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4 Methods To Find A Superstar Mentor – How To Talk to Nobelprize Winners, Presidents and CEOs

4 Methods To Find A Superstar Mentor – How To Talk to Nobelprize Winners, Presidents and CEOs

How do you talk to a Nobelprize winners like Daniel Kahneman, write emails with presidents, share a pizza with Martin Seligman or interview Paul Ekman and discuss coaching techniques with Europe’s best-paid coach? In this article I show you my favorite techniques to get in touch, hangout and learn from the superstars in your field.

Early on in life I learned that if you want to become really good at something, you have to learn from the best. But “the best” are often hard to reach, super expensive and super busy. So you need to develop some methods to get in touch with them and eventually learn from them. Here are my four favorite and extensively field-tested approaches:

1. The Quick-and-Dirty

At least twice a week I reach out to ueber-successful entrepreneurs, famous psychologists and other possible superstar mentors. Nowadays you can find almost everybody’s email address somewhere in the web. So sending your role-model a short email is an easy way to start an interaction.

Most of the time I use exactly the same email structure for all approaches and simply adapt it to the specific person. The mail should be as short as possible, concise and straight-to-the point.

This my typical 4 sentences email:

Dear Prof. Kaslow,

My name is Till and I’m a 22-year old psychology student (entrepreneur, TEDx speaker, author, blogger – whatever fits the occasion). I got asked to give a talk at the European Congress of Psychology, where I will give a talk on the topic of self-education (the reason why I am writing).

Since you are one of the most accomplished psychologists in the world right now, president of the APA, editor of journals, board member and have numerous other responsibilities (I show that I know who she is and what she is doing; and I flatter her), I have one quick question for you.

How important is it to have a good mentor? (a small, easy to answer question)

Respectfully yours,
Till

75% of the people actually answer. Though their answer is often a one-liner like “A mentor is important, but not essential”. The magic lies in keeping the conversation going and creating a stimulating interaction, which is not an easy task.

Using this structure I reached out and got answers from Nobel-Prize Winners, successful CEOs, MIT-professors, star psychologists and presidents of organizations. It is easy, quick and you have a huge success rate, but the hard part is to build a relationship from there.

2. Creativity & Courage

The best thing you can do is to make a possible mentor actually interested in you. Obviously this is not an easy task but it can be a lot of fun and the benefits are definitely worth the struggle. Also, the only limits you have are your own creativity and courage.

Simply being creative and courageous is sometimes enough to catch the attention of a possible mentor. Your creative act can be completely unrelated to your mentor’s profession or your field of interest. A great example is Jerome Jarre. I met the vine guy at a TEDx event two years ago. One of his strategies to connect with business leaders, was to walk up to, for example, the CFO of Facebook and ask him to play rock, paper, scissors with him. If he wins he gets a meeting with him. This is completely unrelated to their profession but it is definitely creative.

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Another method is to display your skill in a creative way. I did this when I tried to contact Roman Braun, the best-paid coach in Europe. I knew he worked with clinical hypnosis. So after a couple of failed attempts to get his attention I wrote him a letter that was actually a hypnotic trance induction. The letter read like this:

“…and while your eyes glide over the lines, you can notice how your breath goes in and out completely unconsciously and pleasantly relaxing and becoming aware of what will only put you in the nice and sound state of enjoyable comfort….”

This continued over the next 6-pages. After ignoring my prior mails he actually answered to this letter and I got a 3,500 € scholarship for his next seminar.

So summon all your creative spirits and just go out there and try it.

 

3. For the Long Haul aka Hustle

Let’s face it, some of the people I contacted charge up to 1,500$  per hour and are continuously surrounded by some of the smartest and most creative minds of our planet. So I could be as creative as I want and it still took me nowhere and I failed to make an impression on the person. But there is one-method that is almost fool-proof. When I started reaching out to people I focused extensively on this method and it worked almost every time. I recently found out that Charlie Hoehn actually mastered this technique to incredible high degree.

What I would do is, I would approach famous therapists or coaches and tell them I wanted to attend their workshops but I don’t have the money, still I am incredibly motivated and willing to work off the costs. So basically I offered them free work (as Charlie Hoehn would call it).

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Almost every single time the person agreed and they let me work for them. So I did stuff like selling their books, doing marketing, promoting their workshops, working in their office and other small tasks. In return I would get a spot in their workshops.

But here is the important thing: Not just do the job but actually dazzle them with your effort. One time a well-known German therapist was kind of skeptical and told me I should prove how motivated I am. To prove it I should sell some of his books over the next month. Within the next 24 hours I sold almost all of them. He was so intrigued by my effort that he invited me over, let me attend his seminar and even gave me a real job. Half-a-year later he took it a step further and I was travelling through whole Germany giving talks in his name in front of hundreds of people at the age of 19.

Everybody loves good work and if it is for free they love it even more. Offer them a clear idea of what you can do for them and then exceed their expectations. Free work is your foot in the door and then you can easily work your way up.

 

4. Leveraging existing structures

All of the prior methods rely on your ability to contact stars of a field and enchant them one way or the other. It also means that you need to work your way up all by yourself. This can take time and a lot of effort, but it creates a stronger bond and a solid mentor-mentee relationship. By using existing structures you can meet the luminary of your field with less effort. However, when you do this it is very important to create a situation where you are not just a fan but rather a colleague or somebody else with a certain status or position.

My two favorite ways to easily meet and talk to an important person at almost equal footing is by volunteering at conferences or interviewing them.

When you volunteer at a conference always try to be responsible for the speakers. This way you get a lot of opportunities to interact with your hero on a more personal basis.

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The other method is to ask a big magazine if they are interested in an interview with a certain person. Nowadays everybody is looking for quality content so they are very likely to say yes. Then just reach out to the person and interview him. This is a great way to have a chat and even build some sort of connection. (Tim Ferriss actually gave me this idea to approach stars like this)

Two recent examples of how I did it:

Two weeks ago I was in Berlin at the International Positive Psychology Congress where I worked as a translator for the German speakers. How did I get this chance? I just wrote the organizer an email and hustled for a spot in the team. I never did translation work before. Being part of the team I got the chance to go to lunch with guys like Martin Seligman and Robert Biswas-Diener or chat casually with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who are the stars at the positive psychology sky

The chance to talk to Paul Ekman came up by interviewing him for lifehack. So I used the prestige and structure of the lifehack magazine to talk to one of the greatest psychologists of our time and ask him a bunch of questions.

I continuously hone my skills in finding mentors and getting in touch with important persons, because I noticed how it contributed to my own development. I think there is hardly anything more valuable than directly learning from the greatest minds of our time. So go out and reach for the stars. Literally.

Featured photo credit: seeveeaar via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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