How Pete Holmes creates comedic flow: Try micro-visualization

Setting a simple intention and coming prepared can help you — and those around you — win big.

PETE HOLMES: It's unfortunate that the idea of having an intention is so often repeated that it's sort of lost meaning. But in my experience, it's not as complicated or labored as it sounds, and it's also really, really, really, really helpful.

For me, if I'm going to do a podcast -- or really do anything, it makes a huge difference if I just take a moment to actively imagine-- people might say visualize, but it doesn't feel that fancy. It's literally just maybe in the shower. You're going to a podcast. What face do I want them to make? Just that specific visual goal of, how do I want them to feel when we're done? And what my intention when I do any podcast is I want them to be my friend. I want them to think, and be my friend. Not just think that we're friends. That's phony showbiz nonsense. Some of my greatest friends, people that I consider family-- I mean emergency contacts on my medical forms-- were podcast guests. And it happens all the time. And that is a good intention to have, is I want this person to feel safe, I want them to feel seen. Just like Marc Maron, at the end of my podcast, I like to say, do you feel satisfied? Do you feel satisfied? Sometimes they say no, and they go, when we talked about that, I didn't feel like I said it. Do it. Go ahead. But specifically, what kind of laugh do I want them to laugh? What kind of smile do I want them to smile? That's what visualization is to me.

It's not as heavy as sitting and really, I'm going to play by play. It's 15 seconds, if that. It's not doing it that does it, it's remembering to do it that does it. You know what I'm saying? People don't forget people's names, they forgot to remember the name. You know what I mean? So it's actually just this micro adjustment of intention that goes, I took the time-- if I'm driving to a podcast, I'll listen to instrumental music and I'll just think about the person. And you'd be shocked-- I'm also listening to myself. What's going on in my world today? How anxious am I today? What are my needs? What are my confessions? What are my joys? And then I'm going in loaded.

So if they're not going to-- this is another great thing. You go in with enough to say about yourself that if they don't say anything, you go, it's fine, you can sleep in the back. I'll drive us to Disney. It's OK. This is my podcast, too. It's fine. I'm glad you're here. You're going to listen to me talk about my mom. And, boy, I hope you talk about your mom. But if you just wanted to plug your book, that's fine. It'll get a hefty plug at the beginning. But the episode is going to be Pete heavy. And hopefully that's comforting. It shouldn't be threatening. It's like, oh, he's got it, it's good. I'll respond, as well. It's sort of like you're not going in with scared money. You're like, we'll get this coming or going.

I have a vision in my head that you score. That's a term we use in comedy writing. If the actor gets a laugh on a line you wrote, you go, oh, he scored with that. I want them to score. I interviewed Stephen Colbert for a fest in LA, and at one point, he was just crushing. And it was because of a certain series of questions and areas that we were going with. Nothing was planned. It was just, we flowed. And we got there and it was 3,000 people were there, and he's crushing. And I'm like-- it was like watching your children take a step or something. Something that you built together paid out for him. Nobody remembers that I did that interview, but everybody that was there was like, remember that thing Steven said about the tree frogs? And you're like, ah, I did it. And those people are a day off.

And then some days where it's a little bit more laborious, you demonstrate that it's safe. It's going to be a great episode either way. I ask them, what's the hardest time you've laughed? And they don't have an answer. That's fine. I tell them mine and we're both laughing, and it's a good episode. That's a nice thing to say, is you're in an abundant place. I'm not saying, please fill this with you. You go, this place is already full. Would you like to push some of me out? [LAUGHING]

  • Setting an intention doesn't have to be complicated, and it can make a great difference when you're hoping for a specific outcome.
  • When comedian Pete Holmes is preparing to record an episode of his podcast, "You Made it Weird with Pete Holmes," he takes 15 seconds to check in with himself. This way, he's primed with his own material and can help guests feel safe and comfortable to share theirs, as well.
  • Taking time to visualize your goal for whatever you've set out to do can help you, your colleagues, and your projects succeed.



Participatory democracy is presumed to be the gold standard. Here’s why it isn’t.

Political activism may get people invested in politics, and affect urgently needed change, but it comes at the expense of tolerance and healthy democratic norms.

Photo by Nicholas Roberts /Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Polarization and extreme partisanships have been on the rise in the United States.
  • Political psychologist Diana Mutz argues that we need more deliberation, not political activism, to keep our democracy robust.
  • Despite increased polarization, Americans still have more in common than we appear to.
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How do 80-year-old 'super-agers' have the brains of 20-somethings?

Most elderly individuals' brains degrade over time, but some match — or even outperform — younger individuals on cognitive tests.

Mind & Brain
  • "Super-agers" seem to escape the decline in cognitive function that affects most of the elderly population.
  • New research suggests this is because of higher functional connectivity in key brain networks.
  • It's not clear what the specific reason for this is, but research has uncovered several activities that encourage greater brain health in old age.

At some point in our 20s or 30s, something starts to change in our brains. They begin to shrink a little bit. The myelin that insulates our nerves begins to lose some of its integrity. Fewer and fewer chemical messages get sent as our brains make fewer neurotransmitters.

As we get older, these processes increase. Brain weight decreases by about 5 percent per decade after 40. The frontal lobe and hippocampus — areas related to memory encoding — begin to shrink mainly around 60 or 70. But this is just an unfortunate reality; you can't always be young, and things will begin to break down eventually. That's part of the reason why some individuals think that we should all hope for a life that ends by 75, before the worst effects of time sink in.

But this might be a touch premature. Some lucky individuals seem to resist these destructive forces working on our brains. In cognitive tests, these 80-year-old "super-agers" perform just as well as individuals in their 20s.

Just as sharp as the whippersnappers

To find out what's behind the phenomenon of super-agers, researchers conducted a study examining the brains and cognitive performances of two groups: 41 young adults between the ages of 18 and 35 and 40 older adults between the ages of 60 and 80.

First, the researchers administered a series of cognitive tests, like the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT) and the Trail Making Test (TMT). Seventeen members of the older group scored at or above the mean scores of the younger group. That is, these 17 could be considered super-agers, performing at the same level as the younger study participants. Aside from these individuals, members of the older group tended to perform less well on the cognitive tests. Then, the researchers scanned all participants' brains in an fMRI, paying special attention to two portions of the brain: the default mode network and the salience network.

The default mode network is, as its name might suggest, a series of brain regions that are active by default — when we're not engaged in a task, they tend to show higher levels of activity. It also appears to be very related to thinking about one's self, thinking about others, as well as aspects of memory and thinking about the future.

The salience network is another network of brain regions, so named because it appears deeply linked to detecting and integrating salient emotional and sensory stimuli. (In neuroscience, saliency refers to how much an item "sticks out"). Both of these networks are also extremely important to overall cognitive function, and in super-agers, the activity in these networks was more coordinated than in their peers.

Default Mode Network

Wikimedia Commons

An image of the brain highlighting the regions associated with the default mode network.

How to ensure brain health in old age

While prior research has identified some genetic influences on how "gracefully" the brain ages, there are likely activities that can encourage brain health. "We hope to identify things we can prescribe for people that would help them be more like a superager," said Bradford Dickerson, one of the researchers in this study, in a statement. "It's not as likely to be a pill as more likely to be recommendations for lifestyle, diet, and exercise. That's one of the long-term goals of this study — to try to help people become superagers if they want to."

To date, there is some preliminary evidence of ways that you can keep your brain younger longer. For instance, more education and a cognitively demanding job predicts having higher cognitive abilities in old age. Generally speaking, the adage of "use it or lose it" appears to hold true; having a cognitively active lifestyle helps to protect your brain in old age. So, it might be tempting to fill your golden years with beer and reruns of CSI, but it's unlikely to help you keep your edge.

Aside from these intuitive ways to keep your brain healthy, regular exercise appears to boost cognitive health in old age, as Dickinson mentioned. Diet is also a protective factor, especially for diets delivering omega-3 fatty acids (which can be found in fish oil), polyphenols (found in dark chocolate!), vitamin D (egg yolks and sunlight), and the B vitamins (meat, eggs, and legumes). There's also evidence that having a healthy social life in old age can protect against cognitive decline.

For many, the physical decline associated with old age is an expected side effect of a life well-lived. But the idea that our intellect will also degrade can be a much scarier reality. Fortunately, the existence of super-agers shows that at the very least, we don't have to accept cognitive decline without a fight.


Learn the art of conversation, with comedian Pete Holmes

We have a new range of skills coming to Big Think Edge this week, including communication, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence.

Edge Weekly
  • At Big Think Edge this week, we delve into ways you can make your conversations sing. So to speak.
  • Learn a valuable lesson about psychopaths, from diagnosed psychopath (and neuroscientsit) James Fallon.
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