This week’s conversation is with bestselling author, Dr. John Ratey, an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and an internationally recognized expert in Neuropsychiatry.

He has published over 60 peer-reviewed articles, and 11 books published in 17 languages, including the groundbreaking ADD-ADHD “Driven to Distraction” series with Ned Hallowell.

With the publication of “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain,” Dr. Ratey has established himself as one of the world’s foremost authorities on the brain-fitness connection.

His most recent book, “Go Wild” explores how we can achieve optimal physical and mental health by getting in touch with our caveman roots, and how we can “re-wild” our lives.

Recognized by his peers as one of the Best Doctors in America since 1997, Dr. Ratey was recently honored by the Massachusetts Psychiatric Society as “Outstanding Psychiatrist of the Year” for advancing the field.

John is an expert in human focus and especially in this day and age, it’s one of the most valuable skills we can train.

For those of you who are longtime Finding Mastery listeners, you may have noticed a question I like to ask is: “Where do you feel it in your body?”

That’s one of John’s favorite questions and it highlights what this conversation is really about: attention.

It starts with paying attention to your internal states of arousal.

We discuss how arousal states, motivations, and the prefrontal cortex all play a role in making someone an expert at focusing.

Being skilled at focusing goes hand-in-hand with being present and John shares some of his strategies for being present more often.

This conversation is rich with insight and I hope it makes you more aware of your triggers for focusing deeply.

“To perform well you really have to have attention. There’s no way around it. You have to be conscience of what you’re doing.”

In This Episode:

  • Grew up as an athlete in Pennsylvania, idea was you do well enough in sports to get out of the area via a scholarship to college
  • Played all sports, eventually found tennis and that was his way out
  • He had a fire to him growing up… where did it come from? It starts with connecting to your mission…
  • How “Crime & Punishment” inspired him to be a philosopher
  • Does he approach success or fear failure?
  • Ending up at Harvard as a psychiatric attendant and that set the course for his life
  • One of his favorite questions in the field of psychiatry: Do you notice where you feel something?
  • What inspired him to become an expert in how human focus
  • The 3 levers of focus: arousal states, motivations, and the prefrontal cortex
  • The way food impacts the brain
  • What happens to the brain in nature?
  • Why getting connected to others is crucial for wellbeing
  • If you don’t sleep well… you’ll be fat, depressed, and stupid
  • His strategies for being present more often
  • Why every human can benefit from a mindfulness practice
  • How to become better at taking risks and going for it


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Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School |

John Ratey, M.D., is associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He is the coauthor, with Edward Hallowell of the books Driven to Distraction, Answers to Distraction, and Delivered from Distraction. He is also the author of Shadow Syndromes.