Deciphering the puzzle of our personality with Brian Little (Transcript)

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ReThinking with Adam Grant
Deciphering the puzzle of our personality with Brian Little
July 11, 2023

[00:00:00] Adam Grant:
Hey everyone, it's Adam Grant. Welcome back to ReThinking, my podcast on the science of what makes us tick. I'm an organizational psychologist, and I'm taking you inside the minds of fascinating people to explore new thoughts and new ways of thinking.

My guest today is Brian Little. In 2001, when I was a junior in college, I signed up for his personality psychology class, and it changed the course of my life. I was mesmerized by his deep insight, his boundless curiosity, and his care for his students. Brian is the reason I became a professor and a psychologist.

I couldn't think of a more meaningful career than trying to pay forward what I'd learned from him. 15 years later, I got to open for him on the TED stage. Brian's TED talk on the puzzle of personality has been viewed more than 17 million times. If you haven't watched it, you're in for a treat. He has a unique ability to make you think as hard as he makes you laugh.

Brian is the bestselling author of the books Me, Myself, and Us and Who Are You, Really? He's won numerous awards for his excellence in teaching at Harvard, McGill, and Cambridge, and for his distinguished contributions to personality science.

He’s best known for his pioneering research on personal projects. Personal projects are the answer to the question, “What do you think you're doing?”They're your priorities in life, from walking the dog to raising an independent child. Today we're gonna do a deep dive into how your projects shape your happiness.

So, I love this unscripted podcast format ‘cause it gives me an excuse to talk to a fascinating person every week. However, what I really missed is having a co-host who I can banter with, and I don't think there's been an episode yet where I haven't thought to myself, “Oh, I would love to talk to Brian about this.”

[00:01:54] Brian Little:
Oh, isn't that a cool thing?

[00:01:57] Adam Grant:
I figured if you're not my co-host, you can at least be my guest.

[00:02:00] Brian Little:
Oh, I thought you're gonna segue now into showing who your real guest is and, and then we would interview her or him. Yeah.

[00:02:10] Adam Grant:
I wonder if we could do an episode where, uh, we pick a person who we think is interesting and, we each have a, a goal of talking to them about the same topic and then compare what the questions looked like and how we learn different things from the way we engage.

[00:02:27] Brian Little:
Yeah, that's actually a fascinating idea.

[00:02:28] Adam Grant:
Are you in?

[00:02:28] Brian Little:

[00:02:29] Adam Grant:
I have such a vivid memory of having my arm twisted to take your class when I didn't think personality was an important part of psychology, which is embarrassing in hindsight, and being riveted by your ability to captivate an audience, by your wisdom and wit and encyclopedic knowledge, and then being blown away again when I scheduled a short meeting with you and you spent hours asking about my life story. Can I just ask you why? Like, what did you think you were doing?

[00:02:59] Brian Little:
I had taken early retirement and had won a fellowship to go to the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard, and when I had the opportunity to teach a, a course, I was overjoyed and I thought, “Oh, I had the chance to actually meet some students who have, um, a glorious past behind them and see if we can keep that going.”
And it was sort of fortuitous that one of the first who said, “Can I talk to you?” it was a guy called Adam Grant. Now talk about luck. There's nobody I could have thought of who had more potential, so I was ripe for mentoring students that would explode into productive careers, and you just happened to stumble into that open door.

[00:03:57] Adam Grant:
Well, I couldn't be more thankful that I did. And if I heard you right, are you saying that if we had met 10 years earlier, you wouldn't have changed my life?

[00:04:05] Brian Little:
I don't think I would have. I would've been so busy with, with cumulative students and with my own research and with putting everything into my lecturing that I may not have had the opportunity to, in my project space, to sit down at the faculty club with you and talk about Adam's journey.

[00:04:32] Adam Grant:
I, I don't know whether to be extra grateful because of that or to be really annoyed by the fact that something so important could depend so heavily on chance.

[00:04:41] Brian Little:
Oh, the contingencies of life. I mean, they're stunning, aren't they? Contingency in our lives is absolutely central to my mature view of where personality psychology is right now. That we are looking so hard for causal mechanisms that we often fail to appreciate how we create the situations that we find ourselves in.

But sheer chance comes booming out of the left visual field, and all of a sudden you've got a new research idea or you've fallen in love or all of a sudden you've got clarity in something you've never thought of before. And that seems to me to be part of the magic of what it is to be a human being. And if we have no room for it in a scientific psychology, then we're the more impoverished by that, I think.

[00:05:37] Adam Grant:
I think that's well put. So, you mentioned falling in love. Let's talk about how you fell in love with psychology.

[00:05:45] Brian Little:
I was a strange undergraduate. I, I, at one point, I majored in English and, and bacteriology. I was… That’s true. And I was absolutely torn between the arts and the sciences, and I took, in my third year, I guess, a couple of psychology courses that totally hooked me. Neurons in the morning and narratives in the afternoon, and I could draw on Shakespeare to evoke the language of personality challenges.

I can draw on some of the biological science that I was interested in to explain the propensities that drive us to act the way we are. And to me, it was just intoxicating. It was also, again, just sheer luck. I had been going into the neuropsych side of things when I discovered this book that had been mis-shelved.

That was supposed to be the anatomy book on the brain, and in fact, it was George Kelly's Psychology of Personal Constructs, and I sat down on the floor in the library and read it and couldn't put it down and changed my views right there that I wanted to go into psychology, but not neuroscience so much as the study of personality.

So again, fortuity, luck, a mis-shelved book. I see it as absolutely marvelous how fortuity can just plunk itself down on us, change our life trajectory. It can add a kind of gratitude to life that you say, “Isn't it fabulous that I met Adam that day at the, at the faculty club?” And these are the things that I think we shouldn't be annoyed with, but we should take in as part of what it is to be a human being.

[00:07:41] Adam Grant:
That's a perspective that I need to internalize. You're much better at accepting a lack of control in life than I am, and—

[00:07:49] Brian Little:
Yeah, probably. Yes.

[00:07:50] Adam Grant:
A lot better, in fact.

[00:07:51] Brian Little:
It’s partly due to age. I'm twice your age. You give up the sense that “I can control things”. And remember Aaron Antonovsky, the sociologist.

[00:08:00] Adam Grant:
I was just gonna say sense of coherence, Antonovsky.

[00:08:02] Brian Little:
So it's not that I am in control, but things are under control. And so if as we are lucky enough to have loving, supportive people in our lives. I may not be able to control everything, but I think there is a predictable, relatable sense of surety in my environment, even when I no longer have the control to do it myself.

[00:08:26] Adam Grant:
There's a part of me that when I hear about the importance of serendipity in life, I think, “Well, that's unfair.” Because many people miss out on those chance connections.

[00:08:35] Brian Little:

[00:08:36] Adam Grant:
And it's also frustrating because I can't plan to create more of them. And what you're saying is there will be enough of them.

[00:08:43] Brian Little:
Yes. That's a good way of putting it, Adam. Yeah. Yeah. Sufficient unto the day.

[00:08:47] Adam Grant:
I loved how when you introduced personal projects, you opened my eyes to the possibility that personality was not just the traits we have, but it's the choices we make and the things we do.

[00:08:57] Brian Little:
We need to look at what in John's life, in Joanna's life, is the meeting point of her propensities and her predicament of the time, her situation at the time. And that has occupied me for the last, what, 123 years now?

[00:09:15] Adam Grant:
Now, the phrase that always sticks with me that you coined was that they capture both our trivial pursuits and our magnificent obsessions. How many projects does a typical person have and what are they like?

[00:09:26] Brian Little:
Yeah, people generate about 15 different projects. If we, if we give them 20 minutes to sit down and, and the range of content is quite stunning. I use the term “trivial pursuits” because some of them clearly seemed to be trivial, you know, like “pick up my shoes from the shoe repair place”. But, it didn't take long for us to realize that those trivial pursuits may, from the perspective of the pursuer, be pretty consequential.

The best example I, I can use is, you know, the project of, of put out the dog into the backyard. If you are in a wheelchair, and the building code is such that you're not able to get out easily, there are the barriers—literally—to your easily completing that project. Then, to say, “Oh, it's a trivial pursuit,” is really unfortunate, and it, it goes to the whole business of people are pursuing projects that matter to them. What are the barriers—both internal and external—that will facilitate or frustrate that pursuit?

And once we think of projects that way, then we start to get, I think, a more humane conception of what people are about in their daily lives. And so I always feel a little guilty about coining the terms, “trivial pursuits”. Now, there's a whole literature mainly out of philosophy that argues that it's important that we have a life project that brings meaning in our life.

And I think there's some danger in that if you just have one overriding project. Because if these affordances dry up, or your internal resolve lessens, then you may find that you've got nothing left. And so having several core projects or interchangeable projects or buffer projects seems to be a, a better way of dealing with the complexities of life than being driven only to have that one overriding goal.

I think psychologically, if you have vested everything in one project and you're rigidly unable to dissociate from that project when things are going wrong, then problems may be ahead. We know that depression can arise out of that as Eric Klinger taught us and, and so on.

[00:11:58] Adam Grant:
I remember when I did my undergrad thesis using projects, it was so exciting to see the data come in. Because following your methods, I was able to ask people like, “What are the projects that you're working on?”

[00:12:11] Brian Little:

[00:12:11] Adam Grant:
And then see the texture of them. I have to ask you, what are some of your favorite personal projects that people have shared over the years?

[00:12:19] Brian Little:
Be a better druid. I thought this was a delightful project. Be a druid, maybe one, but be a better druid. It always intrigued me as to does it mean, you, you hug the tree even harder or what? That's a flippant view of druidism. So my apologies to any druids who are listening.

The first three projects that I got from a university sample was… So, the very first three that I looked at were clarify my philosophy of life, develop a more philosophical understanding, the third was get laid. And I, I thought—

[00:12:58] Adam Grant:

[00:12:59] Brian Little:
Well, that sort of captures the ecosystem of, of college life in the days when I was carrying that out.

[00:13:07] Adam Grant:
Okay, so we all have a range of projects. Understanding what our projects are tells you a lot about how our lives are going. And I think one of the most powerful points you've made from your research on projects is that, uh, well-being depends on the sustainable pursuit of core projects.

[00:13:24] Brian Little:

[00:13:24] Adam Grant:
What are the features of projects that are most relevant to well-being?

[00:13:30] Brian Little:
There are five that I've, over the years, settled on. One is how meaningful are your projects? And by this we mean: are they enjoyable? Are they consistent with your values? Are they self-expressive? That is, do you see yourself in these projects? They express who you are instead of being alien or alienating.

Interestingly, meaning is not the best predictor of well-being. In order to see how meaning plays out in our lives, you need to take a second of the five, which is the manageability of your project.

So you can have deeply meaningful projects. But if they're low in likelihood of successful completion, what we call efficacy; control, to an extent or a sense of coherence over them; adequate time. These are the manageability functions. So core projects that are meaningful, but are also high on manageability are conducive to wellbeing. If they are not manageable, meaningful projects do not add to predicting your global subjective well-being.

[00:14:46] Adam Grant:
So we should be aware of purpose without the potential for progress.

[00:14:50] Brian Little:
Absolutely. The single most important dimension out of personal projects in predicting various outcome measures like health and well-being and happiness is the sense of efficacy. The likelihood that you will, that you perceive successful completion of these projects.

If you're engaged in projects that are drenched with meaning, but you see is hopeless. Find the perfect person in my life—likelihood of successful completion? Two. Those people tend not to be as globally happy as those who have, uh, concordance between manageability and meaning. And then there are—

[00:15:35] Adam Grant:
Oh, that’s funny. I thought I thought you were gonna say find the perfect person. Those people tend not to exist.

[00:15:41] Brian Little:
Oh yeah, they do. There are 12. There are 12 of them. Oh, you haven't learned that yet? That's my next year's seminar. Adam, you must sign up for it. The 12 perfect people in the world. Oh, where were we?

[00:15:54] Adam Grant:
Okay, so we have meaning and manageability needing to go hand in hand in some ways.

[00:15:57] Brian Little:
Right. And the third of the five. I used to call it community, but we now call it connection, uh, with others. Not connection between projects, but connection with other individuals. And there are two components of that, one of which has become based largely on your work.

Originally, we thought connection in your projects was how much support you get from them. So you could have meaningful and manageable projects, but nobody gives you credit for them. Nobody likes them. They find them boring and uninteresting. They don't want you to incorporate them into your life with them. And so that's likely not to be a sustainable project unless you're going to be off on your own completely and in a hermitage somewhere.

[00:16:44] Adam Grant:
So interesting. I would've put the contribution part of that more under meaning than connection.

[00:16:48] Brian Little:
Oh, how interesting.

[00:16:49] Adam Grant:
But it may be both. All right. We'll have to follow up on that one. Um…

[00:16:52] Brian Little:
Yeah, for sure. Next Thursday at four o’clock, yeah.

[00:16:58] Adam Grant:
Okay, so… it’s now in my calendar. I think a lot of people would stop here and say, “If I have projects that are meaningful and manageable and that connect me to other people, I'm good.” You say, “Not so fast.”

[00:17:10] Brian Little:
There are two dimensions that remain. One is positive affect and the other is negative affect. If we put it simply, the relative preponderance of positive emotions in your projects is going to make them more sustainable.

Clearly, you can have meaningful, manageable, supported projects that matter to other people, but if they're unrelentingly stressful for you, they’re not gonna be sustainable. You're gonna burn out.

[00:17:39] Adam Grant:
This was a big aha moment for me back when I was in college. I remember at the time, you know, reading your work on projects and saying, “Okay, I would love to study this, but also this is really relevant to my life.”

So I made a list of my projects. I started rating them on, meaning, manageability, connection, and I felt like things were going well, and then I discovered that some of my most meaningful projects were among my most stressful ones too. Which I think is a, is a common experience for a lot of people.

And I was puzzled at first. Why is that? Like I chose this project. I love this project. I, I, I remember doing this with the decision of, “Should I give up my diving career?”

[00:18:21] Brian Little:

[00:18:21] Adam Grant:
The manageability was there, and the meaning in it came from challenging myself and trying to pursue personal growth.

[00:18:30] Brian Little:

[00:18:30] Adam Grant:
But also from a team and a coach who were depending on me, and it was my strongest source of belonging on campus. And yet it was extremely stressful.

[00:18:41] Brian Little:
Okay. Yeah.

[00:18:42] Adam Grant:
The more stressful part was when I got to the cross-impact matrix where you created this module for, for asking, how do these projects affect each other?

[00:18:50] Brian Little:

[00:18:51] Adam Grant:
And I realized that the diving project in and of itself was, a core project for me, but it was having a negative impact on every other project that I had. It was interfering with my ability to do the deep dive into psychology I wanted because it was so time-consuming. It was preventing me from working enough hours to be able to pay for school. It was constraining the friendships and relationships that I was trying to build, and I think it was an epiphany moment that even a project that you love and care about can become a tremendous burden if it has a negative impact on your other core projects.

[00:19:28] Brian Little:
Wow. You've never told me that.

[00:19:30] Adam Grant:
I haven’t. I've n—I don't think I've crystallized it until now.

[00:19:32] Brian Little:
Yeah. Actually, Adam—

[00:19:34] Adam Grant:
Thinking back to that.

[00:19:34] Brian Little:

[00:19:35] Adam Grant:
That it was, it was a big light bulb moment for me. And it's a big part of why I ended up walking away from diving because I realized that the project was a net negative in my life, even though it had been one of the most positive forces.

[00:19:46] Brian Little:
I also used to tease you by saying, “It's just dropping. How's your dropping going, Adam?” And I realize now, jeez, that's pretty cheeky for a guy for whom it has been a core project in his life. I will never, ever say that again.

[00:20:03] Adam Grant:
I, I, I think it, it was a, it was a good reminder that there's more to life than diving.

[00:20:07] Brian Little:

[00:20:08] Adam Grant:
I mean, I think there are a lot of coaches who would describe diving as a controlled fall. The cross-impact of one project on others is extremely consequential and often invisible to us. We choose projects on the basis of thinking this is gonna be meaningful and manageable, and it's gonna connect me to others and I'm going to enjoy it. And all those things might be true.

[00:20:28] Brian Little:

[00:20:28] Adam Grant:
But it still might be a problematic project if it interferes with the rest of my priorities.

[00:20:33] Brian Little:
You alluded to this kind of issue earlier. There’s the joint cross-impact matrix, which is how does your project impact upon the projects of others? And you said one of the stress-inducing aspects of giving up diving was that you'd be giving up mentoring others, and you would be in a sense letting them down. We have a matrix that allows you to plot your projects against those of your loved ones, say, or in marital counseling, or against your coach, or against your boss in an organizational setting.

I didn't even realize somebody might say that my jogging project—is keep fit by jogging when, you know when I get home from work—that it interferes with, with your partner's project. Spend quality time with my partner. And so there, a revelation, not in the burning bush sense, but in the micro-sense, a revelation that with a slight change in the scheduling of my projects, I'll spend half an hour and have a cup of coffee, and “how's your day” with my partner. And then she can go out and jog after that. These kind of insights come from doing this.


[00:22:02] Adam Grant:
So, Brian, can we do a lightning round?

[00:22:04] Brian Little:

[00:22:04] Adam Grant:
Tell me in a sentence what you think is the most interesting recent finding in personality psychology.

[00:22:14] Brian Little:
No. I, I can't put in a sentence so I won't. I think the fact that there are some genetic determinants of personality, which in interaction with social features like loneliness that a person experiences opens up some fascinating research possibilities. The, the interaction between genetics and genomic analysis and social ecology. That's a really rich vein I'd love to see people exploring.

[00:22:50] Adam Grant:
You've spent a lot of your career studying introversion and extroversion. What do you think is the biggest misconception about introverts?

[00:22:56] Brian Little:
That it's fixed. That label is sufficient to account for everything that's important in your life. There is a tendency for people to glom onto these labels and, um, it… We, we’re not like that. I mean all the evidence is that people in the quotidian and the daily life, um, act both introvertedly and extrovertedly. And under the view of traits that I buy, which is a kind of act frequency or what I call an act saliency approach, some individuals more frequently act in a way that we would see as extroverted than others who act in a way that we would see as more introverted.

The question is, what are the occasions that demand me, for example, to act in an extroverted way? We're in one right now. If I were to be a more typical introverted me, first of all, I would say, Adam, “I'm sorry I can't really do this, but thanks so much for asking me. I hope everything's going well in your life. I can't do it.”

Well, I don't know, is a core value for me is being there and rising to occasions and so, and if I just am boringly introverted the way I truly am, then I don't think that would be, end up being a particularly interesting interview.

[00:24:21] Adam Grant:
Well, that’s exactly where we're going—

[00:24:23] Brian Little:

[00:24:23] Adam Grant:
—next, to acting outta character. Before we go there, how many personal projects do you have right now?

[00:24:29] Brian Little:
The last time I did one, it was 116. Yeah. No, I'm not kidding. I mean, genuinely—

[00:24:35] Adam Grant:
That might be a few too many.

[00:24:36] Brian Little:
Yeah. Yeah. And that's, that's not even chunking. Uh, so one of those is an 800-page compendium on personal projects analysis. That's just one project.

[00:24:48] Adam Grant:
Oh, dear.

[00:24:49] Brian Little:
However, I have taken my health projects and broken them down into many, many subcategories.

[00:24:56] Adam Grant:
Wow. That is definitely a lot.

[00:24:57] Brian Little:
It's ridiculous. I am so easily enthused by and attracted to things that I, I just can't get enough of life. And it's a disease.

[00:25:09] Adam Grant:
Let’s continue the discussion of acting out of character.

[00:25:11] Brian Little:

[00:25:11] Adam Grant:
So you talk about our fates beyond traits.

[00:25:13] Brian Little:

[00:25:14] Adam Grant:
I think this is such a liberating way to look at personality, because when we first studied personality in your class, my instinct was to say, “I am an agreeable, conscientious introvert.”

[00:25:25] Brian Little:

[00:25:26] Adam Grant:
And what you taught me was, no, I didn't choose those traits. I have introversion, I feel pulled toward agreeableness and conscientiousness. But what's much more important than my personality is my principles. And the projects I've often found the most meaning in are the ones in which I transcend my traits to try to be true to my values.

[00:25:49] Brian Little:

[00:25:50] Adam Grant:
And for both of us, I think that's teaching, which requires us to act somewhat extroverted despite being introverts.

[00:25:56] Brian Little:

[00:25:56] Adam Grant:
As an agreeable person, I really like to get along with people. And one of the ways in which I've found myself acting out of character a lot over the, the past decade in particular, is being a good mentor requires me to constantly challenge people, and it requires me to play a more disagreeable role than I might choose for myself.

[00:26:16] Brian Little:

[00:26:16] Adam Grant:
But I care a lot about developing my students.

[00:26:19] Brian Little:

[00:26:20] Adam Grant:
Just like you do. Also, I think doing whatever this is called. Thought leadership.

[00:26:24] Brian Little:

[00:26:25] Adam Grant:
Requires me to engage in debates with people who I think are getting the science wrong.

[00:26:30] Brian Little:

[00:26:30] Adam Grant:
And that involves a level of disagreeableness that if I were choosing how I spend every hour of every day, I would not necessarily opt into.

[00:26:39] Brian Little:

[00:26:39] Adam Grant:
And yet I think it's extremely important. What do we know about the consequences of these kinds of decisions to act out of character?

[00:26:47] Brian Little:
I have to say I, I'm very much the same as you. I'm not as good at acting disagreeable as, as you are. I, I find it.

[00:26:55] Adam Grant:
Oh, no, no. I don't know if I wanna be good at that.

[00:26:59] Brian Little:
No, but, but you, I've seen you in your disputes and debates with people in the media and so on, and you can be tough and you, you espouse tough love in a, in a way that I would find difficult.

I, I really appreciate how when you're forced to act out of character and be disagreeable, it could really feel awful. I leak agreeableness when I'm trying to be disagreeable. So I'll, I'll try to attenuate by saying, “This simply won't do.” I, I can't just say, “This simply won't do.” I gotta put in these little contingent clauses that extricate me from being disagreeable.

You are better at that than I am. The empirical study of acting out of character with agreeableness-disagreeableness, as far as I know, is not preceded. So, this is speculation and given what we found with, with extroversion, I wanna be very cautious in saying that we're gonna expect this free trait argument to hold. Even with the examples I always gave in the extroversion-introversion, acting out of character scenario was that introverts will find it very difficult to act extrovertedly and have to find a restorative niche.

The empirical evidence is that it's hard for extroverts to act introvertedly all day long in front of a computer when they're dying for social contact and excitement, and they've gotta have a restorative niche and sure as hell isn't sitting under the tree in the garden. It's going down to the pub or it's going to someplace where there's loud music and they can go, ah.

And um, that's different restorative niches for different people. What would be fun to see is the disagreeable people feel stressed when they have to act agreeable.

[00:28:48] Adam Grant:

[00:28:48] Brian Little:
And it must be very hard to, you know, if you're in a service job where you have to be pleasant all day, it can be tough. Now what's the restorative niche for that? That's to go to the gym and pound the punching bag or do something to get your aggression out. I think that's the restorative niche there.

[00:29:07] Adam Grant:
Maybe, or does venting only fuel those flames? There's an interesting debate on that.

[00:29:11] Brian Little:
That's another debate. Exactly. Oh God. Something else is just added to my to-do list.

[00:29:16] Adam Grant:
Uh oh. I'm not trying to give you another project, but I, I'm curious about how this plays out with other traits too.

[00:29:21] Brian Little:

[00:29:22] Adam Grant:
So I think about, for example, being a relatively emotionally stable person, but having high anxiety.

[00:29:28] Brian Little:

[00:29:28] Adam Grant:
Am I acting out of character if I act calm? If I'm calm, too calm for too long? Do I feel like I'm no longer myself or am I learning to expand my comfort zone and make it second nature?

[00:29:40] Brian Little:
Yeah, that’s the toughest one. Remember, you, we've talked about this before and I, I remember saying to myself, “Adam's got a, a really good point there,” because intuitively, that doesn't sound right, does it? To say that if I act out of character as a stable person, does that take a toll?

I mean, that sounds counterintuitive. I can think of situations in which you were forced to be stable, bite the bullet, stand up, and do something where you've controlled your anxiety level, and the restorative niche for you after that is just to cry your eyes out, to emote, probably with another person.

I've seen situations where somebody has been, uh, what I often call a be a big person. Uh, and these are sometimes grad students who have to give their first talk at a, a job talk, and they're big people, and they got through it, but they just fall apart later on. And that falling apart is, I think, restorative for them because then they could say, “Okay, I did it. I did it. I did it.”

[00:30:59] Adam Grant:
That's fascinating. One of the things I've, I've learned from listening to you on this topic today that I didn't think about before was, I think I came into this discussion assuming that the cost of acting out of character was having to suppress your traits to whatever extent.

[00:31:16] Brian Little:

[00:31:16] Adam Grant:
They have a strong biogenetic basis.

[00:31:18] Brian Little:

[00:31:18] Adam Grant:
They don't just vanish.

[00:31:19] Brian Little:

[00:31:20] Adam Grant:
You can't just suppress them forever, and that suppression takes a toll. I think what you've highlighted here though is that the sense of volition and choice really matters, and the experience of acting out of character is different when you're being pressured to do it than when you've said, “I'm doing this because it's important to me and it's who I am.”

[00:31:37] Brian Little:
I agree completely. The sustainability is greater if it is something that you've volitionally undertake rather than something that is imposed on you. That's absolutely true.

[00:31:48] Adam Grant:
Well, Brian, this has as always been so much fun.

[00:31:52] Brian Little:
Same. So good to see you.

[00:31:52] Adam Grant:
Same. We don't get to do it often enough. I'm gonna start more podcasts.

[00:31:57] Brian Little:
Sounds great.

[00:32:01] Adam Grant:
What really hit home for me in that conversation was that many of us look at the projects in our lives in isolation, add ones we're excited about, drop anything that no longer brings joy or meaning. But when we consider our projects as a whole system, we often realize that even some of our favorite projects can interfere with our broader priorities.

That's what diving ended up doing for me. The most important question about a project is not whether you love it or hate it. It's how it affects your ability to pursue the other projects that matter deeply to you.

Rethinking is hosted by me, Adam Grant, and produced by TED with Cosmic Standard. Our team includes Colin Helms, Eliza Smith, Jacob Winik, Aja Simpson, Samiah Adams, Michelle Quint, BanBan Cheng, Hannah Kingsley-Ma, Julia Dickerson, and Whitney Pennington Rodgers. This episode was produced and mixed by Cosmic Standard.

Our fact-checker is Paul Durbin. Original music by Hansdale Hsu and Allison Leyton-Brown. For more from Brian, listen to our WorkLife episode Your Hidden Personality.

[00:33:06] Brian Little:
You have been subject to my habit of this ludicrous precision in, in estimates of quantitative things, so—

[00:33:16] Adam Grant:
It's true. I will never forget you calling someone—a professor I didn't particularly like—the third most boring person on earth. So absurdly and delightfully specific.

[00:33:31] Brian Little:
It's, I don't know why I do that, but I, I'm gonna, I'm trying to stop some of these verbal texts, but—

[00:33:37] Adam Grant:
I don't think you should. It's my fourth favorite thing you do.

[00:33:41] Brian Little:
Oh, I taught you, well, my friend.