Rules of engagement


Lots of magicians earn their “stage time” at a young age by performing for neighbors or entertaining at children’s birthday parties. My path was a little different. By age 16, I was performing at local and regional trade shows and I learned quickly what worked and what didn’t with harried, jaded business people. I needed an approach that would immediately hook passersby to stop, or at least slow down, long enough to engage them. I would point to an imaginary spot just above my head, reach up and produce a real flame between my fingertips. At the same time I would say “Here’s something impossible and maybe a little dangerous!”

I didn’t look at the flame licking my fingers, but instead smiled and made eye contact with the individual. I tossed the flame toward my left hand and when it landed, the flame had become a gold coin. I handed the coin to the business person as I explained “This is my gift to you. You may keep it or try your luck to win one of these amazing prizes.” Nine times out of ten, the individual would laugh, then hand the coin to a salesperson in return for a spin of the prize wheel.
Shilling for companies as a teenager was my introduction to the art of engagement. I still use the same techniques today.

The steps to engagement are simple:
1. Be intriguing. You don’t have to pluck flames from the air to capture attention (although it couldn’t hurt). Simply engage the person with a smile and an intriguing comment or question, such as “Are you having an amazing day?” If they say yes, follow up with “Me, too! What amazing thing has happened to you today?” If they say no, state “Well, it’s not too late! Tell me about an amazing experience you’ve had recently.” People are drawn to those who find them fascinating, so be genuinely interested in others and you’ll never be at a loss for good conversation.

2. Give a gift. It could be the gift of your attention and a useful comment such as a compliment, a savvy observation or even a suggestion of a hot new restaurant, movie or book. Sharing insights and recommendations show that you’re really listening and that you’ve placed the other person’s needs front and center.

3. Offer choice. Let the person drive the conversation and let them choose the path. You can always give the topic a little nudge, but take your lead from the other person’s comments and interests. The best interviewers and conversationalists are those who listen intently and ask questions sparingly.

To be engaging means to be engaged. Enjoy meeting people, leave your ego and agendas at home, and be genuinely interested in others. You’ll quickly become engaged with everyone you meet and they will love you for it.

Houdini Logic

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Harry Houdini. Who doesn’t know the name?
His daring escapes, his legendary stamina, his amazing resourcefulness and
 his uncanny gift for self-promotion have secured his name among the icons of the 20th century. Much more than a performer, Harry was an explorer, inventor, researcher and savvy businessman who almost single-handedly created the field of “escapology” by freeing himself from locks, shackles, jail cells and all forms of bizarre restraints. Harry constantly searched out new and exciting challenges. He was encircled in chains, handcuffed, and stuffed into a packing crate which was nailed shut and thrown into a frigid river. He was crammed into a metal can filled with milk, even a giant stein brimming with beer. Harry got out of all of them.
Houdini also 
created “ghost-busting,” the tireless search for legitimate apparitions and the exposing of phony “mediums” or psychics who preyed on wealthy, bereaved patrons reeling from the horrors of World War I.

Harry’s real name was Ehrich Weiss. He was a Hungarian immigrant who spoke little English, had few formal skills, and was just 5 
foot, two inches tall. What he had in large supply was a deep love for his family and his adopted country, along with a steely 
resolve to conquer any challenge. Today, America faces challenges not witnessed since the Great Depression. In 2013, our country is still navigating a tenuous “recovery” and faces the specter of a government shutdown. Every time I speak with a neighbor, a business owner, or a family member I hear a slight quiver in their voices and see doubt in their eyes. Houdini’s greatest accomplishment was conquering his fears and embracing opportunity wherever he found it. We can do the same. But first we have to free our minds of constricting beliefs, irrational fears and negative self-talk. More than 80 years after his death, Harry Houdini can still show us the way. 

Lessons from the remarkable life of Harry Houdini:

1. Believe in Yourself 
Only then will others truly believe in you and embrace your gifts.
2. Recreate Yourself
Use your talents and channel your singular combination of abilities to create a new 
service, product or unique way of seeing the world to solve problems at work and home. Provide value to the world and the world will reward you with opportunities to thrive.
3. Promote Yourself
Your accomplishments can only be leveraged if the world knows about them. 
Be humble, but don’t be invisible.
4. Be resourceful
Read voraciously, become an expert, then apply your knowledge to solve tough 
challenges and open up new avenues for advancement. Plus, you’ll be a more interesting person at parties!
5. Set lofty goals 
Even if you don’t achieve every goal, your extra efforts open new doors and help you grow in areas you never thought possible.
6. Learn from your mistakes
Houdini had an encyclopedic knowledge of locks and kept a diary of 
all his escapes – what worked, what didn’t, and what he would do the next time he found himself in a similar predicament. Do you have a success diary? How do you build on lessons learned, especially from your failures?
7. Anticipate and embrace change
Harry saw that vaudeville wasn’t the future, so he made movies, presented lectures, wrote books and created the fields of “escapology” and “ghost-busting”.
8. Think differently to solve problems
Use your past experience and apply it in a completely new way to find unexpected approaches and possibly reveal entirely new opportunities, product ideas, inventions, even an entire school of thought!
9. Look for new combinations
Harry turned an interest in locks, magic and athletics into “escapology” and helped define entertainment in the early 20th century.
10. Free your mind
Houdini loved to explore and try new things. He was the first man to fly solo in Australia, not long after the Wright Brothers’ groundbreaking accomplishments at Kitty Hawk. Try meditation or yoga, browse through the library and check out a book chosen at random and read it. Listen to different types of music on the radio or at home. Go to a new restaurant this month. See a play. Go to a magic show. Watch a foreign film. Just do something new! New experiences stimulate your brain, stretch your mind and keep life interesting.

Notice the Non-Verbal


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This week, I’d like to turn the blogosphere over to Dr. Daniel Goleman, who offers valuable insights into “reading” another’s non-verbal communication. Ignore the unspoken signals others are sending you at your peril!

What’s in a wince? Reading non-verbal cues.

She squinted when I suggested her draft of the contract wasn’t what we initially discussed. My jaw tightened when he asked for an extension on his report, yet I said “No problem.” Examining – and being aware of your own – micro-expressions during negotiations can be a helpful tool in ensuring discussions go smoothly, and that both parties achieve mutual gainsin the end.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with IMD professor and Leadership: A Master Classparticipant George Kohlrieser about a variety of ways to master the art of negotiation. This first installment provides an overview of ways to read and manage nonverbal signals.

“A great negotiator always looks for nonverbal signals. Now, you can’t become too analytical or you’ll get paralyzed. But pay attention to the tone of voice and facial expressions, if you can see them. If you’re in a situation where you can shake their hand, that physical interaction is worth noticing, too. You should also pay attention to your gut reactions when you notice an expression that you don’t trust. Use that instinct to gauge how they might be using the nonverbal language of lying.

To learn more about evaluating micro-expressions, I suggest reading up on Paul Eckman’s work. His research in understanding the meaning behind nonverbal cues is genius. It’s a benchmark work that says that there are so many micro-expressions of how emotion gets expressed visually, and in the voice, and the impact they have. His work can also be used to help train yourself to be aware of your own micro-expression, which a negotiator has to do.

For instance, I may feel very upset, angry, or disappointed if I thought we were going to reach a conclusion, and suddenly it starts to fall apart. I have to watch that I don’t communicate anger. I have to watch that I don’t communicate the wrong message because the communication is nonverbal. Research shows about 85% of the impact comes from voice, facial expression, the nonverbal signals that the other person picks up. Paul’s work is seminal in being able to teach us that signals are always there. Be aware of them.

Of course, the cues can also be positive. I can be non-trusting but certainly I see expression in the eye, or in the hand, that shows me something different, and it can be where they are reaching out or pulling back. They’re trying to suppress or trying to open up. All of those ideas in expression become important.

Reading expressions is also very important with concession. You’ve reached a point of arguing and suddenly you ask a powerful question, and they respond to your question, which requires you make concession. You have to be able to say, “Thank you, I appreciate that question.” I like that you reflected. You’re listening to what I’m saying. Then use those non-verbal expressions to see when concession has really been made.

Regarding the law of reciprocity, animal trainers have a great deal to teach negotiators. Their survival depends on watching an animal’s nonverbal signals. They have to be able to get into that dance of bonding and being aggressive when you get a signal to stop, and pushing forward can get you killed. When you pick up the signal, the animal stops, then you step back, then you go forward again. It’s a dance of attachment that wild animal trainers who survive do very well, and it’s what’s behind the people’s skills in dealing with animals.

Let’s be honest, in some difficult negotiations, people can sometimes act like wild animals. It’s best to learn ways to tame their emotions – and mange your own responses to them – to survive.”


Emotional Intelligence author, Daniel Goleman lectures frequently to business audiences, professional groups and on college campuses. A psychologist who for many years reported on the brain and behavioral sciences for The New York Times, Dr. Goleman previously was a visiting faculty member at Harvard.

Dr. Goleman’s most recent books are The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights andLeadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence – Selected Writings. (More Than Sound). Goleman’s latest project, Leadership: A Master Class, is his first-ever comprehensive video series that examines the best practices of top-performing executives.

Learning from Houdini – Part 2

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Harry Houdini was a genius at using limitations to his advantage.
One of his most daring escapes, from inside a locked metal container filled with milk,
was actually safer inside the can than outside. Inside, Harry had good visibility and enough oxygen to pick his handcuffs and unlatch the lid. Not that you or I could do it, mind you, but Harry realized that escaping from within a locked can was safer and more reliable than being, say, strapped to the outside of the can or other heavy object and being thrown into a lake (although he did that, too). Always the consummate showman, Harry looked for challenges that were the most reasonable risk that still yielded drama and a rapt audience. If you want to be an amazing problem solver, start by taking a few more calculated risks. Then you’re ready to expand your perspective and move past limiting beliefs like the following:

6. That’s Not My Job!

In an era of hyper-specialization, it’s those who happily explore completely unrelated areas of life and knowledge who best see that everything is related. This goes back to what ad man Carl Ally said about creative persons—they want to be know-it-alls.

Sure, you’ve got to know the specialized stuff in your field, but if you view yourself as an explorer rather than a highly-specialized cog in the machine, you’ll run circles around the technical masters in your field and find lasting success.

7. I’m a “Serious” Person

Most of what keeps us civilized boils down to conformity, consistency, shared values, and yes, thinking about things the same way everyone else does. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but if you can accept that it’s actually nothing more than “groupthink” that seeks to smooth the hard edges of society, you can then give yourself permission to turn everything that is currently accepted upside down and shake out the illusions. Only then will you consistently think and express yourself as a passionate, unique individual.

Leaders from Egyptian pharaohs to Chinese emperors and European royalty have consulted with fools, or court jesters, when faced with tough problems. The persona of the fool allowed the truth to be told without the usual ramifications that might come with speaking blasphemy or challenging ingrained social conventions. Give yourself permission to be a fool and see things as they really are. A related approach is to play the role of “devil’s advocate” and entertain the view that runs counter to conventional thinking. The greatest inventors, leaders and ceos in history have all run afoul of popular opinion at critical times in order to create something truly groundbreaking.

8. Ambiguity Is Annoying!

We rationally realize that most every situation is ambiguous to some degree. And although dividing complex situations into black and white boxes can lead to disaster, we still do it. It’s an innate characteristic of human psychology to desire certainty (or at least the illusion of certainty) but it’s the creative thinker who rejects the false comfort of clarity when it’s not appropriate or conducive to expansive thinking.

If you’re looking to innovate, then ambiguity is your best friend. The fact that most people are uncomfortable exploring uncertainty gives you an advantage, as long as you can embrace ambiguity rather than run from it.

9. Being Wrong Is Bad

We hate being wrong, and yet mistakes often teach us the most. Thomas Edison was wrong 1,800 times before getting the light bulb right. Steve Jobs had as many flaming product and entrepreneurial failures (remember the Apple “Cube” or the firm “Next”?) as he did soaring successes. The greatest strength of both men was that they were not afraid to be wrong and valued the information gleaned with every misstep.

The best thing we can do is learn from our mistakes, but we have to free ourselves to make mistakes in the first place. Just try out your ideas and see what happens, take what you learn, and try something else. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen if I’m wrong?”
Rarely are the consequences earth shattering or life threatening.

10. I’m Not Creative

Denying your own creativity is like denying that you’re a human being. We’re all limitlessly creative, but only to the extent that we realize that we create our own limits with the way we think. If you tell yourself you’re not creative, in time it becomes true.

In that sense, awakening your own creativity is similar to the path reported by those who seek spiritual enlightenment. You’re already enlightened, just like you’re already creative, but you have to strip away all of your delusions before you can see it. Acknowledge that you’re inherently creative, and then start tearing down the other barriers you’ve allowed to be created in your mind.

This post was inspired by Roger von Oech’s A Whack on the Side of the Head, which is a great primer for battling mental blocks. Thanks also to Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger, for the bones of this article.

Learning from Houdini – Part 1

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Think inside and outside the box, like Harry Houdini did.

Quick, name the top five magicians of the early 20th century! Ok, how about one? Yep, Harry Houdini is still one of the most recognizable names in magic, more than 80 years after his death on Halloween, 1926. Harry is still famous because he was not only an unapologetic self-promoter but also a daringly original performer. While most of us struggle to be creative and think “outside the box”, Harry often found inspiration in constraints. Harry loved limitations of all kinds – handcuffs, chains, ropes, packing crates, straitjackets,  you name it. He escaped from all of them and created a new form of entertainment called “escapology”.
Instead of fighting limitations, welcome them. Constraints in time, resources, even limited views of the world can increase your focus and allow you to work within yourself. Which is not to say that expanding your mind and world view are to be avoided. Quite the contrary. But by first tackling  a narrow, definable task with a specific goal, you build confidence and momentum that can be applied to tackling those larger, sprawling challenges. That said, be aware of the limiting assumptions and self-talk that can derail your problem solving and resolve to move beyond them:

1. Trying To Find The “Right” Answer

One of the worst aspects of formal education is the focus on the correct answer to a particular question or problem. While this approach helps us function in society, it hurts creative thinking because real-life issues are ambiguous. There’s often more than one “correct” answer, and the second one (or eighth one) you come up with may well be better than your first.

Many of the following mental blocks can be turned around to reveal ways to find more than one answer to any given problem. Try reframing the issue in several different ways in order to prompt different answers, and embrace answering inherently ambiguous questions in several different ways.

2. Logical Thinking

Not only is real life ambiguous, it’s often illogical to the point of madness. While critical thinking skills based on logic are one of our main strengths in evaluating the feasibility of a creative idea, it’s often the enemy of truly innovative thoughts.

One of the best ways to escape the constraints of your own logical mind is to think metaphorically. One of the reasons why metaphors work so well in communications is that we accept them as true without thinking about it. When you realize that “truth” is often symbolic, you’ll often find that you are actually free to come up with alternatives. As Neil Young sang, “Love is a rose, so you better not pick it. It only grows when it’s on the vine.”

3. Following Rules

One way to view creative thinking is to look at it as a destructive force. You’re tearing away the often arbitrary rules that others have set for you, and asking either “why” or “why not” whenever you’re confronted with the way “everyone else” does things.

This is easier said than done, since people will often defend the rules they follow even in the face of evidence that the rule doesn’t work. People love to celebrate rebels like Richard Branson, but few seem brave enough to emulate him. Quit worshipping rule breakers and start breaking some rules for yourself.

4. Being Practical

Like logic, practicality is hugely important when it comes to execution, but it often stifles innovative ideas before they can properly blossom. Don’t allow “the editor” part of your personality into the same room with your open, free, inner artist.

Try not to evaluate the actual feasibility of an approach until you’ve allowed it to exist on its own for a bit. Spend time asking “what if” as often as possible, and simply allow your imagination to go where it wants. You might just find yourself discovering a crazy idea that’s so insanely practical that no one has thought of it before.

5. Play Is NOT Work

Allowing your mind to be at play is perhaps the most effective way to stimulate creative thinking, and yet many people disassociate play from work. These days, the people who can come up with great ideas and solutions are the most economically rewarded, while worker bees are often employed for the benefit of the creative thinkers.

You’ve heard the expression “work hard and play hard.” All you have to realize is that they’re the same thing to a creative thinker.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of “Learning from Houdini”…


Melody’s Miracle

Melody Gardot

Can music heal a broken brain? Even save a life?
Ask Melody Gardot. Nearly 10 years ago, as a college student in Philadelphia, she was riding her bike through an intersection, when a Jeep ran a red light. “And the next thing is, I remember I heard this sound, and I thought, ‘Who is that? What is that?’ And I realized that it was me screaming,” Gardot explained. The accident fractured her pelvis, damaged her spine, and Gardot suffered a traumatic brain injury that affected her memory, her speech, and left her hypersensitive to light and sound.
“My mother dropped a dish on the floor one day and the sound made me collapse,” Gardot said.The prognosis at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey was not good. When he first saw her, Dr. Richard Jermyn didn’t think she would recover. “I had hope,” he said. “And as I told Melody at the time, I said ‘Your brain is like a computer. And your computer’s still intact. Your hardware, your memory, it’s there. But you can’t access it.’ That’s what a brain injury does – It takes away your ability to access.”Therapy and drugs had failed. In desperation, Dr. Jermyn suggested Melody try music. As it turns out, she had played piano in college. “It’s a different part of your brain that perceives music,” said Dr. Jermyn, who recalled Gardot returned to him to say, ‘”The music is there.'”

Gardot never gave up. Slowly . . . it would take years . . . music therapy began to rebuild the neural pathways in her brain. From the wreckage of the accident, a musical career was born. When her songs were posted on MySpace in 2006, word spread quickly.

She said when she went onstage, “The first maybe half a dozen times experiencing this, that was the only 30 minutes in my life that I did not feel pain for that moment. And it was addictive.” She still has to wear dark classes because of her sensitivity to light, and carry the cane to counter occasional attacks of vertigo. But she wears her disability with style. During a CBS interview, Gardot wore a white fedora, skin tight black mini skirt, fishnet stockings and stop-you-in-your-tracks stiletto heels.”These are like Corvettes,” she said. “I don’t drive so well. So instead of collecting cars, I collect shoes.”

Not the most practical footwear for a singer who at 28 needs to walk with a cane. Her singular style coupled with that bourbon smooth voice can make you forget Melody Gardot lives with almost constant physical pain. For her part, Melody shrugs it off. “I went to the school of hard knocks. I don’t mess around.”

Melody has produced three albums on Verve Records. Worrisome Heart, 2008, My One and Only Thrill, 2009 and The Absence, 2012. Although Melody isn’t a mega star in the US (yet), her album My One and Only Thrill went double platinum in France.  She’s sold more than 200,000 copies there, and counting. The French call it “Renaissance” – a rebirth. It’s not much of a stretch to say that Melody Gardot has been born again.

Feline Philosophy

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The wisdom of the universe resides in cats. 
It seems that whenever I’m letting stress overwhelm me or I feel the need to control my world, a cat appears. It could be a stray looking for milk, a feline who just adopted one of our neighbors, or the feral kittens that my wife and I discovered living in a crawl space next to our outdoor deck in May, 2010.
Hearing their mewling calls – often frail and pleading, sometimes insistent, shocked me out of my self absorption and once again put life and my place here into perspective. “At this moment,” the universe prodded, “Your role, and that of your wife, Christine, is to protect these little furballs, give them medical treatment, food and love. After that, we’ll see how the story unfolds.”  I sigh, then silently agree. I consider this a small karmic repayment for our wonderful life, one that was made even richer in the 1980s, courtesy of a 14-pound furry Buddha with golden eyes.
The kids in the neighborhood named him Peanut because his long silky coat was the color of peanut butter. A neighbor who owned Peanut decided one day that he was no longer the preferred house pet and cast him into the outdoor world. He didn’t seem to mind, stopping by our house for food, a few strokes of the head and a sunny spot to lie in. A few months later, the realities of a bitter winter and predators set in. Christine and I discovered Peanut limping through 6″ of fresh snow, leaving blood stains with every foot step. At that moment, he became our cat. We quickly discovered that Peanut was not a cat at all. He didn’t meow, loved getting wet and taking rides in the car (straddling my lap as I drove and sticking his nose out the window), and was in fact an old soul brought into our lives to teach us how to live. Peanut lived to the ripe old age of 15 and taught us many lessons, including:

Meditate often – How often do you meet a stressed out cat? Even by cat standards, Peanut was mellow. His lesson: When the stress of the day bears down, get up, stretch, look for a snack, then find a warm spot to close your eyes and think of nothing. This is the essence of successful meditation, being completely present in the present. Relax, slow your breathing and make soft purring sounds.

Conserve your energy – There’s no need to expend valuable energy worrying about “what if.” Store your precious energy and use it when the time is right to take a leap into an exciting new adventure.

Enjoy and appreciate every moment – Peanut was a big John Lennon fan. He would listen to John and the rest of the Beatles for hours on end. When I recited John’s mantras “All you need is love” and “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans,” Peanut would wink approvingly. I could go on and on about our first feline philosopher, but our current house Buddhas, Gidget and Gizmo, whom we rescued from under the deck nearly three years ago, are reminding me that it’s time for dinner…

The Social Mind

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You don’t have to be a crossword puzzle junkie or Sudoku master to build your brainpower. Just be social.
The best way to stay mentally fit and grow your mind is to be social, according to leading surgeons and neurologists. Dr. Michael Roizen, a cardiovascular surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic and author of the YOU series of health and wellness boo
ks, says that calling a friend can be just as beneficial as solving the toughest brain teaser. According to articles posted on Dr. Amen’s website Realage  (, staying in touch with friends and loved ones could slow the pace at which your memory dwindles with age.

Strong Connections
In a study of 16,638 older adults, people whowere married, active in volunteer groups, and in regular contact with friends, family, and neighbors had slower declines in memory than their less social counterparts. In fact, declines in the most socially active types were about half of those in the least social group.

Nurture Your Ties
How do social ties bolster a waning memory? Researchers aren’t exactly sure, but it’s possible the greater sense of meaning and emotional acceptance that social connections foster may support healthy brain chemistry. Here are a few tips for staying sharp:
• Join a book or movie club. Not only does it ensure that you get out more, but you’ll be held accountable for “doing your homework”, whether it’s reading the latest NY Times bestseller or seeing the hot new techno- thriller at the multiplex. Sharing opinions increases your perspective, grows your brain by fostering new neuronal connections and gives you  fresh insight into others’ likes, dislikes and worldview.
• Start or join a Conversation Cafe. These are informal discussion groups first developed in coffee shops in Seattle and are proliferating throughout the US. The structure is simple. A question or topic is offered, then each person comments briefly so that several views are aired in a short period. In the second round, individuals can add to another person’s earlier statement or go deeper with their own. The key here is that everyone receives equal time, everyone must contribute, and the conversation is fueled by a spirit of openness and mutual respect. No wonder they’re so popular! My wife Christine began a cafe and was concerned that no one would show up or that it would fizzle after a month or two. That was ten years ago and the cafe is still going strong. To find a local conversation cafe or start your own, go to


Think Funny, Feel Better


Bill Cosby cracks me up. 

He always has. In the mid 1960s I would sprawl out on the living room floor, laughing uncontrollably as I listened to his albums “Why Is There Air?”, Wonderfulness” and “Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow…Right!” I learned his routines by heart, right down to his vocal inflections and street-smart attitude. I would deliver my 15 minutes of stand-up on the back porch for family or anyone who would sit still long enough. The funny thing is, I can still listen to those recordings and laugh anew, even though I’ve heard the punchlines thousands of times. The joy is in the release that laughing provides.

Humor is a balm for the brain. In a study published in a 2004 issue of Neuron, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study how the brains of 16 healthy adults responded to funny vs. non-funny cartoons. The brain scans were used to detect areas of the brain that were activated when the subject found the cartoon funny.

The study showed that in addition to activating areas of the brain involved in language processing, humor also stimulated regions of the brain known as reward centers, such as the amygdala, which releases dopamine. Dopamine is a powerful chemical that plays a vital role in the brain’s pleasure and reward system.
So, what can you do to put more funny into your life and reap the health benefits?

Watch Comedy Central – Whether your tastes skew toward the down-home “Blue Collar Comedy” of Jeff Foxworthy and his pals, or the crude social parodies of South Park, Family Guy or Futurama, you’re sure to find a sitcom or  stand-up comedian that tickles your funny bone. My wife loves watching “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” just before bedtime. She laughs loudly and easily, which is a great way to release the day’s tensions and get ready for sleep. As for me, how will I survive without new episodes of “30 Rock”?

Attend a Live Comedy Show – I’ve seen Bill Cosby live several times and he’s even funnier in person. Scientists postulate that communal experiences like concerts, comedy shows and other live performances heighten the experience and provides a “group catharsis” through laughing, cheering and applauding.
All I know for sure is that it feels good.

Listen to Comedy in the Car – Tune in to a morning drive-time show or a DJ’s interview with a comedian who is in town for a gig. Or check out Sirius XM satellite radio’s family comedy channel. One of many stars you’ve never heard of is Jeanne Robertson, a 60-something professional speaker and storyteller who never swears or uses one-liners.

She tells stories which are poignant and very funny. If you have a favorite comedian, load their routines into your mp3 or CD player and enjoy a laugh during a slow, sometimes frustrating commute or trip to a doctor’s office. Laughing keeps you relaxed and puts things in perspective. So, go ahead, laugh it up! Your brain and the rest of your body will thank you for it.



Mind Muzak

Have you ever had a song, even one you don’t like, get stuck in your head?
Join the club.

Like it or not, neurologists recognize that music accesses very different pathways in the mind, ones that for better or worse, create a deep “groove” in our consciousness. How else to explain our inability to retrieve a phone number that we haven’t accessed in years, yet we can recall perfectly the lyrics to “Yesterday” from 1964? Maddening, but true.

Scientists say that this is because the music/brain connection taps multiple emotions such as the exact time you first heard Paul McCartney sing the ballad on the Ed Sullivan show, where you were when you heard it, how it made you feel, what you were eating at the time and even that special someone you shared the moment with. The marketing and advertising world knows the power of music all too well. Take the folks at Muzak, for instance. Founded in 1938, Muzak came up with the idea of adding music to restaurants to improve the ambiance and, in their words, “stimulate the appetite”. By the 1950s and 60s Muzak was everywhere, holding us hostage in the elevator with the Montavani Orchestra’s lame instrumental versions of Yesterday and (I’m not making this up) tunes from U2, Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails. But in the last ten years Muzak and companies like it have grown up and are now creating “full sensory experiences” using music, fragrances, lighting and visuals. Today, even Muzak isn’t Muzak anymore. It’s been rebranded as Mood, part of parent company Mood Media.

Whether we realize it or not, many of our most memorable evenings at restaurants, retail shops and even sports events are due in part to the work of companies like Muzak. Scary, huh? “Music is one of those great mediums that can really control emotion and we can use that emotion to get our customers excited” explains Coldstone Creamery marketing exec Jana Fendly. The trendiest restaurants in New York and LA pump in music along with the perfect fragrance. One uber-hip night spot known for its all natural, organic cuisine has custom new age music playing through mini speakers placed under each patron’s table while a fragrance blend of lemon verbena and green tea is pumped through the ventilation system.

So is this Big Brother as Big Retailer? Possibly, but it is a technique that any of us can use and with less nefarious intent than enticing people to eat more, drink more and shop more. Research has shown that the brain responds to stimuli that activates multiple senses, imprinting the memory of a “good time with friends” or a “relaxing evening with a loved one” more deeply than dinner at, say, a noisy, overcrowded bar with blaring music and 27 TV screens showing sports highlights. So the next time you’re out shopping or enjoying a meal, take in the surroundings and think about what impressions you’re responding to.

Ask yourself: Can I use music, a spritz of scented air freshener and a few select snacks to improve the environment at my next board meeting? How about a special evening at home or a celebration at a restaurant with friends? If you’re a speaker or performer, think about what sounds (music, sound effects, etc.) lighting, fragrances, textures, or food you can incorporate into a presentation to make your points even more memorable. Used subtly and with intention, your efforts to engage the brain may well be as irresistible as that tune you can’t seem to get out of your head. Use your new found power wisely!