720: Navigating the Great Resignation with Dr. David Rock

By November 15, 2021Podcasts



Dr. David Rock shares strategies to help both employees and employers come out of the Great Resignation feeling more satisfied.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why so many professionals are now quitting 
  2. The small shifts that drastically improve satisfaction and productivity
  3. The telltale signs it’s time to quit your job 

About David

Dr. David Rock coined the term neuroleadership, and is the Co-founder and CEO of the NeuroLeadership Institute (NLI). The Institute is a 23-year-old cognitive science consultancy that has advised over 50% of the Fortune 100. With operations in 24 countries, the institute brings neuroscientists and leadership experts together to make organizations better for humans through science.

Dr. Rock has authored four successful books including Your Brain at Work, a business best-seller, and has written for and been quoted in hundreds of articles about leadership, organizational effectiveness, and the brain which can be found in Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, CNBC, Forbes, Fortune, Inc., USA Today, BBC, The Boston Globe and more.

Dr Rock is originally Australian, though based in the US since 2010. He holds a professional doctorate in the Neuroscience of Leadership from Middlesex University in the UK.

Resources Mentioned

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Dr. David Rock Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
David, thanks for joining us here on How to be Awesome at Your Job.

David Rock
It’s a pleasure. Good to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I’m excited to be with you and I’m hoping you can give us some insight beyond the headlines. We’re hearing this term Great Resignation a lot. First, can you define it for us? And tell us, is this a really a big deal or is this overhyped?

David Rock
It’s a bit of both. Statistically, when you really look at the data, and I’m a scientist, I like data, it’s definitely bigger than other times but it’s also part of an ongoing trend where we’ve seen increasing numbers of people changing jobs every year. So, it’s definitely a bump but it’s really hard to say whether it’s a function of sort of no one quit last year, because we were so uncertain, and then kind of, suddenly, there was this big bump now making up for that. Statistically, it looks a little bit more than just that big bump but it feels bigger. And certainly, it is bigger, and you may notice it around you in certain industries, but it’s not kind of enormous thing necessarily from a statistic point of view.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, but is there something noteworthy and bigger there that’s worth exploring and digging into?

David Rock
Yeah, absolutely. There’s a really very specific experience that millions, if not billions, of people have had. It’s very unusual. The Great Depression, a hundred years ago, is probably the only thing in all and parallel that really left a mark on people. People who grew up through the Great Depression had certain habits, the horrors of their life till the end of their life. And I think, in a similar way, the folks who’ve lived through this pandemic are going to be affected by it for a long, long time.

And there’s a number of things that happened. Huge parts of the economy are built on devices to distract us from ourselves, whether it’s movies, books, television, apps, everything else. And for a lot of people, Netflix kind of ran out, and there was nothing left to distract them.

Pete Mockaitis
They finished it.

David Rock
They finished it, right? And so, they’re left having all this time with themselves, and sometimes what they saw they didn’t really like. So, there’s a percentage of the population who’s interested in self-reflection and kind of thinking about life, but there’s a lot of people who go through life, probably a majority, without much time really thinking about themselves. We don’t have 90% of people in therapy.

And so, a lot of people were kind of forced to take a good honest look at their life because there wasn’t much else to focus on, and they saw that they didn’t really love their job, that maybe they didn’t love their partner, maybe didn’t love where they lived, and those three things changed a lot when the pandemic finished. And the job is the easier one to change than a house or a partner. You’re probably more likely to trade up in the job, but the other two, it depends. So, a lot of people kind of coming out of this say, “I want to make big changes.”

And, also, there’s this really big lack of control that we all have experienced and are still experiencing. There’s a really big lack of control, so think of autonomy. And so, by kind of changing jobs, in particular, you’re reasserting your feeling of control in your life, in a way that’s probably the least disruptive as well. So, I think that’s another reason. In summary, people kind of had time to think and got to see a lot of their life wasn’t great. And then they found a way to regain control, which is the easiest way is changing jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, autonomy, status, control, things that folks want or maybe not getting as much as they’d like in their jobs, and so a switch is one way to accomplish that. Do you have any interesting research insights on can we get more of that while staying where we are?

David Rock
Yeah, absolutely. So, autonomy is this really interesting construct in the brain. It’s a feeling of being in control or having choices. The two are quite similar. When you press a button to cross the street, you expect it to change in a certain amount of time. If nothing happens after a few minutes, you get frustrated. You thought you had control over crossing the road and you discover it’s broken and now you feel better. You’ve regained control and you cross another way. But our feeling of kind of being in control is something that goes up and down through the day but, generally, within a certain limit. And the pandemic really drops that sense. We felt completely out of control. We just didn’t know what to do in a huge way. And it’s such an interesting phenomenon – control.

In animal studies, it’s the difference between life and death. So, in animal studies, essentially, you can give animals a certain stress, and some will have this perception of being in control of it and some will feel out of control, and it literally is the difference between life and death. There are studies with humans, in retirement homes, in aged homes, where they give a control group no change, and another group, they give them three choices. This was done in about the ‘70s. But they give them three choices of like a plant, or an art, or where to put the bed. It actually halved the death rate for people who were given control.

And then a third study that always blows my head off, people given the control over how they laid out their cubicle. So, same job, same company, same cubicle, still had the same computer, but they were allowed to bring in like personal things in their cubicle versus not. And the people allowed to bring in personal things, who felt in control of their cubicle, are 25% more productive. It’s like a day a week more productive. It’s crazy.

So, autonomy has this outsized effect on many, many functions in the brain. And, essentially, it puts us in more of an approach state or towards state when we have a sense of control. And when we reduce that sense of control, it activates more of a threat state or avoidance state. And, generally, we’re far more creative in an approach state. We literally have greater cognitive resources for holding big ideas in mind. We collaborate better. Just about everything is better in more of an approach state, what happens when we feel like we’re in control.

A little bit of an avoidance or threat state is okay for focusing for short bursts but you won’t be very creative but you’ll be able to execute well. So, there’s a whole lot of science to this but, essentially, the pandemic kind of reduced our feeling of control but a lot of clever people worked out hacks to that, and said, “Actually, you know what, I can control my diet now better than any other time in my life,” and decided to really monitor their diet and track it, do experiments, and people said, “You know what, I can control my sleep properly for the first time ever. I can even control the people I meet.” And the introvert, germophobes, had a field day. But we could suddenly control a lot more things because we were in a home environment.

And so, while you can sort of focus on being out of control, there were other ways that you could focus on. Actually, your control had increased in a local way. And we even had more control over when we worked versus when we had breaks and all of this stuff. And that was one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that we had this increased sense of control about kind of workflow because our manager wasn’t standing over us. So, it gives you a clue to sort of what we can do. But the science of this is really fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. And what a powerful impact there by having even minor amounts of control. You’re allowed to decorate your cubicle as you see fit. And so, boy, that just gets me thinking, there’s probably so much autonomy that, we guess, we just sort of leave on the table, if you will. It’s like we don’t even consider that we have that control in order to exercise it and enjoy the benefits of controlling our work, break time, or our food choices, or our sleep. Any other categories you think are just sort of like overlooked, like, “Hey, this is in your control. Seize it and reap the benefits”?

David Rock
Yeah, absolutely. If you’re at home a lot of the time, you’re in control of who you socialize with. And now you don’t have to socialize with people who are in a 20-mile radius. You can socialize with people anywhere in the world. And I’ve been part of a poker school, or poker club, for over a decade, and most of my buddies I played with are in Australia where I’m originally from, and I kind of miss them.

And what I found is that there was a great app where we could literally play poker online and see each other and hear each other perfectly. It was just like being there. And we started playing monthly and enjoyed it so much, we started playing weekly. And now I’m getting together with some of my favorite humans literally every week for a couple of hours and just hanging out. It’s a wonderful thing.

So, you gain this control over who you interact with, and whether it’s family or friends or people you really want to learn from, that’s another upside to this time. And I think the people’s willingness to sort of try things on platforms is always going to be with us. We’ve all learned that there are things we can do on platforms, like Zoom, that we never imagined were possible, and actually they can work. And so, I think that’s going to stay with us for some time.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Okay. Well, so then what are some other ways you recommend folks can upgrade their satisfaction with where they are? They can look for opportunities to exercise their autonomy. What else?

David Rock
Another thing that you want to play with is your sense of certainty.

So, we have this drive for our feeling of control that’s always relative, so you have a little more, a little less than where you were. But we also have this drive for a sense of certainty, and they’re similar but quite different things. And a sense of certainty is literally, “How much do you feel you’re able to predict what’s about to happen?”

Let me give you an example. Normal times, you’re at work, you’re at the office, and you live a little far away, and your partner borrows your car. And during the day, they say, “Hey, I think I’m going to be back in time but I’m not sure, and if not, you’ll need to get public transport.” You know that’s like an extra hour and a hassle. The whole afternoon, your brain is going to go back and forward, back and forward between, “Do I have to leave at 5:00? Do I need to leave at 4:00? Am I going to have to deal with that?”

While that ambiguity is there, a big piece of your brain is trying to solve for two different realities, and it’s trying to do all the sort of what-if questions about if you have to take the subway and the bus, or if you’re going to have the car, and it’s debilitating. You’re actually using some of your limited working memory. So, that’s a small bit of uncertainty where you just got, “Do I take transport or am I having a car?”

And so, your brain is constantly mapping out into the future trying to kind of plan ahead unconsciously. When the world is really certain, as it sort of was before the pandemic, things were kind of in a flow and you knew how you’re getting home, and what you’re doing next week, and where you’re going for vacation, and when you would next see your parents, and all of these kinds of things. Then certainty plummeted during the pandemic. And one of the interesting phenomena was our temporal focus, or how far out we could think, really shrank.

Normally, we think like, it’s not uncommon to think a year out and plan a vacation in a year, or some education in a year, or two years, you’re working towards, or be saving for something a few years out. We went from a year to not a quarter or even a month, and not even a week. Many of us, during the pandemic, could barely think a few days ahead. We were very much in the now. And it was because of the amount of uncertainty, there were so many variables that were uncertain that it just hurt to think even a week out at some points. There was just so much that was changing all the time.

And so, we became much more focused kind of in the moment. And part of it is that uncertainty, like a lack of control, increases the threat response in the brain, which literally reduces resources for prefrontal or working memory. And so, you had this issue where lack of control actually made it harder to just hold things in your mind, and so you just focus on the now. Then there was this whole kind of complexity of just trying to calculate further out and how exhausting that was, and we just kind of gave up.

And so, that issue happened. And interestingly, again, this is one of those situations where you can kind of hack your perception of control just like you can autonomy. And the interesting thing about the brain is things that are local are valued more highly than things that are farther away. So, feeling certain about your office where you spend a lot of time will actually give you a whole lot of benefits because it’s right in front of you all the time.

And so, you can hack your brain’s need for certainty by…and a lot of people did this, like organizing your office like crazy, organizing your bookshelf, organizing your filing, re-setting up your systems, getting your computer better than ever, getting the stand you’ve always wanted, and the camera and eyesight. Just getting super organized, so literally you didn’t have to use working memory for lots of little things anymore.

Steve Jobs was famous for this, always wearing the same things where he didn’t have to make decisions in the morning, and could focus on other things. It’s a bit like that. You just create this huge amount of certainty, and your brain has to make fewer decisions, and it’s less taxed overall. So, there’s a local effect with things that are physically close to you and also things that are close in time, and that’s one of the ways of hacking this.

So, you end up organizing your calendar, your schedule. You end up just kind of getting really disciplined and structured, and that hacks your sense of certainty even if the outside world is completely crazy. And so, there’s always kind of hacks like this, particularly around autonomy and certainty you can do even when the world is really crazy, to locally feel a lot better and be able to think well.

Pete Mockaitis
That really resonates and what’s coming to mind for me is I’ve got a buddy, Ronnie, and he said to me, boy, decades ago, he said, “Laundry is power.” I said, “What are you even saying?” And then, sure enough, this was before I was doing my laundry regularly, we’re like teenagers. And then when I got in the groove and I understood, it’s like, “Ah, yes, when you have a drawer of perfectly folded and organized and clean and ready-to-go laundry, that is power.” Because whatever tiny bit of your RAM was spent wondering, “Do I have clean underwear or shirt or dress, socks?” whatever item you might need or want. It’s like the answer is, “Yes. Why, I’m certain my clothing is handled.”

Likewise, I’ve got a bunch of high-protein snacks on my shelf, and that feels great in terms of like, “I don’t need to worry. If a schedule gets all choppy or weird, I’m not going to go hungry. there’s reassurance there that feels good.” So, organizing in terms of, “I know I’ve got my pens or my stand or whatever, my apps,” lay it on us, what are some other ways we can remove uncertainty from our lives and reap those psychological benefits?

David Rock
I have to tell you a funny relevant story before we go into some other ones. I just had a birthday recently, and my partner said, “What do you really want?” And I said, “I want to never think about socks again.” Like, I work out every single day. I’m just spending like five minutes pointlessly searching for socks and pairing them and stuff. I said, “I want you to really care about the perfect socks, and go test them, find out and see if you can work out. I like XYZ, and then that’s the thing I most want for my birthday.”

And they did it, they went out and she like worked out the exact one and threw out all my other socks, and gave me just dozens and dozens and dozens of the exact same socks, so I just never have to think about matching socks ever again. And it’s kind of something I’ve always wanted. I always felt too indulgent. But it’s like that stuff adds up because it’s attention you can’t put elsewhere in all those little places.

Pete Mockaitis
David, I love that so much. And the problem with socks is that they have all these different styles. Like, if you get pack of five, it might be five different designs, like, “That doesn’t help me because if I lose one, then the pair ends, whereas I’ve got redundancies, they could replace each other.” And so, it’s harder to match and pair. So, I’ve actually had the same fantasy but I, too, have not taken the time to realize it.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. All right. So, socks, that’s one thing you cannot think about ever again.

David Rock
Well, it’s a good metaphor. And then if you take that and say, “Look, what else do you regularly, like at least once a week, find you waste attention on?” Because attention is actually a limited resource. If you’re having to pair socks, that’s attention you can’t put onto something else. So, what else do you regularly, like at least weekly, maybe daily, put attention on so that you really don’t need to, you really shouldn’t have to? And how can you replace those things so that you really don’t have to actually give that any focus anymore?

You’ll start to see a lot of things where you could create a lot more certainty in these areas, whether it’s bulk buying food so that you know you’ve always got three months’ worth of things that you never have to worry, or shop four times a year, or it could be around planning your exercise routine a month out at a time, or planning your diet a whole way out. So, there’s different ways to think about it. It’s kind of whatever you’re interested in but, essentially, the fewer decisions you have to make that are kind of pointless, the better off you’ll be. That’s the tip overall.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And so, it’s not so much, “Oh, I’m at the gym. What am I going to do here now?” but rather, “I’ve taken some time, I’ve done some research in advance based on my goals and the equipment that’s available and the time I have, this is what I’m doing.” And so, you’ve made one decision to rule dozens or hundreds of subsequent things.

David Rock
Right. One of the things I did is I realized I was terrible at going to the gym, and it just was the time sucked till I get there and deal with things, and get back, and I didn’t like the environment at the gym, and I needed to work out fairly regularly. I felt there were benefits. The research was really saying there were benefits.

And as I looked into the research, it became clear that actually a small amount of exercise, if you do it every day, is fantastic. And by small amount, I mean like five minutes, even five to ten minutes. And I realized I’m overcomplicating this thing. What if I could do something that I could do absolutely anywhere, it doesn’t matter what hotel I’m in, what part of the world I’m in, what mental state I’m in, I can just, anywhere, do some exercises and do them absolutely daily?

When I simplified it down to that, I had all this certainty, and now I could just weave in exercise into part of my day. And so, pushups and sit-ups go a long way plus some stretching. If you could do that regularly, daily, you’ve got an amazing set of health benefits and strength and confidence. And add some cardio from most days from a walking meeting so that you’re getting that cardio in as well while you’re in a meeting, and you’ve got a fantastic exercise routine without ever going to the gym. So, again, you’re kind of creating, I guess, it’s not just certainty. Also, you’re just creating more ease with your attention and with having to achieve your goals.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Like, “Oh, when and where and how am I going to get this workout in?” It’s like, “Oh, that’s just five minutes. It can be anywhere. And for the time being, I’ve chosen to schedule it at this time recurring, and now there it is.” Cool. All right. Well, so then let’s talk about if we do want to make a change in the job, how do we know it’s time and how do you go about thinking through and deciding that?

David Rock
Companies are really good at trying to keep people, and I think that it’s really good, and I speak as an employer as well, I guess, in this, but it’s really good to explore the options because sometimes we just think that the job we’re in is the only opportunity, but a lot of companies are good at being flexible, and you might find there’s a completely different career path in the same company.

I remember we did a lot of work with Intel for quite some years, the chip maker, and I remember a dinner a few years ago with maybe a dozen of the Intel executives, and they were introducing themselves, and I said, “How long have you been here? And what do you do?” to a person. Everyone had been there 20 plus years. And they weren’t necessarily that senior, they were mid-career, I was like, “How does the company keep you so long?”

And everyone just laughed and said, “Well, every two or three years, I get a knock on my door, and someone offers me a ridiculously big job that I could never imagine I would ever be chosen for and throws me in the deep end in this incredibly challenging opportunity that I get to really sink my teeth into. And they just keep doing that every few years. I’ve never gone more than five years without that happening.” And everyone to a person agreed.

So, Intel, in the background, who worked that out, and kept really, really good people by stretching them a lot. And so, a lot of clever organizations want to give you different kinds of roles, and I think the first step is to explore, “Is it the company or is it the role?” If you’re an extrovert and you’re stuck in accounting filling in forms, you may find that joining the sales team might make you intrinsically happier. That’s an obvious one.

So, I think the first thing is, “Is it the company, or is it the role, or is it the team?” Maybe you’re in a team where the chemistry isn’t right. And I’ve got a team of 200 plus people, and magic happens sometimes when you move someone to a different team. Someone can be an underperformer and not happy. You put them in a whole different team, they do incredible work. So, there’s a definite chemistry thing. So, I think it depends. Is it the company? Is it the team? Is it the work? It’s good to think about those things and explore ideas.

If it’s all three, you might want to consider your options. And sometimes people just want to really shake things up. They want to really, really shake up their kind of whole world and kind of challenge themselves to learn new things, especially if they’re maybe mid-career, they’ve done a few years kind of in their first five to ten years of working. They’ve kind of really learned a lot of skills in one environment, they’re like, “I want to challenge myself and learn something completely different.”

I was talking to a colleague who’s been in pharma for a long, long time, and she’s like, “You know what, I want to go and be in media now. Pharma has been great but I want an entirely different ecosystem. I want to learn entirely different things about the world, and that’s something I’m passionate about.” So, that’s a person that probably will leave because it’s the entire industry they want to shift, so getting a new job in there won’t be helpful.

So, I think you got to think about also the industry, the company, the team, and the job itself. What really is it? And if it is time to leave, it’s always really great, and I guess I say this as an employer, but it’s always really great to let people know really early and minimize the surprise elements so your colleagues, not just your managers, but your colleagues also have time to set things up so they’re not drowning.

I know in many organizations right at the moment, everyone is struggling for talent. I don’t know how the math of that works but I think just a lot of people are not working. And it’s not just restaurants and bars. Like, everyone, everywhere is really short staffed somehow. Just about every industry I talk to, people are saying, “We just don’t have enough people for the work.” So, I’m a fan of giving folks lots of warnings so you’re not throwing anyone in the deep end.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, we’ve talked about some tiny interventions in terms of just like your own mindset and what’s in your sphere of control, what you can do there. We talked about some big changes in terms of, “I’m out of here.” And so, maybe about some in-between size changes, do you have any pro tips on how we go about communicating with managers, leaders, others in terms of, “Hey, you know what, this job isn’t working for me,” or, “Hey, I really appreciate if we can make this shift or accommodation”? Any magical scripts or words or phrases or approaches that really work well here?

David Rock
Yeah, there’s no magic in that stuff. It creates a lot of anxiety for people, so I think being clear is really helpful, being really clear about whether you’ve made a decision or not, whether you’re talking to other organizations already or not, where you are in your process. If you’re really early in your thinking, let people know you’re early in your thinking and you’re not planning to do anything for a few months. If you’ve kind of already decided to leave and you’ve already done interviews, you got to be kind of upfront about that.

So, I think there’s a lack of transparency in both directions, employer and employee in these things, and I think everyone wins when there’s more transparency around this stuff. So, I think just be really clear about where you are in your process and it’s just really nice to give people a little bit of a time to find that replacement as well, especially in this environment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Flipping the perspective a little bit, when you are the employer and you are looking to retain the talent, you mentioned some of the best practices of Intel, what are some of the other things that you find are really great things to do to help get people to stick around?

David Rock
One of the biggest motivators is feeling you’re making progress. There’s a whole book on that called The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile. But it’s this feeling like you’re actually able to really do your best work, not just make progress but you’re able to really be proud of the work that you do, and know it really is your best work. There’s sort of nothing worse than getting home and saying, “I tried my best but, really, there are all these roadblocks in the way, and I did half the job I could’ve done,” or, “If only my colleagues had my back,” or, “If only I had this technology,” or, “I just didn’t get to look as good or hit it out of the park.” It’s frustrating.

So, I think helping people do their best work is really important. And the challenge with that is it’s very individual so managers will have to learn to ask questions about it. So, some really interesting data out recently, like there’s a whole conundrum about, “Where do you let people work now that the offices are opening up a bit?” But it turns out, there’s no one answer to that. About a third of people are saying there are productive places at home full time. It’s not just that they want to goof off. It’s actually where they work hardest to get the most done.

Now, some of them might also appreciate having more time with their kids and less pointless time driving and all sorts of things. But, literally, a third of people say they’re more productive working at home than anything else. About a third of people say they’re actually more productive working in the office, and that’s where they get the most done. Now, they might be extroverts, or they might not have conditions at home that are good, or they just might not have the discipline that they just end up distracted too much at home. So, you’ve got really different polarities there.

And so, as a manager, you want to help people work out where they do their best work but even when they do their best work. Some people, like their routine is such whether they have kids maybe, but they just do amazing work if they can start at 5:00 a.m., work through 8:00, take four hours off, and then do three hours in the afternoon. And they’ll do stellar work if they do that, and be healthy, and a good parent, and all these other things.

Other people, they’ll do stellar work if they start at lunchtime and go straight through till 8:00 p.m., That’s just how they work. They’re night owls. So, there’s the where you work, there’s the when you work, there’s, our research show, that who you work with and what you work on is even more important, even more motivating. Like, you can give people, this is back to autonomy, give people a little more control than they thought they might have over what they work on and who they work with, you actually get an even greater sense of engagement.

So, we’re coming back to autonomy a lot, but giving people more control over where they work, and when they work, and what they work on, and who they work with, these things are very intrinsically motivating. And, at the same time, how can you, as a manager, kind of remove roadblocks and give people the tools they need to really feel like they can do their best work? Those are a couple of the really big things we think.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, tell me, David, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

David Rock
I think this is an incredible time to make big changes in how we work individually and for organizations. I think it’s a really interesting time because all our systems kind of that were very frozen forever are being kind of unfrozen, everything is sort of bit in flux. And as we start to open offices again and go back, before we fall on bad habits again, I think it’s a great time for companies and individuals to think about the habits they want to have, think about the kind of culture they want to have, think about the kind of team they want to be part of, all of this.

So, I think it’s a great time to be really intentional as we kind of transition into 2022. Let’s be really intentional about the kind of life we want to live as individuals, or the kind of culture we want to have as a company. And, for me, it’s really important to say this. Follow the science because the science is often different to our gut instinct. Follow the science and then experiment, and then follow the data. Follow the science, experiment, and follow the data, are three really important things as we move forward. Don’t just follow gut instinct.

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

David Rock
Theodore Zeldin, a philosopher at Oxford, one of my favorite authors, he often said, “When will we make the same breakthroughs in the way we relate to each other as we’ve made in technology?” So, that’s something that inspires me really often.

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

David Rock
I really like the study by Dan Gilbert. Dan is a professor at Harvard. He wrote the book Stumbling on Happiness, which is about the way we mis-predict what will make us happy in the future. We think that a big car, an hour in the suburbs will make us happy than a small apartment in the city. And it turns out, the ten hours a week of driving makes us miserable much more so than the space makes us happy.

So, anyway, he wrote this great book Stumbling on Happiness and he did this study a few years back, looking at kind of, “What are the different activities that make people happy?” And what he discovered was really surprising, was that about half the time people are literally not there mentally. The lights are on but no one’s home. They’re like in a meeting but they’re mentally in lunch tomorrow. Or, they’re supposedly working on a document but their mind is off on something else altogether.

So, about half, it’s about 48% of our waking hours, we are literally not present in what we’re doing. It’s such a fascinating finding and tells you why we need to kind of be reminded to have more of a growth mindset and kind of experiment a lot more because we’re just not present a lot of the time.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

David Rock
A book that kind of changed my life a lot and sort of set me down the neuroscience path a lot was John Ratey’s book. It’s an old book now but it’s called A User’s Guide to the Brain. And I read that and read that and read that, and thumbed through that, for years and years and years. And it gave me like the first kind of really good dose of language about what was happening inside my head. And at some point, I said, “You know what, I really wish there was a version of this for doing work.” And there wasn’t, and I kind of ended up writing that book. That’s my book Your Brain at Work.

And, as self-serving as this is, I just re-read it and re-edited it, and ten years later, after I kind of originally read it, I actually got a lot out of it. So, that’s my second most favorite book, it’s my own book. It really helped me understand my brain, writing it. And even ten years later, even if it’s very late, I had to do it to kind of improve it. So, anything that sort of gives you language for what’s going on moment to moment in your brain, gives you an ability to be more mindful in a way because you’re paying attention to internal experiences and states so you’re literally more full of your mind. Your attention is on your mental process.

And these kinds of things end up having a similar effect as actual mindfulness training in that it reduces stress and gives you greater cognitive control and all these other things. So, I’m a big fan of learning about your brain as a way of being more adaptive in life and more effective in your career or as a manager.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

David Rock
I think my favorite tool is the hot tub, the jacuzzi. It’s a communication tool, and I’ve probably had one consistently for the last 20 years in everywhere that I’ve lived. I’ve made sure of it. And what I find is you get this unusual window of time where you’re super comfortable, super relaxed, where you can really have long deeper conversations, usually with my partner or with a close friend. It’s this kind of non-obvious conversation tool for having really good quality downtime. And I find, when I don’t have a hot tub around, we just don’t spend that kind of time really going deeper on things, whereas with the hot tub, you do. So, there you go, an unexpected tool.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a key nugget you share that people seem to quote back to you often?

David Rock
“We tend to think about what’s easiest to think about rather than what’s right to think about.” Something I said in Your Brain at Work, and a lot of people quote that. We tend to think about whatever is easy to think about rather than what we actually should be focused on. And so, a lot of the intangible things don’t get enough attention over things that are just more tangible by kind of accident.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

David Rock
A couple of places of work that I do with organizations, NeuroLeadership.com. Personally, DavidRock.net. My book, my most recent book is Your Brain at Work. You just look that up. You’ll find it everywhere. And easy to find me through DavidRock.net if you’re interested in all the different things I’m involved with.

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

David Rock
I think this is a great time to think about the next decade or so for yourself. The decisions you make right now about your career will last you five to ten years. So, I think this is a good time to think deeply about what inspires you, what motivates you, what you want to really spend your time and your attention on. A bit like the socks. Do you want to spend your attention on something that annoys you or do you want to spend your attention on something that really inspires you? So, I think it’s a great time to be thoughtful about how you want to spend the next decade or so.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. David, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you much luck and fun in your adventures.

David Rock
Thank you so much. Appreciate the opportunity.

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