Thrill-Seeking Focus Euphoria and Calm w/ Author Dr. Kenneth Carter
Dr. Kenneth Carter is a Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology at Oxford College of Emory University. He has published in both academic and lay publications, translating psychology research into engaging everyday language. His articles have been published in magazines such as Psychology Today and Women’s Health, and he has appeared on news programs such as NPR’s: ShortWave and NBC’s Today show. The psychology of thrill-seeking is the current focus of Dr. Carter’s research. He has delivered a TEDx talk on thrill-seekers and presented on the subject in March 2020 at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. His most recent book is Buzz!: Inside the Minds of Thrill-Seekers, Daredevils, and Adrenaline Junkies (Cambridge University Press). When not teaching, speaking, or writing, Dr. Carter prefers reading and relaxing on the beach to wingsuit flying or BASE jumping. Today we’re talking about it all, well, all that we can get to in our time today.
***CORONA VIRUS EDITION also EPISODE 200!!!***
Hey guys, Peter Shankman here with a very special episode of Faster Than Normal. Welcome to episode number 200! For the past four and a half, almost five years we have been changing the world and showing people that ADHD and all forms of neurodiversity are in fact a gift, not a curse. I hope that over these past several years we’ve helped you understand yourself, helped you understand your children, your coworkers, your spouses, your lovers, your friends, and helped you realize that having ADHD doesn’t mean that you’re broken. It actually means you’re gifted! I am thrilled for episode 200 as we welcome one of my heroes, who has just now learned that he’s one of my heroes, Dr. Ken Carter. Thank you so much to every single one of you who has participated, and listened throughout these 200 episodes. I could not have done this without you and I am honored every single time I get to do this!
In this episode Peter & Dr. Carter discuss:
1:20- Intro and welcome Dr. Ken Carter!
3:30- Let’s talk about the concept of risk taking and what you’ve learned.
5:50- On thrill-seekers versus high risk takers
6:20- Peter about his first solo skydive
8:15- On euphoria followed often by sustained calmness.
11:20- Can you talk about the proximity connection between thrill-seekers and addictive personality?
13:23- In the research you’ve done, do you see that correlation between thrill seekers and the people who sort of have to be more aware of their personalities?
14:24- On type “T-positive” and type “T-negative” thrill-seekers
17:30- Careers and on getting a high via a entrepreneurship or becoming a first responder
19:40- What do you say to a parent who’s been handed a pamphlet right after their child has been diagnosed with ADHD, ADD or otherwise neurodiverse?
21:52- How can people find you? Website at www.DrKenCarter.com. email: kennethCarter@emory.edu @DrKenCarter on: Twitter INSTA @DrKennethCarter on Facebook and you can find his book “Buzz!: Inside the Minds of Thrill-Seekers, Daredevils, and Adrenaline Junkies” here!
22:38- Thank you Dr. Carter! And thank YOU for subscribing, reviewing and listening. Your reviews are working! Even if you’ve reviewed us before, would you please write even a short one for this episode? Each review that you post helps to ensure that word will continue to spread, and that we will all be able to reach & help more people! You can always reach me via firstname.lastname@example.org or @petershankman on all of the socials. You can also find us at @FasterThanNormal on all of the socials.
STAY HEALTHY – STAY SAFE – PLEASE WEAR YOUR MASK.. until next time!
23:33- Faster Than Normal Podcast info & credits
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We have a new sister video cast called 20MinutesInLockdown! A video podcast devoted to learning fascinating lessons from interesting humans all around the world, all in 20 minutes or less! 20 Minutes in Lockdown was born in early April of 2020, when we were in fact, in lockdown, and couldn’t do much of anything. Realizing that more than ever, people could benefit from learning from people outside of their comfort zone – people with interesting stories to tell, people with good advice, people with useful ideas that could help improve lives, we started hosting short Facebook video interviews, and we grew from there. (Plus, you can actually see my hair colors change before your very eyes!) Check it out: www.20MinutesInLockdown.com
Hey guys, Peter Shankman here with a very special episode of Faster Than Normal. Welcome to episode number 200! For the past four, four and a half, almost five years we have been changing the world and showing people that ADHD and all forms of neurodiversity are in fact, a gift, not a curse. And I hope that over these past four, four and a half years, we’ve helped you, we’ve helped you understand yourself, helped you understand your children, your coworkers, your spouses, your lovers, your friends, and helps you realize that having ADHD doesn’t mean that you’re broken. It actually means you’re gifted. I am thrilled.
For episode 200 we welcome one of my heroes. And I say that up until about five minutes ago, I’d never met the guy and he had no idea I was, but Dr. Kenneth Carter has written a book- what, several books with the book he wrote recently, it’s called “Buzz. Inside the minds of thrill seekers, dare devils and adrenaline junkies” published by Cambridge University press. He’s presented on that same topic at TEDx. He’s spoken at SouthX. He does prefer relaxing on the beach to wingsuit flying and BASE jumping. And we’ll get into that in a second, but Dr. Kenneth Carter is a Charles Howard Candler professor of psychology at Oxford college of Emory university. He’s published in both academic and lay publications. Translating say psychology research into engaging everyday. Language he’s had articles in Psychology Today, Women’s health he’s been on short wave and a PR he’s been on NBC is today’s show along with my ex girlfriend, strangely enough, Dr. Jennifer H. Um, the psychology of thrill-seeking as, as he puts it is the current focus. Dr. Carter’s research. And I am just so thrilled that you took the time. Thank you so much for being on today.
Thank you for having me and congratulations on 200 episodes. It’s not easy.
It isn’t. And you know, again, that’s the ADHD way when I started the podcast and I see how it goes. Right. And now we’re at 200 when I, when I went out and when I quit my last job that I ever had, one of my own, once I will say, when I feel like when I can’t make it work, not if right. Yeah. I was so thrilled to have you, so.
You know, let’s, let’s start off very basic. So the, the, the, the concept of thrill secret, I remember dating a woman once, probably in 2003, when I started getting my license for 2005 and her, she found a skydiving. She thought it was okay, but her, I guess she told her dad and her dad, he had-I don’t want to say we had a conversation. He did most of the conversing. Right. And he, cause he thought I was gonna marry this girl, honey. And he goes, that was wrong with you. You have a death.. ehy would you do something stupid? And I just remember he kept repeating, give a death wish. And I said, one time, well, no, sir, it’s actually about wanting to live. And I realized that was the entirely wrong thing to say because there are people out there who will never get it. Yeah. Yeah. So, so, so with that, talk about how you ended up talking about you were getting into and discussing the concept of risk taking and, and sort of let you know what you’ve learned.
Yeah. You know, it was completely by mistake. So I’m a clinical psychologist and, you know, I am a really chilled guy and I had this idea about 10 years ago for this book and. It was completely different book. It was about some people that I thought of as chaos junkies. And if, when I say that word, everyone instantly has someone in their mind that they think of can have an idea of the book. Yeah. Was to try to get people who were cast junkies. To be more predictable and have a life like mine, which is what a lot of people, which is probably what the, that that father wanted. You know, you know, what, what your parents usually want for you is a completely predictable life that you’re happy with. Um, and then when I started really going into the research and I started to talk about this idea of sensation seeking, I’ve realized that these high sensation seekers craved chaos because they could control it. And it wasn’t something that they needed to stop doing. It was really something they needed to embrace in a way that was going to be healthy for them. And so I abandoned that original book and I decided to really work on helping people understand the, how they’re a high sensation seeking personalities can really be a superpower for them.
That’s really interesting that you would abandon and go to something that proved to be right, because the majority of people, and we talked about this before it, before we started recording, the majority of people are told they have to change.
I know. I was told that all my life.
And, and in the, in the, when you talked about the story about someone and asking if you ever had a death wish, when I asked the, uh, high sensation seekers, what is one thing they want people to understand about what they do? They said. To not think I have a death wish, you know, all I really want to have was a death wish I would just run in and out of traffic. And that’s not what it’s about.
If I thought That was going to die every time I jumped out of a plane, I wouldn’t do it.
Oh, yeah. Yeah. That’s the thing. I think a lot of people that are high sensation seekers and thrill seekers really embrace life and what they want is the experience. And one of the hardest things to get people to realize is that there’s a huge difference between, uh, a high sensation seeker or a thrill seeker versus a risk taker. Um, people aren’t doing these things because they’re risky. Is that they can tolerate the chaos to get the experiences they want. That’s what they’re really after is that experience.
I, I I’m, I’m just, I’m just loving it. It’s just so nice to hear everything in my life validated in a quick 20, 25 minute interview. So let’s, let’s talk about that for a second. So I remember when I, when I started jumping and the story I always relate to, it was my instructor. You know, you have to do three tandem jumps where you’re attached to someone else and your fourth jump, you jump on your own, but you jump on an instructor who’s holding onto your belt. Right. Just to make sure you’re stable in the sky. And then when he sees that you’re stable, he did my whole on you for the entire time. He might like go for a minute, a second or two, and, but you have to pull your own parachute, right? You have to land, you know, your whole, your parachute all by yourself. You have a radio, a little walkie talking to your, in your, your pocket, but you have to Lam and, and it’s on you. And I remember that my instructor was probably 300 pounds and I don’t remember his name, but 300 pounds. It was the middle of July. He, he, he looked like a sopping wet elephant. Okay. And it was just, and you’re in this tight little plane right. And he’s just, he’s like touching me and holding on. And it all, it was the grossest thing. And I remember I couldn’t wait to go to the plaintiffs, so I didn’t have to be with that anymore. And I’m scared to death and I guess a good way. It was a good thing that I was focused on that. Cause I wasn’t focused about the fear. We exit the plane I’m in a free fall. He signals that I’m doing okay. And he lets go my belt and I stay stable. I pull my parachute and I land and he landed probably about 20 seconds before me and this 300 pound sweaty guy who, what, four minutes ago, I couldn’t stand to be anywhere. I ran up to this guy and gave him the biggest, longest bear hug. Right. Just hugging the sweaty as much as I could. And it was, that was the first moment I ever realized. Holy crap. Look at the mind shift I just had and looking back on it. Yeah. I realized what that, you know, every, everything I’ve ever done professionally has usually come immediately after a Mindshift like that.
Yeah. Yeah. And a lot of people who are high sensation seekers say they don’t only feel that sense of euphoria and then a sense of calmness, not, not only after they do those kinds of things, but sometimes for weeks after, um, I’ve talked to some people whenever they have to make big decisions in their lives, they, they, you know, they’ll go on a hike, they’ll go on a jump they’ll base dive, um, or they’ll walk on a Slack line. That kind of thing for the people that are high sensation seekers, um, really focuses and really calms them. Very different than someone that’s like me who’s a low sensation seeker who I get overwhelmed by that, you know? And so one thing I, I try to get people that are low sensation seekers understand is that they’re not going to their bodies ren’t going to behave like high sensation seekers and vice versa.
One of the things that I find fascinating is that when I land after jump, there have been times, times when I know I have a lot of writing to do I’m on deadline for a book or an article or something like that, I will turn off Uh, you know, my brain. I’ll go do the jump and I’ll say, okay, I know I have to do this, this writing, but I’m not going to it’s it’s Thursday and it’s due Monday.
I’m not going to work on it until I jumped and I’ll go jump. I’ll bring my laptop, the drop zone. I’ll . I’ll throw my gear in a corner. I’ll sit on top of my parachute or something, pull up my laptop and I’ll write 10,000 words in an hour. Yeah. And it is a level of focus that is unmatched by almost anything else in the world. And being able to, once I found that, I mean, literally it was, it was like finding the, the, the, the pill from the movie limitless. Yeah. Right. It was that, that Holy crap look at my, I am so focused on it. And I remember the first time I did it. Because I’ve never, I’d drive home. And the first time I drove home, after, you know, one of my, I don’t know, first 20 jumps, whatever I’m driving home and I get pulled over for speeding. And I looked down and going 85 miles an hour on a local road. I didn’t even didn’t even realize it. Right. And I said to the cop, I’m like, you. Kinda just hang here and wait for it to be, he’s like that’s my entire day.
Well, and then the question I have for people that aren’t like that is that if you knew there was something that you could do that would bring that level of euphoria and calmness and focus and you know, that kind of thing, why, why, how could you not do it?
You know, I want to switch the topic a little bit because on that, it reminds me of a great quote, an Aaron Sorkin quote from the West wing where he’s interviewing. Okay. The chief of staff, Leo McGarry is, um, talking to someone about being an alcoholic. And he said, I don’t understand people who leave a half a glass of wine on the table. I don’t understand people who don’t..who don’t want to stop feeling that good. And he talks about being an alcoholic. I have never been quote unquote diagnosed as alcoholic, but I am very aware that I will not have one drink and I have set up my life in such a way that I very rarely drink. I quit for a couple of years and now maybe four times a year. I’ll I’ll, I’ll set up a situation where I’m at home with a friend and I’ll have a drink or two or three or four, but I don’t leave the house. I don’t buy more. And you have to be aware of that. And I think that, can you talk, if you can, about the connection or the, the very close proximity I would imagine, between thrill seekers and addictive personality.
Yeah. And I think, you know, so there are a couple different components of that thrill-seeking personality and the two that can worry me sometimes are, um, disinhibition, um, your ability to be unrestrained and. Um, boredom susceptibility, um, where people get bored really easily get irritated when they get bored. It’s not necessarily people that are the thrill seekers that, that worry me, but the thrill seekers who may not plan out, or to be able to understand how it might impact other people. Because of the way the, um, you know, chemicals work in the, in the body. A lot of people who are high sensation seekers, um, end up sort of excluding higher levels of dopamine, um, and lower levels of like, um, stress hormones. And those are the same kinds of combination of things that can be, um, problematic for people with addictive personalities or addictive conditions. And so it’s, it’s important to be really sort of mindful that you’re either not doing it too much or doing it in a way that can be a problem for you for other people.
I talk about that a lot in the book, in Faster Than Normal, where you sort of have to set up these life rules, right. Because if you let yourself go off the rails, it doesn’t take long. Before those off the rails is like, You know, a six month process. I’m not going to go out and pillage a village after drinking, but I’m going to drink and I’m not going to wake up super early to go to the gym so I’m not going to get dope, mean I need and then be dehydrated. Well, I already blew the morning. I might as well order something bad for lunch. Well, lunch order a pizza it’s three weeks later, I’ve been 20 pounds. Right. And what’s good has come out of that. So you sort of have to be aware to prevent yourself from taking that first step. Do you find that and the research you’ve done, do you see that correlation a lot between thrill seekers and sort of people have to be more aware of their personalities?
Yeah. I mean, there, there are some research studies that suggest that people that are high sensation seekers may have lower levels of empathy about what other people are experiencing, because we all assume that everyone experiences the world the same way we do. Right? And so that’s why you might have someone, who’s the highest sensation seekers if you’re driving a car darting in and out of traffic, they’re calm and chill, but their passengers are really freaked out and they may not know why they’re freaked out because they’re experiencing the world in a different way. And so a lot of these high sensation seekers have people that I call their anchors, you know, who will be the one that say, Hey. You know, that is more dangerous than you think it is. Or maybe you should rethink about doing that and they trust their anchors to help pull them back from situations that may be problematic for them.
Talk about thrill seekers and, um, something I learned once the concept of type T positive and type T negative, that, that how you go after those thrills, um, might be determined by how you were brought up. Or by what you were sort of, um, exposed to as a kid. I mean, I know that my parents were not, my dad loved roller coasters still does and, you know, and, and we would go on roller coasters, but the concept of skydiving, you know, my, my, my dad’s classic would appear: Don’t be ridiculous Jews don’t skydive, it’s classic quote to me. But, but, um, I remember that, you know, as a kid, he would take me, we’d have, we’d go hiking in Maine and he’d take me to find, um, um, Fire towers, right. When they were still back in the eighties and they’re still manned. Right. And we’d yell out to the guy at the top of it and they’d invite us up. We climbed I’m six years old and we’re climbing this ladder 200 foot ladder, top of firefighter tower. But I was, I was raised in the respect that I guess that was a thrill. Right. And I enjoyed it, but there are people who are raised to sort of, I guess, type team negative, where you’re finding. You know, that’s where you go into drugs or crime or whatever, to get that same sort of thrill.
I think, you know, like everything, there’s a combination of what could be biological and environmental, even for this personality trait. Um, they, there, there is some evidence that there are some genetic components to thrill seeking. Um, they’re higher levels of certain kinds of chemicals in the body. We talked about, um, uh, cortisol and dopamine previously, but you also see higher levels of testosterone, even in women who are thrill seekers, But there are some environmental things that can really help a lot too. Um, having exposure to chaotic environments when you’re younger. Um, and there are some high sensation seekers that said that their parents seemed more strict, but the parents may have just seemed strict because they were doing lots of thrill-seeking things as kids. Uh, but we know that that also changes over time. People that are high sensation seeking when they’re teenagers or adolescents, it tends to get, go lower as they get older because of those environmental influences, but also because of biological too. So it’s a little bit of a mix of both things.
So the fact that I didn’t discover any of this and I almost, I didn’t know, my ADHD didn’t exist as a kid. It was, it was sit down, you’re interrupting the class disease. Right. And so the premise when I was, when I was busted for seeing those from the class, the irony being that I was actually looking around or squirming or fidgeting to find something to give me that dope mean. So I actually could focus.
Yeah. Yeah. And so I think that if people understand what their brain and bodies are capable of and really directed to try to get what they want out of life, I think that’s really what the whole idea is. And it’s the same for a high sensation seeker or a low sensation seeker. Part of what I’ve been thinking about more is part of it’s really creating and capturing and getting that sense of awe in the world. And that people that are high sensation seekers can, can really tolerate a lot more chaos to get those all experiences.
Do you feel that, that the premise and I mean, I think it’s shifted over the last 20 years, but the premise that we at least I had growing up was, you know, you, you, you, not that being different, it is wrong, but rather there are certain ways you do things. Right. Right. And, and, and doing them other ways, you know, is wrong. And I remember my, my, uh, telling my parents, I was going out on my own. Right. And becoming an entrepreneur were public school teachers, all their lives. And, and, and, you know, it was, it was difficult for them to sort of comprehend. Why I enjoyable…It’s so risky. I know, but that’s the cool, you never know what, you know today could be I’m not making any money or I’m making my largest contract ever. That’s the thrill, you know, and, and, and there’s nothing I’ve yet to find anything that compares to landing a new client or landing a new speaking gig or let you know, it’s just a high.
Yeah. And I, and I think that what work is for and what life is for, has changed for a lot of people, you know, over time, or could be different for different people. Um, you know, when I grew up, you know, I was talking to my dad about work, and work wasn’t something that you did because you enjoyed it. It was something that you did because you had to have work. And the idea of having a job that might pay less, but that was really fulfilling wasn’t really in the list of options for him. And it isn’t the list of options for, for a lot of people. But I consider myself so fortunate that I have a job that I am fully engaged in and that I really love. Um, so being able to marry those things together is a magical thing. So a lot of these high sensation seekers have careers in which they use that super power. Um, they are first responders or police officers or firefighters or, uh, emergency room nurses and doctors. They can handle that chaos and turn it into a focused experience. Um, other people decide to use that part of themselves for recreation. Um, but you’d be surprised how many of them really use it every day in their jobs.
Two more questions. Um, cause I want to respectful your time. Some of the people we’ve had on the, on the podcast before you have included, uh, Tony Robbins, um, Seth Godin, Keith Cross, who founded DocuSign and is now the secretary of, of, of, of, um, business, uh, in this administration. Uh, we’ve had, um, uh, the band Shinedown, and every single one of them has said that when they realized they were ADHD, um, they believe that it has benefited them and they, uh, have learned to use that as their skill and as a superpower. Yeah. What do you, and I always ask them the same question. I’m gonna ask it to you too. What do you say to the parent whose child was just diagnosed and, you know, after they get over their first? Aha. Well, that explains it moment. What do you say to them in terms of when they’re sitting there going, Oh my god now my son won’t be successful. Now he can’t do this. Or, you know, they have this preconceived notion of, of, of what success looks like for their child of what your growing up looks like, the child. And this is. A lot of times, you know, they’re, they’re given this information from a teacher or from a, uh, an administrator with absolutely no, you know…and, and here’s a pamphlet. Right. You know, what, what do you say to them to, to sort of talk them off the edge for lack of a better word?
I think part of this would be having them listen to some of the interviews on your podcast. Um, having them understand that there are different ways to be successful, engaged, and happy in the life that they have. And to choose from their selection of powerful things about themselves to get to where they want to go. And where they want to go may not be where you want it to go, but it’s going to be there path and you can help them to sort of uncover who they are and to use those best parts of themselves. Um, and I think that’s true of everyone. It’s not just true of certain kinds of individuals, but I just think that a lot of times parents just want their kids life to be easy and happy. Um, and I don’t know if everyone’s life ends up that way. Um, but they, they get there in different kinds of ways.
Yup. That’s a great answer. I love that. Uh, how can people find you doctor? Cause I know you’re gonna get some emails and stuff.
Oh yeah. Um, I’ve got a website, www.DrKenCarter.com and you can email me, I’m happy to, to, to take a look at some emails too, at kennethCarter@emory.edu. Uh, and on my website too, you can actually take a sensation seeking questionnaire to find out where you are on the, on that, um, uh, scale. It goes from zero to 40. Um, I’ve interviewed lots of 35’s and 40’s, I, myself, even am an 8 on the sensation seeking questionnaire. So about as low as you can get.
So, um, so, um, I’ll come down to Atlanta and we’ll, we’ll go jumping.
I will watch you for a safe distance and applaud so loud when you’ll be able to hear me from the sky! LOL
What a phenomenal interview for number 200. Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Carter, truly, truly presented. Love to have you back to come back to continue this conversation.
Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.
Thank you and guys, thank you for listening. Episode 200. It’s a big deal. If you remember, a couple of years ago, episode 100 right, we had my parents on and we, I talked to them for half an hour, but how the hell they could have possibly raised me considering how difficult I was to raise. And, and, and they, I remember that, I always remember the answer. I said, I asked the same question, I asked the same questions as I asked Dr. Carter, what do you tell parents who might be freaking out and might not be at the end of their rope. And both my parents said, just tell him you love them. And just keep telling them you love them. So thank you, Mom & Dad for telling me you love me all the time and thank you, Dr. Carter, and most importantly, thank you to every single one of you who has listened throughout 200 episodes!! I could not have done this without you and I am honored every single time I get to do this. We’ll see you next week with a all new episode about ADHD and all neurodiversity, it’s a gift. It’s not a curse. Keep telling yourself that. Talk to you guys soon.
Guys as always, you’re listening to Faster Than Normal where our interviews are 15 to 20 minutes, well, you know, because ADHD, but we appreciate you being here. If you like what you’ve heard leave us a review, drop us a note. We’re always looking for new guests. If you have anyone who might want to be on the show, or it might be beneficial to be on the show, shoot me a note: email@example.com or on @petershankman on any of the socials and we will see you guys next week. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll talk to you soon.
Credits: You’ve been listening to the Faster Than Normal podcast. We’re available on iTunes, Stitcher and Google play and of course at www.FasterThanNormal.com I’m your host, Peter Shankman and you can find me at petershankman.com and @petershankman on all of the socials. If you like what you’ve heard, why not head over to your favorite podcast platform of choice and leave us a review, come more people who leave positive reviews, the more the podcast has shown, and the more people we can help understand that ADHD is a gift, not a curse. Opening and closing themes were performed by Steven Byrom and the opening introduction was recorded by Bernie Wagenblast. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll see you next week.