010: We’re All Born with Attention Deficit with Dr. John Gnap

Dr. John Gnap is a behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago.  A medical doctor for more than 50 years, much of what he reads influences what he teaches his patients as they try to lose weight, quit smoking, handle stress and simply live their lives better.  Dr. Gnap is a big fan of hypnosis, using it alongside traditional medical practices.  He’s a big fan of French Philosopher Gustave Le Bon.  Even more so, Ivan Sechenov, the father of Russian physiology.  Before there was Ivan Pavlov and his salivating dogs, there was Ivan Sechenov. Dr. Gnap is 81 years old, still practicing medicine, loving life and loving reading.  He is also the author of Easy Sleep, a book that made a good night sleep as simple as flipping a switch.

Full Podcast Transcript

[00:00:11] Recorded live from the Sweet Tea Studios in Wellesley Massachusetts. You’re listening to the podcast, Why I Read Nonfiction. Hosted by broadcaster and author of The Perfect Catch and Follow the Dog Home. Here’s Kevin Walsh.

[00:00:29] HELLO and WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM. We’re coming to you from beautiful Cape Cod and the Sweet Tea books studios have moved to Nirvana for a couple of weeks. My guest today is Dr. John Gnap he is a family physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago.  He is also my father-in-law. A couple of things. A couple of housekeeping things before we get into the program – subscribe to the podcast and it’s easy and it’s free. Tell somebody about it and do me a favor leave a review. That’s how we grow this. Thank you to Nirvana on beautiful Cape Cod. If you’re looking for an incredible summer, spring or fall getaway. A newly renovated coastal themed home sleeps 10 – Nirvana is the place to be. So Dad welcome to the program.

[00:01:13] It’s good to finally have you on the Cape. It’s been a long time coming right. Thank you much. Pleasure being here. Yeah. Is it good, you like the cape? Was it everything you thought it would be? What a wonderful experience. So our relationship goes back to I believe 1989 when I met your daughter Jean. Yes. Thank you for giving me her hand in marriage. I think I did it appropriately didn’t I?

[00:01:38] Yes you did. You did believe me. You’re a wonderful wonderful son-in-law and the two of you are just a beautiful couple.

[00:01:46] Thank you. We’ve blessed you with a couple of grandchildren which. So life is good right. Yes, it is very good. We have a love reading. I think you read more than anybody I know.   How many books would you estimate that you’ve read over the years? I would say probably a thousand or more. You know in that sense.

[00:02:08] And why do you do it?  What does it do for you?

[00:02:11] It allows me to focus and to you know organize myself so that when I’m reading something I can pretty much block out everything else.

[00:02:19] You grew up in born and raised in North Jersey?

[00:02:22] Yes in Paterson New Jersey in fact 78 Lyon Street to be exact. We moved to Chicago when I was about four years of age and my mother trained me to read when I was two. So by two or three which I don’t recall you see two or three, I was an avid reader having read all the fairy tales and everything else and looking for more things to do.

[00:02:44] Was there more of a motivation behind that? Did she suspect you would want to do it?  Or was it a babysitting technique?

[00:02:51] What was it?  I think it was primarily a babysitting technique. She was a single mother and at that time I think she’d just gone through a divorce. So it was a babysitting technique trying to keep Johnny pacified while she got on with her other activities.

[00:03:08] I read because I just love to do it and I feel somewhat of a intellectual and a social responsibility to do it.   For you, you are never without a book. Why is that?

[00:03:20] Well I think I learned very early on that instead of just.

[00:03:26] Getting preoccupied with too many things.

[00:03:30] But I always had a book to fall back on to it would allow me to focus better so I could settle myself down get into the book you see and do that well. And then consequently I developed a habit of it so that through for the rest of my life. Now at my present time I don’t go anywhere do anything without having a book available.

[00:03:51] Nine out of ten times I’ll never use it. But that tenth time.

[00:03:56] Sometimes I’m in the car and train prolonged train is going by. I’ve got my book handy so I can always read a few pages.

[00:04:03] You don’t like the downtime? You always want to be stimulated in some way?

[00:04:09] Well it allows me to focus. Yes I think you can say stimulate in some way but to focus better is if you’re reading you’re focusing. I used I tell a lot of my patients that the best treatment for their difficult attention is to teach them reading you say is the most important thing to do. If you can do that now you can then focus better and what you’re reading and that can provide a lot of wonderful benefits to the individual.

[00:04:36] Our guest today is Dr. John Gnap, a behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago. Also my father-in-law visiting beautiful Nirvana on Cape Cod for the first time. You told me off the air that we all are kind of born.

[00:04:51] Well we didn’t really know what ADD was 20 years ago. But but you maintain that we’re sort of born with it all of us have a degree of it right?

[00:05:01] Yes. You know because the way our brain has operating which I know we can’t go into detail now is everything is a reflex activity in the brain. Some things were directing other things are going on automatically. So we’re getting a tremendous amount of stimulation of past thoughts, multiple things – every little thing can trigger off a thousand of other things. So when we’re young you know that’s when the youngster is so avid and so you get in front of it and you say, boo, you know it follows you, follows people around it’s got all this stimulation as it learns words by ages 1 to 2 – 2 to 3. It now has words to describe the things that it’s learning. And as a result, it normally doesn’t know what to do first. So as it gets to be two to three you see now you can begin to train it but you want to first train it so that it’s not being overstimulated with too many different ideas at one time.  Because to read well and properly you have to have that singular focus.

[00:05:59] That’s correct.

[00:06:00] You see and that’s the training we don’t give the youngster to help break them out of their degree of attention difficulties.  Especially now because we have so many other we have music all sorts of ways access music we have video games. Absolutely true and if you take a look at our numbers and Attention Deficit Disorder and other childhood problems have almost quadrupled in the last 20 years.

[00:06:25] When you read do you need quiet or can you be in a loud place say like a train station or an airport where there’s just general cacophony around you do you just, can you make it quiet?

[00:06:36] Yes without a doubt. But I think when you’re young it’s harder to do but it is you continue to train yourself by the time you might be 5, 7, 10. You know it’s a skill that you can learn to pretty much tune everything out.

[00:06:49] You’re a big fan of Gustave Le Bon, the Man and His Works which were put together by Alice Widener.  Who was Gustave Le Bon? And why can we apply some of what he wrote about what he thought about in France to American life or just life around the world today?

[00:07:06] Okay. Gustave Le Bon was French philosopher psychologist who was actually an M.D. that never practiced.  He was born about 1840 died 1930.

[00:07:15] His singular accomplishment. He wrote about it in twenty some books but a singular accomplishment was a book called, The Crowd which was like hypnotic phenomena.  How crowds are led by hypnotic phenomena. So he was a student of Pavlov to a degree as well.

[00:07:33] And when you’re talking about hypnotic phenomena are you talking about as administered by a person?

[00:07:41] No. If you would take a look at a speaker a compelling speaker he is producing what appears to be a hypnotic adherence to the crowd he’s talking to. Right.

[00:07:53] So so he’s not trying to say he’s hypnotizing them but that’s the effect that he has on the crowd you see and that’s where the crowd became very well-known book.

[00:08:03] Right. And we’ve seen that for better or worse over the years. Very influential political leaders who do the right thing in doing that and others who have done the wrong thing. But but boil it down for me what does this. What’s our takeaway from it?

[00:08:20] Well to understand that we can be influenced by you know a lot of people or propaganda too right? And to distinguish the two…

[00:08:31] You know I try to to get people to realize what’s happening in our brain and that’s a long story. But you know there’s a lot of people that are for very good and very sometimes very poor reasons. You can be almost compelled to believe something and it’s hard to discern it. And it’s harder to discern a difference when you’re part of a crowd. If the crowd gets sent to a rally we’ll say it’s kind of hard to you know say wait a minute I don’t believe this. You see in that sense so you tend to go along with the crowd. And that I think allows people to draw a conclusion that’s like a hypnotic reference to say in that sense.

[00:09:07] I think I have an example of that in 2011 when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in Vancouver against the Canucks. The the City of Vancouver rioted and it’s so typical riot there are people overturning cars cars around fires a lot of vandalism and they later with the help of surveillance camera captured people and their images doing things that they never could have imagined. And I’ll give you one example one was an Olympic athlete a luger who was he was almost like an altar boy had no criminal record always did the right thing. It brought him into the police department and they showed him overturning a car and he almost couldn’t believe his eyes but his memory of it was there was almost like a force that had overtaken him and he was having an out of body experience.

[00:09:57] He almost couldn’t believe he was doing it but he couldn’t stop it. What’s going on in the head that makes that happen.

[00:10:03] Well you use the right word a force. There’s an electric chemical current it serves as a force you see maybe an example of that is if you want it to stop smoking and told yourself I don’t want to have another cigarette. But then something is driving you for that cigarette that’s an electric chemical reflex. Force. It is a force field almost you see and as a result of that you know you’re trying very hard to not have that cigarette that you feel almost compelled to do it. Same thing applies to weight problems, alcohol and many many other problems you see. So now teaching the person how do you reduce that amount of electrochemical current translated into a force becomes the mechanism by which you can teach people to change things but you have to get into things like imprints or codes or or bits computer bits on the brain and then the force the electrochemical magnetic force that goes between imprints and I think that it’s a whole strategy that I’ve developed so we can’t really get into details now but to teach people that they can change. How do you reduce that force so to speak?

[00:11:16] So the mob mentality is is real. I’m convinced of it. I think you are. It’s almost like you get drunk on the air but you have ways to to undermine that or reduce that if it’s possible. Dr. John Gnap is our guest today on why read non-fiction by the way all the books that we talk about here. You can find them on my Web site at why I read non-fiction.com have links to the collective works of Gustaf Le Bon as written by Alice Weidner. And so just save yourself like the writing down of the stuff and thank you to Nirvana. A beautiful Cape Cod for sponsoring the program. Beautiful newly coastal theme home newly renovated sleeps 10 on a beautiful cattle pond which is filled with fish. And of course you’re right on the elbow of Cape Cod. So if you want to go to Cape Cod Bay or the ocean it’s a perfect place for you.

[00:12:05] Ivan Sechenov was and Pavlov one in the same but Sechenov. What did he do with his writing? Did he. Did he make Pavlov easier to understand? And how did it impact you?

[00:12:19] Okay as I was collecting a lot of reflex activity that involved Pavlov and Pavlov’s teacher was Ivan Sechenov which I didn’t get a chance to read any of his materials until the latter part of the 20th century. But in 1998 or so I was able to pick up a book written by Sechenov called Reflexes of the Brain. Now this is so interesting because…

[00:12:46] Sechenov wrote this book as his medical thesis in 1862 the time of our American Civil War.

[00:12:54] The original title of the book was The Workings and the Observation of How the Mind Operates, that did not pass the Russian censors at that time. So he modified the title to Reflexes of the Brain.

[00:13:09] They passed that.  He was able to write in a very easy going language that people could easily understand him so his, Reflexes of the Brain which is voluntary-involuntary reflex and emotional reflexes was very popular. In fact, his thesis went through nine printings as a best seller for the people of continental Europe. That’s how easy it was to read him. Now the amazing thing is no American has written a book exclusively on reflexes at all.

[00:13:43] Well what we’re talking about it just for an example. When Pavlov rang the bell and the dogs started salivating. That’s a reflex. That’s correct. Yes. But that that’s applied many times over to many other things in our lives that we don’t control. It just happens.

[00:13:58] I think what we miss is because we don’t have the right language. But Sechenov was considered the father of Russian physiology and the teacher of Pavlov.  Pavlov proved many of his assertions you see in that sense. So that’s their particular link.

[00:14:15] Now when you mention, reflexes you don’t normally use one one word that to me is critical. My life was changed when in reading Pavolv. He said a word, a thought is the same as any sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch imprint or recording in the brain. A word is a trigger of muscle movement emotional body activity. It’s a reflex. We do not appreciate words and our thinking as triggering off other thoughts, behaviors, emotions in humans. Like dominoes. One thing always leads to another. Absolutely sure and we totally ignore it. We don’t think words count because we think words are somehow metaphysical. You see what I mean and they’re not really treated as the same as an observation or a sound or anything else.

[00:15:07] Well work can be very powerful especially if it’s a slur. If it’s it touches nerve with somebody sometimes it’s true but even little words can can mean a lot. I think we see that in society with the impact on children and bullying little things the study. When we grew up that was just a part of life and I don’t even think we examine that too much.

[00:15:31] I think one of the things that we talked about earlier why it is so hard to to. Why do people have such a hard time focusing because we don’t realize at all the words and thoughts in our heads when we’re young there too at random. So we have too many thoughts going on and every word imprint is connected to another imprint electrically. So when we get too many thoughts going and we have too much electrical current going on and we can’t focus well you see in that sense. So now if we can somehow focus on one thing a book, reading. You see, that helps reduce reciprocally all the other random thinking. And that gives you a much better focusing ability.

[00:16:09] What do you think of multitasking when you see somebody that’s doing a bunch of things at once and they think they’re getting ahead and they’re getting more work done. What is the reality of that in your opinion?

[00:16:21] I think it’s very inefficient from a brain point of view. Brain energy point of view. I’ll give you a cute story. You’ll see that I always remember and I do repeat to certain patients that I would always say well you know if they had the diagnosis at the time I probably had ADD you know until I could learn how to reduce that more with the reading.

[00:16:40] My mother used to always say oh my my little Johnny is so bright you know he could eat, listen to the radio, watch TV, carry on a conversation with two people simultaneous and I would hear that so many times as she was telling that to other people. Being proud of her son. and that now I look back and say thank God I survived that because that is grossly inefficient.

[00:17:06] I had to learn how to focus better after that.  How does one do that? Because it is the reality is it’s very hard to do anything other than focus on the book when you’re reading it.  And sometimes when you read a book and you see something that validates your thoughts or changes your way of thinking it’s even more powerful. And I’ll give you an example that I just finished the book,The Power of Story by Jim Loehr and he’s a psychologist and he operates something called the Human Performance Institute in which he will go into corporate America or just any office setting and he will analyze the work habits of people and what he finds more often than not is too much multitasking and all that does is it fragments your attention. And so even though you have five balls in the air you may think I’m getting a lot done. You would actually get each job done better and the collective work done faster if you just focused on. I’m going to talk on the phone right now then I’m going to go over to the computer and I’m going to enter this singular stuff and then everything you do individually you just put more effort and the one word that kept coming back to me. He kept saying engagement engagement whatever it is that you’re doing have an engagement so as I’m talking to you I’m just looking at you and I’m listening to you and thinking of nothing else which makes you feel better about my relationship with you?

[00:18:31] Without a doubt, it enhances communication substantially. Isn’t it frustrating when you’re talking to somebody and you feel like you’re there somewhere else and that really with you. It’s the worst.

[00:18:40] Well it’s rude yes for one. And if they think they’re good at multitasking they have one year on you and one year on somebody else. No their attention is fragmented so it can’t it can’t possibly be efficient or beneficial.

[00:18:54] One of the real call it if you want contradictions is we somehow associated multitasking with intelligence. And so I mean nothing could be further from the truth.

[00:19:05] So the person thinks they are more intelligent the more multiple things they can do and they’re actually much less efficient in performance activities. But they’ve equated that with intelligence. Actually in part my mother was doing the same thing as if she was so proud of her son doing all these things it was like a reflection of the intelligence he has. But it really was an inefficiency.

[00:19:30] Yeah I see what you’re saying. I want to talk to you about your book.

[00:19:33] You wrote Easy Sleep back in the 1970s. I am going to talk about that on the other side of the break, first I have to thank the sponsors. You know how it is Dad. We got to professionally suck up to the people that take care of this program and make it possible. Like the people at Nirvana beautiful coastal theme home on Cape Cod. If you’re looking for a great spring fall summer vacation getaway in a perfect place on a beautiful kettle pond loaded with fish right on the elbow of Cape Cod. Check out Nirvana. It’s how much I am laughing as I am talking to you here. Enjoy the conversation with you here Dad. So you one of the things in your practice. Aside from helping people lose weight, quit smoking is to get a better night’s sleep. What. Why did you write the book back in the 70s? Bottom line it for me. Tell me about.

[00:20:24] Well a lot had to do with you know my getting involved with the word called hypnosis or relaxation. That in itself is a long story but hypnosis to give you a simple definition is really the inducing of an inhibitory electric chemical current effect. Example: if you say can you teach me how to relax if I close my eyes and relax my body I’m using less current in the brain. The brain has no feeling so I can’t really feel you know the current going out in the brain but I can feel the effects of it. So now if I close my eyes take a deep breath. I am reducing activity, reducing things I’m thinking of reducing analyzing and everything else my eyes closed I can’t see objects in front of me so I don’t have to automatically process them. And the brain is processing things from thousands of a second to nanoseconds that’s literally multiple hundreds of thousands. It’s doing this simultaneously.

[00:21:28] We don’t feel that speed you know we just talk at our particular rate. But sometimes you can feel a sense of urgency or I got too much on my mind or you’re over overreacting to situations or you’re over analyzing over anticipating all of that is using too many imprints and too much current so now too much energy and too much thought.

[00:21:50] That’s really what keeps people up at night. Right. That’s correct.

[00:21:52] The number one cause of a sleep problem is thinking – too much thinking.

[00:21:58] No one knows that a thought is something real and tangible as an imprint and linked to other imprints electrically. So I’ve got too much thinking I’m analyzing too much that’s excitatory current.  The brain only has excitatory or inhibitory current effects. And if we get too much excitatory current effects I can induce the inhibitory current effect that will give me sleep.

[00:22:18] But even if I’m thinking pleasant thoughts waves crashing on the rocks just a gentle babbling brook that is still energy and is much as I think that those are pleasant thoughts. Those are that’s thinking and that stimulation.

[00:22:34] That’s right. You see any thoughts you have may trigger off analyzing the analyzing as a reflex though it’s not a matter of choice and when we get caught up in is we got so many other thoughts that are being triggered off by our attempting to find something pleasant.

[00:22:47] We don’t know how to turn it off. So it’s part of a whole relaxation process that we train people to close their eyes you know to sort I use one little technique close their eyes and then you can open and close you have control of your eye their muscles.

[00:23:05] But if you close your eyes and now try to open your eyes without using your eyelid muscles you use your forehead muscles. The bottom will open a little stop trying. So as you close your eyes try to open – stop trying you’re automatically reducing all of the analyzing activity so it becomes a very good technique to get you into simple thinking. And every time you analyze too much the same little technique and before you know what you hit what I call in the book, “the sleep switch” and that’s now you’re into an inhibitory phase.  So the whole notion of excitatory and inhibitory electrochemical current is part of the book – we don’t normally talk in those terms.

[00:23:43] You see what I mean? Well I think you did a nice job like you give all that which is the scientific explanation but I think I remember you had just a visual example you said just like a toggle switch on the wall just turn it off. That’s right. So when your mind starts thinking OK well I gotta be up at this hour and then I have to go exercise and then I have to drop the kids off at school and I have to do that. You say now just turn it off just I’m not thinking.  You have to be here and now.  Almost see darkness yes. And then it just happened.

[00:24:12] That’s right. Here and now – you see either you’re thinking of too much that happened in the past today you know whenever that’s connected to things you did or didn’t do or you’re over anticipating too many things in the future. You’re not staying more here and now you see I mean that’s the thing.

[00:24:28] Be be in the here and now and really by the time you’re in bed you should really only be doing one thing or the other? One is sleeping and the other we don’t have to get into. Right? But that’s it. I mean the thinking your way through thinking you’re getting ahead for the next day.

[00:24:41] It’s almost like our multitasking is leaking into our ability to sleep because we’re too busy trying to get other things done for tomorrow.

[00:24:48] And it doesn’t work. That doesn’t work. Hey we got to put you on a plane pretty soon you want to come back to Nirvana? You’re going to come back sometime? Yes I will. Thank you very much for having me. All right. It’s great to have you, our guest today has been Dr. John Gnap my father in law, the author of Easy Sleep. For more information about our discussion and for a copy of the transcript just check out my Web site why I read nonfiction.com. Many thanks to Nirvana on beautiful Cape Cod for sponsoring the program today. For any of the books that we talked about on why I read nonfiction.com, please subscribe to the program and leave a review that’s how you help us out. For Dr. John Gnap. I’m Kevin Walsh. We’ll see you again next time on Why I read nonfiction.

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  1. Ed Gunther

    Enjoyed the podcast. Dr Gnap’s techniques are invaluable.

    • Jean Walsh

      We agree and use them too. Especially the relaxation and hypnosis.


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