Have you met my cousin, AJ Jacobs? Whether you know him or not, he's your cousin, too.

AJ is better known as the Human Guinea Pig whose wacky experiment with Old Testament living became the New York Times bestseller A Year of Living Biblically. He also took fitness to crazy extremes in Drop Dead Healthy by trying every exercise and diet possible--and read the entire encyclopedia, which he wrote about in The Know-It-All. When this man commits, he COMMITS.

But one of the coolest things he's done is to try to connect all of us in one, huge global family, but more about that in a minute.

AJ doesn't look like a maniac anymore than I do, but that should tell you something. Actually he's a super smart, nice guy who has gained a lot of wisdom from all of his experiments. I mean, how many people do you know who've built a hut in their living room and brought a sheep into the house?

"My wife wasn't too crazy about the hut. It's really hard to baby proof an apartment with a wooden structure in the middle of it," he says.

For a guy who describes himself as being Jewish the same way the Olive Garden is Italian, I wondered how he managed to follow the more than 600 rules in the Old Testament. He said it wasn't easy. His huge beard got itchy and it's not that easy to stone an adulterer. Where do you find one?

"I was in the park and a guy came up to me and said he was an adulterer. I asked politely if I might stone him," AJ says. He had kept pebbles in his pocket for just such an occasion. Don't worry, the guy wasn't harmed. Harder to pull off was having multiple wives. I mean, think about it. You've got a sheep living in the house. You've built a hut in the living room. And now you want to add a few wives? You really can't blame his wife for totally shutting AJ down.

"Yeah," AJ agrees. "She wasn't having it."

Power of Gratitude

But AJ's actual take-away from this adventure was pretty profound. He had to show gratitude for everything in his daily life--for example, take riding the elevator. He had to say thanks when the elevator arrived, then thanks that he had arrived safely at his floor without plummeting to his death. After a while it became a habit.

"It became a radical shift in perspective," AJ says. "Instead of focusing on the three or four things that go wrong in a day, I now notice the hundreds of things that go right." There was another big realization from that experiment. AJ learned that if you pretend to be a better person long enough, you become a better person. It's like what Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller said: "It is easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking, than it is to think yourself into a new way of acting."

This is true of fitness, too. You may not be a runner when you start, but by doing all the things a runner does you eventually become a runner. But just don't take it as far as AJ, who started obsessing over every detail, such as "Is this the healthiest toothpaste? Am I brushing my teeth the healthiest way?"

In other words, don't be unhealthy about health.

Our Global Family

AJ's newest experiment is the Global Family Tree, a massive project meant to link every human being on the planet. "After all, no one on earth is more than your 70th cousin," says AJ.

What's the point of creating a gargantuan family tree? It's pretty profound. AJ says that we humans aren't just the same species, we're the same family--we all share 99.9 percent of our DNA. To bring all these cousins together, AJ sponsored the world's biggest family reunion last June. More than 4,000 cousins met for the first time and learned how they're connected.

It's true; we're all related. Finding out how can help immensely in medical research (this is already making a difference) but more importantly, it might also inspire us to treat one another with a little more kindness. It also makes for some interesting connections in business.

"Who needs LinkedIn when you can just call up your cousin?" AJ asks. He has a point. He called up former President George H.W. Bush and explained he was a cousin (21 steps away!) and got an interview. Imagine what you could accomplish! Nepotism would be the new normal in business. Of course, there is a downside to everyone being related.

"I found out that I married my eighth cousin," says AJ. "But then, we all marry our cousins."

Major Takeaways

So what did AJ learn from doing all of this crazy stuff?

Confidence is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you act the way you want to grow, you will become that.

Make time for brainstorming. We spend too much time during our day answering emails and putting out fires. It becomes all defense and no offense. AJ carves out 15 minutes every morning strictly for brainstorming. This kind of mental discipline is great for your mind and productivity. I really love this idea.

Positivity comes back to you. Showing gratitude can change your life like it changed AJ's. When you put out a positive attitude it comes back to you big time.

We're all family. Treating the people you work with like family might just make the world a better place.

Published on: Mar 30, 2016
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