meet jack black
He went from stressed-out social worker to blissed-out castle-dweller. And the Glasgow guru says it’s all thanks to harnessing his alpha waves and managing his energy. Rhiannon Batten meets the brains behind multi-million-pound motivation business Mindstore
Leaving our muddy shoes at the door, we stroll sock-footed into Jack’s peach-coloured living-room and a sunny corner of domestic harmony. There’s a pile of newspapers on the coffee table and a neat flower arrangement on the recently dusted sideboard. With its plumped cushions and framed family photographs, this could be a suburban bungalow anywhere in Scotland, if it weren’t for the unusual reading selection in the bookcase. In place of John Grisham and Reader’s Digest, there are titles such Magic Demystified, Get Well Oiled and, crucially,
Zen and the Art of Making a Living. A glance out the window confirms it: no sleepy cul de sac, but the sweeping grounds of Bardowie Castle.
Since giving up his job as an Easterhouse social worker and setting up Mindstore, now one of the UK’s largest self-development companies, Jack Black has done pretty well. With his neat suit and sharp chin, the 46-year-old motivational expert looks like your typical Scottish football manager though he would describe himself as "a cross between Billy Connolly and Billy Graham". But when he fixes his sharp eyes on you, it’s unsettling. And they fix on you a lot - particularly if, like me, you happen to mention the unfairdismissal case he was involved in two years ago (it was settled out of court).
Suddenly Jack’s cosy smile is replaced by a cool stare and a stroppy, "I’ll get my lawyer right now if you are going to go there". Startled, my eyes flick from his penetrating stare to his perfectly coiffed hair. Which, it turns out, is also part of the story. For it was while he was having this mane attended to in the hairdresser’s that Black made his life-altering decision to leave social work behind. At the time, three people close to him had suddenly died and, when he had a "wee blackout" in the afore-mentioned barber’s, he decided it was the first warning, or maybe the last, that he should change what he was doing. "At the time I was working 60 or 70 hours a week and I was stressed out of my mind," he explains. "The blackout caused me to go and search for stress management and that search brought me here."
By this he means Mindstore, which was set up in 1990. Now available as a weekend course, a video or in a handy, easy-to-carry book form, Mindstore is basically a series of personal techniques that help people succeed in life. Emphasis is placed on generating the most positive kind of brainwaves, known as Alpha waves. These pulse most strongly when we are relaxed and they’ve been shown to play an essential part in the creative process.
According to Black, everyone goes through periods of disturbing change and Mindstore helps them deal with that in four ways: through managing stress, becoming positive, knowing what it is you want to do and being creative.
"In Scotland especially, most people’s viewpoint is automatically negative," says Black, locking me with another of his heat-seeking stares. "There’s a lot of cynicism around but you have to become positive to manage your energy. The people who are really going to make a difference are what I call futurists. They love the now with a passion, but the point is they know where they want to go. And that sense of clarity, of knowing what you want to do and what you want to have, is a big part of Mindstore."
What Black believes we need to have most of all is vision. "Everyone has aspirations but, by and large, they limit themselves because they’re working in a very analytical, logical way. They base their future on past results: given who I am, given my resources, I don’t expect too much - that sort of thing. There are very few people out there who have the capacity to have an original thought but the people who really inspire set themselves goals that seem to be impossible yet somehow achieve them."
Unsurprisingly, the people who inspire Black the most are sports stars, businessmen and politicians. He won’t name many names but he does admit to an admiration for Liz McColgan who, he says, is "just fantastic", Graham Obree, who’s "had a tough time recently, struggling with his own genius", and Tom Hunter, who "shows an amazing degree of entrepreneurial zeal".
But Black is equally poetic about those who come on his public courses. Operating in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, London and all over Ireland, he says he gets up to 2,000 people taking part in his weekend events. "I teach them to understand this stuff. People have said I’m charismatic and that’s fine," he says, without irony. "Many of them come back and repeat the course for a token fee of 25, a system that helps first-timers too. When the repeaters come to a course, they’re sharing their stories, sharing their successes, and people find out that it works. It can change their lives," he says, drilling his point home.
He claims that his most recent success was a 50-year-old woman who, after following the Mindstore path to enlightenment, is now expecting her first baby. "She came to the course about 10 years ago and, from that day, she started working to have this baby," Black tells me, edging forward animatedly on the sofa. "She and her partner had been through everything and had been told they would never have children. Eventually they came to Mindstore and they were able to shift their beliefs that they couldn’t have a baby."
I’m all for positive thinking - changing career, getting the dream house or leaving the cheating boyfriend behind - but biological miracles? It doesn’t sound wholly convincing.
"You have to stand back and watch your thoughts," he continues, sounding increasingly evangelical as his voice rises. "Thoughts are kind of random - they come out fast and furious but most are negative. They come from fear rather than love. They come from a place of lack rather than abundance and a place of low self-esteem rather than confidence. Most people’s expectations of themselves are well below their potential."
Back on the safer ground of careers, this all sounds more credible. "After doing the course, we find that people often resign from their jobs and build fantastic businesses. Or sometimes they stay in their jobs but have a different attitude towards them. They’re happy to work their butts off for the company but they also make sure they’ve got time for their families, loved ones and personal interests," he explains.
So what do his followers do, exactly? "Well, it helps if you can cut out the TV as much as possible," he replies, shuffling back into the cushions. "When you’re watching TV you’re watching someone else succeed but if you put the same amount of energy into something you could succeed yourself. You need to start with your personal relationships. Then, of course, there’s your job. Around 94 per cent of people are probably in the wrong job, but their current job usually has elements of their ideal job. If you could sit down with your employer and say, ‘What if we just adjusted some of this stuff a little bit?’, there would be a phenomenal shift across that company.
"Then comes your health, your leisure and recreation - a lot of people, especially women, don’t take any time for themselves," he says, fixing those eyes on me again. "To them, taking time out would be selfish; they just can’t face it. But if they did, they’d be a far better mother, partner, wife, colleague, everything."
Black insists he follows these principles personally, working hard and playing hard too. "I think it’s important that I do the best I can to live by what I teach, to walk the walk," he says. "I’m not some up-on-a-pedestal guy, I’m just human, just normal, you know." But normality seems to have been replaced by a super-efficient productivity in the Black household.
As well as dealing with two teenagers, Anthony and Christopher, Black’s wife, Norma, an equally neat and precise former primary school teacher, liked the Mindstore concept so much she set up her own company, The Learning Game. Focusing on a similar programme for schoolchildren, it’s apparently now in 85 per cent of Scottish secondary schools. And Black is hardly taking things easy. He’s currently developing a special programme for women, which seems to be based largely on dieting.
The theory behind these programmes may sound fairly similar to ordinary common sense (apart from the "believe to conceive" bit, perhaps), but I’m beginning to warm to the idea by this stage and, okay, even feel a little motivated. But then Jack suddenly swoops into guru mode again, drifting off into talk of personal quests. As my eyes settle on a wooden buddha accessorised with crystals, and my ears suddenly tune in to the giant windchimes clanking away above the front door, he tells me how important he believes the spiritual side of things is.
"I know there are people out there who will crucify me for saying I’m a Christian but I’m not the kind of Christian who believes that a Hindu or a Muslim or a Zen Buddhist or whatever is going to hell because they’re not a Christian. When people start to search for the spiritual stuff, it’s wonderful, I’m inspired by that."
Such spiritual fervour may be unusual for a man who grew up between Easterhouse and Cumbernauld, but then not many of his boyhood neighbours could claim to live in a castle and own a boat.
Still, Black insists he hasn’t lost the common touch. "People who come here find I’m the same guy they always knew," he insists. "I’ve never really changed direction. When I was working in education and social work, I was working with groups of kids or groups of people, whatever, and I was encouraging them within that context. Now the only difference is that I’m working with mass audiences. I do a lot of work for charities. I’ve never forgotten what it’s like to work and live in the east end of Glasgow."
The Scottish connection is something Black is obviously proud of, even going to the trouble of wearing a tartan tie for the interview. "If they don’t know what I do, a lot of people think Mindstore is American, but everywhere I go I talk about Glasgow, I quote Scottish examples. I admit that the States had an influence on me, but Scotland’s always had people who’ve made a difference to the planet - Andrew Carnegie, for example."
Does he think he’s an Andrew Carnegie in the making? "I don’t set myself up as a spiritual leader," he replies, sincerely. "I’m just a quiet guy from the west of Scotland who makes a difference." n
Mindstore for Life and Mindstore for Business courses will be running in Glasgow and Edinburgh throughout March, April and May. For more information or to book call 0141 333 9393
or visit www.mindstore.com
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