Dan Harris is anchor for ABC’s Nightline and Good Morning America. A panic attack on LIVE national TV, led Dan to write”10% Happier: Meditation for skeptics.” This is a very special episode of GHTV and one of my favorites to date. Go listen, you’ll be glad you did.
→ He is an anchor for ABC’s Nightline and Good Morning America
→ His personal experience at ABC News
→ He recently write “10% Happier: Meditation for skeptics
→ His destructive ways that people deal with this voice to try to cope with this incessant thing inside them
→ What are some of the brands that he would recognize that are doing things in this area
→ Why does his book title 10% Happier
→ His best advice does he have as a capitalist for any company trying to grow
→ And a whole lot more
Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV, Bronson Taylor. And today I have Dan Harris with us. Dan, thanks for coming on the program.
Dan: Thanks for having me.
Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. Now, I think everyone should be aware of this, but just in case they’re not. You are the co-anchor of Nightline and the weekend edition of Good Morning America. But most recently, you authored the book 10% Happier, which in my mind is really a book promoting meditation written by a skeptic. Does that sound about right?
Dan: That’s exactly right. It’s written by a skeptic for him.
Bronson: Yeah, well, it appeals to me. But before we jump into this, I want to tell our viewers why a conversation about meditation makes sense for real talk or TV. Typically, this is a show about business growth. But let’s be honest, business growth is an extension of personal growth. And that’s why this conversation we’re going to have, I think, is so important. So let’s start at the beginning. It seems like your thesis starts with the idea of the voice in your head. Unravel that for me. What is this voice in our head that you’re talking about?
Dan: I think it’s an indisputable fact of the human condition that we have this voice in our heads that chases us out of bed in the morning and is yammering at us all day long. And it has its constantly wanting things or not wanting things, judging other people, comparing ourselves to other people, thinking about the past or thinking about the future to the detriment of whatever is happening right now. And I think it’s true that when you’re unaware of this nonstop conversation you’re having with yourself, that gets you around. It’s why, you know, you’re eating a cookie or checking your email in the middle of a conversation with somebody else or losing your temper when a strategically unwise. So this is, for me, a one of the most key insights of my entire life. Because once you are aware of this, you can manage it.
Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, it’s funny because you give it a name, you know, the voice in your head. But once you start thinking about it, it’s obvious that it’s there. Now everyone has this voice inside themselves. But do you think that people that are very driven, like anchors or entrepreneurs or, you know, sports professionals, do you feel that their voice is somehow amplified or different? Because the voice in my head feels strong.
Dan: I think everybody’s you know, it’s hard for me to know because we only have our subjective experience. But I suspect everybody’s voice is strong and loud and there are just different inclinations. I, I hear from people all the time. You know, you you don’t understand. I can’t meditate because, you know, my my mind is just so crazy and there’s so many things going on. And I call this the fallacy of uniqueness. We we we think that we are unique, equally busy upstairs. But that is just the human condition. Now, for those of us who work in type driven books, and I think we may have a certain sort of pattern of thoughts, but I don’t think it says maybe I don’t think it’s louder per say than somebody who’s got different issues like shyness or whatever.
Bronson: Yeah. Makes total sense. So, you know, we all have to try to deal with this voice in our head. And there’s some, you know, constructive ways to deal with it. And there are some destructive ways to deal with it. What are some of the destructive ways that people deal with this voice to try to cope with this incessant thing inside them?
Dan: I mean, I just speak from personal experience. Please do I? I got to ABC News when I was 28 years old, so I was 15 and a half years ago and I was really green and self-conscious about being green. And I was working with these giants and TV news like Peter Jennings and Barbara Walters and diet soda. And my way of coping with that was to become a workaholic. And then I was already a workaholic, but I just, you know, went on steroids. And then after not long after I got to ABC News, 911 happened and I sort of raised my hand to go overseas and cover whatever happened. Nest really out of a lot of us, out of sheer blind ambition. I mean, I said I don’t want to run myself down too hard because there were there was some idealism there, too, I believe, is really important to to as a journalist, to be at the tip of the spear and to tell Americans what was being done in our day. But a lot of it was about, you know, just really want to succeed. And I spent many, many years in war zones. And when I came home from a particularly long run in Iraq in 2003, I got depressed and. I actually was insufficiently self aware or even know that I was depressed. I was having trouble getting out of bed. I was tired. I felt like I had a low grade fever all the time and I did something incredibly stupid, which was that I started to self-medicate with recreational drugs, including cocaine and ecstasy, and that led to me having a panic attack on national television.
Bronson: So I wasn’t going to bring it up unless you did that again. I said I wasn’t going to bring it up unless you did.
Dan: But I talk about it all the time. So it’s not sensitive. It’s not like awesome, but it’s not sensitive anymore. I, I think of that little yarn that I just told you as like a case study in mindlessness where you’re just being yanked around by this conversation of, oh, let’s, let’s go to war zones and not thinking about the consequences. Come on, get depressed and without really even knowing it, and then reach for the easiest possible solution. And the antidote to that is mindfulness. Which is which, which is the fruit of meditation.
Bronson: Yeah. And you’ve really discovered in your own journey that, you know, like you just said, meditation tames this voice. What does it mean to tame the voice? Does it go away? Does it say different things? What does it mean to be tamed?
Dan: So the taming a great idea. You’re not going to stop all of your thinking. The moisture head still probably going to be a jerk on time. So it’s not going to necessarily change the types of things you are telling yourself all the time, but it will change your relationship to that. So that that is the key. That is the internal Judah, that is the gatekeeper. So one way to think about this is like a waterfall. If you think about the mind as a waterfall and in the and the water is this sort of nonstop stream of consciousness. Mindfulness is the ability, is the search space behind the waterfall, which allows you to kind of step out of the traffic and the view the contents of your heart as the sun non-judgmental room. And this is at the center of making up. We are classified as a species, as Homo sapiens sapiens, the one who thinks and knows he or she thinks. So we have this innate ability to sort of to view what’s happening in our squash with some nonjudgmental remove. And mindfulness is just tapping into that innate ability. And so it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to have lots of judgmental thoughts about other people as yourself or you’re not going to apply this sort of internal cattle prod to yourself, to, you know, build your business and hit benchmarks, etc., etc.. It’s just that you’ll be able to see when your thinking is useful and what is use list. I like to talk about drawing a line between useless recrimination and what I call constructive anguish, and that that is a huge difference for me as a physician.
Bronson: It’s so it’s almost like thinking about thinking the Homo sapiens sapiens idea and by making it by removing yourself one layer deeper, going behind the waterfall, you’re not just your thoughts, you’re above your thoughts and you’re in control still.
Dan: Yeah, I would tweak that slightly because it’s it’s not it’s not just thinking about thinking, it’s it. We have this ability to be just aware of stuff without thinking. So you’re aware of the feeling of your butt on your chair right now, but you weren’t thinking about it until I pointed it out. Yeah. So we have this innate capacity of just this natural awareness, but most of the time it’s clouded over by this nonstop churning of discursive thought. And so what, what mindfulness and what meditation is doing is just getting you in touch with this ability. You have to just be naturally aware of things and to apply that to the thought process so that you’re kind of out of it. It’s like pressing the picture in picture button on your TV. All of a sudden, the things that are taking the story that’s taken up the full frame can be seen with some perspective.
Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. Now, you know, meditation has helped people anecdotally for thousands of years. This isn’t something new. But one of the things that interest me most about what you’re bringing to the forefront is what the scientific research is now showing us. Do me a favor and unravel some of the things that science is saying about meditation in the clinics.
Dan: Yeah, I’m glad you brought this up, because I’m always aware that people may be inclined to, you know, say, well, you’re just a TV guy with ALS, you know, which is fair or not. So don’t take my word for it. I mean, I think what really got me over the hump in terms of getting interested in meditation was the fact that there’s now this. It’s been this explosion of scientific research. I’m going to get into this. I do want to issue one small caveat, which is that this research is really in its embryonic stage and is in danger at times of being overhyped. Nonetheless, I think what we’re seeing is that that this growing body of evidence strongly suggests that there’s like a long list of tantalizing, I think, health benefits associated with meditation, including lowering your blood pressure, boosting your immune system. It helps with things like ADHD, cognition, age related cognitive decline, depression, anxiety. It’s even to show the help with seemingly unrelated things like psoriasis and irritable bowel syndrome, which of course have stress components. And really what the coolest part is, sort of sci fi part is, is that scientists, neuroscientists have been peering into the brains of meditators and even just beginning meditators. And what they found is that when you meditate, even just as a beginner, you’re changing your brain. You’re making your brain bigger and you’re making key error. You’re changing key areas of the brain. So one study from Harvard in 2011 took people to complete novice meditators and how to meditate for eight weeks. And at the end they found that the areas of the brain associated with self-awareness and with compassion, the gray matter literally grew.
Bronson: Like physically grew.
Dan: You know, it’s amazing. And in the area of the brain associated with stress, the gray matter literally shrank. So it’s it’s pretty powerful stuff. Again, we’re at the early stages of this research. I don’t want to overpromise. Mm hmm. But, yes, it’s intriguing. Yeah. And here, I think, you know, the science is what gets people to school. It gets people like us to start. Mm hmm. But you don’t continue to meditate because you think your prefrontal cortex is changing. You continue to meditate because you’re less of an asshole and see for yourself and others. Yeah. That’s where the reverse. Right?
Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it has to be a practical end of the day. So, you know, even some very large corporations now have meditation rooms and they’re really embracing meditation for their employees. What are some of the logos? What are some of the brands that we would recognize that are doing things in this area?
Dan: Huge brands. Google, Twitter, Aetna, General Mills. I mean, these are people that like Hamburger Helper. They have meditation rooms in every building in their corporate campus in Minnetonka, Minnesota. I’m asked to speak at major corporations all the time. I’ve spoken to Coles. I know Target does some sort of meditation. Goldman Sachs has been doing it. It’s now also catching on in the sports world. Like Seattle, Seahawks have a meditation coach. I hesitate to use this example because they’re not a great team. But the New York Knicks, Phil, you know, Phil Jackson has a pretty good history of that with the Lakers and the Bulls. And they were all meditating. And also, you know, what about Temple? It’s definitely taken off as well. And the US military, both that Army and Marines are spending tens of millions of dollars to look at whether meditation can make troops more effective and more resilient. So there’s a lot of evidence that it’s good for you and a lot of evidence that people that we all sort of emulate and respect. Yeah. Using this as as a as something that can help them gain an advantage.
Bronson: Yeah. And my next question, it really gets to the heart of what appeals most to me about what you’re putting forward is the three step process that you give us for actually meditating. And the reason I’m drawn to it is because until I saw your description of meditation, I thought it was always something about Namaste Day or certain sounds or certain religions like it always had this kind of, you know, context to it that didn’t appeal to me in some way. And then I read your three steps. I was like, Oh, well, I can do that. And I do do that sometimes. And it totally works. And so walk us through your three step process for meditation.
Dan: So okay, so a couple of caveats. I go off for a caveat. First of all, the word meditation is a little bit like the word sports. It describes a whole range of activities. You know, people have meditating, as you accurately pointed out, for thousands of years. And there are lots of different flavors that come when I talk about meditation, I’ll talk about mindfulness meditation, which is the kind that has been studied the most in the labs. So it’s not it’s it’s not like it’s a three step process. The beginning instructions involve three steps. But I didn’t make it up. This is, you know, 2600 years old. But it’s this mindfulness meditation is derived from Buddhism, but it has been thoroughly secularized. There’s no if you want to do mindfulness meditation, you don’t have to like wear rose or light any sense or sit in a funny position or believe in anything. And if you do happen to have preexisting religious beliefs, this is is, you know, not going to get in the way. That it’s just it’s just exercise for your brain really is the way to think about it. So just to prove that, to get to the three set of things you mentioned and you don’t have to do it right now, but the three basic steps are to one, to sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight. I say that just because it helps to, you know, not fall asleep if your spine is reasonably straight. Most people close their eyes, but a lot of you don’t have to. The second step is to focus your full attention action on the feeling of your breath coming in and going out, just thinking about your breath. You just feel like you’re just like generally aware what it feels like when your breath comes in and goes out and it helps to pick one spot to focus on. Usually that’s your nose or your chest or your belly. And then the third step is the key, which is is it’s duty to do this. Your mind is going to go nuts. You’re just going to start thinking about what I after lunch, why do I say that stupid thing to my customer? Why did Dances with Wolves be canceled for Best Picture and 19 know why? Whatever doesn’t matter, your mind is going to go bonkers in the whole game. And this is the whole game of meditation is to notice when you become distracted and to start again and again and again and again. And you’re going to have to do it a million times over the course of a minute. And that’s fine because every time you do it, that is the bicep curls for your brain and it shows up on the brain scan. It is that skill of noticing when you become lost and starting again, which is what shows up in the brain scans. And I believe the biggest one of the biggest problems facing meditation is not just that, what you’ve mentioned before about the idea that it involves all this sort of not mystical illness or religious dogma, which I think we can now be pretty thoroughly disabused of. The real public relations issue now is that people think, I can’t do it because I can’t, quote unquote clear the mind, but you don’t have to clear the mind. Clarity is impossible unless you’re enlightened or dead. The point is not to circle back. The point is to focus the mind for two nanoseconds at a time. Get lost, start again, get lost, start again. Over and over and over again. And you can do that. Anybody can do that.
Bronson: Yeah. I love the way you said it’s exercise for the mind. Do you think when it’s put in those terms, just the extreme practical ness of it is what’s going to allow it to catch on in the future?
Dan: I think that is what is allowing you to catch on. It’s it’s the it’s the three S’s, the simplicity, the secular nature of it and the science. And and I think that that’s why we’re seeing what I believe is the next big public health revolution, where in the not too distant future, people will think about mental exercise the same way we now think about physical exercise like I make a show of all the time. Back in the 1940s, if you told somebody you were going running, they probably would have said it was chasing. And that becomes physical exercise, I think. But then what happened in the scientists work, then they proved the manifold physical and psychological benefits of that, of physical exercise, and now we all do it. And if we don’t do it, guilty about it.
Bronson: Yeah. So let me ask you this. Why is your book titled 10% happier? Why not 50%? Why not 100%? Why such a modest title?
Dan: I mean, it’s a joke mostly, but but it’s it’s a joke with a purpose, which is to counter program against what I think is the sort of reckless overpromising of the larger self-help industry, where you’re promised these panaceas and you can solve all your problems to the power of positive thinking or whatever, that’s not going to happen. It’s completely irresponsible. If that was possible, we wouldn’t need so many books. You just put it in one book. The only people I know about all the problems solved through those kinds of books are the people writing. And so I have a real sort of gag reflex in response to a lot of when I see in this culture. And so this was a way to to distinguish. And, you know, it’s as I said, it’s completely a joke, but it’s, you know, accurate enough. Yeah. The annotation is not going to solve all your problems is, as I say all the time. It’s like I’ve learned this the hard way is I’m going to make you taller or regrow your hair, but it does change your relationship to the problem so that you’re not you know, when good things happen, you’re not. You can actually enjoy them because you’re not racing off to the next thing. And when bad things happen, you your resiliency is boosted because you’re not, you know, going down the rabbit hole of useless rumination as much as you used to. And I also believe along the lines of this 10% thing that is 10% compound annual this is a skill. This is my meditation is a skill that you get better at. And so I’ve been doing it for six years. I’m much better than I used to be. But I still stop. But I. Much better place. And the the the the implications for my life are commensurate with my ability to actually do the practice.
Bronson: Yeah, I like that idea of it compounding annually. That makes it exciting. Now, not only do you have the book, you also have an app that you’ve come out with which I love. I’m going to download as soon as this is over. I didn’t know you had an app. Tell me about the app. What does it do? Who needs it?
Dan: You know, after I wrote the book, some of my friends in the meditation world leveled a pretty good criticism at me, which is so I got, you know, the book did reasonably well and people were getting excited about that. Adaptation had never really considered it before, but I wasn’t doing much to actually help them do it. You know, in the back of the book, I have some meditation instructions which, you know, for some people is actually enough to get started, is that it’s actually the way I started. But as it turns out, really, if you want to have it to be sticky, it helps to have access either directly or remotely to teachers who are teaching you how to do it. So me and a group of really amazing the best meditation teachers in the world have gotten together and we teach you how to do it. And not only do we teach you the basics, but we’re putting up a bunch of different courses that show you how to apply the skills of mindfulness to big issues in your life, like how to communicate effectively, how to. There’s an interesting, of course, about the sort of self interest, the case for compassion. In other words, it turns out people are more compassionate, which some of us think of as sort of is inherently a weakness. Actually, people are more compassionate, are more successful, more popular and healthier. So we we we have posted about that. But primarily what we do is we teach you, give you the basics of mindfulness. Meditation will get you up and running. And when you sign up, you get a coach, somebody to whom you are accountable, somebody of whom you can ask questions at any point. And that really, if I had this app when I started out, I would have progressed much faster because there is something about listening to somebody walk you through the basics of the practice every day. It really just keeps you connected and not getting lost on that all sorts of cul de sacs that are possible when you start meditating and you can get started for free on this thing. And in fact, you know, you can really get you know, this is bad for our business, but you can before you have to pay, we teach you enough that you can how to buy a practice. All your own will will get you up and running and you don’t have to go back there and you’ll get your basic meditation instructions with a sense of humor, and you’ll get your coach for the for the length of the free trial. And then if you want to sign up for our subscription service, you can go ahead and do so and you’ll be able to stay in touch with your coach. You’ll get all of our, you know, incredible content.
Bronson: Yeah. Which is another nice change from the self-help gurus. They always charge upfront, so to say, hey, I’m going to give you a lot of value and then you decide what you want to do. It goes along with a 10% happier idea to find the ad. Do they search for 10% happier in the app stores or do they need a search for something else?
Dan: So what? Right now we are in Apple App Store. You just search to have your attention, whatever you guess. And if you have an android, you can get a version if you just go to 10% happier dot com. So you can get a web and a web enabled version there. And we will have an Android app in the not too distant future as well for a start startup. So in fact, this is where we’re a prime audience for what you’re doing if you’re our CEO is a huge fan of yours. So we were very much at the beginning of this and and try to build something that’s useful for people. So we really want to hear your feedback. And and in terms of what you’re saying before about the free trial and and the difference in the cell thought world, you know, I we’re we’re a panelist. We’re a for profit company. We hope to be a really big company. And we think this is a huge market. But we also this is an interesting area because we also have two ethical commitments built right into the DNA of the company. And so what’s most important to us is teaching people how to meditate. How to meditate well. And and so there will be as we build this company, there will be sort of that will be built into it, not only with a free trial, but also with, you know, giving, giving, giving, of course, away to people who need it, also allowing our users to donate and things like that. So, yeah, it’s it’s not it’s a bit it’s a bit of a complex business in that way. But yeah, I firmly believe it’s going to be a big.
Bronson: I love businesses like that to have a. Bottom line, you know, you have the capitalist bottom line, but there’s something else that matters also. I don’t think we have to pick one. I think some businesses can thrive in doing both. And I hope yours does. You know, this has been an awesome interview. There’s so much here for entrepreneurs. I know the voice in my head is strong. I know I need to stand by the waterfall more. I know that it’s going to help me. I hope in six years I’m where you are with it. So I’m learning a lot personally from just studying you and this interview. And I know the people watching are going to, you know, feel the same way. Let me end with a couple of questions that ask all our guests kind of fun. The first one is, what are you working on right after this interview? Could be boring. Could be awesome. What’s next?
Dan: I’m actually the voice in my head is kind of debating what I’m going to do next three off. And I will either go to the gym, I will meditate or I will take a nap.
Bronson: Sounds like three good options to me. All right. Second question. I love that you have talked about you’re a capitalist and you’re building this company that you’re not just an author and a news anchor. So what is the best advice you have as a capitalist for any company trying to grow?
Dan: Well, I want to say I’m a beginning capitalist, so I would be very reluctant to. It’s like.
Bronson: Meditation. We’re all in practice.
Dan: Yes. Well, that’s that’s true. Was ever I’m such a so such a rank amateur at this point, which is why I’m glad I’ve experienced CEO and experience team. Well, I will I will say this. Consider how mindfulness can help you as an entrepreneur. It can help your attitude. Well, I took the Freudian slip because I think you can ask the country. But but how it can help your company. Because I think, you know, building this into the into as a this is a phrase for it. But building a since the DNA of a company can make a more effective company. So that one that isn’t, you know, like a soccer team of seven year olds with 45 kids all chasing the same ball at the same time and just running around like chickens and their heads cut off. I think that it builds in a certain level of centeredness, calm, empathy that can really boost effectiveness. I would just say one thing on that note that that if you’re a boss and you’re thinking about bringing this into the workplace, I would do it in a non-compulsory way.
Bronson: Mm hmm.
Dan: I would do it as a volunteer, as a voluntary example. We offer meditation both daily and also we have an experienced teacher that comes in once a month. It is completely voluntary. There’s no peer pressure. It’s just there for you if you want it. And and I think that’s the way to do it. Preaching about meditation or forcing it on people is extremely annoying and in a corporate context can feel coercive.
Bronson: Yeah. And, you know, depending on how people view, it might even be illegal. So you have to tread lightly there. And this has been an awesome interview. Again, thank you so much for coming on Growth Hacker TV.
Dan: Thanks for us and great job. Appreciate it.
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