Coaching Podcast: The Science of Love and Sh*t (Part 2)
The Catalyst Life Coaching Podcast, featuring JRNI Coaching founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux is a deep dive into the experience and business of being a life coach. This transcript of Episode 4 of the Catalyst Life Coaching Podcast is the Part 2 of the two-part conversation on the science of love and sh*t.
John: Noelle, do you know what I love about podcasting?
John: That you could have bed head, morning breath, cookies in your eyes, drool running down the side of your chin — it doesn’t matter. All you need is to be cohesive in your thinking.
Noelle: Well that’s a lovely picture you just presented to us.
John: Oh it’s early — here in Los Angeles.
Noelle: I’m still on my pajamas, I’m not gonna lie.
John: Yeah, let’s be transparent.
Noelle: [inaudible] half of my pajamas — I have workout pants on and my pajama top. I haven’t quite gotten that far yet.
John: I’m only wearing socks, and they don’t match.
Noelle: Oh man.
John: Hey guys, what’s up? This is the Catalyst Life Coaching course — oh did I say course?
Noelle: You did.
John: We have so many Catalyst products. This is the Catalyst Life Coaching Podcast.
Noelle: Yes. Yes. Yes — where we have our science, positive psychology, everything life coaching, and you don’t need to be a coach or a coach-in-training to get something from this. You can just learn about life, love, the pursuit of happiness.
John: Yeah. So I say that this podcast is about life. And it’s about coaching.
Noelle: Yeah, I like that. So right now we’re doing Part 2 of “Love ‘n’ Sh*t”.
John: And if you guys haven’t heard — if you’re listening to this now and you haven’t heard Part 1, you may be a little confused about the title. So Noelle, maybe you could explain what the story is behind “Love ‘n’ Sh*t”.
Noelle: Oh absolutely. So everything that we’ve been talking about for the last few podcasts is based on the work of Barbara Fredrickson — she’s a positivity researcher. And when we’re looking at happiness from a scientific perspective, there are so many different elements to how human beings can boost and expand the pleasure of their experience on earth. And love is one of the biggest [overarching?] concepts that we all contend with as human beings. And it’s something that I think we experience uniquely with our consciousness. So, what we talked about in Part 1 was that love has kind of gotten a bad rep. It’s become socialized into this thing that happens between one man one woman and it’s a Disney fairytale and if you don’t have that, you’re doing it wrong. But what it actually is — is these tiny little moments of micro-connection and a shared agreement between two people to have a mutually beneficial engagement with each other that can last for one minute or 20 years, and it doesn’t have to be romantically paired. You can literally find love everywhere.
John: Yeah, and I think that’s interesting. I think that we have just tightly tied the word love to romantic and movies and soulmate and all these other words. People don’t usually use the word love when it comes to just — like you said, the 30-second connection or the friendship or the person bagging your groceries.
Noelle: 100%. And it’s so interesting because — as we talked about last week, we talked about it from a psychosocial perspective last week. But it goes so much deeper — down into the way our physiology operates, the way our body actually absorbs these moments of micro-connection. And that’s what we’re gonna talk about today — how it works. So let’s dive in. I think that, fundamentally, it’s really important to know that experiencing love, experiencing these micro-moments of connection, fundamentally alters the biochemicals in your body. And that can alter the way your DNA gets expressed within your cells. It’s crazy. And the other thing that’s really important to understand is that — steady diet of love, a steady diet of these micro-moments of positivity and connection — they influence how you grow and change, and they actually make you healthier and more resilient. And now we’re beginning to understand how it works. It works through these complex chain of biological reactions that cascade through your body and change your behavior, and ways that you literally experience the world around you.
John: That’s amazing. I’ve never heard that much perspective and depth, and just stretching the word love in that way.
Noelle: Oh yeah. And I think that it’s truly a revolutionary concept. Because when you go out into the world everyday, we tend to be stuck in our nervous systems, we tend to be stuck in our cortisol-driven systems of fight or flight or “What’s in it for me?” or “These are my problems.” And we don’t look at everyday as an opportunity to go out there and — just like our hunter-gatherer ancestors — gather up these beautiful little moments of positivity and connection that can actually feed our f*****g souls and change the way that we experience life.
John: Yeah. We’re always in this state of survival.
Noelle: I know! And we don’t have to be.
John: Well it’s a choice and it’s a practice.
Noelle: It is. It’s a choice and it is a practice. I think the word “practice” is really important to this conversation because there’s movement in this. Love is a verb. It’s not a noun. And just as it takes action to connect with another with another human being, there is action that occurs inside of your body. And it forms in waves. You want to think about waves — peaking and then crashing and ebbing and flowing. That’s the way this stuff works. Our whole universe is fluid and constantly changing, and the more that we can get our brains and bodies at tune to accepting and embracing this constant flow of change, the better off we’re gonna be overall.
John: So let me ask you this — for people listening and also myself — what would practicing this in everyday life look like?
Noelle: I’m so glad you brought that up, ‘cause I took notes on that. So it has to do with you vagal tone. And let me back up a little bit and explain what the heck that is and how it all works. There are three —
John: Did someone say bagels? Just kidding.
Noelle: Well bagels are delicious
John: Yeah, I know. That’s all I’m thinking about right now. Anyway, go ahead.
Noelle: Bagels are delicious, but this is vagus. There are three parts of your body, of your physiology, that make up love essentially. It’s oxytocin, the bonding hormone. It’s your vagus nerve, which is your 10th cranial nerve, and it runs from deep inside your brain down to your heart and your lungs and your other internal organs. And then it’s your brain. So oxytocin is the s**t that pulses through your body. Your vagus nerve is the thing that pulses and sends it all out. And then your brain is this phenomenon that is the locus of feeling, where you feel like you’re in sync with another person. Right? So those are the three essential characteristics. Your vagus nerve is the important piece of this whole thing. You can have weak or strong vagal tone. And that basically means that it’s the extent to which this nerve is pumping and pulsing the feeling of connection to your brain and body. So if you have higher vagal tone, you’re going to be more flexible across life domains — physical, mental, and social. You’re gonna adapt better to ever-shifting circumstances. You’ll experience stress better. And you experience more love in your daily life and more moments of that little micro-moments of positivity resonance. The way to do it is — there are three things that I found. Number one is meditation. Meditation has been called the silver bullet of happiness, and meditation strengthens your vagal tone. And I was thinking about it from a cognitive perspective, and I think it has to do with the practice of letting feelings just flow over you, through you, and pass you versus letting feelings disrupt you and attach to them.
Noelle: Isn’t that interesting?
Noelle: And then the second piece of it, is trust. And trust is a two way street — it’s both the act of telling somebody a secret about yourself or sharing something that you require trust in order to be able to tell them. Just like this morning John — when you asked me how I was doing, and I said, “Great.” you said, “That’s not true.” and I shared with you what was going on in my life. I trusted you in that moment to have my back and hear me. And on the flip side, you got a huge dose of oxytocin by being the trusted person. And so in our brief exchange of like “What the f**k’s this morning.” we both gave each other, not only a boost of oxytocin that’s now coursing through our body, but also the experience of trust which strengthens our vagal tone.
John: So trust and the process of building trust strengthens your vagal tone. You know what’s interesting though is when we go live through this world and we get into relationships and we get hurt and people cheat on us and all this kind of stuff, our love stove becomes very hot — we become afraid to touch it. So a lot of us don’t trust people. And so when we don’t trust people, we’re not exercising that — the vagal.
Noelle: Exactly. When you don’t trust people, you’re not exercising it. But I think too, there are so many opportunities for relationships. I think that when people get burned by romantic partners and they have this big drop in trust, a couple of things happen. Number one, I think they start to look inward and feel like, “Oh super lonely. I’m a lone kitten out there in the world.” And two is they stop looking around them — for all of the other people who are there to share these micro-moments of experiences with.
John: That’s so true. You’re right, it doesn’t matter how many friends you have when you go through [inaudible] relationships suddenly, it feels like you have no one. You forget that your friends are actually giving you something too.
Noelle: Beyond that. It’s life-giving. It’s like drinking water when you’re thirsty or eating an orange when you need a shot of Vitamin C. Depending on the people around you is what gives life to this concept.
John: Yeah. And I think because we don’t see or value the people around us when we go through a breakup. That’s why we’d put so much weight and energy into quickly trying to replace it, find someone different.
Noelle: Oh yeah. 100%. And being evaluative of your relationships is really important. There was this experiment that was done — a bunch of people were put in a room and they’re basically blasted with oxytocin.
John: Like a fire hose?
Noelle: I think it was more like a squirt bottle, but I’m not — we’ll figure it out. It was nasal spray, that’s what it was. It was oxytocin nasal spray. And I was thinking, I would really love to get my hands on some of that. I don’t know where to find it, so if anybody out there listening wants to send me some, I’d be totally stoked about it. So they were given oxytocin nasal spray and asked to engage in trust-building activities. Some people, of course, were controls and they were specifically engaging in social cues and things that would demonstrate that they were not trustworthy. And what the researchers learned is that even though oxytocin is a trust-building hormone and you get it when it comes through your body, it doesn’t negatively impact your ability to decide whether or not to trust someone.
Noelle: So you can go out there and have all of these micro-moments and build up your vagal tone and build up your oxytocin stores. It doesn’t turn you into a blind optimist. What it does is it gives you the ability to defend against cortisol, your stress hormone. It’s like a superpower.
John: Right. You know, I also saw a TED Talk on what blocks oxytocin, especially for men, is testosterone. And so the difference between men and women — when they fall in love or the feeling — is when women are sexually intimate and then also especially they have an orgasm, they get a flood of oxytocin.
Noelle: Men too.
John: Well men too. But I hear that with men, it’s when they decide to commit. So married men —
Noelle: Oh that’s such bulls**t.
John: Really? That’s what I heard.
Noelle: That’s f*****g bulls**t man. Straight up. If you have an orgasm, I don’t care how committed you are, you get the same chemical reaction.
John: But do you think it’s in the same dosage? I mean, do you think that it’s the same amount?
Noelle: Yes. Well everybody has different amounts of hormonal release based on their physiology, right? Let’s just take testosterone — when you workout a lot, you have higher increase levels of testosterone. Even if we’re talking orgasms — all orgasms are not created equal. Right? There’s a scale of like, “Ooh, that was nice.” to like, “That was a f*****g volcano!” And just ‘cause I described all of this stuff being verbal and fluid throughout your body, sure, definitely different levels of hormones will flow during different levels of connection and experience. If you take drugs that make all the hormones flood to your brain, you’re gonna experience them all at once for a little bit, and then you’re gonna be depleted and depressed for the next couple of days. We are ecosystems.
John: I’m glad you’re on the show because — Well this is all interesting. Let me ask you, what would be the reminder, what would be the instruction, what would be the homework for people listening to this podcast to strengthen their vagal and to love differently or put love through a different lens?
Noelle: I think the instruction would be to really get in touch with your own somatic feeling, with your own bodily feeling. And when you wake up and you go out into the world, and you might be feeling poorly or down or bad about yourself, really get interested in why. Is it because you’re subject to this binary concept that if you’re not romantically paired, there’s something wrong with you? And if you can get to that stage of awareness — of saying, “Okay, I have this feeling. It’s socially imposed, and I don’t have to be subject to it. Let me try to do something differently out there in the world.” — and just really get attuned to that.
John: Yeah, I love that. And I’m gonna add a couple of things. One is to redefine what love looks like. I think love is a definition that we carry in our pocket and we never tamper with it. And sometimes we need to reinvent it or we need to rediscover it or we need to flip in on its head. So redefine it, maybe stretch it.
Noelle: Yeah. Stretch it as far as you can. And there’s other stuff that you can do too. Simple cues like making eye contact with people, positive non-verbal expressions, and friendly gestures — those things build trust. They both invite trust and give you the experience of being the trusted person. So that’s a twofer.
John: Why isn’t everyone just friendly? Is it because people are in the fight or flight? Is it because they’re not happy? I mean, especially in L.A., people don’t look at each other in the eye, people are generally not friendly. And they’re not bad people. Maybe once you start talking to them, they lighten up.
Noelle: I think it’s really cultural and social. It really is — different cultures. Even if we’re looking globally, there’s such a vast array of different customs for greeting people, the way values are placed and held in society. Social contagion is a real thing. Social contagion is this thing where you take on and adopt the behavior and demeanor of people around you. So if you live in a place where everybody’s too cool for school and there’s just this built-in social custom of not making eye contact / not getting to know you, you’re going to adopt that stance and feel like you’re doing the right thing for survival because you’re in your tribe — you’re participating in the rules of your tribe. Take you out of L.A. and stick you in the deep south where everybody is just gonna open their homes and welcome you in and feed you biscuits until you can’t eat anymore, that’ll be a whole different experience and you have to adapt to that social environment.
John: Noelle, I think my biggest takeaway from this conversation is to move. You had me at biscuits.
John: Well thank you for the dialogue, Noelle. And guys this is Part 2 of “Love ‘n’ Sh*t”. I hope you guys are getting a different view of love or at least being challenged, thinking about your definitions of love, and how it affects your biology.
Noelle: Indeed. We’ll catch you next time.
John: Yes, guys. Be well.
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