620: Reframing Your Mindset for Greater Resilience and Positivity with Anne Grady

By November 5, 2020Podcasts



Anne Grady says: "Resilience is a practice, it's a muscle, something you have to work at."

Anne Grady discusses how to bring more positivity into your life by building your resilience muscle.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What to do when negativity hijacks your brain
  2. The simple trick to making each day more enjoyable 
  3. The foundational skills of resilient people

About Anne

Anne Grady is an internationally recognized speaker and author who shares humor, humility, refreshing honesty, and practical strategies that can be applied both personally and professionally to improve relationships, navigate change, and triumph over adversity. 

Anne is a two time TEDx speaker, and her work has been featured in Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur and Inc. magazines, CNN, ESPN, and FOX Business. 

With a master’s degree in organizational communication and more than 20 years of experience working side-by-side with industry gurus, political and educational leaders, and CEOs, Anne addresses audiences worldwide on topics including change management, resilience, leadership, communication, and emotional intelligence.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Anne Grady Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Anne, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Anne Grady
Hey, Pete, thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat once again. And I think you’ve got some very critical wisdom to share, talking resilience. Tell us, what are you doing to stay resilient these days?

Anne Grady
Oh, my gosh. Well, I have been tested. I think we have all been tested. And so, I’ve been putting into practice all these great strategies I teach. And, just like all of us, I’m human, so some days work better than others, and it’s just putting one foot in front of the other. Resilience is a practice, it’s a muscle, something you have to work at. It’s not one of those things you’re either resilient or not. So, I can’t wait to share with you some of the strategies I’ve been using and the things I talk about in my new book and ways that you can just kind of navigate this difficult time a little bit easier.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. And even when, at last, the pandemic is behind us, we’ll still need these for the next challenge. So, maybe you could open us up. So, your book is called Mind Over Moment. What’s behind that title?

Anne Grady
So, our life is this collection of moments, that’s really all it is, and we’re so caught up. We’re busy being busy, and I feel like the Girl Scouts are going to start handing out a busy badge at some point. We’ve just gotten really busy, and we’re reacting through life, and we kind of just instead of living a life that we intentionally want, or simply trying to survive the one that we have, and there are ways that we can change that, that we can get out of reactivity.

But it’s using this idea of mindfulness to be deliberate about where you’re investing your time, your energy, your attention from a mindset perspective, from a skillset perspective, and then being able to reset to really take back control of your life. Otherwise, each day just becomes the same day and we kind of just end up on this hamster wheel and land somewhere and draw bullseye around our self, and go, “Oh, well, I guess this is where I was supposed to be,” instead of really crafting the life that we want.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, boy, there’s so much to dig in there.

Anne Grady
Dig away.

Pete Mockaitis
And a great distinction in terms of enduring the life that we are in as opposed to really kind of designing and going after that. So, yeah, let’s talk about some mindset things. How would you orient us in terms of what is the optimal mindset to be resilient AF, as your T-shirt says, which keeps cracking me up?

Anne Grady
I have these made. We’re actually going to start selling these at some point.

But your mindset is, literally, the story you tell yourself. It’s the story you tell yourself about what’s going on in your life, it impacts how you see yourself, how you view the world. And so, I guess where I would start with mindset is understanding your brain. And without going too deep into neurology, our brain is this amazing three-pound cauliflower-like blob sitting on top of our shoulders but it’s actually working against us.

And so, if we are left to our own devices, if we just let our brain operate as it is, we’re really focused on looking for everything that’s wrong instead of figuring out what’s right. We have a negativity bias. And this served us well as we’ve evolved as a species because our brain’s job is not to make us happy or keep us content. Our brain’s only job is to keep us safe. And in order to do that, it is really keen on the negative around us because the positive stuff is not going to kill us. So, your brain just easily kind of lets go of all these positive moments that you have in your life, and it really hones in on the negative experiences.

And so, we have to offset Mother Nature. And the thing that’s happening right now is that our brain views uncertainty as a threat. Our brain doesn’t like an outcome it doesn’t know. It actually would rather have an outcome it hates than one it doesn’t know. And so, because of this negativity bias, we keep going to worst-case scenarios, and we tell ourselves these stories in our head. And that actually shapes our neuro chemistries.

So, when we say things, even if they’re true, like, “I’m so stressed. I’m so tired. This is crazy. This is nuts. What are we going to do? This is horrible,” your brain actually responds to protect you, and it starts pumping you with cortisol and adrenaline and noradrenaline and norepinephrine. And all those chemicals are there to help you fight, freeze, or run away but they’re not doing anything to help you live purposefully or to help you find peace. We got to protect our peace. It’s one of those things where…My son is severely mentally ill and autistic. We’ve talked before and I think I told you about he tried to kill me when he was three years old with a pair of scissors.

And by four, he was on his first anti-psychotic. By seven, he was hospitalized and had his first in-patient psychiatry. When he was 10, he was hospitalized again, and I got diagnosed with a tumor in my salivary gland that left me with facial paralysis, and that resulted in a scratched cornea which required eye surgery before I started six weeks or radiation, but not before I fell down a flight of stairs, breaking my foot in four places. So, I didn’t learn this stuff, I mean, I say I didn’t learn it in a textbook. I had to live it first and then I wanted to understand how it worked. And I learned that there were things that I was doing along the way that were supporting my resilience but there were things that were sabotaging it.

And if you are focused on deliberately cultivating the right thoughts, the right belief systems, the right mindset, you change your entire life. Our thoughts are not facts. We take them as facts but they’re not.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s dig in. So, we got this negativity bias going on, and you’ve figured out how to overcome that with a host of challenges. Again, wow! So, glad you’re here and well.

Anne Grady
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how do we go about overcoming, reprogramming, dealing with that?

Anne Grady
Well, it starts with the story you’re telling yourself, right? So, I found myself, people would say, “How are you?” And I’d be like, “Oh, my God, I’m so busy. I don’t have time. I’m overwhelmed. I’m stressed.” And while those things may have been true, my neurochemistry was flooding me with all of these neurochemicals to help protect me but it actually was increasing inflammation and making it difficult to sleep, and impacting my mood and my ability to make decisions and solve problems.

And so, you really start by being deliberate about the story you tell yourself, which is, stuff is not ideal but there are still good things happening if you look for them, and that’s really the key. People who are resilient, who practice resilience, proactively cultivate positive emotions, they use their brain to search for the good to help offset the bad. And that doesn’t mean that you ignore the bad stuff.

“Pretend that everything is peachy keen?” And that’s not what I’m advocating. In fact, while it seems counterintuitive, you actually have to feel the yucky stuff. When we try to push it away or get rid of those uncomfortable emotions, and we suppress them or numb them, we actually increase the intensity and the duration of them. So, it’s not to say that you should ignore the uncomfortable negative emotions, but you have to proactively search for the positive ones.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, well, let’s hear those two parts then in terms of, okay, so pushing away, ignoring, suppressing, repressing the unpleasant stuff is the wrong move. What is the right response for, you know, “I’m anxious,” “I’m angry,” “I’m depressed,” “This thing ticked me off”?

Anne Grady
Yeah. Well, it’s to acknowledge it and give yourself grace. We’re human. And I think we’ve grown up in this. The last decade has been this positive psychology cyclone, and what we don’t realize is we’re not supposed to be happy all the time. Those moments happen in little blips but our brain has developed a negativity bias for a reason. It’s meant to protect us from everything that’s going on. And so, if we’re going to overcome it, well, first of all, we can’t overcome it. It just is what it is.

And so, when you’re feeling anxious, it’s going, “Crap! I feel anxious right now,” and identifying where you feel it, “So, my stomach feels tight. My shoulders feel tense. My palms are sweaty. My heart is racing.” What that does, simply by naming it and identifying where you feel it, it’s called tracking, it actually resets your nervous system and gets you out of the sympathetic fight or flight, and back into the parasympathetic rest and digest.

So, simply acknowledging the emotion, and, “Yeah, I feel crappy right now. And this is what I’m experiencing and it’s okay to feel that way,” because feelings are fleeting. It will shift and change, but when we fight it or try to numb it with unhealthy vices, we just serve to aggravate it and bring it to the forefront even more.

It’s like me telling you, like, “Don’t think of pizza or chocolate cake when you’re going on a diet.” We pay attention to what’s top of mind. It’s called selective attention. It’s like if I said, “Think of an animal but whatever you think of, don’t think of pink elephants.” Well, that’s what you’re going to think of. So, we have to start acknowledging the stuff that doesn’t feel so great, but then you have to be deliberate about what you’re searching for.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then we talk about the unpleasant emotions and how to work with that. And so then, to be conscientious about what you’re searching for, how do we amp up to find more and, I guess, linger or dwell more into the pleasant experiences?

Anne Grady
You know, I used to think this was so touchy, fluffy, feely. When I thought of resilience, I thought of like finding your Zen, and eating tofu, and sitting in a full lotus, and drinking green tea. And it seemed very fruppy and fluffy demand ‘til I dug into the research. Over 11,000 studies have proven that gratitude is the most direct path to wellbeing and happiness. And I know when I was going through my facial paralysis and stuff with my son, my natural inclination was, “What do I have to be grateful for right now?”

But there are always things to be grateful for. And the simple act of looking, you don’t even have to find anything, the simple act of looking releases serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good neurochemicals and antidepressants. The simple act of looking for something to be grateful for decreases the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. And because we tend to scan the environment and find what we look for, whether it’s looking for, like yesterday, I had a crappy day. It was one of those days where every light turned red, things were not going well, and I have a sign on my bathroom mirror that says, “What do you want to find today? What do you want to see today?” I mean, it’s not like a fancy sign. It’s written in blue Sharpie marker. But I wanted to find reasons to be grateful.

And so, I drove to the grocery store, and a car was leaving one of the spots right up front as I was going away. And what most of us do is we just go, “Okay, that’s cool.” But in order to rewire our brain, there’s something called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. And, basically, what it means is the more you think and behave a certain way, the easier it is to think and behave that way. So, the more often you’re anxious and cranky, the easier it is to stay there.

And so, if you think of like a computer, you download a program but you have to install it. And so, having the experience is downloading it, but to install it, you have to actually sit in it. It’s called savoring. And it means you have to step outside of the experience and observe it and appreciate it for 15 to 20 seconds, and you can literally rewire the neural structure and function of your brain when you get in the habit of doing that.

And so, what ends up happening, like, when was the last time you laid in bed at night and you’re ruminating about your day, and you’re thinking about the good things that happened? We default to the negative. You get a performance review. You’re told you do nine things exceptionally well. You have one opportunity for growth, and you’re lying in bed at night marinating and stewing in that conversation. You’re not thinking of the nine things you did exceptionally well. You’re stewing over that one negative thing.

And so, it’s not to say you ignore that. Is there truth in it? Can you learn from it? Is there something you can do something productively with that feedback? But then it’s sitting in those nine things that we typically dismiss and rush past, or that compliment that you get that you just brush off instead of really sitting in that and feeling it physically because that is what changes your brain.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s talk about how that zooming right into it, doing some savoring. So, you mentioned savoring the last time. I’ve been thinking a lot about it, so let’s dig in some more. So, you get that great parking spot, and instead of just saying, “Oh, that’s cool,” walk us through the depths of savoring in depth. What’s happening in your brain? How are you savoring that well?

Anne Grady
So, what I did when I pulled into the parking spot is I just took three deep breaths, and most of us don’t breathe correctly. I can get into breathing more a little bit later as we talk about other things. But I took three really deep diaphragmatic breaths. And what that does is it allows enough oxygen to get into your brain and it resets your nervous system. And I just took a second and said, “I’m really excited I found this cool spot up front. It’s rock star parking. This is going to be a good trip to the store. I’m going to find other good stuff.”

And it was so funny because I did. I went to the store looking for good experiences. And a grocery store at 5:00 p.m., even in a global pandemic, is crazy. It’s like full-contact sport, right? But I was standing in one of the aisles and I could not find the spice I was looking for, and there was a mom and a daughter walking by, and I’m like, “Hey, can I borrow you guys for a second?” And they looked at me like I was a crazy person, which I probably am. But I said, “My eyes, I’ve been staring at this spice aisle for five minutes and I can’t find what I’m looking for. I’ll give you a bonus point, if you can find this.”

And so, they were like, “Ooh, a bonus point.” Well, I’m giving them nothing, right? But they both found what I was looking for in a split second, and then we all had a really good laugh. And that single moment could be easily dismissed but, instead, as I was walking down the rest of the aisle, I thought, “That felt really good, you know. They had a laugh. I had a laugh. I found what I was looking for. It didn’t cost us any money. They weren’t annoyed by it. It was a good interaction.” And I actually left the store feeling better than when I got there.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And people could be starved for those interactions in a pandemic in terms of like, well, one, they might’ve just fled from you, “Aah, too close. Danger. Toxin.”

Anne Grady
“Ahh, crazy.” I had a mask on.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, good. Good. So, there’s that. They could be particularly starved for that experience there.

Anne Grady
But it’s funny you mentioned that, and I’m sorry to interrupt you. But it’s funny you mentioned that because I teach resilience. And so, I was doing a session today for a group of leaders at a high-tech company, and I shared that experience. And one of the guys said, “You know, it’s interesting you say that because yesterday I was at the grocery store, and the exact same thing happened. I couldn’t find something, and this woman was standing there, and I asked her to help me, and she found it.” And this is the gentleman talking, he said, “And I told her, ‘You’re awesome,’ and she started to cry. And she said, ‘That’s the first time anyone has told me I’m awesome all year long. You just made my day.’” And I do think we’re starved.

And I don’t have any data to support this but I think the mask thing is a big deal because we’re missing out on so much human connection, and social distance, really, is physical distance. We still need social connection but we’re starved for positive moments right now. And the single most momentary increase in positive emotions comes from doing something nice for someone else. And if somebody else witnesses that, they’re more likely to do something nice for someone else.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s very beautiful to think about, I don’t know, that ripple effect and the good vibes to put forth in the world there. So, finding the gratitude, expressing the gratitude, and that’s big in terms of for the parking space, then how you ended up discovering more cool moments along the way there. So, those are sort of the mindset part. Talk to us about the skillset. What are the top skills that folks need to adopt to become more resilient, and how do we get them?

Anne Grady
Well, I think of the mindset as the toolbox, it’s the foundation but you’ve got to fill it, and so the skills are your tools. And what we just talked about is a big one. Proactively cultivating positive emotions, whether it’s humor, a smile, one that involves the muscles around your eyes actually calms your nervous system, cools your heart, slows respiration. True genuine laughter increases pain tolerance, lowers blood pressure, stimulates dopamine and serotonin production, even makes you appear more attractive. So, anything that you can do to proactively cultivate good emotions.

So, for example, I have watched every Netflix standup comedian that I could find. Like, I think I have exhausted them all and I’m watching them all again. And it’s because your brain doesn’t know the difference between…like, they’ve done studies with Botox where they forced a smile and your brain doesn’t know the difference between a real smile or a forced smile. It just recognizes the facial movement, and so that literally shifts your brain. When you experience laughter, it is not only good for your brain, it’s physiologically good for your body. So, that’s a huge one.

Self-care. This morning, I was teaching a session, and I said, “Think of the dirtiest word you can imagine. Like, think of the dirtiest word you can imagine.” And then I asked, “How many of you thought of self-care?” We think of it as this selfish luxury but it’s really a skill. Self-care is nothing more than a skill, and it doesn’t have to be taking-a-spa day. It can be sipping that first cup of coffee and just really appreciating it. It can be lighting a candle while you do your taxes. It can be stepping outside and just taking a five-minute walk or snuggling your pets.

Social connection is another one. And so, many of us have heard of this chemical called oxytocin. It’s the bonding agent so I guess you could call it. It’s called the cuddle hormone and it’s, basically, what bonds parents and children, mother and child as soon as the child is born, but it’s actually a stress hormone. And so, when we are feeling stressed, our body produces oxytocin because it’s craving connection. We are tribal by nature. We’re social creatures. We survive together better than we do individually.

And in a time when we have been so focused on socially distancing ourselves, with that has come social disconnection, and it’s huge. Loneliness kills more people every year than smoking, obesity, and high-blood pressure. And you can be in a room full of people and still be lonely, right? So, you could be in the middle of Times Square, back when it used to be filled up, and be lonely. So, social connection is huge. Self-care, gratitude, positive emotions, all of those seem like they’re so easy that, I mean, they’re so simple that it’s easy to dismiss them. And you don’t have to tackle all of them at once.

So, for example, look, I’m not Ms. Rose-Colored Glasses. My husband will tell you I’m the most pessimistic motivational speaker he’s ever met. Like, I am not out high-fiving sunbeams, there are not doves released when I walk into a room. I was diagnosed with clinical depression at 19. So, my natural optimism bias is very, very low. I have to really work hard at it. For some people, it comes more naturally. For me, I have to really, really work hard at it.

And exercise, for me, is not something I look forward to, it’s not something I necessarily enjoy, but it rivals anti-depressants. And, no judgement, I’m on everything but roller skates. But exercise, literally, changes the structure and function of your brain. It repairs neurons damaged by stress. It increases the density of grey matter, and that’s the part of your brain that’s responsible for attention and emotional regulation.

So, if you’ve noticed, since this pandemic started, that you’ve had a harder time focusing, or you’re more irritable, or easily agitated, there are specific things like sleep and exercise. And yoga is great because it combines meditation, breathing, and exercise. There are things you can do to repair your brain, but sometimes we just default to what’s easiest. And it’s easier to binge on Tiger King for six hours than it is to focus on taking a walk.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a nice lineup there. And so then, all these are skills, in so far as it’s not a matter of them coming naturally or exerting some effort, you’re working on them and they become more natural over time, and so, excellent. And then how about the reset part of things?

Anne Grady
So, the reset is kind of two-fold. One, it is resetting your priorities, so resetting your priorities and your perspective. I think what’s been most fascinating, as I’ve been working with a lot of my corporate clients is that working from home is no longer working from home. It’s living at work, and we are constantly connected. And because people know we’re not anywhere else, when we don’t respond for a couple of hours, it creates a sense of urgency.

And your eulogy and your resume shouldn’t be the same document. As someone who is very goal-oriented, achievement-driven, I own my own business, I’ve had to really work hard at remembering that it’s not just about prioritizing your schedule. It’s about scheduling your priorities. If you were to track your time for a week, is it reflective of what you say is most important to you? Or, are you just getting carried away being busy?

So, I told you swimming, for me, is my exercise. It’s my self-care. And I swim in a pool, and there’s this line painted on the bottom of the pool so I go straight. But if you’ve ever tried to swim in an ocean, then you know swimming in a straight line is like impossible. You’re carried away by the tide. You’re carried away by the current. So, you’re taught, if you’re an open-water swimmer, aim for an immovable object, like a buoy, or a dock, or a lighthouse.

And so, this idea of your lighthouse. What is your lighthouse? Because I feel like life is kind of like the ocean. There are times when the seas are calm and it’s beautiful, and the birds are chirping, and the sun is shining. And then there are times that we’re in right now, like a global pandemic, and it’s a torrential storm, and we’re getting sucked under. And if, when we rise back up to take a breath, we don’t have something to look toward, we just kind of swim aimlessly.

So, one of the things to reset is really get clear on what your most important priorities are, and is that reflected in your calendar. The other thing is, “What are you swimming toward?” And you can have big lighthouses. Like, my biggest lighthouse is mental health advocacy but I have little lighthouses like pizza night. So, I’m doing sober October, I have a lighthouse on November 1st, I get to enjoy a cocktail. Part of the challenge, I think, with the pandemic is that we don’t have a lot to look forward to because we don’t know what’s going to happen.

Like, my husband and I, for the longest time, our lighthouse has been getting an RV. And I’m not a camper, I’m a glamper, so we wanted to get a travel trailer. And we’ve been putting it off, and putting it off, and waiting till the kids graduate, and waiting till the right time, and we finally said, “You know what, there’s never going to be a time when every duck is in a row, when everything is in alignment.” We just did it. We bought a travel trailer. And, my God, it’s been so fun just to start having these little lighthouse adventures along the way. So, that’s that part of it.

The other part is resetting your nervous system because we can, like consciously, physically get out of fight or flight and that cortisol-induced stress state, and we can, literally, put ourselves back into a relaxed place where we’re able to reengage the logical part of our brain and think creatively. It’s a skill but it’s doable.

Pete Mockaitis
Woo, so much good stuff here. Well, Anne, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Anne Grady
Well, I think, for me, the resetting your nervous system is something that we take for granted that we can do. And I just love that there are a few techniques you can use. One of them is breathing. And it sounds so simple, right? But most of you are probably thinking, “Okay, Anne, I can breathe. Like, I’m sitting here. What’s the magic with this?” But we breathe shallowly.

So, if you put one hand on your chest, and one hand on your stomach, and you just breathe normally, there’s a high likelihood that your chest is moving more than your stomach. Like, take a second and do it for you. What’s moving more, your chest or your stomach?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I kind of knew what you were going to go for so I’ve taken a few.

Anne Grady
Darn it, Pete. You’re messing this up for me. No, when we’re stressed, we take shallow breaths. So, if you’re an elite athlete, or an opera singer, of which I am neither, you’re trained in a technique called diaphragmatic breathing. And it’s kind of counter to what you would think. When you inhale, you imagine that there’s a balloon in your stomach, and you fill it with air. So, on the inhale, you create this giant Buddha belly. The exhale is actually the part of the breath that puts you into the parasympathetic nervous system, the part that calms your brain. So, the exhale should be a little bit longer. So, you view the inhale as filling up your belly with air, but the exhale, imagine there’s a weight on the end of it that just kind of takes your exhale even lower.

And so, three deep diaphragmatic breaths resets your nervous system. A deeply relaxed person takes seven breaths a minute. And so, people talk about meditation and, again, for me, it was like playing Whack-A-Mole with my thoughts. I would sit there and try to breathe, and go, “Oh, crap, I forgot to call my mom,” or, “Oh, what am I going to make for dinner?” until I learned it’s working. So, meditation is focusing on your breath, but the goal is not peace or Zen. The goal is catching your mind wandering and bringing it back to your breath. You’re training your brain to direct your attention where you want it to go so that you’re less likely to hit the panic button. You’re learning to observe your thoughts and your emotions without getting carried away by them.

So, breathing is something that is super understated. It’s very, very important. And even three of those deep breaths. I started wearing my daughter’s Apple Watch because it has a reminder to breathe, and just take some time out once an hour to take a few deep breaths. It’s really, really powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lovely. Well, now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Anne Grady
My first was from my grandmother, it’s actually a Yiddish proverb, and she always used to say, “Annie, if enough people tell you you’re tired, it’s time to lay down,” like, if enough people are giving you the same advice. But my favorite was when she used to say, “Annie, if you act like an ass, don’t be surprised if people try to ride you.” That’s probably my all-time favorite quote.

But I guess the second closest to that would be Ray Wylie Hubbard. He’s a Texas singer-songwriter, and he’s got a lyric in one of his songs, and he says, “And the days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, well, I have really good days.” And so, what I have found is that when we’re unhappy, it’s usually because our expectations are out of alignment with reality. And you can’t always control what’s in reality but you can control your expectations.

So, the more time you spend being grateful and the less time you spend being resentful, or disappointed, the easier it is to find the good stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Anne Grady
So, one that I just came across that I really liked was this study done by the University of London. So, they took these participants and divided them into two groups, and they basically said to one group, “It’s a computer program, and every time you click on a rock, and a snake is under it, you’re going to get a mild electrical shock.” They tell the other group, “You’re going to get a mild electrical shock but it’s not every time the snake is under the rock. It’s just going to be intermittent.”

And what was phenomenal is that the group that knew that they were going to get shocked every time there was a snake under the rock had less anxiety than the people who knew it would be intermittent because our brain is so against uncertainty. It hates it. So, it constantly goes to the default worst-case scenario. There are so many studies.

Another one that I find fascinating, and Kelly McGonigal writes about this in her book The Upside of Stress, and she’s got a great TED Talk called “Make Stress Your Friend.” And they tracked 30,000 Americans over the course of eight years, and they start by asking them these two questions. The first is, “What level of stress have you had in the past 12 months? Low, medium, or high?” And the second question is, “Do you think stress is bad for you?” So, they asked 30,000 people these questions, they tracked them over eight years, they used death records and mortality rates as a way to track progress.

And they find that for people who had high levels of stress in the previous 12 months, there’s a 43% increased risk of dying prematurely, but it was only for the people who thought stress was bad for them. The people who thought stress is just nothing more than just your body’s physiological response. “Increased heartbeat? Well, that’s just your brain needing more oxygen. Tension in your shoulders or your stomach? That’s just your body putting on armor to protect you from what’s ahead.”

The people who did not believe stress was bad for them, but had high levels of stress, had a zero percent increased risk of dying prematurely. It was the lowest rate of anyone in the study. So, they basically found, they looked at these cardiac monitors, and they hooked people up to them, and they find that for people who are experiencing high levels of stress and think it’s bad for them, their arteries constrict, so they tighten up, they limit blood flow to the heart and to the brain. But people who have stress and believe it’s just your body, which is you stress, is just activation of your sympathetic nervous system, nothing more, nothing less, they had zero constriction. They had the same cardiac profile as people who experienced joy and courage.

And then they took it a step further. They looked at housekeeping staff at hotels, and they asked these housekeepers, “Do you exercise?” So, they take a group of housekeepers that don’t exercise, and they divide them into two groups. One group, they don’t tell them anything. The other group, they say, “Did you know that every time you change a sheet, you burn this many calories? Every time you clean a window, you burn this many calories. Every time you flip a mattress, you burn this many calories. Every time you vacuum…”

So, the people that they didn’t say anything to, the housekeepers that just kept business as normal, didn’t lose any weight. The people who were told that what they were doing as part of their job was exercise, even though they changed no other habits, lost weight. Like, our belief system is so powerful that it drives our neurochemistry. And the beauty of this is that beliefs can be changed.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. That’s great. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Anne Grady
Well, you can always go to AnneGradyGroup.com. Anne with an E. You can certainly text the word “strength” to the number 22454, I’m sure you’ll probably post that on your show notes, but it’s 22454, text the word “strength” and you can get some free resources, a resilience self-assessment, a self-care sheet, a poem that I wrote a couple years ago that could not be more fitting than it is right now. But we also have a weekly resilience reset tip, tool, or strategy that kind of help you just reset.

And so, you can go to my website to sign up for that. You can also learn more about my books on the website. And, like I said, a portion of all my book proceeds go to the National Alliance on Mental Illness here in Central Texas. I live in Austin.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Anne Grady
So, we think that we separate work and life, like, “I want this balance.” And I would say that there’s no balance. Right now, it is about taking care of you so that you can be the best version of yourself to perform well at work, and you cannot do that if you’re not well. So, it would be a self-care challenge. Every day, schedule 10 minutes on your calendar to do something kind for yourself. It could be just doodling on a piece of paper or drawing. It could be snuggling your pet or your kids. It could be doing a puzzle. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it brings you joy.

And most of us are constantly thinking about, “How do I alleviate stress?” And I would challenge you to reframe it. Instead of, “How do I stop stress?” it’s, “How do I find joy? What are some things I can do throughout my day? What can I insert throughout my day to create joy?” because that is what will change your brain and build your resilience muscle. And it is just that, it’s a muscle.

Pete Mockaitis
Anne, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all of your moments.

Anne Grady
Thank you. Yeah, life is made up of moments. It’s just a collection, and so we got to make those moments count.

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