Today my guest is Dr. Ben Michaelis an action-oriented psychologist, elite performance coach, professional thought partner, and the author of Your Next Big Thing: Ten Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy. In his private practice based in Manhattan, Dr. Michaelis works with entrepreneurs, authors, actors, musicians, artists, and executives. He’s frequently featured as a mental health expert on various television and radio programs such as The Today Show, Fox News, MSNBC, and he’s written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Vanity Fair, The Oprah Magazine, Parents Magazine, Women’s Health, Glamour, and many others.
00:03:37 – The NYC Marathon.
00:11:26 – Big life changes and travel.
00:17:58 – Who his the book written for.
00:24:07 – Societies current mental health challenges.
00:32:31 – The inner critic is not sufficient.
00:35:35 – Finding the right therapist for you.
00:42:38 – Lightning round.
00:48:01 – Questions about writing.
Your Next Big Thing: Ten Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy by Dr. Ben Michaelis
For Like Minds – Connect with People Like You
Siddhartha: A Novel – by Hermann Hesse
BRYAN: 00:01:12 Today my guest is Dr. Ben Michaelis an action-oriented psychologist, elite performance coach, professional thought partner, and the author of Your Next Big Thing: Ten Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy. In his private practice based in Manhattan, Dr. Michaelis works with entrepreneurs, authors, actors, musicians, artists, and executives. He’s frequently featured as a mental health expert on various television and radio programs such as The Today Show, Fox News, MSNBC, and he’s written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Vanity Fair, The Oprah Magazine, Parents Magazine, Women’s Health, Glamour, and many others.
BRYAN: 00:01:49 In this conversation we talk about play as the barometer of health. We also talk about surviving versus thriving and how to know when you might benefit from working with a therapist and how to choose one. Ben has some extensive experience. More than 15 years, working with people in his role as a therapist and he’s traveled extensively. I think you’ll enjoy our wide ranging conversation and getting to know Dr. Ben
BRYAN: 00:02:19 Dr. Ben… How about Dr. Ben?
BEN: 00:02:21 That works.
BRYAN: 00:02:22 Welcome Dr. Ben welcome to the school for good living podcast.
BEN: 00:02:26 Thanks for having me Bryan.
BRYAN: 00:02:27 Yeah you know I’ve been looking forward to our conversation. I think I told you that I finished reading your book on the fourth deck of a Disney Cruise Line and it was beautiful. It was just it was really great. And I had time to reflect and introspect and I really enjoyed your next big thing. Ten small steps to get moving. Happy so thank you for that.
BEN: 00:02:50 Yeah and I’m glad and I actually encourage most people to read the book on a Disney Cruise Line if at all possible. I know you’re a big Goofy fan so like you know if you can watch it with or listen to listen to it or read it when you are in the presence of any Disney characters I think it enhances the experience.
BRYAN: 00:03:10 Absolutely it on either side by massage treatments and eating anything or everything. No actually you know when I got on the ship they said I went up to the fitness center to check it out right off the bat and they were doing a little promo in there and one of the trainers in the space said on average people who cruise gain one pound per day. Was like, that will not be me.
BEN: 00:03:35 And it wasn’t right.
BRYAN: 00:03:36 No it wasn’t.
BEN: 00:03:37 I could tell you look well we both we just established we’re both marathoners so you know I’m sure you were exercising a fair amount.
BRYAN: 00:03:45 That is true. That’s right. We found I shared just before we started recording here that I was checking out your Facebook page last night I saw the photos of your experience running the New York Marathon last year. And I’m curious what was that like.
BEN: 00:03:59 So the New York City Marathon is just an amazing amazing experience. I feel like once once you’ve done the New York City marathon and this is no offense to any other marathons out there but like the other ones that I’ve done have been not as exciting and it’s just feel like the energy of this city really comes out, especially the outer boroughs. I feel like people just people in the Bronx and people in Brooklyn people in Queens they just show up, like one of my favorite things is that you’re running through upper Manhattan and the Bronx right as churches are getting out and so and people are like so psyched and they come out in their church groups come out and they give they give water and they just give cheers and it’s just like such good energy. It’s like the best… It’s one of the best days of the year here in the city York City.
BRYAN: 00:04:52 Yeah. It’s really beautiful. I was fortunate to get in that same year running for a charity. I did. I certainly didn’t qualify. And I didn’t get it to the lottery. But that day it was really special. It was a neat way to see the city also. Well let me ask you a question that I like to begin with which is what’s life about.
BEN: 00:05:16 So you starting small.
BRYAN: 00:05:18 We did the small talk… just jump right in.
BEN: 00:05:23 I think that life is about you know everyone kind of creates their meaning. I mean humans are meaning making creatures and it is in order to move forward in life in order to feel good about life. You have to establish some sort of purpose which can change and does change and does vary. But for me at this point I feel like my life is about service. Excuse me I’m really focused on service. Everything from like literally like getting a cup of coffee for someone to being a therapist to you know I run these groups now and I feel like you know it can seem a little bit trite maybe to some people but honestly I found that the more that I serve the better I feel and just my life just feels fuller.
BRYAN: 00:06:23 No that’s that’s not surprising to me. It’s something that I remember reading about when I was reading some of the works of Yeung and I was a little surprised because I think I have this image that in the past the world was perfect like everyone was happy. You know people got along in this kind of thing. And there was something he said that about a third of the people who came to see him people you know people don’t know Yeung is kind of a father of so much thinking that we that we benefit from now. And and a therapist. And he said that about a third of the people that came to see him came because of a general sense of meaninglessness in life. And I thought that was true. That was true 60 years ago. Wow. That’s still true today. So let me ask you this. With your with when you introduce people yourself to people and I know you do a lot of media and like you said you run these groups you work as a therapist based there in New York City. How do you generally introduce yourself. I know it probably depends on where you are and who’s asking but but how do you often respond to that question.
BEN: 00:07:31 You know it’s sort of it’s you know it. I hate to be trying to be squirrely but it really depends on the context. If I’m sort of in a professional context you know I really do start with like you know I’m sort of I mean I am genuinely here to serve you. I think that can throw people off in certain social contexts. And so I’m you know I really just try to engage people with wherever they are. I tend to be pretty playful. And so my first instinct for most people is to play. So I was at a wedding on Saturday night where I literally didn’t know except for my wife I didn’t know anyone. Not a single soul. And you know I was there to support my wife and she you know knew the groom and I just like went over to this table of people and was like hey how’s everybody doing.
BEN: 00:08:23 And just like I asked everyone like what their favorite sort of junky TV shows and immediately people kind of lit up. And I learned about a lot about some really good junky TV shows and I actually really really liked these people really connected with all and they were fascinating. One historian one woman who is in design and two attorneys. But it was really just fun like you know people really I think really genuinely do want to play. And if you kind of give them permission to, they’ll they’ll they’ll play as long as you let them.
BRYAN: 00:08:59 Yeah. You know I actually had that on my list to ask you about because there’s only three lines from your book that I pulled out and put in my notes to ask more about and this is one of them. You write “I think of play as a barometer for emotional health.” So you’re talking about that now but what say more about that what do you mean. What is how do you use play as a barometer for emotional health.
BEN: 00:09:20 So play is one of these things that is natural is a natural language that all humans across society societies have been documented to play. It’s a way of understanding the world and making sense of the world being imaginative and you know just kind of you know tussling with each other a little bit you know. Like if you see dogs kind of wrestling with each other and the key is and there’s a fair amount of research on this both with humans and with actually with dogs that we need to feel safe in order to play. And you if you don’t feel emotionally safe you’re just you can’t you can’t play. And so that’s why do you think it is a barometer for health and it works. Like most things it works both ways. If you have a moment like to be honest I was uncomfortable at this wedding because I didn’t know anyone but I just sort of went to my natural instinct and ended up having honestly like a great time. So it does work both ways. But but it is it’s it’s it’s critical to enjoy life is to be playful.
BRYAN: 00:10:29 I can see that for sure. And I think about you know meetings I’ve been in where things are just really tense. You know they’re serious and there’s not a lot of play in the room. And somebody once suggested to me that the person who is most playful the person who’s willing to lead with humor is often the person in control of the room in a way. And I’ve never I’ve never thought of that. But like you’re saying I think how we create you know we can create a safe space by demonstrating it and then inviting others into it. Such such a powerful thing. I love that. I love that idea. And I think too of something I heard Osho say once about when you are ready to play then you are enlightened. It was like oh that’s really interesting. Well I know you spent some time traveling. I understand you traveled to the Middle East. You went to India, Tibet. Tell me a little bit about your travels why you went what you learned and maybe any impact it had on your life or your writing.
BEN: 00:11:26 You know I think that at the time I was it was my early 20s and I just I was feeling a bit disenchanted in some ways with I didn’t know what I wanted to be doing for a living. And I was actually doing some interesting stuff but it just didn’t quite feel fulfilling for me. And I decided that I was going to you know actually convened a group of people at that time just kind of talk about what people were doing. And this one woman had just come back from India and she talked about the Amalia and she was like talking about how how meaningful it was to her and I was like Alright that’s it I’m going. And so I quit my job about five six months later put a bag on my back and got a one way ticket and just started meeting people and kind of having adventures.
BEN: 00:12:21 This was a very different time in India. The internet was barely present. There really wasn’t. And and it was in some ways one of the most significant experiences of my life I actually studied Buddhism with with a couple of monks and did have a brief very brief audience with the Dalai Lama and in Dharamshala and I I just got a chance to be with people from all different walks of life and would routinely just sort of take up with a couple of people and then go on an adventure with them and then meet someone else and go on an adventure for that with them and so for the better part of a year that was my life. And you know and especially in like far northern India and Nepal you know these are these are Buddhist cultures and people they’re just besides being really peaceful they’re actually they’re so warm and generous so like most of the times I didn’t stay in hotels I just stayed in people’s homes they would just say stay in our guest room and have dinner with us and even if they didn’t speak English very well there was some a lot of interestingly enough a lot of the kids knew English. The parents did not. So I was able to communicate somewhat through the children. They were just so incredibly generous and. Just the ability to just kind of be in such a magical place I think was just honestly critical to my emotional development.
BRYAN: 00:14:01 What what is stayed with you from that time. Like what what was become a part of you or what maybe something you think about or something you do as a result of the time you spent in that culture.
BEN: 00:14:14 One thing that was really funny. It’s still it’s so stay with me but so I’m a New Yorker I’ve been a New Yorker for most of my life and one of the things about the travels that I had there was that was so interesting in that culture in general whether it was northern India or southern India is that. People just look at you like if you’re like interesting looking people look at you and with no no intention just like oh you’re interesting to look at. So I’m going to look at you. And I came back to New York and started doing it just habitually and people were like what I thought I was going either hit them or hit on them like they didn’t know how to handle it. There was like always like some assumed intention. And I was just like I just had gotten used to just like looking at people because people are really interesting looking like you know not you know people that are that are naturally attractive or not particularly naturally attractive of all shapes and sizes like if you just I just wish we could look at each other a little bit more because we really are quite interesting to look at.
BEN: 00:15:18 And I mean it is it is not. I mean I live in Brooklyn. Like people there are not like they’re not liked if you’re looking at what do you got. So so that’s what I think about that a lot. And you know one thing that I think that unfortunately as a society we’ve lost is even if you’re not looking directly at someone it’s just people watching like just kind of like observing people and I feel like we tend to just look at our phones when we have a minute and we don’t look at each other and I have to stop and remind myself that there’s a place right near the flat iron building which is right near my office in Manhattan where I sometimes I just sit and like. And like I keep my phone away and I just look at people because we really are. We’re fascinating.
BRYAN: 00:16:07 Yeah absolutely. Well and here’s something I’d love to get your perspective on. You know with your background as a therapist is I heard Sadhguru once say that in India he said in India we don’t ask people how they’re doing. We just look at them you know and it was his kind of hypothesis that a lot of the the mental unwellness in our country is created by the dissonance between saying how are you? I’m fine and creating this kind of facade when we’re saying one thing but experiencing another and then of course we amplify that with social media. You know when this kind of thing but what’s your what’s your take on that. I mean is it something that you’ve experienced or thought a lot about as a culture. Obviously we’re very different from what you just described we’re like looking at people and really seeing them versus just giving like a cursory answer you know because when people ask they often want to know. You know but what’s your thought on that.
BEN: 00:17:04 Yeah I mean I never heard that quote but it certainly certainly echoes my own experience in the different cultures and I’ve really taken to people who answer that question genuinely lately and I try to answer it as genuinely as I can because it is just a social sort of morei but you can you can use it as an opportunity to get closer to people when you actually take it as a genuine question and to tell them kind of what’s going on for you. And some people it throws them off it’s almost a litmus test but it sort of is a litmus test for like who you’re talking to because some people are like oh sweet we want to get real like let’s do it. And some people you know don’t they want to back away from that very quickly.
BRYAN: 00:17:58 Tell me so I want to talk now a little bit about about your book Your Next Big Thing. Who did you write this book for. And what did you want it to do for them.
BEN: 00:18:08 I love that question because it was actually written for one woman in particular. So the book was inspired by and I I didn’t actually set out to write a book. I so I had this woman that I worked with who changed my life. She was a woman in her 40s who was a single mom and she was working at a job that she really. She called it a soul sucking job and she was quite depressed. And to be honest the Bryan, nothing that my training had provided me was helping her so I felt pretty frustrated to be honest with you I felt like I was wasting her time and my time that I was she was just really really really depressed and the only thing that gave her any joy at all was her, her daughter and I at some point I just kind of throughout all of my training and I just said hey you know what I want to try something a little different. Let’s just I’m going ask you to close your eyes and I want you to sort of imagine something with me. I want you to imagine your great great granddaughter and I want you to get to know her and her mind. Think about her. What does she eat for breakfast. What clothes she wear. Who do she hang out with. What does she do for fun.
BEN: 00:19:51 Really really imagine her and then sort of turn your mental camera around towards yourself. And I want you to consider what you’ve done to add to her life. And when she opened her eyes she had a incredibly clear answer. She said I want to make a piece of jewelry for her to wear to her senior prom and in that moment something really significant happened for her. She is someone that was not active in you know jewelry or anything like that. She she had been very interested in beading when she was younger but she from that moment on like became, a jeweler she began making creations coming to my office with these really interesting ornate pieces and some of them were really cool and it was something that I did that just worked. It just worked. And I began to sort of try more sort of visualizations and things like that with her that helped her along her journey and she was fortunate to have been one of the people that sort of caught the first wave of Etsy, Etsy.com. And so she went on to do pretty well for herself as a jeweler and selling pieces on Etsy and in the shops here in the city and for her I think. I mean our work together was life changing and there are a lot of things came from that and it was very powerful for me to be like Oh wow. I didn’t. I really did not not think that was going to work.
BEN: 00:21:51 And a lot of things emerged from that and I just kept writing down notes about things that were working in our work together. And at some point I was sitting in a farmhouse in Vermont and I was like you know if you put these pieces together it could be a book and not having not knowing anything about that but I decided I wanted to write like a book for this woman because she changed my life. And you know in the publishing world things change a fair amount and they’ve kind of wanted to broaden it. And so it ended up being vignettes about different people that I worked with. But she was really the primary person that I was writing it for. I can honestly say that the two of us sort of had this experience and we change each other’s lives.
BRYAN: 00:22:39 That’s really beautiful. You know I love that that brings to mind something I read Vonnegut once said about writing advice he said Write for just one person and that’s exactly what you did. That’s really cool. So what. So you wrote it for this woman but what has the response been? What. How is it. I mean this is something that I found gratifying with my first book was you never know who going to get it and what is going to do for them and then to have little you know messages come back and hear how it’s touched people. What. What were your hopes for the book when you when you released it into the world and what has the response been like for you.
BEN: 00:23:18 So you know I I just wanted it to hit as many people as it could. And it’s really taken me on a lot of pretty interesting journeys. I mean this group of clergy had found it and then they asked me to come and spend some time with some of their clergy members who were retiring and I’ve actually remained in contact with this this this group over the years and helped them you know have just you know kind of haven’t been around the world with it but I’ve definitely been around the country with it and been invited to just take part in different things and meet different people and. And it’s really opened me up to sort of touching people’s lives on a broader scale.
BRYAN: 00:24:07 That’s great. So speaking of you know our country you you’ve been across the country and talked to a lot of different people. This is something that I really want to get your perspective about which is… I mean it’s a kind of like what the hell is going on in our country right now. You know just with so much I mean to see suicide rates have increased 25 percent in two decades. You know I just read that. We’re having an opioid overdose death every nine minutes. Right. And you see the rates of depression and loneliness and you know now there’s a lot of political back and forth in all this. But what I mean the question isn’t so much like what’s going on but how can we as individuals navigate that in a way that’s like healthy insane. I mean what’s your what’s your take on that.
BRYAN: 00:24:54 The systems that have been put in place for benefiting society haven’t haven’t benefited everyone. And the same very same systems that have been put in place for society to improve people’s standard of living have harmed our environment. And I think that between those things and the technological disruptions we’ve experienced over the last 20 years people are feeling very afraid. And when people are afraid the tend to look for answers. And I think that we look for answers. We look for simple answers first and these are very complex issues that we’re talking about. And I think that the best thing that we can do for my hope for all of this is that we re engage as we re engage with one another. We have better conversations and don’t move away from people that are different from us but engage them. We’ve become so polarized about our solutions that most of us don’t even engage we don’t look at each other. We certainly don’t talk and listen and I think that that is the most important thing right now because we are definitely in some uncertain times.
BRYAN: 00:26:35 You know something you talked about in your book. And I think about if we’re going to be if we’re going to engage if we’re going to look at each other and we’re going to hear each other you know is the idea of presence about living in the now. And this was one of the other sentences from your book. I wrote down and want to ask you about. It’s actually two sentences you write “living in the now is a deceptively simple idea. It means that wherever you are physically you are also there psychologically and emotionally” right. So I think just about everybody knows that. But one of the things I love is the way that you describe when you’re not here when you’re not in the moment psychologically and emotionally. You’re one of three other places right. I think you talked about the past the future or elsewhere which I really liked. But will you kind of develop that a little bit or explain explain that and anything else related to living in the now that seems interesting to you.
BEN: 00:27:32 Yeah you know depression is typically quite past based. So it’s either pining for being where being some time in the past or you know wishing that you were in the past or or thinking about something sad from your past. And so when people are depressed which I’ve certainly seen you know in my office they tend to be not present but really pass focused and anxiety tends to be really future focus. What’s coming next. What’s what’s what’s going to be what if what if. And so anxiety is very much being in the future at least in the mind. And depression is you know being in the past and neither of them are true. Right. It’s just in your mind. And so there’s something we know that we’re kind of lying to ourselves almost if we’re spending too much of our mental energy in the past or or in the future and we’re not really engaging with life as it’s coming to us which is you know unhealthy and then the other the other place that we can be for not where we are is just elsewhere and elsewhere can be fantasizing about things distracting ourselves with things like television or alcohol or drugs and any of those things are…
BEN: 00:29:11 Look again. Everything in moderation right. Like I think it’s fine to think about the past. If you can learn from it and to think about the future if you can plan for it and I think it’s fine to be recreational with some of these things but too much of any one of them can lead to real problems and the best that we can do is to again be aligned emotionally psychologically and physically. Again it seems sort of simple but it’s not and it’s a very you know sort of the if you spend any time meditating our mind just naturally tends to wander away and we have you know it requires real training to bring it back to the moment usually by focusing on the breath. And so that’s that’s really what I mean.
BRYAN: 00:30:13 So when when you working with someone I mean I imagine people probably don’t come to your office maybe very often at least saying you know I realize I’m just not living in the present moment and I really want to be more present. That’s probably not the presenting issue but when you see it what is it that you see in someone and you’ve talked about depression anxiety but can you talk about something specific that maybe you see commonly that for you you’re like oh yeah if I can help this person be more present that’s going to really help them. Like what do you see that does that and then what you kind of prescribe or what do you suggest they do to be more present.
BEN: 00:30:50 Yeah I mean I don’t want to oversimplify because there’s often stressors external factors but you know one of the things that we know about neurochemistry is that the neurotransmitters that are focused on keep you focused on the present are different from the ones that keep you focused on the past. Well certainly the future and they can’t both be running through their circuits simultaneously. They have to be there… It has to be one and then the other they actually work to oppose one another. And so the more you can train your mind and train your body to be present. So I mean obviously our bodies and minds are highly connected are one and taking good care of our bodies doing things like exercise eating well sleeping well. Taking care of our minds through reading and study all these things and and honestly meditation does help all of these things together. Create more of a present focus and they are they all work together to keep us present and the fresher we are with by taking care of ourselves. The more capable we are of dealing with problems when they come our way because problems do come. But it’s… and we have an amazing amazing ability to deal with problems., challenges, if we’re present… if we’re not it’s a lot harder.
BRYAN: 00:32:31 Let me turn the conversation now to a discussion of the inner critic because we all have one right. And you say in your book you write facing your inner critic is necessary but not sufficient. Because when he is no longer running the show someone else needs to step up and take over. So I’m wondering if you’ll talk a little bit further…
BEN: 00:32:51 Some good writing right there…
BRYAN: 00:32:54 It’s brilliant. So will you just talk a little bit about the inner critic and then how what do you mean by facing your inner critic is necessary but not sufficient.
BEN: 00:33:05 So you know I think that the we all have history. We all have society and our families and our cultures and our.. The lessons of our parents and our society and our or our culture. They’re aimed at protecting us. That’s that’s their sort of that their job is to make sure that we survive. But surviving and thriving are very different and often the lessons that we get even the most well-intentioned lessons are not necessarily aimed at helping us to thrive but helping us to survive. And so we sort of get those sort of the critical voice from our progenitors and our cultures and that voice often becomes the basis of this inner critic that’s telling us no you can’t do or don’t do that. And so recognizing that and facing that is is essential and I talk about this a lot in the book with this specific specifically with this one woman who was making the jewelry and what it was like for her because she when she started to have some success as a jeweler she didn’t recognize herself also she lost weight and she didn’t recognize herself.
BEN: 00:34:35 And she found that to be frank like men were paying more attention to her than it had ever happened. And on the one hand she that’s sort of what she thought she wanted. But on the other hand she didn’t she didn’t because she was so not used to it that she kind of panicked and had a big regression. And so once once you’ve done that work then then you need to be driving the bus so to speak or a different voice needs to be sort of leading you toward something more. Enriching for yourself and that’s really where honestly therapy can be helpful for you can be helpful to sort of unearth what it is that’s speaks to you. And that’s where facing your now your inner critic is necessary but not sufficient.
BRYAN: 00:35:35 Thank you. Let me ask you a question about about selecting a therapist. First of all even knowing how like how does one know when it’s time to go or you know they might you might benefit from it because I think there’s probably a lot of people that wonder or they think you know they think maybe they could but they’re reluctant for some reason. So I’m really curious about these two things like how do we know when when we might benefit or it’s time to go and then when we’re kind of searching how do we not make the mistake of just going with the first person we see but what question should we ask him how do we know if this is the you know the right therapist for us.
BEN: 00:36:13 So the first thing is that if you find yourself running over the same ground over and over again the same problems that’s and you’re trying to solve the problems but you’re not able to do it on your own. That’s a good first step. The second one is that if you’re honestly if you’re eroding your own network by sort of trying to talk through some of this to your your close people that’s that can that can that’s a real sign if your friends are like you know kind of frustrated because they’re your friends and they’re there to love you and help you but they’re also not necessarily specialists in this regard. So those are the things that I would suggest and it is helpful to have someone that’s just not in your world that you don’t have to face on a daily basis to talk through certain things. So that’s those answers.
BEN: 00:37:08 And then with regard to how do you know you’re in the right place or with the right therapist that’s that can be a little trickier because we sometimes don’t listen to ourselves. You know I encourage people that come to meet with me to take their time and to meet with other people. I’m you know I’m not for everyone and that’s totally fine. And I would definitely encourage you to meet more than one therapist and see how that see how it feels, it’s a little bit like it’s like a little bit like dating in that you just kind of have to just just feel right. It isn’t about degrees or any of that stuff obviously the person needs to be well trained but you can have someone that’s well-trained that’s not particularly helpful. So it really is sort of comes down to a feeling.
BRYAN: 00:38:02 I appreciate that answer. How do would you do to celebrate. I don’t know if celebrates the right word but acknowledge what you do what you do is celebrate World Mental Health Day that took place this week.
BEN: 00:38:14 So I have and I can say this because she’s put me on her website. I work with a woman who has built. She she’s very very bright accomplished woman who has suffered from significant mental illness and she built a website specifically to create communities for people who are struggling with mental illness. And so I definitely pushed that out to a lot of people. Her website’s called forlikeminds called for like minds and it’s a really great resource for people who are struggling or people that are supporting people that are struggling with mental illness or substance abuse. But it’s something that I strongly recommend that people use. And it’s just so that’s what I did right on.
BRYAN: 00:39:04 And is it spelled out F. O. R. For
BEN: 00:39:07 forlikeminds.com.
BRYAN: 00:39:10 Awesome. We’ll check it out. Thank you for that. OK so the last question I want to ask before we transition to the parts of the interview I just want to touch on the topic of spirituality and spirituality as part of I know in our culture often we dismiss what we can’t see touch measure. You know this kind of thing. And in some ways in our culture I think that science and spirituality are on opposite ends of a spectrum where in a culture like India they certainly still distinct but rather than being at opposite ends they may be right up against each other. So that’s all kind of a long setup just to ask your personal opinion about spirituality and its importance in health and mental mental health and just our natural development as human beings.
BEN: 00:40:00 I think that I kind of subscribe to the idea of you know many paths one truth essentially that like there are a lot of different ways to get there and I don’t think any of them are better than another. We all have different ways of connecting to something larger than ourselves and it can be mystical it can be practical it can be religious it can you know it can be sort of tradition you know traditionally religious or non-religious but spiritual but I think that again connecting with something larger than ourselves some idea or concept or being is critical for us to move forward and it’s just as long as you have something even something vaguely defined. You’re going to be fine if you just if you don’t have anything and you kind of think or you don’t have any connection to something larger than yourself I think that that’s problematic.
BRYAN: 00:41:00 Yea. How can people cultivate, I mean I know there is a broad and I won’t get too deep on this but I’m personally fascinated by it partly because it’s been my experience of life is for the first 30 years of my life first 35 years. I didn’t believe life had meaning I didn’t really know what to believe about a higher power or anything like that. And I learned that that was a very painful place for me. And I think that many people who live in a similar space of you know not knowing and kind of not knowing how to know for themselves can be really a source of suffering. What what’s your kind of advice I mean I love that perspective many paths one truth but for somebody who’s looking to connect with a deeper source a higher power or their own higher self. Like what. What do you what do you say to people in that situation.
BEN: 00:41:52 I sort of think about it like diet. I think that you should try the foods of your parents first and see if that works for you and if it does great if it doesn’t then start looking beyond and looking for people that you look up to respect and seeing how they’re connecting is another way to do that. But I start with what’s closest to you. There’s usually some reasonable overlap. But not for everyone. And then go with people that you respect or trust.
BRYAN: 00:42:29 Right. All right well thank you for that. OK. So I want to ask just a few short short questions.
BEN: 00:42:36 Is it like a speed round type deal.
BRYAN: 00:42:38 Well I will read them and I won’t provide commentary. You can answer as long as you want to but I intended them to be answerable briefly. It’s a totally up to you. Number one please complete the following sentence with something other them a box of chocolates.
BEN: 00:42:56 OK.
BRYAN: 00:42:56 Life is like a…
BEN: 00:43:00 Beautiful fall day.
BRYAN: 00:43:03 Number two what do you wish you were better at?
BEN: 00:43:08 What do I wish I was better at? I wish I had a musical talent because I value music so much I just have no talent in that regard. So I wish I had just any kind of musical talent.
BRYAN: 00:43:22 OK. How’s your singing voice?
BEN: 00:43:22 Before I hit puberty was fantastic. And then I hit puberty and it. Bit I was a really beautiful singer when I was very young actually so.
BRYAN: 00:43:33 All right number three, if you are required every day for the rest of your life to wear a T-shirt with a slogan on it or a phrase or a saying or quote or a quip what would the church say.
BEN: 00:43:44 I think it would be, smile. It’s worth it.
BRYAN: 00:43:48 All right. What book other than your own. Have you gifted or recommended most often.
BEN: 00:43:56 Probably Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse Not probably, definitely.
BRYAN: 00:44:00 Why that book?
BEN: 00:44:02 It was critical for me. It’s the it’s the it’s the hero’s journey but for people that respect and appreciate Buddhism and enlightenment. And I read it at a very critical time in my life. And I think it’s it’s all of our journeys.
BRYAN: 00:44:25 All right. So you traveled a fair amount. What’s something you do or maybe something you take with you when you traveled to make your travel less painful or more enjoyable.
BEN: 00:44:37 I always bring a book an actual book not a Kindle or anything like that. And I have a meditation app that I like a lot Calm that I bring with me and I use a fair amount. That’s it. I just try to pack light otherwise.
BRYAN: 00:44:53 Right on. All right. What’s one thing you’ve started or stopped doing in order to live or age well.
BEN: 00:45:00 Definitely running and trying to keep my Friday’s clear for other opportunities and things so I really try to if I can avoid it. Avoid going into the office on Fridays so that I can do other things. That doesn’t always work out but it’s been a nice change for me.
BRYAN: 00:45:24 What’s one thing you wish every American knew.
BEN: 00:45:33 I wish every American knew… Understood evolution.
BRYAN: 00:45:38 What specifically about evolution.
BEN: 00:45:39 How it works how we’ve evolved as a species because it is the best explanatory device out there.
BRYAN: 00:45:52 If someone were to learn more other than you know put it in their curriculum and then pay attention when it is right. What would you say. Are there any books any authors any thought leaders alive today that you thought were worth worth investigating.
BEN: 00:46:06 Richard Dawkins of course the selfish gene the Moral Animal. What else is on my shelf that I like a lot. Sapiens is good. About evolutionary theory. I mean of course Origin of Species, Beak of the Finch, Codes of Evolution. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea like you should see my shelf.
BRYAN: 00:46:41 Yeah it sounds like you got a whole section just for that. All right. What advice did your parents give you, that’s impacted you, that’s stayed with you?
BEN: 00:47:00 Although you wouldn’t know it from this interview… Listen first talk second.
BRYAN: 00:47:04 I can see that. What is what’s your next big project.
BEN: 00:47:09 I mentioned these these gatherings that I’ve been doing, really enjoyed them. I really like bringing people together. And it’s been just incredibly rewarding to do that. So I’m just putting a lot of energy into those right now.
BRYAN: 00:47:28 Do those all take place in New York City.
BEN: 00:47:31 They have… not in New York City but in this area of the country but there’s there’s going to be some more of them out west in spring. But right now they’ve all thus far all been in New York City or New York City area I should say.
BRYAN: 00:47:43 All right. If people want to learn more from you or connect with you what should they do.
BEN: 00:47:50 Just go to my website. DrBenMichaeliscom.com I’m pretty responsive so feel free to reach out.
BRYAN: 00:48:01 Awesome. Ok so I do have just a few writing questions that I want to ask you before I transition to that I do want to share with you that I have as an expression of gratitude to you for making time to share your experience and your insight with me and with all of our listeners today. I’ve made a hundred dollar loan through Kiva.org to a woman in India named Tubin that she will use this loan to actually help. This money will go toward purchasing a buffalo. It will help her expand her business. So I just wanted to let you know that I that I appreciate that. Yes.
BEN: 00:48:40 Thank you.
BEN: 00:48:42 OK so so just a few questions related to writing. I want to ask first if you’ll just if you’ll give me the thumbnail or you can go deeper but you tell me about how you got this book written? I got the farmhouse in Vermont right. So there’s a farmhouse in Vermont. But tell me about from the moment you decided you would write the book. What like how long did it take, what process did you follow how did you go about it.
BEN: 00:49:10 I know that we tend to do better when we are answerable to someone else. So I found a colleague who is also working and we would meet for roughly an hour hour and a half a week at a café and we wouldn’t even speak we would just get there kind of nod and then get to work. And that really helped both of us to work on our projects at the same time because I wasn’t going to bail on him and he wasn’t going to bail on me. And so that was that that was key. And then you know just nights and weekends a lot of a lot of nights and weekends. But you know you have to want to write a book because you want you have something to say not because you’re trying to make money or any of that other stuff because it will fail. I think it will fail. If it’s not really genuine you know.
BRYAN: 00:50:09 How long did it take you. I know Joseph Heller took eight years to write Catch 22. How long did it take you to get this book done?
BEN: 00:50:18 Better part of a year the better part of a year is what it took me once I decided it was like that. I kind of had a sense of where I wanted it to go.
BRYAN: 00:50:27 What rituals did you have or routines did you follow if any like. Did you have a certain tea or did you wear a certain robe or you know is there anything like that that kind of got you and stayed and helped you in your process.
BEN: 00:50:40 I’m a big believer in cafes I love cafes so I wrote most of it at one café in particular here in Brooklyn. And so I have a hard time working at home. I don’t really do very effective work in my home. So knowing that I had to find another location and it was always almost always cafes.
BRYAN: 00:51:08 If you had to do again what would you do differently. What would you do the same?
BEN: 00:51:13 I would’ve gone with a different publisher. You know they didn’t give me a whole heck of a lot of support., which was frustrating. So I just felt like they weren’t a great publisher. But most of the process I would have sort of done the same because I was sort of naive which is the naivete like helped me get it done like not realizing how hard it was like allowed me to move forward. I didn’t I didn’t know like it was the same thing when I first started running marathons is like a marathon. Like I didn’t think about what that meant until like I was like oh I got to train and do all the other stuff like I had no idea what that really meant.
BRYAN: 00:51:53 Yeah. So knowing now with the benefit of experience that you say you would have chosen a different publisher. What was it about that publisher that you know led you to choose them initially?
BEN: 00:52:08 Well the person that acquired the book was very much behind it. But then she left for a different publishing house or actually she didn’t leave. She left it different from a different place. And so it was one person who acquired the book. And so yeah it was her. But the publisher itself I did you know was not great.
BRYAN: 00:52:30 What had you hoped the publisher would have done?
BEN: 00:52:33 Just promoted it and done just really done kind of they really didn’t do much to sort of fend for myself with getting the word out.
BRYAN: 00:52:43 Yeah. So now again knowing that and people listen to this some of them aspire to write their own books and want to make the most of the experience. What questions do you recommend they ask or what do you recommend they do or don’t do when it comes to having these conversations with with potential publisher?
BEN: 00:53:03 I would actually try to find other authors that have worked with that publisher and that editor and get their experience. That’s going to be the best way to do it.
BRYAN: 00:53:17 So one of the things I really like about your book is that it’s a nice combination of content and stories that help unpack that content and then there’s the kind of the quizzes and the questions where as a reader I get to evaluate myself I really liked that structure. Will you give me some insight into how did you arrive at the structure of the book both in terms of the chapters and then the content like the structure within the chapters and stuff. How did how did all that emerge.
BEN: 00:53:44 You know I try to when I write I tend to write questions to myself. And so the idea of sort of having questions and quizzes was really help was like kind of came naturally because I tend to start writing a section by asking myself a question and writing down that question like “What is it that you’re trying to convey was the most effective way of doing it.” And so at some point I was like I started to put in these kind of questions and then the editor was like Oh I love that I think that’s really helpful for people. Can you do more of that, and the stories were naturally because it was really all about this one woman at first going to be all about her and then I just had to provide different stories with different people I worked with. But I’ve got plenty of stories. I mean I’ve been doing my job as a therapist in private practice for about 15 years. So I got plenty of stories.
BRYAN: 00:54:43 Does writing energize you or does it exhaust you?
BEN: 00:54:47 Depends sometimes it’s a slog and sometimes I just get when you have an idea that’s well expressed it’s like the most exciting thing in the world and energizing but it really depends. You know I can think about one moment. Also in Vermont when I was at a Starbucks and this idea I’d been working on like it just sort of came together and like the end of the paragraph was a really nice sentence and I was like remember just being so excited like almost like vibrating. I was so excited about it.
BRYAN: 00:55:24 That’s awesome. How can we as writers write more of those sentences more easily more often than what’s the what’s the trick.
BEN: 00:55:34 Bryan I wish I knew. I mean I think the answer is just keep writing which I know is like it’s a lousy answer but the only I don’t have a better answer than that. Like you just have to keep at it because 90% of what you write is maybe not great but 10% can be really good if you know edit yourself well and get a good editor.
BRYAN: 00:55:54 What’s your what’s your insight about… first of all finding an editor and then about again knowing that you’ve got one that is going to be great in the long term?
BEN: 00:56:05 Well I mean I think it’s you know it’s like shared vision do they share your vision for what you’re trying to do. You know look at books that you admire and see who edited them and then try to get in touch with those editors either through direct connections or you know just emailing them cold.
BRYAN: 00:56:22 When you when you write when you’re on a project like this book you give yourself a word count per day or you know a time commitment or anything like that? Did you set like many targets for yourself time.
BEN: 00:56:37 I tried to do time commitment. You know because you could write for an hour and have a super productive hour or you could write for three and get nothing. But I tried to just keep a time commitment and then some days I would exceed it. And again having someone that I was sort of kind of responsible to helped also that you know I wanted to come back each week. When we met with you know significantly more done so.
BRYAN: 00:57:05 As a like as a matter of process what what tools did you use? I mean did you use Microsoft Word? Did you write on a mac? Did you like how did you keep things organized and all that.
BEN: 00:57:15 Microsoft Word. You know with the outline function is the way I did it. Like it’s I probably would use Google Docs now but this is I was still a Microsoft Word guy at that point.
BRYAN: 00:57:33 What advice do you have for people who are you know by the way this reminds me I asked I asked a publisher once I said do you think it’s true that everybody has one book at least one book in them. And she said unfortunately. But anyway. So this question brought to mind which is what advice do you have for people who still have a book in them and they want to get it out. But they’ve got that apprehension or the inner critic is just so loud. Like what advice do you have for that person at the beginning of this?
BEN: 00:58:07 You know team up if you can team up with someone again like I did not that we had the same project we were doing very vastly different things. But if you know we’re tend to be more responsible to others than to ourselves. And if you make a commitment to someone else you’re much more likely to keep it than if you are to you’re just yourself unfortunately. And so pairing up is definitely a good strategy.
BRYAN: 00:58:34 You read your own book reviews?
BEN: 00:58:36 I don’t actually.
BRYAN: 00:58:38 How do you have the self-discipline. Like…
BEN: 00:58:41 Oh my gosh. Because I’ve I’ve worked with so many people in the public eye. And I can see the damage that’s done when you read other people’s reviews positive or negative. Yeah. I think it’s a dangerous dangerous road to go down. So I don’t.
BRYAN: 00:58:57 Wow. Well I read them and they’re pretty good by the way sorry. Yeah. OK. Awesome. So what question do you wish that somebody would ask you about your book that nobody has yet or at least you don’t get not asked all that often.
BEN: 00:59:15 Because it was really about this one woman I guess people I’m surprised at not more people not many people have asked me about her. I stopped working with her when she her career took off and I don’t know where she is right now but I know that she was doing very well and we stopped working together. But it you know I hope that she’s still doing really well.
BRYAN: 00:59:41 OK. Well Dr. Ben thank you so much for making time to chat with me today and share again your experience and your insights with with me and with anyone who’s listening to this. I really enjoyed our conversation and as I said I I really enjoyed your book and I’m grateful that you wrote it and that you made the time to talk with me today.
BEN: 01:00:01 Well thanks very much Bryan it’s really been a pleasure. I’ve enjoyed this conversation and our last one as well. And I do hope that our paths cross again soon.
BRYAN: 01:00:10 Yeah me too. All right. Well everybody listening thank you for tuning in. I hope that you took away something that you’ll implement in your life maybe in your writing to make a difference for others that you will maybe have taken something away that will inspire you to serve. So with that until next time take care.
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