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Deep Listening, Radical Empathy, And Real Influence with Dr. Mark Goulston
Be A First Class Noticer
Our guest is the one and only Dr. Mark Goulston. He is a very special human being because he’s a world-renowned psychologist, but he’s not your typical psychologist and you’re going to learn that on this episode. The way he thinks about the mind, the way he thinks about human beings is so different than what you would expect. One of the things that Mark brought up in the show was being a world-class noticer, almost coming from the perspective of looking at the world through the eyes of a child and being amazed and in wonder at what you see. Sean is honestly one of the best world-class noticers I know.
Everyone says, “Another doctor, another shrink, another psychiatrist.” This guy is different because he’s one of us and he tells these stories that are amazing. He’s got a social media following which is in the tens of thousands or even more.
His Twitter’s got 500,000 people.
That’s a lot of people that follow him. He’s written several books. He’s a bestselling author and he’s the guy you can hang out with and talk. What’s important with him is what he got me, and Taylor has been trying to work on me with it, is to be in the moment and be present with yourself. He talks about so many different formulas and solutions on how to keep the mind quiet, which is so hard for us.
Part of what he gets out by trying to convince people to be a better noticer is to take the time to connect when you’re with someone. Whether they consciously or subconsciously realize it, that connection matters immensely to anyone that you’re talking with. When you take the time to do something as simple as making eye contact, it can change the entire trajectory of your relationship with someone.
I love human touch. I love to be able to connect with people. See them, feel them, talk to them and be in the moment with them because that’s what gets me out of my funk for the moment of the day. He goes in and explains that.
Is human touch your love language then? Have you ever heard of those? There’s a thing out there, which I think it’s a book. There’s a test you can do online called The 5 Love Languages. It’s physical touch, words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service. Mine were always physical touch and acts of service and then gifts were at the bottom of my list. No more gifts for me, but we’re going to give everyone a gift with the presence of Mark Goulston.
He’s magical. This guy goes out and speaks in front of thousands of people at a time. We got lucky and fortunate that one of our dear friends, John Livesay, referred us and who’s been on our podcast as well. Everyone enjoys him because he is amazing.
Welcome to the show, Mark. How are you doing?
I’m doing well. I can hardly wait to find out what we talk about.
How are you doing, Sean?
I’m doing great. I’m excited here. I’m speaking with a professional who can help me with my mental state, which is needed after what I’ve been through.
Mark, why don’t you go ahead and give everyone a background on who you are, what you do?
What makes you famous?Be a first class noticer. Click To Tweet
What makes me famous is people have a low bar for fame. I don’t know about the famous thing. I’ve written seven books and some of them have done well. Probably my greatest personal accomplishment other than the family is I dropped out of medical school twice and finished. I don’t know anyone who dropped out of medical school twice and finished. I dropped out not to see the world, but I hit a wall and I had untreated depression. The first time I dropped out, I took a leave of absence and they allowed that. I did some blue-collar job. What happened is I was highlighting every book, but I couldn’t hold onto the information but I was passing everything. I took a year off, rested my mind doing blue-collar stuff, which I wish I could go back to because life was so simple and easy back then. Then I came back and after three months, I lost it again. I was highlighting books and not being able to hold onto the information. I asked for another leave of absence.
What people don’t know is that in medical school when someone takes a leave of absence, the medical school loses matching funds from the Federal government. I’m pretty low and I come from a background where depression is apparent and you’re only worth what you can do and what you can produce. I reached a point where I didn’t think I could produce much of anything. I met with the Dean of the school who cares about money and I don’t even remember that. The Dean of Students who cares about students calls me. He had an Irish Catholic Boston accent, Dean William McNary, we called him Mark. He calls me and he says, “I got a letter here from the dean. You better come in here.” I go in there and I read the letter and it’s from the other guy, the main guy. It says, “I met with Mr. Goulston. We discussed an alternate career, perhaps the cello and I’m advising the promotions committee that he be asked to withdraw.” They couldn’t kick me out because I was passing. I was confused and I said, “What does this mean?”
He said to me, “You’ve been kicked out.” When he said that, it was like a gunshot wound. I know what that feels like because I had a perforated colon about ten years ago and I almost died. When he said it, the wind came out of me and my head dropped, and I felt something wet on my cheek. I thought I was bleeding. I’m not religious at all but it was almost like a resurrection. I thought I was bleeding. I’m touching my cheeks and I thought it was blood and I looked at my hands and it was tears. Imagine hearing this, that you come from a background where you’re only as good as what you produce and that can be a fair amount of criticism if you’re not producing anything and you don’t think you’re capable of anything. Imagine hearing these words, “Mark, you didn’t screw up because you’re passing everything, but you are screwed up. If you got unscrewed up, the school would be glad to give you another chance.”
I start to cry now because he’s being kind and then he says, “Mark, even if you don’t get unscrewed up, even if you don’t become a doctor, even if you don’t do another thing the rest of your life,” which is what I thought I was capable of, “I’d be proud to know you because you have goodness in you. We don’t grade on the goodness in the medical school, but the world needs your goodness. You won’t know how much it needs it until you’re 35, but you’ve got to make it until you’re 35. You deserve to be on this planet and you’re going to let me help you.” It was weird. I’m sure if he had said, “Call me if I can help you,” I would have gone back to my apartment and who knows if I’d be alive now. What happened was I bottomed out. I believe he was an angel. He reached underneath and said, “You don’t have to do anything and you deserve to be on this planet. I’d be proud to know you.” It completely flipped me. Ever since I’ve been paying it back. I was a suicide specialist, boots on the ground, not an academic but professors.
One of the pioneers in the study of suicide and probably one of the top three who started the Suicide Prevention Centers in Washington, Los Angeles and founded something called the American Society of Suicidology, Edwin Shneidman. He was in UCLA. What would happen is he would see still suicidal people up at the inpatient ward. They needed to be discharged. They were acutely suicidal, but you can’t keep them there forever but it was in their personality. He would give me a call. It was always the same call. He would say, “Mark, I’m here with this lovely young woman. I’m with this handsome young man. You can help them. They were in a lot of pain. See them.” Then he referred them to me. Where I was fortunate is, I’ve never worked for a salary. I was on my own. I didn’t check boxes. What I noticed is the more that I was checking boxes, “How’s your sleep? What are your thoughts?” I’d look into people’s eyes and I’d lose them.
Whenever I started checking boxes, what it felt like is that was about me making sure I covered my ass. I was playing the role, I was being an academic. What I learned to do is to throw that stuff away and I learned to listen to people’s eyes. There was one incident which caused me to listen to people’s eyes. I was called up to UCLA on one of the cancer wards and there was a patient on a respirator and IVs. The oncology doctor said, “We need you to come up here. This guy is psychotic. He’s pulling his IVs, he’s pulling his respirator, he’s pulling everything. He’s kicking and we’ve put him in restraints, his arms, and legs. We need an order from you for that. We need an order to give him a tranquilizer.” I went up there and we call him Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith’s eyes were as big as saucers and he couldn’t speak because he had this thing in his throat. He’s moaning, he’s screaming at me with his eyes. I said, “What is it?” I put a pencil in his hand and it was restrained and he scribbled something.
They said, “He’s psychotic, we had to do this.” He’s screaming at me with his eyes. I said, “We had to put your hands and your legs down because you were pulling everything. I have given you a tranquilizer and it will calm you down. In a day or two, when you’re calm down, we’ll take everything off.” I remember leaving the room and his eyes were staring at me. Days later, I get a page from the oncology doctor and he says, “Mr. Smith is up, he’s off the respirator and he told us to page you.” I went into his room and his eyes are much calmer. In fact, they were intent. They grab onto my eyes with his eyes and he literally seats me in a chair with his eyes. He says, “Pull up a chair.” He was holding onto my eyes with his. He says, “What I was trying to tell you is that a piece of the respirator tubing had broken off and was stuck in my throat. You do know that I will kill myself before I go back to that. Do you understand?” He just stared at me. I looked at him, my eyes got watery and I said, “That’s awful. I’m so sorry. I understand.”
From that day on, I learned how to listen to people’s eyes. When I go around the country teaching people how to get through to people who are depressed or suicidal, there’s an approach I have that I’m promoting to suicide hotlines. It’s a three-step approach. I want you to imagine you’re suicidal, you’re agitated or you’re saying, “It won’t go away. I can’t take it anymore. It’s awful. I thought I could handle it. I thought I was getting better. I’m not getting any better.” It’s overwhelming and they’re venting it too. My three-step program, I call it Targeted Interventional Empathy. It’s like going into the wound of someone’s psyche, soul and spirit and touching it surgically with empathy. If you’re saying that to me, “I can’t take it anymore, it’s horrendous,” I would let you finish and instead of rushing in, I would say, “Calm down,” whatever. I’d let you finish. I’d wait for two seconds so that you could feel that I took it in and then I’d say to you, “Say more about how you can’t take it anymore.” Then you go into it and when you finished saying whatever it was, I’d have you go even deeper. I’d say, “Really?” You’d say, “I can’t take it anymore.”
The second part, if you’re tracking with me because what you want to do is you want to break someone’s stranglehold on suicide is the only way out of their pain. They are fixated on, “I tried everything and the only way out of this is to kill myself.” Can you picture that they’re fixated on that? That first thing loosens them up a little bit because you’re getting them to open up. After you do that for a while, the second step is called Mediated Catharsis. It’s a crappy word but what it means is you help them to say something that normally they wouldn’t say because they were afraid you’d say, “Calm down, get a hold of yourself,” and you keep looking in their eyes or if on a phone, you keep listening into their tone. You say, “I’m going to try something. Can you repeat this after me?” There’s a whole variety of things you can say, “Could you repeat this after me? If you feel it, just say it. ‘I knew I shouldn’t have fucking called you. This is not going to help. Why did I call you? These things never helped. You’re being kind and I’m running out of fucking time. This is not a game and I can’t do this anymore.’” You invite them to say that. What you’re doing is you’re helping them get it off their chest. You’re picking a scab and you’re going right into the pus. You’re drawing it all out of them with an emphatic syringe and then they do that. What’s happening is you’re trying to loosen their fixation on, “Suicide is the only way out.” After they do that for a while, the third step is what I call the Seven Words.
Can you do a quick recap?
The first step is when people are venting. Instead of telling them to calm down because you’re nervous and they’re overwhelming you, you get them to talk more. Years ago, Muhammad Ali did something called the rope-a-dope with George Foreman in Zaire. You invite them to punch themselves out, “Say more. Go deeper.” You’ll repeat the emotional words they’re saying and say, “Say more. There’s more behind that.” You’re inviting them to get stuff off their chest and that’s picking the scab and then you want to go into the bottom of the pus. That’s where you do something called Mediated Catharsis. That’s like putting a scalpel in it and you say something that’s really angry, hostile, attacking. Something they wouldn’t say because what they’re afraid you would do is say, “Calm down. Do you think you have to go into the emergency room? Should I call 911?” “That’s not what I fucking want.” You’re going in and you’re drawing them into that and you keep doing that until you develop this rapport.
Then the third part is what I call the Seven Words. You say to them, “Seven words.” They go, “What?” You say, “Yes, seven words: hurt, afraid, angry, ashamed, alone, lonely, tired. Pick one.” What they’re going to say is, “All of them.” “Good, we’re on a roll here. Pick one.” “Angry.” “Talk to me about when you were your angriest, maybe 3:00 in the morning when you couldn’t take it anymore.” What you do is invite them then to share when they felt their worst and you get them to describe it so clearly that they re-experienced the feelings. They never finished feelings but the difference is they felt those feelings alone at 3:00 AM. When you’re drawing it out of them and you’re not shoving it back down their throat, they start to cry. When they start to cry, there’s a whole neuroscience behind this. When someone is stressed out, they have high cortisol. Their amygdala which is in their brain pushes the blood flow into their lower reptilian brain so they can’t even access their thinking. They can’t think because they’re in survival mode.
What you want to do is the antidote to cortisol, and women know this instinctively and we screw them up by trying to give them solutions, is oxytocin. Oxytocin is bonding and when people feel felt, which is in my book, Just Listen, which became the top book on listening in the world, it’s about how do you cause someone to feel felt not just understood. When people feel felt, cortisol goes down, oxytocin goes up, their amygdala settles down and blood flow starts to go up to their upper cortex and they can think and engage with you.
There’s a story that illuminates this well with what you’re talking about. There are days when Sean is still working through stress, through PTSD, through depression and anxiety. There was a day where he woke up in the morning and it was bad. He was not present and thinking suicidal thoughts and feeling depressed. We ended up sitting down, just me and him and doing a podcast. We were talking about what was going on inside of his head and I asked him at one point during the podcast, “What helps you when you’re in the darkness?” He said it was human contact.
I wanted to be felt. I want to be heard and touched, which is a little different than most of the people I speak to, the veterans, the people who have seen combat attacks. It’s all relative to what you’re saying. I have a small group that I talked to and they referred to me as the stroke hacker. Someone who helps them, people get through a stroke, the brain injury, the transition from the coma to inpatient to outpatient and then back home. There’s so much anxiety and stress trying to be independent again. What they do for that and being paralyzed or having a weak side, definitely it will throw you off completely. There are moments in times like Taylor have seen where it’s like, and I don’t want to make this about me but I’m ready to tune out or to sign-off because the pressure and the anxiety is so hard, I don’t feel like I’m producing enough. I don’t think I’m a good enough dad, a boyfriend, a partner. The confidence goes down and sometimes I just need a hug and just someone to say, “We love you, it’s going to be okay.”You don't have to do anything; you deserve to be on this planet. Click To Tweet
I have lots of stories. I remember one story and I do these things, which get people’s attention. I share the story and I say, “I can remember when I once saw a couple and I saw the best lovemaking I’ve ever seen complete with orgasm. It was amazing to watch that. I was in the room with them.” People are thinking, “This guy is a pervert.”
When I’m suicidal, you want me to put on porn and watch sex tapes?
Absolutely not, but you took the bait. They took the bait and were like, “Where is this guy going?” I said, “It was amazing. This is what lovemaking and orgasm are.” People were looking at me and the women in the audience were like, “This guy’s sick.” I say, “Here’s the deal. Imagine this, there’s an 85-year-old guy and he’s with his wife and they’re about to put him on a morphine drip. She reaches out and she touches the back of his wrists with the back of her wrists. She says, ‘Breath in slowly through your nose and the pain will go away.’ Before the morphine goes in, he totally relaxes as soon as she touches him. That’s what I call an orgasm and lovemaking.”
The human touch to me is everything.
That’s what I’m trying to bring to the world. I spoke in Russia on empathy. Here’s the challenge. My books have done pretty well, but I’ve just about given up on it in America because what I realized is the only time Americans care about listening is when they’re paying the consequences of having not listened, “I should have listened to the doctor. I should have listened to my friend who said I shouldn’t date that crazy nutcase,” but then it’s temporary. What happened is my book, Just Listen, I have four bestsellers in Russia. When I went to Moscow, people warned me about it but the experience was, “This is what Manhattan must have felt like after World War II.” In Red Square, in the evening they’re coming out, there are coffee houses and cafes. What it is, is they don’t have a language of connecting. It’s safe for them to connect. We may see them as evil, but they’re doing pretty well compared to where they were. They feel protected by Putin. They were hungry to learn how to listen. I spoke to 450 managers from Russian Federation on listening because I was all set to forget about it. I’m not giving up on it because America needs to listen to each other, but it doesn’t want to.
What do you attribute that to? I’m curious to hear your perspective on why Americans are such bad listeners?
I’ve had seven mentors. They’ve all died. One of them was that person in med school. My last one was a fellow from USC. He died years ago and his name was Warren Bennis. If you look up his name, he’s one of the top three people in leadership who mentored Howard Schultz from Starbucks and David Gergen from CNN and he’s advised three presidents. I loved Warren. I think about him every day. I once had dinner with him and Norman Lear, the TV guy. I was coaching the CEO of Conquer Records, which was a jazz label and Norman Lear owns part of Conquer Records. I’m there with the four of them and I said to Norman and Warren, “What’s the greatest threat to the future of the world?” They both said the same thing, “Impatience.” When people are impatient, they shoot from the hip. They’re hasty. I love artificial intelligence and all the positive things about technology, but it jacked us up. What happens is we’re into adrenaline and we’re into dopamine, throw in some testosterone and we’ll start killing people if we’ve been humiliated. What happens is oxytocin and bonding is taking a hit.
Knowing that I used to be an athlete, not a professional athlete, but an extreme. I would hang out with the Navy SEALs, the Marines. I trained in Jiu-Jitsu, I trained in MMA and I always love that rush or going for a quick run or something that gets my endorphins going. Now, I’m walking but I can’t run yet. I’m missing the adrenaline in myself like I need out. I’m looking for that place. I can’t go hit a bag. I can’t go grapple or wrestle or climb up a mountain the way I used to do it. How do you suggest people like myself find that medium or find that way of saying it’s going to be a meditation to me? It scares me. I hate that word M word. I’m learning to meditate now. I’m getting back into my yoga, but I talked to so many people who suffered a stroke or a brain injury or these veterans. What do you suggest? How do we cope with wanting to do more and yet we can’t because we’re paralyzed?
I’ll tell you another story. I didn’t know this woman but she has a site called Anna Runs America. She ran across America and the donations went to veteran causes. Someone asked her, “What kept you running? Why didn’t you quit? Why didn’t you bail?” One of the things that my late mentor, Warren Bennis, said to me was, “Be a first-class noticer because when you notice, you’re connected to whatever you’re noticing. Whereas when you look, watch and see, you’re an observer.” She was a first-class noticer. She said, “As I was running, I looked at things constantly as if I was a blind person seeing something for the first time. ‘That’s a palm tree. That’s someone’s family business. They probably have all their money in that. A St. Bernard dropped it on the sidewalk in front me.’” When you’re a noticer, you get outside yourself. A lot of what meditation is is an attempt to do that. What I would say to people is notice and be curious about what you’re noticing.
I teach people who are a little bit on the spectrum with Asperger’s. I have a formula for being present for people who don’t know how to be present in a conversation. The first step is you say to yourself, “I want to connect in the next conversation with the person.” You have to have an intention, “My hope is that I connect with them,” whatever that means. The first step is to be a first-class noticer. Notice anything about them. Notice the color of their eyes. Notice if they’re twitching. Notice an accent. The next step is to be curious about what you’re noticing, “I wonder where that accent’s from. They’ve got a twitch, I wonder if they twitch all the time.” Then ask them what you’re curious about, “I couldn’t help but notice, but you have an accent. Are you from the East Coast? Are you from the South? What’s that about?” As they begin to tell you, notice that as you talk about what you’ve noticed in them, they start to lean into the conversation. You’re connecting with them.
You get related quickly.
There is no agenda. The agenda is you’re noticing and you’re curious. Then you go into it and say, “Tell me more about that.” There’s something that I call FTD delivery, which stands for feelings, thoughts and doing. You start asking them questions. Here’s an interesting anecdote and it got me Larry King. Someone invited me to join a breakfast group that meets every day and I never met him. I was speaking to someone else in the group. He noticed me and he said hello because someone introduced me. I said, “Larry, I have a question to ask you.” He said, “What?” I said, “Where did you get all this curiosity from? You ask the kind of questions that everybody in the world would be curious about.” He started talking, “I’ve been curious all my life. When I was five years old, I was curious about why they had tokens on a bus. I was curious about the ice cream man, whatever. I’ve always been curious.” He opened up because one of the things that’s natural to him but is not natural to America, he’s curious.
There was someone else in the group who does a podcast and I said to this other person, “I’m doing this podcast. Could I interview you?” Larry King is the highest celebrity in the group. The guy said, “Okay.” The person who introduced me to the group looked over at Larry and he said, “Larry, why don’t you be on Mark’s podcast?” I wasn’t being disingenuous. I said to my friend, “No, I’m not important enough. I’m too small. It’s the way it is.” Larry comes from humble beginnings and the fact that I said that, he smiled at me and he said, “I’d be happy to be on your podcast.” What happened is I noticed something that’s a part of his identity. I’m curious. I tried to be a first-class noticer.When you ask someone what made them smile today, they get a chance to relive something that made them happy. Click To Tweet
When you say it, you make it sound simple. I’m sitting here wondering why have I never thought about it like this? I’m sure anyone reading this is feeling very similar. It’s so simple that you overlook it.
If I say be a first-class noticer, I’m noticing my computer’s on and I’m saying, “What font is that? Is that Geneva?” I’m noticing I’m using a Yeti microphone. I have one of these filters and I’m noticing that I spit into the filter. When you notice, it gets you outside of yourself and you see what’s needed. When you do that with people, it makes them feel visible. I’ll tell you something you can do. Here’s an assignment and you’re going to get back to me. I have all these missions that I’m on. One of the suggestions that I tell people is once a day, ask someone, “What made you smile now?” I’m going to have the two of you and ask it of the people who are invisible in the world. It’s interesting. I did it to a cashier at McDonald’s and I did it to one of those TSA agents who’s checking me in. Sometimes they’re irritated, “What’s this about?” If you stop and you read their name tag and I read the name tag of someone in McDonald’s. I said, “What made you smile?” She said the same thing that the TSA said, “Seeing you, sweetie.” At McDonald’s, while I’m drinking my coffee and there are no customers there, she kept looking at me and smiling. Here’s why it works. When you ask someone what made them smile, they get a chance to relive something that made them happy. They get another burst of pleasure from that. They feel like a person instead of an appliance, instead of a function. You’ve caused them to feel like a person.
They feel like a human being. They feel the connection.
One of the best things is you get out of self-absorption.
I learned that early on from my grandfather. He said, “If you can make someone smile in a business relationship, you now won and then they won.” It’s a win-win. It’s never about the product you’re selling. You’re selling yourself first. That’s what I think you’re talking about. You’ve got to offer your heart and your brain to somebody else. If they can detach themselves to you and you can influence them, then everyone’s winning and the business can get done.
What are you noticing from our interview now?
I’m noticing you. I’m listening to you. I’m shutting up for the first time in 48 years.
What’s that like that, “I’m noticing that I’m listening to you?” Is that calmer? Does that slow you down?
It feels great. It slows me down because I’m hyper. I’m in fight or flight because of the brain injury. I was like that before. I was a typical entrepreneur, always going and going, ADD, never stopped. I never listened to anybody and bulldozed my way through things. At 39, God tapped me on my shoulder and said, “You’re slowing down now.” I tell people I got stroked by God. It’s been a humble journey because I was forced to slow down for many years. Now, I’m slowly waking up and realizing I just got to shut up and listen to the world and let someone teach me or guide me now.
You noticed yourself slowing down and listening to me and you felt relief from that? Did it feel calming?
What about you, Taylor?
Since we started this episode and listening to you, I’ve been noticing how Sean has changed from the beginning to now, almost the swings of his state of being over the course of the show.
What have you noticed?
I noticed when we were in the beginning and you were talking about suicide and depression, he was looking at a little bit more down and despondent. After you went through that exercise, the mood lifted and it’s almost he’s become more connected to the conversation. In the beginning, he was a little bit wary and frazzled.
Something that may also have happened, because something I’m excited about and I’m pushing out is I’ve developed a protocol for talking to people through depression and suicide. There are two versions. One is called Save the Life of Your Child and it’s for teachers or parents. The other one is called The Road Back From Hell and it’s for veterans. It was inspired by something called the Hero’s Journey but along the way, I have all these emotional prompts. See if you can follow this. Stress is unavoidable. Stress is when something happens that we weren’t expecting and we have to deal with it, but you can still stay focused on your goals when stress happens. When stress crosses into distress, you focus on relieving the distress. When the distress gets big, you focus on relieving it in any way you can.
What happens is you start to plummet because when you’re reaching for ways to relieve the distress. You’re pulling yourself out of the realm of your life. You’re in a desperate search. Your mind goes from anxiety to high anxiety to depression to discouragement to panic. What happens is you keep plummeting. In this infographic, there are all those prompts: anxious, angry, afraid, discouraged. When I talk about suicide, I’d say people don’t kill themselves from depression. See if you can feel this one, Sean. People kill themselves from despair. If you break the word despair into des-pair, it means feeling unpaired with the reasons to live. Hopeless, without a future, helpless, powerless, worthless, meaningless, useless. When they all lineup, pointless. When they all line up like that, you pair with death as a way to take away the pain.
What happened with me with that dean and what I was able to do with my patients is when you pair with someone in the dark night of the soul, if you listen into their eyes and they open up, what I would say to my patients, and these were multiple attempters, I said, “I’m not going to give you any advice or treatments that you’re not going to follow up and then you’re going to feel guilty. You’re going to come back and on the way back you’re going to say, ‘This is not even helping me.’ Now you’ve got to apologize that you didn’t follow through on anything.” I would say to them, “If it’s okay with you, I’m not going to give you any of those things. Is that okay?” They would look at me and they’re intrigued, “Yes.” I said, “What I’m going to do instead is I’m going to find you wherever you are. I’m going to keep you company there as long as it takes because you’ve been alone there at 3:00 AM too many nights. I don’t want you to be alone. Would that be okay?”People don't kill themselves from depression; People kill themselves from despair. Click To Tweet
I’m almost in tears. I’m feeling this and this is awesome.
As they start to cry, it’s the tears of relief because you’re starting to pair with someone and there are no requirements. You don’t have to do anything. There’s no assignment. People lean into that and as they lean into that, they start to cry. Part of what you’re feeling in, maybe you’re calming down, is you’re feeling a bond as you’re imagining us bonding like that. The oxytocin is going up, the cortisol is going down, agitation is hopefully going down. I’m trying to teach the world to be able to do that. A friend of mine, an entrepreneur named Christopher Kai, great guy, does something called Mondays at the Mission at the Union Rescue Mission downtown. Union Rescue Mission is one of the biggest homeless shelters in the country. On Monday nights, eleven to seventeen-year-olds come into a room, it looks like a classroom. He brings in people to speak to them, inspiring people. He got Elon Musk to speak to them. He brings all kinds of people.
One day he says, “Mark, you come and you speak to them.” I remember as I drove there, I got nervous like, “What can I say to them? They’re homeless, they’re living there with their moms.” I didn’t know what I was going to say to them. I get into the room and as I’m walking into the room, I can see the moms letting them go, moms are in the hallway. I sat behind them and Chris is a motivational speaker. He’s like Tony Robbins and I can see he’s trying to pump them up but I’m feeling their backs. I’m feeling the pain in them. I’m feeling their fear. I didn’t know what I was going to say. I get in front of them and this happened a day after I heard about Anna Runs America. I told them that story and I told them about being a first-class noticer.
I wanted them to be able to get out of their surroundings. I said, “Here’s an exercise. I want you to close your eyes and do it for 30 seconds.” First of all, I taught them how to listen and look into each other’s eyes so I can do that with each of them. I said, “Close your eyes for 30 seconds, then when you open them, I want you to imagine you’re a blind person seeing something for the first time and tell me what you noticed in the room.” They opened their eyes and they say, “The clock isn’t moving. There’s a stain on the wall. There’s a stack of VHS tapes that have been there for two months.” I got them into noticing and then I said, “Now I want you to look into each other’s eyes.” I paired them up and I said, “I want you to say to each other, one person first and then the other, ‘What’s the worst thing in your life?’” These are kids and they’re city kids.
As soon as they did it, within 30 seconds, half the room is crying and they’re saying, “Being here.” The volunteers look at me like, “What are you doing?” I said, “It will be okay.” We get through that and then I said, “I have a homework exercise for you. You don’t have to do it tonight, but you might. I saw your moms as I was walking in here. I want you to go out there and I want you to look into their eyes the way you looked into each other’s eyes. I want you to ask your moms, ‘What’s the worst thing about your life or our life?’ Keep looking in their eyes and many of your moms are going to say, ‘Being here’ and they’re going to start to cry. At that point, you’re going to put your arm around their neck. You’re going to say, ‘Look at me, mom. We’re going to be okay and I love you.’” I told them, “For a number of your moms, that is going to be one of the top three conversations they ever have in their life.” It was a pretty interesting evening.
How do you deal with people who are coming back from the Middle East? They’re in their twenties, they’re Marine, they’re in the Army and then they saw action. They’re hypersensitive to even a car door slamming. They’ve been at war and they’re coming back. The big thing which gets me is everyone says, “Send Johnny off to war. He’s going to defend our country. If he doesn’t die over there, he’s going to come back and kill themselves.” Isn’t that a hard thing to look at right now with the 22 veterans a day who are dying? How do we try to save those guys or at least get within connection with them?
One of the worst things that we do is when you were discharged from the service, you go back to your hometown, you feel isolated, you feel different from everyone, including your family. We need to discharge especially traumatized the military in fire teams. When you get discharged, you get discharged as a group somewhere and the mission is re-entry. What happens is we split them up.
The band of brothers. The SEAL teams I dealt with were the teams on the West Coast. They’re mostly the I Teams. They would come and they would bring over their kids. They would sit in my front yard and I live on the beach in San Diego. They’re the nicest group and the smartest people I’ve ever met on the planet. Here I am honored to serve them some food and take in and watch their kids play with my kids. I admire what they are doing, and I couldn’t stop thanking them for their service in protecting our country, protecting my little girls from what happens overseas. Some of them were grateful and the others looked at me with this stare in their eye that is glossy. It’s like at any moment, they were ready to snap. I tried to get them involved with me in the activities, but I didn’t understand their PTSD until I went through it myself. Do you think having a stroke or a brain injury is similar to that of a PTSD of someone who’s been to war and defending our country? Is it similar or are there scientific differences with them?
I wrote seven books and one of them is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for Dummies, the Dummy series and it’s pretty well-reviewed. Not that many reviews, but they’re mostly five stars. Tell me if you can notice if this fits you better. I’ve been trying to change the diagnosis. I’ve been trying to get rid of the diagnosis of PTSD and I want to change it to RTA, which stands for Re-traumatization Avoidance. When you talk to people that’s been traumatized and you say, “Good for you. You’re so courageous. You got over it.” They look at you and they say, “I never got over it. What do you mean? I’m not the same. I’m tentative. I don’t know joy. I don’t know peace. I know exhaustion. I don’t know serenity. Maybe I get a little fun, but I don’t know joy. I’m not the same.” “Do you think you could go through it again?” “Fuck no, that was the first shoe and I’m not sure how I made it through it the first time, but the next time it will take me with it. I’ll take myself out before I go through it again.”
A lot of people I’ve spoken to say, “That’s my life. A lot of the symptoms of PTSD are when there’s a threat of re-traumatization.” You’re driving your pickup truck, you’re away from people. You feel relaxed because you’re not feeling nervous about them, then you hear a car backfire. You’re back there. What happens is you lower your guard while you’re driving in your truck. While your guard was lowered, you hear the backfire and suddenly you’re retraumatized and you immediately go rigid and brittle. What I would do, and maybe you can help with this and we can do it together, is I want to meet with a pilot group of returning veterans who can relate to this. I’ve been doing this with some active duty people and some veterans. When you see the model, I did it with a colonel who’s in active duty. We were doing a Zoom video and as he was looking through it, he started to alternately cry and smile.
After we got through it, I said, “What are you crying about?” He said, “I was reliving those traumas,” because I’m mentioning words like discouraged, panic, all those things and immediately they get these little flashes. I said, “What are you smiling about?” He said, “That’s the bracelet that holds all those things together. It’s the first time I have felt like a person inside a patient. Normally, I feel like a patient.” I said, “What’s a patient?” He said, “A patient is someone who was carved up into billable procedures that don’t talk to each other. Then when you get little pissed off because you’ve been kept waiting, the moron you’re seeing says, ‘Let’s throw in anger management just to be safe.’ Welcome to my life.” What I’ve learned is when you give people something, there’s a term called a sense of coherence. It’s about 40 years old. Some social psychologists came up with it. What it means is when you take something that’s confusing and you make it understandable, it feels manageable. If it feels manageable, instead of out of control, it feels like, “I think I can make sense out of this and I don’t even have to figure it out but this fits together.”
That’s true because we get overwhelmed easily with daily tasks or things that come up. I look at it and say, “I’ll take it one step at a time.” You’re still right because we get overwhelmed and the fight or flight will jump up and some of us go in a revert and in retreat. Guys like me want to speak out and shout out and look for anything that could help us in that time or that moment to say, “How do I calm down? How do I get out of this place where I’m ready to check out?” I don’t want to check out but there’s a part I feel my back is against the wall. I’ve done everything I can. I’ve lived the way I was supposed to live. I went to college. I had a wonderful, great life. I built my companies up and then down on the side, I wake up from a coma and they’re saying, “You’re in diapers and your skull is in your abdomen because we have to do a skull flap.” I didn’t understand that. I still look back now at times and the heightened sense of being in the hospital or looking down on how’s my left hand going, “It’s still not working.” I can only imagine what those veterans would go through at the same time too.
What I want to do is get a group together because the model is so clear. When you see this, you’ll say, “This is what I live.” That’s what the guy said when he saw this model. He said, “This is my life.” The low plane is when you’re looking down the barrel of a gun. That’s when a lot of veterans say they found God. There are more than a few who said, “I’m looking at a gun and I say, ‘God, give me a sign.’” They’re able to surrender control to God and they’re control freaks by nature, but they’re able to because they don’t want to die. They started crying at that moment. They surrender control to God because they don’t have any control anyway. Instead of feeling out of control, which is what they’re afraid of, they start to feel relief. As they start to cry and they start to talk about God, they start to attach to God. Faith is believing in something without there being any facts.When you take something that's confusing and you make it understandable, it feels manageable. Click To Tweet
You have faith in something. Many people will talk about that. What I want to do is a pilot group where you’ll see it, you’ll see the model. It’s a one-page PDF. I would meet with people and I’d say, “What you all had in common is you entered the military. What was your first thought of, ‘This is a mistake? This is not what I thought it would be.’ Then how you go with people? What did you think? What did you feel? What did you want to do? What was your impulse? What did you do?” You go through each of those things. “What did you think?” “I think I’m fucked up guy. I can’t back out. They’re going to shoot me as a deserter.” “What are you feeling?” “I’m panicky.” Your impulse was to run. “What did you do?” “I never drank before I hit the military and I haven’t stopped since.” What you have are people sharing their whole journey all the way down to a low point.
I have a group here that I speak to on social media and they’re all reaching out to me about how to do this and how to do that. I’m guiding them through the steps to get back to being independent again. I think what stroke survivors and veterans deal with is being independent and feeling loved and feeling like they can play a role in society. After what we’ve been through together, it’s hard. It’s not an easy task to come back from death and being told, “You’re going to be a vegetable.” The first neuro who got their hands on me in San Diego said, “You’re brain dead. You’re not going to walk for a long time and don’t ever think about working again.” I grabbed her by the throat and told her she’s fired, and they got a whole new team in there. That’s the way I’ve looked at my recovery is that I’ve got to take it in my own hands and make this about me. Along the way, you’ve got to piss off a lot of people on the healing process, which I probably have done. I’m ashamed of things and the way I’ve acted at times, but my brain was trying to wake up and repurpose itself. I think it’s similar to that of a veteran who’s going through a traumatic injury as well.
You can borrow my voice as a commandment in your head. I have a dead mentors society. I can choose from seven mentors. When I’m at DEFCON 1, usually I beat myself up. I don’t do that so much anymore. I’d say, “That was a stupid interview. Why did you go into that story? Can you ever complete a story because you’re so disorganized?” I call upon any of my dead mentors and they talked me through it. Here’s going to be the prompt. You’re out of sorts and I want you to hear me saying, “Sean.” I want you to respond, “What the fuck do you want?” I said, “This is another example of living with life never being the same again. It doesn’t mean it’s over.” That’s what someone told me who came in and said, “I recovered.” I said, “What did you recover from? How did you recover?”
He said, “I learned what it comes down to is living with life never being the same again. That doesn’t mean I’m dead. It doesn’t mean it’s over. We’ll just never be the same again. What I was driving myself crazy is it’s got to be the same again, but it can’t be the same again because I have this injury. I’ve got this such and such. I’m going to live with life never being the same again.” That will be the assertion, then you get into a pissing match with me in your head. “I don’t want to live with fucking life being never the same again. Who the fuck do you think you are?” You get into a pissing match with me and I’ll say, “I understand Sean, but this is living with life never being the same again.” “Fuck you, Mark.” It’s okay, fuck me. It’s living with life never being the same again.” Then if you’re fortunate, you have that conversation in your head as I have it with my dead mentors. I started crying. I said, “Am I ever going to learn to correct some of the stupid things I do?” I don’t feel alone inside.
This has been one of the best conversations I’ve had since my injury. Someone got into my head and just calm me down and give me a sense of peace and joy. Thank you for that.
I have one more question for you. You touched on patience and I want to leave the audience with how do we create more patience in our lives?
Part of what I do is I think of the people I’m grateful to. I think of what they did for me. I feel blessed that they were in my life. They gave me the gift of their time. They gave me even a greater gift of believing in me when I didn’t. There’s a part of me that says, “Mark, don’t be a bottomless pit. Focus on those people who cared about you. Don’t focus on the people who didn’t and still don’t.” That helps me because I can imagine them, and I can see. I can picture the dean when I went through it with you, I relived it. That was in 1973 and I relived it, I re-experienced it. I felt less alone. Here’s my own issue with self-affirmations. This is my issue and I often felt less than other men because at my core, I’m not an I. I thought I’m less than other men because other men are like, “I’d take the mountain, I take the hill.”
At my core, I’m a we. I don’t want to build anything on my own. I want to find partners and let’s build something and fix the world. Let’s go out there. At my core, I’m a we and a lot of times I’m a lonesome we. I can’t say any positive affirmation to myself and have it land. I’m not against it. If it worked for you, it does but I can imagine all my dead mentors saying those things. What’s interesting is after practicing reaching out to them and getting into a pissing match with them about, “I screwed up this time. When am I going to learn?” I’ve done it so many times. It’s all abbreviated. When I start to beat up myself, I can pick up any of these dead mentors. They look at me and they smile, and they say, “Mark, put a sock in it.” They say it with love and I feel it. Sean, put a sock in it.
Thank you so much, Mark. I would love to participate in anything that you may have. If you need veterans, I have a couple of them coming on. Their stories are outrageous as you can imagine.
We have an Army sniper who’s coming on and then the guy after that was a Marine who took a bullet through his thigh and blew his kneecap. Now they’re working for as security and the only way that they’re able to deal with their PTSD, one of them says is when he’s on detail bodyguarding somebody else. When he’s alone and it’s quiet, his mind goes. I go, “I understand that because I’m the same way.” It’s that when we’re still with ourselves, that’s when everything comes up and start haunting us.
That’s why I want to do this in fire teams because when you’re in a group and it needs to be people who you can’t say, “It’s easy for them to say. They didn’t go through it.” Years ago, one of my patients, her only child daughter was murdered by her ex-boyfriend and not just murdered. She got shotgunned and her head landed in a tree. The murderer fled to Canada and he couldn’t be extradited because it was a capital state that he was going to be tried. The story went across Canada and the Canadians and the FBI made a deal and they squirreled him over and he stood trial. She wasn’t getting better at all until I got her into Sharon Tate’s mother’s group, Mothers of Murdered Children. I was on the board of advisers or something. I would go to some of the meetings. The point is as my patient would say, “I can’t go anywhere. I can’t go to a supermarket and see anyone because nobody there had their only child daughter murdered with their head going on a tree. Also, when someone speaks to me and says, ‘Do you have any kids?’ I’m back there again.”
When she started going to this group, there would be newly minted mothers who came in and they all share their stories. It was like going through the story that I’m talking about. What happened? Where’s the perpetrator? What’s the status of indicting, convicting? You have to be with people who you can’t discount what they’re saying because it’s so easy to say, “It’s easy for you to say.” A lot of times, even for someone who’s been through it, you’ll say, “It’s easy for you to say. You recovered. I didn’t. I’m not you.” Doing it in a group where they get to share their story, you create a healing quilt of connectedness. If you think about it, at times you need to feel connected, but you need to feel connected with someone who gets what you’re feeling. You’re appreciative of someone’s kindness. Someone who’s been there, I could imagine a bit of their time. Sean, I don’t know if you’ve had this but if you’re with someone who’s gone through something and they look you in your eye and they say, “Sean, have you ever felt like giving up? Have you ever felt like there’s no way your life is going to be worth living? Have you ever been there?” You can look at them with a look that connects with them. You don’t even have to say anything. That helps you because you say, “Shit, I’m not glad this happened to me but I think I helped someone.”Focus on people who care about you. Don't focus on the people who didn't and still don’t. Click To Tweet
How could our followers find you? If you want to do a shout-out to your podcast, to your books, to your website.
I retired as a doctor because I want to do one too many. I feel people will say, “You can get through to my son, you’ve got to see them.” I’m not even licensed because I’m retired. I wasn’t keeping up with all the computerized stuff and all that. You can go to a few places. If you go to MarkGoulston.com, there’s a free webinar there about how to overcome internal obstacles to success and freedom and things like that. That’s not about PTSD but check it out. It’s a good webinar. If you go to Twitter, @MarkGoulston, I have 530,000 followers. I’ve created Touched by Suicide Community. There’s a tweet that’s pinned at the top and it says, “Have you ever been known of or known someone who committed suicide?” Now I know it’s supposed to be died by suicide. That has 1.7 million impressions, 1,100 comments. 50% of the people reading know people they know would kill themselves and 10% of the people saying, “I’ve tried several times and I’ll probably do it again.”
It’s not a clinic, but it’s Touched by Suicide Community. I encourage people to reach out to each other. If you’re feeling worthless or someone sent you a message, reach out to someone who posted some comments when they were down and check-in and say, “Are you still there? Are you okay?” Some people are going to write you back and say, “You have no idea what your comment did for me.” Then you’re going to feel worthwhile. I have a bunch of books at Amazon, Mark Goulston. My podcast is My Wakeup Call. I’m interviewing people including Larry King about things that changed their lives.
Mark, thank you so much. You’ve touched me. You’ve changed my life and I can’t wait to meet you and talk more about all of this and you put a smile on my face. You validated everything I’ve been thinking, being alone in this world and I’m really not. I’m grateful and the gratitude is there for me.
You know what I’m going to tell you in your head if you’re going down the negative, what am I going to say to you? “Put a sock in it.”
Mark, thank you and we’ll definitely be in contact. We’ll find time to do more of this because you can help so many people. With 22 veterans dying a day, even if we can help one, it’s going to cause a tremendous effect. It will be a ripple effect.
That will be great. We’ll do it together.
Thank you so much.
- Dr. Mark Goulston
- The 5 Love Languages
- John Livesay – previous episode
- Just Listen
- Anna Runs America
- Save the Life of Your Child
- Mondays at the Mission
- Union Rescue Mission
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for Dummies
- Mothers of Murdered Children
- @MarkGoulston – Twitter
- Mark Goulston on Amazon
- My Wakeup Call
About Dr. Mark Goulston
Dr. Mark Goulston is one of the world’s foremost experts on deep listening, radical empathy and real influence with his book, “Just Listen,” becoming the top book on listening in the world, translated into twenty languages and a topic he speaks and teaches globally including training managers of the Russian Federation in Moscow.
He is the host of the “My Wakeup Call” podcast where he interviews individuals ranging from the powerful to everyday people about the wakeup calls that changed their lives forever.
He is an advisor, coach, mentor and confidante to CEO’s, founders and entrepreneurs helping them to unlock all their internal blocks to achieving success, fulfillment, and happiness.
Originally a UCLA professor of psychiatry and crisis psychiatrist for over 25 years, and former FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer, Dr. Goulston’s expertise has been forged and proven in the crucible of real-life, high stakes situations.
Including, “Just Listen,” he is the author of seven books with multiple best sellers. He writes or contributes to Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, Biz Journals, Fast Company, Huffington Post, Psychology Today and has appeared as an psychological expert in the media including: CNN, Headline News, msNBC, Fox News, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, Psychology Today and was the subject of a PBS special.
He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, California.