The Golden Algorithm

Decisions Series #3

February 10, 2023
In the third episode of our series for the Decisions Course, Joe and Brett dive into a common emotional pattern that shows up anywhere decisions are made.

Episode Intro: Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease. I’m Brett Kistler, here today with my co-host Joe Hudson.

Brett: Wow. How is it going, Joe?

Joe: It has been full on. Creating the decisions course has been lots of content in a short period of time. I am loving it, and there was definitely not a lot of breathing space in the last couple of weeks. How about you? How are you?

Brett: I’m doing well. I just got off of a really good coaching session. Something that came up in that session was the Golden Algorithm, which you have been speaking about for a little while. We haven’t done a full episode on it yet. I am really excited to do that.

Joe: That sounds fun. Let’s do it. That sounds great. You look jazzed. I have to say that you look really jazzed. I am wondering if it was a deeply felt coaching session. It feels like it was very embodied.

Brett: It was very deeply felt, and there was a constant theme of leaving self, leaving the present experience and recognizing it and then coming back and just noticing all of the different ways that happens in the moment and then coming right back. We just spent so much of the session in embodiment, and I get so much out of it when that’s how a session goes.

Joe: Love that. I can see how that would relate to the Golden Algorithm. That’s wonderful. Let’s talk about the Golden Algorithm. What do you want to ask?

Brett: We will just start with what it is.

2:10 Joe: The most basic way to say it is whatever we are avoiding emotionally, we are inviting into our lives in the exact way that we are avoiding it. If we are trying to avoid sadness, then the way that we try to avoid the sadness is inviting the sadness. The other way to see it is if you are having a problem, any problem at all, there is an emotion you are trying to avoid. The way you are trying to avoid it is bringing it towards you. This is the emotional center of all of the problems we have.

I am not a huge fan of the Golden Algorithm. I don’t know how else to call it. It is so critical and important. Once you get it, it makes such a huge difference in your life. I wanted to call it something really important. I am just noticing that the name of it is not something I want to be glorified. It is just super important. Once you grok it, it can totally change your life.

Brett: I am going to send you a Golden Algorithm statue for your desk.

Joe: That actually sounds cool. I will take that.

Name a problem you are very familiar with, either you have had in the past or somebody you know is having now but you can name all of the parts of the problem and everything that’s happening there.

Brett: How about wanting to work out and then just having a hard time getting motivated to go to the gym?

Joe: Want to work out and not doing it. When you see somebody in that or you have been in that yourself, what’s one, just one, of the emotions that might be being avoided there?

Brett: Let’s say guilt.

Joe: Guilt. What would be a strategy that a person uses to avoid feeling that guilt?

Brett: One thing that might come up is the moment you think about going to the gym, you feel all of the negative self talk about how you are not in shape. You feel that guilt, and then you do something else instead, like go to the fridge.

Joe: The way that some people handle the feeling of guilt that arises is to go eat instead of go work out.

Brett: Yes.

Joe: Which then, of course, creates more guilt. That’s how the algorithm works. Give us another one. We should do three or four of these, any other problem somebody is having.

Brett: Let’s say somebody feels put upon or frustrated by a partner or with a partner.

Joe: What would be an emotion that that person would be avoiding when they get frustrated with a partner?

Brett: They might avoid feeling anger.

Joe: They might avoid the anger, and so what do they do when they avoid feeling angry?

Brett: When they avoid feeling angry, they might suppress the anger and push it down and then come around passively aggressively to try to get what they want without being direct.

Joe: The more passive aggressive they are, the more the people around them get angry and frustrated with them, which brings up more anger in them. Therefore, the strategy with which they are avoiding the anger is creating more anger in their life. Another example of this is when I was younger, a big thing for me is I really didn’t like emotional abandonment. It was a trauma I had, so I was constantly trying to avoid it. Every time I started to feel like I was getting emotionally abandoned, I would get hard and defensive. I would get short with people. Of course, people are more likely to emotionally abandon me or abandon me altogether if I am being a prick, which is what I was being. That’s another example of it.

The important part is every single problem we are having, this is how it works. There is no problem you can mention that you are having that doesn’t have an emotion that’s trying to be avoided and in that strategy of avoiding the emotion is recreating it. Oftentimes there are several emotions you may be trying to avoid. When you get to see that every one of my problems is an emotion being avoided, ooh, then it becomes really clear how to solve a lot of problems really quickly. It is to fully love, invite and welcome your emotional experiences.

7:50 Brett: You said every single problem. To play the devil’s advocate a little bit, what if the problem I am having is I was hit by a car and I am injured or I have tried everything and haven’t found a job while the economy is tanking? What scope of problems are we talking about here when you say every single problem?

Joe: What I am talking about here are the recurring problems in our lives, specifically. I am also talking about when we feel like there is a problem. The algorithm is really useful for the recurring problems in our lives, but let’s take, for example, getting in a car accident. Let’s assume for some reason it was absolutely not your fault. There was no way your emotionality in that moment influenced it. It was just out of left field or let’s say a tree fell on your car while you were driving, completely not within your control.

Obviously the thing you are trying to avoid emotionally didn’t cause the tree to drop on your car. However, how you handle that and how quickly you recover from that are deeply influenced by the emotions you are allowing yourself to feel or not feel. Recently I have been working with somebody, and they had something significant stolen from them, just tremendously significant. Then blaming themselves for that and trying to avoid the feeling of deep sadness, grief and anger is making that recovery time take longer than it would otherwise. The amount of shame they are using to block the emotions or to not fully feel and love into their shame. To some degree, it is a problem because the emotions that you are feeling are being resisted and that makes it a bigger problem instead of it being this fluid thing that’s moving through me.

We have all had something stolen from us, and there is a time when it is a problem and there is a time when it is not a problem. It may never feel good, but there is a time when it wraps us up. I will call that a problem. There is a time when we have let go of it. How we deeply feel into those emotions and allow those emotions has a huge influence on whether it is currently a problem or not a problem in our lives. That’s the first thing.

Also, we are often stuck because there is no short term way to feel good. Using that same metaphor of a tree dropping on your car, there is no way that you can feel good about that right away. There is no choice you can make. You can try to pretend that is okay and that it is just a car, no big deal, but there is some sort of emotional thing that’s going to go through you that is potentially not very comfortable. To try to avoid that is what makes that a longer and more consistent problem and one that repeats itself, not in the case of the car, but the problem that would repeat itself in the case of the car is how you react to loss, how paralyzed you are when accidents happen, how quickly you can recover.

Finally, I would say we are never completely the full dynamic. In this case with the car and the tree falling on it, we were not all part of that dynamic even though we might beat ourselves up over it. We are never fully a part of any of the dynamics that create what we call problems in our lives. The tool isn’t meant to assign blame. The tool isn’t meant to be a way that you get to beat yourself up. If I had only felt this… It is meant as a way that you can move through your problems more quickly and that you can stop repeating patterns. That’s what I mean.

Brett: It sounds like a lot of what you are saying there is it is not necessarily the problem, it is the stuckness we feel in relationship to the problem, which sometimes makes certain problems feel far more ongoing.

Joe: Or I am making a distinction between something that’s happening in our lives that needs to be addressed and a problem, which is something that consumes us, guides us, and pushes us that we rebel against and resist.

Brett: Rather than a random occurrence.

Joe: Exactly.

12:06 Brett: Let’s move on and talk about what makes this work.

Joe: The easiest way to describe it is that there is no problem if you are feeling great. Let’s just say, for instance, you are facing your company’s implosion. In that implosion, you knew you were going to feel great, free and successful. What’s the problem with your company imploding? Let’s say I was going to get a divorce, and I knew that I was going to feel wonderful about the outcome and that I could look around and think this is exactly what needed to happen. I could see the benefits of it. There would be just a full feeling of freedom, success and joy in the result. Then there is no problem. What I mean to say is that we call material problems out in the world, what they really are are emotional problems. What it really is is that we don’t want to feel a certain way. That’s what makes this work.

Brett: If we could just paper over all of our negative feelings and feel positive feelings regardless of our company falling apart and everyone getting laid off, then we are good, right?

Joe: People have tried that. It doesn’t work, but I like the thought. That was great. If I am taking the question of it, it is not having the positive emotions that gets you where you want to go. It is not avoiding the negative ones that get you where you want to go. It is not like if I am happy, then I am going to make great decisions. It is helpful if you are authentically happy. The issue is far more about not avoiding negative ones. The cause of the pain is in the avoidance of the negative emotions. That’s why being positive all of the time doesn’t work. We have all met the person who says they are positive all of the time.

Brett: It is not authentic. It is not what they are actually feeling. This seems like a pretty simple algorithm. It is what you are avoiding, you invite it in in exactly the way you are avoiding it. You create a blind spot, and you are going to get blind sided in your blind spot. That’s just how it works. What makes this hard for us to see in our daily lives if it is so simple in daily life?

Joe: It is so strange. It took me a long time to even be able to articulate it. I still notice when I am articulating it to folks, it confuses people. It is a challenging thing to see even though it is so simple. Probably some of the people listening to them, their minds are going numb currently. One of the issues is the one I just talked about, which is that we think our problems are material when we are using the material world as a strategy to feel a certain way. We want to feel good, and we think the fast car and the beautiful spouse and happy children are going to do that. We are using the material problems as a surrogate for the emotional. That’s the first one.

You have to undo that thesis, that the material world is going to make you happy. I think that’s something that every major religion points to in its own way. You are never going to get the happiness you want from the external world. Then the other thing is that it is hard to admit that it is happening because we are avoiding stuff. There is that movement that you just described, which all of a sudden is going to be self abuse. It is my fault for avoiding this. All of these problems are my fault. That, by itself, is more avoidance. To beat yourself up over this is just another way not to feel it. Let’s say I am avoiding sadness, and I start beating myself up. It is just another way to avoid feeling sadness. That’s another reason that it is really tough to see.

It is tough because we can’t blame anyone else anymore, including ourselves. If you really take a look at it, blaming yourself is another way to avoid other uncomfortable emotions. I am sure we can describe that later. The other issue is time dilation, which is basically there is the short-term feeling good and the long term feeling good. The avoidance is trading feeling good in the long term for feeling adequate in the short term or feeling just a little bit better in the short term. Our reward system as a mammal was built in such a way for short term rewards to be the important ones because we didn’t have psychological development then. Mammals, from what we know, don’t have identity. They are not protecting their identity, psychology or sense of self. When you are dealing with knowing that eating that mushroom caused you pain, it is a great thing to avoid. When it is about somebody pointing some way I am in error, it causes me pain. I get defensive. That doesn’t work so well. That’s the other problem. It is learning the way we are emotionally evolved doesn’t work for a sense of identity.

Brett: The time dilation thing is interesting to me. There is an objection that comes up where I think a lot of people actually engage in this avoidance behavior because they think they are doing something for their future. I am going to keep giving things away to this client because then they are going to like me and I am going to get the bigger project in the future, but what actually is being created that you are going to come back and have behaviors that seem entitled or aggressive when later on I start to feel like I have given too much and they took it without giving me enough in return.

Joe: The key there is the choice that you are making, such as giving the client giving stuff without naming you want something in return, is that avoidance behavior or is that something you are doing out of strategy? The only way to know that is to feel that in your system and ask yourself if you are avoiding anything and then feel it. There are obviously times that we will take short term pain for long term gain. However, this is very much in the avoidance of an emotion. That’s the really critical component to notice. If you are not avoiding it, great.

Brett: There is a different way of flipping that switches to having the preference for feeling the short-term pain despite its discomfort for what we know is the long term best outcome, which is the thing that allows us to move through this.

Joe: Yes. The only thing I would change about that is it is not actually painful. The resistance is uncomfortable. What I mean to say is the emotions themselves are not the painful piece. It is the resistance to them. Part of the path of noticing all of these emotions we are avoiding is when we invite and welcome them in, they change and don’t feel as uncomfortable as they used to.

20:40 Brett: How does knowing we are avoiding these emotions help us?

Joe: It is funny because we do this exercise where people do that thing that we just did over and over again. They just see all of the problems they are having and how each one is an avoided emotion. I was with some people doing that a couple of days ago. How does this help us? Christ, what are you doing? It is making us feel ugh. I told them that’s the reason to do it. Now you are motivated to change it. If all you have to do is invite and welcome emotion and you don’t have to suffer for all these reasons, what would make you not do it?

One this is because it does help us solve the problem. It also makes our decisions cleaner. As soon as we notice it, we are running away from an uncomfortable emotion. Also, once we start doing it and then solving that problem and once we start inviting and welcoming the emotions because we see this is the issue, it just makes a lot of our habits that we don’t like go away because we are no longer using them to run away from emotional experiences. It makes the decision-making cleaner. It makes us less defensive, all of those things.

Brett: The emotion we are avoiding contains the information needed to get out of the situation and to change our path.

Joe: If you think about each of these emotions as data and it is all important data, you have been rejecting the data and don’t have the tools you need to solve the problem. The other way to think about it is that you have that kitchen drawer. I love this; A CEO said to me that her job was to look in all of the kitchen drawers nobody wants to look in. There is the drawer where everything gets shoved. My job is to open them up, look in them and sort out what’s in there that everybody else is avoiding. It is the same thing here. That is the work. You open the drawer and have that first moment of oh crap. Then when it is all cleaned and organized, it feels great.

Brett: Let’s say we recognize all of the problems in our lives. I feel some pre-attack from someone in the audience when I say all. I am just going to say generally.

Joe: Wait. Let’s do better. I say all. I am going to take the big plunge and say all. If somebody in the audience can find one where this isn’t the case and they can’t find an emotion they are avoiding inside of a problem they are having, then please let us know because I would like to find one where that’s not the case. We will say all, but I want proof because I would love to see what I might be missing.

23:55 Brett: Let’s say we take on this perspective. All of the problems we have in our lives result from us avoiding emotions, and we are bringing those problems into our lives in exactly the way we are avoiding those emotions. Let’s say we take on this perspective. What are some of the pitfalls that can happen if we take on this perspective and over index on it or get it slightly off? What are some of the dangers of taking this to the extreme, making it a dogma?

Joe: I love that question. A hammer is a great tool, but how can you misuse it? I would say one of the pitfalls in using the tool is the depth at which you are using it, and this is the opposite of a pitfall. It means it doesn’t work as well unless you go into the depths. If you ask what you think you are avoiding and it is pain, that’s not going to work as well as understanding you are avoiding helplessness. That’s one thing, and I want to talk about that a little bit later as well. There is a cool thing that goes along with it from what I can tell.

Another issue with the tool is you might still repeat these patterns that come up because you have found one of the emotions you are avoiding but you haven’t found all of the emotions you are avoiding. One of the pitfalls of the tool is that it is only one emotion at a time, and a lot of times people make the assumption there is only one emotion they are avoiding. Another pitfall is if you are not learning how to feel into the feelings. It is only half of a tool. Seeing the feelings you avoid is one thing, but until you can feel into them, welcome them, love them, and invite them in, nothing is going to change. There has to be the not avoidance of it, but there also has to be the learning to welcome it. There is a space in between those two. I would call it indulging in uncomfortable emotions.

It is really about having the mental attitude of I want to understand this, I want to explore it, I want to listen to it, I want to hear the information it has, I want to respect it, I want to give it the love it never got, and I want to welcome it. I am not here to try to change it. I am here to fully be with, and appreciate this emotional experience. If you are not doing that, it is going to be of great benefit to you. Then the last one is one we have already talked about. People can beat themselves up over it. They can say they now understand everything is their fault because they are not feeling into emotions, which is both not feeling into emotions and a way to avoid emotions.

Brett: I think the latter is really common if you are in depression and if the feeling is shame. I went through a period of time with this where for me it was shame, and I didn’t realize I was indulging in the shame. That being in the shame felt safe and it felt like I had an excuse to not be empowered and somebody might come rescue me or at least be with me. I wasn’t actually allowing the shame to move through. I wasn’t willing to feel the shame dissolve. I was willing to feel the shame and wonder why it wasn’t going away, but not to actually shift, change and become whatever it was going to become.

Joe: That would be the language I would use. I would say you were feeling the shame, but you weren’t welcoming the shame. It is the welcoming that lets it move all the way through.

27:50 Brett: A lot of people feel like these are difficult emotions, and that’s why we are avoiding them. What would you say to someone that thinks that not avoiding emotions is the hard thing and avoiding emotions is easy?

Joe: What I would say is if you think it is easy to regenerate over and over again the emotion you are avoiding and you think that’s easy and if you think about it long term, I don’t understand how that math works out. That’s the first thing I would say. The second thing I would say is avoiding emotions means resisting them. Not resisting them is different. If you have a moment of not resisting whatever you have been avoiding, immediately you will feel the sensation change somatically in your body and it will become a lot more comfortable. Until you have really experimented with not resisting an emotional state or welcoming an emotional state, you really don’t know if it is going to be more difficult. What you have in your head is an idea that every time these topics get brought up, I feel like shit. I want to avoid these topics, so I don’t feel like shit. It is because nobody has ever taught you how to be in these topics with no resistance without the shame or the defense and with curiosity, wonder, impartiality, and self-empathy. Then you will know. Then you will know that this isn’t difficult at all.

Literally when I walk people through an emotional inquiry exercise, which is learning to welcome through wonder your emotional experience, what I say is you  just sat for 10 minutes with an experience that you have avoided for decades. How hard was it? Did you explode? How difficult was it? Everybody says no, it felt great. Not always, occasionally you will have somebody say it got a little better, and that’s usually because they are trying to change it and to get rid of it. That’s something else that when you are fully welcoming your emotion and one of the things that happens is you will notice that it starts to change and shift. Then you might start immediately or over the long time welcoming your emotions to make them go away, which isn’t welcoming them anymore so it stops working. As soon as people experience it once or twice, they get it. They say it isn’t hard and it is immediate relief.

Brett: What are some examples when this doesn’t work? I am not talking about what we were talking about before when you were saying if anybody can come up with a problem that this doesn’t apply to, but the emotions we are avoiding, does it work with positive emotions?

Joe: That’s a great one. When I think about it, it doesn’t work with positive integers. I have a hard time saying some emotions are positive and some are negative even though the world classifies it that way. These are negative and these are positive. The reason I have a hard time saying that is because it is not how I experience them, meaning for me the helplessness, anger, shame and all that are blessings. I have a hard time calling them negative. If we call them negative for now, then the algorithm works if you are working with negative emotions. The algorithm doesn’t work if you are avoiding positive emotions.

The way I would describe this is working out. Let’s say my problem is that my body isn’t feeling good. It is feeling what I would call in a negative way or there is a negative feeling. I work out. I start to work out and it doesn’t feel good, so I avoid it. Then my body is going to continue to feel bad. If I work out and it doesn’t feel good because there is some resistance to the working out and there is some pain to it, and I lean in, welcome that pain, look forward to it and see it as information, then my body starts to feel better. Then if my body feels good and I decide I am going to work out and I am not going to allow the feeling of goodness to happen, then what immediately happens is I start feeling bad. The workout feels bad and then I start working out and then my body starts feeling bad. It is the same way. If I have negative emotions and I feel into them, then I feel better. If I have positive emotions and I don’t feel into them, then I feel bad. That’s the experience.

This is something I wanted to speak to earlier when we talked about shame and seeing through it. What I have noticed there is there are emotional states, but they are blocker emotional states. We have talked about this with shame. I would call these shame, judgment and guilt. What they do is stagnate the emotional experience. They are emotions that have to be felt through, but they are the top level because they stagnate the emotional experience. Then underneath that, you have the emotions of sadness, anger and helplessness and what we call negative emotions. Then if those are all felt through, then you get to the positive emotions. If you start feeling the positive emotions, just like working out, you feel better and better. It goes from happiness and then joy, contentment and bliss. There is a whole rainbow of positive emotions out there. The intensity of the positive emotions gets bigger, and it is wonderful. It can also be very scary in that process.

One of the things I say to describe this is that joy is the matriarch of a family of emotions, and she won’t come into a house where her children aren’t welcome. Welcoming all these negative emotions or what we call negative emotions leads to joy, but feeling joy, expansiveness, bliss and peacefulness can be very scary in itself. When we stop allowing ourselves to feel into that, then we revert back to the negative emotions. That’s why it doesn’t work with positive emotions. If you find out you have this problem because I am avoiding this positive emotion, then the answer is feel that positive emotion. Lean into the positive emotion. The answer is the same, lean into the positive or the negative emotion, but the avoidance doesn’t bring it back. The avoidance of the negative emotion brings the negative emotion back. The avoidance of the positive emotion doesn’t bring the positive emotion back.

Brett: What comes up for me in processing what you said and there was a lot there to process and unpack is that there are emotions. We might label them as positive or negative, and that’s a way of stating which ones we prefer and which ones we don’t. If we prefer not to have an emotion, then we are going to avoid it. That’s going to invite the emotion we are avoiding, but with the emotions we actually do prefer or think we prefer, there is actually something uncomfortable about them often. It is that other emotion we are actually avoiding, which is why we end up feeling the other thing and not the emotion we think we want. Avoiding feeling joy doesn’t make us full of joy. Avoiding feeling joy makes us feel the thing we are actually feeling when we are avoiding joy, which might be the shame around being exuberant.

Joe: Yes, that’s right. It is a great way to put it, and the other thing I would say is there does seem to be a thing where people need to break through the shame, judgment and guilt so they can feel the negative emotions. Then once those are felt, then the positive emotions come. The positive emotions are also scary. They are very big, and they are very expansive. The positive emotions do not make a lot of room for you as an entity. They don’t make a lot of room for your identity. When you are in bliss, it is more like you are one with everything and less like you are you. There is a scariness to that, and there is a wow. Fears come up around how you will relate to people or you might just go off into the infinite and not come back. What if I am sitting there laughing in a coffee shop all by myself? Everyone is going to think I am crazy. I am happy all of the time, and everybody is looking at me asking what’s wrong with me. There are all sorts of fears that come along with that level of joy and ecstasy.

To repeat myself here, when you constrict on any of them, it brings you into negative emotions. It brings you back up the ladder. If you constrict on joy, the joyous emotions, you are going to be back into the fear, anger and helplessness. If you constrict on those, you are going to be in the shame and judgment.

Brett: Welcoming the feeling of being out of control allows us to have the feeling of uncontrollable laughter.

Joe: Right. I like that. Exactly. It is exactly it. That’s it. That’s the Golden Algorithm. If you blend that with some of the VIEW practices and some of the emotional inquiry practices, it creates so much freedom so quickly. It is such an exciting thing, and the reason I came up with it is because I noticed my brain was doing that calculus every time I was working with clients. I would be working with clients and think here it is. Here is the thing that if we learn to accept this, this problem starts to dissipate. If we learned to love, accept and welcome this, then the problem would start to dissipate.

Brett: I notice a lot of times where that process gets stopped is when people end in a story. That’s the ground truth. Then that’s bad. The company will fall apart, and that’s the end. What would you feel if the company falls apart? Companies fall apart all the time, and people live on. What is it that you would actually be experiencing in that moment beyond the story?

Joe: Exactly. The odd part is that when we fully grieve or feel that feeling we would have to feel if the company falls apart, it is so much less likely for it to fall apart. If it does fall apart, it falls apart so much better and in such a way that benefits us so much more than if we are resisting the whole thing. Thank you so much, man. That was exciting. I am so glad I got to explain this. This has been a doozie to really get out. I appreciate your help in that.

Brett: I loved it. I enjoyed it. Thank you everybody for listening. If you can find an example of a problem relevant to Joe’s challenge where this doesn’t work, please send it in.

Joe: If you can find a problem where you are not avoiding an emotion, please let us know.

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