Anita Nowak: How to Engage in Purposeful Empathy Whenever You Need It

You don’t have to wait for empathy to strike.You can intentionally choose to engage in what my guest today calls Purposeful Empathy to change the dynamic of any interaction. But how? And how do you maintain your own boundaries when being empathic is part of your job?  Today, my guest, Anita Nowak, shares what purposeful empathy is, how and when to engage it, and even how to step back and reclaim your boundaries when empathy could burn you out. We both share personal stories of when we’ve actively chosen empathy in tough situations and how it transformed the exchange. We discuss the physiological changes to  our bodies that occur when we are engaged in empathy – and how empathogens, or certain psychedelics that have been shown to increase empathy, could be applied for therapeutic treatments to heal trauma, control aggression, or other instances where human connection can be challenging. 

Key Takeaways:

  • We are born empathetic creatures, that is how our species has survived. For those who think they aren’t empathetic, that muscle has atrophied and can be rebuilt again. 
  • Our brains cannot be in a state of anxiety or stress and in the state of empathy simultaneously.
  • There has been a resurgence of research on the study of psychedelics and the potential it has for therapy. Previous research showed a positive relationship between taking these drugs, being accompanied by a trained professional, and outcomes as a result. 

“When it comes to the way we design our world, the way we design public policy, the way that we think about foreign aid, the way we think about how we treat each other and our families and our relationships across political divides, that we need to engage in empathy on purpose.” —  Anita Nowak

“If you’re feeling triggered by emotions, and you want to down regulate or self regulate, one of the best on ramps to empathy is through a little visit of gratitude.” —  Anita Nowak

“We, as human beings, want a sense of belonging by nature. That’s how we survived as a as Homo sapiens. We really need to draw on that.” —  Anita Nowak

About Anita Nowak, PhD, Author of Purposeful Empathy

Anita Nowak, PhD is passionate about leveraging empathy for personal, organizational and social transformation. She is also dedicated to teaching and mentoring the next generation of changemakers.

She is a two-time TEDx speaker and author of Purposeful Empathy: Tapping Our Hidden Superpower for Personal, Organizational, and Social Change (Broadleaf Books, April 2023). She hosts a podcast and YouTube series by the same name, dedicated to amplifying the voices of people from around the globe who understand the world needs more empathy – and are doing something about it.

For the past fifteen years, Anita has held various leadership roles in higher education at McGill University dedicated to social innovation. She teaches Leadership, Ethics in Management and Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the Desautels Faculty of Management. She was named Professor of the Year in 2014 and 2019 and recipient of the David Johnston Faculty and Staff Award in 2021.

As a certified personal and professional coach, she helps purpose-driven leaders and organizations create cultures of empathy through her boutique advisory firm, Purposeful Empathy by Design. Anita also advises High Net Worth (HNW) families to translate their philanthropic goals into social impact.

Resources Mentioned:

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence (,addiction%2C%20depression%2C%20or%20death.) by Michael Pollan

Purposeful Empathy: The Connection between Empathy and “Oneness” ft. Elif M. Gokcigdem, PhD (

A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World ( ) by Daniel Goleman

Connect with Anita Nowak

Purposeful Empathy: 






Book: Purposeful Empathy: Tapping Our Hidden Superpower for Personal, Organizational, and Social Change 

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