Relationships Podcast Post

Book Club featuring Eric Barker

George Grombacher August 25, 2022

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Book Club featuring Eric Barker

On this edition of the Book Club, Eric Barker talks about his newest book Plays Well with Others: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Relationships is (Mostly) Wrong.

Eric is a best-selling author and blogger.

For a copy of his book Plays Well with Others, click HERE

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Our Guests

George Grombacher


Eric Barker

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:00
Come on

left with this is George G. And the time is right. welcome today’s guests strong and powerful Eric Barker. Eric, are you ready to do this? Yes, I’m ready. excited to have you on. Eric is a writer. He is the author of The Wall Street Journal best selling book barking up the wrong tree, his newest book is plays well with others, the surprising science behind why everything you know about relationship is mostly wrong. Eric, tell us a little about your personal lives more about your work, and what motivated you to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Eric Barker 0:45
I’ve been writing on my blog for about 13 years now looking at social science kind of trying to just get answers to a lot of the questions we don’t have that living a better life and trying to make it readable and entertaining in the process. And my first book looked at basically the Maxim’s of success that we all grew up with, like nice guys finish last and it’s not watching the other two, you know, basically trying to look at the science seeing if those those lessons we were all told that they’re true or not. And deciding to follow up with plays well with others, which is looking at the maximums that we all grew up with by relationships, you know, there’s love conquers all is a friend of me and a friend indeed, and putting them through the MythBusters grinder and seeing whether they’re true or not, and what we need to know to live a better life.

george grombacher 1:30
Nice. So was this a logical next book for you to write that would pop into your head? Were you just planning to write another book? How did that all sort of come to be?

Eric Barker 1:39
I mean, for me, like I said, the format was was the same. These are all questions, you know, I’ve had and I figure other people have had, I mean, I’ve never been great with relationships. So for me to explore, this was definitely a useful personal journey. But what was really, really crazy and unfortunate, it was, literally two weeks after I closed the deal, California, where I live, are locked down for the pandemic, and all of a sudden, I realized, you know, we’re all gonna need a little help with our relationships, once the pandemic is over. So, writing the book, you know, took on a whole new purpose for me, I became a man on a mission.

george grombacher 2:17
Yeah, interesting. How, how long did it take you to write this book versus barking up the wrong tree?

Eric Barker 2:26
This one was trickier, you know, barking up the wrong tree. I, you know, I’ve been doing, I’ve been doing the blog looking at a lot of research for a very long time. So I at least become, you know, conversing. You know, in a lot of the studies, ideas and concepts. And this took a much deeper dive, I it was a lot trickier. And certainly with some topics like, like love and marriage, there’s an enormous amount of research to go through to try and get to the fundamentals. And on the flip side, I found with friendship, you know, comparatively, there’s very little research, it was it was very tricky to find answers. So each thing kind of presented its its own challenge. But the relationship the new book was was a lot more work. Definitely.

george grombacher 3:12
And do you think that it would have been under the same conditions if COVID had not happened if we weren’t locked down? And I mean, I’m sure that there maybe are topics that would be more intensified during the pandemic, but this relationships, friendships, that has to be top, really near the top of the list? So it’s kind of like a perfect storm or maybe an awful storm? I’m not sure.

Eric Barker 3:38
I mean, from a productivity perspective was a perfect storm because I couldn’t go out and do anything. So So definitely, it was you know, I became a lot more focused, I didn’t have you know, a lot of other things to do. On the flip side, it was kind of crazy, because with the first book, The Sixth Chapter, the first book is all about work life balance and productivity. I found it very ironic that I was driving myself crazy finish this book, sleeping five hours a night. Meanwhile, I’m writing about work life balance. And then sure enough, second book, you know, here I am writing about just how vital and important relationships already or health and happiness and of course, I’m cooped up, locked down not seeing any of my friends and family. Yeah.

george grombacher 4:21
That is a that’s almost like an episode of Black Mirror. Eric,

Eric Barker 4:25
I passed past two and a half years, there’s been plenty of Black Mirror going on, Charlie, Charlie bergfors a very smart guy. And, you know, I definitely saw that was the case. And, you know, I mean, a lot of what I’ve learned and researching the book, you know, about, you know, separation, loneliness, the importance of, you know, relationships. I mean, it was it was scary to be reading all this research, you know, that, you know, effectively it’s, it’s like, you know, good good relationships, you know, had literally a decade to your life but, you know, it’s the happiness equivalent having good relationships. Happiness equivalent of making another $131,000 a year. I mean, it’s, it’s really crazy. I was like, oh, geez, this is this, I’m glad I’m, I’m glad I’m putting together what seems to be a useful book. But, you know, I’m not putting myself in the best situation, right here, when you read that, you know, other than other than genetics, you know, you know, your relationships are, you know, really key in terms of in terms of your health?

george grombacher 5:26
Yeah, it’s like researching the damaging effects of smoking on your body while you’re smoking cigarettes.

Eric Barker 5:31
So pretty much man pretty much

george grombacher 5:35
fascinating. So if if I think you said, positive relationship that that adds years on your life, 10 years, the equivalent of making $130,000 a year, being lonely, probably has has, has sort of the opposite effect. I imagine.

Eric Barker 5:53
Loneliness is like basically raises almost every negative health metric you can imagine, you know, it was it was really shocking to me. But you know, in terms of in terms of happiness, you know, when neuroscientists look at your brain, when people’s brains are feel lonely, basically, you scan for threats twice as fast. Now, that makes perfect sense, you know, to think in our ancestral environment, if you were by yourself and didn’t feel supported, you would need to be looking over your shoulder because, you know, health is income, but certainly that’s not very conducive to living a happy life. But what really blew me away when doing the research and check the heck out of me was that, you know, John Cacioppo is the leading researcher on loneliness, and he found that lonely people don’t spend any less time with others than non lonely people do. And that, like, seemed ridiculous. But then I thought about it. And, you know, we’ve all had that experience of feeling lonely in a crowd. You know, it’s, and that’s what catchy oboe found is that basically, loneliness isn’t about proximity, proximity to other people. Loneliness is how you feel about your relationships. And just spending time near others isn’t going to make you feel better about that. It’s about the depth and the strength of your relationships to others, not that they’re nearly in front of you.

george grombacher 7:16
That is that is profound. And I’ve certainly had that experience. It’s just putting myself in, you know, in those shoes about being around people, but not feeling like I fit in or just whatever the case may be just feeling uncomfortable. And I don’t know that I’ve felt lonely, maybe I maybe I have. Do you? Do you lay out the the for lack of a better term remedy?

Eric Barker 7:41
Yeah, I mean, as opposed to merely spending more time with others, it’s about deepening the relationships you have, you know, and about strengthening. And in the friendship section of the book, you know, I go through the work of Dale Carnegie. And, you know, his his work and how to how to win friends and influence people is probably most familiar was successful, both on relationships and friendships, at least. And it turns out that even though he wrote that book, long before about the advent of most social science, most everything he said was correct, you know, with the exception of EP said, try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. And actually, you know, we’re really terrible at that Nicholas employees research at University of Chicago says shows that we’re really bad. And when we try to do that, we typically make incorrect assumptions. And it turns out worse, we we only correctly read the thoughts and feelings of strangers 20% of the time, we, we can do it accurately with friends 30% of the time and spouses we top out at 35%. So whatever you think is on your spouse’s mind, two thirds of the time, you’re wrong. So we need to ask people, we need to, we need to actually talk to them to not make assumptions. We’re not Sherlock Holmes. But in terms of deepening relationships, Dale Carnegie doesn’t really cover that. What that comes down to really what I found with the research is time and vulnerability. You know, time is the thing that actually friends are most likely to argue about. And time is a powerful signal to tell somebody that you’re invested in them, you know, you only have 24 hours in a day, if you consistently spend time with someone that’s a clear, you know, demonstration that they’re important to you. And vulnerability is opening up and this is, you know, really critical for the relationship we’ve all had, you know, conversations that just small talk, it goes in circles and we just don’t feel like we’re really connected. To open up about the you know, your weaknesses about what’s on your mind what you’re concerned about. This is really powerful because it shows the other person if you’re willing to talk about stuff that might make you look bad, that says you trust them, and the best way to get someone else to trust you is to first put your trust in them. And if not only you know being and not being vulnerable in relationships doesn’t just hurt relationships. They can hurt you. Robert Garfield has done research at University of Pennsylvania. And what he found is that not being vulnerable not opening up increases prolongs my illnesses increases the chance of a first heart attack. And it also increases the chance that that heart attack will be lethal. Like I said, we loneliness is the stress equivalent of a physical assault, that’s how much it raises your stress hormones. So we need to open up we need to connect with people. And when we do spend time, connect with people act vulnerable, we can deepen our relationships, and we can we can avoid

george grombacher 10:24
that that makes a ton of sense. Certainly time is one of our most valuable resources. So who we give that to or allocated to, that makes sense and the vulnerability piece. That is powerful. Thank you for sharing that. In terms of you, you’ve, you’ve been a writer for a long time, and you’ve got this great blog. And obviously now two wonderful books. And as I say that you may very well have more books than that. How is how, how is when when you’re sitting down and just doing your blog? How is your writing different than than when you’re actually writing a book?

Eric Barker 11:02
It’s, it’s a good question. I mean, for the for the blog, I’m usually very focused on one particular book or piece of research particular subject matter. You know, for a book, you take a much bigger perspective, there’s a much more holistic, cohesive element that you need to think about in terms of how does this fit into the bigger picture, structural and pacing, you know, how, how is this connected with everything else. So it’s, it’s a much bigger endeavor, hopefully, to you, you’ve got like a theme and overriding idea that this is all feeding into. So it’s, you know, writing a blog post is usually about a very narrow particular subject. And I try to make that as relatable and fun as possible, you know, with with a book, you need to really step back, and it’s so much more big canvas activity, and, and therefore, it just requires, at least for me, a lot more planning and dance.

george grombacher 12:01
Got it? I just finished reading Steven Pressfield books, The War of Art and then turning pro have have, have you read those? Yeah. And what are your thoughts on that? Or maybe just how does that relate to your process?

Eric Barker 12:16
I mean, what I really appreciate about Steven Pressfield is just how kind of blunt and direct he is about to wear, you know, you know, for, I’ll keep this clean, but he’s got that great statement where he’s like, nobody wants to read your stuff. You know, it’s like a kind of a first, the first thing he comes out with. And it’s, I think it’s really, really powerful. It’s not, it’s, you know, it’s not exactly the most helpful or optimistic perspective. But it’s very important that you want to keep the reader’s attention, you want to give people something they’re interested in. And you always want to keep in mind that, you know, people can, people can close the book or close the browser tab whenever they want. So you want to be thinking about the reader and how to keep them engaged. I think he has a very, for somebody who is, you know, recently reading about the arts, he has a very practical perspective. And I think that’s powerful, because I just don’t think it gets it gets sad as often.

george grombacher 13:14
Yeah, I certainly really, really, really enjoyed it. So do you have a set number of hours, minutes that you write? Do you block time? How is how is your process look?

Eric Barker 13:26
Exactly, I basically have a countdown timer on my iPod, and I set it for five hours and I start working, it starts counting down and anytime I get up to go to the bathroom, I follow as I check my email, I pause I do anything other than work I post. And it’s it’s pretty ruthless. But I’ve I’ve proven myself to be such a innovative and creative procrastinator, that I need this sort of Sword of Damocles hanging over my head allows no exceptions. This this this kind of numerical zero tolerance policy is the way it gets things done. And that has to get to zero. So five hours on the clock usually ends up taking, you know, more like eight to 10 hours. And by the end, I don’t always make it but I usually make it and it’s it’s pretty ruthless, but it’s very effective.

george grombacher 14:19
Yeah, I appreciate you sharing that. So, at the top of our conversation, you mentioned that it’s probably just an offhand comment that you’re never you’ve never been great with relationships. So now that you’ve been sort of immersed in the theory of it, how do you think that that’s going to impact your relationships moving forward? How do you help it? Well,

Eric Barker 14:38
I mean, it’s, it’s already on so just in terms of those things we talked about with friendship where time and vulnerabilities kind of like you know making the time and and an even easier way to do that as opposed to scheduling something is to do just have, you know, rituals, have appointments have things you do regularly together with friends that stops it from being due to cold and mechanical without milk invites, you know, setting that ahead of time prioritizing, you know, is is really critical. And then the vulnerability part, that’s the tricky thing. But, you know, that’s really just an issue of, of fear. You know, as I talk about my book, you know, it’s I call it the scary roll on, like, if it scares you a little bit, say it, you know, it can be incremental, you don’t have to, you know, immediately confessed any murders, but, you know, open up a little bit. And if, you know, if, if what you say is accepted, if it’s reciprocated, then you know, escalate it, you know, this is how you deepen relationships are there, Aaron is one of the leading researchers on relationships, and he, through just people asking each other a series of questions, he was able to make people feel like lifelong friends in 45 minutes. In fact, two of his research assistants who we’re working on this project with him actually fell in love and got married. You know, it’s really powerful when we open up and you know, talk about more than, than sports in the weather. And I’ve been endeavoring to do that since writing the book. And it’s it’s actually been scary, but it’s been very helpful.

george grombacher 16:12
Yeah. Yeah. I, like certainly identify with that. So I put that’s awesome. So what’s next Are you are is just like a professional athlete who takes an offseason you go to Cabo, or are you right back on the next one?

Eric Barker 16:28
It’s, you know, right now, okay. It just came out with five weeks ago. So it’s, it’s, you know, a lot of promotional marketing stuff and still working on still working on the blog. You know, so those are the critical, critical things. But you know, just a lot of ads this week, I’ll be at the Aspen Ideas Festival. So you know, busy busy, by, you know, busy, he’s busy is good, because when you’re not busy, that could be even scarier.

george grombacher 16:55
Right. Nobody wants to talk to you, Eric. It’s probably not a good sign.

Eric Barker 16:59
Now for for my for my professional or personal life. That’s right. It’s all

george grombacher 17:03
of it. I love it. Well, Eric, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? Where can they find the blog? And where can they pick up a copy of plays well with others the surprising science behind why everything you know about relationships is mostly wrong.

Eric Barker 17:19
On the books, plays well with others and our conference rating are available most retailers, Amazon, etc. And people can find the blog, the best way to keep up with what I’m doing is to sign up for my newsletter. That’s Eric, which is Ric var K er.rb. And, you know, every week I do a blog post, you know, looking at the research and trying to help us all have better lives.

george grombacher 17:45
Excellent. If you enjoyed as much as I did show Eric your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas, pick up a copy of barking up the wrong tree as well as plays well with others. Wherever you buy your books, and then sign up for that newsletter and make sure you don’t miss any of Eric’s amazing blog posts at Eric It’s er IC be AR K er dot o RG. Thanks again, Eric. Thank you. And until next time, keep fighting the good fight. We’re all in this together.

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