A personal biography
Where you come from and what you have experienced determine to a large extent who you are. That is why I ask participants on my training courses to introduce themselves with a photo and a personal story. It gives a more colourful picture of a person than a traditional business introduction. Often it also provides an impression of what motivates the person. So I will say something about myself the same way.
I was born in the early hours of 6 March 1969 in the Dutch town of Steenbergen, opposite the deer park. My mother was a dental assistant and my father was sports officer in the Army. My dad was active in cycle racing as a trainer and team leader. As a youngster, I apparently had ambitions in this direction as well, judging by the bidon on the frame of my bicycle. Although I still regularly spend an hour or so on my racing bike, a professional career in this direction never took off. As a young boy, I was quite shy and well-behaved. However, I have always been very curious about what life and human behaviour. I bombarded my parents endlessly with difficult questions about a wide range of subjects. The desire to understand life is still an important motivation for writing my books. In psychological tests, curiosity always comes out as a dominant character trait.
A turbulent period
My secondary school years were spent at the Moller Lyceum in Bergen op Zoom (the Netherlands). My favourite year was 4 VWO; I even liked it so much I repeated it. I started writing poetry at the Moller. Encouraged by my literature teacher, Philip Verdult, I published my poems in the school paper. Much later (in 2000) I published a book of poems and even received a newcomer’s prize. The collection was entitled “De Euforie van wankel evenwicht” (Euphoria of Fragile Balance) and consists of Dutch and English poems. This is actually a theme that still recurs in my books – the fragile balance can also be recognised in the vulnerability of enthusiasm or the balance between positivity and negativity. By the end of my secondary school years, I had cultivated an appearance that matched my choice of music. I listened to bands like The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Smiths and The Cult. The poems I wrote at that time were also pretty dark and heavy. The carefree feeling of my childhood years made way for the restlessness of puberty. Home was not really a happy place – my parents separated. I didn’t yet know what I wanted to do with my life exactly. At a certain moment, I wanted to become an underwater biologist, inspired by the amazing documentaries about the world under water. I did achieve diving certificates but I didn’t go in for biology in the end. Finally I concluded that I wanted to study the human psyche, because human behaviour seemed the most interesting to me. Figuratively speaking, I moved into the underwater world of the human mind and I have never regretted it.
Passion and frustration
Between the ages of 12 and 25, I spent most of my free time playing table tennis. In those days, this sport was my passion in life. Table tennis is a sport you can easily have a love-hate relationship with. If things are going well it’s fantastic, but it’s incredibly frustrating if it’s not going smoothly, or if your opponent is just better. I still play table tennis, but I have to accept that I don’t reach the level of my younger years. Not an easy task, because it’s difficult for your head to accept that the body is faltering. Table tennis is an extremely psychological game. The opponents are only a couple of yards away, so you are looking each other in the eye. If you see doubts in your opponent’s face it gives you courage, while an opponent brimming with self-confidence is hard to beat. The game is still an accurate gauge of my psychological state of mind. If I’m relaxed, I can still play a decent game. If there’s a lot on my mind, it becomes a real battle. Not with the opponent, but with myself. The sport of table tennis has taught me a great deal about Flow, the subject of the second part of the Enthusiasm Trilogy.
Plumbing the psychological depths
When I was 19, I left home to study psychology at the University of Amsterdam. It was exciting to immerse myself in the life of the capital city. In the first few months, I camped out on the ground or the couch of fellow students and now and then at a friend’s aunt’s place. Later I had a room in a distant Amsterdam neighbourhood, with no shower or telephone. I was still playing table tennis and fortunately I could have my daily shower there. Communication in those days can’t be compared to today. I had no laptop or tablet and I didn’t even have a phone. If I wanted to speak to someone, I wandered to the nearest phone box with a few coins – something my sons can scarcely imagine. During my student days, I was a research assistant and helped Willem Bosveld with his doctoral research. We investigated the False Consensus Effect: the tendency of humans to see their own opinions, behaviour and habits as representative for the group they belong to. People are actually inclined to think that others are the same as themselves. For example, smokers overestimate the number of smokers in their age group. My graduation project was about decision-making and I was allowed to do it at the University of Leeds. One of the things the study demonstrated was that people make more errors of reasoning if they have less time to think. It’s a subject that is also covered in my book Negativity Mania. In 1994 I achieved my master’s degree in Social Psychology and Psychological Methodology, with sport psychology as minor.
Military service and working for the Ministry
A mandatory leap in the dark
After my studies I was considered suitable for reinforcing the military apparatus. I tried to fulfil my military service within the field of psychology, but that was not so easy. First I was rejected by the Royal Airforce and the Royal Military Constabulary. But finally I was taken on as psychological researcher by the Royal Navy. “Provided I was prepared to adapt my alternative appearance”. Within the space of a few weeks’ training, an attempt was made to transform us into spick-and-span Navy officers. In terms of appearance they certainly succeeded. Within a week I was transformed from a semi-punk to a short-back-and-sides apprentice officer. Gone were the earring, the eyeliner, the Doc Martens and the leather jacket. The first weekend that I came home in my uniform, I noticed how differently the world reacted to my appearance. Cars slowed down (they probably thought I could hand out fines), children were kept away from me and I was even mocked by the alternative types from the art school, whom I could previously consider as my peer group. All in all, an excellent social psychology experiment.
The Marine week on the island of Texel, in particular, made an impression. In a week’s time we were broken down psychologically and built back up again. We had a really hard time but also learned a great deal about mental resilience and creating a team spirit. I still have a couple of good friends from that time. After the training, I was put to work as an applied researcher in the Social Scientific Research department. I was able to study the world of the Navy from a psychological perspective and was given a taste of military life. After my military service, I stayed on in Defence for a few years. Initially I worked as a psychological researcher at the Royal Army’s department of behavioural sciences and subsequently as a labour market researcher and policy-maker at the Ministry of Defence. In total, I worked for the Ministry for about five years. Then it was time for a change and I dived into the world of market research.
CEO of Blauw Research
The commercial world of market research
After I left the Ministry of Defence, I entered the employment of Blauw Research. Blauw appealed to me because it is an innovative and dynamic company which pays a great deal of attention to quality and personal development. I found the atmosphere and dynamics attractive as well. We worked hard and delivered good work, but there was also plenty of partying together. The fact that the company had its own bar was an advantage in this respect.
I worked there until 2013 – as managing director from 2008. At that time, Blauw was a new player with a number of young, driven researchers. Fuelled by the new possibilities arising from the advent of the internet, the company grew rapidly in the early years. We expanded to 120 employees, with branches in the UK and Germany where another 20 or so people worked. The crisis years were heavy going. Ultimately we had to downsize to survive. It was very difficult to have to say goodbye to good, hard-working colleagues. Fortunately, we just managed to survive and were able to meet all our obligations just in time. In 2009 I published the book The Superpromoter and thanks to its unexpected success, I was invited to hold presentations in the Netherlands and abroad. Ultimately it became impossible to combine this with my work for Blauw. In 2013, I stood down as CEO at Blauw and continued as self-employed writer, speaker and trainer. In addition, I teach ‘Rational & Emotional Decision Making’ at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. You can find more information about my activities under presentatons and courses.
Present day: The dynamics of enthusiasm
Researcher, writer, speaker and trainer
After leaving Blauw, I continued as an independent writer, speaker and trainer. I founded the Superpromoter Academy as a training institute to spread knowledge concerning the dynamics of enthusiasm. Following The Superpromoter (2009) I wrote several new books: Enthusiasm Trilogy: Flame, Flow, Flood (2014) and Negativity Mania: how negativity and other errors of reasoning influence our world. (2018) I also write blogs which are published on this website. From an early age I have enjoyed writing and being on a stage. I consider myself privileged that I’m able to make a living by writing, presenting my ideas and providing training. I have spoken about the dynamics of enthusiasm at many events around the world; in recent years, mostly in Asia (India, China, Hong Kong). I teach “Rational & Emotional Decision Making” at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. To challenge my curious side I have started doing PhD research at Leiden University. Together with my promoters Prof. Wilco van Dijk and Prof. Eric van Dijk I will further scientifically analyze the concept of enthusiasm
Children as inspiration
Together with my wife, Nicole Remmers, I do my best to raise our two sons Loek (2006) and Guus (2009). That’s not always easy with two little dynamos in the house. At the same time, our sons, with their boundless energy, provide valuable study material to understand the dynamics of enthusiasm better. In the summer months we like to spend time on the beach and we enjoy our holidays in Italy or Spain. The boys are fanatic footballers so most Saturday mornings are spent on the football pitch.
Music and the brain
Besides table tennis and other sports, such as swimming, cycling and tennis, I like to play the guitar. Unfortunately I only started when I was about 30, so I will never be a virtuoso. However I have noticed that you can still learn a great deal, even at a later age. It’s amazing how the brain can be trained. How you can be capable of things you had never believed possible, after enough practice. The brain is actually the best instrument of all. I also love listening to musicians who really know their stuff. Music has something pure about it. That is why I like to use music in The Enthusiasm Trilogy and my presentations as a metaphor for the dynamics of enthusiasm.
The music festival
Blueprint for a constructive society
During the summer, I enjoy going to music festivals. I usually go with the same two friends. I see a festival as a kind of blueprint for an ideal society. The festival-goers feel connected with each other and contact is easily made. In Negativity Mania I call that a constructive society. For me, that is a place where people value each other and are happy. In our modern society, negativity has gained too much the upper hand and that is why we need to search for a new balance. My aim in my work is to make a contribution to this and to bring the constructive society a step closer.