Written by : Transcript – Reclaim Your Personal Power With Dr. Emma Seppälä 

Transcript – Reclaim Your Personal Power With Dr. Emma Seppälä

Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Reclaim Your Personal Power With Dr. Emma Seppälä





[0:00:02] PF: Thank you for joining us for Episode 465 of Live Happy Now. We live in a world that is increasingly chaotic, and this week’s guest has a better roadmap for navigating this uncertain territory.


I’m your host, Paula Felps, and today I’m sitting down with Dr. Emma Seppälä, a Yale professor, bestselling author, and research scientist, whose new book is, Sovereign: Reclaim Your Freedom, Energy, and Power in a Time of Distraction, Uncertainty, and Chaos.


Emma is here to talk about how embracing both our positive and negative experiences and becoming more compassionate with ourselves, can improve our relationships, cultivate greater personal freedom, and even improve our physical health. Let’s have a listen.




[0:00:47] PF: Emma, welcome to Live Happy Now.


[0:00:49] ES: Thank you, I’m so happy to be here.


[0:00:51] PF: It’s such an honor to have you on the show. You’ve done some amazing work already and you have a brand-new book coming out that we’re going to talk about, but I really appreciate you taking the time to sit down and talk to us today.


[0:01:02] ES: Absolutely. Yes. I’m delighted.


[0:01:06] PF: So, your new book is called Sovereign and that’s a word we don’t hear a lot. It kind of stops you for a moment. So, it takes a little bit of an introduction to understand what is sovereignty and especially for you, you talk about personal sovereignty. Can you explain that to us?


[0:01:23] ES: Absolutely. So, my first book was about science of happiness, and there’s a lot to share there, as you know, from your podcast. But after – I used all those practices, and I use them still daily. But I realized there was another element that you can be doing all the self-care practices you want. But if you don’t have sovereignty, and I’ll explain what that is, then you can’t get all the way there.


What do I mean by that, you can meditate all day, but if you are highly self-critical, and buy into fears and beliefs about yourself, that are not serving you, and engage in behaviors and addictive habits that are destructive, then you’re not going to be able to attain the level of fulfillment that you wish, nor are you going to be able to show up as your best self. So, I think it’s helpful if I give an example.


[0:02:12] PF: Please. Yes.


[0:02:13] ES: Yes, I teach audiences. So, I teach executives at the Yale School of Management and I see these highly talented people coming through. When I ask audiences, “How many of you are self-critical”, 90% to 95% of people raise their hand. As you probably know, from psychology, self-criticism is a form of self-loathing. When you think about that for a second, you’re like, “Wait a second, 90% to 95% of people are walking around with self-loathing. That’s pretty intense.” When you look at the research, self-criticism, as you’re beating yourself up whenever you make mistakes, which most people do, is linked to anxiety, is linked to depression, it’s linked to fear of failure, it’s linked to less willingness to try again. All of the things that are the opposite of resilience are the opposite of wellbeing. And you’ve got to wonder, like, I mean, you can wonder where this all comes from. But that that actually doesn’t really matter. I mean, it’s social conditioning, programming, whatever you want to call it. But the idea is, once we can acknowledge that this is happening, that’s when you can have that awareness and step out of it and reprogram yourself, and question the way you’ve been doing things because research shows when we have a more life supportive relationship with ourselves, that’s when we’re really going to thrive.


So, I often ask people, what do you say to yourself when you make a big mistake? People usually say, “You’re such an idiot. Blanc.” Those kinds of words. But then if you ask people, what would you say to your best friend who’ve made the same mistake? They’ll say, “You’re okay. Everyone makes mistakes. You’re doing great. Don’t worry.” Right?


[0:03:40] PF: Right.


[0:03:41] ES: So, the question is, what’s the difference between you and your best friend, there’s no difference other than that you live inside different bodies. You got to wonder, so that’s where I question some of these beliefs and I call that the bound state, because that binds us. It’s like we have like an inner terrorist living inside of us and that is not allowing us to show up at our full potential. The majority of people on their deathbeds regret not living the life they wanted. Let’s not be one of those people.


[0:04:09] PF: Yes. I love this because I know people who don’t understand why the practices aren’t working for them. It’s like, but I practice gratitude, and I practice, I want to forgive people and I try these different things, try to take these steps toward joy. I practice kindness and it’s just not getting them quite there. This is kind of like tilling the soil, to make the – plant the seeds that will really be able to grow and make those practices bloom.


[0:04:38] ES: Absolutely. So, one other example is I have a whole chapter on the mind, and so many of us don’t realize that we are conditioning our minds all day long with the information we’re taking, and we’re taking in over 60,000 gigabytes of information across all our media channels every day, which is enough to crash a small computer in a week. I mean –


[0:04:56] PF: Oh, my gosh. That’s overwhelming.


[0:04:58] ES: It’s overwhelming. When you think about it, so what is it that we’re taking in? And are we aware of what we’re taking in, and the impact it’s having on us? If you’re constantly taking in, let’s say, news, you’re conditioning yourself for fear and anxiety. If you’re constantly taking in, if you’re just doom scrolling, and looking at accounts that are making you want to buy something, or making you feel like you’re not attractive enough, or whatever the other things, many things that evoke desire are ways that we’re conditioning our mind for anxiety, for depression. Many of us are not aware of everything we’re taking in, and what the quality of our mind that ensues.


So, you are what you eat is also true of your mind. One of the things I’m inviting people to do is okay, what are you conditioning your mind with? Of course, the mind is also conditioned by everything else, it’s received, like, for example, that the self-loathing is something that is passed down in families and societies. Yes, I mean, there’s so much more to say. I mean, trauma is obviously also something that everybody, most people have to deal with a certain level of it and that’s a form of mind conditioning. There are ways that we can help ourselves to become aware of state of our mind and what we can do about it, to have a more sovereign mind.


[0:06:11] PF: This is such a huge topic and I look at all the different silos that it affects when you talk about, we’re being programmed, we have our own internal cues that we’re giving ourselves. How did you even start mapping out what all needed to be included in this? What you needed to address, and then how did you research this? Because it is a massive, massive, and it’s not something that I’ve seen touched on a lot.


[0:06:37] ES: Thank you, Paula. This doesn’t sound very scientific. But it does, in some sense that I feel like this book came to me. Actually, when we look at research on creativity, we get our ideas. Those aha moments often come in times when we’re in meditation, or when we’re in this alpha wave, brainwave state. I feel like this book came to me, and I had it all mapped out in my mind. Of course, also, was my own experience. I went through my own experience of feeling like, “Wow, I’m applying all the happiness principles, but I’m still in this bound state and I had like a major health issue.” I realized, “Well, there are certain beliefs, there are certain habits, and things that we engage in that can bind us, regardless.” Like I said earlier, of the practices we’re doing.


So, the book really mapped itself out in my own mind, and each chapter could be a book on its own. In fact, I’ve had early readers read it and be like, “Oh, well, I’m not going to write a book about this whole topic that you address in one chapter.” I have one chapter on intuition, which doesn’t sound scientific, but there’s research on it. Neuroscience research, the military is doing research on it and there’s really interesting findings. One of my colleagues was like, “Well, my next book is about intuition, because I read your chapter.” So, you could go so deep and this is sort of an introduction to sovereignty, I think. And then readers can explore the topic further as it applies to them.


[0:07:56] PF: How does it specifically fit in this time we live in? Fifteen years ago, it wouldn’t land the way that it lands today. So, can you talk about this, why this is a book that is really a book of our times?


[0:08:10] ES: We live in a time of hyper-distraction, and to the point where there’s so much coming at us that sometimes it’s hard to know what we think, who we are, and what we believe, because there is so much and it’s a sailing on our senses. And it’s a sailing on our mind, and we know that the quality of our life depends on the state of our mind, right? You could be in traffic and still be happy. Or you could be on a desert, on a beautiful – Hawaii or something and be unhappy. It’s all about state of our mind. This is a time also where there’s just chaos. There’s chaos outside, there’s chaos on the globe, there’s distraction, like crazy through, all of our media channels, different messaging, who knows what to even – what to align with.


In a sense, we can so easily lose our footing with regard to our state of mind or state of being and a lot of people are struggling. There are also countless forms of addictive distractions to help us feel better, right? Whether it’s – anyway, I’m not just talking about the regular alcohol and drugs. There’s –


[0:09:12] PF: We’ve progressed past that.


[0:09:14] ES: Yes. There’s so much now. There’s so much and so many people profiting from that and so many businesses run off of them many ways. Even some people it’s like, “Well, they’re overworking or over exercising or you whatever it is.” I think a lot of people feel lost.


[0:09:31] PF: It’s like we’re bombarded with so much but our lives feel empty. There’s such a dichotomy there. But it’s like there’s so much coming at us and coming at us and we don’t really drink in the nutrients that we need for a healthy life, emotional, healthy life.


[0:09:48] ES: I love how you just said that, Paula. That’s exactly right. So, this book is an invitation to become aware of the many different ways in which we are being bombarded, in which we are standing in our own way without realizing, and waking up to the fact that we have a choice, and what are some things we can do to reclaim the life that we want to live, how we want to live it. Ideally, in the fullest expression of ourselves and to how to navigate these times.


[0:10:15] PF: Can you talk about where someone starts? Does it start with identifying where we’re at? And then deciding what you need? Or how do we start reclaiming that personal sovereignty?


[0:10:25] ES: So, I do include a lot of tools in the book, because I remember this, there was so much talk about self-love at some point, and you kind of felt like, what the heck is that? How do you even do that? As a scientist, I like to keep things really pragmatic. My first chapter is actually about sovereign self. Sovereign self, sovereign emotion, sovereign mind, sovereign relationship, sovereign intuition, and so forth, sovereign body. But I start with sovereign self because of that, like I said earlier, that state of self-loathing that most people are in, and that we don’t even realize.


I think one of the first steps to sovereignty is becoming aware of how we treat ourselves, and also having – but in order to build that self-awareness, a practice I really encourages meditation, which is now no longer – which is now popular, thanks to research that my colleagues and I did, and we’ve done some of that research. But I think for a lot of people, meditation is still a strain. Because when there’s anxiety and you sit to meditate, it’s really hard. So, I think a lot of people have tried meditation and kind of feel like, “It doesn’t work for me.”


We actually conducted research on breathing. For veterans with trauma, those are my original studies that we ran, because there was such high levels of anxiety that sitting and meditating was not an option. I can relate to that, because I was in New York City during 9/11 and I tried eating after that, and it was just not going to work for me. What worked was a breathing practice called SKY Breath Meditation.


Then 10 years later, and I’m working with veterans with trauma, and again, they were falling through the cracks with regards to therapy and pharmaceutical approaches. Then meditation, the mindfulness studies were not working out at the time in the VA that I was in because they were, again, when you have high anxiety, sitting and closing your eyes is just more anxiety provoking. So, we wanted to see, “Well, maybe this breathing practice that I learned all those years go through to that non-profit called Art of Living.” I thought maybe we can work with them, to see if we can work the veterans. We did, and it was really amazing to see how using your breath, you can really reprogram your nervous system.


In a sense, and again, actually the nonprofit that we worked with is called Project Welcome Home Troops and they offer this breathing for veterans, military, active, and their families. But what’s really interesting to me, as I call it, and Paula, tell me, if you agree on this, that psychology is such a top-down approach. It’s like all about change your thoughts, change your life. Right?


[0:12:50] PF: Right. We want that simple, like, “Okay, but where do I start? I’m anxious, I don’t have time to sit down and read a book. Tell me what to do.” And we can take a breath. You can learn to take a breath. I know that breathing is just a lifesaver. I remember being told when I was going through a very difficult time in my 30s, and someone said, “Paula, just breathe.” I thought, “That’s stupid.” Then I breathed, and it’s like, okay, and that saying just sticks in my head forever. Like, “Paula, just breathe.” That’s that trigger, when I get anxious is like, just breathe. And it does, it changes everything for people.


[0:13:29] ES: Changes everything. And it was the most moving research study I’ve ever run, because the veterans were at risk for taking their own lives and they said, “Thanks for giving me my life back.” And I thought, “Wow, something so simple, and yet so powerful.” In fact, yes, this week, actually, just this very week, I’m actually teaching someone who grew up as an enslaved person in Nepal, working in the sweatshops. I just met her a couple of days ago. In fact, I talk about her in my book in the introduction. She said, “Can you teach me?” It’s making a huge difference. It’s like, wow, I wish all people and all children and like – imagine everyone learns at 18. There goes your childhood trauma. Move on, sovereign.


[0:14:12] PF: There you go. We’ll get right back to my conversation with Emma.




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[0:15:19] ES: SKY Breath MEDITATION is a really powerful protocol. But what it showed us is that just as you can train your muscles to be strong for you to go out in the world, you can train your nervous system to be more resilient to stress by conditioning it and to be more in that parasympathetic mode. It’s stress resiliency and that’s what I love.


[0:15:38] PF: Yes. That’s such an important step. Then what about with all this self-loathing and self-criticism? What’s so interesting, because it can be self-critical, but I’ve never thought of it as self-loathing. I just thought, I’m just mean to myself sometimes. So, when you frame it like that, that gives you a whole different perspective. So, how do people go about correcting that? Because that’s a huge part of creating that better relationship with ourselves.


[0:16:03] ES: Well, first, you have to want to. It’s shocking how many people really relate to – well, I have to be critical of myself, because I’m so X, Y, Z. It’s like, “Says who?” Right? So, I think one way that can shock you into paying attention to this is when I was postpartum with my second child, my first child was three, and he heard me saying something out loud, like, “I just can’t do this.” Regarding parenting. Someone was screaming. I was like, “I just can’t – I’m not good at this.” I said something like that. And then a few days later, when he messed up at something, I heard him say the same words. Sometimes you need a shock like that, like, “Oh, really? Are you going to pass this on? You’re going to pass the self-loathing onto your child? Really? Is that what you want for your child?” Sometimes something like that.


Because it most definitely has been passed on in our families, in our societies, in our culture. If you’re a woman, even more so. What does it do? It disempowers you. It takes away your sovereignty, and you have to decide, “Wait a second, do I don’t want this for me, let alone for my child? Or do I want to live the life that I want?” There’s that. But that’s like, “Well, how do you do it?” I want to break this down in the most practical way possible. Is that throughout the day, just tuning in, and instead of asking, “Am I good enough?” Which so many people ask themselves. Am I good enough to be a spouse? Am I good enough to be doing the work I’m doing or whatever it is, right? Asking what’s good for me right now? What do I need right now? Tuning in a couple times a day, especially when you’re feeling stressed, or you’re feeling tension. Just what do I need right now?


I can tell you that right before this podcast. This morning, I had some different, like, other PR stuff that I’m doing to the book and I tuned in, after lunch, I tuned in like, wow, it’s been a lot today. I have an inbox overflowing with people emailing me, again, because I haven’t responded to their email and I should be doing that, but I didn’t. I went on that couch and I meditated. That’s what I needed to do. What do I need right now? That allows me to then show up for you, Paula, but also, for me to show up for me, in a way that I have taken care of my nervous system.


So, sometimes just training yourself to ask that. Sometimes you might need a nap. Sometimes you might need, if you don’t have any time, you just have five minutes. But what are you doing in those five minutes? Are you doing scrolling? Or you can take five minutes to go outside and just breathe some fresh air, or pet your dog, or whatever it is. Just a few minutes. In those few minutes are you doing something nourishing for yourself and keeping it really practical? Are you getting enough sleep at night? Are you eating enough? Are you eating quality? Little things like that. But I often think like when you have a child, you’re constantly aware, “Oh, wow, they haven’t had any water in like four hours if you’re aware.” Constantly, like, “Oh, my gosh. If they don’t eat soon, they’re going to have a meltdown. But we don’t do that for ourselves. So, it’s a little bit like training that, training that awareness inward.


[0:19:03] PF: How do, especially women, get past the idea that self-care is selfish? Because even though we know it’s not, we can tell each other it’s not – there are still a lot of times that little bit of guilt like, “Man, I shouldn’t be taking this time for myself when I still have laundry to do. I have this to do. I’ve got places I need to be.” So, how does someone get past that and recognize the importance of that self-care both physically and emotionally? I


[0:19:30] ES: I mean, this is such a – I mean, scientifically speaking, I can definitely share with you that when you take care of yourself, you show up with more emotional intelligence. So, you’re able to enact more successfully with others. You show up with a – so you’re going to have better relationships, whether it’s at work or at home. You’re going to make better decisions. You’re going to think more clearly. You’re going to remember things better. You’re going to be more efficient in what you’re doing because you’re going to be more present with what you’re doing. So, in a sense, if you want to be successful, you doing self-care is going to help you. But it’s also going to help others because we all know what it feels like to be around someone who’s stressed and burned out. It makes us feel stressed and burned out. Someone who’s stressed and burned out is also more likely to fly off the handle, and to be even hurtful ways. Oftentimes, our inability to take care of ourselves makes us hurt the people we love the most and want to hurt the least. So, it’s not selfish. It’s absolutely essential. If you want to – just for the people around you, if not for yourself.


[0:20:37] PF: Yes. So, it’s really an investment in not just yourself, but in your working relationships, in your personal relationships. It’s improving that for everybody.


[0:20:47] ES: Absolutely. Then, when you go to sleep at night, you don’t regret something you did or said, right? When you have greater self-care, you’re going to be more mindful. You’re going to be more thoughtful. You’re going to be more perceptive. You’re actually going to see more things. Our research shows that when you’re stressed, you’re tunnel-visioned. When you’re taking care of yourself and are in the sort of calmer space, you’re able to perceive more things, which is when you think about it, whether you’re a parent or leader, or whatever you’re doing. Being able to perceive more things and think from a broader perspective, is going to make you a lot more successful at what you’re doing.


[0:21:23] PF: Yes. When you invest in that strong personal relationship with yourself, how have you seen it change people? You’ve done so much research on this. When they really do make a personal relationship their priority, what does that do for them?


[0:21:37] ES: What happens is that they become more successful in everything that they’re doing. In their relationships, in their marriage, in their –why is it that marriages are so strained when there’s little kids, right? It’s because both parents have a hard time doing the self-care. Really, the relationship could be just fine, if everyone had time to sleep, to eat, and a few minutes to just be by themselves, right?


That applies for the rest of our lives. So many people might not have little kids, and yet, are straining themselves by overworking, not sleeping enough, not taking care of their mind or body, their sleep, et cetera. Then, they’re suffering, and so are the people around them.


[0:22:17] PF: So, if someone reads this, and they start making this change, and they make it not just for themselves, they pass that on with their family, and then their friends start making that change. How does this start reshaping the way that we move through the world? Because as you’ve mentioned, we’re inundated with too much information, too much stress, too much negativity. How can we change that?


[0:22:39] ES: Well, I think that once people start making more sovereign choices with regard to themselves, and how they live, it can change society, and it can change families and society, and help us to navigate this world in a way that we actually live the life we want to live in accordance with who we really are, and most importantly, we can live in a way that fully expresses the gifts that we have.


[0:23:04] PF: That’s fantastic.


[0:23:05] ES: Yes. I mean, I’m just thinking now of a story that someone shared about his son, who has been so addicted to screens since he was about five years old. But he’s now 18, and unable to really focus on anything and sits in his car, and drains his car battery, because he’s scrolling through his phone for hours. When you think about that, and that boy who has undoubtedly his own very unique gifts, and how he has been completely bound up by what the technology has done to him. Now, other things may be going on there as well. But we all have our own beautiful, sovereign potential, and are we going to choose to live it? Are we going to choose to model it for others and for our children? That’s for us to do and the potential is huge to make this world a better place.


[0:23:50] PF: Yes. I think what’s so wonderful with your book is it kind of gives us the path to get there, and the hope that we can get there, and through ways that might be more simple than we thought. Not easy, necessarily, but simple. Two of the things that you talked about that I really want you to touch on before I let you go is like elevation and forgiveness. So, can you tell us about what each of those means and why they’re so important?


[0:24:17] ES: Yes. Whenever you see someone helping another person, it can be very moving to see that, whether you’re out in the street, seeing someone helping another person, it’s very inspiring and moving. That’s a state we call elevation. Psychologists call elevation. What’s really interesting about that is that when you see someone helping someone else, you are then more likely to go and help someone else. What the research shows is that whenever one person acts with compassion or engages in acts of kindness, it actually ripples out to three degrees of separation away from them. So, when they do an act of kindness and the onlookers are impacted, and so are two degrees away.


Let’s say you do a kind act for a work colleague, and then someone else sees you. You’re impacting that person’s sister’s brother-in-law or whatever. That ripple effect is happening so often, especially in this world that’s so chaotic and crazy right now. We think, “Oh, who am I? What difference do I make?” You don’t even know the ripple effect that every micro-moment of kindness, the joke you share with the person at their cash register, the kind gesture you do for your neighbor, the kind words you share with your kid’s teacher or whatever. You don’t know the ripple effect of goodness that happens. That, to me, gives a lot of hope. Because each one of us can make an enormous difference, without even knowing it, and everybody does.


That’s one thing. Then, with regard to forgiveness, it can sound so sappy. Yet when you look at the data, forgiveness has nothing much to do with the person you’re forgiving. Everything to do with you. Because when you forgive research shows that it literally lightens your load. You literally can jump higher after you’ve forgiven someone. This research has been done. Just showing just how heavy a load it is to not forgive or to live in resentment. Living in resentment is kind of like punishing yourself for what someone else did. Living in anger, it’s like, because you’re the one reaping the health benefits, and we know for example, that anger has health impact on your heart health.


So, people who tend to hold on to anger or resentment tend to have heart issues. When you’re forgiving, you’re not only unburdening the other person, possibly, if they know or they don’t know. But your own blood pressure reduces, and you’re able to move on with much better mental health and well-being. So, forgiveness is really for yourself.


[0:26:41] PF: On that note too, self-forgiveness is super important. Because as you’ve noted, we’re self-critical and we can also beat ourselves up for years about things that we did, that maybe nobody else even remembers. You’re a wonderful researcher and scientists. How do you discover self-forgiveness?


[0:27:01] ES: That’s such a good question. Whenever I feel the guilt coming up, often it’s around my children. It’s like, “I wish I did this.” I just breathe through it and I bring myself back to the present moment, and I’m like right here, right now. I can always – I’m doing my best right here right now and I did the best that I could then. I think that’s one of the mantras, self-compassion mantras I used, I still use, doing the best that I can.


[0:27:26] PF: That’s wonderful. You have so many tools and guides within this book to help people understand and achieve that personal sovereignty. I’m really excited to see what happens as it reaches the world. You also have some wonderful bonus tools that you’re offering people, and so we’re going to give links to all of that on our landing page. But what is it, you’ve poured yourself into this book, you’ve poured your work into this book, what is it that you hope people take away from it?


[0:27:54] ES: I hope people take away that they have a choice as to how they want to live, how they want to manage their minds and their relationships, and that they have the option to live a very fulfilled, happy life in which they can live in the fullest expression of themselves, that they have that for permission. Because sometimes I think we’ve forgotten that we can do that. If people remember that they have their own gifts to fully express and that they can and have permission to do that, it’s going to make their life more fulfilled, but they’re also going to become a gift for everyone who meets them.


[0:28:29] PF: I love that. If you’re not doing it for yourself, do it for those around you, right?


[0:28:32] ES: Mm-hmm.


[0:28:33] PF: Well, Emma, such a pleasure to talk to you, really excited to see this book come out, as I said, and we’re going to tell our listeners where they can find it, where they can order it, how they can get those free bonuses. Thank you again. Thank you again for sitting down with me.


[0:28:47] ES: Thank you, Paula. Lots of pleasure.




[0:28:53] PF: That was Dr. Emma Seppälä, talking about how sovereignty can help us improve our relationships with ourselves and those around us. If you’d like to learn more about Emma or her new book, Sovereign: Reclaim Your Freedom, Energy, and Power in a Time of Distraction, Uncertainty, and Chaos, or follow her on social media, just visit us at livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab.


We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Live Happy Now, and if you aren’t already receiving us every week, we invite you to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. While you’re there, feel free to drop us a review and let us know what you think. That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. Until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.



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