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Twenty-Minute Chunks: Neuroscience and How We Best Learn

Friday, October 17th, 2014

By Mark Koenigsberg

My enthusiasm for neuroscience and its practical applications for my professional work as coach and consultant were inspired by two books, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee’s Resonant Leadership, and David Rock’s Your Brain at Work. Subsequent readings have kept me firmly on this path and have profoundly shaped my practice. The science in neuroscience is congruent with Gestalt teachings; the research and the ensuing data put teeth and bones into what, as Gestalt practitioners, we have intuitively known for years. It makes the soft stuff hard.

A recent document, “The Science of Making Learning Stick,”* highlights the findings of five PhD researchers, teachers and leaders, challenging long-held assumptions about how we best learn.

The following is a compilation of the article strictly for the non-scientists among us.

The Findings:

  • 20 minute chunks, then refresh. Most of us can only give full and undivided attention for twenty minutes, then attention and the ability to retain what is learned drops. Learning is not akin to running a marathon, less is effectively more.
  • We cannot force people’s brains to pay attention to us or to take in new material when that brain needs a break. We need to pay attention to attention.
  • Spacing, as in time between team or learning sessions, increases long-term retention. Consider three 20-minute content rich learning or team sessions spaced out during a work week (e.g. Mon/Wed/Friday mornings).
  • Spacing allows for sleep, which does wonders for long-term learning. Sleep provides optimal conditions for converting newly encoded memories into long-term storage.
  • Visual and auditory learning engage different areas of the brain. Showing a PowerPoint slide while simultaneously talking to your audience asks our brains to do auditory and visual learning simultaneously, hence neither function optimally. It is neither an effective, nor an efficient learning or teaching strategy. Show your slide, pause, don’t speak, ask for people’s attention, then talk to them.
  • Multitasking is the enemy of learning. Let’s repeat this. Multitasking is the enemy of learning. It does not work and those who think and report that they are great at it regularly score the worst when tested for retention. Multi-tasking distracts our brains from concentration and focus.
  • Positive emotion. When we feel good we are more creative.  We have greater insight – more “aha” moments, and our perception expands.
  • Retention and idea generation increase when we think about learning in the context of others, meaning how we will apply what we have learned in the context of our social (family, workplace, client-based) environment.
  • Conclude a team session by asking, “Who will you share this information with?” or, “How will you use this information with others?” Doing so leverages the power of social learning to make lessons stick, sticking in our brains!


*NeuroLeadership Journal, Volume 5/August 2014 – Josh Davis, Maite Balda, David Rock, Paul McGinness, Lita Davachi



Pathways to growth

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

By Gwynne Guzzeau, GISC Executive Director

Walking into GISC on a late summer morning, the summer growth is evident in the grasses, plants and shrubs that meet my gaze and stretch even higher. The fullness of green crowds out the paths on our grounds, disguising the access and the invitation to sitting areas where small groups gather for their own growth – professional and personal. So as we ready for the fall season of programs the question of access emerges: What are the pathways to GISC that people or organizations take? And how does GISC find its way out to you and the world beyond?

There are, of course, the familiar routes of referrals from friends, colleagues, coaches or therapists. The annual catalog of programs which we are busy finalizing for the coming year. The website where this blog post will live. The Gestalt Review which captures current thinking, most recently on coaching, parenting and creativity. The LinkedIn community conversations that pop-up from across the globe. Or, the new Facebook community for graduates of our coaching program.

These paths in and out of GISC are clear. And, yes, each can use and will continue to receive tending.

Yet, what interests me most on this quiet grey morning, our grounds overgrown and damp from the nighttime thunderstorm is you: What are the new paths you’d like to discover here at GISC? Not simply the promise of paths remembered from prior visits or times before the Meetinghouse was even built. What are the paths that the fullness of green is inviting us to create and explore, together?

Here at GISC, we are poised for growth, on our own developmental edge. So, as the leader, I need to know where it is that you long to go and how it is that you’d like to get there. Your ideas, images and thoughts are the true ground from which GISC’s future will emerge.

Please join the conversation and share your comments below.


Conversations with Sonia & Joe: Power and Hierarchy

Friday, July 11th, 2014


Sonia March Nevis and Joseph Melnick

Sonia:  Let’s talk about power and hierarchy.

Joe:  The higher we are in the hierarchy, the more power we have. Power allows me to make my own decisions. I don’t have to wait. I get to decide what we have to do and you don’t.

Sonia:  This is true in families and organizations.  That’s why I don’t like talking about hierarchy without also talking about power.

Joe:  Of course with families, the relational hierarchy is always shifting in response to the development stages of the children. It shifts in organizations too as a function of changing situations, tasks, and working relationships.

Sonia:  I saw two women yesterday whose mothers made their life miserable. So many women don’t know how to raise children. They don’t know how to manage the hierarchy. Parents sometimes give it up, they give away the power—the power to decide and influence. And sometimes parents do the opposite; they become rigidly hierarchical.

Joe:  It’s hard to talk about hierarchy and power without focusing on the culture and goals of the organization. Often in non-profits or volunteer organizations, the hierarchical relationship and the ability to influence is fuzzy. In military organizations or surgical units hierarchy and power tend to be clearer and more fixed.

Sonia:  A place where we get into trouble stems from the fact that many of our beliefs about power and hierarchy are shaped in our childhood.

Joe:  Yes, when I teach this module with one of our colleagues we talk about the differences in our growing up. She grew up Catholic with nuns for aunts and became a nurse. She was taught to respect positional power and hierarchy. As a student nurse she was taught to exit the elevator if it was full and a physician was waiting to get in.

My upbringing was very different. My father was anarchistic; a union man with a chip on his shoulder—and a hater of fixed hierarchy.  I remember the controversy I stirred within the faculty when, as a young assistant professor, I insisted that graduate students call me by my first name. Now my granddaughter, age eight, goes to a private school where the children call their teachers and administrators by their first names.

Sonia:  I grew up with no hierarchy. My father disappeared when my mother died and I was sent to live with a series of families as an outsider. Because I was “temporary,” I didn’t have to conform or rebel.

Joe:   My parents had a disrespect for hierarchy so I didn’t have to rebel against them. But when I see a hierarchy that is rigid, my belly tightens up and my adolescent self reemerges.

Sonia:  I just ignore it.

Joe:  I remember when we invited the leadership group of a police department to spend a day with us as clients so our students could practice our model1.  The chief walked in with his flip chart and markers. With barely a hello, he ignored you and our students and began organizing the day.

Sonia:  Yes, I remember. He said nothing to me. He jumped right over me and started taking over the class. I went up to him and explained that we were similar. That outside he is the chief and people need to follow him. But in here I am in charge and he needs to follow me. I went higher than him for the moment. I had to take my power. I needed to be higher than him for us all, including the police and students to have a good experience. Otherwise no one would listen to me. Luckily he smiled, handed me the marker, giving me permission to be the leader.

Joe:  You took your power and he allowed you to take it and to lead. Sometimes you have to take a risk.

Sonia:  Normally, as a consultant coach or therapist, one of the first tasks is to be the leader. Usually I speak to the leader off line, prior to the first meeting,  in order to create enough trust for him to let me lead. But this wasn’t true in this case.  We were all strangers to each other. If it is done well, you are aligned with the top of the hierarchy, and if you don’t shame them, they will support your work.

Joe:  Yes, and it isn’t just the leader who you need to get to follow you. I remember working with a group of litigators once and one of the lawyers opened up a newspaper and started reading it just as I began to talk.  I was first startled. I then began walking around the room continuing to talk. When I got to him I firmly took the newspaper, folded it up and placed it next to him. I didn’t want to fight with him or humiliate him.  I said nothing, and neither did anyone else. We were all fine after that.

Sonia:  Yes, there is often a “magic moment” when the hierarchy and power relationship shifts. It is often non-verbal.

Joe:  Yes. With families that are physically abusive, it might involve a child just standing tall and looking the parent in the eye while being hit.

1 In our Center we offer a one-week practicum applying the Cape Cod Model in organizations. We invite leadership teams of organizations to receive a free day of consultation from our students.


The questions of spring

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

By Gwynne Guzzeau, Executive Director

Walking in today, the crocus were cheering.  They started last week, but then we had a blizzard and 4+ inches of snow.  Even yesterday, we had snow in the morning.  But today, sunshine and sprouts of purple call out from the earth.  As I look closer, I notice my urge to pull away the old growth, the sticks, pine needles and dead leaves.  But the contrast of new and old is part of the beauty in this picture. 

And I wonder, how will I know what to leave in place or what to clear away?

These are the questions of spring.

The questions of new beginnings.

What will we let go of in our lives and in our organizations?  What will we hold onto? 

There are small and routine ways in which we hold on and let go every day.  As I arrive at GISC, I am letting go of the morning school bus routine with my son and preparing to begin new conversations in my role as ED.  Stepping out of my car and walking along the path are moments of transition and an invitation to notice whether I’m present or distracted, ready to arrive or holding on to a morning problem that has come and gone but still stirs within.

I wonder about you and how you know when to let go or hold on.  The ground of spring is fertile for these questions and our course, Next Phase, is an opportunity to reflect, discuss and experience new ways of holding on and letting go.   Perhaps you’ll join us for this conversation.

In the meantime, please let me know what works best for you when letting go. 

Let’s create a collective wisdom to share with each other, whatever the paths we are on at the moment, in life and in leadership.

Conversations with Sonia and Joe: Messing Up

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Conversations with Sonia and Joe

Over the past 30 years we have enjoyed many conversations around everyday experiences. Some of these conversations have been turned into articles around such topics as intimacy, contempt, love, commitment, power, surprise, jealousy, desire, ethics and optimism. Others sit half-finished in the back of a filing cabinet, while even more have never made it into writing, having instead faded into the air as our interest waned. Yet, no matter the outcome, these conversations have been immensely satisfying to us.

We would like to expand these conversations beyond the two of us by sharing some of them with you, and hearing back regarding your observations, thoughts, feelings and personal experiences. 

Please join the conversation by posting your comments below.  We would love to hear your thoughts.

Sonia March Nevis and Joseph Melnick

Messing Up

Even the best of us messes up often. To turn against ourselves after we mess up is rarely useful. A competent person knows that these things are ordinary and that the next day will bring new mess ups, but, every once in a while, we have a perfect day.

Joe:  I remember years ago you saying that it doesn’t do me any good to feel bad once I’ve messed up. If I wished to feel bad, I should have felt bad before I messed up, not after.

Sonia:  Yes, people turn on themselves rather than saying, “You know I was a jerk that time; I don’t know why I didn’t do that.” Anything that helps put it out, spit it out in an easy way. Knowing that it is a part of life—neither good nor bad.

Joe:  Yes, I can look at almost anything I’ve done and find a hundred ways that I could have done it better.

Sonia:  Yes, me too.

Joe:  We don’t appreciate the ordinariness of messing up.

Sonia:  I think that’s the right language. It’s a waste to put yourself down for almost any reason whatsoever. Now, of course, there are exceptions and extremes, but most people are talking about simple ordinary things. They forgot to do something, they were told not to do something and they are doing it anyway. Or they didn’t invite somebody to a party. We are full of that stuff all the time.

Joe:  Yes. I forgot their name and I feel so badly, or everyone is dressed a certain way and I’m not, or your zipper is open.

Sonia:  Or you fart. There’s always something.

Joe:  We learn to feel bad early. Maybe it’s a need to be perfect. To be more than who I am.

Sonia:  If there are any medals to be given, they should go to people who say, “Whoops, I’m sorry.”

Joe:  I remember when we were kids and we would say, “so sue me, or shoot me.” Kids have ways to brush it off because they mess up so often.

Sonia:  It is important to teach kids to learn to not feel too bad. It’s amazing how people can be humiliated over simple things—like mispronouncing my name.

Joe:  People will often collapse.

Sonia:  I allow my kids to feel bad over mistakes, like saying, “no, you did something wrong.” I think the goal is to not put it on ourselves or on others; to just put it out without judgment. The only way to get rid of it is to put it out in the air—not to take it in and not to blame others. We have to teach people that there is nobody walking around who’s perfect. There’s always someone better. That doesn’t make you bad.

Joe:  I remember working with a couple and I told her she was entitled to feel this bad [spreads his hands 6 inches], but not this bad [spreads his hands two feet]. She looked stunned. It’s as if she didn’t know that she had a choice. She had a choice of how bad to feel. I’ve sometimes asked people, “How long do you want to feel bad for?”

Sonia:  You can feel badly and hold it in or you can put it out. The other thing you can do is to apologize so you can join with someone.

Sonia:  I like that because it is a matter of acknowledging that most of life is still not this [spreads hands wide]. Many people feel terrible even though they have not done a terrible thing.

Joe:  But suppose there is not another person. l suppose I could apologize to myself.

Sonia:  I often laugh at myself.

Joe:  I remember what they do in a lot of parent-training courses. They tell you to tell your kid, “I’m not angry with you, I’m angry with your behavior—that you stole the milk.” I doubt kids believe that. I know two parents who, when their young kids misbehave, have them put their doll into “doll jail” for a time out.

Sonia:  The opposite is also true. We work with people who don’t feel bad when they should. They blame the others and, of course, these are the most difficult.

Joe:  Yes, these are the ones for whom life never changes. We have to learn to own our mistakes, but learn to carry them lightly.

Please leave your comments below.

What’s mud got to do with it?

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

By Gwynne Guzzeau, Executive Director

It’s overcast today.  The snow and ice from multiple storms has finally melted leaving the ground exposed once again.  Mary, our office manager, prefers the ice on her driveway this time of year, “It looks nicer than the wet dirt and gravel.”  If I wasn’t so worried about slipping on the ice, I’d agree with Mary, but I’ll take the mud for now along with the inconvenience it brings, sticking to my shoes and tracking after me whether wet or dry.

It wasn’t always this way.  When I was seven, mud was a projectile.  Easily shaped into balls that fit my small hands and launched over the six-foot stockade fence into the neighbors yard where kids we weren’t allowed to play with lived and launched their counterattack.

When I was twenty-seven, mud was a serious matter.  I was working on a 25,000-acre cattle ranch on the Crow Indian reservation in southeast Montana.  Dryhead was a fitting name for the ranch, except after heavy rains when the dirt turned a slick rusty brown at least three inches deep.  My job as a ranch hand included vacuuming the carpeted dining area in the cookhouse before and after each meal and cleaning the bathrooms where the linoleum floors invited a mud slide, even with paper laid down to absorb the wet dirt.

Now, I live on the marsh where the mud is black and you can sink to your knees if you stand in the wrong spot.  Mostly, it’s my dog who gets covered in the thick smelly stuff of the marsh.

But what’s mud got to do with it anyway?  As a leader in transition, as a coach and as a human being, there’s so much that I can’t see.  So I lean into the unknown, the uncertainty, and much like stepping on the soft wet earth — boundaries become blurred when my feet merge with the mud.

Mud demands that I pay attention to the ground, not just the figure I’ve decided to move towards.  In this way, the ground acts on me and my experience literally, not “only” in a Gestalt sense of the word “ground.”  

Last week, I asked a CCTP colleague in the UK what I should be reading in light of my new position, she responded:  “Poetry.  The answers to your leadership challenges won’t be found in a book.”

I know she’s right because I already have a poem posted on my office wall that captured my attention in the first few weeks on the job.  It’s called “Spirit of Place: Great Blue Heron” by William Stafford and the last line reads “…feet that go down in the mud where the truth is.”

Luckily though, for all you can’t see, mud is really good at leaving tracks.  And if it’s Meetinghouse mud that means that you’re lucky enough to be at GISC and you’ll probably be tracking it in with the rest of us….



Conversations with Sonia & Joe: Nobody Owns the Truth

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Conversations with Sonia and Joe


Over the past 30 years we have enjoyed many conversations around everyday experiences. Some of these conversations have been turned into articles around such topics as intimacy, contempt, love, commitment, power, surprise, jealousy, desire, ethics and optimism. Others sit half-finished in the back of a filing cabinet, while even more have never made it into writing, having instead faded into the air as our interest waned. Yet, no matter the outcome, these conversations have been immensely satisfying to us.


We would like to expand these conversations beyond the two of us by sharing some of them with you, and hearing back regarding your observations, thoughts, feelings and personal experiences. 


The following is the first in the series.  Please join the conversation by posting your comments below.  We would love to hear your thoughts.


Sonia March Nevis and Joseph Melnick



Nobody Owns the Truth


Nobody owns the truth. There are many ways to look at things since we all see things differently. A competent person is willing to talk to and listen to other people who are different from her.


Joe:  As I get older I get more and more amazed at how different people are.


Sonia:  The differences are certainly endless.


Joe:  Then what do you say to people who believe in “truth” and we don’t? Too often we struggle to connect with people who are eager to talk about their “truths” – often either politics or religion. It’s hard to know what to say.


Sonia:  I am thinking of clients who live with “have-to’s” that are truths for them. I sometimes work with women who have to take care of their old mother. A large number say, “I have to go every day or every few days.” They can’t go away for a vacation. I know that I have gotten some of these women to ease up on themselves and I know it is hard for them.


Joe:  It is like, “I’m a bad person if I don’t do this.” So what would you say to me if I said, “I can’t stand going to see my mother every day. I have to go”?


Sonia:  I would say, “You are not a ‘bad person.’ Your mother might have tried her best for you. Now you have to think of yourself. Do you decide that you are doing right, or doing wrong?’”


Joe:  I think that these people who live a life of “have-to’s” are in a daze. They have lousy habits. We “have to” get them to shift the habit or change the context…like, why not send a card?


Sonia:  Oddly I am thinking of a woman who could not get her mother off her mind. She had to visit her all the time. I suggested that she send cards. She is feeling relieved. Whether it will hold or not, I don’t know.  The thing of turning on yourself is a big issue.


Joe:  We’re back to different truths and beliefs.


Sonia:  The word believe—we often hear many “hard-to-believe stories” from clients. They wish us to say, “I believe you.” I can usually say, “I believe you right now.” Sometimes it is easy to say, “I believe you.” On the other hand, when it goes over a certain boundary I no longer say that. What do you say?


Joe:  I say, “I believe that you believe.”


Sonia:  If someone says I don’t like this fish I can believe them.


Joe:  Yes, that’s easy. It’s the separation of beliefs from truths that is important. 



Let us hear from you!  We invite and encourage your response.  Please join the conversation by submitting your comments in the “Leave a Reply” box (or “no comments” link) below.  




Quiet but not empty

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

By Gwynne Guzzeau, Executive Director

It’s quiet again.  An hour ago the last participant in the second week of the CDPCC program  left the building to catch a flight back to Scotland, his colleagues in the CDPCC are on their respective roads home  — north to Canada, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire; south to New York, and west to California.  One Cape-based participant left early for a business trip to the Middle East where he’ll be applying his newly-tuned coaching skills to work on a consulting project.  Our Director of Operations & Communications, Laurie Fitzpatrick, is among the CDPCC participants who’ve been laughing, learning and practicing for the past five days so she’s headed home too.  Now, it’s the hum of the dishwasher, Kemi Morrison, our Communications Assistant, and me. 


It’s quiet here, but it’s not empty.  The Edwin and Sonia Nevis Meetinghouse holds the values of optimism, generosity, integrity and trust that greet each of us when we walk into the building, regardless of who sits in this chair “on the back porch.”   And, I imagine, each of you leaves this Meetinghouse with the experience of this space set-up anew or for the first time, inside of you.  In that way, the work we do together when we gather here truly does transform the way we live and work in the world.


So as I introduce myself to you from my new seat as Executive Director, I want you to know something about how I got here:  I invested in myself, again and again. 


I followed the simple guidance I learned from Sonia Nevis, Nancy Hardaway and Deb Stewart, in my first workshop at GISC in 2007.  I expanded my awareness of my resources to include time and energy, not just money.  Then I started to keep a mental checkbook for my time and energy.  This framing of my resources helped me maintain resiliency in the early months of my law practice when cash flow came in fits and starts.  The money may not have been there, but I was “rich” with time and energy to spend on developing marketing collateral or networking. 


What about you?  Have you checked the balance in your time and energy checkbooks, not just your finances?


As the new year begins, I wonder, how will you use your resources of time, energy and money to invest in yourself?  Perhaps you will join me in small experiment or “let’s try” such as walking each day at lunchtime…


Or maybe you too will invest time and money in a coach to support you during a personal or career transition.


Like the participants who left this afternoon, after investing their time, energy and money into their personal and professional development, I hope you hold close to the optimism, generosity, integrity and trust GISC offers and that you use the power of your learning, your work, to find new ways to invest in yourself this year.


It’s dark now, the dishwasher is done, Kemi’s gone and it’s time to go home to my 11 year old son.  I’ll write again soon.


In the meantime, feel free to join this conversation and post a comment here or on LinkedIn or Facebook.


GISC names Gwynne Guzzeau as Executive Director

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Gestalt International Study Center (GISC), an internationally-recognized organization based in Wellfleet, MA, names Gwynne Guzzeau, MS, JD, as Executive Director effective January 1, 2014.  Guzzeau, a long-time Orleans resident, community leader, and attorney in private practice, has been affiliated with GISC for a number of years as a faculty member and Professional Associate.  She succeeds Mary Anne Walk, who will become Chief Relations Officer working under Gwynne’s leadership on business development and continuing as faculty.


In welcoming her successor Walk states, “As a GISC-certified coach, lawyer, educator, and community leader, Gwynne brings experience, energy, and creative thinking to GISC as the organization begins its next phase of transformation.”


“This is an exciting time to join GISC,” says Guzzeau.  “I look forward to leading and moving forward as we continue to deliver high-impact training, consulting, and coaching and remain innovative in our response to the development needs of our global clients. The Center’s success to-date is evidence that our programs can transform the way people live and work in the world.  GISC provides rigorous training and support that allows participants to gain immediate experience and apply their learning.  I look forward to advancing our vision in service to professionals, leaders and organizations seeking to increase their impact in the world.”


Guzzeau’s career spans several industries, allowing her to bring broad experience and value to GISC.  She has worked in education, law, small business and held public office.  She holds a JD from Georgetown University Law Center, a Master of Science in Education from Wheelock College Graduate School, and a BA, cum laude from Wellesley College. 


GISC is a nonprofit educational organization engaged in personal, professional, and organizational development.  GISC is located in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod and offers training at its Wellfleet training center, in live-online programs, and at locations around the world.


Transforming the way you live and work in the world

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013


As part of the GISC community, you are important in carrying our vision throughout the world. This is also the time of year we ask for your financial support—but first, let us share with you what is going on at GISC.

There is an enormous need for our programs and services. Therefore our business model has changed to accommodate this need and financially stabilize the Center. This past year our primary focus has been to:

  • Customize programs and deliver them to businesses at their premises.
  • Launch live online programs for those who cannot join us on the Cape.
  • Eliminate the programs that have gone through their life cycle.
  • Recruit a diverse participant group for the programs on the Cape.
  • Deliver new training for psychotherapists to address their growing needs.

You, our donors, join with us in a set of shared values: Optimism, Generosity, Integrity, and Trust. Your generous contributions support the Nevis Scholarship Fund; the Maintenance Fund; our General Fund, our Community Outreach Programs; and our socially committed initiatives in healthcare, education and psychotherapy.

Each of these endeavors is pursued to transform the way you live and work in the world by providing tools to spark extraordinary change in leaders, organizations, practitioners, psychotherapists and individuals.

We hope you will join us this year by giving what you can and we hope you can give generously from your heart. Any gift of more than $125 begins or renews your annual GISC membership, which includes a subscription to the Gestalt Review and a discount on program tuition and our bookstore items.

Whatever your financial capacity, please help us continue to make GISC experiences available to a wide range of people throughout the world. We promise to use your contributions wisely and in the manner you so designate. Your generosity and support are very much appreciated.

With all best wishes,


Sonia Nevis, Co-founder

Jamie Stewart, Chairman of the Board

Mary Anne Walk, Executive Director


For easy online donation, please click here.



Gestalt International Study Center
P.O. Box 515, South Wellfleet, MA 02663
Phone: +1 555 123 4567