Ruby Wax speaks with Dr Martyn Newman ahead of the EQ Summit in London May 25th - eqsummit.com

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Ruby Wax speaks with Dr Martyn Newman ahead of the EQ Summit in London May 25th

Martyn:

Hi Ruby. It’s great to have this opportunity to talk to you, ahead of your presentation at this year’s EQ summit in London. I’ve been speaking to a lot of people about the summit lately, and I can’t tell you how much excitement there is about you presenting this year.
You’ll be taking the stage with some of the biggest names in the emotional intelligence mindfulness and creativity space. With the publication of your book, ‘The Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled’, you’ve established your own authority in that space. It’s a great title, Ruby. Can you tell me how you came up with it, and why you chose it?

Ruby:

Frazzled is an actual neurobiological term. I didn’t know that. Which I think means when your cortisol level rises, when you’re getting stressed about stress, your eye is no longer on the button of where you wanted it, but caught up in worry, which leads to eventual burnout. I thought about it more from a humorous angle, but I like that I hit it.

Martyn:

It’s great. You know what I found fascinating reading your book is that it’s full of your characteristic wit, but it’s also an intensely personal journey about how you came to mindfulness and meditation, and it wasn’t just out of intellectual curiosity, was it? It was really born out of a degree of desperation to find a more peaceful state of mind. Can you tell us a little bit about what led you to mindfulness and what it’s delivered for you?

Ruby:

I studied psychology at Berkeley when I was very young, and I thought, “I’ll go back to this.” But then by the time I came back to this, because I was caught in the narcissism of my career, which was lucrative, (I’m not complaining) then I said, “Payback is, I’ll go back to this.”
But then, suddenly with technology, you could look into the brain, and I really need things substantiated before I buy in. Also, I thought, “I’m sick of running to shrinks to say, “Fix me.” I was sure, as sophisticated as our technology was, there must be a way we could get down our own stress. So of course, mindfulness and cognitive psychology had the best results, and I thought mindfulness sounded way too vegetarian. I wasn’t buying in. But then it does turn out that it has one of the best success rates for certain illnesses, and I thought, “Well, I’ve got depression, so I’m jumping on this bandwagon.”

I had my doubts, but then I met Professor Mark Williams, and I said, “How do I get some info on the brain?” This isn’t fluffy, and I’m not taking it if it is, so he said, “You’d have to get into Oxford and get your masters.” Nobody was as surprised as Mark Williams.

Then I took my dissertation, and I spun it and made it into a comedy show. Then they let me perform my practical, rather than practice. I wasn’t going to be a practitioner. I said, “I’m always going to use this to entertain.” So they filmed my show, and that’s how I got my Masters.

The show’s been on the road now quite a while, so I teach large groups, about 500- 800 people, how to do mindfulness, but they don’t know that. You get them laughing, and then you can get anything.

Martyn:

Yeah. That’s part of your appeal, I think, isn’t it? Your book is so funny, and your show’s so funny. My dad was actually a professional comedian for part of his life.

Ruby:

Oh, was he?

Martyn:

Yeah. For much of his life. He used to say to me all the time, “Martyn,” he said, “you need to open their mouths with a laugh, and then ram a truth down their throat.”

Ruby:

Oh, that’s good. That’s really good.

“The way we advance as a species in the future will be to psychologically catch up with our technology”

Martyn:

I was speaking to Baroness Susan Greenfield last week, and she’s a leading neuroscientist, she’s going to be speaking at the summit as well, and she made the observation that the rise of digital technology is having an impact on our brains, and it’s posing some big challenges for the next generation. Then I read your book, and you said, “The way we advance as a species in the future will be to psychologically catch up with our technology.” What did you mean by this?

Ruby:

Yeah, technology is not going to stop because anybody’s written a book about it, or talked about it on a daytime talk show. We put it there. We voted for Trump. We, the species. So stop pointing the finger like it landed in our garden like a meteorite. Now it’s here. The noise is here and it’s not going to get lower. I don’t want to fight that battle.
So it’s how to navigate the noise, and use it to your advantage. That’s what mindfulness is about. And don’t use what’s going to burn you out. Knowing where your tipping point is. That’s going to take real psychological training. If it came naturally, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Martyn:

Yeah, because you’re convinced, aren’t you, that these skills are something that can be learned and developed, that they’re not just inherited at all. I think you mention Richard Davidson, the neuropsychologist’s work on plasticity of the brain, saying that skills like compassion and warm-heartedness, are skills that can be learned.

Ruby:

Well, yeah, as for the compassion part, there’s no question. Paul Gilbert, says there are biological effects when you do practise it. You train to get a six pack like you train to pay attention, which means coming into the present. That doesn’t come automatically.

“The golden fleece of mindfulness, is that skill of paying attention”

These are skills, to be able to focus.

Martyn:

That’s massively encouraging, isn’t it? These are things that people can acquire through understanding, gaining some insight into how they work, and then through some diligent application and practise, that they can really see progress, relatively quickly. I think you call it “the golden fleece of mindfulness, is that skill of paying attention”. I love the way you describe that.
In your view Ruby, why is paying attention such an urgent need today?

Ruby:

Well, that’s the commodity that we will pay anything for. You’re in the quiet lounge. That’s going to cost you. Or, if you don’t want a lot of ads on your page, that’s going to cost you. We’re unconsciously doing that anyway.

“The ultimate gift is paying attention, not just to what’s going on in your head, but … to another person… because that’s the ultimate gift that you can give somebody else, is give them your attention”

I missed my kids’ childhood, I always say, because I was on the telephone. It’s worth a lifetime of practising something, if you can focus on another person. They’ll give you anything, because that’s the ultimate gift that you can give somebody else, is to give them your attention.
But it doesn’t come naturally.

Martyn:

I know you’re a big advocate of mental health. You’ve done extraordinary work there, and even received a very prestigious award from the British government, the OBE, and for our American readers, that is the ‘Order of the British Empire’, for your work in mental health. I noticed this week you’ve even opened up a series of Frazzled cafes with M&S which is great isn’t it? You can create a place of calm.
I know too, reading your book, that you’re a big supporter of Goldie Hawn’s MindUP Programme, that teaches mindfulness to children in schools. You mentioned that. I was interviewing Sir Ken Robinson last week, who as you know will be speaking on the same platform with you at the Summit, and he’s an advisor to that programme, and he told me that he’s seeing just the most remarkable shift in things like empathy and compassion and a reduction of violence, where you see children becoming more focused around the joy of learning, and things like that. Are you seeing any evidence of that?

Ruby:

I’m connected with mindfulness in schools, the Oxford Mindfulness in Schools programme, with Mark Williams. Their evidence is pretty substantial about the effects of it in schools. The numbers speak for themselves.
In Frazzled, I’ve taken a lot from mindfulnessinschools.com and put it in the book (they let me do it). They didn’t mind, because knowledge is knowledge, but you can teach your kids at home. It’s all trainable. Even with ADHD. It’s all trainable. The brain is like chewing gum.

Martyn:

Like chewing gum? Oh, I see what you mean. That’s an interesting reference.

Ruby:

It changes shape. It’s not like a solid lump of whatever we thought it was, and like this is the way I am. I don’t change. The point is, you’re changing all the time. Now you can change in what direction you want to change in.

Martyn:

Ruby, I know you put a lot of time and commitment yourself into exploring the science, and philosophy behind mindfulness. As you say, you’ve got a master’s degree in it from Oxford, which really establishes your authority in the space. I know you get asked to speak a lot in different environments and particularly in business and corporate environments. There’s a lot of interest, a huge interest these days, from the business community in mindfulness. From your experience of working with organisations, what do you think is driving the interest in the corporate world who are often focused on the hard commercial realities of running a business, and slow to come to ideas like mindfulness. What drives it, in your experience?

Ruby:

I think 100 billion pounds is lost a year in business, because of absenteeism, so I think money talks. Kids aren’t doing so well in school. People are burning out at the office. Also, if they don’t connect to their clients, which is what’s happening, your business is going to go down. If there’s any miscommunication, and it’s all about miscommunication now. You know this.

“Everybody’s hunkered in the corner competing, which kills us, as a human race, if we’re working in isolation we don’t survive”

Everybody’s hunkered in the corner competing, which kills us, as a human race, if we’re working in isolation we don’t survive. But then nobody had the answer. If you work together, somebody’s going to steal your pants. Now they’re asking all these questions. Can you work with communication and cooperation, and it still be a success? Sort of the answer is, the results speak for themselves, but it has to be trained. You can’t just say to an office, “Okay everybody, we’ve got a play date this weekend, and we’re going to throw some paintballs.

Martyn:

So, If you were advising leaders in organisations today, about the skills they need to really make a difference in people’s lives, and change the work culture that they ask people to work in, could you give us some tips? I know you’re a very practical person. What are some practical tips that you’d suggest they start to implement to make a difference?

Ruby:

People say, “What are your tips?” We live in a culture where there’s a tip. There is no tip. The tip is … it’s like saying, “Describe to me how you get a six pack.” I say, “You lie on the floor and you get up.” I say, “Now do that every day for 100 days,” and watch, then look in the mirror, and you call me back.

“Emotional intelligence was the greatest training I’d ever heard of. Personal awareness, social awareness”

Emotional intelligence was the greatest training I’d ever heard of. Personal awareness, social awareness. The whole thing. You have to learn to notice when your brain is boiling over. That’s training. When you train yourself to cool down your brain; it doesn’t mean that you work less, it means that when you do go back to the chore at hand you have the energy. Like when a computer breaks down, you have to turn it off and reboot. Why would human beings be any different? Then when we get back in the race, we’re more productive. You’ll beat the competitors who’ve been up all night.

Martyn:

Now that’s really practical, I think. Very insightful. A lot of people at the Summit, as you know, will be coming from the senior end of corporate life, and they’ll be really looking for evidence of the value of the skills around emotional intelligence and mindfulness.

Ruby:

How do you teach them? That’s your area. What do you do? Do you say, “Here’s a training programme?” They asked me to come in and speak. I said, “Okay, I’m here speaking. Now what?” I did the magic show. How are you going to learn?

Martyn:

Yeah. That’s it, I think. Perhaps part of your role is being a catalyst in people’s thinking, to open them up really, and make them perhaps more curious and receptive to some of these insights that have been so beneficial to you?

Ruby:

Yeah. I’m the kind of opening number for the big event. I’m the overture, every night. My job, I do this tour of Frazzled, and this is a paying audience, which is large. We’re not talking about mindfulness practitioners. I make them laugh, and like your dad said, it’s the greatest foreplay on earth. Then they start to feel what mindfulness is. By the end, they go, “How do we do this?” – they’ve already done it. Then you say, “Okay, read this book.” They can find out themselves, but they never thought of it. They never thought they could get a second’s peace. To me, that’s like finding out there ARE antidepressants. It’s the greatest moment in your life. But if antidepressants worked, we wouldn’t have relapses. There’s a problem there. But if you stick with the mindfulness, and again, if it’s not for you, find something else. It’s just how you do it is the question.

Martyn:

At this year’s Summit we are really looking to explore the relationship between some of these skills of emotional intelligence and mindfulness in particular, and how they relate to creativity and innovation. I think you’ll find an extraordinarily receptive audience, which really brings us to that question that we deferred early on, really. You’re a very busy person. You get lots of invitations to speak at different functions. What is it about this summit that you’ve been introduced to that you find attractive as a forum to come and share some of your views? Is there anything about it in particular?

At this year’s Summit we are really looking to explore the relationship between some of these skills of emotional intelligence and mindfulness in particular, and how they relate to creativity and innovation. I think you’ll find an extraordinarily receptive audience, which really brings us to that question that we deferred early on, really. You’re a very busy person. You get lots of invitations to speak at different functions. What is it about this summit that you’ve been introduced to that you find attractive as a forum to come and share some of your views? Is there anything about it in particular?

“We’re burning out because we don’t meet like-minded people… I’ll walk barefoot across earth to find my community”

Ruby:

You just said it. It is a community of people who are seeking the same thing, and that’s why I set up these Frazzled cafes because small talk we’re good at. We’re burning out because we don’t meet like-minded people. It’s really saying, if I have two more minutes on earth, what do I want to know? And who do I want to be around? Those options get smaller and smaller. As technology gets bigger and bigger, greater and greater, we’re shallowing out more and more. When you said you’re going to meet people that are that community, I’ll walk barefoot across earth to find my community. That’s been my drive for doing this show.

Martyn:

It’s going to be so good to have you along.

Ruby:

No. I’m really excited.

Martyn:

It’s going to be a great fit. It’s a pleasure speaking with you, Ruby. It’s going to be a lot of fun having you along and I know you’re going to have a tonne of fresh insights to share with us. Thanks.

 

Want to hear more insights from headline speakers Martyn and Ruby? Get your tickets to the Summit below! There are a limited number of tickets left, so don’t miss out.  

Martyn Newman, PhD, is MD of RocheMartin who are hosting the EQ Summit in London on May 25th. The theme of this year’s Summit is ‘Emotional Intelligence, Mindfulness and Creativity’ and features Sir Ken Robinson, Dan Goleman, Baroness Susan Greenfield, and Jeremy Darroch (CEO Sky).