People say that the magic happens when we step out of our comfort zone. You’ve done it once or twice, and it clearly works. But what if you could step out of your comfort zone daily? Award-winning college professor Kevin Corcoran Jr. tells us how in his stunning new book, “Where the Magic Happens! The Science & Stories Behind Challenging Your Comfort Zone”. Blending the latest research, personal interviews and his own anecdotal experiences, Corcoran reveals how you can gain lasting confidence through confronting challenges big and small.
Kevin Corcoran Jr. holds an M.A. in Communication, teaches for National University, San Diego State University, and recently published his first book. With topics ranging from communication and leadership to mindfulness and teamwork, Kevin has worked closely with Apple, Sony, TEDx, Red Bull, Coldwell Banker, American Red Cross, and various startups in Southern California.
Our guest on The Successful Pitch is Kevin Corcoran, who is the author of Where The Magic Happens! He has some great tips about curiosity, comfort zones, kindness and secrets into the science behind yes. He said, “Yes is all about having an open mind and figuring out what your intentional choice is in life. Saying no to new things can keep you in your comfort zone. If you want to get into the place where magic happens, you have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone.” He has a great story about doing that in the cold waters of Iceland. Enjoy the episode.
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Where The Magic Happens With Kevin Corcoran Jr.
I have as my guest, Kevin Corcoran, Jr., who is an award-winning college professor and a professional speaker. Over the years he has worked closely with Apple, Sony, gave a TEDx Talk that I saw that I highly recommend, Red Bull, Coldwell Banker, American Red Cross, and several other startups. He owns an MA in Communication and teaches for the National University in San Diego State. When he’s not teaching, he’s speaking or writing. You’ll find him walking barefoot, wearing swim trunks and he lives life as an adventurer. Kevin, welcome to the show.
Thanks, John. I’m so happy to be on.
You’re the author of this wonderful new book called Where The Magic Happens!: The Science And Stories Behind Challenging Your Comfort Zone. I’m a big believer that there’s no such thing as a comfort zone anymore with change happening fast. I loved this book and want to take a deep dive into it. Before we get to the book, would you mind taking us back to your own story of origin as far back as you want? You can go back before college, in college. How did that you wanted to start being passionate about communication?
For me, it started a long time ago during a play in third grade. We were supposed to do a play on dinosaurs and I was given a monologue because the teacher thought that I was a pretty competent young child. I stood on stage before the curtain opens and I remember being absolutely terrified to the point where I couldn’t do it. As a third grader, you don’t have resilience yet. I ran off the stage, ended up collapsing, laying on my side, throwing up, and crying. That stuck with me for longer than I would’ve ever realized. In the moment I was traumatized. It was something terrible. As I progressed and fast forward to different parts of my life, it constantly was something that was holding me back, this idea of public speaking or basically just being public, being in front of people, being in front of an audience.
When I became a musician and I wanted to play live music, that was obviously a huge hurdle and definitely an obstacle from the desire that I had. I remember constantly being uncomfortable and hating it. It wasn’t until I finally, as a musician, pushed myself to the other extreme of it by doing things on stage that I never thought I could do. At one point I pushed it a little too far extreme and I stepped out on the front of the stage and I put my foot on someone’s head. I played a guitar riff while I was basically floating on the audience. It took doing that for me to realize that there was nothing to worry about all along except for having the resilience and having the courage to go into that unfamiliar space. How I knew I had an interest in communication is that I started to crave and I started to desire that discomfort as a thrill. I started to become an adrenaline junkie for things like jumping off cliffs into water or going skydiving or something like that, but that same rush kept coming when I was public speaking or when I was in front of people. I reframed how I looked at it. Instead of it being something to hold me back or something that I’d never be able to do, I saw it as a challenge for me to learn things about myself that I never thought I could do and to find out what’s truly possible despite our mindset of limitations.
How did you go from being a musician to being a college professor of communication?
I played music and I ended up playing music professionally at one point but never as a full-time career. I worked in the tech industry for a number of years with companies like Apple and Linux Foundation. At one point I remember I was working at a conference and I used to travel the country for these companies. I would basically work on the technology aspect behind big conferences. I remember at one point I was laying cable on the floor and I was taping it and that was my job, taping cable to the floor so that people wouldn’t trip over it and setting up wireless internet networks for the audiences. At one point one of my jobs was to film all of the speakers at a conference and then run a remote workstation. At any point I had eight to sixteen cameras in a bunch of different rooms and I was running it all remotely. I remember watching the videos and thinking to myself, “I want to be up there, I don’t want to be back here.” It was that moment that I decided, “I’m going to go to grad school and I’m going to get a higher education in communication so that I can be the person on the stage as opposed to the person behind the scenes.”
You literally started from the ground up with your taping down cords.
I taped cable to the floor. We use the term tech support, but really what I did during that time is I sat out front of the rooms with a little walkie-talkie. Basically, if a power strip went out, I had to go into the room, flip the little switch and turn the power surge back on. That was my glorified position as a tech industry expert. I knew I wanted to be on this stage, didn’t know how to get there, and decided that grad school would be a good option. With a Master’s in Communication, I figured they would teach us practical communication skills that I could then transfer straight into consulting and straight onto the stage. What ended up happening is as a result of that degree, I had a chance to teach. The first day teaching I was like, “This is it, this is great.” Remove the idea of the stage and it’s still the same thing. I was standing in front of a group of people having a chance to influence and I loved it. Hands down, teaching is my favorite thing in the world. I see training, I see speaking and I see teaching as all brothers and sisters to the same family.
You talk about this in your book Where the Magic Happens! about what it was like to give a TEDx talk. It’s a different talk than to lecture to a class, isn’t it?
Yes, absolutely. It’s very different.
Tell us the story of what it felt like even with all your training and preparation to get on that stage.
At the point that I gave the TED Talk, I was a public speaking teacher for already three or four years. I had spoken professionally, been paid to speak, and gone through all different kinds of public speaking coaching and public speaking training courses. As much as I had experience, there was nothing that could compare to the gravity of something like a TED Talk. One of the things I do before any talk that I give is I like to walk around and put headphones in. I forget that our phones can track our steps and later on when I looked at my phone and I saw the health activity app, I had actually paced four miles before I gave a talk.
[Tweet “Saying no to new things keeps you in your comfort zone.”]
The nerves were high, the energy was high, the adrenaline was high. I walked around, I paced, I listened to music, I practiced breathing exercises, I did everything I could. The moment when I was behind the stage and the speaker before me was getting to their final sentences, you can always tell when someone’s ending and I could tell they were getting to their closure, in that moment it was like the most terrifying and most exciting experience I’ve ever had. That’s the thing; the whole point of the book that I wrote Where the Magic Happens! is the idea that the most terrifying things and the most exciting things aren’t that different from each other except for how we frame it. It’s all about the high levels of adrenaline and the high levels of chemicals that are going on in the body. I recognized that and instead of having fear and running away like I did in third grade, I saw it as an opportunity.
When I started to look at that way, it was an amazing experience to be living it right then, right there. I remember looking at the lights and trying to take in as much of my senses as I could. Even with that, it was still way too stimulating. There was way too much going on to take it all in. It felt like a rush. That’s the rush that I chase as a speaker because as a child, the little things bring us rushes. The first time that we talked to someone we’re attracted to, that brings a huge rush, or the moment when we try to get a phone number. All those different situations bring us that state of pure excitement, unfiltered, uncensored excitement. It was that moment before the TED Talk where I felt that. That’s the thing that I chase. I ran up onto the stage and I was super excited and I know right off the bat I was talking a little too fast. I checked in, I slowed down a little bit.
You only get one shot. It’s like live TV. You don’t get to say, “Let me start over again,” at a TEDx Talk. You’re talking too fast, you’re talking too fast.
With a TED Talk, the scariest part was the idea that everything I was going to be doing was going to be filmed and then broadcast to an unlimited audience. I wasn’t sure how many audience members I would have, but the potential is that it could go viral and there could be millions of people. That’s pretty scary place to be. I remember checking in and being like, “You’re going too fast, slow it down a little bit.” Another difference about TED Talks versus regular speeches is that there’s a little red carpet that you have to stay on. In trainings or in the classroom, I’m used to being able to run around the room, jump up on the tables, use the entire stage, and use the entire room. I was excited but there was nowhere for me to go, so I went up and down a lot. If you watch the video, you’ll see me bending my knees a lot. That’s honestly pure excitement. It’s my way of still showing animation to the audience even though I was limited with a side by side movement.
I have to say the weirdest part for me or the strangest part was that you couldn’t see the audience. The lights were so bright because the whole point of the TED Talk is for the audience to see you very well and then mostly for the video to be made. For that to happen, the lights have to be really bright. I remember the lights were shining in my eyes. I looked out to the audience and I couldn’t see anybody. I’m used to eye contact, used to small group trainings, used to classrooms where I can interact and see people. It was a very one to many approach that I wasn’t used to, but it was exhilarating. It was a blast and it was unforgettable. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
You talk about in your book that there is that space between our comfort zone and where the magic happens. It sounds like you’re almost like a tornado chaser. You’re addicted. You love the adrenaline. One of the things in your book that I do to get out of our comfort zones is take a cold shower. I started hearing people talk about this as a way to reframe and reset your mind of, “I’m not constantly seeking comfort. I’m purposely seeking getting out of my comfort zone,” in this case, a cold shower. What I tell myself is I can tolerate something that’s not comfortable. I feel exhilarated after the cold shower, but every time you have to push yourself to do it. Can you talk a little bit about that comfort zone and magic zone?
The funniest part is where I discovered the entire idea about cold showers or cold water are really about comfort challenges. I was sitting in a hostel in Iceland during a snow storm. It was one of the coldest places I had ever been. It was this remote hostel that wasn’t well-insulated. The heater didn’t work that well. I was bundled up in all my snowboarding clothes, my big snow jacket. I was bundled up and I remember I was writing. Before I even had the book idea, this is years ago, I was writing and having a good time. I looked out the window and I swear to you, I saw two elderly women, I would have to guess somewhere in their 70s or 80s. They were in their swimsuits with swim caps on and they were walking down this little boat launch. They walked down it, they got into the water and they started swimming.
It blew my mind. I was watching as what I thought would be the worst thing you could possibly do. These two women looked completely at peace. They looked happy, they looked content, they looked satisfied, they don’t look excited. It wasn’t a rush for them. That was something they did. I found out later that every single day at the same time, these two women meet up together and then went for their daily swim. They do it all year, whether they’re sick, whether they’re healthy, whether it’s cold, whether it’s hot. I found out also later that they do it as a form of reminding themselves that the earth, world, and the universe is bigger than them. Whether it’s extreme or not, depending on the season, depending on the weather, they are just humans that are temporary living on this earth in this universe.
For me, that mindset helps let go of the need to try and control everything all the time. A lot of people who are in startups as a business, a lot of us can fall into this trap of control freak. “I need to control everything and things have to happen in my timeframe, and the outcome has to happen the way I need it to happen.” When you get out of that mindset and if you jolt yourself by jumping into cold shower, a cold ocean or whatever it is, you realize, “There are a lot of things I don’t control and it’s not always about me.” Would that be an accurate summary of what you said?
Yes, absolutely. That’s a lesson that I learned from surfing. The Iceland story involves the ocean as well. I grew up pretty close to the ocean. I was complaining about getting held under water and I was like, “I don’t like to be held under water. It feels I’m dying or stuff.” He looked at me and he was like, “Kev, think about it as a meditation,” and I was like, “You’re crazy. What do you mean? Meditating when you’re about to die? That doesn’t make any sense. You’re held under water and you’re peaceful?” He’s like, “Just try it.”
It took me awhile to get to the point where I understood what he was saying. After a couple of times, when I would fall and be held under water, I started to let go. It’s exactly what you’re talking about. I let go of the control. I let go of trying to fix things. I let go of trying to control my environment. Instead I let go, and I was like, “Cool. The ocean is bigger than me. The earth is bigger than me. The environment, the weather, everything in life is bigger than me and I’m going to let whatever happens happen.” In that peaceful place, I was able to make responsive choices about what I would do while I was underwater. It was an easy choice then to simply swim up to the surface and then breathe versus when I would panic and I would flail my arms. Sometimes I’d end up further away from the surface and deeper because I was in a state of trying to control everything and I was confused, I was lost, I was flailing, and not making sense of the actual situation. That’s true of a lot of startups and a lot of big businesses.
As leaders, as managers, and as thought influencers, we try to control the market. We try to control consumers. We try to control the outcome of certain things. If you look at an awesome principle called Chaos Theory, the idea is when we believe and have faith in the chaos of things, then we find a natural state of calm among that chaos. I love that. I live by that and the ocean taught me that in a lot of ways just like it taught those Icelandic women.
[Tweet “Yes is about having an open mind.”]
I want to tap into what you have in your book here about the science behind yes. I give a keynote talk myself on getting to yes through storytelling for brands who have sales teams, so I am all about getting to yes. Please expand upon what you wrote about the science behind yes.
There’s so much interesting content around the word yes, especially with popular movies like Yes Man. There was a recent book, Year Of Yes. There’s a lot of content surrounding this idea of yes. What yes is, is having an open mind. If you break it down, it’s not truly about the word yes, it’s about the outcomes that it brings versus no. I do want to clarify that it’s not even about the word yes or no, it’s about our intentional choices in the moment. The reason I encourage people to say yes more often is because the majority of people tend to say no in order to remain in their familiar or their comfort spaces.
Saying no keeps us in our comfort zone. Is that accurate?
Most of the time, yes. We say no, it’s a natural limiting word because if the request is anything new or different and we say no, then it’s safe. We’re staying where we are, we’re staying in a familiar zone, we’re staying in the comfort space. We’re keeping what we know to be, to be. We’re not expanding ourselves. We’re not opening ourselves up to change.
That’ll be the tweet, saying no to new things can keep you in your comfort zone. Of course anytime you’re asking someone to hire you, to buy something, to invest, you’re asking someone to get out of their comfort zone because they haven’t done it before, which is great. Obviously, changing behavior is what we people are requesting when you’re trying to sell them something.
I want to point out as well that saying no can also take you out of your comfort zone because some people are yes people. They passively say yes because they take on too much and they’re passive so they let a lot of things pile up and stack up and people are like, “Can you do this?” You’re like, “Yes, I can do that.” “Can you do this?” “Yes, I can do that.” “Can you do this project?” “Yes, I’ll do it.” For those situations, no would be the word that would get you out of the comfort zone.
If someone invites you to a party and you go to every party you ever been invited to because you don’t want to offend anybody, saying no to a party invitation could be a big thing out of your comfort zone.
That’s where my TED Talk and the chapter in the book about yes. It’s framed around the word yes because most people say no too often. However, I do make that distinction that the whole talk, the whole chapter; it’s not just about one word. It’s about momentary decisions and acting out of a place of intention as opposed to a place of expectation or a place of familiarity. I did a yes challenge where for a month I said yes to everything and it was wild. It was a captivating, it was fascinating but it was also stressful and it was tiring.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve said yes to during that month?
The craziest thing that I said yes to was going into the ocean without any clothes on at night while it was cold out and then staying in for a total of ten minutes. The ocean is scary at night in itself and then doing it when it’s cold out and then without clothes on, for me that was a huge challenge. I was so uncomfortable on many different levels, but someone found out and they didn’t tell me this until later. Someone found out I was doing the yes challenge. They’re like, “What if you did this?” I was like, “I’ll do it.”
I want to talk about the science behind kindness. That’s such an important philosophy part of the culture and the way we talk to ourselves. What have you found is the science behind kindness?
Kindness is fascinating for so many reasons. The other word that gets used for it is compassion, having compassion for other people, doing kind acts. There’s a ton of research that suggests that doing acts of kindness, whether they’re random or whether they’re intentional, can increase your perception of life satisfaction as well as increase your reporting of gratitude for everyday life or for small things. People who do acts of kindness tend to report higher levels of gratitude. It makes sense, but it’s so interesting because a lot of us are trying to figure out how do we be more grateful for the things we do have? Especially in startups, a lot of times we have more flexible time. We can be at the office when we want to be at the office, we can be autonomous, we can work on one thing one day, work on another thing another day. We know that it’s great, but how do we be more grateful?
One of the ways to do that is to start to see compassion toward other people and start to seek acts of kindness. The most fascinating part of the research that I found was the positive side of natural disasters. I know it sounds like a headline that belongs in a newspaper, but the positive side of natural disasters is that it brings out the genuine human goodness in people, it brings out acts of compassion and acts of kindness. If you look at the greatest disasters that have happened in history, you also see upticks, spikes, and peaks in people reporting generosity, kind behaviors, compassion, and empathy from other people. During a hurricane, the people who did have power, they opened up their front door, put a sign out and said, “Come use my house, come in.”
He let strangers into their house and he ended up having 30 people in his house all wired up to his electricity because he happened to have electricity while no one else did. I love that there’s this inherent part of being human that is compassionate. One of my favorite things that I learned from, it’s a friend and mentor of mine who started a business all about compassion and compassion cultivation. She told me that we are wired for compassion from the moment we’re born. I was like, “Explain that.” She was like, “Humans are one of the few species where when a baby is born, it literally takes a group of people being compassionate toward the baby to keep the baby alive.” A mother can’t pop out a baby, leave, and the baby has to be self-sufficient. It takes a number of people giving to the baby to be able to have the baby survive it. She goes on to talk a lot about how we’re basically hard wired for compassion and I love that idea.
You are all those things. You are kind, you’re curious, you are out of your comfort zone and you’re living a magical life for anyone who gets to hear you speak or anyone fortunate enough to be in your classroom. The book again is Where The Magic Happens!, the author, Kevin Corcoran, Jr. Kevin, how else can people follow you on social media and your website and all that good stuff?
My website is probably the best place for people to start, KevinCorcoranJr.com.
[Tweet “Doing acts of kindness, whether they’re random or whether they’re intentional, can increase your perception of life satisfaction”]
Any last thoughts or words you want to leave us with?
I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to be on your show. You complimented me here at the end and I was going to compliment you. I wanted to say that through your podcasts, through your book and through your work, I feel a genuine sense of authenticity and I love that. In an industry that’s full of professional development books and people trying to be something that they’re not, I feel that you truly are who you are and I’m thankful for that.
That’s a great compliment. I love when people see that I’m being real and authentic because that’s how we connect to other people. Literally, into me I see is the definition behind intimacy. Thank you, Kevin. Thanks for being a great guest.
I love it. Thank you so much
- Kevin Corcoran, Jr.
- Where The Magic Happens!: The Science And Stories Behind Challenging Your Comfort Zone
- Kevin Corcoran Jr.’s TEDx Talk
- Year Of Yes
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