it does seem that these stay relatively stable, like once you're an adult and probably even earlier. And in fact, a lot of the prompts or the questions in the assessment they're designed to elicit a long term, longitudinal, sustained response phrasing as 'Ever since I was a kid...'.

So we're asking people to look for the things that have felt like they're consistent from the earliest memories to wherever they are now. And that could be somebody who's 18 years old taking it or somebody who's 85 year old taking it. And it does seem that they stay pretty consistent. They stay pretty stable over life. That said, somebody may take the assessment and then come back three years later and take it again and get a slightly different result.

And people have asked me does that mean that, like my impulses or my Sparketype has changed? And my gut says it's likely less about that and more about the fact that whether it's Sparketype s, Enneagram, DISC, Myers Briggs, every major assessment now, we all have two limitations when somebody steps to the assessment to take it. One is the depth and quality of experience that you bring to it at that moment in time. And two is the level of self awareness that you have. Are you aware of how those experiences make you feel? That changes and it can change in a dramatic way over time.

So my lens is more that It's less that these fundamental impulses shift or change in substantial ways over time, and more that your experience in life or your level of self awareness does change in very meaningful ways. And you may come back to a tool like this and realize, I have more input. I have a clearer understanding. I've tried or done these different things now, which maybe I hadn't before. Or maybe I've done like years of mindfulness or meditation or really, or therapy. So I really have a better, handle on how these things make me feel.

So that's the way that I tend to look at it. Like anyone who's shepherding a body of work like this. I always have to hold myself open to every possibility over time as well. So we're just constantly asking the questions and poking, poking around and seeing like will any form of qualitative or quantitative data appear over time that would make me change this lens. And sure, like to me, that's always a possibility. I think anybody who's trying to stay integrity who says like this is my opinion and it will always be this way for life. I strongly doubt.

Leo 23:02

Yeah. Is it okay if I share my own experience with this?

Jonathan 23:06

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Leo 23:07

So my experience is it is really hard to change this stuff, but it is possible. And it takes, a lot of work. So I personally have changed around some things. I haven't taken the Sparketype quiz, but just looking at my own impulses, the impulses might still be there, but what they lead to what they, the way that I relate to them, the way that I relate to the work that I'm doing all that stuff can be changed. But it's really hard because you're fighting against years and years of like defaults.

And so this is the work I do with people in coaching like transformational coaching is actually transforming some of this stuff if that's what's required for what they want to create. That said, it's also incredible to just accept a lot of stuff about you, just understand it and really say 'Oh, there's actually a lot more like grace and spaciousness with who I am'. And I think that's incredible work.

Jonathan 24:20

Yeah. And I agree. I think there's a spectrum of things that are and aren't changeable. If I said to you, 'Hey Leo, I know you've had brown eyes for your whole life, but there's this process, there's this online course I created. And at the end of it you just choose the color of your eyes you want, and you can make it'. You'd be like, 'Dude, no, it's not happening'.

So I think there are things about us that are fairly immutable. But there are certainly things that are changeable. And like you described. There are certain things that are changeable, but it's often, it takes so much work that most people never will.

One thing that comes to mind, and this is something we've talked about in the past. So one of the metrics that we look at in addition to the Sparketype and some of the work that we do is what I would call tolerance for uncertainty. Like we each have a bit of a set point for our tolerance for uncertainty or ambiguity and where that lies can be really important. in how you experience any type of work or task or project or devotion.

If you have a very low tolerance for uncertainty and you find yourself working in a startup you're going to be in a world of pain because a startup is nonstop, super high stakes, fast paced uncertainty. That is the definition. Like a startup isn't a business, it is an idea in search of a business model. So by definition there's, everything is uncertain and the stakes are really high, especially if it's a VC backed startup and you have other people's money involved.

Now the question is, and this circles back, can you change that? Let's say somebody says, 'But I love there's so much energy. There's so much fun. I love like the imagination, the creativity and the innovation. I want to be in this environment, but I recognize that my tolerance for uncertainty is, it's pretty low and it's causing a lot of pain and suffering'. Is that changeable? And this gets to the work that you do. Yes, it is. But the work that you have to do to actually change that is really substantial over a long window of time. So most people just won't do it.

Leo 26:22

That's right. You're right. It's more than most people will want to do. But I actually have seen it change and actually I've seen it change more in the other direction of like less tolerance, especially during the pandemic.

Jonathan 26:34

Yeah. That makes sense actually.

Leo 26:37

Yeah. And so people are finding that they're feeling more anxiety and less able to socialize and like less like adventurous, they're traveling less, things like that. And so it just got hardened a little bit. But I think. The the work to do the to change it in the other direction is possible, not always easy at all.

Okay. I think this is something we could talk about for a while, but is there a second or a third like effective thing that we need to be looking at for creating this meaningful life, meaningful work.

Jonathan 27:12

Yeah. So tolerance for uncertainty is actually one of the metrics that we look at a lot. But if we look at a couple other things that we tend to focus on... let me think about like the ones that would make the biggest difference.

I think one of the things that we tend to discount is meaning. And, granted again, work is not the only source of meaning in life. There are relationships, love, there's so many different potential sources of meaning in life, but work. So I think oftentimes because so many people don't derive a strong sense of meaning from the work that they do. They discount it as a potential source of meaning and yet meaning to the extent that we can actually derive meaning from the work that we do. It's critically important and it transforms life in so many different ways.


And yet most of us don't factor that in, like when we're interviewing for a job, we were looking at, we're looking at the basic needs fundamentally. Will it give me the benefits and the money and the security in the 401k, and does it seem moderately interesting. And people seem like they're, like I would get along with them. Those all matter. They're really important metrics. I don't discount those.

We rarely ask, does this seem like it's going to be meaningful work? Will it give me the experience of mattering, when I show up every day? And what we see is that so many people actually feel like the work that they do doesn't matter. And it doesn't matter to them on a personal level. It may matter to somebody who is in the organization or to the organization, but it doesn't matter to them.

And because of that, they feel like they don't matter. Now granted that also assumes that there aren't other sources of meaning and mattering in their life. And for many people, hopefully there are, and again, work isn't the only one, but if work can contribute to that, it makes a profound difference in someone's experience of life.

If you look at the classic midlife crisis, right? And granted, no, this is not happening in midlife anymore. This is happening multiple times, like very often starting in the early 20s. And I think Gen Z is really pushing this because meaning and mattering to Gen Z is actually central to the decisions that they're making about the way that they're going to actually choose the work that they're doing. in a way that wasn't a part of my life until much later. I'm Gen X. I'm the disaffected generation, like that wasn't supposed to be part of our experience.

But now I think, especially after the pandemic, a lot of people are coming back to it and saying, 'No, actually this has to be a part of the experience of work that I'm doing'. And meaning is one of those things where it's actually really hard to define subjectively. It tends to be more of a gut check and it's also, there's no uniform definition because it is completely different for every single person on the planet. What is deeply meaningful one person and allows them to have the feeling of mattering would be ridiculous and inconsequential to another person.

So you can't create a checklist, that says this is the thing where if you feel this. Are there some common things that people point to? Sure being potentially in service of something that is bigger than yourself often helps people have a sense of meaning or mattering. Having reflected back to you that the work that you're doing actually is making a difference.

I was literally out last night with my wife. We went to one of my favorite authors, David Sedaris was actually in town and he was doing this fantastic reading and we were there and laughing hysterically. And he's just such an incredible commentator and writer and humorist.

But we got there about 20 minutes early and I sat down in my seat and just sitting there with my wife and a couple sits down in the row in front of us, three seats over to the left. And the guy looks at me and he's cocks his head sideways. And says 'I know you' and I don't think I've met him before and so he walks around he comes up to me he's like 'I know you don't I?' I'm like I don't know I said 'My name's Jonathan' he's like 'Okay. What's your last name? I said, 'Fields'. He's 'Good Life Project?' I said, 'Yeah'. And he said, 'I was in a really dark place about a decade ago and I found the work that you were doing. And I started just watching, basically binging all the videos that you created.'

And this is back in the day when you and I were sitting down filming, this was in 2012, like 2013 area. Cause we only did that for a couple of years. And he said, 'It really helped me. It got me through that window', and knowing that you're doing something that not just makes you feel good from a creative expression. And you like, you actually like the day to day tasks and processes, but knowing that it can make a difference it that it matters to you and it matters to other people, I think can be really important.

So I think sometimes looking at what you're doing, or if you have an opportunity to present it to you, like asking. 'Will this help me have the experience of meaning and mattering?' 'Can I play this scenario in my head? Beyond the day to day experience of just 'Oh this task seems enjoyable, this process seems like I would love doing it', which is important too. Bigger picture. 'Will it give me that experience?' I think that can be critically important as well.

And it's an inquiry that we often just. We don't ask until we feel the lack of it. And then we end up in that classic midlife crisis. Midlife crisis is not a crisis of money. It's not a crisis of power. It's not a crisis of status, not a crisis of relationship. It's a crisis of meaning. And it's because we generally don't visit that question until we're forced to.

Leo 33:09

Amazing. If the answer is no, does that mean that I like need to change what I'm doing? Or is there a way to add meaning to the activity.

Jonathan 33:21

Yeah, very often there is a way to make very subtle shifts in what you're doing and bring it back in. And the shifts can be within the context of the work that you're doing. Or it can actually exist outside of the work that you're doing. So let me give you the example of both.

In a subtle shift that you might do in terms of the work that you're actually doing. This is a study that was done by Adam Grant that he wrote about like his earliest work, "Give and Take". Where they took kids who were basically dialing for dollars, a call center. at the university and they were calling all the alumni basically saying, 'Hey, will you donate to the alumni scholarship fund?' Notoriously these are jobs that people burn out with really quickly. They have no sense of meaning or purpose. They literally, they're calling people up and annoying people and saying 'Can you give me money?'

And there's huge turnover rate, very low job satisfaction. So they did an interesting intervention. They brought in a small group of graduates. I believe many of them were first generation or first generation college attendees and graduates. And they brought them in and literally just had them take five minutes and explain to the people in the call center what the impact was of being able to receive a scholarship that allowed them to go to the university and then graduate and then led to multi generational change in the family because of that.

That tiny little intervention completely changed the nature of the experience for the people in the call center. No longer were they just dialing for dollars. Now that we're changing people's lives, right? So you show up and it's 'Actually like this is really important work that I'm doing'. And it completely, it lets you like do a reframe or what, like therapists would call cognitive reappraisal of the work that you're doing and why it actually gives you that feeling of meaning and mattering.

So that's within the context, it's a kind of a fun example. And by the way, those same employees then generated tons more money after..

Leo 35:24

I was gonna ask.

Jonathan 35:25

Yeah, it completely changed the performance. They didn't actually realize that they were acting in any meaningfully way different, but they were. And they were also probably energized differently so that when they got on that phone, it was a different experience. People could feel it in a different way. And they generated a lot more donations by the work that they were doing.

So that's ways that you can make subtle shifts on the inside. Like 'How can I actually reframe like a simple reframe of the work that I'm doing?' Sometimes it's a subtle shift of the tasks or processes that you're doing in your job that would just like, what would allow me to actually do something like a little something differently or a little something more that would just make it feel more meaningful to me.

Sometimes though, you can go completely external. So there's other research that shows that you can do a work that basically you show up every day you're putting your eight to 10 hours and you just can't find any sense of meaning or mattering from it. You're shift things around. It's really tough. Maybe you're a dishwasher in a restaurant, right? So how do you make the feeling of meaning or mattering from that?

There are a couple of internal ways that you could do it. You could actually reframe this as 'I'm actually part of the team that allows people to come here maybe in tough moments of their lives, or maybe in celebratory moments of their lives, or maybe just for a respite during the day. And I am part of the team that makes that moment possible for them'. So maybe you can actually do a bit of a reframe for yourself, but even if you can't, there's interesting research that shows that you can externally like bolt on meaning.

So let's say for example, you're saying to yourself, okay, so I'm doing this thing. I really derive like not a lot of joy from it, but it gives me a steady income and it gives me a little bit of extra income. And there's this person in my family who's going through a really hard time, maybe a medical crisis, and they don't have the resources. to get the care that they need. And I am able to actually now support them in this and get them better care.

That type of experience actually externally brings meaning and mattering into the work that you're doing, even though the actual tasks and processes of the work itself. you find a lot of trouble deriving that sense. So the fact that, that this work is allowing you to then support something that is deeply meaningful and that matters to you and gives you the feeling of mattering outside of that work actually infuses the work itself with a sense of meaning. So there are a lot of different sort of like avenues into this experience that we just, we don't really think about.

Leo 38:09

Really amazing. Thank you for sharing that. I absolutely love that. I relate to that so much. So thank you for bringing something that's obviously very meaningful.

I want to make sure we have time to turn to the topic of this season. And I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about resistance and uncertainty around our meaningful work. Because you've worked with people really deeply. I know you've had groups of creators and makers and writers and people like that, that you've worked with. And so I imagine one of the biggest things that they bring to it is their resistance. Am I getting that right?

Jonathan 38:56

Yeah, for sure. And look, I'm one of those people, so I experienced that as well.

Leo 39:02

Yeah, and I got that in the beginning, as you started talking about this your way of letting creation breathe you during the day. I thought that was really beautiful. I might be phrasing it wrong, but that's what I got out of that. And I wanted to ask more about that. But we breezed right by that. That was a fascinating thing.

But, working with your own resistance and then working with people who are makers and creators and writers and people like that are notorious for having resistance, like resistance is the main thing that we're working with. So like what have you found to be important as we like face that resistance?

Jonathan 39:54

Yeah. So a couple of things popped in my mind right away. I'm a really big fan of single tasking as I know you are. The mantra, 'fewer things better' is something that I've held dear for years, even though I really struggle to implement it in my life because the maker in me is 'I can make that, I can make that, I can make that'.

I think a lot of creators really struggle with that because if the impulse is there. The impulse tends to just, it's almost like buckshot coming out of a shotgun. It scatters in all different directions and you're trying to follow all of the different pieces of it simultaneously. And that's complete disaster. It just, it always leads to demise and unhappiness and discontent.

So really trying to get back to that mantra of 'fewer things better' has been something which is grounding for me. It's part of the work that I'm doing right now. I'm running two companies. We're building like multiple things. And I have felt it for the last year that I've pulled way too many different directions and it just shuts me down. So I'm really trying to, we're doing a lot of rewiring of process right now within the businesses.

One of the things that I hear people talking about a lot when they're trying to like, you feel stuck, you feel the resistance is the idea of, chunking. Take things down to the smallest step. So rather than thinking, I need to write a book, what if I said, I need to write one sentence today. And then the next sentence, and then the next sentence. And I find that really helpful.

But here's a bit of a twist on that. What most people do when they chunk or they break things down to the smallest pieces, is their chunking process. What I would invite folks to do is think about not just chunking process, but chunking stakes, right? Because it's not process that trips us up, it's stakes. It's when we feel like there's a lot on the line. That's when our brain, that's when the amygdala in the brain, the fear center in the brain lights up and basically sends all the fun electrical and chemical signals through our body that make us physically feel like we want to recoil. And then we shut down.

So one of the things to think about is not just chunking the steps to get to a certain place down to the tiniest little thing and committing to only that. But also asking yourself, 'Is that also effectively chunking the stakes?' Because if it's not, you can create a thousand microsteps to get there and just look at the microsteps, but if you're not also effectively chunking the stakes so that you feel like there's... instead of writing a book, there's a tiny little thing on the line with this one step you're going to have the same psychological issues. You're going to have the same mental barriers. And the same resistance, like it's not effective enough to just chunk process. You also need to chunk stakes. And oftentimes those things are a lockstep.

Leo 42:53

So can you give me an example of that?

Jonathan 42:55

Yeah. Let's say you're thinking of starting a business. Or writing a book you. For most people, that's terrifying, especially if you've never done it before, like you and I are like a number of times into the process. And it gets, in my experience, the less it gets easier, it gets less intimidating, like the more that you actually know that it's going to be hard, but you can do it because you've done it a bunch of times before.

Rather than saying 'I'm going to write just a paragraph a day or X number of words a day' are you simultaneously like creating the shift in your mind that lets you genuinely say, 'My only commitment is to write this and know that if I do this, that is genuinely a successful day', or are you still keeping the mindset that says, 'I'm writing a book, I'm writing a book, I'm writing a book'.

And this is a thing, because if that stays the dominant, super high stakes thing in your brain as you're working towards it, then every time you sit down, even though you tell yourself like 'My job today is only to write a paragraph', your mind is actually telling you like, 'No, my job is to write a book'. And the fear of the size of the challenge stays with you.

So if you can literally let go and say 'The book will come. Yes, I want to have a book, but that'll come in time. And the only way to actually effectively do that is just to focus on today and only today and trust that eventually if I show up and I do this today and then the next day and the next day, then six months from now, I'm going to have a whole bunch of words that add up to 60,000 words on a manuscript. And then I'll have something that magically is like book length and then I can rework it and do all the editing and stuff like that.'

Does it mean that you completely let go of the fact that you want to write a book? No, it's always going to be there in the back of your mind. But to the extent that you can really refocus and tell yourself that it's genuinely okay to just focus on what I need to do today and know and trust that if you show up and do this it will lead to the thing that you want. It changes the psychology in a pretty meaningful way.

Sometimes people will ask me 'What does it mean to live a good life? Or do I think about like the big picture things? And increasingly my take is I focus more on, on good days. Cause I know if I can move through today, if I can have a meaningful moment with someone who I care deeply about, if I can do a bit of work that is deeply meaningful to me and allows me to express who I am in that work. And if I can move my body in a way that actually supports my health and do something that supports just my state of mind to bring me back to a state of grounding and peace. If I can do that today. Then that's all I need to think about.

If I show up every day and I say my goal today is just to get, to make sure I check these four boxes, I know that 10 years down the road, 20 years down the road, 30 years down the road. When I'm in those days, when I'm reflecting back and asking myself, have I lived a good life? The answer is very likely going to be yes. Even though I didn't keep this grand thing of, I'm working towards this massive thing. I literally am just taking the steps every day and trusting that if I show up and do these tiny things every day, that they are the fundamental building blocks of a life well lived. And that when I get to that place where I look back and ask myself the question, then I'm pretty comfortable the answer will be yes.

Leo 46:57

Really amazing. I think that feels so like perfect that I want to end with that. I just want to say thank you for sharing that wisdom. It feels, exactly right for for this conversation and where people are at.

As we close here, I have a final question for you, which is just people want to dig into your work. Obviously I'll send them to the Sparketype quiz. But any other places you would send them?

Jonathan 47:33

Probably just if you literally just Google my name you'll pretty much find all my stuff. Or just is like the central place where like the you'll find the tentacles that go out into all the different projects there.

Leo 47:47

Okay. So no like books or podcasts that they should be digging into just go to the central place and dig in from there.

Jonathan 47:56

Right. Or if you're a podcast listener and watcher, Good Life Project is always a place to find just. We have about a 12 year archive of conversations at this point.

Leo 48:08

And I actually highly recommend it. Not just because I was one of the earliest and best guests on there, but but mostly because Jonathan's an incredible interviewer, and he always has really amazing people on there. And so the combination of those two is, is magic. Highly recommend that.

Thank you for being on my podcast and I think I'm gonna join you on yours soon. So that's exciting for me.

Jonathan 48:33

Awesome. Thanks for having me.

Leo 48:35

It's a huge honor to have you on here.

Jonathan 48:37

Thank you.

Leo 48:38

Yeah, I wish we had have 10 times as much time and I'd dig in even more to all of that. But I think you gave us plenty of wisdom and a great starting point to dig into your stuff as well. Thank you, Jonathan.

Leo 48:59

If you haven't already, please subscribe to this podcast in your favorite podcast app. If you found this episode useful, please share this podcast with someone you know, who cares deeply. That would be really meaningful to me. And, if you'd like to dive deeper with me into this work, please check out the blog at or get in touch at [email protected].

Thanks for listening, and I hope you'll join me every Wednesday for more episodes of the Zen Habits podcast.

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Music: Salem Beladonna & Robrecht Dumarey

Editor: Justin Cruz

Post-production: Diana C. Guzmán Caro & Amanda Goddard