The Intuition Network, A Thinking Allowed Television Underwriter, presents the following transcript from the series Thinking Allowed, Conversations On the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery, with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove.


JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. Today we're going to be looking at the qualities of high-performing individuals. My guest is Dr. Lee Pulos, a clinical psychologist from Vancouver, British Columbia. Dr. Pulos is on the faculty of the medical school of the University of British Columbia. He's also the sports psychologist for Team Canada, the Canadian Olympic team, and has also worked with the Edmonton Oilers hockey team. In addition Dr. Pulos is an entrepreneur and has worked as the chief operating officer for the Spaghetti Factory chain of restaurants, and is a former president of the Canadian Academy of Clinical Hypnosis. Welcome, Lee.

LEE PULOS, Ph.D.: Thank you, Jeffrey.

MISHLOVE: It's a pleasure to have you here.

PULOS: I always enjoy being in this area.

MISHLOVE: You've worked with peak performers in many different fields -- in business, in athletics. You've also spent a lot of your professional career working with cancer patients.

PULOS: Yes. My ideas on high-performance people are based on my work as an entrepreneur, having founded a large, successful restaurant chain, cancer counseling, and of course working with business people. I've noticed that all of them have certain commonalities that they share that help them to where they wish to go.

MISHLOVE: That's interesting, because one would assume that the characteristics, say, of a top athlete would be different than those of a top business person.

PULOS: Not really. They all have the same qualities that seem to motivate them, and that they share in common.

MISHLOVE: Well, let's talk about some of those qualities.

PULOS: I think one of the most important qualities is they have a burning vision, a goal, something they can see in their mind. The goal is something that they see in the future, but they bring it into the present, as if it has happened. Every single person has this vision, and goal setting is critically important. As a matter of fact there have been a number of studies; more and more psychologists are beginning to look at the whole issue of goal setting. For example, in a study at Yale, working with convalescent patients, a psychologist named Judith Rodin separated them into two groups. One group were given a potted plant; this sounds so mundane.

MISHLOVE: It sounds kind of trivial.

PULOS: It does.

MISHLOVE: But it gives them a goal, I suppose, if they're going to care for this plant.

PULOS: They were told to take care of the plant. The other group, of course, were told, "Don't worry about it. The nursing staff will take care of it." After eighteen months they looked at three variables -- social factors, medical factors, and longevity, because the expectancy in a convalescent home like that is about eighteen months. Well, the group that had no purpose, no goal, died within the expected period. The other group had actually increased their life expectancy almost twice as long, which worked out to be about fourteen months longer than what they had been expected to do.

MISHLOVE: In other words, all other factors being equal, simply having a potted plant to take care of made a big difference in the life of these convalescing patients.

PULOS: Absolutely. Then of course they began adding to that, and seeing with the control group versus experimental group, the ones who had more to say as to what kind of clothing, planning their meals, their television program -- in other words, who had a sense of control and power and purpose in their life.

MISHLOVE: You've got to have a goal.

PULOS: That's it.

MISHLOVE: That seems to be the real message.

PULOS: Versus the ones that didn't.

MISHLOVE: Many people, it would seem -- and I suppose these would be non-high-achieving people -- sort of wander about.

PULOS: That's right, that's right. But related to this whole issue, Jeffrey, is a feeling of empowerment. Once you have a goal, a vision, you feel much more empowered. As a matter of fact there was another classical study at UCLA called the learned helplessness experiments, where they took an animal, he learned how to get through a maze, and then they put him into a leather harness and shocked him and shocked him and shocked him. Then they released him from the leather harness, and even though the animal knew how to get out, it just stood there and received the shocks. It had learned helplessness.

MISHLOVE: Because he was in the harness for a while and was unable to move during that time.

PULOS: That's right. But if you were to extrapolate this into the work situation -- for instance, in factories the people on the line seem to have more psychosomatic disorders, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, because there is this learned helplessness. Things are happening to them rather than from them.

MISHLOVE: They have the feeling that they no longer possess control of the situation.

PULOS: That's right, power.

MISHLOVE: I suppose as a psychologist you'd have to say that a lot of that is their attitude, rather than really what's true about them.

PULOS: That's right. It's strictly in the attitude, of having in a sense perceived that you've given your power away to someone else. I think this is one thing that high-performance people do not do; they are totally in charge of what happens to them.

MISHLOVE: Would you say then that if a person feels as if their life is out of control, as I have sometimes seen with therapy clients, and you've probably seen -- people give you enormously elaborate rationales about why they can't control this, why they can't control that -- would it seem to you that these people are lacking in creativity?

PULOS: No, I think control and blaming others is really related to self-esteem, which is the second quality of high-performance people -- that they will create situations in which they're always building on their self-esteem, their attitude with themselves, their reputation with themselves. One of the things that detracts from self-esteem is blaming someone else, giving your power to someone else -- blaming the weather, blaming this, blaming that, blaming that. High-performance people do not do that.

MISHLOVE: In other words, if a person has low self- esteem, they can avoid having to feel bad about themselves by blaming other people instead.

PULOS: That's right.

MISHLOVE: And then they're generally unaware of the fact that it's really their own low self-esteem.

PULOS: That's right, and they're not aware that when you blame someone, or even take on a martyr role, which is part of our Judaeo-Christian ethic -- you know, having to work hard and suffer and struggle; a nothing-comes-easy sort of thing -- again, that really detracts from one's sense of potency or empowerment and self-esteem. So there is no blaming, and there is no martyrhood or struggle. These people view life as something to be lived joyously, impeccably, and to go through it having fun.

MISHLOVE: They relish their experiences.

PULOS: Yes, rather than struggle, because if you keep sort of programming your unconscious that everything is going to have to be hard work, then it becomes just that, and success becomes difficult.

MISHLOVE: So it's really ironic. It's as if we have certain very basic assumptions, like, "Life must be difficult," that we wouldn't even question.

PULOS: That's right.

MISHLOVE: And yet what you're saying is the high-performance individuals that you've known and studied are people who don't take that attitude.

PULOS: That's right.

MISHLOVE: Is it something that can be trained? Can people learn to change these attitudes?

PULOS: Absolutely, and this gets to another factor of high-performance people, and that is they're constantly monitoring their self talk. Every single person self talks between one hundred fifty and three hundred words a minute.

MISHLOVE: A constant stream.

PULOS: Constant. It works out to forty-five, fifty thousand thoughts a day.

MISHLOVE: Isn't that amazing?

PULOS: Now, if you think about it --

MISHLOVE: It would be a good book a day for everybody.

PULOS: Absolutely. Now, most of it is innocuous, like, "I wonder what I'm going to wear tonight?" or, "How is it going to go? Where are we going to go for dinner?" But a lot of it, of course, especially with people with low esteem, is, "I'm so stupid. Nothing works for me. I can't lose weight," and so on.

MISHLOVE: It's negative.

PULOS: And it's over and over and over.

MISHLOVE: Like hypnotic suggestions.

PULOS: Absolutely.

MISHLOVE: In other words, what you seem to be saying, if I hear you right, is it's as if this level of great competence and high performance would be a natural state for virtually everybody if we didn't program ourselves somehow into having low self-esteem.

PULOS: Yes, because our self talk is one of the things that keeps reinforcing information in our subconscious, our reputation with ourselves. So high-performance people are very conscious of that, and they'll stop it right away and change it to something else. You never hear them saying things about themselves that are deprecatory like that. And yet, when you look at the origin of it -- again, there was a rather interesting study at Iowa. They went into the homes of typical Iowan community members with little people, with children, and the psychology grad students took a count of the number of positive or negative utterances that a parent would make in the course of the day. They averaged it out over a three-week period. In the course of one day there were four hundred and thirty-two negative utterances made to a child.

MISHLOVE: What would be an example of a negative utterance?

PULOS: "Oh, you stupid child. There you go again, you've done it again. You're such a mess."

MISHLOVE: I mean, it's not simply saying, "No, don't do that."

PULOS: No, no, no. It's, "Darn it, you've done it again."

MISHLOVE: Something that would lower the self-esteem of a child.

PULOS: Precisely. That happened an average of four hundred and thirty-two times a day, versus thirty-one positive statements a day.

MISHLOVE: And that's in your typical Iowa household.

PULOS: Middle America.

MISHLOVE: Middle America.

PULOS: So that's another aspect of it all -- that they very, very, very carefully watch their self talk. As a matter of fact, they're constantly programming positive self talk.

MISHLOVE: So it almost sounds like, if we were to take that as a generality, that maybe for every four hundred and thirty-two people with low self-esteem, you've got about thirty-two with high self-esteem.

PULOS: Possibly. There is a general factor to self- esteem, but there also are certain areas in your life in which you can have low and high self-esteem, but if you put them all together you get sort of a general factor involved. Of course there are all kinds of studies that are emerging, that people with low self-esteem are more subject to psychophysiological stress disorders, and so on. So it affects us on all levels, Jeffrey, very much so.

MISHLOVE: Do you find, in looking at high-performing individuals, that they've gone through periods of low self- esteem and then come out of that? For example, in business you hear cases like Walt Disney, who went bankrupt seven times before he was a success. Do people actually transform themselves in the process of becoming a high performer?

PULOS: Well, I think a lot of people will take models. A lot of high-performance people read biographies of people in their field, and they find out what these people think like, what they feel, what they do, and they begin emulating, and they have a kind of role model, and begin incorporating, introjecting, some of their qualities and characteristics.

MISHLOVE: This must involve a good deal of visualization abilities.

PULOS: Well, visualization is another one of the qualities, mental rehearsal. In their mind's eye they're constantly running a mental movie of what it is that they wish to achieve -- constantly. Much of my work with athletes, for instance -- I worked with a couple of Canadian swimmers, where they would visualize every single stroke of the race, and the feeling of the water, the sound of the crowd as they're going up and doing their flips, everything. As a matter of fact, they would take turns timing each other, and they would be within one second of the splits in the various laps. That's how close their visualization matched the actual performance. Of course I think everyone is aware of the sorts of things that have been done in cancer counseling using mental imagery.

MISHLOVE: Why don't we review that for a moment?

PULOS: Well, this is based on the work of Carl Simonton, a radiological oncologist, who used relaxation techniques and mental imagery to augment the chemotherapy, radiation, the regular medical treatment that people were receiving. A typical example of some of the imagery, for instance -- one woman with lung cancer would imagine herself going into her lung with a vacuum cleaner and vacuuming away the diseased tissue, and then coming in with a medicated spray. A fourteen-year-old boy with terminal leukemia went into his bloodstream dressed like the Lone Ranger, all in white, and every time he saw a leukocyte he'd pull out his six shooters and kill the leukocyte and haul away the dead leukocytes.

MISHLOVE: And these people were then successful in overcoming a disease like cancer.

PULOS: Well, with terminal patients, after five years, twenty-six percent of his population were still alive.

MISHLOVE: People who otherwise would have been --

PULOS: Would not be alive. There was an increase in the quality and quantity and longevity of life. Of course there have been a number of other studies on mental rehearsal, particularly in the sports field and in business.

MISHLOVE: Well, I suppose since the East Germans, I think it was in the Montreal Olympics, began winning all the medals, the news came out that they were working with visualization.

PULOS: Not only the East Germans. Actually it was the Russians; after the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, since they were going to have the Olympics in 1980, they wanted to set up a showpiece for the world. They split their athletes into four groups: Group A, one hundred percent physical practice, traditional; Group B, seventy-five percent physical, twenty-five percent mental; Group C, fifty-fifty; and Group D was seventy-five percent mental practice and twenty-five percent physical. Now these were all world-class athletes; they had all the skills. At the end of the Moscow Olympics and the Lake Placid Olympics, they counted the number of medals that each group had won. Group D, seventy-five percent mental, twenty-five percent physical, had won the most medals, and there was an inverse relationship.

MISHLOVE: Seventy-five percent mental, twenty-five percent physical. That was the most optimal way to prepare.

PULOS: Yes, absolutely. When I first started working with athletes in 1967, with the Canadian national volleyball team, I was the only sports psychologist, to my knowledge, in Canada; there may have been three or four in the United States. Today every single team in Canada has a sports psychologist, and their primary function is teaching them how to mentally rehearse, make mental movies, mentally preparing themselves, building up self-esteem, and so on. It's critical. And goals, again -- there's another example I wanted to give with respect to goal setting. A very good friend of mine, when he took over as chairman of the board, CEO, of a large corporation, sat down with the vice presidents and wondered what their goals or vision was for the company, and it was somewhat disjointed. So he thought, what can I do? He went out and purchased a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, and he removed the top, put the pieces all on the floor, and he said to them, "Look, this is an exercise in communication and team building. I'd like to see you work together as a team and put the pieces together." They said, "Oh, great." After about fifteen minutes, with a little bit of jostling, that sort of thing, he could see that things were getting a little testy.

MISHLOVE: So they didn't have the picture.

PULOS: No picture. Then he said, "Look, I've got the picture in the next room, but I'm going to take you in there one at a time and show you the picture, since this is an experiment in team building, in communication. The trick of the experiment was he showed them nine different box tops, so they had nine different pictures. And when they came out, of course it was absolute chaos. He finally said, "Stop. I cannot stand this," and he showed them the picture, and of course they put it together in a matter of ten or fifteen minutes. Question: how many of us are in a relationship, in a company, in a corporation, in a team, that has no idea what the big picture is?

MISHLOVE: Or have different goals.

PULOS: Different goals, different expectations.

MISHLOVE: So the key to a really successful, high-performance team is where everybody is working towards the same goal, and they all understand that goal.

PULOS: That's right, that's right. And of course looking for ways to build up self-esteem within both the corporation, the team, and individually. High-performance people are always going out of their way to build up self- esteem in their people.

MISHLOVE: Well, how do you overcome years and years of programming since childhood, if you grew up in Iowa or someplace like that, where you've been inundated with negative remarks?

PULOS: You change it the same way you learned it. You begin substituting the negative self talk, the negative images, the negative expectations, with positive ones. It's exactly the same way you learned in the first place.

MISHLOVE: And how do you do that?

PULOS: Well, you begin being aware of the kinds of things you say to yourself.

MISHLOVE: You have to monitor your thoughts.

PULOS: You know, you're affirming things to yourself, negatively or positively, all the time. Let's say if I were to try to lose weight: "I can't lose weight. It runs in the family. Diets never work for me." I would change that to: "Every day in every way I'm finding it easier and easier to meet my goal of weighing one hundred and sixty-five pounds, or whatever it may be. I'm finding it easy to lose weight. I feel good about myself as I'm looking healthier and feeling better," and so on.

MISHLOVE: What you seem to be saying -- and I hope I'm not pushing your point too far -- is that really we're all hypnotizing ourselves all the time.

PULOS: Constantly.

MISHLOVE: And hypnosis is a powerful force that we all need to learn how to use in a positive manner.

PULOS: Precisely.

MISHLOVE: There's no avoiding hypnosis, in a sense.

PULOS: Well, first of all is de-hypnotizing yourself from your old suggestions, because if you have forty-five to fifty thousand thoughts a day, that's an awful lot of subliminal kinds of input that you're putting into yourself, and that you're not aware of. We know from the research, of course, that subliminal programming is very powerful and very effective. So we're doing it to ourself. You're not aware of forty-five or fifty thousand thoughts a day, are you?

MISHLOVE: I haven't counted.

PULOS: No; it just goes, it happens, and so on. So as you begin becoming aware of them and stopping them, that's critically important. The other thing, of course, related to companies, is that there are high-self-esteem companies that really foster and build the sense of self in people, and low-self-esteem companies. A low-self-esteem company, my image for that is the pyramid, where there's power at the top, control, and the employee is there to be of service to the employer. The high-self-esteem company, the image I think of is a circle, and there instead of power they're looking for ways of empowering their employees -- sending them to seminars, increasing their training, and so on; and instead of control, influence. Have you ever tried to control and influence a child at the same time? You can't. Influence is a much more powerful motivating factor than control. And thirdly, instead of having the employee be of service to the employer, high-self-esteem companies have it just the other way around -- how can we, the company, be of service to you, the employer, to make you a better person?

MISHLOVE: It seems in today's work environment, more and more of the labor force are demanding high-self-esteem companies, because people are coming more and more to realize that they want self-actualization out of their work. It's not enough to just take a paycheck home.

PULOS: That's right. And there are other factors too. High-self-esteem people are aware, in effect, that we learn and process information in different ways -- you know, the old right-brain/left-brain hypothesis. Even though it's a metaphor, it's a useful metaphor. There was a recent article in the Harvard Business Review on left-brain planners, right-brain managers.

MISHLOVE: Left-brain being very linear --

PULOS: Linear, logical, analytical.

MISHLOVE: And right-brain being artistic --

PULOS: Being intuitive; simultaneous processing of all kinds of information. They found that the left-brain planner prefers long written memos, versus the right-brain manager who prefers this kind of contact -- looking at body language, facial expression, voice tonality, and so on. The right-brain manager is a networker; they're connected to all kinds of things going on in the community. The doors are always open. You can come in and go; the phones are ringing. Simultaneity of activity, versus the pipe-smoking, sitting-up-in-a-lofty-office type of right-brain planner, and so on and so on. So I think high-performance people realize that it's important to oscillate back and forth between two modes of consciousness depending on the task, and not look at the world through gun-barrel vision.

MISHLOVE: So they try and really live balanced lives.

PULOS: Yes. And again, finding ways of being more creative, which again is right-brain.

MISHLOVE: But what about the sense that we often have of a high-performance individual almost being compulsively neurotic, like putting in fifteen, sixteen hours a day training, or at the office? Is that not true?

PULOS: Well, that's more like a workaholic who's always looking for a ten, who's demanding perfection, when a nine is good enough. You know, excellence is OK. And that's the difference, that you're hooked into the work rather than --

MISHLOVE: You mean you don't need to be compulsive to be a high performer?

PULOS: No, not at all. As a matter of fact, a lot of compulsive workaholics always have the "better than" attitude -- in other words, how can I be better than someone else? Whereas the high-performance person is looking at the issue, "How can I be more than what I am now?" It's a subtle distinction, but an important one.

MISHLOVE: So they're really competing against themselves, rather than competing against other people.

PULOS: Precisely.

MISHLOVE: They're not driven in the same sense.


MISHLOVE: But they must have a lot of drive.

PULOS: They do. You know, there are a number of factors involved. One is the desire, Jeffrey. You've got to have that fire in your belly, the desire to want to do what you are going to do. Secondly, the expectation -- absolutely, the expectation that what you're going to do is going to work, no question about it. And thirdly, the imagination, using some of the things we talked about -- the mental rehearsal, self talk, and so on.

MISHLOVE: If you don't have that drive, what if you're basically, like many people -- and like I've been at periods in my life -- just kind of lazy, and yet you want to make something more of your life, what would you do -- set a goal to have more drive?

PULOS: Yes, absolutely. There have been times when I have found that my desire, my sort of fire in the belly, has kind of waned. So my self talk, my visualization, has been to ignite that fire, to ignite that desire. And even though it doesn't happen right away, all of a sudden, gradually, I notice things start happening, and boom! I get into it.

MISHLOVE: You know, with Tom Peters talking so much these days about a passion for excellence, in his new book, there seems to be a sense growing in the business community -- and he speaks to so many people -- that having a passion for your work is essential.

PULOS: Absolutely. But there are other factors too, Jeffrey. We keep talking about the intrapsychic kinds of factors with individuals -- you know, you can change what goes on in here. But for high-performance people it's also very important, the context in which they work, because we are in context. For example, five years ago I went to the Philippines. I've been gathering data on traditional healing methods all over the world, and I was fortunate; there were two groups of Americans seeing the same healer who happened to have a physician as an assistant, and they gave me permission to attend their meetings, observe the healings, and so on.

MISHLOVE: You're talking about the famous psychic surgeons of the Philippines.

PULOS: Well, the energy healers of the Philippines. They were evenly matched groups, and they saw the same healer -- let's say Group A, Group B. No one in Group A at the end of the two weeks got healed. Everyone in Group B had various degrees of healing.

MISHLOVE: Isn't that interesting?

PULOS: I thought, how can this be? They're seeing the same healer. And so I went back and reviewed my notes and listened to my tape recordings. There were two people in Group A, who every time someone would get off the table, they would say, "Oh, I don't know; you don't look any better to me. I don't think this stuff works. Do you think they're faking it? I don't believe in it." I called that group my psychic bleeders. Every time someone got up on the table in Group B, someone would be touching them. The moment they got off the table, they'd embrace them and say, "I love you. You look great. You're doing terrific. You're looking better than you ever looked." I call them my psychic fountains. Question: how many of us are in a context with psychic bleeders because it bleeds off the energy, bleeds off the enthusiasm, and depotentiates a lot of things from happening?

MISHLOVE: A certain cynicism.

PULOS: In a way. And again, high-performance people avoid bleeders, and they look for nourishing rather than toxic kinds of people.

MISHLOVE: And I suppose it's because they have enough self-esteem, where they say, "I deserve better than this."

PULOS: Precisely, precisely, and they attract high-self-esteem people. I guess some people say, "Well, what do you mean by high self-esteem? How does that work in a relationship, let's say?"


PULOS: I'll never forget, I was practicing one time, and I was treating this man for alcoholism, and he gave up drinking after several months. Immediately his wife divorced him and promptly married another alcoholic, because her self-esteem was such to be in fact in the role of a Red Cross nurse, and so on. And he immediately saw; once his self-esteem went up, he attracted someone of like self- esteem. That happens, I think, in corporations, individually, teams, and so on.

MISHLOVE: Well, I think the exciting thing about what you're saying, Lee, is that people can, by studying the characteristics of high-performing individuals, actually learn to change their lives, to move more in that direction.

PULOS: Absolutely. I think that's critical -- to have a model, hero, ego idea, whatever you want to call it.

MISHLOVE: And one of the key elements that you've mentioned -- I know we've covered a few; there have been goal setting, and visualization, and having a drive.

PULOS: Well, goal setting, mental rehearsal, watching your self talk, being able to use both sides of the brain.

MISHLOVE: Learning how to work with affirmations.

PULOS: Affirmations, and so on. Also they're very health conscious, and very careful of the sources of stress in their life. We know, of course, there are physical sources of stress or nutritional sources of stress, and psychological. And they're very careful in the way that they allow those to impinge on their everyday life.

MISHLOVE: Well, Dr. Lee Pulos, it's been a real pleasure having you with me today. I think you exemplify in your own life the qualities of a high-performance individual.

PULOS: Thank you very much, Jeffrey.

MISHLOVE: Thank you very much for being with me.


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