Suicide Prevention expert Dr. Mark Goulston returns to discuss his initiative to improve human connections.
(27 minutes) Originally a UCLA professor of psychiatry for over 25 years, and a former FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer, Dr. Mark Goulston’s expertise has been forged and proven in the crucible of real-life, high stakes situations. An influencer who helps influencers become more influential, his unique background has made him an indispensable and sought after resource and change facilitator to Fortune 500 leaders, entrepreneurs and educators across the nation. Dr. Goulston sits down with Dr. Hackie Reitman to his #WMYST campaign, and how improving connections between people can positively impact mental health.
For more about the What Made You Smile Today, visit: wmyst.org
For more about Dr. Goulston: markgoulston.com
And check out the recent episode of his podcast featuring Dr. Hackie Reitman: mywakeupcall.libsyn.com/ep-56-hackie-reitman-md
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Welcoming back Dr. Mark Goulston
HACKIE REITMAN (HR): Hi I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman, Welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains. Today, we’re so lucky to have with us returning Dr. Mark Goulston all the way out there from UCLA doing very exciting stuff. Great to see you again, my old classmate from Boston University! Mark, welcome to Different Brains!
MARK GOULSTON (MG): It’s great to see you, Hackie. I got a question and I often ask this question out of the gate, what made you smile today, Hackie?
What Made You Smile Today?
HR: Knowing that I was going to be interviewing Mark Goulston made me smile because that brings back memories of our favorite mentor, Dean William F. McNary from Boston University who fought for both of us and for so many other students.
MG: And as you said that, and we call that we were going to meet again and we would both be called in William D. McNary, could you feel that just a little smile because of the way of just cutting through some of the OCD, ADD, the stuff in our head, can you feel how I just cut through just as you even said it?
MG: So, in fact what we’re going to be talking about is my team and I have launched a global initiative. And we have one product of #WMYST, which stands for “what made you smile today?” And we have an Instagram, an Instagram tag called @WMYSTGlobal. It’s a nonprofit and our mission is to combat the disconnect, the unhappiness and loneliness in the world, using the power of tactical kindness. And WMYST is one of the tactics we talked in the previous show about something called Eight Words, which is another tactic to get through the people who are depressed and even feeling suicidal. And so I’m so pleased to be on and share this with you and your listeners. And they can check out where we launched this at a TedX Talk. And our TedX Talk is called “What Made You Smile Today?” And can I give a little background about why I’m doing this, why I’m doing this now?
Mental health and human connections
MG: So, as you’ve known from my background, I was a suicide specialist 25 years. I was a boots-on-the-ground suicide specialist. One of my other mentors after Dean William McNary was a fella named Dr. Edwin Shneidman. if you look up Edwin Shneidman, he is one of the three or four pioneers in the field of suicide prevention. He co-founded the American Association of suicidology. And what happened is he would refer highly suicidal patients to me at UCLA, and that’s what made up my practice for many years, probably over 30 years. And then what happened is you know I’m getting a little bit old in the tooth like you, Hackie. And so you know life happens, and I do have a documentary that’s won a number of awards called “Stay Alive: An Intimate Conversation About Suicide Prevention.” People can find that out at “Stay Alive” video. But what happened is roughly nine months ago, I became a Grandpa for the first time. My first grandchild, it has rocked my world and I wasn’t geographically close to my grandparents. So you know, they’re always sweet but when we visit them we were from out of town. And you hear these cliches about grandparents and grandchildren, and I’m not much of a cliche believer but it’s all true. I told my wife–we’ve been married almost 42 years. I said, “I gotta believe that I once loved you as much as I love my grandson but I can’t imagine it,” no but she loves my grandson too. And I get to see him or five times a week, so I’ve watched him develop.
And I’ll tell you if you’re a grandparent, you’ll know what I’m talking about when you look into the eyes of an infant, your grandson and granddaughter. It’s like looking into the eyes of God. They’re just looking at you with pure innocence. They’re not looking at their iPad, they’re not racing to a video game, they’re just looking out, and what they’re looking for when they can’t use their arms or legs yet because between the two and five months is there looking to hold on to you with their eyes until–what I’ve been doing is bathing him and, “I am so glad you’re here, I think you’re going to have a great life if I have anything to do with it, and if technology tries to take away your job we’ll find another job for you.” And so I just bathe him in this unconditional, “boy am I glad you’re here.” And I’m not sure I did that with my own kids because I had to go out and earn a living. So I’d be there but I had to run and do something. But what happened is he made me smile that I’ve decided to switch in that direction. But if you check on my TedX Talk, I won’t tell you the whole thing, but what the TedX Talk was about is I have a good friend who had a 23 year old drug addict daughter. And this is part of my TedX Talk, but you can check it out when you check out the TedX. And he basically said to me, “I can’t stand getting a call from her, she lies, she manipulates, I don’t want to get angry at her because she’ll overdose, and I’m making it worse but I don’t know what to do.”
And then he told me, “You know, I figured she must smile about something everyday. Could be a shower, could be a slice of pizza, could be getting drugs, it’ just got to be one thing.” So what he did is he started texting her everyday at 5 p.m. “Hey honey, it’s Dad, what made you smile today?” “And at first, she kind of tried to manipulate me, ‘oh, I thought you were going to give me some money, money would help me,’” and he said, “No, no, no, no. We’ve been down this road before, no more money, no more money. You know until you get your act together.” And he said after 6 weeks, he sent her a text everyday. And he sent the same thing: “Hi honey it’s Dad what made you smile today?” and she sent him a text back and she said, “Oh, come on Dad, if you must know what made me smile today it was knowing you would send me a text.”
HR: How cool.
MG: You got it. He started to cry, and he said it was the first time we really liked each other when she didn’t want something from me. Two months later, she was off drugs because instead of being a burden who was resented, her dad liked her. And so ever since then what’s happened is I’ve been on this mission. You don’t even have to see the TedX Talk, you’re getting most of it here with Hackie. And so what I do and what we’re doing–it’s like the ice bucket challenge–is everyday, and I mean every day, when one of the name-taged faceless people, whether it be the cashier at McDonald’s, TSA agent, after they serve me, I always do the same thing I did this with Carmen at McDonald’s. She served me and, “I saw your name tag, Carmen.” I said, “Thank you, Carmen. Just a “thank you” startled her. “Thank you, Carmen, my name is Mark. I have a question for you. No, Carmen, you’re not in trouble, you didn’t do anything wrong.” And I looked at her, I said, “Carmen what made you smile today?” And she paused. And most of the responses I get, “it’s a beautiful day, waking up,” she gave me, and my favorite, she had this huge smile, and she looked at me and she said, “Seeing you, sweetie.” And so I said to her, “Carmen, here’s the wrist band.” In fact, I gave her two wristbands and the wristband says #WMYST. I said, “Carmen, you have a great smile, you need to use it everyday and here’s a wristband to make sure that you do it every day and here’s a second wristband. Do that to someone else that I just did to you.” And so I sit down with my coffee. McDonald’s makes good coffee, you don’t have to go to Starbucks. So I sit down and what’s happening is that when she’s not busy, she’s at the register and she’s like this. I’ll tell you, it made me so uncomfortable, I had to leave but I think that’s the power of reminding people what made them smile. So we’re just creating this mission to breakthrough as we said you the disconnect, the unhappiness, and the loneliness of using one smile at a time.
The art of listening
HR: Well, you get into another aspect which has not spoken about as much as we should but I know you’re an expert on, which is the art of listening.
MG: Absolutely. In fact, you mentioned something because as I mentioned, I went to Russia and I spoke to a thousand Russians. And I introduced my latest thinking on communication, so I’m so pleased to be able to mention this to you and to mention this to your audience because if you could do this, I even think if you’re a little bit on the spectrum, it can help you appear to have more empathy when a lot of times you might have struggled for that. And this is what I introduced in Moscow, I said if you can have pure curiosity, meaning you don’t have anything you’re trying to sell or convince, and you can focus on what people are listening for. So, a lot of times people listen to us and then we talked to them a kind of like above the neck transaction, but if you are just purely curious about what they’re listening for, and then you have them open up about it, people lean into you. So if I would have focused on what you’re listening for, let me see if I get it, so here’s my good friend Hackie. And maybe, what your listening for is I’m really tuning in to what Mark’s saying now because a lot of people we serve with different brains have trouble connecting, trouble connecting with themselves, to have trouble connecting with other people. And they’re aware that they feel different. And I’m listening for, “Is Mark saying something that they could use if they could focus?” Learn to focus on what other people are listening for and just be curious about it. I’m wondering if that could help some of the people we serve to connect better? That would be amazing! So I don’t know if I’m getting it right but do you know what I’m saying.
Becoming more understanding
HR: Yes, I do. And what’s great about everything that you’re saying is that these are tools that we can all use. It doesn’t matter what neurodiversity or what kind of different brain we might have, whether I’m on the spectrum, or I have lots of anxiety or tend toward depression, or I have a neurological disorder. This is all very helpful, and doable, and usable.
MG: Yeah, because in the way I would introduce it at the people in there with neurodiversity, is because I believe it to be true of the wonderful interns you introduced me to that you have. I think they would be aware that they’re listening for solutions to a problem, they’re looking for data or something to make it work. Even your great Joseph, you’re Hackie, you know he’s listening for how to make sure that the audio comes out right and everything else and it flows. And so if you can help people who have neurodiversity to be aware that they’re listening for something all the time, you might be able to say, “Well can you understand how people you’re interacting with are also listening for something, to solve something, and sometimes what they’re trying to solve is their problems and they want to feel close to you because you’re the son, their daughter, their spouse.” And so do you can just be curious about what they’re listening for and have them tell you what it is. They might actually have the feeling of connecting with you. Can you follow that sort of?
Moving from being anxious to being a leader
HR: Yes, makes all the sense in the world. I made the first chapter in the Aspertools book, anxiety, because that kind of rules all of us. And now, what are some good tips and tricks that you might have for our audience that might help someone with social anxiety and they might become, for instance, a strong leader. How does it work?
MG: Well, you know, I know you find this hard to believe but I–and I can’t say it anymore because my wife says you can’t say this anymore–I am an extreme introvert. I mean painful introvert. My wife says, “You can’t say that, you go around the world speaking.” Well yeah, when I’m on stage and I’ve got to show up but, I don’t go to the cocktails the night before and make small talk. When I just show up and do my thing, and then I exhale and maybe I’ll have one just have one glass of wine, and then I’ll talk to the wall but and I’ll tell you, this is what here’s an anecdote. Because I remember being very shy. And I remember, we went to my wife’s–this was many years ago, I think her 15th high school reunions. And I was always really a pain in the neck I was whining; “when can we leave, I don’t know what do you want?” and I don’t know that I ruined it for her but I certainly didn’t make it all that pleasant. But I evolved a little bit in the next ten years. So it’s the 25th High School reunion. And I said I’m going to surprise her and be an amazing sport.
And we go to the reunion and I said, “I don’t know how I’m going to pull it off but I’m going to speak to five people and they’re going to be happy they spoke to me. I have no idea how I’m going to do it.” And by the end of the evening, I had spoken to but seven people. And five of them, when we finish talking, they took my hand and two hands to make sure it was really good meeting you and so afterwards, I was trying to figure out what the heck did I do? And so I realize I used this tool with each of them. I asked questions that would cause them to say “I think this about so-and-so” or “this is how I would feel this is what I would do, think, feel, do.” So I might say something like, “What do you think about it being 25 years since you went to high school? How do you feel about seeing some of the people that maybe I’ve been seeing for years? I might say I’m not supposed to talk about politics, but if you are president, what would you do to set of handle these kinds of issues?” But what I realized is that when you get someone to say the words, I think this is how I feel, this is what I would do,” they feel known by you.
HR: Mark, Where can our audience learn more about you and your work?
MG: Well, if you go to Amazon and just put in my name Mark Goulston, you’ll find that, as I said, if you go to YouTube and put in “Tedx Goulston,” you’ll find my TedX Talk “What made you smile today?” If you go to Instagram, you can join our community at What Made You Smile Today Global, @WMYTSGlobal. It’s a .Org. I mean, we’re not trying to make money, we’re just trying to adjust. We’re just trying to put a dent in the loneliness and unhappiness in the world one smile at a time. Part of it, Steve Jobs said, is we’re here to put a dent in the universe because that’s why we’re here. So we’re hoping to put a dent in the unhappiness, loneliness, and disconnect to the world. So you can find us there. And what we hope is you record selfies, and you can find the wristbands in WMYST.org, and we’ll be hoping you’ll spread the word. Kind of like the Ice Bucket Challenge. Will you hold up your wristband and say “what made me smile today was such and such, what made you smile,” and together I think we could make the world a little happier.
HR: We can certainly use that.We can certainly do that. Well Dr. Mark Goulston, from UCLA, look at you. As they say, can you believe it, we made it through medical school and everything?
MG: Take advantage of every day. I mean it’s amazing how quickly time passes and and also you don’t have this podcast. Everybody has wake up calls, but not everybody wakes up and I hope you’ll check those out. My Wake-Up Call podcast, it’s on iTunes wherever you get your podcast. And you’ll be able to tune into the great interview that hackie gave me where I talked as much as he did. But Hackie, you’re a better listener than I am. You make a lot more sense and let me tell you something, this could be my all-time record for being held really.
Listening’s role in preventing suicide
HR: I love listening to everything. Everything you’ve had to say and I really didn’t want to interrupt you because it’s all good stuff, and not the least of which, and I don’t want it to get lost in all of the morass there and lost in the whole texture of everything we’ve discussed in both of our interviews. But the fact that you specialize and deal many times within your practice with suicide and none of your patients have committed suicide, that’s gotta be a world’s record.
MG: Well, the key is I’ll just show this to Anna. And I gave a presentation for the California Community College Mental Health and Wellness Conference. And these were the heads of the mental health programs at community colleges. And it went pretty well and when they said, “so give us some tips, well how come your people don’t kill themselves.” And I said, “I’ll give you a tip but you won’t be able to follow it because you work for somebody.” See I was blessed because after I finish training, I didn’t work for an institution, and very early on when I was meeting with suicidal patients and look in their eyes, I could pick up the what they were saying to me and their eyes was–you’re checking boxes and I’m running out of time and after awhile it screamed out of me, their eyes. So I just put the clipboard away, and so I told these people, I said there is three questions that I will often ask people and I don’t think you can do it because you have to, it’s off protocol. So I said, there’s three questions that I used to ask people when I was in practice–I’m no longer practicing–is I look them in the eye, and I have a way of looking in the people’s eyes and holding on to their eyes, kind of what I’m doing now. And they would see it, and I would say to them, “At your absolute worst, where it’s real awful, how bad does that get for you?” And they would look at me, “what?” And I repeat it out of tops at your absolute worst, you’re feeling terrible, how bad does it get to you. And their eyes would sort of, when they check up, may get hospitalized in something, and then they say really awful. And then the second question is when you’re feeling that way, how alone do you feel? They look at me, totally alone.
And then my third question was take me to such a time, take me to 2:30 in the morning the last week, and then they start to talk about it. And here’s what I’ve discovered, is when you can get someone to talk about something really awful, they talk about it so clearly that you can see it. I can see them walking around their bedroom and banging the pillow, looking for a broken Ambien, wanting to put their heads to the wall. And when I can get them to talk about it so clearly that I can see it they relive it, and when they relive it, they’re not alone. And they relive it with you and they start to cry. They start to cry, and when they start to feel relief, they start to be able to think more clearly because as we talked about their they’re not agitated, They start to calm down because you’re crying with relief, because they feel less alone. I wrote a blog after Anthony Bourdain died by suicide. They got 500,000 views and 75,000 reads in six days. And I said, “Why people kill themselves, it’s not depression.” And what I talked about is that there’s hundreds of millions of people who are depressed, who lose jobs, who lose marriages, who don’t kill themselves. Ao they all contribute and I said one of the things that they all feel at the end is despair. And if you break the word despair into despair, they feel unprepared with reasons to live. Hopeless, helpless, useless, worthless, meaningless, pointless. And what happens when they just all line up, they pair with death to take the pain away.
So if you can pair with them in the dark night of the soul, do they feel less alone? They’ll pair with you instead of death and that was a lot of my presentation, and you know it. And I’ll tell you the people who are attending, they were tearing up because they could just picture how it would work. And then what they said to me, they shrugged their shoulders and they say, “You’re right, we can’t do that, because it’s you don’t know. We have to be saying ‘no, maybe we should give you medicine and will send you to such and such.’” You know what I’m hoping is someone will say is, “We need to Institute what I learned from this presentation,” so we’ll see how it goes.
HR: Thank you so much for teaching us, this is great. Well, Mark, the time went by! Thank you again so much for being with us here at Different Brains!
MG: Thank you!