More than 250 business professionals gathered to hear Dan Harris,Co-Anchor for Nightline and the Weekend Edition of Good Morning America present, “The Inside Story of a TV Anchor and How I Became 10% Happier” at the Chamber’s Special Leadership Forum held on October 29 at the Holiday Inn Virginia Beach-Norfolk Hotel & Conference Center.
Dan Harris is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestselling 10% HAPPIER: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works—A True Story, published by !T Books/HarperCollins. His book accounts how with the help of various health professionals, religious leaders, self-help gurus and news industry mentors, he was able to find the one factor to turn his life around. Harris also reminisces on former news he has covered in his career and varied assignments he has reported on; a mini chronicle of his career at ABC News.
“The story begins with me having a panic attack on live television in 2004 on a little show called Good Morning America…5.01 million people were watching - no big deal,” said Harris, “In a weird way, it ultimately led to a huge improvement in my life.”
Harris arrived at ABC News when he was 28 years old. Soon after he began working at ABC News, 9/11 occurred and he volunteered to go overseas to cover whatever happened next. Over the next few years he spent a lot of time in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Israel. After returning home from a long trip to Iraq in 2003, he admitted feeling depressed.
Harris confessed, “I started to self- medicate with recreational drugs cocaine and ecstasy. Before you get too worried, it wasn’t like the ‘Wolf of Wall Street,’ I wasn’t doing them every day, and definitely not on air, I was stupid, but not that stupid.”
After his panic attack Harris went to a doctor who was an expert in panic and he was asked a series of questions to try to get to the root of the problem. One of the questions was ‘do you do drugs’? The doctor explained that even though Harris wasn’t doing them every day, it was enough to raise the level of adrenaline in his brain and pry him to have this panic attack. In that moment, Harris made two changes in his life; he quit doing drugs and agreed to go see a shrink regularly and indefinitely.
Harris was assigned to cover faith and spirituality for ABC News and a colleague recommended Harris read a book by author Eckhart Tolle, a mega selling self-help guru. According to Tolle, “We all have a voice in our heads, our inner narrator. The thing that chases you out of bed in the morning and is yammering at you all day long and has you constantly wanting stuff, judging other people harshly, judging yourself, constantly thinking of your past or your future or the detriment of what is happening right now.”
Harris didn’t see the practical, actionable advice in the book to dealing with the voice in the head so he interviewed the author. Harris recalled Tolle stating, “take one conscious breath” and Harris, at first, did not comprehend what he meant.
“It was like he pointed out that my hair was on fire but refused to give me a fire extinguisher,” said Harris.
Not knowing what else to do, he threw himself into the world of self-help and discovered the way to deal with that voice in your head is to mediate. He found there has been an explosion of scientific research into meditation to include a long list of health benefits for meditation: lowering your blood pressure, boosting your immune system, reducing the stress hormone cortisol, and even helping with seemingly unrelated things like irritable bowel syndrome and psoriasis.
He also noted about a study conducted by neuroscientists in 2010 at Harvard. Researchers took a group of people who had never meditated before, scanned their brains and then had them do short daily doses of meditation a couple minutes a day for eight weeks. At completion, they scanned their brains again. They found that the parts of their brains associated with self-awareness and compassion grew, and the area of the brain associated with stress, shrank.
Harris began to discover that meditation is a very simple brain exercise that can work for anyone. “The whole game is just to notice when your mind is wandering and to come back to your breath, over and over and over...And when you do that, it is a bicep curl for your brain.” said Harris.
After few weeks Harris noticed three main benefits, it improved his ability to focus, be calm and helped him to develop mindfulness practices. “The proposition here is not that you meditate and become some sort of lifeless non-judgmental blob,” said Harris. “The idea is that you develop the ability to respond wisely to things instead of reacting blindly.”
Meditation is being adopted at many successful corporations including Google, Twitter, General Mills and athletes such as the Seattle Seahawks, winners of the 2014 Super Bowl, have a meditation coach. Even entertainers, including the lead singer of Weezer, Katy Perry and 50 cent, are trying it. However, perhaps the most compellingly and relevant, the U.S. Army and U.S. Marines are spending millions of dollars to test whether meditation can make troops more effective in the fields and more resilient when they return home.
Harris ended his presentation by stating that, “Meditation is the next big health revolution. It’s not going to solve all your problems. Despite what they’ll tell you in the self-help world there is nothing that is going to be a silver bullet for all your problems. I’ve been doing it [meditation] for five years now and I am still the same extremely ambitious, extremely hardworking guy that I was when I was 28 years old. Except now I have learned how to draw the line better between what I call constructive anguish and useless rumination. If I could leave you with anything: it is to give this thing [meditation] a shot. Five to ten minutes a day is enough. At the core of this, is a radical, empowering and liberating notion. Happiness does not depend on external factors, like the quality of your childhood or the quantity of your pay check, not that those thing aren’t important. Happiness is actually a skill that you can practice, just the way you can practice building your bicep in the gym. So here is my tagline: ‘If it can work for a fidgety, skeptical newsman it can work for you!’
Harris opened the floor to questions and comments.
Jocelyn Ricasa M.D with Bon Secours Medical Associates at Virginia Beach asked, “In your book you talk about this skepticism you have when you want to approach people like Deepak Chopra etc… What do you think of the irony of you being up there being the person standing at the podium, what does that feel like to you?”
“Oh it’s really weird”, Harris responded, “but here’s the difference, I don’t offer myself up as some avatar of affection, I’m a flawed guy and I have made no qualms about it…I think talking about perfection is counterproductive. All of us know we can’t achieve that, so what I’m saying is that I’m one of you and I’ve just found something that you can do to”.
When asked to define the term ‘Metta’ from his book, Harris defined it as ‘a Buddhist term for loving kindness or compassion.’ He stated, “Happiness is a skill; you can sit down and train your mind to be happier, to be more resilient. It turns out that compassion and kindness are skills.”
Harris concluded with the remark, “The root of this panic attack was something we all share, especially if we are associated with a Chamber of Commerce, which is the desire to be great at what we do.”
Harris is co-anchor of ABC News’ Nightline and also co-anchor for the weekend edition of Good Morning America. Before that, he was the anchor of the Sunday edition of World News. He regularly contributes stories on ABC for such shows as 20/20, World News with Diane Sawyer, and GMA. Harris has reported from all over the planet, covering wars in Afghanistan, Israel/Palestine, and Iraq; and produced investigative reports in Haiti, Cambodia, and the Congo. He has been at ABC News for 13 years, receiving Murrow and Emmy awards for his reporting. Prior to joining ABC, he was in local news in Boston and Maine. He grew up outside of Boston and currently lives with his wife, Bianca, in New York City.
The Hampton Roads Chamber is proud to present the Professional Women’s Leadership Luncheon Series to provide its members and guests with insight and access to nationally-known speakers. Join us on February 5 for Courtney Lynch, founder of Lead Star and consultant. Lynch will discuss her expertise as a leader, scholar and development professional.
Thank you to sponsors: Bon Secours Virginia Health System (Presenting) and Luncheon SponsorsCox Communications, Union First Market Bank, Virginia Eye Consultants, and WTKR NewsChannel 3 and thanks to Southwest Airlines, the official airline of the Professional Women’s Leadership Luncheon Series.