Season 2
42 Minutes

E49 | Mavis Tsai | Why I Yearn For More Connection And Love

Mavis Tsai is a psychologist, senior research scientist, author, TED speaker and one of the creators of Functional Analytic Psychotherapy.

In 2015, Mavis founded the Awareness, Courage and Love Global Project. Active in 92 cities around the globe and ever-expanding, ACL is a non-profit organization that aims to address loneliness as a major health issue and foster more meaningful connections with others and ourselves.

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Mavis Tsai  00:00

It takes researchers with a lot of clarity and openness and integrity to go after the truth rather than to just confirm hypotheses, whether it’s conscious or unconscious. And there’s there’s a poll to do that.

Achim Nowak  00:20

Hey, this is Achim Nowak, executive coach and host of the MY FOURTH ACT podcast. If life is a five act play, how will you spend your FOURTH ACT? I have conversations with exceptional humans who have created bold and unexpected fourth acts, listen, and to be inspired. And please rate us and subscribe on whatever platform you are listening on. Let’s get started.  I am very, very happy to welcome Mavis Tsai to the MY FOURTH ACT podcast. Mavis is a psychologist, a research scientist and author and a TED speaker. She is one of the creators of FAP, which stands for Functional Analytic Psychotherapy. In 2015, Mavis founded the Awareness, Courage and Love Global Project. It is a global nonprofit organization that aims to address loneliness as a major health issue. Mavis’s work focuses on fostering authentic and meaningful connection. If I translate this to the present moment, it means I have a perfect conversation partner. So welcome neighbors.

Mavis Tsai  01:41

I love the idea that you think that we are going to be perfect conversational partners, because we are

Achim Nowak  01:48

Thank you, we could argue that every person is but when you’re the intentions of your work really aligns with the purpose of this podcast. So that’s a double match in my mind. And I want to just acknowledge before we start that we crossed paths a few years ago in Selma gal, Diane de and I had the pleasure of participating in a mini workshop that you conducted which, which gave me a taste of the work you do. And I hope I’ll get a chance to do a mini mini session during this podcast. But before we start, I’m always curious. When you are a young girl or teenager, were you already thinking of being a psychologist or what were your dreams and aspirations?

Mavis Tsai  02:31

I actually was. I just remember being a young teenager, and so many friends coming to me with their problems. And I was just good at listening to people deeply and helping them figure things out. I think that came from my parents having a lot of conflict. And I was really young. And because I was so young and vulnerable, I think I was able to impact them. I think they were probably feeling a bit ashamed that here they were having these fights in front of their five year old daughter and I could actually help calm them down. And so the combination of them having a lot of conflict, but loving me, fiercely, I think created this little person who who just loved to resolve things and felt confident and being able to do so.

Achim Nowak  03:34

Well, a doc, you were just connecting in my mind, as you were talking is that when we listen well, and you did that, as a young child, we can help people just in the act of listening, right. And in my mind, I don’t always connect those two. But that’s, to me the beauty of what you just said

Mavis Tsai  03:55

yes. Because when you listen deeply to someone, you are helping them access their inner wisdom.

Achim Nowak  04:03

I want to be honest with you, when I went I went to school, George Washington University bachelor’s degree, I wanted to be a psychologist. That particular department was very research oriented. And I wasn’t interested in research, but you clearly are. Would you give us a glimpse of what you love about conducting research, which is a big part of your professional journey?

Mavis Tsai  04:29

Well, first of all, I just want to say that my son also attend to George Washington University. Very cool. Very cool. I can understand people not liking research, there’s a part of me that just loves loves, loves research and a part of me that doesn’t, but you’re asking about what I do love. It’s the unknown. It’s like you go in with a question and have no idea exactly what’s going to happen and I have found out So many interesting twists and turns to the hypotheses that I have. So it’s, it feeds my curiosity greatly. And there’s this whole world of researchers where they’re guided by the findings, and they can have a lot of impact. But mainly I came. What drives me is, in terms of research is just, it’s so fascinating and unpredictable. And it’s a way of seeking truth.

Achim Nowak  05:34

I love how you brought it to the deepest level of thought I had as a coach, is that because I read a lot of research in my profession, and some of it really resonates with me, and some of it I go, the hypothesis was already so rigged in favor of the outcome. And I see that as a potential danger. And I’m not saying it’s consciously rigged, but the biases of the researcher and I see it also as cultural biases, you know, where, where there’s an American academic mindset of I want to be simplistic, and we tend to think it’s universal. Any thoughts on biases and research?

Mavis Tsai  06:16

I came, I think you’re brilliant. It’s like you just cut through everything to the core of the problems with academic research, and it’s can be very disillusioning the whole process of getting to near and having to publish and going in with hypotheses that you want to confirm. I don’t know what to say about that, other than I agree with you that it takes researchers with a lot of clarity and openness and integrity, to go after the truth, rather than to just confirm hypotheses of whether it’s conscious or unconscious. And there’s, there’s a poll to do that.

Achim Nowak  07:08

I want to spend most of our time talking about awareness, courage and love global project. But I’m really fascinated. And this is the geeky part of me. And you know, the functional analytic psychotherapy or F AP or app tap, I don’t know what it’s

Mavis Tsai  07:26

actually it’s actually fap. itself, I’ll call it fap.

Achim Nowak  07:30

fap has a certain aggressive tone to it. You know, I think FAAP is more elegant, but I’ll go with Sam. Would you give our lay persons listeners a sense of what it is because I have a hunch, it’s related to the work you’re doing now as well. So what is fap?

Mavis Tsai  07:50

I love the way you say how fap is aggressive.

Achim Nowak  07:53

It’s sassy. It says about this, Kathy,

Mavis Tsai  07:57

I think it’s just shorter. It’s easier to say fap, as opposed to just one syllable, as opposed to F AP, which is a fab started with my late husband, Robert collenberg. And I, he was actually one of my professors. And he was supervising me and just watching what was happening with me and my clients. And I knew even at that stage, the importance of just total honesty, in my interactions, and showing up authentically as a person, not as a therapist with only one therapist had on and so he was just amazed at the powerful interactions that I had with my clients. And so he’s in his he was a radical behaviorist. And he just really tried to figure out, how can we capture this so that other people can do it? So we co created fap. And there are these what are called rules or guidelines, which it’s not like these are hard and fast rules, but it’s more like try these guidelines. And you’ll find that it’s going to lead to a lot of impact. And basically, it focuses on clinically relevant behaviors, where in most therapies, people come in, and they say, Oh, I’m depressed, and these are my problems out in my life. I’m having trouble with my boss, you know, whatever it is that they’re struggling with. And in fact, we look at how do they bring these issues right into the session? Because that’s when we can have the most impact on someone. If they’re having trouble with their partners or their boss. What is it that they’re showing us in their interaction? That is problematic, and conversely, when we pull out the best of who they are, then they can take those improvements out into their daily life. So there’s a large following of fat therapists. And our books have been translated into Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, Korean, just all these different languages. But what I saw is that there is a bottleneck in the demand for fap. And in our ability to provide access to it, which is how the awareness, courage and love global project started. Awareness, courage and love are actually the lay terms for the rules involved in fap. And, in fact, we call for awareness, courage and love in both our clients and the therapists who do the therapy.

Achim Nowak  10:44

That gave me chills, as you said that that just makes so much sense. As somebody who has been on and off in therapy for three decades with different therapists, what I’m hearing and please correct me is a significantly more active engagement by the role of the therapist, as a conversation partner and shaper. Is that correct?

Mavis Tsai  11:06

Yes. And when you say, shaper, it’s this interactive collaborative process. I am as shaped by my clients. As I am the shaper. We really impact each other.

Achim Nowak  11:21

Yeah. Beautiful. So let’s talk about because this clearly is related to the awareness, courage and love global project, and when we first met you were doing that work. I met you through that work and Arriva very, very many contexts at a conference and in Mexico. What prompted you know, you’re a professor at a university in Washington, I’m assuming it’s a steady and cushy job. I don’t mean that in any bad way. That’s a good thing. And then you’re launched this global nonprofit, because these things matter to you? How did that come about? Okay,

Mavis Tsai  12:03

so first of all, I’m not a professor, it’s a technical term that people devote their lives to earning. And they’d be pissed if somebody just called themselves a professor, at least in the United States. I’m a research scientist.

Achim Nowak  12:17

Thank you for the clarification.

Mavis Tsai  12:18

And what brought me to Mexico, what brought me to start my global project, I just felt this calling to do more than I was doing, to really make an impact for whoever wanted to be touched by this awareness, courage and love work.

Achim Nowak  12:39

Can you give us a sense of this global, the scale of the project and the work you do? And what does that work look like? If somebody says, That sounds cool, I like these three words. But I still don’t know what it actually is like, would you describe that

Mavis Tsai  12:57

we have chapters in six continents, and all the continents except for Antarctica. And what it involves is training to become a leader. And it could be there are a lot of therapists who were involved at the beginning. And now we’re just reaching out to anyone who wants to bring more awareness, courage and love into their own lives, and to help others do the same. So we have an eight week training that’s free. That self paced and also has live interactive sessions. And then I do a monthly international zoom training, where people come and experience the topic or protocol of the month, and this month, I came the topic is defining your fears, not your goals. So we’re all really familiar with goal setting. And people do that all the time. And often they reach their goals, and often they don’t. But what we’re focusing on this month is that by defining your fears, you actually are moving towards what’s most meaningful. Because So, I’m going to ask you something, is there something that you yearn for? Or have a strong desire for but there’s a fear that holds you back

Achim Nowak  14:41

we’ll see this with there’s what I tell myself but then what I don’t actually follow up on some I’ve been telling this f is i i would like to have a simpler life and I’m taking very concrete actions But I think there’s a fear of losing external validation, you know, I’m successful at what I do, like letting go of clients, they have never articulated this way. Because the question is, why have I not simplified? Even though I say, I would like to do that. And the fear is, I think at the deepest level, it’s funny I did, I did a TEDx called talk called enough already in the fear, I think is the deepest level that there’s not enough.

Mavis Tsai  15:36

There’s not enough wide enough.

Achim Nowak  15:40

Not enough work, not enough money. I think those are the two things that come to mind. And Amelia, as I said, I think I’m some of my identities attached to the work I do the questions if I let go of that. And I’m at an age where I had no plans to retire. But I’m 66. And I’m slowing down. Maybe the fear is, what else is on the other side that I haven’t parts of me that I haven’t faced, that I haven’t looked at that maybe are could be scary for me things that I would not like to see. That’s what’s coming up from you, right?

Mavis Tsai  16:26

You know, earlier, you said you had chills in response to something I was saying, and I’m feeling like wave after wave of chills listening to you, because you’re showing up so fully with me. Thank you. I’m just really sitting with us and resonating with what you’re saying about how he has this longing for simplicity, which I also have, I imagine a lot of people Yes, too. Because as our lives get more and more hectic and busy, we do have this deep inner yearning for more simplicity, and then free to say, certainly identity is really wrapped up in it. And what about, like, How can I let go of what I’m so familiar with my work, my identity, the income that comes from it? And then an awareness that there is more, probably more fears?

Achim Nowak  17:30

But I don’t know. Yeah.

Mavis Tsai  17:34

So what’s coming up for you right now as we talk.

Achim Nowak  17:42

What comes up is how, maybe I’m afraid of moving from comfort to more discomfort. My life is comfortable, and financially very well situated. So I don’t lack for anything. But I’ve learned when I turned 60, I remember the insight for me was and this was triggered by somebody saying to me a good friend, we had a conversation, she said, Oh, maybe that’s maybe that’s the topic of your next book, I’ve written three books. My reaction was who says I have to write another book, you know, and then the Insight was, I realized how many things on a level that I wasn’t conscious of, I was doing to prove maybe to myself or to others that I was worthy. And I’ve done a lot of letting go that I sold a business I had, I have a simple business. I just sold a big property that have its beautiful property and and moving into a one bedroom condo. So I’m in the middle of tangible changes along these lines. The life I have is comfortable and predictable. It has many surprises in it, but as well, but you know, and ask this question of my guests on the podcast. It’s funny, you’re interviewing me as if I was a guest now, which is fantastic neighbors. I love that is how willing Am I to look at what else is there? And if something is strong and compelling, like you did with your, your non for profit? Do I have the courage to follow through and honor that in me?

Mavis Tsai  19:28

And what are the inklings of that?

Achim Nowak  19:31

I think I am you know, I’m a I’ve been a that I’ve been fearless in the sense that, you know, I, once I have clarity on something, I’m able to follow through. And once something has manifested, I’m also able to let it go. So this is my the evidence of my life choices. You know, I’m in a very beautiful property, a compound with two houses and a lap pool and my friends are noticing, oh my gosh, this must be so hard for you to let Go. And it’s so difficult. And I realized this is their projection of what this means. I’m really ready to let it go. So once I got there, and remember the transition to wanting to do that, that was the interesting journey last year. So as I’m talking the evidence from my past life is that I’m pretty good at moving along when something is clear. And if there’s a fear it’s possibly if like a voice said, You need to if the boy said, You need to leave Florida, you’re supposed to live in Germany for a while. And I might go, but I don’t, I don’t friggin want to live in Germany. Like what I do that these kinds of things right that go. My old story says, Now, you’re not doing that. But what if the England says, Well, you do. Maybe that it’s the fear of hearing something that I don’t want to hear, even though it might be my soul’s desire, and my soul’s wish for me.

Mavis Tsai  21:04

Just I feel emotional listening to you, because I think you’re saying really, really important things that I’m excited that your listeners get to hear, because you’re talking about the importance of tuning in, at this deep level, and then following through, but also knowing when to let go.

Achim Nowak  21:32

That’s one thing just I’ve learned about myself, whether it’s, and when I say whether it’s good or not, it’s already stupid label. But it’s historically I’m unable to let go of things fairly easily. And it’s I love that you’re helping me to articulate this, because I’m very clear, like the new condo I just bought, which I’m infatuated with. But I’m very clear, that doesn’t have to be the rest of my life, condo, this is just the next place. And at some point, I might move to another one. And that feels okay. And that feels good. And I think that’s a true statement for me.

Mavis Tsai  22:09

I mean, you’re saying that I’m helping you articulate something, I’m actually helping myself, articulate something, the importance of letting go when it’s time to let go? And then what you said about making space making room for these inner voices that you might not want to hear what I don’t want to go back to Germany. Are you kidding me? I’m comfortable here in Florida.

Achim Nowak  22:40

It’s funny, that’s a pertinent question. I’m in a relationship with an entertainment lawyer, we’ve been together for over four years. Both of us don’t have great relationship histories in the past. By that comes, this feels like a really wonderful, successful relationship. So happy for you. So some of the gifts are. And because we get asphalt and we choose to not live together, we live 30 minutes from each other. He has a condo and I have my home. And for somebody else that would be absolutely horrible. But we just love that as two men in their 60s. Yeah, to create that. We’ve also talked about if the situation, circumstances United States and some of the darkness in this country gets worse, we might live in Europe for a while. But we would experiment maybe a month here a month there to see what it feels like. But I want to say this to get to this relationship with also usually accomplished human beings that we we have never ever in any way tried to change anything about each other. And when I was younger, or even in my 40s or 50s I didn’t want to change people but I had the story in my mind at least what was wrong, this was wrong. Otherwise the rainbow This is wrong. And the story that something is wrong about David, that does not exist. Honestly, you know,

Mavis Tsai  24:08

I’m getting more chills.

Achim Nowak  24:12

And I think that’s why we are our relationship is evolving and changing and deepening a word from your sponsor. That’s me. I invite you to go to the website associated with this podcast Fourth You will find other equally inspiring conversation with great humans. And you will also learn more about the my fourth act mastermind groups where cool people figure out how to chart their own fourth acts. Please check it out. And now back to the conversation

Mavis Tsai  24:58

Yeah, I mean that is that is Such a huge jam, that you just voiced about being in a relationship where you don’t try to change the other person. And it sounds like you love David just the way that he is. And vice versa, that he loves you just the way that you are. And we’re sure that’s thrilling, because it seemed perfect to me.

Achim Nowak  25:24

Thank you, I want to just comment on the word love, which is part of what you do I if I had to talk about my personal guiding mantra principle, this I used to be go to a group in New York in the 90s, where we were asked to articulate what our mission statement was. And I would say I’m a channel for personal and global transformation. And I consciously experience love every day. And I would go and I would say that. And then for about 15 years, I forgot that I used to say that. And then it sort of entered my consciousness again. And so my capacity to more strongly experience love has grown. Which means I have more room for more people, and I’m less judgmental, and everything in my life unfolds with more grace. So it sounds so simple. But I realized, as you’re talking, when I first consciously articulated that in guessing everybody so crafted their statement. Now what do I say love about when I say consciously experience love every day? But so yeah, let me just claim that that is desire.

Mavis Tsai  26:38

And I came, how do you define love?

Achim Nowak  26:42

It relates to my mind very much to what I read in the introduction about you, which is love means I feel connected with you without judging.

Mavis Tsai  27:00

Okay, I think that’s a wonderful definition of love. And in our project, we expand on love to include, we focus on like both self and the other. So I don’t believe you can love other people if you’re not loving towards yourself. And so self love means self care means saying yes to things that you want to say yes to and no to things that you don’t want to say yes to. And also involves allowing other people’s love. And so there are people who are just really good at loving others, but then they don’t let others love in. So that’s really important, and involved seeing and bringing out the best, and others. So you know, we’re sitting here, feeling love feeling really connected. And we’re also seeing the best in each other and bringing that out in each other. And like you said, about you and David, it’s when you see the best in someone, you don’t try to change them.

Achim Nowak  28:23

What I want to add to that, so it’s interesting, I’m on the board of a local civic association. My two biggest buddies, and I will say I genuinely love this to our from a difficult different political persuasion than I am. So under the last president, that was very challenging. David will say, I don’t ever want to meet them, how can you even do with an eye and at the same time, what I learned I have more fun with these two. And we collaborate in this effortless way that I’ve had with many endeavors I’ve been involved with as a 66 year old man. So there is great joy in what we do and they know that I have a different political persuasions. So this is all out in the open. But it’s it’s been a very interesting journey when there was things going on and publicly I went how can they be for that? How can they think that that is good? And still not at the same time, but maybe a minute later feel for them? No, and remember that I love them and we play really well together. So that experience has taught me a lot about how to love others who are maybe not an easy fit.

Mavis Tsai  29:47

So I that really is the way that we’re going to be able to build bridges is just understanding accepting differences and loving people anyways, despite our differences, so part of the awareness in the awareness, courage and love global project itself, awareness and its other awareness, but awareness means that you are aware of a person’s history that has shaped who they are. And if you delve into these two buddies of yours, personal histories, you would understand how they became Republican. And why why they approach the world from that viewpoint. And that’s what you’re telling me that you get beyond the external worldviews to connect more deeply with the essence of who they are. And I love that you’re able to co create joyfully with them,

Achim Nowak  30:59

we are, so if but if I relate this to the communities groups, you create how. And we talked about courage, we talked about love? And maybe I’m asking the wrong question my mind goes. So what happens in those containers that allows those to be activated? Or maybe or experienced more deeply?

Mavis Tsai  31:24

So what happened? That’s a really good question. Because what happens is that we create a structure that pulls for authenticity, acceptance, non judgement, we model it. So the CO leaders of every meeting, whatever the topic is, we will model how to speak vulnerably. And how to respond in this really compassionate, non judgmental, and authentic way. And then we will talk about personally what we appreciate about the other in not just thank you for sharing, but you know, what it is about the other person, like, you are just blowing me away with how open you are, how thoughtful you are, how you’re sharing things that almost like you’re not filtering too much. Things come up, and you just tell me what it is that you’re thinking, and there’s, so there’s a trust in me and in your audience, to really listen to you and care about you and not judge you. So we the modeling is really important that they watch what’s happening. And then they go into breakout rooms, or if it’s in person in pairs or threes to talk in this way of being really authentic, being true to oneself, and saying things that are scary to say, and then have a listener who really listens and accepts what it is. It sounds like a simple process. And it isn’t it isn’t. It’s really hard for people to do this.

Achim Nowak  33:19

If I may bring this back to you. And I hope it’s okay that I go there. We spoke a week ago, we had a love chat before the recording. It was a day after Russia invaded Ukraine. And I had no idea but just because I acknowledge that there was a war. And you let me know, my American son is there with his Ukrainian wife and their child that was born a week before the invasion. And this sort of stopped me because something that was emotional for me to witness on television, but I went to hold this is just wow. And you also told me that your son and his wife and their child were able to get out of Ukraine, and are on their way to further remove themselves from what’s going on. In the spirit of courage, love and everything we’re talking about, what is this evoking in you? And what is this pulling out of you as as a mother as a grandmother as I’m assuming a person that loves peace?

Mavis Tsai  34:34

Other times I just weep because it’s so anguishing what I’m witnessing happening there and for it to be at such a personal level. My daughter in law’s family, her parents, her cousins or brother, no, they’re they’re all caught up in the US and she managed to get out. But these incredibly brave brave Ukrainian citizens are in solidarity and have all this hope of being able to defend their country and and then just watching the destruction that’s happening and that people are getting killed. I feel this sense of just total helplessness that I’m not used to, and being making myself sit with it. And before we met today, I, I’m just so happy to be talking to you. But it was hard to get myself into the mindset of, oh, I need to show up for this podcast, because I was just texting with my son who said, this is really, really hard mom, like, yes, we’re safe. But his wife left everything behind, she left with the clothes on her back, they have this newborn, they don’t have any help. They’re just completely facing the unknown and. And in the meantime, all her friends and family members are making Molotov cocktails and like ready to fight and she feels like she shouldn’t be there. So I think your question was, how am I feeling I just, I feel overwhelmed and helpless and incredibly sad. I have a candle that’s burning at all times that I’m awake, to help all the prayers for peace. And, like, I feel like, we not only need to pray for the people of Ukraine, but we really need to pray for Putin to somehow come to the senses more.

Achim Nowak  37:09

Last question I have for you, and this may be an awkward transition. Since you’re asked me to go there, do you have other dreams or desires of aspiration, for yourself, when you go, these are some things that are percolating things that excite me that I would like to do another way in which I would like to show up in the world. And I’m not suggesting any of that should be there. But I’m just curious.

Mavis Tsai  37:40

I have two different aspects of me that I think you’re going to relate to this, like, there’s the I just I totally connected with you saying with your mission statement of I channel, you know, channel love on this transformational global level. And I experienced that every day and am on this mission to just bring awareness, courage and love to everyone and anyone who resonates with it. And I want our project to have chapters in every city in every country. And that makes me feel so alive. And then there’s this other part of me that listens to you and talk about simplicity and the challenges of simplifying my life and wanting to take some time off and seeing what comes up, you know, from taking time off a cow can I I really believe that our purpose here is to serve. And I see you in myself because I think we’re both servant leaders. And for me, I think a fear that comes from slowing down is that it means I’m not doing enough, you know, our world needs our world needs us to be like really, really involved and to keep bringing out the best in ourselves and other people. So if we slow down, what does that what does that mean? And I think that we may be more effective if we slow down and simplify our lives. Yeah.

Achim Nowak  39:39

What a wonderful note to end in, I would say having the courage to slow down and and having the courage to believe that that is the perfect thing for us in that moment. And that we will get active again afterwards, right?

Mavis Tsai  39:58

Yeah, cuz Going down allows our soul to have more space to speak

Achim Nowak  40:09

Mavis, I can’t imagine that our listeners don’t want to find out more about what you’re doing about your project. Where would you like to send them? Where can they get more info, I

Mavis Tsai  40:20

think the best places to go to our website, live with a And I would love our listeners to get involved in the project in some way. You know, just come to one of the International zoom meetings that I co lead on a Sunday and see what it’s about experience for yourselves and see if because you can you can get involved as a participant, or it can think about being a leader. And it can, there are many different levels of leadership, it can be just as simple as bringing together your friends and colleagues.

Achim Nowak  40:58

So if you’re listening, you just got a very explicit invitation from neighbors sigh. Want to make sure your credit, neighbors, this was such a treat. Thank you for for the gift of you and for the gift of this conversation.

Mavis Tsai  41:11

I feel the same way. Thank you for the gift of you. I’ve came and thank you for the gift of this conversation.

Achim Nowak  41:17

Bye for now. Like what you heard, please go to my fourth And subscribe to receive my updates on upcoming episodes. Please also subscribe to us on the platform of your choice. Rate us give us a review and let us all create some magical fourth acts together. Ciao


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