Off the Floor 006: Dan McGinn is Psyched Up
At some point, you've needed this book.
We can all suffer from pre-performance jitters of some sort. Whether that's an over-abundance of perspiration, heart palpatations, or worse - second thoughts.
Dan McGinn has crafted a masterful book on how to handle those performance alarm bells that inhibit you from being your best. Psyched Up should accompany anyone in a high pressure situation, dance or otherwise.
Off The Floor Episode 006: Transcript
CL: Chris Lynam
DM: Dan McGinn
CL: Here we are with Dan McGinn, who's the author of a few books, but the book we're going to be talking about today is Psyched Up, and I couldn't think of a better book that not only speaks to our students, but also the professionals in our industry. Everything from conquering some of the hacks and tips and tricks of pre-performance routines all the way to rallying our own troops. Thank you so much for joining us today.
DM: Thank you, I'm happy to be here.
CL: So, going into it, do you feel like there was a point you could look back on where you knew you wanted to write a book like this?
DM: The book actually originates from a couple of different things. First, I was not a very good athlete, but I was a high-school athlete, so I played football and basketball in high school. I became really fascinated by the pre-game routines and the superstitions and the pep-talks - the things that the coaches would orchestrate to try and get us in the right mindset to play our best during the games. So that was the first thing.
The second thing was, as an adult, I would occasionally run into former athletes who are now doing very white-collar professional work. One was a partner at a big accounting firm, a lawyer, even a surgeon. People who approached the pre-game of those professions - big presentation to the board of directors or brain surgery - in a way that was very similar to what they would do before an athletic competition when they were a teenager.
The third thing was I started working at Harvard Business Review. In my job I see a lot of academic research come across my desk, and every so often I would see a study that touched on this. The idea that, if somebody did something before they were performing some sort of important task, that it affected how they did.
A group of people would be asked to do something, like a ritual or some sort of behavior, before a competitive event, and it would impact how well they did. Once I saw the research, I knew there was a book in this. I've been literally thinking about it since I was a teenager, so there was a big history for me to draw on.
CL: That's so great. I think about the way you talk about how your role on your team was like Red Auerbach's cigar. That was so good.
DM: Yeah, I mean I did not get a lot of quality minutes. One of the funnier moments of my high school football career was when I would come off the field after a game not having played, and my then-high-school girlfriend would take a look at me and say, "Well, at least you won't need to do laundry" 'cause my uniform didn't get dirty at all.
CL: You had such a wonderful composite of inspiration with all these great stories and anecdotes. Did you go in with a "playlist" of people you wanted to get in touch with? Did it just organically start to expand? How'd you go into that?
DM: No, it was just your basic reporting process. You find someone interesting to interview, you interview them, and then you ask "Who else should I talk to?" It's sort of like a game of telephone-tree from there. Some of it came from the fact that I was reading widely during this period, read everything I could find on issues of performance anxiety, confidence building, and just looked for people with cool stories. Some of them famous, some of them very un-famous, and I tried to put it together in a compelling way.
CL: Were a few of the people you interviewed acquaintances that you already had? How did that all originate?
DM: There were a couple of professors, a Harvard professor in particular, who I had done some work with in my day job at Harvard Business Review, but for the most part I didn't know any of these people. It's like anything else. The last book I did before this one was on the real estate boom, so I was real estate agents, and home builders, and economists. One of the fun things about doing a project like this is that you're sort of like an anthropologist. You enter into this world, you don't know anything about it, and you try to, very quickly, learn as much as you can. Whether it's talk to academic experts, going to West Point, going to Julliard, talking to Jerry Seinfeld, General McChrystal, just trying to talk to a range of experts and high performers about what they do before they perform.
CL: If you had to one of your favorite stories from the book, which one really stands out to you the most?
DM: One of the characters I really enjoyed most in the book was a guy named TJ Connely. He's the centerpiece of a chapter on how music can be part of people's psych-up routine. TJ has probably one of the coolest jobs in the world: he is the in-house park DJ for both the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots. If you got to a Red Sox game or you go to a Patriots game, and you listen to the music that's playing during batting practice at Fenway or during warm-ups at the game, the music comes on during certain important moments in the game. He's the one that chooses all of it. He helps the players in baseball choose the music they walk up to the plate with, or "walk-up songs."
There's a lot of science about what makes one song motivational, how music can help you perform better, but TJ is practitioner of it at the highest level in these high-profile venues. Actually, last weekend, there was a game at Gillette, and Tony Romo was announcing it and he said "I've never heard music as good as I'm hearing here at Gillete during this game." That was because the Patriots have one of the best DJs in the business.
CL: That's so cool. I haven't gotten to that chapter yet. I'm almost halfway through, but it's been such a great read so far. I loved the story of Kageyama. My mom has a music school, so, when you mentioned that he studied under Suzuki, I was geeking out at that moment. His story, the whole character arc from virtuoso to professor at Julliard, was just super fascinating.
DM: Yeah he was a really great example, and I enjoyed spending time with him too. He was, as you suggested, a trained violinist by the time he was 2 or 3 years old, got good enough at violin to get into Julliard, but he was always aware that, no matter how much he practiced, when he went into an audition or a tryout he never got quite 100%. It's because his nerves were kind of chipping a way a little bit. His fingers might get a little sweaty when he was playing the violin because he's nervous, and they would slip on the strings. He became very interested in this idea that practice isn't enough; you need to have a game plan for how to deal with the emotions and the nerves and the anxiety.
That's really the theme of the book, in a larger sense. There's nothing in the book that suggests that practice is not important. Malcolm Gladwell still says you need your 10,000 hours practice before you get really expert at something. What the book argues is that the 10,000 hours is not enough: you also need a plan so that, if you get nervous before you perform, the nervousness doesn't undo you. You need to have a plan to counteract that, and to manage the emotional side of it. And Noa Kageyama teaches an entire semester-long course about that at Julliard. They're not just studying how to play their instruments better, they're also studying how to deal with the emotion and the anxiety that goes along with these high-stakes tryouts.
CL: You hit it right on the head. The one thing I think people can take from Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is the 10,000 hours, and they just assume that that's the recipe, but if 10,000 private hours without anybody in front of them, that's a totally different dynamic. I love that you shed light on the fact that you need to pressure-test that practice in front of people. It sounds like Kageyama's class is something everyone could benefit from.
DM: Yeah, at the end of Kageyama's class, he's taught the students all these techniques - a lot of them involve breathing and visualization and all these things that can help manage the nerves of an audition - and then, for their final exam, he tells them he's going to put them through an audition. He tells them all the circumstances: he tells them they're going to have a private room where they're going to be able to rehearse for the last few minutes before they go on, there's going to be a screen there so the judges can't see them, they can only hear them, but when he actually brings them into the audition, everything intentionally goes wrong. The rehearsal room turns out to be very noisy and not very conducive to practice. He disables the elevator so the students have to carry their instruments up multiple flights of stairs which gets them all sweaty. They get into the room, and there's no screen, and the piano's out of tune. Just one thing after another. The idea here is that our practice sort of assumes we're going to be in these perfect conditions, but the reality is things get messy. Practicing in such a way that that messiness doesn't upset you or knock you off your game, that's part of what it takes to make you successful.
CL: It definitely sounds like Bill Belichik went to the Kageyama school of training.
DM: He definitely did. I'm in New England, and you and I were talking earlier, we got close to fifteen inches of snow yesterday, and I saw this picture on Twitter of the Patriots at practice. Every school and every government and every office in New England was closed, but Bill Belichik had the Patriots practicing because that's the way they do it. There's definitely something to be said for adversity and how it builds toughness.
CL: Didn't he do something like put thermometers in all the hallways of the visiting team to show how cold it was, or something like that?
DM: Well, that was a little bit of psychological gamesmanship. I read that same story, and it was interesting. Part of what's interesting about that is there's a chapter in the book on pep-talks, and it turns out there's a big body of research, some of it drawn from sports, some of it drawn from the military, some of it from business, on what elements go into making a successful pep-talk. When I was reporting that chapter I was expecting to read about people like Belichik, but it turns out Belichik is sort of the opposite school. He doesn't believe in trying to get people's emotions all that fired up. He's much more analytical, much more about "do your job," "do the work." There are coaches who are really really into the pep talks, but Belichik is much more quiet, head down, grind it out.
CL: Yeah, I love that story Navy Seal story about how they were so calm on the way to the Bin Laden mission that some of them fell asleep. You don't need to spike everybody's emotions to get a result.
DM: When you think about getting "psyched up", one of the things you need to think about is whether what you're doing is routine or whether it's really out of the ordinary. Obviously, no matter how experienced you are in the military, if you're going on a mission to either kill or capture Osama Bin Laden, that's pretty out of the ordinary. It does say something that these Seals were so experienced and had been doing stuff like this for so long that most of them just fell asleep during the helicopter ride, because they were practiced, they knew what the operation was. It was almost just business as usual for them.
CL: So, for those of you listening [or reading], if we said that there's gonna be a chapter where there's gonna be a reference to the movie "Hoosiers" and then a talk about capturing Osama Bin Laden in the same chapter, it would probably sound pretty surprising, but it just works. That reference was just so perfect at that point.
DM: In the final movements before the Seals took off to fly over to Pakistan for Osama Bin Laden mission, Admiral McCraven, who was the admiral on the ground there running that, he gave them a pep-talk and he drew from the final pep-talk in the movie Hoosiers. Gene Hackman's character is in the big basketball arena and he has the players measure the hoop to see that it's still ten feet, measure the free throw line to see that it's still fifteen feet, and the idea is this is a much different setting with ten thousand seats, much bigger than the gymnasiums we've been playing in all season, but the actual court and the actual mechanics of what we need to do is the same thing we've been doing every night for the last six months. McCraven's message was the same: This feels very important and very different, but it's the same thing you guys have been doing your whole career.
CL: So, from a discovery standpoint, where there any big revelations as you were assembling this? Maybe you sat back while you were having an interview with somebody and was just like "Woah, that is really good." Maybe a vantage point you never thought you would've found before going into it.
DM: I think the biggest "aha" that I had was more conceptual. If you were to think back to the kind of "psyching up" that I experienced when I was 17-years-old and playing high school football. It was mostly about getting my energy level up, and about getting that adrenaline flowing. When I thought about psyching-up prior to reporting this, before looking at the research and talking to experts, I had that simplistic view of it. Once you actually read the research, and talk to dozens of psychologists and people who do this for a living, you figure out that it's much more nuanced than that. Instead of thinking of it as just energy, I see it a lot as managing anxiety. In general, you want to find ways to crank your anxiety down, manage it as best you can, and then simultaneously you want to find ways to boost your confidence level. I used to think of psyching-up like a light switch: you would just flip it on and get that adrenaline going. I came away thinking about it more like the tuners on an old stereo. Trying to tune these individual knobs: anxiety goes down, confidence goes up, energy level goes up or down depending on what kind of thing you're doing.
CL: I feel like I've gone through both. I've gone through it as high-school athlete. It was that kind of "ra-ra," get-psyched-up, push your teammates around and do kind of a mosh pit at the very beginning. Then when I became a competitive ballroom dancer it was the opposite. I started out that way and then it just didn't work for me. Adrenaline really got the worst of me in the very beginning.
Eventually, as I was reading, I started to have my own revelation of "Woah, that's why that started to work." I had created this routine where it was really quiet and I had headphones on. I did the same thing before every single practice and every single competition, and that's when I was operating at my very best.
What do you think more people could do or should do in their pre-performance routines? Let's just say you're talking to a group of our dance students. What're some takeaways you think they could get from this?
DM: Well, what you just said is super relevant and super useful. The idea that you came up with a set of routines that you did the same way every time. There's a large body of research, a lot of it from sports psychology, across a wide array of activities - they've looked at everything from billiards to water polo to soccer goal shooting - and, in general, the more somebody does something the same way every time, the better they are likely to perform the activities subsequent to that. That's what one set of studies find.
In the second set of studies they'll actually do interventions where they'll take a bunch of people who don't have a routine before they, say, jump off a high dive in competition, and they'll teach them to take like five seconds and do a few simple things, but to do them the same way every time. They'll generally see their performance increase as a result of that.
There's something about human beings: we crave ritual. We find it comforting. We like to know what to expect. And from a practical kind of standpoint these pre-game rituals can distract us from being nervous, from being anxious. They give us something else to focus on. You learned this yourself in your own career as a dancer. I think if people could learn that, or if you could take a few minutes out of your lessons and teach them how to do this, I think it could have a marked impact on the way people perform under pressure.
CL: That's wonderful. So, why do you think it is that people feel like nervousness is so unique? We have so many students that come in and they say "I know if I go there I'm gonna be so nervous, and I'm gonna be the only one." Why do you think that is?
DM: For many people being nervous is a physically uncomfortable sensation. Think about what happens if you're standing up in front of a crowd, and that jolt of adrenaline hits you: you're breathing gets shallow, you start to feel your heart beating rapidly, your mouth may get dry, your throat may constrict a little bit, your eyes might start to blink a whole lot, and your body temperature might drop because your blood is flowing to different places differently. I think the most important thing to realize, when that happens, is it's normal. It's biology. We may be evolved to a point where we do recreational events like competitive ballroom dancing, but, biologically, we are still the same species that was being chased around in the jungle by predators not too long ago. The reason that we survived as long as we have is because adrenaline kicks in, this fight or flight instinct takes over, and our body changes as a result of it. I think normalizing the experience, and recognizing that "Hey, my body is doing exactly what it's programmed to do. This is what helped us get here. It may be a little bit uncomfortable, but there's nothing wrong with me. I just need to work through it." It's not unlike when you're running a marathon, there's a point at like mile 20 or so where your body starts to feel a certain set of sensations. Reacting to that, recognizing that it's normal, expecting it, and being prepared to push through it - I think in your situation the same kind of thing could work.
CL: Wow that's great. We have an event that we hold twice a year, and we just re-packaged it just to talk about the feeling. We say that it's not a dance competition, we're really just doing this as your "dance confidence weekend." The idea is your going to go through these different stages and you physiology is going to change. We talk about how you're going to start in a "nervous" stage, and it'll go through this number of dances that you do. Eventually you're going to get to this stage called "too tired to care," and you're gonna wink at the judges and it doesn't even bother you anymore.
For those people who feel like they need to have that one perfect minute right on minute one, what would be your advice to those people that are trying to go out there and expect perfection and are going to be blindsided by that adrenaline?
DM: Well, I think people who expect perfection maybe setting themselves up for a particular set of challenges. Most of our lives do not go perfectly. You need to be prepared for some bumps. Instead of expecting perfection, what I might suggest for people to do is, before they take that first step out on to the floor, to take 20 seconds and retrospectively look back on perfection. I talk a little bit in the book about everyone creating their own mental "greatest hits" reel. In your profession or your field I imagine many of your students may be videotaped while they're competing. It's not a bad idea for someone to put together a highlight reel of their best moments as a dancer, put it on their phone, and, before they go out on the dance floor, take 20 seconds and look at it and think to yourself "Well gosh, I'm really good at this when I'm on. There have been moments when I've been pretty darn close to perfect." Thinking about the idea that you've been successful in the past can help ease the nervousness, it can help boost your confidence, and it can increase the odds that you're going to get something close to perfection when you step on the floor again. Instead of planning for perfection, I would look back on it as a way to boost confidence.
CL: That's wonderful advice. Now I'm sure, after having done all of this work on this book: are you hyper-aware now of people's pre-performance routines? If so, who do you notice the most?
DM: When I watch sports, either in person or on television, I'm very acutely aware of what people are doing beforehand. I'm a parent, I have three teenagers, and they're involved in competitive athletics, they've had to go to the SATs, or they've had to go to college interviews. When I'm driving them to those sorts of experiences, I'm very conscious of the kinds of things we're talking about. I'm encouraging them to listen to music that make them feel their best.
Even in my day-to-day work as a writer and editor: I don't need to get psyched up for my job every day, but a few times a month I'm gonna sit down for an afternoon and there's something really important for me to write, something a little higher stakes than ordinary, something that matters a little more. Before I do those sorts of things, I will absolutely go back and spend just a minute or so reading something that I wrote in the past that was very successful. I work in an office where I have around me examples of past stories to try and help me feel more confident. I actually control my environment the same way that if you were to go to a high school gymnasium they'll have banners on the wall of all the championships the teams have won. You can kind of program your environment to have these confidence boosters around you in your line of sight. I do some of that.
I definitely think about what I want to do in those final moments to try and find a way to boost the odds in my favor.
CL: That's great. When you mentioned the SATs I went through a low-light reel of just that moment. I took my PSAT and it went really well, then I did nothing to prepare for my SAT, worked a late shift at a pizza place, and I just bombed it. I should've read this book.
DM: Well, some of it gets back to practice. If you didn't do anything to prepare I'm not sure the book would've helped you. Reading the book won't help get you into Julliard if you don't know how to play the violin. You definitely need to combine a substantive practice and preparation with this additional layer of emotional and psychological tools to put yourself in the right mindset to perform. I think it's a combination of both of those things.
CL: Yeah, absolutely. We have to mention the Malcolm Gladwell Keyboard. Why don't you tell us a snippet of that story? I think it was so great.
DM: Sure! When you think about the rituals and superstitions people have before they perform, some of them involve physical objects, some lucky charm of some sort. There's actually some research that shows that those kind of things can work. There's research that shows that if somebody is using a tool that was once used by a professional or a celebrity, they tend to perform a little bit better. There's a couple different studies: one of them involved golf clubs, one of them involved study guides for tests. I got in touch with Malcolm Gladwell, sent him a copy of one of these studies, and I told him I wanted to ship him a keyboard for his computer that he would write for a few months and then ship it back to me. He agreed, and so now I have it here in my office. It's Malcolm Gladwell's old keyboard. I don't use it every day, but when I'm working on something that's a little more important or it needs a sort of boost in confidence, I pull out my lucky keyboard that use to be Gladwell's and I type on it.
Not everybody's going to be able to reach out to a celebrity person, but if say there's a successful member of one of your dance teams maybe they have some object that's important that they can pass along to some of the junior members. In teams you can orchestrate these kinds of things and create your own lucky objects, and I would definitely encourage people to try and do that.
CL: That's so awesome. Actually, my boss asked this guy in our industry who's this world champion, this Italian guy, and he asked for his shoes after his performance. I told my boss, "I guarantee you that those shoes will fit me. It's going to be like the ballroom dance version of Cinderella." And I put them on and they did fit me.He said "When you win this competition I'm going to give these to you," and so I have them in my closet.
DM: Do you use them?
CL: I don't even want to touch them. They're that important to me. I just have them as a memento, but it was just one of those things. I know exactly what you mean. It has that magical quality to it.
DM: It's interesting when you think about this. My youngest son is a big fan of the Boston Celtics, and the youngest player on the Celtics is Marcus Smart. This past summer he had an opportunity to go Marcus Smart's basketball camp. At the end of the camp, the deal was, Marcus would sign two objects for every student. These are all a bunch of young kids, so they spent a bunch of time strategizing over what they would have their favorite basketball player sign. You can imagine that there were a lot of t-shirts and a lot of posters and all that, but one of the kids was more enterprising. He said, "Y'know, I'm gonna have Marcus Smart sign my shoes, because unlike posters and unlike all this other stuff, I actually wear these shoes when I'm playing basketball. Knowing Marcus Smart, my favorite player, signed my shoes, might give me a little more quickness, might help me make a few more steals the way he does on defense." That's the kind of thing I'm talking about. Obviously that's a kind of isolated example, not everyone's going to be able to meet their favorite NBA basketball player, but it's the idea of "get something I can use" as opposed to just some shirt or poster. That's the kind of thing that can make a difference for people.
CL: That's so good. So, if we were putting a bag together for one of our students getting ready to go to a big competition, we'd want them to, like you mentioned, put together a highlight reel, have some type of repeatable process, maybe have some type of little memento. What else do you think they should have ready for a big event like that?
DM: Well we haven't talk a lot about anxiety. We've talked about the fact that stage fright, adrenaline, and anxiety are natural bodily responses to stress, but it's good to have some ways to cope with that. One of the techniques that I talk about in the book that's one of my favorites, it's a very subtle idea, it's called "reappraisal." The idea there is that, when most people are feeling stage fright, the typical advice given to them is "Don't be nervous" or "Calm down." Those are very hard things to do. If you're nervous your body's in that elevated, agitated, state. It's hard to get it to dial down, so what reappraisal does is try and shift that into a more positive form. Which is excitement. If you think of nervous versus excited: excited is still a very highly aroused, agitated, state, but it's a more positive, optimistic, opportunistic, form of it. It's not worrying about what could go wrong, it's being excited about what can go right. I would think that lessons about reappraisal, and the idea that - You want to focus on the fact that this is an opportunity for you to win and for you to successful, as opposed to "it's a risky thing where you might fail." Trying to focus on that positive is something that I would keep in mind.
CL: I think that is so good. I've heard that going from nervousness to excitement, that it's the same part of the brain, but I love that there's a classification for that and a terminology that just makes the language all-encompassing. I think that that was really well stated.
DM: There's a professor at Harvard actually, her name is Alison Wood-Brooks, and she got interested in this back when she was an undergraduate at Princeton. She was in an acapella singing group that sounds a lot like that movie Pitch Perfect, and it was very competitive. They'd have hundreds of kids try out for this every year. One of the things she noticed is that kids who went into the interview, the audition process, with that kind of excited attitude, as opposed to the nervous attitude, they tended to do a lot better. When she went on to get her PhD she did her entire dissertation around this. She did all these experiments on people in competitive environments with singing and public speaking and math tests. Time after time, as subtle as it sounds, having someone say something like "I'm so excited" before they did something, tended to help them do a little bit better.
CL: Yeah, that's what it's all about. You just nailed it. I just wish more people could vocalize that. Whenever we have an event, or a competition, it's kind of like the best man toast or some type of pitch in front the C Suite or something like that. Because it's just such high stakes, unfortunately, there are people who will just fold if it doesn't meet the pre-determined requirements that they have in their mind. What would you say to people who have lost their cool, and are trying to recover going into the next go-around? Maybe they did fold under the pressure, maybe they didn't have some of these tools under their belt yet. What would be your recommendation?
DM: So the question is: You've had a failure kind of experience. What do you with that going forward and how do you recover from it? I think there's two things you do. #1: If there's any lesson you can draw from it, anything productive, you want to use whatever kind of opportunity you can to learn from your mistake, whether it's something from a technical standpoint or you mismanaged your emotions in some way. Once you've extracted that learning, according to most of the sports psychologists and most of the literature, you want to try and forget it and move on. It gets back to this idea of thinking about your "greatest hits" before you go on. Kobe Bryant used to talk about "flush it and forget it." When he missed a shot, he got rid of that memory. If you think about your big time performers, when you talk to them, that's something they generally say. When they fail they take whatever lesson they can, but then they kind of take it off their hard drive. They just focus on times where they're successful because they know that focusing on their track record of success is going to help them get in the mindset to succeed rather than obsessing about whether they're going to fail again.
CL: Wow. I think you nailed it. I think that's awesome. I cannot state it enough that I think this book, Psyched Up, is just so perfect for this industry, for ballroom dancers - and obviously non-ballroom dancers, I think anyone in those pressure-packed situations. I think this should be sold alongside Outliers because I think it's a great one-two punch: you have the practice and then you have the performance. I just think it's so relevant. I'm going to make sure every Arthur Murray person that I know has a copy of this book.
DM: I appreciate that, and I appreciate your enthusiasm for it. I don't know a ton about your business, but I would imagine that most of your students are doing this as a form of recreation or a hobby. Most of them probably have day jobs. I would, as important and as useful as these techniques can be in the dance pieces of their lives - the competitive dance - they should also think about how to use this in their day jobs. Whether they're presenting in a business environment, whether they're going for a job interview, whether they're a sales person who has to make their number by closing deals under pressure. Part of the premise of this book is that this is not just about football or basketball or competitive dance. Our jobs, more and more, are dependent upon a few days a month or a few days a quarter where we some sort of high stakes event. It's sort of like in school where you go to class every day, but then you'd have an exam. I think the exam pieces of our jobs are more important than they used to be, so I would encourage your students not to just think about this in their dance lives but to also think about it in their day jobs. I think these things can be useful there as well.
CL: Yeah, absolutely. Arthur Murray's motto is to take dancing as the catalyst for something that's going to improve in your life off the dance floor. Whether that's to be more confident or to be more socially aware, and I absolutely agree. It would be a shame if someone only got better in their dancing because of this book. Even for people who are out on the dating scene, and to be able to walk up and approach somebody. What if you had a pre-performance routine for that? God, right? I wish I had that when I was 20.
DM: I don't think I referred to it in the book, but I did come across something that said that, for people going on first dates, a very large percentage of them have a playlist of songs that they tend to listen to to try and get them in the right mood to be confident. You're right: dating is just another kind of job interview when you get down to it. You need to be able to be confident, be charming, tell your stories, etcetera. I think I mentioned in the book that there's chemistry involved in a lot of this stuff as well. It's not a coincidence that a lot of first dates are accompanied by a cocktail because, for better or worse, people tend to rely on alcohol as a means to get rid of some of that anxiety that goes along with some of those first impressions. I think you're right that there's some relevance there as well.
CL: Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so now I just want to ask you a few random, rapid-fire, questions, and then we'll wrap everything up.
CL: Okay, so first one is: What is your comfort food?
DM: My comfort food? Pizza.
CL: Alright, so in New England do you guys still subscribe to the sort of East Coast thin crust, or do you guys go in for something different?
DM: The best pizza around here is actually toward Connecticut, New Haven around here, and it's charcoal-fired. Some people would say that they almost burn it. It's these very very hot ovens, usually fired with coal or charcoal, and very crispy, almost blackened, kind of crust. That's my favorite style around here.
CL: Nice! You've said you've got three kids: are the boys or girls? What's the age range?
DM: I have a 19-year old girl and a boy who's almost 17 and a boy who's 13.
CL: Gotcha, alright. What's something about being a dad that may given you a different perspective on the work that you do?
DM: That's an interesting question. My kids are involved in sports in one way or another, and I've coached them all at one point or another. Some better than others at times. Some of the things we deal with at work when we deal with feedback and difficult conversations and helping people do their best - there are more similarities to parenting with that than I ever would've guessed. Especially as the kids have gone from being small to being more adult-like in teenage years, I think those parallels have become more striking.
CL: Ah that's so cool. Okay, what's the last movie that you saw that made you emotional?
DM: I don't know about emotional, but we just watched, for the second time, the movie "The Big Sick." I forget the actors name, but it's being thrown around in the Oscar conversation at the end of the year now. That was probably my favorite movie of 2017.
CL: Nice! I haven't seen that yet, I'll have to check that out.
DM: Quite good.
CL: Okay so now, do you have an actual, or maybe a missed, dance moment in your life?
DM: Probably the most memorable dance moment in my life, and it was definitely a moment of failure, was freshman year in college, at a party, when things are getting a little rowdy and that Vanilla Ice song "Ice, Ice, Baby" came on. I went to college in New England, and it was snowy outside. I'm sure if it was my footwear or the dance floor that was a little wet, but I wiped out pretty spectacularly. I'm lucky that I was not physically injured, but emotionally I'm sure I have some scars from that.
CL: [laughs] Oh my gosh I can totally visualize that. That's so good.
DM: Whatever you're visualizing it was 50% worse, I guarantee you.
CL: [laughs] Oh man, and that was just one of those songs that took everybody by storm and you just had to dance when that song came on when it was first coming out.
DM: It's funny I was out with a friend not too long ago, and there was a band playing in a bar. They played that song. Who would've thought that in 2018 that you could find a bar band that plays "Ice, Ice, Baby" but the crowd really did light up when it came on. It's one of those songs for people of a certain age: man, you remember that song.
CL: [laughs] Yeah. Alright well, I just have to say it's been such a pleasure getting a chance to chat with you to talk about Psyched Up. I think it is just a great read, and such a diverse line up of stories and reference points, but also really practical - the way that you put it all together. Sometimes really extensive research can really read like a medical document, and you definitely did just the opposite. I just commend you for some really exceptional writing.
DM: Oh, I appreciate it. I really appreciate your enthusiasm for the book. Y'know, when I was writing the book I certainly thought about athletes and sales people and the list of the kind of obvious professions, but it makes sense to me that this would appeal to competitive ballroom dancers even if that's an audience I wouldn't necessarily have thought of. I appreciate you exploring it, and seeking it out.
CL: Yeah, for sure, for sure. So now: obviously the book's on Amazon and it's doing really well, so tell everyone the best contact information for picking up a copy.
DM: Sure! It's still in bookstores. It's also for sale on Amazon. It's called Psyched Up: How The Science Of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed, and you can also follow me on Twitter. It's @danmcginn.
CL: Okay great. Well, this has been Dan McGinn on "Off the Floor." I am your host Chris Lynam and once again thank you. Pick up the book Psyched Up, and you will not go wrong. Regardless of your dance ability, whether or not you've ever wiped out dancing to "Ice, Ice, Baby," makes no difference. You can apply these principles in any venue where the pressure is on, and this is how you can keep your body and your mind under control. You couldn't ask for a better start to 2018.
Alright, thank you so much Dan. I really appreciate it.
DM: Thank you.
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