Pete Alexander Helps Us Reduce Stress | Episode 318

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Professor Pete Alexander is the President of the greatest interior landscaping company in the San Francisco Bay Area – Office Plants by Everything Grows. In addition, he serves as an adjunct college professor, where he helps inspire students to develop and apply key concepts of marketing specifically to their area of interest. He’s also a TEDx speaker and best-selling author on reducing stress in your everyday life. Lastly, but certainly not least, he is a certified Laughter Yoga leader and improv comedy cast member, supporting his community to laugh more and stress less.


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Full episode transcription

Hey, Engagers, and welcome to another episode of the Professor Game Podcast.
And we have Pete with us today.
But, Professor Pete, are you prepared to engage?

I absolutely am, Rob.
Thank you for so much for having me on your show.

Let’s do this, because we have Professor Pete Alexander, who is the president of the greatest interior landscaping company in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Office plants by everything grows.
In addition, he serves as an adjunct college professor, where he helps inspire students to develop and apply key concepts of marketing specifically to their area of interests.
He’s also a TEDx speaker and bestselling author on reducing stress in your everyday life.
And lastly, but not least, he’s a certified laughter yoga leader and improv comedy cast member, supporting his community to laugh more and stress last.
So, Professor Pete, is there anything that we should say about you before we take off on this plane of today’s conversation?
Anything that we missed?

That’s a pretty good synopsis there, Rob.
So it’s not about me, but it’s about helping your listeners.
So I don’t want to spend too much more time just on me.

So just a little bit more.
We want to know what a day with you looks like.
What are you doing on a regular basis?
What’s that?
Maybe routines?
I don’t know.
Whatever you want to call it.

So, basically, it depends, obviously, if I’ve got a current class going on, but let’s say if it’s a typical day that I’ve got a class in session, I’m going to be remotely working my landscaping business.
I’ve got a business partner that does the on site stuff.
I get to manage it remotely.
I take care of my students through online interactions now and making sure that they’re being successful in their classes.
I go ahead and usually at least once a month, if not twice a month.
My improv group does public shows at different theaters throughout the peninsula where I live, and I also run laughter yoga classes in my community.
So I teach people how to laugh more, and not only just in class, but during the day.
And so I incorporate that in my own schedule.
So anytime I’m talking with someone like yourself, if there’s something funny I hear, or I try and try and add humor to it, because humor is a wonderful thing, as long as it’s done appropriately and we as adults don’t laugh enough and we let stress get to us.
And so I try and put a little bit of humor and some lightness in the people that I interact with.

So plenty of stuff going on right now in your life.
It seems like you got plenty of stuff going on.
So let’s actually go to a time when, again, we’ve discussed how games, gamification, engagement, motivation affect our lives and what we can do about it.
So, again, whenever you’ve been working on something along these lines, you had, I’m sure, more than once, besides your massive success, you’ve also had some fail moments or first attempts in learning.
So we want to share that story with you.
We want to be there in the ground level, listen to the story, take away some lessons.
We want to be there with you.

I mean, one of the lessons that I learned very hard was letting stress get to me because I grew up in an extremely dysfunctional family.
And sadly, my parents probably should never have had children.
But it is what it is.
And when growing up in that environment, I had to learn things, actually through gamification, where I would use creativity to be able to avoid thinking about the stressful things that were going on in my life.
So I’d had different things that I would use, whether it was toys or sporting equipment, things like that, that I would create new games with, and I would let my creativity go and take me away from the situation.
So, for example, I had a tennis ball that I would throw up on the roof of the house that we were living in, and the ball would come back down, and I would play an entire World Series.
I’d pick two teams, and I’d play an entire World Series.
And how the ball came off the roof and whether I caught it or it bounced and one team would score, one team wouldn’t, and I would be pretending to be the pitcher or I might be the hitter or something, and all that stuff would pass the time away positively for me to be able to really avoid the depression that often comes from a severely dysfunctional family environment.
And as an adult, what I started doing was doing similarly.
I would do things to get myself away from how I had been molded to be in a stressful environment.
I tried to avoid it as much as possible and would try and use humor to kind of lighten the load for people if something stressful was going on.
But what was interesting was that I continued to let the stress churn inside of me.
And it wasn’t until I was in my mid 40s when this really came to a head, and it was a perfect storm of stressful activities going on.
My dad was dying, and he needed his affairs taken care of.
My mom was.
She had major surgery and didn’t have the insurance to take care of her physical therapy.
My business, I had to run it with, and several employees needed my attention.
My kids were small at that time and wanted my attention, and my marriage was heading for a divorce.
So in 2008, that was a lot to have all at once on my shoulders.
And I ended up losing 30 pounds in 30 days.
And at first, I thought this was fantastic, seriously, because it had been my early 20s since the last time I had lost weight, and I wasn’t doing any dieting, I wasn’t doing anything different from my regular exercise routine, but the weight kept on coming off.
And after the 30th pound, I decided to go and get some blood work.
And the doctor came back and said, yeah, congratulations, you have stress induced diabetes, even though diabetes does not run in your family.
And it was like, wow, okay.
But what was really classic for me, because I’m a type A personality that wants to get things done, I didn’t listen to my body about what the stress was doing to it.
And so I continued to burn the candle at both ends for another ten years until I ended up in the emergency room and an extended stay in ICU with A severe case of diabetic ketoacidosis.
And for your listeners who don’t know what that is, basically my body was eating itself alive because of my stress.
And that was finally the epiphany moment for me, where I realized that I was trading my health for my career, and that’s a really bad trade.
So after I got out of the hospital, I started applying different stress relief tools and techniques, and many of them worked.
Some of them didn’t.
But what I noticed was that as I was applying these different techniques, not only did my stress go down, but my glucose numbers as a diabetic went down, my weight went down, and my energy level went way, way up.
It was as if I had discovered the fountain of youth.
And what’s crazy about it is if you were to see a picture of me back in 2008 and a picture of me now, other than a little bit more gray hair, I actually look younger today than I looked 15 years ago.
And that’s what stress does to us.

And again, how did you get out of it?
I know it was a big trigger to find out this was happening to you, but what did you do?
How did you overcome it?
Were, again, gameful strategies, a part of that?
How did it go?
How do you do that?

Well, when I realized, so, basically in the ICU, on the second day that I was in ICU, so I got admitted to ICU because my blood sugars were so high in the emergency room that the hospital grade glucometer could not read it.
So they had to analyze it in the lab manually, and they estimated my blood sugars to be eight to ten times higher than normal.
And so on my second day in ICU, I had gone back to the corporate world, and my boss that I had at that time was a micromanager, and they sent me a text.
Now, mind you, my boss knew I was in ICU, had known that I was in the emergency room ICU.
I get a text from my boss at about 06:00 a.m.
Saying, you have a webinar, you need to run at 08:00 what are you going to do about it?
And as a Type A personality, there I am.
I’m using my phone, pushing the boundaries of the phone’s capabilities to try and reschedule this webinar.
And after I had been in the hospital for a couple of days, my blood sugars had come back down into more reasonable levels.
They were still higher than they should be, but they were more reasonable.
And when I was working on this reschedule of this webinar, the nurse who was taking care of me at that point, they were checking my blood every hour.
So you don’t sleep when you’re in the hospital?
Believe me, they’re poking you constantly.
So she comes over, she checks my blood numbers.
It was like a 90 degree angle had started skyrocketing straight back up as I was sitting there with my phone.
And she says to me, as a matter of fact, someone who was pretty much close to a complete stranger had nothing to gain.
She says to me, you realize that’s what put you in this hospital bed in the first place.
And that moment was, in my mind, what I needed to hear, because my family members had told me, you got to stop stressing yourself out.
It’s not good for you.
My friends were saying the same thing, and I just kept on saying, yeah, I know, I’ll take care of my health when I have time.
And I realized that if I continued to do what I was doing, I was not going to be around to meet my future grandchildren.
And that was the moment I said, I have no choice.
I have to do something different here.
And so when I started applying all those different tools I mentioned earlier, it did work.
And then my former coworkers, my friends, my family members, they all said, wow, you ought to write a book about it, because this might inspire others who are trading their health for their career.
And so I decided to do that.
And now, as part of what I do, I try and let other people understand what happened to me, because often when we hear about different things that stress us out, whether we’re working, whether we’re students, whether we’re business owners, et cetera, we often will say, okay, I’ll get to it when I get to it.
But when you hear most people talking about stress from an expert level, it’s usually a psychologist, a psyChiatrist, et cetera, or a therapist.
And they may not be talking about their own personal experience.
They’re talking about their education and what they know about stress.
So I thought, okay, let me tell you from somebody who just had physical burnout, and it’s real, and your body is going to tell you, give you plenty of warning signs early on, that you need to take care of yourself.
And that’s what happened with me.
I mean, I had so many different indicators that I was stressed, but I kept ignoring it.
And our bodies basically don’t have any other choice but to keep upping the level until it has no choice but to break down.
And in my case, it was my pancreas that was the weakest link in my body’s chain.
But I could have avoided it if I would have just listened to all the other common things that my body was showing to me.
We ignore it, and we keep thinking that we’ll get to our health when we get to our health.
And the problem is, if we don’t have our health, nothing else truly matters.
Because when someone tells me, oh, I don’t have to worry about getting sick, well, okay, everybody’s most likely had at least a bad cold or flu at some point in their life.
And I ask, I say, when you had that flu, that cold, whatever it was that just knocked you on your behind, did you feel like doing anything other than lying in bed?
And if they’re honest, they’ll say no.
And the reality is, when all we can do is lie in bed because we have no other energy, what good are we to our careers, to our business, to our loved ones?
Our health is so important, and we can’t take it for.

Yeah, definitely.
So, Pete, when you’re thinking about these processes of using laughter, of using de stressing, of using improv comedy to help somebody else, basically, do you go through a series of steps?
How does it work?
How would you do it?

So depending on what the person is struggling with, one of the things that I always recommend is getting clear on what their personal values are in that area of their life, because our personal values are what’s most important to us.
And the reason we want to know what those are is because that’s basically our North Star.
If we clearly understand our personal values and then we make a decision that is not congruent with our personal values, we automatically increase our stress because we’re not being true to ourselves.
So I walk through the process, which only takes ten to 15 minutes, to professionally identify what those personal values are for the person in their particular area of their life.
And then what we do is look at different activities.
It might be visualization, it might be laughter.
I mean, one thing that I typically will do is if somebody’s saying, oh, there’s this particular person who bothers me, or blah, blah, blah, it’s just a coworker that’s driving me nuts or something, because they’re just irritating me.
One way you can use humor for that is you can imagine, like even though most everything is electronic now, there still is physical mail, packages, whatever it happens to be that arrive in the office.
And let’s say you go over and you pick up a thick envelope and it’s like, what is this?
And you open it and it’s a credit card bill that looks like you went nuts on eBay or Amazon.
And you’re thinking, how am I going to pay this?
And then you realize, you look at it and you realize it’s not your bill, but it’s your nasty coworker’s bill.
And you look at that and you just start laughing and stuff.
So imagining something like that, where you can take it from a low point to a high point, and it’s all about using your imagination.
And that comes back from when we were children.
Like I mentioned earlier about the World Series game I used, if we allow our imagination and our visualization capabilities to take us to somewhere else, even for 30 seconds a minute, it can make a huge difference.
Another great example is it’s not necessarily humor, but let’s say that we have to have a difficult conversation with someone, or let’s say a lot of people have a fear of public speaking.
And instead of worrying about all the anxiety about how that presentation or how that conversation is going to go, why not think about the 5 seconds after your final word in the presentation and you’re getting a standing ovation?
Or that conversation that you have, difficult conversation that you have with someone.
Either you shake hands or you hug it out 5 seconds after the last word was spoken in that conversation.
It’s amazing how if we imagine that we visualize that it can reduce our stress and it helps calm us and ground us.
And it really is.
It’s not a difficult thing to do if we’re willing to make an effort for one to two minutes at the most.

Good one, for sure.
And visualization and all that stuff.
And I don’t know if it’s ever been the case for you, but sometimes I have a heavy or weird day, and I’m looking forward to sitting down, maybe playing a console game or a board game or something of that completely takes your mind off the topic and just leaves it behind for a bit.
Does that make sense as well?

It does.
In fact, if you want, I can take listeners through a 1 minute visualization that they can do, let’s say, right before something that might be stressing them out.
And it’s a very simple process that we can do if you’d like.


So the only caveat that I would tell listeners is you don’t want to do this.
If you’re driving a vehicle, pull over or wait until afterwards, because what you want to do is close your eyes and take a deep breath in.
And I want you to go in your mind to a place you like to relax.
Call it your happy place.
Maybe it’s the beach.
Maybe it’s the park.
Maybe it’s a lake.
Maybe it’s your backyard.
Maybe it’s the spa.
Maybe it’s your favorite recliner.
Whatever it is, go there now and take in all of your senses.
So what do you feel?
Do you feel the sun on your face?
Maybe the sand or the grass under your feet?
And what do you smell?
Do you smell the fresh air?
Maybe the lotion from the spa?
Or maybe you made popcorn for your favorite movie.
And what do you hear?
Do you hear the wind blowing through the trees?
Maybe the water splashing on shore?
And what do you see?
Do you see the blue sky?
Maybe the Green of the trees or the grass?
Whatever it is, take it all in.
And then take another deep breath in, and you open your eyes.
Simple grounding.
And the important thing is to incorporate your senses into your visualization, because when you incorporate your senses into your visualization, it makes it more real.

Interesting, interesting.
Thank you very much for that experience that we just had.
Engagers, I hope you enjoyed that as so.
Very good.
Very good stuff.

Glad you liked it.

So, Pete, you mentioned one of the things that you used to do was creating a game using content from case studies.
Students worked and we graded.
How did that work?
And if there’s any link from that to what you’re doing right now.
We’d love to hear that as well.

So when I was teaching classes in person, for those of us who’ve had whatever topic, the vast majority of us have had really poor teachers or poor professors and the ones that just do the lecture and bore us to death.
And the reality is, with marketing has a lot of creativity to it.
And so what I did was classic case study, if you can imagine.
Okay, so we have to learn by seeing different real world scenarios.
So case studies are important for that.
But if somebody has to do a presentation on a case study, it’s going to be, this is the brand, this was the issue, this was the result.
So what I thought I did was I instructed my students, and I would group them into anywhere from three to six students each.
And they would be grouped up for the semester as a group.
And at one point during the class, during some class session, they would have to give a case presentation on whatever I assigned.
But instead of doing it as a typical presentation, I told them to make it a game.
And so this game might whatever this game wants to be, I told them they had free rein to whatever the game was, and the rest of the student groups would compete for class participation points.
So not only did the students who were giving the presentation have to read the cases and understand them, but so did the other students, because they needed to know what the answers were to be able to get points throughout the game.
And so what would happen is that they would compete for class participation points, which went to their overall grade.
And what I would do is I would demonstrate how to do this for the first two sessions of class.
First session, I would take a case study and I would make it jeopardy.
So I’d have, like, the six categories, and I’d go around to each group and say, okay, it’s your turn.
Pick a category and pick a points value, basically.
And they would compete in jeopardy.
And of course, what were the jeopardy?
Answers would be something from the case, and then they would have to answer back as a question to really answer what the case study topic was.
And so that worked really well.
And then the second session with different case studies, I had a deck of cards, and these deck of cards had the letters of the alphabet on them, and they were randomly selected.
And what I would do is I would hold a card up, and the group that could answer or come up with a particular word that started with that letter that was relative to the case would get that card.
And then at the end, when we went through all the deck of cards, and there was probably 100 cards in that deck.
Whatever groups got the most cards would get the extra points for the class participation as well.
Students love this, and they absolutely loved having each week, having a fun activity in class.
And I would also facilitate during my presentation part, what they would do is I would always have in each session, I would also have a surprise group competition where they couldn’t look at their books or their phones or their computers for answers.
But at one point, I would pull something out that would reinforce the learnings once again based on a particular topic that we were talking about.
So I’d like to do that Because I always imagine that if you’re going to be in marketing, you should be creative, you should be engaging, and if you teach it like a boring class, people are not going to be motivated in marketing.
And this was just the opposite.
And I used to get phenomenal reviews from the students.
They’d always say it was the best class.
And every now and then it was funny because students would have activities, the case study activities, and they would start shouting and stuff.
And I’d get other professors who would come in and say, can you keep it down?
We’re trying to have a lecture here and stuff.
And it was hilarious because my students were having fun in class as they were learning, whereas everybody else was being bored to death.

Well, including some elements in your class definitely helped your experience.
So, Pete, Professor Pete Alexander, you’ve heard a little bit of the vibe of the podcast.
You understand a little bit more of what we are about at this point.
You know, we’re talking gamification, game based learning, game inspired solutions, whatever you want to think around games, engagement and motivation.
Is there somebody that you would like to listen to in a future interview, a future guest that you would be personally interested in?

Oh, if there was something like, one of my favorite celebrities is Tom Hanks, and he actually, he’s got a great just talent for different roles.
But one of the things that I noticed that on his feed, he mentioned that one of his jobs that he had when he was a teenager was, I think it was peanut vendor at an Oakland A’s game.
And he did that at the Oakland Coliseum.
And he did something where he was doing kind of like trivia kind of stuff, and it was fun to be able to read that.
It got me so much more interested in the feed because of that.
So that person comes first to my mind as somebody that was like, oh, wow.
So what other fun things did he do?
Because what’s interesting is my sister actually went to the same high school as him.
And I remember when he first started out as an actor, he was on a TV show called Bosom Buddies, and I didn’t know who he was, but one of my friends was going to the same high school as what my sister and Tom Hanks went to.
And so I called her up and had her watch the show and ask her if she remembered him.
And it was so funny because she said, yeah, I remember Tom.
He was one of the weird drama guys.
And so I could only imagine what kind of goofy games and stuff like that that he did in his past.
And I would just love to hear more about that.

So, Tom Hanks and Pete, you’ve discussed a bit about what you did.
I don’t know if you gathered any inspiration from literature, any book that inspired you into using those games in your class or not.
But in any case, is there a book that you recommend?
Our audience, people, again, who are very.

Interested in this, you know what I would recommend?
There’s actually a couple of them.
One is the happiness equation.
It’s by Neil Patricia.
He talks about different things that we can do to be more happy.
And if games and having fun with games is something that would make you happy, it’s definitely worth reading that book because it’s a wonderful thing to review.
And the other one that I recommend, that’s not widely known, but it’s a very good book, is called Life’s Greatest Lessons.
And it’s by Hal Urban, who’s actually a former professor over in Stanford.
And I utilized this for my kids because too often we are so focused on our phones and maybe the games and we’re letting other things pass us by without realizing it.
And so he has these very interesting 20 lessons that as you get older, they actually become even more important.
And so I’d highly recommend reading those two because I think, whereas I love games, I love having that as part of my personality because I love competition as well.
But there are other things that we need to be aware of to keep ourselves happy.
And I would highly recommend.

Absolutely, absolutely.
Sound like two great books for sure.
And Professor Pete Alexander, thank you for investing your time in us today.
But before we let you go, are there any final words you’d like to leave us with?
And, of course, let us know where we can find out more about what.

You’Re, you know, I recommend for listeners, if you want to connect with me on social media, feel free to reach out to and really, the only thing that I would like to leave with people with is, as it relates to your career, don’t trade your health for your career or any other serious responsibility you have, because our health is too precious.
And don’t take it for granted because it’s too easy to lose.

Very important to keep in mind.
Again, thank you, Professor Pete Alexander, for spending investing all this time with us, the engagers.
However, as you know now, engagers and as you know now, Professor Pete Alexander, at least for now, and for today, it is time to say that it’s game over.
I hope you enjoyed this interview.
And remember, before going to your next mission, to subscribe using your favorite podcast app and listen to the next episode of Professor Game.
See you there.

End of transcription

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