Alan Stein Jr. lays out the fundamental shifts that help sustain your game and build resilience in the face of stress, stagnation, and burnout
- How to stop stress from overwhelming and controlling you
- How to stay calm and in control in the face of stress
- How to identify and remedy stagnation
Alan Stein, Jr. is an experienced keynote speaker and author. At his core, he’s a performance coach with a passion for helping others change behaviors. He spent 15+ years working with the highest performing basketball players on the planet (including NBA superstars Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and Kobe Bryant). Through his customized programs, he transfers his unique expertise to maximize both individual and organizational performance.
Alan is a dynamic storyteller who delivers practical, actionable lessons that can be implemented immediately. He teaches proven principles on how to utilize the same approaches in business that elite athletes use to perform at a world-class level.
His previous clients include American Express, Pepsi, Sabra, Starbucks, Charles Schwab, and Penn State Football, and many more.
- Book: Raise Your Game: High-Performance Secrets from the Best of the Best
- Book: Sustain Your Game: High Performance Keys to Manage Stress, Avoid Stagnation, and Beat Burnout
- Website: AlanSteinJr.com
- Website: StrongerTeam.com
- Author: Eckhart Tolle
- Book: Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
- Book: Exactly What to Say: Your Personal Guide to the Mastery of Magic Words by Phil Jones
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Alan, welcome back to How to be Awesome at Your Job.
Alan Stein, Jr.
Oh, it’s so great to be with you again. I’ve been looking forward to this.
Oh, me, too. Well, I’m curious to hear, any particularly interesting new discoveries or lessons learned within the last couple of years or so since we spoke last?
Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah, I would say a pretty long list of them, to be honest. And most of which, I think, were things that were heightened exponentially over the pandemic. I know, for me, personally, from a book-writing standpoint, I’m always trying to write the book that mirrors what I’m going through in my own life, and I’m always trying to write the book that I need to be reading myself. I find it part liberating and part therapeutic to kind of research and write about the things that I’m struggling with.
So, my most recent book is about stress, stagnation, and burnout because those are three areas that I’ve struggled with for most of my life and career, and I know that a lot of people found those things heightened during the pandemic.
Well, let’s talk about the book Sustain Your Game. What’s the big idea here?
Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, the big idea, I think the cornerstone of it is that stress, stagnation, and burnout are things that we have massive control and influence over, fighting against, that they’re not things that happen to us. They are things that we can actually help navigate away from if we handle them correctly. And those were some of the kinds of pivotal moments that I’ve had over the last couple of years because I think I’ve gone through most of my life feeling like stress is something that happens to me and is imposed on me. And I now have a much different perspective.
All right. Well, what’s the fresh perspective?
Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, so I’m a big fan of Eckhart Tolle, who’s, I guess for lack of a better term, a modern-day philosopher. And his definition of stress is the one that most resonated with me and kind of shifted my whole perspective. And Eckhart’s definition of stress is the desire for things to be different than they are in the present moment. And there was something about that I found very liberating and empowering because, ultimately, what I took away from that was stress is not caused by outside forces, stress is not caused by events, or circumstances, or what people say, or what people do.
Our stress is caused by our resistance to those things, or our perspective of those things, or how we internalize them. So, once that kind of clicked, and his definition, it’s not what’s going on. It’s my desire for what’s going on to be different is what’s actually stressing me out. And once that clicked with me, literally, I just saw the whole world differently now.
And, by all means, I’m not coming from a place of mastery, and I’m not sitting here pretending like I never feel stressed. But, now, when I do, I have the awareness to recognize that on some level, that’s a choice. And that if I would just stop resisting what is, that most of that stress would dissipate.
Oh, yeah, that is thought-provoking and eye-opening. So, nonetheless, some things we don’t want to be the way they are.
Alan Stein, Jr.
Oh, yeah, I’m glad that you highlighted that because, certainly, I don’t want you or your listeners to think I live in la-la land. And the way that I view it now, I still have my preferences, I still have opinions and ways that I’d like to see the world unfold. I just no longer expect that it’s the world’s job to conspire to make me happy, and it’s not the world or the universe’s job to make sure Alan Stein, Jr. gets all of his preferences.
So, now, when something occurs that’s not to my liking, or is not my preference, I just understand that’s part of the human condition. That’s kind of what we all signed up for to be here and I deal with it appropriately. And what I try to do is be more thoughtful in my response to what’s going on than to the event itself.
And, certainly, over the last couple of years, whether we’re talking about the pandemic or the political divide, there had been some incredibly emotionally charged things that have occurred over the last couple years in particular. And I still have my opinions and my preferences of those things but I no longer allow those things to dictate my perspective, and my mindset, and my attitude, and how I show up. And that, to me, is the big difference.
Before, when something happened that I didn’t like, I always felt like it was happening to me, and I was, in essence, an unconscious victim to the world around me. I now no longer allow myself to be the victim. I’ve taken those proverbial handcuffs off and just said, “Yeah, what just happened is not my preference, it’s not to my liking, but I’m going to be very thoughtful in choosing a response to this situation that actually moves me forward and helps me.” So, it shifted me from being a victim to feeling much more empowered.
That’s really intriguing. And I’m thinking right now about airports when it comes to stress because, you mentioned you’re flying to Nashville shortly, and I’m thinking that you can have stressors big or small in terms of small, like, “Oh, my flight is delayed. That’s inconvenient. I guess I might have to cancel a lunch or dinner. I was planning on meeting someone on the other side, which is a bummer.”
And then I’m thinking of a buddy of mine recently told me a tale about how he was straight-up arrested for mistakenly taking a MacBook Air that looked just like his, and it’s like, “Oh, sorry. Oops,” “No, you’re coming with us,” and he spent a night in jail. So, wild story, and in that instance, he preferred that would be different alright on a whole nother level.
I guess that kind of gets my blood boiling in terms of, like in that instance, like he actually is a victim of an injustice before him. And so, I want your hot take here in terms of if the size of the stress is small versus medium versus big, does that change how you play the game in your mind?
Alan Stein, Jr.
I believe that it does, and one of the interesting parts of that, and just to go on record, it would be my preference that I’m not arrested at the airport, and it’d be my preference that my flights aren’t delayed either. Yeah, so I have nothing but empathy and compassion for him to go through such an ordeal. But the mindset portion of it, what you still need to say is, “Okay, this is…” and that’s an extreme case, “This is less than ideal that I’m being charged with this and I’m going to spend the night in jail.”
Less than ideal, that’s right.
Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah, less than ideal. And let me certainly go on record saying there’s nothing easy about any of this. I don’t want to pretend for one second that if either of those scenarios happened to me, that I would just automatically be chipper and smile and act like everything is great. There is a distinction to make and there’s two ways to answer your question.
One is, so once this has already transpired, as awful as that scenario is, once he realizes, “All right, I’m already being charged and I’m going to spend the night in jail,” that now has become reality. That has now become fact. And no matter how angry he gets, ornery he gets, pissed off he gets, it’s not going to change the fact. So, the more upset he gets, all that’s doing is punishing himself. It’s not like, “Hey, if I throw a massive fit, they’re going to let me go home tonight.” It doesn’t change your situation.
So, what you need to try to do is say, “Okay, as awful as this is, what’s a response that can at least make this somewhat palatable or at least make this a little bit better?” Again, spending the night in jail in some random city for an honest mistake is pretty tragic, but you’re only punishing yourself if you choose to let it bend you all out of whack. And that’s just something you keep in the back of your mind.
The other part that I certainly want to make a distinction is I believe in feeling all emotions. I don’t believe there’s any such thing as a good or a bad emotion. I think they’re all part of the human experience. Now, there’s emotions that we would probably prefer to have. I’m sure you and I would prefer to be joyous and elated instead of frustrated or disappointed, but they’re part of our emotional palate for a reason. So there’s nothing wrong with feeling emotions.
And, in fact, if I was arrested and had to spend the night in jail for mistakenly taking someone’s iPad, I would feel a wide range of emotions, from anger to frustration, to disappointment, to… I mean, you fill in the blank. But what we have to learn to do is not let how we feel dictate how we behave. I had a really good friend of mine that’s the mental performance coach for the San Francisco Giants in major league baseball, and he said something that affected me just as profoundly as Eckhart Tolle’s quote, and he said, “Our emotions are designed to inform us. They’re not designed to direct us.”
So, our emotions are kind of a litmus test to how we’re perceiving the world and how we’re feeling, but we have to be very careful in not letting them dictate our behavior or our decisions. So, back to this crazy scenario that your friend experienced, there’s nothing wrong with me being upset, angry, frustrated, disappointed that I’ve been arrested but I don’t want that to be how I behave. I certainly don’t want to be belligerent to the police officer. That could get me in even more trouble, spend multiple nights in jail.
And it’s one of those things that I’ve always believed that if you can kind of control your emotions to the point it doesn’t dictate your behavior and the way you show up, that’s one definition of mental toughness. You’re completely resilient when you say that, “No matter what goes on in the outer world, I’m not going to let it rattle me and dictate my inner world.” And that is not an easy place to get to, and I won’t pretend for one second that if I get arrested on my flight to Nashville tomorrow that I’ll handle it with the stoicism that I’m sharing with you right now, but that would be the goal.
And that’s where I’m trying to work to the point where I would be able to handle just about anything thrown at me with that type of stoic approach. Because, again, acting on your emotions and being belligerent and being upset is only going to make the situation worse. You think temporarily it’s going to make you feel better, but, ultimately, it’s only going to make it worse.
That’s right in terms of if you say, “You know what, I gave that cop a piece of my mind. That felt so good.” Probably not. Regardless of the response, the doing it is not going to produce a catharsis. Well, just not to leave people hanging, there was a, I don’t know if you’d call a happy ending, but he did follow some of these principles in terms of he’s like, “Okay. Well, you know what, what do I have control over? In my mugshot, I’m going to look as friendly and kind and not guilty as possible. That’s what I’m going to do.”
And if they didn’t like that, they’re like, “No, you can’t smile. You can’t smile in your mugshot. Do it again. Do it again.” It’s like, “Okay, when I have an opportunity to make a call, I want to be really friendly and polite and professional,” and he managed to make like seven calls, like multiple lawyers and his wife and such.
And that was helpful because they gave him some good tips, and he said, “You know, I am in a jail cell with these people. But you know what? They have some knowledge, like, hey, so there’s a big bunch of bail companies I could call. Like, who’s best?” Like, “Oh, you should call these guys. They’re way faster than the other ones.”
And so, it still sucked a lot and it was costly with lawyers and all of that, but it didn’t wreck his life. It’s just a few thousand bucks and some crazy inconvenience, and he’s back on his feet.
Alan Stein, Jr.
And, at the very least, he’s got an incredible story to tell now.
Certainly. And if you did let the emotions not just inform but direct and sort of rage and you’re not thinking clearly in terms of, “Oh, what wisdom might my fellow jail mates might have for me right now?” You’re just like, “This is such bull crap. I can’t believe…” if your brain is there, it’s not doing that helpful thinking for you.
Alan Stein, Jr.
Absolutely. And one other thing I’ve noticed, and I’m glad that it was somewhat of a happy story or happy ending, rather. Let’s use the less severe example that you gave, that your flight is delayed or your flight is canceled. Because of how much travel I do, I get to see this happen pretty regularly, and usually what happens, somebody feels so massively inconvenienced as if the entire airline was conspiring to ruin this one person’s day and, “We decided to delay this flight just because we wanted to make you angry.”
What they end up doing, they let their emotions get the best of them, and then they unload those emotions on someone that has nothing to do with it. Usually, the person that you’re unloading your disapproval on has nothing to do with what it is that you’re angry about. The person that’s working kind of behind the desk, they’re not responsible for your delayed flight. They have nothing to do with that.
So, now you’re unloading on somebody else that can’t…I mean, they’re not responsible for it. And then, if you think of just general human nature, how likely is this person going to be to bend over backwards to try to help you find a resolution when you’ve just unloaded all of your anger and frustration and disappointment on them?
I’ve had plenty of delayed and canceled flights, and I have always found that as disappointing and frustrating as that may be internally, whoever I speak with at the airline, I try and kill them with kindness. And the very first thing I say is, “I know you’re going to have a rough couple of hours dealing with all of these headaches. Just know how much empathy and compassion I have for you.”
“I know this isn’t ideal for any of us and I just really appreciate anything you can do to still get me home or to get me to wherever I’m trying to go,” and offer a genuine and authentic and warm smile, and a little compassion, and usually people will go out of their way to try and find a way to help me out, versus the person that’s just going to be belligerent and screaming curse words and act like the whole world is conspiring against them.
So, it goes back to, “Yeah, I’m frustrated that my flight is delayed, but what’s the thoughtful response that I can make in real time that will increase the chance that I’ll get on the next flight, or that they can book me somewhere else, or maybe they’ll offer me a free hotel room, or whatever?” So, yeah, the ultimate part of this is we only punish ourselves when we allow our emotions to overtake our behavior and the way we treat others. It’s not punishing anybody else. You’re just making your own life more miserable.
All right. So, there’s a huge master key right there is just your mindset, your perspective, your philosophy there. Anything else we can do to build up the mental toughness and resilience in advance, if it’s like exercise, or hydration, or nutrition, or supplements, or meditation? Like, what are some things that could be helpful for building up a capacity to respond in an enlightened fashion to stress beyond just having the ideal mindset?
Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, two things come to mind. One, and this is kind of an offshoot of mindset, and that is learning how to be in the present moment. A lot of our frustrations and disappointments and anger stems from an attachment to something that happened in the past, and we simply make the assumption that, whatever happened in the past that did not turn out in our favor, is going to happen again right now. So, we just make that assumption, which is usually not very helpful or useful.
And then the other thing we do is we have a preconceived notion or a prediction of the future, which, of course, is always hypothetical, and that’s what increases anxiety. So, we can get kind of depressed and upset about something that happened previously, and then we can start being worrying and anxious about something that may happen in the future. And both of those things are just taking us away from being in the present moment.
Again, using the scenarios that you posed, because they’re pretty real-life scenarios, if you just take a deep breath, and go, “Okay, in this moment, my flight has been delayed two hours. I’m probably going to miss the connection and I’m going to miss my dinner with Pete tonight. That’s not ideal. That’s not my preference. It’s a little bit frustrating but it’s the reality, and I accept it.”
“I’m not going to resist it. I’m not going to draw on something from the past where I had this awful experience. And I’m not going to get anxious about the future and worry, ‘Well, maybe Pete and I won’t be friends ever again. He’s going to be so upset that…’” And I start just kind of creating this false narrative.
When if you just take a deep breath and you stay in the present moment, and you say, “You know what, it’s not that bad. Yes, I would’ve preferred to have caught my flight and had not been delayed, but this is what happened. I’ll make the best of it.” So, being in the present moment is certainly an offshoot of that and a way to help remedy it.
And then kind of more on a tactical and esoteric level, in addition to what you mentioned, making sure you’re feeding your body and moving your body, and getting good quality sleep, because I do believe mind and body are connected, but it’s also paying very close attention to the inputs of our life. We all want to have great outputs. We want to be efficient. We want to be effective. We want to produce. We want to earn. And that stuff is directly related to the inputs in our life.
What you read, watch, and listen to, who you insulate yourself with, and who you invest your time with, what you choose to consume on social media is just as important as what you choose to consume nutritionally. These things have a massive impact on the way we see the world. So, anyone looking to level up their output, they need to directly look on the other side of the curtain at their inputs, and say, “Okay, if I want a more quality output, I need to read, watch, and listen to a higher level of content.” And same thing on social, same thing with the people that you insulate yourself with. So, just have high discernment with where you choose to place your attention.
All right. Okay, so that’s the stress side of things. How about we touch upon the stagnating and the burnout?
Alan Stein, Jr.
Sure. Well, the stagnation part, that’s really where I was kind of leaning towards with this changing of the inputs, because usually the stagnation, which I kind of look at, is just kind of being on that hedonic treadmill. You’re just kind of treading water. You’re expending energy but you’re not really going anywhere in life.
And it’s often just kind of this numb feeling where you’re just towing the line of mediocrity and you’re noticing that your outputs are starting to stagnate. And the best way to jumpstart that and break through that stagnation is changing your inputs. Reaching out to some people that maybe are more accomplished than you are, or have walked the path that you haven’t walked just yet so you can learn from them. And maybe be a mentee to a mentor that’s doing something that you’d like to emulate.
If you find yourself just watching the same old stuff on Netflix and just listening to the same old radio stations or talk radio, see if you can infuse some other things in there, some podcasts or documentaries or books, or just something to kind of jumpstart on the input side, and that’ll help you break through that stagnation.
One of the hardest parts of stagnation is just acknowledging that you’re stagnating. Awareness is always the first step to improvement because you’ll never fix something you’re unaware of, and you’ll never improve something you’re oblivious to. And the reason stagnation can be so tricky is it’s kind of undercover. It’s not proverbial rock bottom. When we hit rock bottom, we usually feel inspired to act and make a change, and that’s the part that’s so slippery and dangerous about stagnation is you’re just kind of towing that line.
So, stress, we really feel in the moment; burnout, we really feel in the long term; stagnation is that tricky mid-term where you can easily fall numb to it and spend months or years in a stagnant place, and not even know it.
All right. So, just checking in, it’s like, “Hey, am I stagnant? What’s going on?” adjusting the inputs. Any other recommendations there?
Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, I think it’s important to make sure that you get feedback from the people that know you best, your inner circle, if you will, because often, they’ll be able to spot your stagnation before you spot it. Whether this is like an intimate partner or a spouse, or if you have adult children, or close friends, or colleagues, but, hopefully, you’ve created the type of relationship with them, that you let them know, “Look, I’m always open to your feedback and I always welcome you helping me see my own blind spots.”
I think one of the most important perspectives we can have as human beings is to acknowledge that all of us have blind spots. Now, we can’t see them, hence the reason they’re blind spots, but having the humility to acknowledge, “I know there are things that I don’t know. And when someone cares enough to bring some of those blind spots into a level of awareness and shine a light on them for me, that’s one of the best gifts they can give me.”
So, hopefully, you’ve created the type of relationships, both personally and professionally, where people can say that, “Hey, I just feel like you’ve just been kind of treading water.” And many times, this usually comes from a spouse or somebody that you’re intimate with because they see you, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and see you a lot more than everyone else, but hopefully you’ve got the type of relationship where they can say, “Hey, I just feel like you’re stagnant.” And I try to insulate myself with people in my life that will tell me, for sure.
And how about when it comes to burnout?
Alan Stein, Jr.
So, burnout is an interesting one because I look at stress as a too much issue, stagnation as a too little issue, and those things kind of combine are usually what set you on the path to burnout. While researching the book, I found that burnout is a very specific condition. When the hours that you’re working and the sacrifices that you’re making are no longer in alignment with where you find meaning or purpose or what you find fascinating, or the work you’re putting in is no longer in alignment with your core values or the person that you’re trying to become.
So, it’s that splintering effect of misalignment that causes the issue. It’s not just from working long hours. That can potentially be a problem over time but we probably all know someone that maybe it’s an entrepreneur with a new startup, and they’re working 60-, 70-, 80-hour weeks but they find so much meaning in their work, and they love it so much. They’re most likely not at risk for burnout. So, it’s when you don’t find meaning in your work, or you’re not fascinated by it, or it’s not in alignment.
Another big one, especially for folks at work in organizations, folks get burnout when they don’t feel like their contribution is making a difference. They don’t feel like they’re contributing to something bigger than themselves. They just kind of feel like, “I’m just a number showing up to work. I don’t know that I really matter.” So, when we don’t feel like we matter, or we don’t feel like there’s meaning in our work, that’s when we’re at risk of burnout.
All right. And if there we are in the midst of it, what do we do?
Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah. Well, again, be thankful if you have the awareness to recognize that, and there’s a few things you can do. One, you have to clarify your north star and get crystal clear. Assuming that you found meaning in that work or in that job at some point, and usually that’s the case, is to kind of reverse-engineer and track backwards and deconstruct, and say, “Okay, I’ve been in this job for 10 years. For the first eight years, I really enjoyed working here. I loved my role. I loved the people I was working with but I don’t feel that anymore.” And try to be reflective and introspective to figure out why.
Maybe you’ve been given some different assignments and your role has changed. Maybe a few colleagues have left and you’re now working with new people that you don’t feel as connected with but try to pinpoint what caused the change. And pinpointing at change, again, bringing it to a level of awareness, can allow you to explore some minor pivots, say, within the organization.
Maybe you ask to take on a new role, or report to someone differently, or work in a different department, or maybe you just come to the end of the road with that organization, and you want to look elsewhere. But then you have to ask yourself, “Do I want to do the same type of work for another company? Or, do I want to change industries completely?”
I’m an example of that. I spent 15 years as a basketball performance coach, and I really loved the time that I did that. But, as I was kind of nearing that 15-year mark, I started to feel burnout. I wasn’t enjoying the work I was doing near as much as I had in years prior, so I decided to make the leap completely out of that industry, and jumped into corporate keynote speaking and writing.
So, for me, I made a fairly drastic change but it was absolutely the right choice because it re-lit my fire and got me excited again. So, I think folks just need to be able to look at, “Is this something that requires a couple of minor tweaks that might get me back on course? Or, do I need to try something more drastic?” But at least pulling open the hood and taking a look at everything underneath to figure that out is, I think, a great step.
Okay. Well, you said the word pivot, which got me thinking. You have three steps you lay out in your book – perform, pivot, prevail. How do these work in sequence?
Alan Stein, Jr.
The way that I kind of looked at it was we’re trying to perform in the moment, and the biggest thing that can undermine that is stress, and that’s something that we feel kind of on the daily. In that mid-term, where we feel like we’re stagnating and things are just kind of towing that line, we need to figure out a way to pivot, to try something different, to shake things up.
And then if we are slowly approaching burnout, where there is this misalignment, then the ultimate goal is to prevail, is to be able to overcome that burnout either within your current job and vocation and company that you’re working with, or you might have to prevail by going somewhere else and doing something completely different.
And they’re not 100% sequential. We can toggle in and out of those at different times, into different amounts, but the way I look at it is more from a timeframe standpoint. You have stress kind of in the short term, you have stagnation more in that mid-term, and then burnout is an accumulation of the previous two, and that’s what happens in the long term.
Alrighty. And when professionals are trying to put your wisdom into action, into practice, are there some hiccups, road bumps, mistakes that come up again and again? And how should we navigate that?
Alan Stein, Jr.
I’m trying to think of some of the most common. I mean, the answer to the question is yes. Actually, that would be my answer to just about anything as far as no matter what it is we’re trying to do when we’re trying to implement and initiate change, there are always going to be roadblocks and hiccups and lessons to learn. But I think the key to that is embracing that and acknowledging everything that I’ve shared with you in this lovely conversation, and everything I’ve put in my books, and everything that I say on stage, all of these things are very basic principles, but none of this stuff is easy. None of it is.
And that’s why, with all of this stuff, I’m not speaking from a place of mastery. This is all stuff that I’m continuing to work on and to refine as I’m trying to evolve. And, to me, the goal has never been perfection. The goal has always been progress, consistent incremental progress. And with any of these things that we’ve talked about, can I be a little bit better today than I was yesterday? Can I be a little bit better in 2022 than I was in 2021, whether it’s my ability to manage stress, or avoid stagnation, or beat burnout, or be in the present moment, or have more thoughtful responses when the world doesn’t align to my preferences?
And I’m very proud of the fact that I can say, yes, I do all of those things consistently better today than I have in the past. If you and I reconnect again on your show in a couple more years, I’m hoping I can say with a huge smile that I’m doing an even better job then than I’m doing right now in the moment.
All right. Well, Alan, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear some more of your favorite things?
Alan Stein, Jr.
No, this has been great. I always love your line of questions and the direction in which you navigate things. This has been fun. This is great.
All right. Well, now could you give us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
Alan Stein, Jr.
So, one of my favorite quotes is about as basic and as simple as it gets, and that is, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” And the reason I love that is there’s two types of change that we all experience. There’s the imposed change. A perfect example of that is a two-year global pandemic or potentially an economic recession. Like, there’s things that can happen in the outer world that are imposed on us, and we have to respond to them. And those are obviously uncontrollable.
But the change I’m always referring to is initiated change. It’s the changes that we choose to make. So, it’s being able to have the awareness to say, “I’m not as physically fit as I’d like to be, so I need to make some changes to the way I eat, to my sleep, to my working out, and so forth because I have to acknowledge that, if I don’t change those things, then nothing on my body is going to change.”
And it could be the same thing for mental or emotional fitness, “I need to change the way that I perceive stress when the outside world imposes itself on me, and be much more thoughtful in my response.” So, I‘m a huge fan of leaning into and initiating change to take us closer to becoming the person that we strive to become.
Okay. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?
Alan Stein, Jr.
What I found really interesting, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to botch the numbers on this, but you’ll get the general sentiment. And this speaks directly to what I believe is one of the most dangerous games that any of us can play, and that is the comparison game. I do think, and I’m a huge advocate of social media.
I believe social media can be a great connection tool. It can be a great source of information and learning. It’s a great way to share if you have something of value. But social media, I think, is built to encourage us to play the comparison game, and to see how your life stacks up, usually materialistically, to someone else’s life.
And the problem with playing the comparison game is it usually makes us feel less than. You go on Instagram and you see that somebody has got a nicer house, or a nicer car, or a shinier watch, or a prettier girlfriend, or they go on better vacations, and it starts to make you feel less than. And that’s a dangerous, dangerous slope to tackle.
And there was some research that asked people, and again, this is where I don’t think my numbers are going to be completely exact, but you’ll get the point.
Would I rather make $70,000 a year and everybody else around me makes 50? So, I’m making a little bit more than them, and that makes me feel good but I’m making $70,000 a year. Or, would I rather make $100,000 a year but everyone around me makes $120,000 a year? So, net, I’m making $30,000 more dollars a year in the second scenario but it’s less than what everybody around me makes. And most people always want to feel that they’re winning the comparison game. They would actually rather make less money but make more money than the people in their direct area than the exact opposite of that.
And I just found that study fascinating. That’s kind of a peek behind the curtain into the human condition and the way people view things. And it’s very understandable, and I don’t say that with an ounce of judgment. I just found that study really interesting.
And how about a favorite book?
Alan Stein, Jr.
One of my all-time favorites, and I’m sure most of your listeners have already read it because I think he sold over five million copies, is Atomic Habits by my good friend James Clear. Most of what I share when it comes to building habits, I’ve learned from James and his blog and his book and a lot of his work. That’s definitely a go-to.
A secondary one is another book by my friend Phil Jones, who wrote a very short book called Exactly What to Say. It’s more of a guide than a book, and it’s a great reference on kind of how magic words can be, and we have to be very thoughtful and intentional about the words we choose because they change the world around us. And if you’re looking to be more influential and impactful, that you have to be very careful about the words you choose. And I found that book really, really insightful and very, very helpful.
All right. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?
Alan Stein, Jr.
I’m a big fan of the Headspace app for a guided meditation. I know a lot of what we’ve talked about is about being present and being grounded and being mindful. And because I come from a sports background, I’m a huge believer in practice, that you’ve got to practice, especially during the unseen hours.
So, that’s an app and a tool that I use very regularly. It’s a very calm and almost a serene feel of 10-minute guided meditation. And I try and do that at least once a day but I’ll throw that in anytime that I’m feeling a little bit stressed. So, you best believe if my flight to Nashville tomorrow gets delayed, I’ll pop in my earbuds and do a 10-minute meditation to, hopefully, bring me back down.
All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences; they tweet it and quote it back to you often?
Alan Stein, Jr.
I’m very fortunate that I have a quote that’s painted in a big 12-foot mural in the Penn State Football Training Center, and it says, “Are the habits you have today on par with the dreams you have for tomorrow?” And that’s a mantra I try and live by. I’m a big believer in habits and the things that we do consistently. And I always want to make sure that the things that I’m doing on a daily basis are in alignment and are in harmony with the person that I’m trying to become.
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?
Alan Stein, Jr.
They can go to AlanSteinJr.com. I also have a supplemental site StrongerTeam.com, and I’m very easily found on social media @AlanSteinJr. I love interacting with folks, so if you’re on Instagram or LinkedIn or Twitter or Facebook, just shoot me a DM. And if you have a question or want to discuss anything that Pete and I talked about, I’m always open for that. And, certainly, if anyone is interested in either book Raise Your Game or Sustain Your Game, they’re easily found on Amazon, Audible, or wherever you like to get your books.
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?
Alan Stein, Jr.
I do. I think at the ground level, the foundation, is showing up at your job emotionally charged and as the best version of yourself. And in order to do that, you have to take a look at your morning and your evening routines, how you’re spending the bookends of your day. So, one of the exercises I always encourage folks to do is a very basic self-audit. You take a piece of paper. You draw a vertical line down the middle.
On the left side, come up with an exhaustive list of all of the things that light you up, that give you energy, that make you smile, that make you feel alive, that add to your confidence. This could be taking a Peloton class or pulling out your yoga mat to do some stretches. It could be a quiet morning reading the paper and drinking some coffee. It could be watching a riveting documentary or taking your dog for a walk. But any of the activities that give you energy and fill you up, then come up with a list of those.
And then on the other side of the paper, on the other side of that right line, write down how you’ve been spending the bookends of your day, your morning and your evening routine. Then you’re going to compare the two sides of the paper. You’re going to compare the two sets of notes. And you’re going to ask yourself one of the most important questions you can ever ask yourself, and that is, “Am I doing the things that I know I need to do to be my best self and to show up as my best self, ready to make a maximum contribution to my job?”
And if you do that with some honesty and some vulnerability, you’ll most likely start to uncover what’s called a performance gap, and that is the gap between what we know we should do to be our best self, and what we actually do on a daily basis. And one of the key tenets of my work is helping folks close that gap and start doing the things they know they need to do.
If you can make the time to heighten your self-care and to sprinkle some of the things from the left side of the paper onto the right side, and even if it’s just 10 to 15 minutes in the morning and evening, doing the things that light you up and fill your bucket, it’ll have a massive impact on how you show up, your energy level, how you feel about yourself, and, absolutely, your ability to make a contribution to your work, to your job, to your organization.
All right. Alan, thank you. It’s been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun and sustaining of your game.
Alan Stein, Jr.
Likewise, my friend. This was great. Thank you so much.