TAP 180 Ian Robertson on How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper


This week I talk to Ian Robertson, a clinical psychologist and neuroscientist with a unique ability to apply his research to the pressures of everyday life.  We talk about neuroplasticity, how our mindset affects our anxiety and how stress can be good for us. 

Check out his latest book: The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper.



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In this episode you will learn:

  • How did Ian Robertson start in the world of Psychology? (4:30)
  • Seeing both psychological interventions and biological approaches to dealing with anxiety (7:58) 
  • How Ian changed his perspective on psychology (9:00)
  • What is Neuroplasticity? (10:15)
  • How the software of the mind and the hardwire of the brain are linked to control our mental states and the chemical structure of our brains (11:15)
  • How our emotions are composed of 50% nature and 50% nurture (12:25)
  • There is a difference between extreme mental illnesses and mood disorders/anxiety (15:30)
  • Ian’s insight on mass medication of SSRIs (16:00)
  • Ian explains the psychological risks behind taking medication for a mild mood disorder/anxiety (17:18)
  • How to be comfortable with the uncomfortable (21:00)
  • Why we shouldn’t catastrophize our anxious thoughts (22:00)
  • What is the James Lange Theory Of Emotion? (23:52)
  • The Suspension Bridge experiment and how much our emotions are based on context (27:08)
  • Do we get to choose how we respond to stress? (30:27)
  • The difference between the Challenge Mindset and the Avoidance Mindset (34:06)
  • How some adversity in our lives can improve how we deal with anxiety and stress (38:10)
  • Which hormones does stress activate? (43:27)
  • The importance of visualization (45:40)



“You have to believe in that capacity for change and that depends on your theory of your functioning” (12:45)

“You have to believe that you CAN change in order to change” (13:30)

“You have to consider the risk of medicating yourself for a mild or moderate disorder of mood” (17:18)

"People can really worsen the physical sensations of pain and anxiety by having anxious thoughts” (22:08)

“Anxiety has an amplifying effect on many circuits in the brain” (23:22)

“The arousal that’s a key component to anxiety is essentially a form of energy that, like nuclear energy, can be harnessed for good or for ill” (36:17)