Discussion Questions for Ken Carter: Living Alongside Fear
1. Psychologist Ken Carter, who specializes in the science of sensation seeking, makes a distinction between thrill seekers and chill seekers. Which one best describes you?
2. Ken describes the “White Rabbit,” a woman who traveled around the world for 300 days without spending a dime, as an example of someone who scores low on thrill seeking but high on experience seeking. What sorts of experiences make you feel most alive? Make a list and notice any similarities.
3. A common misconception about the people Ken studies is that they’re risk takers. But, actually, they’re people who’ve decided the reward is worth the risk. When was “risk” the price of admission for an experience you wanted to have? How did you discern the trade-offs? Did it turn out like you expected?
4. We need people who have lower cortisol (stress) and higher dopamine (happiness) in chaotic situations. Think first responders, social workers, teachers of at-risk kids. Who do you know that wants to be on the front line of life’s terrible? What are their great gifts? Have you told them?
5. There’s a difference between the thrill of fighting a known enemy (like a forest fire) and the stress of living with the sometimes indistinguishable fears born of anxiety or trauma. What fears are you living alongside today? Does naming them make enduring them any easier?
6. When asked how he’s doing during a pandemic, Ken often says, “Fine—within the walls of my house.” Within the walls of our own house is often where we try to create the calm or chaos we need to thrive. What’s one way you’re finding the feeling you need closer to home these days?
7. Kate wants to know if people can increase their tolerance for fear over time. Ken offers the example of habituation or the idea that the more you do something (like watching a horror movie), the less power it has over you. Pick one of the fears you named in question #5. Do you think habituation could help you build your courage muscle? Why or why not? What would it look like?
8. We know too much these days about the potential dangers of things like volcanoes or murder hornets; it doesn’t take much to become exhausted by it all—but it also doesn’t take much to push ourselves through it in meaningful ways. What are you doing in this season of life to push yourself toward courage—however gargantuan or tiny?
9. “It’s all still there,” Ken reassures. The bigness of the world we live in still exists, even if we can only experience a part of it right now—in our homes, over Zoom, through stories. How are stories preserving you?
10. “What does it feel like for you to really live?” Kate asks at the close of the podcast. “The trick is not to ignore fear. The drama of living is to decide, now that we know that it’s there, how we might live alongside it.” Write your future self a brief note—bonus points for mailing it—about how you are finding courage in the constraint.
Bonus: After listening to this week’s podcast, what part of Kate & Ken’s conversation resonated with you most? What insight will you carry with you?