Ep 234 – Tracking Wonder with Jeffrey Davis

Cover image of author Jeffrey Davis’s book Tracking Wonder.

Wonder is tougher than ever to experience these days. Our culture rewards our ability to produce and achieve. So, when can we find time to dream? In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Kristin and Darren are joined by Jeffrey Davis, author of Tracking Wonder, to discuss the six facets of wonder, what biases are baked in against wonder, and some exercises and tools we can use to start wondering now.

Author Images: 
Tracking Wonder author Jeffrey Davis.
Senior director of communications and editor-in-chief for ABMP.
LMT is a massage therapist, educator, and the director of professional education at ABMP.
Author Bio: 

Jeffrey Davis, M.A., is a researcher, speaker, consultant, teacher, and author of four books, including Tracking Wonder: Reclaiming a Life of Meaning and Possibility in a World Obsessed with Productivity (Sounds True). Through his venture, consultancy, and podcast show Tracking Wonder, he works with and equips creative innovators, entrepreneurs, and social psychologists to focus and flourish in times of challenge and change. He has taught at Western Connecticut State University, Southern Methodist University, and at world-class centers & conferences around the world. He lives with his wife and their two young daughters in a farmhouse in the Hudson Valley of New York.

Hosts:

Darren Buford is senior director of communications and editor-in-chief for ABMP. He is editor of Massage & Bodywork magazine and has worked for ABMP for 22 years, and been involved in journalism at the association, trade, and consumer levels for 24 years. He has served as board member and president of the Western Publishing Association, as well as board member for Association Media & Publishing. Contact him at editor@abmp.com.

Kristin Coverly, LMT is a massage therapist, educator, and the director of professional education at ABMP. She loves creating continuing education courses, events, and resources to support massage therapists and bodyworkers as they enhance their lives and practices. Contact her at ce@abmp.com.

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Full Transcript: 

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[music]

0:01:03.0 Darren Buford: I'm Darren Buford.

0:01:04.0 Kristin Coverly: And I'm Kristin Coverly.

0:01:05.5 DB: And welcome to the ABMP podcast, a podcast where we speak with a massage and bodywork profession. Our guest today is Jeffrey Davis. Jeffrey is an author, team culture consultant, innovation and thought leader strategist, speaker, and CEO of Tracking Wonder Consultancy. His latest book, "Tracking Wonder: Reclaiming a Life of Meaning and Possibility in a World Obsessed with Productivity" is a Next Big Idea Club finalist. For over 25 years, Jeffrey has worked with and inspired thousands of changemakers, creatives and teams to unlock their best ideas through the pursuit of curiosity, innovation and wonder. He writes for Psychology Today and other outlets. For more information, visit trackingwonder.com. Hello Jeffrey and hello, Kristin.

0:01:54.0 Jeffrey Davis: Hi Darren, hi Kristin. It's good to be here, thank you.

0:01:57.6 KC: It's so wonderful to have you here. Hello and welcome. I have to confess, I have the book and love the book, so I'm coming in, you know, from that fan-girl perspective, and let's jump right in actually to talk about the book. I love the idea that introducing moments of wonder into our daily lives can change our daily lives and our bigger lives in many ways. I'm really curious, what inspired you to write about this book? How did Wonder spark its way into your world?

0:02:25.7 JD: Well, thank you for that question. There were probably a couple of moments where I recognized that ultimately this is the topic I've always been pursuing probably since I was a tow-headed boy roaming the woods and climbing trees and making worlds on my own. I think there was a moment of... A real inflection point. I'd been pursuing... Actively pursuing the research on Wonder from Eastern traditions to Western science for a number of years, really since about 2004-2005, and was testing out some ideas on our community and in our consultancy and through some different events, but it was really after a series of hardships, just like one after another within a matter of months that I did what I often do, and that's adversity, and I got really curious. Once I got out of the fray, I got really curious about my own experiences with adversity and then got curious and started pursuing research around one particular question, which is, "How do people, maybe especially fulfilled innovators, ultimately flourish more than flounder admits to challenge and to change." And that set me off on this course that brings us here today.

0:03:46.8 KC: And for our listening audience, can you define what you mean when you use the term "Wonder"?

0:03:51.2 JD: Yeah, so it took me several years, [chuckle] of applied research and curiosity and wondering to land on a definition that I felt like was a good, plain-spoken entry point for people like your listeners and yourself. So "Wonder" I define as a heightened state of awareness that's brought about by something unexpected that either delights us, or disorients us, and each part of that definition becomes really important for our ability to track these experiences big and small, in our own lives, so it could be delightful, it could be a bald eagle landing in your backyard unexpectedly. Definitely delightful and disorienting. It could be something actually a co-worker might say to you, maybe somebody that you kinda unfairly judged and boxed in, who says something surprising to you that for a moment allows you to see that person's beauty and innate character in a new and surprising way. But it can also... Wonder can be very de-centering to who we think we are and what we think is real, [chuckle] actually. So it is disorienting, and for many of us, the past two and a half years have been profoundly disorienting, and if there have been moments in your life and your work life in the past two and a half years that were very disorienting and yet...

0:05:16.0 JD: In that disorientation, you also could see the possibility of a better future or even a little beauty amidst the confusion, more than likely you are experiencing a facet of wonder.

0:05:28.0 DB: Now, you may have already answered this question because you talked about when you first became interested in the topic, but did the pandemic change anything, your reaction to, or compliment the work that you're already doing or take you in a different direction?

0:05:44.5 JD: That's a great question because the book... The book's relevance became heightened. I sold the book the year before the pandemic came, [chuckle] but it's relevance, you know, just was all the more relevant in part because of the pandemic. So, there's certainly on a timely basis, three related trends that I think make this topic really timely. That gave me the impetus to get this book out even more, and that is: The clear rise in burnout, and depression, and an increased sense of purposelessness or meaninglessness in one's work and in one's life outside of work. So, I work with so many, as you said kindly in the introduction, I work with so many wonderful leaders and entrepreneurs and creative people, and I noticed they had this great desire to keep getting their work out, but they often were prone to exhaustion in part because...

0:06:47.0 JD: Not by any fault of their own, but because they, like me, have inherited this culture of hyper-productivity that actually when you track it really increased since about 2008, 2009, 2010. We've always been a culture of productivity in this country and hard work ethic, and I can track it back even a few hundred years ago in the Protestant work ethic, but it's really become toxic and people sort of being really proud of slogging through an 80-hour work week or the Uber driver who was praised because she was pregnant and she delivered her baby pretty much almost while she was working, while she was driving, and then this was praised as heroic, right? So, this has been happening since before the pandemic obviously, but the past two and a half years and all the disruptions that have come with the pandemic have given us the opportunity, some of us, some of us in decision-making abilities, the permission to pause and deeply question this productivity treadmill and to question what we might call toxic productivity, where leaders are valuing profit at the expense of people's humanity, or we unconsciously are equating our own self-worth and self-identity with our own productivity, like these two somehow are equal, and that really... It does harm... This culture of toxic productivity can be profoundly harmful to our innate creativity, to our resilience and to our human connections with each other. That's the most important piece, I feel.

0:08:35.5 KC: Absolutely, and in the book, you talk about and introduce ways for us to bring more Wonder in our lives, but you also talk about the importance of Tracking Wonder, and it's six facets, which we're gonna talk about in just a little bit, and that Tracking Wonder offers three avenues to help us fulfill our dreams, to live more creatively, build our resilience and deepen our relationships. Can you tell us more about that?

0:09:00.2 JD: Yeah, thank you for that. So, I also define Wonder as a quiet disruptor of our biases, so we can see again what is real and true, what is beautiful and possible. So earlier, I defined Wonder as a heightened state of awareness, and it turns out this is corroborated more and more in the emerging science of Wonder, that experiences of Wonder do pause our fight or flight system, and so when something unexpected happens, we don't fight it, and we don't flee from it, we actually pause and appreciate it, this is unique among experiences of wonder too, which makes it hard to even categorize as a positive emotion or a negative emotion, because with a positive emotion like love we'll be drawn toward the stimulus, we want more of it. When we're afraid of something, we're often repelled by it, but quite often, when we're in a state of wonder for a moment at least, we pause, and appreciate, and absorb and receive. So, with these quiet disruptions of our biased ways of seeing things, this broadens our capacity to approach challenges less reactively, more creatively, right? That fight or flight, there's a challenge or you've got a heavy workload today, you close down. [chuckle]

0:10:23.1 JD: Actually, experiences of Wonder can increase your openness to challenge and can increase or expand what we might call your cognitive resources, your ability to draw from more memories, more stimulation from your environment to come up with novel and useful solutions to your challenges, so... Hence makes us more creative. But also increasingly, and this overlaps somewhat with the science of awe as well, that experiences of wonder actually replenish ourselves and actually can build our resilience over the long term. And finally, most importantly, which I hope we explore more too, is that experiences of wonder... You can imagine... Sometimes I illustrate in keynotes these sort of three concentric circles, the innermost circle is the me-centeredness, which is not necessarily a bad thing, it's sort of a default setting that many of us have when we're not really aware of the thought patterns that are floating through our minds, quite often, they're very me-centered, like, "Why did I say that?" Or, "Oh, what's going to happen to me?" Right? This regret and fret pattern that we have, and quite often there's this meanness or jealousy or envy, which is often meanness. Experiences of Wonder have been shown to correlate with more generosity, more kindness, more love, more we-ness, right?

0:11:49.9 JD: So there's an increased sense of, "Oh, we." Of another human being, appreciating the other human being. And the third most outermost circle is what I would call the circle of wildness, so you go from me to we to wild, like just reminding yourself, it's kind of extraordinary that you're even alive at this moment, breathing, part of this universe where you are not even a speck in the greater scheme of things. So it kind of shifts what really matters in your life.

0:12:19.0 Speaker 5: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors.

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0:13:00.9 S5: Now let's get back to the podcast.

0:13:01.8 DB: Alright Jeffrey, let's jump into the heart of the book. What are the six facets of Wonder?

0:13:08.3 JD: Yeah, so... This again, it wasn't as if I set off to write a book on six facets Wonder, [chuckle] In fact, you know, I set off to... This was probably at least the fifth iteration of this book, because I literally put myself in the research process over the years, in a state of Wonder. I didn't want to just write a book about everything I thought I already knew about Wonder, which would be true to the whole process and enterprise, but I did discover my body of research, my body of work, what I thought were these different sides of wonder. So if you can imagine wonder like a multi-sided or multi-faceted gem with six facets, that might help you at least metaphorically enter these facets, so let's review them in three pairs, 'cause they actually correlate nicely with... Kristin your question about creativity, resilience and relationships. So the first pair is openness and curiosity, these are the foundational entry points to Tracking Wonder in your life, no matter where you are, if you're thinking...

0:14:19.4 JD: "I don't have time to wonder." [laughter] This is just the time actually to wonder. So start with openness and curiosity. Openness is what I call the Wide Facet of Wonder. This is what every human being is born with, wonder is our birthright, and we're each born with the state of openness to new experiences, the state of openness that when you're setting off on a new endeavor, or if some of your listeners have a small business and they're wanting to make a change in some new way, but they don't know everything about making that change in their business, and they don't know the outcome, this is when you must foster openness, a sort of intelligent naivete, of not knowing what's going to happen and to do it anyway. Curiosity is Wonder's, playful, proactive, faceted Wonder that I call The Rebel Facet of Wonder, because, when we're curious, we're questioning the status quo ways of doing things, and certainly, curiosity has been at play the past two and a half years in questioning a lot about the nature of work and other systems and institutions. Openness and curiosity together are a powerful duo to help us be more creative and less reactive.

0:15:39.4 JD: The second pair are bewilderment and hope, so this is where you're thinking, "Wow, I did... Never thought of this as wonder before." But imagine in that beautiful MGM film 1939, the Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy has her tornado moment and she lands smack dab in technicolor Oz, and she is wide-eyed and bewildered, and she says in essence, "Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore." Now, many of us have had a similar tornado moment the past couple of... Two and a half years, maybe you lost your job, maybe your business did a complete 180, maybe, you know, you might have lost your business, lost loved ones, I mean, serious disorientation the past couple of years, and it's possible that in these moments you can fertilize instead of pathologize your confusion, you can stay with ambiguity just a little longer potentially to reach some personal and creative breakthroughs. So that's bewilderment. Hope is very proactive. It's not wishful thinking. This is where you surround yourself with other hopeful people, you set doable goals just to move toward another better future, and you deliberately day dream, you indulge your vision for a better future. Lots of science say corroborates... This is very healthy to keep buoyant and resilient in times of adversity and crisis. The third pair is really important, this is where we deepen our relationships, connection and admiration.

0:17:17.2 JD: So connection I call the Flock Facet of Wonder, because it speaks to our longing to belong to something greater than ourselves, and it speaks to our yearning to sync up with one another, a stranger or somebody we're so familiar with that we think we can complete their sentences, because it's really important in both of these cases, that we foster a sense of connection and even a sense of wonder toward other human beings, whether we're meeting them for the first time or sizing them up unconsciously, or they're people we've had a thousand breakfasts with, that we have sized up over the years unconsciously, and we need to see them again in new and beautiful ways. Admiration is what I define as a surprising love for someone's excellence, whose excellence and craft or character inspires you to be a little better at what you do.

0:18:13.8 JD: Now, I know your audience is comprised of a lot of massage therapists and body workers, so with admiration, one starting place is to check your attitude toward your clients and your customers, and to just like take stock of when you might box them in, maybe the difficult ones, right? [chuckle] And just kinda check your tendency to box them in and encourage yourself to open up instead of size up, to just be open to them again, to actually foster a sense of connection with them and potentially to admire them, to regard them as people who are seeking change, they're coming to you because they're wanting some change in their physical energy and their other energy, their emotional energy, they're wanting some change.

0:19:05.7 JD: Can you take a moment just to admire some quality about who they are? And that might shift your relationships and certainly shift the work that you do with your clients and customers. So I hope those six facets help your listeners, openness and curiosity, bewilderment and hope, connection and admiration.

0:19:24.3 KC: Absolutely, and I love too that you talk about not only looking at things in a different way that already exists in your world, but also ways to actively bring new moments of wonder in, and the impact that can have, one of them is maybe interrupting patterns of negativity. Can you tell us more about that? Other ways it can be beneficial?

0:19:46.8 JD: Absolutely. So, let's talk about two ways, so one is to start by identifying what we might call your default downer patterns, so a part of the brain, it's a whole network of the brain, actually called the Default Mode Network, and it's very active. When our frontal cortex that's making a lot of conscious decisions is kinda tired and fatigued, and it's very active in that fret or regret state, where we're fretting about the future, we're worried about something, there's constant default patterns of worry overtaking you. For me, that might be at 4:00 AM in the morning, suddenly I'm awake staring at the ceiling, and my inner radio station antenna is trying to tune into station WRRY...

[laughter]

0:20:29.3 JD: "What can Jeffrey worry about today?"

[laughter]

0:20:34.3 JD: So it's like, "Oh, you can worry about that. You can worry about that. Thank you." So, that's a default downer pattern that certainly I have... We all have them, you send an email off to a co-worker, they don't respond for two days, you start telling stories about why they didn't respond, this is a default pattern that there's no reason to pathologize it, except it can hijack your sense of reality and your sense of what you think is real.

0:21:00.7 JD: So one thing to do is just to detect and define those default downer patterns, and then to open up and just feel them, just like feel how you are in your body and in your skull area when that default pattern's taking over, that default pattern of thinking is taking over, how does that feel? I feel tight in my temples, feel tight in my shoulders and neck, so you start to build some somatic memories, some muscle memory of what that default pattern feels like, and then actively seek a different pattern. So let's take a common example, let's say that you wake up in the morning, your default tendency is to check notifications and check your texts, I know people who keep their phone on their night stand. [laughter] This is a default pattern, right? It's the first thing they do in the morning. Why set yourself up for that? So, could you hide your phone the previous night, [laughter] and could you wake up and just step outdoors for five breaths to see if that shifts things in your morning, could you? And so what we've done is we've detected a default pattern, we've opened up and felt that default pattern, and then we started to seek out Wonder, we started to seek a shift, maybe a new experience, and you experiment with that enough and you just kind of like write down what you did, and you extend the observations of, well, that actually felt opening, refreshing or it was cold outside, but it made me a little bit more alive than closed off when I check my notifications.

0:22:35.5 JD: So you've done two things, you... Or four things, you've detected the pattern, D, you've opened up and felt it, O, you've sought out the wonder, S, and you've extended the observation of it, E. So, D-O-S-E can help your listeners remember that. I would love... Maybe if it's relevant, which I think it is, to talk about how your listeners and how we can disrupt maybe our most pervasive bias, which is toward ourselves.

0:23:07.8 KC: Please do.

0:23:08.3 JD: I think this is really the starting point even before openness and curiosity, which is a part of what I call your young genius, and that comes both from western philosophy, going back to Aristotle and then Plato before him and Socrates before him, and it's corroborated now with the emerging science of wonder and creativity. The idea is that in philosophy that we're each born with a sort of force of character, that you have a character who's been with you since before you were born, the sort of force of character that's unique just to you. So Darren's is unique and Kristin's is unique, and mine is unique. Problem is, we're born forgetting. Our true nature. We're born wide-eyed in Wonder, some of us, right? And we're born forgetting. Being in wonder is in a beautiful state of not knowing sometimes, and it's being comfortable with not knowing, so we've forgotten who we are, and it's only in moments when we feel really alive, and free, we feel a sort of effortless, right? I was facilitating a three-hour workshop yesterday, I felt so alive, it felt so effortless, right? It was just like things were clicking and I knew my genius was being activated, like this was the best in me, the most alive, most free part of me, fully alive for three hours.

0:24:28.9 JD: So every once in a while, you get those memories or maybe somebody reflects something back to you that you've kind of taken for granted, it's really beautiful, and you may be a mentor or a colleague or a loved one sees something in you, and you have this moment of remembering who you are. So, I've tracked stories from Arianna Huffington to others in our community, where they actively remember, recognize, activate and reclaim what we call your young genius. So, in Greek the word is Daemon by the way, but it translates to genius, this force of character. So one thing your listeners could do, instead of waking up and checking your notifications, what if for five minutes, you just quieted yourself and you remembered a time when you were young, if you feel safe going back to a time maybe when you were young, so you may go back to when you were 20, or you may even go back to when you were seven or eight, nine or 10, and then find a memory or related memories when you felt alive and free to most uniquely express yourself and remember who you were, maybe write down three adjectives that describe that young genius...

0:25:41.9 JD: That is still alive in some form in you now, and then ask yourself, "How could I bring that genius to my work with me today? How could I bring... " So for me, my genius is imaginative, caring and peaceful, and I actively bring those qualities to my tasks, to my meetings, to the challenges at hand during the day, and when I feel myself start to shut down, I'm like, "Oh, who am I really bringing to this moment?"

0:26:12.8 KC: What about ways that people can bring a quick moment of wonder? I know in the book you have an activity called Pause, Gaze Praise. Can you talk about that? Ways that our listeners can write and... After they've finished listening to the podcast, of course, start bringing Wonder into their daily lives in smaller pieces?

0:26:32.7 JD: So Pause, Gaze, Praise, this is now corroborated by, again, emerging science as well, something that I developed a decade ago. So the idea is during the day, particularly when you're feeling tired, hungry, closed down, this is a time to signal to yourself to step away from a screen or a device and pause, pause and gaze up to 20 feet ideally, 20 feet away from you... Even more ideally, if you could look at a window, or be outdoors, and let your eyes softly gaze, don't try to grasp, don t hunt, don't like try to say, "Oh, okay, that's an oak tree," but instead, gaze, like soft gaze and just observe the outer form and shape that the colors, almost as if you're an artist just looking at form and shape and light, and then finding the words of praise, of appreciation for whatever it is you're gazing at, now, I've done this many times even indoors, and you could even do it in your studio right now, and just literally even at the microphone that you've probably default looked at and ignored, [chuckle] right? And find a moment where you literally will resee what's in front of you. This is an immediate practice that opens up and cleanses your perception, the very vehicles through which you perceive what you think is real.

0:28:06.3 DB: This podcast has been absolutely incredible and has been a meditation unto itself. Would you agree, Kristin?

0:28:13.5 KC: Absolutely. And speaking of meditation, Darren and I are both fans of the Insight Timer app, and Jeffrey Davis has meditations and a course there, so if you also love the Insight Timer app, go check it out, learn more from Jeffrey, not only through his book, but he's out there doing other wonderful things to support us as well.

0:28:31.6 DB: Absolutely, I wanna thank our guest today, Jeffrey Davis. For more information, visit trackingwonder.com. Thanks Jeffrey and thanks Kristin.

0:28:39.3 JD: Thank you so much for having me.

0:28:41.7 KC: Jeffrey, it was fantastic, what a great conversation and tools that all of us can take and immediately apply to improve our lives. We appreciate you, thank you so much.

0:28:52.1 JD: Thank you.

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