The Practice of Groundedness: An Interview (and Giveaway!) with Brad Stulberg

A quick note: To my free subscribers—happy Tuesday! This is a special day for my friend Brad Stulberg, so I wanted to share this interview with as many people as possible. To get more bookish emails from me like this one, subscribe here:

Not only is Brad Stulberg a great thinker and writer, but also just a really wonderful human. I got to know him a handful of years ago through the Art of Manliness podcast and we’ve since developed an online friendship. (Be sure to check out my first interview with him!)

Today, he has a new book out! Before this, he’s co-written books about burnout and passion—now, in his most meaningful work yet, he’s tackling groundedness. I’m happy to affirm that Brad practices what he preaches, and the preaching here in The Practice of Groundedness is as good as it gets.

So today, on his book launch day, I wanted to give all my newsletter readers a special interview with Brad. Buy (or borrow!) the book, read the book, and most importantly, implement the ideas contained within.

One last thing: Brad’s publisher generously provided a copy of the new book for me to give away to one of my readers! To enter, simply leave a comment on the post here and tell me what you do to stay grounded. I’ll pick a winner in 48 hours!

1. The Practice of Groundedness talks about performance in terms that you don't usually see in this type of book—particularly the idea of fulfillment. Why is this piece—our own fulfillment—often missing from this subject area? Why is it so important?

My hypothesis is that it's missing because the current ethos is completely obsessed with outward achievement and one-upsmanship, against both self and others. I call this heroic individualism. Much of consumerism—particularly in the area of so-called wellness and self-help—preys upon this mentality and solidifies it. You are not enough until you get a promotion. You are not enough until you buy that bigger house, nicer car, fancier watch. You are not enough until you lose the weight, win the medal, and so on. The problem is that even when you get where you think you want to go, you still don't feel fulfilled. The system is designed for this. It keeps you craving the next thing. You can't outwardly achieve or earn your way to fulfillment. It is an inside game. So there's that to start.

Fulfillment is so important to performance, success, and true well-being because we tend to do our best and feel our best from a place of being solid, confident, and whole. It is this big paradox, but it becomes so clear in the research and across history: being solid and whole and grounded and wanting to get better can go hand-in-hand and bolster one another. People tend to perform their best not when they are doing it from a place of fragility and compulsion, but rather when they are doing whatever it is they are doing from a place of being enough right now and from being firmly situated where they are. It is good to be hungry for improvement in certain areas of your life, but you've got to have a solid foundation to launch from. Otherwise, the whole enterprise is shaky. 

And then there's this: what is the point of striving for something if you feel kind of empty along the way? We are obsessed with outcomes but outcomes are fleeting. You stand on the podium for two minutes. You read the promotion email for one minute. You feel the thrill of having a bestseller for maybe 30 minutes. The process on the way to those goals, however, makes up 99.9 percent of your life. So it is important to find fulfillment in the process. There are two ways to the peak of a mountain: one is spending nearly every step worrying about and occupied with whether or not you'll make it; the other is being grounded where you are and having fun and growing along the way. This book explores how to cultivate and practice the latter. You can still strive, but the texture of your striving becomes more wholesome and fulfilling, and thus sustainable. Hopefully that helps show the connection between fulfillment and performance, at least of the sustainable, long-term variety.

2. You write near the end of the book that "the type of conventional success we spend so much time and energy chasing—money, fame, relevance, busyness, followers—isn’t all it is cracked up to be." So when it comes to your writing and this book, what does success look like? 

Success looks like the book itself. I poured my heart into it and gave it my all, and learned so much and met interesting people and grew along the way. So I've already arrived as far as this project goes. If readers enjoy the book and wrestle with the ideas in it, and this book helps change the culture, even if only a bit, that's all extra. Don't get me wrong, I hope people read the book, because I believe deeply in it and I think it can help so many people in so many important ways. But I can't control that. I executed on what I could control and overcame missteps and now it's done—so whatever happens next, this book is already a success. Ironically, it is this kind of definition of success that I want to help readers cultivate. 

The above is what I consider the infinite game kind of success. But there is also very acute success, finite, and perhaps even superficial success, which is commercial performance. Why? Because I love to write and I don't have endless money and this is a business. If this book sells lots of copies I'll be able to keep doing this thing I love. Both kinds of success can be true at once. But without the former kind of success, then all of our pursuits become ridden with angst, compulsion, and exhaustion. It's no wonder so many people are feeling burnt out!

3. Your extended reading list includes a lot of titles you wouldn't necessarily expect as source material for a self-improvement book—particularly novels, memoirs, and poetry. (So-called "hustle twitter" hates this stuff! Ha!) How can these other genres complement standard self-improvement reading? What can they teach us about being human?

Well, I've been told by people whom I deeply respect that The Practice of Groundedness is like the anti self-improvement self-improvement book. It goes completely against the grain of "hacks" and quick fixes and overnight successes and work-’til-you-die culture. Why? Because that stuff is bullshit. Not only will it make you miserable—because it perpetuates the cycle of never enough, heroic individualism, and a fragile sense of self—but it's also not a sustainable route to performance.  

If you read what everyone else is reading you are going to think what everyone else is thinking. So it is not surprising that my book is so different from traditional self-improvement books. Because I'm reading completely different material than most self-improvement authors. Novels, memoirs, and poetry are all just different ways to get at the truth. In my writing and work, rather than focus on a narrow genre I strive to incorporate truly diverse thinking and writing, along with the latest science, to try and get to truth with a capital T.

On this project, what everything points toward is groundedness, which is a way of being and doing that comes from practicing acceptance, presence, patience, vulnerability, and deep community. I support this argument by showing the patterns across all kinds of works. I think it's what makes it powerful.  And it is what gives me confidence that groundedness is the real deal. 

4. There are obviously a lot of books mentioned in The Practice of Groundedness. Are there a few at the top that most influenced the ideas found within?

Oh man. This is an impossible question. It was hard enough to narrow the reading list down to the 50 or so books I included in the recommended reading section at the end of The Practice of Groundedness. I know this is a cop-out answer but the thing about top books is it is never just about the book—it is about the right book, the right person, at the right time. So what I'd tell readers is that if you pick up The Practice of Groundedness and certain parts of it really resonate with you, then read deeper on those topics. This is why I organized the recommended reading at the back of the book by topic. One of my favorite parts of being a reader is that one book always leads to the next. I think this is the best way to grow your mind and develop associative thinking.

5. Okay, so groundedness is a practice. What's one thing my newsletter  readers can do this weekend to begin implementing and start feeling more grounded?

Get a copy of the book! Ha! In addition to that, of course, one of my favorite practices in the book is around core values work. What are your core values? The things that you aspire toward. The things that make you who you are? Pick no less than three and no more than five. Next, define each value. What does each one mean to you? Get really concrete. Finally, come up with a few practices for each value. How do you actually live this value, day-to-day?

For example, one of my core values is love. I define love as full presence for the people and pursuits I care about. A few ways I practice love are turning off my phone at 7:00 PM and putting it in another room; blocking out 90 minutes a few times a week for deep focus writing work; never multitasking during phone or video-calls with people whom I care about; never yelling at my young son unless he is in physical danger and I need to get his attention; and a regular meditation practice, which connects me to something larger than myself and works the muscles I need for the aforementioned practices.

This is just one example, but hopefully you can see how you get from lofty core values all the way down to where the rubber meets the road. Many books help you to know the importance of this stuff. I am trying to help people know and do. The former is necessary but the latter makes it real. 

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