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Jeopardy! champion Amy Schneider tries a body scan meditation to sharpen her focus and calm her nerves as she prepares for the Tournament of Champions.
How to Do This Practice:
1. Find a quiet place where you feel safe and comfortable.You can be standing, sitting, or lying down.
2. Close your eyes, and take a few deep, long breaths.
3. Move your attention through your body slowly, part by part, starting with your feet. Focus on your feet, then your calves, knees, and so on, until you get to the top of your head. Without judgment, notice what sensations you can identify in each part of the body.
4. When your mind wanders, gently and with self-kindness, guide your attention back to the part of the body you’re focusing on in the present moment.
Find the full Body Scan Meditation practice at our Greater Good in Action website: https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/body_scan_meditation
Today’s Science of Happiness Guests:
Amy Schneider is the most successful woman to compete on the quiz show Jeopardy! and won 40 consecutive games.
Follow Amy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Jeopardamy
Jonathan Greenberg is a psychology professor in Harvard University’s Clinical and Translational Science Center. His research focuses on the role of mindfulness and relaxation.
Learn more about Jonathan’s research: https://tinyurl.com/yn7j73au
More resources from The Greater Good Science Center:
We’d love for you to try out this practice and share how it went for you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or using the hashtag #happinesspod.
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Ken Jennings This is Jeopardy!. What would you like to wager?
Amy Schneider 2000, 5000, 5000. Who is Oscar Wild? What is Stewart? Who is PG Woodhouse? What is a tenor? What is the noise of?
Ken Jennings That’s correct and you just ran that category. Words in American history for a final jeopardy today. Did she come up with the frontier? She did. How much will she add? 25,000. If there’s a Jeopardy Olympian, you are one of them.
Amy Schneider One of the things that I came out of the Jeopardy! experience was I really was successful at being completely focused. And that’s vital to succeeding on that show. It’s just practicing ways to interrupt outside thoughts, which is basically, when an episode is taping for those 30 minutes, you’re really entitled to tell everything else to wait. It’ll still be there. So just if something starts to come in, tell it to step aside and get back to it. And there was such a kind of good feeling about having that intense focus for periods of time.
But I haven’t been able to do it outside of that context. I’ve never had much success at full on meditation where you’re trying to kind of just quiet your mind and think nothing to a certain extent. And I think the other thing is, the thing I’ve realized about myself again in the last few years is that I live so much in my mind and so little in my body. I’m so unaware of it. And I think that, for whatever reason, whether it’s being trans or being Catholic or whatever, that separation has always been really real, that my mind is where real things happen in the body doesn’t matter.
Dacher Keltner When it comes to solving a complicated problem, even if the solution is right in front of us, it’s hard to see if we’re feeling stressed or anxious. Our guest this week is excellent at problem solving. You might say one of the best in the world. Amy Schneider has picked apart countless questions on the game show Jeopardy! and won an incredible 40 games in a row—more than any other woman in the history of the show.
She attributes her success to the calm and sharp focus she carries to each Jeopardy! game. But it’s hard to maintain that state of consciousness when the cameras are off. So Amy tried a research-backed mindfulness practice to help her settle into her body and calm her mind.
Amy Schneider You start by doing some breathing. Then you just focus on the parts of your body from your feet up to the top of your head.
Dacher Keltner We’ll hear from Amy and also delve into the science behind how mindfulness can actually make us better problem solvers.
Jonathan Greenberg There’s some budding evidence that mindfulness can be useful for self control, for executive functioning, for cognitive function.
Dacher Keltner More after this break. Welcome to the Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Keltner. Today we’re speaking with the longest running champion of Jeopardy! with an astonishing 40 win streak. Amy Schneider is also the first transgender contestant to qualify for The Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions which she will be competing in starting October 22. She chose to do a body scan practice for our show to help her prepare Amy, thanks so much for joining us.
Amy Schneider Yeah, thank you for having me.
Dacher Keltner Before we get into the practice, I wanna say in awe that you have a 40 win streak on the game show Jeopardy! You know your success has shone such a bright light on the transgender community. I think you have really meant a lot to so many people. And I’m curious, what has that been like for you?
Amy Schneider It’s been incredible. The line I always say is I was just trying to go win some money. Like I wasn’t trying to advance the cause of of transgender acceptance. But, it had that effect and it had that effect far more than I thought it would. It was like maybe a week or into when my episodes were airing. I saw somebody on Twitter saying that it was the first time their grandfather had ever properly used pronouns for trans people, and that the grandfather had been like, “oh, I get it now.” And that was really powerful. And then I have just kept hearing that story ever since from different people. And I never thought that just seeing one trans person on Jeopardy! would change that many people’s minds, but it really seems like it did.
Dacher Keltner Amazing. What’s that like to compete on Jeopardy in terms of the topics that we talk about here, like. Where did you find it stressful? Where was it surprisingly easy? How do you sort of get a calm state of mind going in?
Amy Schneider It’s something I’ve been wanting to do my whole life. But I realized that so much of my success was in, you know, not the not the knowledge, but the psychological preparation that I’d done in the weeks leading up to it.
Dacher Keltner Like what?
Amy Schneider As the taping day was approaching, I was realizing that there’s a good chance that I would lose my first game, two out of three people do. And that would be it. The dream I’ve had for decades would be like 30 minutes and then done. And I realized I had to be okay with that in order to have a chance of winning. I realized that thought was really depressing me and stressed me out. So one of the main things I did was just spend a lot of time telling myself, that’ll be fine. You’re going to go, you’re going to have a fun time. Maybe you’ll win, maybe you won’t. But like, don’t let the fear of failing distract you from it. Like, enjoy it. If it is only this one episode, don’t spend it being miserable and afraid and let it be what it is.
Dacher Keltner You know, it’s so interesting because Sonja Lubimiirsky has this great book I teach in The Happiness Class at Berkeley, The How of Happiness. And, you know, there’s this rumination that can really interfere with a lot of effective behavior and calmness and like. And one of her tips is, like, you just tell those thoughts like, stop. And sound like you have been doing that to some extent.
Amy Schneider Yeah. But I haven’t been able to do it outside of that context. My life has changed so dramatically, and that I quit my day job and doing speaking engagements. And most like kind of the biggest thing is that I’ve signed a deal to write a book. And then sitting down and being like, wow, writing a whole book. This is quite a big task. There’s always so many other things going on that I could be focusing on that do need my attention. It’s been a real challenge to just sit down and put the rest of it out of my mind and write the book.
Dacher Keltner So grounded in this experience is like training your mind for Jeopardy! and all the competition, the exhausting daylong work that you did there. For our show, you tried the body scan, which is, you know, one of my favorites to teach people because it just gets people anchored into their bodies. Tell us about what you did?
Amy Schneider So it’s just a few minutes. Basically, there was a guided version of it that I was using for a bit and then I just kind of knew how it went and I’ve just been doing it on my own. You start by doing some breathing. Then you just focus on the parts of your body from your feet up to the top of your head. And you focus on first, like feeling them, experiencing them, and then trying to let things relax and soften and to kind of let the sort of tension you have in your body go. And I know I definitely always have a ton of tension up in my shoulders and neck area. That’s always been the case. And so like being tuned into that and then letting it go. It’s been really good. I’ve really enjoyed that practice and I’ve really found it helpful.
Dacher Keltner I’m curious why you gravitated toward the body scan. What was it about the practice?
Amy Schneider I think it’s a couple of things. One is that, you know, I’ve never had much success at full on meditation where you’re trying to kind of just quiet your mind and kind of think nothing to a certain extent. And so this was a way of getting some of those benefits while still having like a script to go through in my mind, to keep me focused on it.
Dacher Keltner And I love how the body scan shifts that. And it’s funny when you teach it, too, because one of the things I do is I have people think about their face or just relax their face. Muscles, facial muscles. And you know, half the time we’re walking around with our jaw clenched and brow furrowed. And just to relax that, is calming. Good to be in the body. I’m wondering how you notice the effects of the body scan for you.
Amy Schneider Yeah. I mean, I think, at first I was kind of doing it just because I’d taken the assignment to do it. And then I was like, “Okay, I did have an actual goal here of getting better focus for writing this book.” And I started being more intentional about that. And what I did find was that and this is again more of an immediate thing, is once I came out of that body scan all the different thoughts that have been running around in my head, it all like quieted down. And I think that that part of it is something that has gotten, I think, slightly, slightly easier to do. It does give me that sort of practice of picking one thing and being intentional about focusing on it.
Dacher Keltner One of the challenges of these exercises in times like these is, you know, where we’re working hard and the political climate and the little notifications on her cell phone and so forth is to sustain these practices and make them linger and like keep your body calm. And I’m wondering what you’ve learned about that and both in your jeopardy work and then trying this body scan.
Amy Schneider When I was first doing it, the first, you know, three or four times, I would just sort of do it. And then like that was checked off my list and I would like, you know, drop it and move on. And so I realized that like outside of the few minutes I was doing it, it wasn’t really benefiting me that much. And so how I came to sort of improve that was kind of a visualization technique, like a really, you know, a micro one. But just before doing the body scan, reminding myself that the point wasn’t to do it, that the point was to call my mind down. And so that way when I was done and coming out of it, I wasn’t like then just tossing it out of my mind that I was like remembering that, this is this is supposed to do something and even just even just being like, let’s be curious about whether it does. Like, let’s keep in mind that that just happened and see whether it feels different was really helpful.
Dacher Keltner Yeah, well put. And I like your reference to kind of the keeping micro elements of a practice on hand. You know, maybe you don’t need the full thing, but you just do a part of it just to return to the benefits. You are also coming out of the Jeopardy! experience and this visualization practice that you would sort of complement with the body scan? Tell us about that.
Amy Schneider When there’s a specific situation coming up that I’ve got anxiety around, it’s kind of almost like an emergency preparedness system where I’m going through things that I fear and saying, “okay, what if they actually happen?” And what you always find is that, I’ll be fine. The reality of the things you fear is in almost all cases, much less, you know, awful or whatever than the anticipation. And so making myself, you know, each thing, realize that might happen. “What if it did? Okay, I could deal with that. Okay, I could deal with that. Okay. I could deal with that.” And trying to kind of take away their power in that sense.
Dacher Keltner And would you do this come out of the 40 competitions on Jeopardy! where you’re sort of before heading in your visualizing like what if I lose?
Amy Schneider Yeah, absolutely. What if I lose? What if I get self-conscious about the cameras and everything or my voice. Being trans, I have a lot of like, or I had, really a lot of issues around my body image and how I’m appearing to people. And then being on national television for a couple of months forced me to get past that really in a way. Which has been one of the unexpected rewards of it that I really like. Just had to be like, Well, that’s what I look like. People seem fine with it. Okay?
Dacher Keltner With this suite of practices that you, you know, the body scan and these visualization and imagining failing and now you’re heading into the Tournament of Champions, give us a snapshot of how you’re using these practices or how you’re approaching this competition.
Amy Schneider I’ve already been thinking where the sort of body scan will fit in on the day that it’s happening. Like what’s the right moment of doing that? Because one of the things in my routine was in those last seconds, as I’m standing at the podium before the the cameras roll was to get the song Lose Yourself by Eminem in my head and get myself pumped up and like, you know, competitive and that sort of thing. Because like one of the things about it was. It was hard for me to have that competitive instinct. I kept feeling like sorry for the other people because I knew that this was their dream too. And I had to get that out of my mind and be ruthless. So, I mean, I think I still want to stick with that at the end. But where earlier can I get that use that body scan and, you know, get that focus locked in in a different way than I’d been doing it before.
Dacher Keltner What did you gain on almost a philosophical level from dropping into the body or doing a body scan?
Amy Schneider I think it is kind of like getting myself out of that dualism mindset. Like intellectually I don’t really hold to a dualist mindset anymore that, you know, the mind and the body are the same thing. And they’re not separable. But like deep down, I still don’t really think of myself that way. And I think for a lot of people you think of your mind as being something else that’s operating your body. You can feel that when you relax your muscles, your mind gets less worried that they affect each other and you can feel it actually happening.
Dacher Keltner Exactly. Well, Amy Schneider, thank you so much for being on our show.
Amy Schneider Thank you for having me.
Dacher Keltner Our brains evolved to store information that we learn, so we don’t have to solve the same problem from square one twice. But that’s not always good for us.
Jonathan Greenberg Most of the time, things that have worked in the past are good solutions. But sometimes we miss out. As we go through life, our circumstances may call for a change of mind.
Dacher Keltner More on how mindfulness can help keep our minds limber, and what that might mean for our emotional health. Up next. Welcome back to The Science of Happiness, I’m Dacher Keltner. We’ve been talking with Jeopardy champion Amy Schneider about mindfulness practices like the body scan that can help us keep calm and focused under pressure.
Practicing mindfulness can help us gain better control over our thoughts, so we don’t get so carried away ruminating on our anxieties.But often our thoughts can be—- rigid. We have difficulty adapting to new situations or taking in new information.
Jonathan Greenberg So basically we learn something and we stick to it.
Dacher Keltner Jonathan Greenberg is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. He studies why our minds can be so hard to adapt to change.
Jonathan Greenberg When people go to therapy, a lot of times they go to therapy because they have learned a certain pattern of responding. When 20 years ago, when you were 12 and that happened, that was the best you could do at that time. But there is this over learning process when people cling to that and they causes them trouble later in life. So they try to apply the early solutions that they learned. When they’re adults, when they’re at work, when they’re with their new spouse, when they’re with their kids, and that can cause a lot of problems
Dacher Keltner Jonathan had a hunch that mindfulness could really help with this. So he decided to test its impact on this lack of mental flexibility. He recruited 76 adults to try a mindfulness course. But first, he gave them all a test to measure how fixed in their ways of thinking they naturally were. Basically, the test was like a word-search puzzle.
Jonathan Greenberg they have to go from one end to the next, spelling words along the way. They have to use as least letters as possible.
Dacher Keltner Jonathan instructed them to find the shortest, simplest route possible across the grid.
Jonathan Greenberg The first trials are kind of complex. You know, we have to go diagonally, then you have to go down, then you go left. And just over and over and over again, they do this repeatedly.
Dacher Keltner The words were always different, but the complicated route across the grid was the same. But then — Jonathan started giving them puzzles that also had a much easier solution
Jonathan Greenberg In these final trials that are so easy to solve, if you’re not conditioned to do it in a difficult way, I had people spending 10 minutes on these trials. These are high functioning university students, some of them graduate students, and intelligent people. We all would like to think that we’re immune to this cognitive rigidity, but it turns out we’re not
Dacher Keltner Next, he split the group in two. Half were given a six-week course in mindfulness. The other half were put on a waitlist for the course.
Jonathan Greenberg The elements of the mindfulness training were things like breathing, meditation, body scan meditation, walking meditation.
Dacher Keltner When the course ended he gave them each one more problem-solving test. And this time, the people who had taken the mindfulness course were more likely to see the simpler solution. They weren’t as blinded by their past experience.
Jonathan Greenberg Our world is a changing world in our life situation and circumstances are changing. And so if we just stick to what we know all the time, we may be left behind and we may be missing out on better ways of approaching situations.
Dacher Keltner On our next episode of The Science of Happiness … could laughing off our troubles actually be a good thing?
Kerry Rudd I was so upset with my father for so long. And then somewhere in the midst of doing all this writing and comedy, I’ve now come to terms with it. I feel like he was doing the best that he really could. He just fell short and he just wasn’t capable, right?
Dacher Keltner We explore the healing power of humor. I’m Dacher Keltner, thanks for joining us on The Science of Happiness. If you’d like to try the body scan meditation visit our show wherever you’re listening today for instructions and a link to a guided meditation.
Share your thoughts about it via email at happiness pod-AT-Berkeley dot E-D-U, or use the hashtag happinesspod. Our Executive Producer of Audio is Shuka Kalantari. Our producer is Haley Gray. Sound designer Jennie Cataldo of Accompany Studios. And our associate producer Zhe Wu. Our editor in chief is Jason Marsh. The Science of Happiness is a co-production of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and PRX.