Friedrich Nietzsche on Health, Wellness & Performance

Professor John Kaag

Nietzsche-catalyst-podcast
Catalyst - Health, Wellness & Performance Podcast

Full Transcript

Dr. Cooper

Welcome to the latest episode of the Catalyst Health, Wellness, and Performance Coaching Podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Bradford Cooper of the Catalyst Coaching Institute. And today we’ll be speaking with one of history’s greatest philosophers, Friedrich Nietzsche. You know, the guy who said that which does not kill us, makes us stronger. Or he who has a why to live can bear almost any how, or one of my own favorites without music life would be a mistake. Okay. We’re not actually interviewing Frederick Nietzsche. He died in the year 1900, but we do have professor John Kaag. He’s the chair of philosophy at UMass Lowell and the author of the intriguing book, hiking with Nietzsche on becoming who you are. We chat about how Nita would’ve approached health, wellness, and performance had he lived with us today. If you’re looking to pursue certifications as a health and wellness coach, the next one is just around the corner, March 20th and 21st. And then we have one a few months later, June 5th and 6th, just a heads up. There are only a couple spots left for the March event. And the June is already beginning to fill. All the details at CatalystCoachingInstitute.com. And we’re always happy to set up a call answering any questions that you’ve got, email is [email protected]ystCoachingInstitute.com. Now let’s listen in to what Friedrich Nietzsche would say about being a catalyst through the eyes of professor John Kaag on the latest episode of the Catalyst Health, Wellness, and Performance Coaching Podcast. Dr. Kaag, thank you for joining us. Now, you are playing the role of Frederick Nietzsche today. We’re going to kind of play with this a little bit. You wrote a great book, hiking with Nietzsche. I’ve loved this. I haven’t done a lot of reading on, on philosophy and yours is a great starting point. So folks are thinking of, you know, Oh, I’m kind of into this stuff. This would be a good, good starting point. He, he didn’t talk above my head as we went through this. Nietzsche is known by everyone. Maybe it’s just Kelly Clarkson’s hit song, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. So let’s start with that. It sounded like as I was reading your book that he struggled with headaches and other, significant physical issues throughout his life were, were those core to his outlook?

John Kaag

Absolutely. I mean, Frederick Nietzsche is not, he’s known for being the sort of philosopher of the hammer. He’s a, he’s sort of very appealing to young 19 year old men for the most part muscular, let’s say, you know, he says, we need to make, make peace on certain ideals, but honestly, Nietzsche struggled through his life with both physical and mental health. So he was plagued with stomach ailments, migraines, vision disorders that were probably could be attributed to a tumor, um, that he probably, you know, succumb to eventually. So what’s interesting is that Nietzsche talks a big game when it comes to being the strong will individual, but he’s struggled. But what I think that what’s interesting about this philosophy that Nietzsche says that we can tap meaning in two places that maybe we can talk a little bit about today. He says that we need to, um, exercise what he calls our will to power, which is this idea that you find meaning and significance human significance in times when you’re exercising your will in free and original ways. That’s like, that’s what most students are drawn to, right? But there’s this other aspect, which I find really interesting, especially as an endurance athlete, who’s 40, I, he says that we need to cultivate what he calls the amor fa tea, which is the love of fate. And, uh, in, in a snapshot, we can go into it a little more if you want, but in a snapshot Nietzsches love of fate says that most of life does not consist in exercising our will power, but rather in exercising our will in ways that we’re not always pleased with, like that we have regrets about, or at times we don’t even have the ability to exercise our will to power. I mean, that’s what growing older is, or getting, getting into physical ailment is, is that you can exercise your will to power. And he just says that in both of these cases, we need to find a way to come to love that, which is not only the most triumphant moments of our lives, but also the sort of most difficult or the most, um, uh, moments where you experienced the greatest weakness and Nietzsche, uh, in his late life said, I must thank my sickest years. They were, it turns out my best years because they allowed me to become who I am, namely a philosopher. But, um, but I think that there’s something to that, even if you’re not a philosopher, if you think about, uh, those times in your life that have been the sort of greatest trials for you, Nietzsche’s encouraging us a way to, or encouraging us to reorient ourselves around those difficulties.

Dr. Cooper

So just to jump in there on that quote, so love the most difficult times to, to me, that’s like an another degree. Cause I see him as saying the difficult times builds you. They create you, they, and you’re saying he was taking it one step further. It wasn’t just dig into them, soak them in, ponder them. It was literally love those times. That seems like an important distinction.

John Kaag

Yeah, it is. It’s a very important distinction. I mean, he, he gives us this thought experiment, which I say both to my, uh, students, but also, uh, when I’m coaching, I say it to my athletes. I say, uh, here’s a little thought experiment. Nietzsche gives it to us. It’s called the eternal return and just says this. He says, what if a demon comes to you in your loneliest of loneliness and says that you have to experience this very moment and all of your life over again, not just one or a dozen times, but an infinite amount of times and would that experience, or would that challenge crush you or elevate your soul? And my my athletes are like, well, no. When I, when I won that race, or when I kicked that winning goal, or when I, uh, you know, I mean, I played soccer, so slides forward and ruined his chances to score the goal. Those are the moments that I’d be willing to live over, not once, twice a dozen times, but an infinite number of times, but then I say to them like, Hey, that’s not the question. That’s not what life is. I mean, you have to be willing to live over the hardest points of your life, not a dozen times, but an infinite number of times, and you get something out of them and be passionate about them and say, yes, this too. Like, play it again, Sam. And I think that that’s a that’s you’re right. It’s a difference between simply accepting or digging into those hard moments and saying, I willingly embrace, uh, what I’ve suffered through. And I think that that’s a, that’s a point that Nietzsche is making sort of head on with us.

Dr. Cooper

And is it, so it’s almost revisionist personal revisionist history where I look back on, um, a bike wreck or something. And I say, well, that resulted in this, this, this. And so I’m, I’m appreciative and thankful I’m grateful for that happening, but again, he’s taking it further. Am I hearing that right?

John Kaag

Yeah, that’s right. I mean, he’s, he’s saying that not only do they make you who you are, but they, those are the times when we get to use what’s called a dig in, but it’s actually a time of self-discovery. It’s like, I was that I wasn’t, I mean, in moments that are easy when you’re running, for example, it’s, it’s like your will is not really even functioning. It’s just cruising, but Nietzsche is, like, it’s the moments that are the hardest where you dig in and you, you can exercise your will to the best of your ability, right. Or, you know, that it’s really, you who’s suffering through this moment. Now. I think that there’s a fine line between Nietzsche’s point and like a sort of pointless masochism. But I, I mean, I think that we need to explore that border land between those two, um, that’s what Nietzsche is suggesting at least.

Dr. Cooper

And how would he suggest that process of exploration on that fine line?

John Kaag

Sure. I mean, he did it in all sorts of ways. I mean, he was a workaholic and he’d work late into the night with very poor eyesight and probably ruined his eyes, uh, that way. Then again, his manic work produced what we now look back and we’re like, well, that’s a lot of those are some of the seminal texts from 19th century. European philosophy came out of this manic workload in three years, basically. I mean, works for, works for me, or worked for him in other ways that nature suggests that we explore our physical lives in ways that are challenging to us or abnormal to us. So for example, Nietzsche spent most of his writing career in Sills Maria Switzerland. And this is right at the base of this deep valley, Nietzsche was planted at the base of it and would hike up into the hills every day. Right. And nature, wasn’t, he, wasn’t a sort of ultra marathoner, but he put some miles on those feeble legs. Right. And I think that that’s a point that sort of is worth exploring for us.

Dr. Cooper

Yeah. Well, and he talks about like, I can’t remember where I wrote it down. Exactly. But it was something along the lines of you don’t, creative ideas only come when you’re walking or when you’re moving or something like that. Was that a constant for him that he would go out, come up with the ideas and then come back and collect it?

John Kaag

Yeah. I mean, you said that only you, you could test an idea by whether it could carry itself, whether it could walk on its own two legs, but he also had this romantic idea that most of his great philosophy or most of his great greatest thoughts came in the process of walking. And this is a very old, I mean, really old idea. There were these, uh, philosophers known as the peripatetics and they, uh, emerged after Aristotle died. Um, they were Greek philosophers and they would walk and talk and walk as they talked. And so you oftentimes think about philosophers being up in your ivory tower and that’s, that’s not what the peripatetics were.

Dr. Cooper

Well, and so they were the first ones to come up with this idea that sitting is the new smoking before smoking was even a smoking bad, a bad thing. Okay. Very good.

John Kaag

I mean, there’s also this idea that the idea that when you let your mind wander, it’s literal, like you get out into the open nature and to go for a walk or a run or a swim, these, these physical exercises, have it have a mental effect. And I think Nietzsche is tapping into that mind body connection that has become so very popular to talk about today.

Dr. Cooper

Yeah. Even before he had to worry about the mobile phone interrupting you all the time. Right. All right. So let’s jump into this, this focus on the Uber mensch or over man. Uh, I think we have so many high performers that listen to this podcast. I think it he’d be like, Oh, that’s pretty cool. It’s the pursuit of better? Can you expand on what he meant by this and, and the application for those of us that do want to move beyond the status quo?

John Kaag

Yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, Nietzsche’s philosophy is, um, he said that it’s a philosophy for the day after tomorrow. In other words, it’s for the future. And he’s really interested in thinking about the future oriented understanding of life, but not in the sense where you say, well, I’m going to do something a hundred years from now or 50 years from now. And I’m going to delay the present moment for that sort of extended after a worldly goal. Like he wasn’t into that, right, use the presence, right. In order to, you know, excel and to cultivate a future self. This is the process of self cultivation, Nietzsche’s in the 1880s. And he’s saying too much of our lives are spent sort of habitually and sort of mediocre position in the doldrums. And he said, compared to what we can be, we usually live half lives and we’re usually half asleep. And Nietzsche’s saying like, wake up, because the scariest part of death, isn’t like the dying part. It’s the getting to the end of life and looking back and thinking, Oh crap. That was my life. So, I mean, that’s the move that Nietzsche is trying to make and he says, you only get this once, right? You only do this once, which is not, Yolo is not, you only live once. Nietzsche said that with absolute freedom, the freedom that we have as individuals to cultivate our own lives. So it also comes along with absolute responsibility. So like, if you spend four hours on a bike, it’s your choice, right. If you spend eight or 10 hours running, it’s your choice and you’re sacrificing your life in either way, right. You pick how you say, we all sacrifice our life, right. The only thing is that we get to choose how we do it. Right. It’s just saying, just be awakened to the fact that you’re making this choice. He’s, he’s very suspicious that sort of the habits of thought that the modern age sort of lets us see, you know, fall into. And he’s, he’s saying like, wake up, get up, do something and claim it as your own I think.

Dr. Cooper

Well, and like you said, this is 1880s. And just for, for folks recognition of times, he, he was born in 1844, died in 1900. So think of that, that, that time, when he’s saying this, it sounds like a message for today. Like that is if we were asleep in 1880, we’re like slumbering big time in 2020 when we’re recording this, what, if anything, like if he were here, what do you think he’d be saying?

John Kaag

Yeah, he’d be, I think he’d be appalled. I mean, he’s, he’d be appalled at the confusion of luxury and convenience with virtue. So in other words, the idea that life, the best type of life is the easiest type of life. Nietzsche thought that this was a bourgeois sort of middle class high middle-class European ideal that operated through the 19th century, which now happens to be today. I mean, if you think about what most of my students think is the best type of life, it’s usually like the easiest type of life. My student athletes, maybe being the exception, exception. And I also run the risk of this when I think about, uh, luxury and consumerism and the idea that what you are, or who you are, is defined by what you can buy and by what you can sort of easily move through life with. And I think that this is something that needs to says, no, let’s be reasonable. He says that, um, one of his first books is entitled birth of tragedy. And in it, he says that where life is most vividly lived is in this Greek word called Agon, which gives us agony, which is called the Agon is word for struggle. So it is in the struggle where meaning making happens. And I oftentimes my students say like, why is that Dr. Kaag? Why what’s so important about struggling? We have a pretty long discussion.

Dr. Cooper

Haha yes you can.

John Kaag

But I mean, they say, what, what about the struggle makes life worth living? And, and we can talk about it, but I think each has a couple of responses about why the struggle is important.

Dr. Cooper

Yes, go, go, go. This is great.

John Kaag

So, uh, I mean, Nietzsche says that it is in moments of uncertainty, what philosophers might call contingency a weird moment of chance, a moment where you get to exercise your will and determine an outcome that is not preordained or not sorted out beforehand. If you think about sports, like it’s filled with those moments of contingency, it’s like, is the ball going to be kicked here or here, am I going to be able to hit my PR or not? What’s the wind like? All these maybes, as the American philosopher, William James would say, Nietzsche says, those are the moments, right. Where we actually find ourselves in where we actually decide we make a stand for ourselves.

Dr. Cooper

Is it finding ourselves or creating ourselves?

John Kaag

I think it’s mixed, a mixture of both. So I say, is it, is it a process of discovery or creation? I think that’s probably a little bit of both. So we discover what we can become. So, I mean, the, the subtitle to hiking with Nietzsche is becoming who you are, which is a weird, weird subtitle, it’s a weird phrase because like, of course I’m becoming who I am like, who cares? Nietzsche says this is the hardest task of life.

Dr. Cooper

And I would suggest that, and not putting words in Nietzsche’s mouth here, but I was just, we’re not becoming we’re, we’re settling, we’re settling back. We’re, we’re becoming these passive observers of our lives instead of becoming.

John Kaag

Yeah. And I think one of the issues for Nietzsche is he’s going back to this pretty old idea and a Greek idea where philosophy is supposed to be in the business of giving you some, some skillset, which gives you the ability to give your own life meaning, or to give an account of your life when you get to the end of it. In other words, what do you want to be able to say when you’re coding? You know, like when you’re deeply sick at the end of your life, what do you want to be able to say about the life that you’ve lived? Well, most of us, I think, would be wanting to say something like my life was worth living for. And then you fill in the blank. Right? Nietzsche says, you don’t get to do that without struggle. Because in part struggle is a point where you say, this is my life, mine. It’s not some sort of like inheritance from cultural values. It’s not some sort of just the habits of thought, uh, these beliefs, I have these actions that I’m taking are mine. And Nietzsche’s enough is enough of an atheist to think that like, there’s no, there’s no afterworld. There’s no like, there’s no, God, that’s going to help you out. Like this is it. And that’s what makes life so pressing, right? This is the impetus to make something of life because it, because it’s finite.

Dr. Cooper

And so the next question is, for what reason, what is his purpose? If there’s no afterlife, if there’s no, God, if there’s no, why?

John Kaag

Right. Why bother? I mean, a lot of my students say to me, Dr. Kaag, like if Nietzsche’s, you know, throwing under the, he throws so much of traditional values under the bus, he says our education system, our political system, much of our cultural systems, much of, uh, you know, much of religion like Nietzsche says no to. And my students say, well, then why? And Nietzsche says, I think he says, and this is getting a little, I mean, it’s a little dark here.

Dr. Cooper

Okay, everybody, you can pause and skip over this if you need to.

John Kaag

So this is so Nietzsche says that our lives are limited, are finite, right. And the, the, the, within the course of time that we have each of us, we get to exercise our wills and do the best that we can to give a good account. Because if meaning is going to be given in this world, it’s going to come from us. Okay. Which is not just like this pure egoism. It’s not say like, Oh, I’m the, you know, it’s just me, whatever, I think cycles, but human beings are the, you know, the, the fonts of meaning, I, you know, are the fountains of meaning for nature. And he says, you’ve got to pick it. Right. You, it doesn’t matter what you do, pick it and own it. Right. I mean, I, I started out being a horrible swimmer. Okay. And I, and I, and my mom said, well, you’ve got to do a sport, just pick one, John, and then just stick at it. Right. And it turns out that, Hey, I’m not a bad swimmer anymore. And B I still had the ability to say, this is mine. I did it. Right. No matter how slow you go on your marathon. Right. It’s my marathon. And hopefully you don’t pull a, uh, keel over.

Dr. Cooper

That’s the end of it. Exactly. All right. This builds on what we were talking about, on page 20, you talk about Nietzsche’s thought of being normal was a waste of time. I mean, I can’t tell you how much that makes me smile. I I’m thinking, Oh my gosh. Like, I, I would want to say that, uh, can you expand on this idea what it meant for him, but more importantly, what does it mean for us?

John Kaag

Sure. I mean, I think Nietzsche is suspicious of the way that we live in a very conformist culture. And even when we try to engage in nonconformity, it seems like all everybody’s, everybody’s still a bunch of sheep. Right. And Nietzsche’s worried about that because he thinks that if you’re just conformist or just a sheeple, as I say to my students, just the sheep person, right. If you’re, if you’re a sheeple, then you get to the end of your life. And you’re like, well, that was time that I spent, but I did it following a bunch of people. And I didn’t really exercise my own decision-making process about what is most dear to me, namely my life. So Nietzsche says, let’s think about those exceptional individuals, right? Let’s think about those individuals who don’t fit the norm and see if we might emulate them. And then see if we can give birth, Nietzsche says, can you give birth to a dancing star? What he means by that is basically like, can you do something creative, original, right. And you don’t have to be a genius to do it. You just have to have a little bit of willpower. Right. Because we all have that capacity just let’s do it. And so that’s, I think one of the things is that niches worried about a type of culture where we are rewarded for our obedience. And I think that that’s a culture that we’re living through now, maybe with some notable exceptions emerging in the last year or a couple of years. Right.

Dr. Cooper

Okay, good. Related to this. And again, some of these, we could go on forever talking to some of his top quotes, life is no longer lived enthusiastically, only deferred. How did he suggest we break that trend in our lives? How is it? I mean, to me, it seems more applicable today than it was in the late 1800s. But what a powerful statement life is no longer lived enthusiastically only deferred.

John Kaag

Well, I mean, he, he is pushing, he’s putting his finger directly on the way that most of us make meaning in life today. Namely, we defer the gratification of our lives. So I asked my students, why are you in college? And they’re like, well, I want to get a job when I’m 46 and buy a big boat. Right. And you know, like when you’re 46, that’s 26 years from now. Okay. Like, that’s why you’re in college. What, what would it be like to live enthusiastically in the present in order to like cultivate this over man or this Uber mensche or over woman. Right. What would it mean to live in the present right now? And to live enthusiastically? Because I bet your boat’s going to come at 46 if you, if you, if you’re that person now. Yeah. That person now don’t worry about the future. It will happen. Now Nietzsche is not against goals. Like he is, he, he thinks the goals are okay. What he thinks is that we often slog our way through, right. In order to get the goals and we do it mindlessly and he’s suspicious of this. And I think, I mean, for the endurance athletes out here, I mean, you can have PRS in mind. Right. And that that’ll get you out the door on days when it is subfreezing when it is, uh, raining, it’ll, it’ll get you through a lot. Right. But if you’re actually not enthusiastic, in some ways in the moment, for the most part, your training’s going to fall flat, I think. So, if you’re saying I’m only here for the end of the season, I’m only here for three years from now. I think that this is place where you need either intermediate goals or a more active sense that what you’re doing right now has value. If for no other reason than it’s just yours. Right. You get to, you get to choose to go out the door and by God that’s something, right. I mean, like that’s something that nobody else is doing. You’re doing, or maybe you’re doing it with a team and you say, Hey, this is us. We’re going to be out in the rain today. It doesn’t matter if we win the championship next week, we’re going to be out in the rain today and we’re going to push it. Right. And I think that’s what Nietzsche’s encouraging us to do. He’s worried about the deferred life that we never actually, I mean, the real danger is that is that you spend life for a goal that never arrives. And then you think to yourself, why the hell did I act?

Dr. Cooper

Well, and is there an in-between? So just that last thing you said, we’re out there, we’re running in the rain today. It doesn’t matter if we win the championship next week. Could it be we’re out there? We’re together. We’re building teamwork. We’re we’re gonna soak in this rain and we’re going to win that championship next week.

John Kaag

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, when Nietzsche says that his, his philosophy has been the day after tomorrow, he does mean you can have goals. Okay. Just don’t mortgage your life for the sake of those goals. Because what you’re doing is compromising what you could get out of the present, meaning playing in the rain, playing, playing soccer in the rain is not a bad experience, period. I mean, it’s just not, it might, you might think, Oh, this is going to be uncomfortable, but once you get into it, once you’re there.

Dr. Cooper

And yet you said he had this three-year period where he was just head down, rise and grind, working to the middle of the night. How does, how does he, or how would he, if we were talking to him about it, combine that perspective with that?

John Kaag

Yeah. I mean, he’s not one for moderation, this is not Aristotle here talking about golden mean, okay. Nietzsche pushes it and I think one of the reasons Nietzsche pushed it is that he thought that he was dying. I mean, he’s like I only have a certain amount of time, let’s push it out. And it turns out that he really didn’t have that much time left after that, after those years. Um, and he declined precipitously. So I think it’s the sense that, so, I mean, the preciousness of life is something that drives Nietzsche into almost frantic action, which I think also is the case with many, many people today or some people today when it comes to going after sport, you know, sports in certain ways or athletics in certain ways.

Dr. Cooper

Okay. So another very, very, very powerful quote. Most people have heard in some format is he who has a why can live to bear almost any how, what did he recommend for cultivating that why?

John Kaag

Yeah. Well, he’s getting this from another philosopher by the name of Arthur Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer says, he says the point of life, the meaning of life must be to suffer. Otherwise there’s no point in life. In other words, we need to find how suffering can be meaningful because life is full of it. That’s what Nietzsche is also siding with. You know, he’s like, you know, life, life is suffering. We can suffer through anything, just need a, we need a reason to suffer, right? We need a, we need a goal or we need to see something within the suffering that makes it meaningful. Um, I mean, I take this in two ways. The first is similar to what we’ve already discussed. Namely, in these moments, we get to explore who we are and who we can create and what we can become. That’s the first sort of situation. But the other situation, I think is a bit more hard to wrap at least my head around, which is this, that when I come into contact with an endurance athlete, okay, or any type of avid runner, there’s this deep respect. And it’s not for me a respect where you say, Oh, I respect what you’ve done. Okay. It’s a respect for what you’ve undergone, which is a bit of a difference. And what’s curious when you are out in the road or when you’re on the trail for a long period of time, you undergo things that are Sui generous, which means perfectly unique to you. In other words, it’s your Achilles, that’s bothering you. It’s your ACL, that’s tweaking, it’s yours. Right. But when I look out into the world and I see all of these different people, all suffering in their own unique ways, it cultivates something like compassion. I’m like, you know what? We have a similarity because each of us are struggling in our own little ways. Right. And in ways that I will never, I won’t understand Bradford, like what hurts, you know, what’s, what’s bothering you deeply. You can tell me and maybe I’ll get a little bit of it, but I’m going to understand the experience. Right. And I think that that’s something to take away when we talk about the meaning of suffering is that it creates this strange comradery. And Schopenhauer says that sometimes we should think of ourselves as companions in misery, and I’ve met enough ultra people to understand what that comradery is like.

Dr. Cooper

A lot of people nodding right now. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. All right. Self-mastery is a core element of, of Nietzsche’s writing and his life. Why was this so valuable? Why did he encourage us to live this self-mastery piece out?

John Kaag

Well, um, first of all, he thinks that usually we live our lives out as slaves. I mean, either at work or to, uh, relationships that we find ourselves in and or to the cultural expectations. And he said, what would it be to be a master of yourself? Another way of saying this is to say, what would it be to be an artist of your life? Like, think about your life as a work of art. Okay. Like, I mean, think about what’s involved in the process of laying down a base, building it up, cultivating it, refining it, erasing places where you need to and just building, building, building it up. Okay. And also be aware that this idea of a work of art is a flexible one in the sense that you get to pick how you do it. Right. You do. I do. But also it’s a it’s out in the open. So it’s open to be judged. I mean, you get to judge my life as a work of art. I get to judge yours. When I, as I get to know you. And I think that that’s a very useful way of thinking about self-mastery, it’s not with a whip necessarily all the time. Sometimes it’s with a paintbrush.

Dr. Cooper

It’s interesting. And I actually was going to ask you about that quote. I want to give it to everybody because it’s super powerful that you’re referencing this painting, that which we call, which we humans call life and experience has gradually become is indeed still fully in the process of becoming and should thus not be regarded as a fixed object. There’s so much to that. Uh, let’s, let’s stay with that for a minute. It’s I think a lot of people feel like I’ve arrived or when I arrive or when I hit this point, that’s, that’s seeing life as a, uh, a set thing. And he’s saying, no, no, no, no, it’s constantly growth. It’s constantly becoming it. Doesn’t matter where you are right now. You’re still in the process of becoming.

John Kaag

Right. And I mean, this is the issue with people who really excel at anything. I mean, if you think, okay, I’m going to get to this pinnacle, you know, I’m going to get to this. Right. And then you get to the point you look around and you’re like, well, I’m all by myself. This is the issue with desire, generally. Like you get something and then you’re like, ah, well, I guess it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be, or I need something else. Right. And I think that what Nietzsche’s encouraging us to do is to say, Hey, you are always in the process of becoming. You’re always in the process. So if you are satisfied with your current position, you know, that you’ve gone awry in life. In other words, you, you’ve the point of stasis or the point of standing still the, the place of perfect equilibrium for Nietzsche is a sign of death. I think about if you think about the way that biology, I mean, cell death happens when there’s perfect equilibrium. Like there’s no movement, okay. There’s no diffusion or there’s no incoming. It’s just static cell, that cell that’s death for Nietzsche. And so he says, stay on the move. And also realize that life is the process of becoming or some sort of movement, some sort of growth, which is different than just change. Right? You can change, you can change. Uh, but that’s not always growth. Nietzsche says concentrate on growth. And additionally, he says something very similar to another philosopher who says, it is only when I let go of who I am, that I can become something new or I, or I, or I allow myself to become, okay. It’s only when I let go of who I am that I can allow myself to become. And I think Nietzsche has a very similar approach to this, so.

Dr. Cooper

Wow. Wow. Let’s stay with that just for a second because, and we won’t necessarily have Nietzsche recording here, but more, lots of the idea of letting go of who I am. I think that’s a powerful one from as simple as our daughter was a great gymnast in high school and was ready to let it go. But as a sophomore, but didn’t because identity-wise, well, who am I, if I’m not a gymnast, I’ve had that struggle with various aspects of my life. I think we, I think a lot of people struggle with, I think there’s something better, but if I move on, I’m no longer who I am identifying myself as being, can you, can you talk us through that a little bit, or maybe how Nietzsche would have approached that struggle?

John Kaag

Precisely. I mean, there are a lot of things like that. We commit ourselves to that then solidify our identity in a very concrete way. So for example, I am, um, you know, I’m a father or I’m a husband or I’m, um, I’m a runner or I’m a professor or a writer. And those things Nietzsche says, can be life-giving right. They can be places where we tap meaning, but we should also be, we should also notice that those things where we tap meaning might keep us from tapping meaning elsewhere. And he says, be comfortable letting go of those things and moving on to explore other avenues. And don’t, if you are scared of letting go, okay, if you’re scared of letting go, if you’re scared of anything, Nietzsche says that instead of looking away, which might be our default setting when we’re frightened, he says that those things that make us afraid, which scare us, deserve our immediate attention. Here is a sign that more thought needs to be given rather than an indication that you need to run. So Nietzsche in part says, if you’re scared about giving up particular parts of your identity, you need to ask yourself what, what makes me so afraid in giving up my identity, a gymnast, or as a runner, or, and then notice that there might be prohibitions against doing so. And those prohibitions might be the reason that you remain in that identity rather than moving somewhere else. And that your real gripe is with those prohibitions. Let me give you a concrete example. So for example, um, like I, I played soccer in high school, same sort of situation as your sentence, sort of same sort of situation as your daughter. And the fact is that my grandfather loved me playing soccer and I wanted to impress him. Right. And I wanted to like fit him, fit his mold. And I had to give up not only that identity, but also my need for validation in order to move on into other things on, going in, into philosophy, move into doing triathlons, for example. Right. Um, and it’s just different. I mean, we need to think, what am I scared of? What am I scared of and why am I scared? And are those good reasons for me to remain who I am in this concrete sense and not become something else?

Dr. Cooper

And they’re almost a green light versus a red light when you that fear, instead of being a red flag of stay away, stay away, the sharks are coming it’s well, there’s fear, which means I’m onto something.

John Kaag

Correct. You got it, here is an indication of something. Greater study, greater vision.

Dr. Cooper

All right. So you’ve been through your own crazy journey this past year. You you’re 41 years old. You’ve had, I think you said a couple of heart attacks, walk us through the journey and, and I’d love to hear how that was influenced your response to that was influenced by your reading, all that you know about Nietzsche and maybe how it’s changed that perspective a little bit.

John Kaag

Absolutely. Yeah. So I mean, I, when I, it turned out that when I went to college, I ended up rowing. Um, I was on the lightweight, lightweight rowing team, which is not exactly moderate. They’re all in. And it turns out that after events I would pass out. Okay. And I thought that this was just kind of normal. Okay. My stomach would really hurt, really hurt for days afterwards. And I, you know, and I pass out and, uh, this happened time and time and time again. And then when I hit the age of 40, it started to get worse. And I started to not only pass out, but also seize up after running. And, um, I would go into a seizure and then eventually I’d start, I had several heart attacks and then a cardiac arrest in, um, February of last year, which then landed me in Tufts medical center, where they identified the leading cause of sudden death in young athletes, which is right coronary or abnormal coronary artery basically means that my coronary artery didn’t come into the right place in my heart. And so I wasn’t getting proper blood flow and I was actually having minor, minor cardiac events throughout my life. And I was just lucky that I didn’t know, go, go the way of the Dodo. So what then happened is that I had bypass surgery and had the scar tissue ambulated in my heart. That was in March. And my wife says to me, she goes, my wife, Cathy says, Hey, I’d really prefer you not to go hard again after this, you know, I really prefer you to sort of take a more moderate approach to your exercise. The weird part is, is that I had no choice. So if you go through bypass surgery, your blood count is totally messed up. You’re you’re really in bad shape for several weeks and months. And so I had to dial it back and that process of dialing back made me realize that there are other aspects in your life that you can push it. It doesn’t just have to be your training regimen. It can be, you know, raising kids or it can be cleaning a house, or it can honestly, for people like me, it can be sitting on my butt, which is a challenge, right? I mean, these challenges don’t have to come just in the form of standard exercise. Right? Sometimes for me, what had become a habit was my training regimen. And the issue was to break that and to force myself to not be stupid, right.

Dr. Cooper

That leaving behind piece. That’s that, well, wait, when I train, I do intervals. When I train, I do tempo runs. You were saying from now on, or at least for the time being, it’s going to be different.

John Kaag

I’m running eight thirties right now, right? I’m not running six thirties, I’m running eight thirties. And I, and I just have, I mean, for my livelihood, I have to, I mean, maybe I’ll get back to the place, but it’s been a learning experience and it’s been something completely novel. And it’s also been a case where Nietzsche, it’s not all about, it’s not all about successes or triumphs. It’s about being able to see your life in a genuine, authentic way. And to be honest about yourself, about who you’re becoming, I’m becoming older. Okay. That’s very difficult for me to face. Okay. Nietzsche says the difficulties we face, you need to look at them. Okay. There are signs that you need to give more and more thought to them. Now, am I going to just be a couch potato and just turn gray and be done? No, probably not. Right. But I’m going to, I’m going to be smarter about this. I’m going to try to probably be more courageous about it and say, and say like, Hey, I don’t need my training training regimen. I’m just going to go out for a nice run. That’s difficult for me. Okay. That’s more difficult than pushing it hard. Right. And I think that many of your listeners probably are in a similar situation. I mean, if they were laid low with a ailment, the main difficulty is, I mean, the prospect of not pushing it hard is brutally difficult for me. And, and so, I mean, that’s what I have gone through and Nietzsche sort of has, uh, been in the background here saying, what are you really scared of? Well, I’m scared of what am I really, he goes, you must have the courage for the forbidden. Right? What am I really scared of? What’s what are the forbidden questions for me? Well, in part there, what I’m scared of is getting older. What I’m scared of is feeling out of control. I worry about becoming fat and out of shape. I worry about, um, not being able to hit the times that I used to hit. These are things that I’m scared of. I’m worried that probably somewhere deep down, like I’m worried that like, if I can’t hit these times or be perfect, then I won’t, in some ways be lovable or worthy. Like I’m worried about that. And that’s honesty for your readers or, listeners, I mean, I’m worried about that. Nietzsche says if you’re worried about it, if you’re scared, look at it. Right. Because usually we just, we usually, usually we just go the other way. Right. And just running as fast as you can and act like it’s normal. Nietzsche says look. And so, I mean the last six months have really been the opportunity for me to come into contact with some questions that I think I’d been running from for a long time. So that’s something that I think Nietzsche would say, well, it didn’t look exactly like climbing a mountain, but it was difficult. So, so as my running partner, Richie used to stay, bank it

Dr. Cooper

Nice. Nice love it. That’s a great place to wrap up. How do people follow you? How do they keep track what you are up to, you’ve got a new book coming out. You want to mention that one and then Twitter, website. What, what, how can people keep track of what you’re up to?

John Kaag

You can find me on Twitter @JohnKaag is my Twitter handle. And then, uh, my new book came out in March. It’s called six souls, healthy minds, how William James can save your life. And then I just recently wrote a long form piece for the American scholar called how to live with dying, which is a piece about running, running and about, uh, coming back after bypass surgery. And I think that your, uh, your listeners might be interested in that.

Dr. Cooper

And just search for that under your name, probably?

John Kaag

Yes, that’s right.

Dr. Cooper

Perfect.

John Kaag

And I really want to thank you for this opportunity.

Dr. Cooper

This was really fun. Well, I appreciate your time, Dr. Kaag, thank you for jumping in and playing our role Friedrich Nietzsche today. I’ll see if I can get the name right. So really appreciate it.

John Kaag

My pleasure. Thanks.

Dr. Cooper

Well that didn’t kill us. So I guess we’re stronger, right? Thanks again. Professor John Kaag for joining us, his book is titled hiking with Nietzsche on becoming who you are. Thanks to you for tuning into the number one podcast for health and wellness coaching. Next week’s guest is Dr. Scion Baylock, and she’ll be discussing why we choke under pressure and what we can do about it. By the way, if you enjoy videos, you might want to check out the growing library of resources we have over at youtube.com/coaching channel. We’re now up over 120 videos covers everything from health, wellness, performance, as well as if you’re either in coaching or you’re thinking about going that route a whole bunch of videos, very brief, freely available that provide guidance in terms of your career or your business pursuits. As always feel free to reach out to us with questions about your current or future coaching career [email protected]. Now it’s time to be a catalyst along this journey of life. This is Dr. Bradford Cooper of the Catalyst Coaching Institute. I will speak with you soon on another episode of the Catalyst Health Wellness and Performance Coaching podcast, or maybe over on the YouTube coaching channel.