Gay Hendricks: The Genius Zone


Want to feel more creative, more connected, and to say you love your business and life with full whole hearted YES!?There is one person who has really unlocked those things for me, and he has a brand new book with clear instructions on how to make it happen for all of us. Gay Hendricks, author of my favorite book The Big Leap, is diving into the system he’s sharing with us in his newest book, The Genius Zone. Find his newest book here.

Getting closer and closer to what you love is the real secret to abundance that expands and inspires those around you to do the same. This is one you’ll want to watch over and over again! I’m so honored and can’t wait! 


Introduction to Gay


As Gay is getting older (he and his wife are now in their 70s), they have more memory issues than before, so they have made up a game called Elder Points. You lose an Elder Point if you leave the backyard with your coffee mug out where you were drinking it earlier in the day, or other things like that. You gain Elder Points if you remember to close the refrigerator. I’d like to know if I can play this game at 41… My whole life, I wanted to be 30, and then I realized I actually wanted to be 80. Well on my way. 


What is the Genius Zone? 


The Big Leap was about getting out of your own way, finding what Gay calls your upper limit problems. He shows you how to get out of your upper limit problems and how to establish your residency in the genius zone. The genius zone is when you are doing what you most love to do and what makes the biggest contribution to yourself and the world. When you are in the sweet spot of your genius, it’s visible in how you do what you do, based on how you show up. You just want to keep expanding that further with each day. Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “Those who breathe most air live most life.” One way to live the most life is to express more of your organic genius each day. 

This new book takes The Big Leap into another dimension. Gay lives in a mountain valley where you can look up into the sky and see hawks circling around. They use little or no effort to make tiny adjustments that allow them to stay in their genius zone of flying for long periods of time. The Big Leap was about how to leap into your genius zone, and The Genius Zone is about how to stay there, just like those hawks, how to make adjustments, especially when you face stuck periods. 

The genius move is what you make when you get into those tight situations where you could be stuck. You get dozens of opportunities to get into your genius zone if you know how to recognize those situations and understand what to do when you face them. 

When Gay was first teaching the material The Big Leap, his students started calling an upper limit problem an ULP, like “ULP, I did it again!” Gay was calling an ULP an ULO (upper limit opportunity) because if you work it right, you can turn a problem into an opportunity. It’s a way of jumping into your genius. Rather than seeing it as something bad, see it as another opportunity to get into your genius zone. 

Human beings don’t think highly enough of themselves when it comes to how we can use our tools, such as our breathing to work through our feelings. This is why Gay has included a whole chapter on how to use breathing to turn an ULP into an ULO. I work with a vocal coach, and he has made me use an oxygenator to test my oxygen levels because he claims that I am addicted to breathing. I need to start to allow myself to let my breath happen naturally rather than efforting it; I’m efforting breathing! Come on, Mahoney! 

When you get stressed, most of us breathe shorter and shallower rather than easier and deeper. You can turn the stress or anxiety chemistry off in your body with a few easy breaths. Instead, we clutch and tighten our bellies, breathing up in our chests, which disturbs the oxygen/carbon dioxide levels in our body. This is why you feel off-center, tired, mentally foggy, physically tense, etc. This is why Gay recommends “to learn to breathe with your feelings rather than hold your breath against your feelings.” The Greeks called this alexithymia, which means “being out of touch with your feelings.” 

Gay and his wife work with a lot of couples that travel far to work with them intensively for a day or two. In a relationship, both people often suffer from a type of alexithymia because neither of them can voice their innermost feelings to the other. We need to live in our bodies. If you separate from your feelings and your body, this will ultimately translate to roughening things in the exterior world. The inner correction needs to take place first. Even though people often think you need to fix the outside first in order to fix the inside, that’s the wrong order. It’s the inside first. 

Gay’s friend was 30 pounds overweight and out of shape. He hated to go to the gym, so he made a deal with himself that for the first week of going to the gym, he would do one chin-up a day. The second week, he would do two. By the end of the year, he could do 50 chin-ups a day, and he had lost that 30 pounds. Operate out of your zone of genius, and be forgiving of yourself for not showing up that way all the time, and having to work toward it. Human beings are like the automatic pilot on an airplane; if you point it to New York from LA, it makes thousands of tiny corrections to reach its destination. You get from LA to New York by being wrong most of the time, making the tiny corrections needed along the way. 

Gay’s daughter wanted horse lessons for her sixth birthday, so he took her. The trainer got her up on the horse. They walked at first, and then they jogged, at which point his daughter fell off the horse. The trainer just put Amanda back on the horse because this happens all the time in the trainer’s eyes. Gay was about ready to climb the fence to rescue his daughter. She lasted about 20 seconds before falling off again. She got back on again. When she was that age, she also had one of those Bobo the Clown dolls that you could punch over, and it would pop right back up. It ultimately was a good lesson for how to deal with life. We are all Bobo the Clowns in a way. It would be nice if we had some instruction manuals for life because so much of what Gay teaches could be learned by kids. 


Persona Play


On a call with Gay recently, I was talking about something that happened in our business where an account manager quit, and everything went wrong with her replacement. I told Gay that I had hit an ULP, and he said it was an ULO because I had caught it in time. He said, “You have one foot in the accounting department, one foot in sales. Any part of you anywhere else?” I said, “My butt is firmly grounded in my genius zone, and I am clenching my cheeks with all my might.” 

Gay then told this story about how he enjoys improv games. He puts on different characters sometimes, and one of his characters is a dancer. Katy, Gay’s wife, and Gay are about to have their 40th wedding anniversary in October. She was originally a dance therapist, so movement is her bread and butter. Gay comes from breath work. When they got together, they realized they both had a fascination with content improv and regular improv, so they do what they call persona play. Gay has this persona that he is the person who is responsible for the kitchen, and she must not violate any of her rules in the kitchen. That’s ridiculous because she is a master chef. Another example is the other morning, he was polishing the counter with some organic wipes, and he said, “Be careful when you come in here because you are just another surface to be polished.” 

Couples that do persona play thrive because “if you are willing to separate yourself from your personas enough so that you can play with them, that’s an important thing in life.” A lot of people think the persona they are in is life. They don’t realize that if they let go of those personas, there is more room for spontaneity and play. 


The Genius Moment


Gay gets interviewed all the time, and he is always looking for new questions, so my question about how he has managed to do so many different things in the same life is a new question for him, which was super cool to hear. When Gay was in high school, he was in the city library in Leesburg, Florida, where he spent a lot of time due to the air conditioning… He was having a teenage crisis because he didn’t know what he wanted to do. His girlfriend at the time really wanted to be a teacher, and he didn’t have that kind of clarity for himself. His town was too small to even have a psychologist, so that was outside his world view. When in the library, he came across a book called The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini. He was one of the first person regarded as a Renaissance person, a new term for Gay. He was a musician, civic leader, writer, advisor to his friends, and more. Gay knew then that he didn’t want to do just one thing; he wanted to express himself in as many areas as he possibly could. That moment of “feeling disenchanted with the possibilities of life” was a key moment for him.

Gay’s first published pieces as a writer were poems. He didn’t start writing in the realms of counseling or spirituality. He got three poems published in a journal for counseling about counseling. Buckminster Fuller at age 27 was feeling suicidal and had made a new deal with the universe where he committed himself to inventing things in return for the universe’s support; this meant he didn’t have to think about money. Gay was inspired by that and decided he was going to make a deal with the universe, too. He said, “I want to use all my skills however I can apply them. In return, I’d like to be supported so I don’t have to sweat money too much.” And it happened! Gay discovered things about himself that he wanted to write about, and so much more. 

This won’t be everyone’s life path, but Gay believes we all have a cosmic duty to choose our own life path. Mary Oliver wrote in a poem, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” We should live in that question. That is at the heart of the genius zone. The genius zone is about the genius move and the genius moment: “how to spot the moment when you can make something happen that catapults you into genius.” 


The Power of Storytelling


Gay has a science that he practices of storytelling. It’s a science of both the heart and the mind. 50 years ago, when Gay was working on his Ph. D at Stanford, another man was there at the same time, Robert Miltz. He did a study on how teachers can best explain things, inventing a formula for this called Concept, Example, Concept. To tell a story, you have to engage both hemispheres of the brain, going back and forth between the two. For example (that was the concept), when you are teaching the concept, it’s a good idea to tell the truth in a relationship. 

An example is Gay had a couple come over from a foreign country to have him consult on a seven-year problem that they couldn’t straighten out. Coming to Gay was a last resort. His actual treatment took about 10 seconds although it took an hour and a half to unwind after. Gay asked, “Seven years ago, what truth was withheld?” What was revealed was she had had a one night stand affair with his best friend seven years ago. That was the truth that got lived around for seven years. Once it was outed, there was an uproar, but 15 years later, they are still together. They were able to remove the boulder from the living room carpet that they had been walking around for years, but Gay’s job is to reveal the boulder immediately. Now you have an example of how you can have continual orgasms by telling continual truths all the time. 

    • I want to note that he added a Metaphor component to this formula. He’s sneaky… As he pointed out, an example could be a story or a metaphor or an image of some sort. 

Gay does not offer a specific workshop on storytelling, but storytelling is a component of both of their major trainings, one for relationship coaches and therapists and one more focused on our approach to breathing, movement, the relationship between body and mind, etc. Everyone learns how to tell their stories through the Concept, Example, Concept formula in both trainings.

About two years ago, I went on a mission to buy as many of Gay’s books as I could. My COO/sister-in-law and I had a call where we committed to health targets and business targets, including reading. I can’t wait to tackle this giant stack of Gay’s wisdom and learn even more about the power of storytelling.

Everyone’s story has the power for transformation, as long as you can really understand it. Everyone is carrying around the seeds of their own genius, but they are wrapped up in the actual story of your experiences. This is why Gay makes such a point about how you get constant genius moments all the time in the most unusual ways. One way to recognize a genius moment is you feel stuck or decentered. Most people respond to that by doing more of what already is not working because maybe if they do enough of it, it will eventually work. 99% of the stuff human beings worry about is not in their ability to control anyway. If things are rattled on the inside, of course they will be rattled on the outside, too. Align your inside, and life will fall into place. As a final note, Gay encourages everyone to make their lives a quest for genius. 


Contact Gay


Additional Resources

The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini by Benvenuto Cellini