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241: How to Have More Fun While Achieving More with Dave Crenshaw

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Dave Crenshaw gives his expert insights on the importance of scheduling in fun, meaningful breaks, and shares practical tips on setting up your own personal oasis and managing your time.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why having fun is critical to your success
  2. How to build your own oasis
  3. Perspectives to switch from a culture of now vs. the culture of when

About Dave 

Dave Crenshaw is the master of building productive leaders. He has appeared in Time magazine, USA Today, FastCompany, and the BBC News. His courses on LinkedIn Learning have received millions of views. He has written four books, including The Myth of Multitasking which was published in six languages and is a time management bestseller. As an author, keynote speaker, and online instructor, Dave has transformed hundreds of thousands of businesses leaders worldwide.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dave Crenshaw Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Dave, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Dave Crenshaw
Thanks, Pete. Glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, first and foremost, I think we need to hear a little bit about you and Chuck Norris. What’s the backstory?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, for those unfamiliar, Chuck Norris facts are jokes that have been making a round the internet for, gosh, close to 10 years now, and they’re just statements of just ridiculous strength and power that Chuck has, things like Superman wears Chuck Norris pajamas, or Chuck Norris makes onions cry. And they’re fairly popular, and Chuck heard about these and put together The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book.

Well, in The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book he cites me and my book, The Myth of Multitasking, and it’s under the Chuck Norris fact, by the way, “Chuck Norris can kill two stones with one bird.” So, that is the connection and there are lots of things that I’ve done. I’ve been on Time Magazine, BBC, all these different places, but there’s nothing that will ever be as cool as being mentioned by Chuck Norris in The Official Chuck Norris Fact Book.

Pete Mockaitis
That is cool. And so, I guess Chuck was on board with your perspective in that multitasking or switch-tasking, if you will, is a thief and suboptimal and etcetera.

Dave Crenshaw
Yes, he does not believe in multitasking, and he believes in focusing on one thing at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, it feels like there’s a Chuck Norris fact.

Dave Crenshaw
There is actually. So, when that happened, I sent that out to my social media followers, and said, “I’ll give my books and The Chuck Norris Fact Book to somebody who can come up with the best Chuck Norris fact about multitasking.” And the winner was, “Chuck Norris doesn’t multitask. It’s never taken him more than one punch.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we’re having fun. And so, I want to talk about your latest book The Power of Having Fun which is a compelling title, and I’m so intrigued to get the details on this about what I read thus far. So, could you give us your view? What’s sort of the main idea behind this book and why is it important now?

Dave Crenshaw
Sure. The first thing that I want to say is that I am a productivity expert. I help build productive leaders. So, when I’m talking about The Power of Having Fun I’m coming at it primarily from a productivity standpoint. And what I’ve learned, it’s sort of the cousin to The Myth of Multitasking. The Myth of Multitasking is about what you shouldn’t do. You shouldn’t try to do multiple things at the same time.

Well, The Power of Having Fun is about what you should do. If you want to be more productive you must make having fun a top priority in your schedule. It is something that you should put in your calendar and protect just as much as you protect an appointment with your most important client, with your boss, with anyone who is critical to your success because it is critical to your success.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Dave, this is a message I love to hear because I’m subject to some of those, I don’t know, guilt things about not doing or achieving enough, or “should I be having fun in this moment” type things, so I love this thesis. So, could you back it up a little bit? Like it almost sounds too good to be true. Like, why? Why is having fun this important?

Dave Crenshaw
Sure. Well, I can back it up. The first thing that I want to say, though, before I go into any kind of studies or research or science behind it, is I am less interested in the research of others and more interested in the research or the experiment of you. What that means is sometimes we get all lathered up with all these studies and statistics.

And what really matters is, “Does this apply to you?” So, rather than taking my word for it, and going, “Well, that’s what everybody should do,” I would encourage people who are listening to this to test it, to put it into application into your life, maybe just for two weeks, and try that experiment because, ultimately, that is the most powerful proof that I can offer.

And what I believe you’ll find is what many of my leadership clients have found which is that when you make fun a priority you get more done, you’re more productive, you’re happier, and you’re more creative.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah, I’m with you there that, certainly, like that’s where the rubber meets the road and sort of the ultimate bottom line there is not so much that it worked for this population of people studied over at the University of such and such. But is it going to work for you?

Dave Crenshaw
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But just so that the listeners get fired up, and me fired up, about doing such a test, could you share some of that research or data that suggests it’s extremely probable that if we do this test we will like what we see?

Dave Crenshaw
Sure. Well, my favorite one is it comes from a study, and this is the actual study title, The Role of Dopamine in Learning, Memory and Performance in a Water Escape Task.

Pete Mockaitis
Water escape. I’m thinking of Harry Houdini right now.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, yeah. This was published by the University of Washington not too long ago. And what it was is a study to show the role of dopamine in how well a mouse could learn and perform over time. So, what they did was they had two different groups. They had a group that had naturally-occurring dopamine in their body, and then a group that was deprived artificially of dopamine occurring in their body.

Now, if you’re not familiar with what dopamine is, it is the motivation-inducing chemical that your body naturally creates when something enjoyable happens, like having fun, like taking a break, whatever is fun for you, reading a book, going for a walk, playing video games, whatever it is, your body releases a little dopamine into your system.

Pete Mockaitis
Like even the dark side of fun.

Dave Crenshaw
That’s a whole different topic though. Here’s the thing, when mice had dopamine in their system, naturally injected, they learned faster and better. In other words, their performance over time improved, they got better and better at escaping from this little water task that they had setup.

The mice, though, that had been deprived of naturally-occurring dopamine, their performance got worse over time. In other words, the more they did it the worse they got at it. They didn’t perform better, they got slower, they made more mistakes. Now, here’s where it comes into our world. We aren’t mice in a maze but many people treat ourselves as if we are.

We deprive ourselves of having fun which creates that naturally-occurring dopamine, which means that when we do that, we’re getting worse at our performance. Every single day that you persist at your desk with skipping those vacation days that you should’ve used, you’re not getting better. And, in fact, the research backs that up as well.

Project Time Off found that when people take more than 10 days of vacation a year they were more likely to receive a raise and get promoted than those who did not take all their vacation days.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. That’s good stuff. That’s good stuff. And do you have maybe one more you can lay on us with regard to research or studies. I’m feeling it.

Dave Crenshaw
So, well, I’m going to shift gears just slightly because it does relate. One thing that I talk about in The Power of Having Fun is the need to not just have an oasis is what I call them. An oasis is this fun break that you schedule in your calendar. And one thing that I found was that when couples take time to go on a date once per week, and that is also part of having fun.

When a couple has that time, according to the National Marriage Project, they are 3.5 times more likely to report being very happy in their marriages compared to those who did not spend that time together. And additionally, if they just had one dedicated time per week, they reported higher satisfaction in communication and sexuality in the bedroom.

And that is so critical because of other studies that show, that talk about the work-home resources model. In other words, when you’re happy at home you are more likely to succeed at work. And if you have people in your life that you care about, if you want them to be successful at work or at school, spend time with them. Not only will you both feel better about your relationship but you both will succeed more in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I like it. I dig it. So, convinced. So, let’s jump in, then. When it comes to fun, I mean, fun is fun. We like it. We’d like to have some more of it. And so, I’d like to get maybe a bit of perspective when it comes the work time versus fun time, although, hopefully, work is fun but dedicated fun, rejuvenation, non-work time. Is there sort of like a sweet spot or a ratio? Or how do we think about kind of the relative application of precious time between the two?

Dave Crenshaw
Sure. So, I define an oasis as something that is brief and recurring in your schedule, and you want to have oases of different scales. You want to have a daily oasis, a weekly oasis, a monthly oasis and a yearly oasis. Let’s knock down the yearly first or cover it. That’s usually what people refer to as a vacation, all right?

So, we want to make sure that we’re keeping that and having that, but that’s not enough. It’s too far in between. We’re depriving ourselves for far too long a period of time. So, we also want to have once a month, perhaps a half-day or a day that we take that is reserved in advanced just for us to relax and enjoy ourselves, do something that’s fun.

Then once a week, you have something that’s a little shorter, maybe one to two hours once per week that you relax and enjoy this oasis. And then, finally, you have a daily oasis that’s occurring once every day that’s in the neighborhood of 30 minutes to an hour, and that can be anything from watching your favorite Netflix program to working on a hobby, whatever it is that you find enjoyable.

But all of these should not be something that you fit in the seams. The problem, the mistake that many people make with having fun is they do it after everything gets done. They say, “Well, once I do this then I will be able to have it.” But instead we want to have a clear commitment in our schedule of when that’s going to occur.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, when it comes to the scheduling, any pro tips for scheduling well?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, the first thing is just to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Dave Crenshaw
That sounds so basic yet I’d worked with executives all around the world and I’ll tell you that people are not using their calendar the way that they should. There’s way too much – gosh, what I’d say? Just kind of going with the flow, and that’s not just a problem with having fun, it’s a problem with time management in general. So, you want to get in the habit of using that calendar as a time budget, a commitment in your calendar.

The next thing I would say is try to find natural ebbs and flows in your day. So, there are typically times in the day where you’re going to have more downtime, you’re going to be more relaxed, or not as many interruptions. That’s usually a good time to schedule one of these oases.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m very intrigued by something you said there with regard to you see this with lots of your clients, there’s calendar misuse, there’s way too much going with the flow. Can you expand upon that a little bit? What do you mean by that? And what’s the superior alternative?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, what I mean by that is we are driven by the culture of now.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Dave Crenshaw
The culture of now says, “If someone asks me a question, I have to respond to it now. If I’m going to do something, I need to do it right now.” You know, I got a neighbor who does, just kind of as a side hobby, does T-shirts for people. And she said to me, this is almost before, she said, “If someone wants me to do it, I don’t want them to tell me the date by which it gets done. I want them to tell me, ‘I need this tomorrow.’”

Pete Mockaitis
They’d want that.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, they’re driven by the adrenaline. But the problem with the culture of now is that it contradicts itself. You cannot do it all now. And if you’re allowing all the inputs to come at you at once you are setting yourself up to try to multitask which is going to really screw things up. So, the superior method is to move to the culture of when.

The culture of when relies upon the calendar, and says, “I am going to work on this project, and this is when I’m going to do it. I’m going to respond to your quick questions, and this is when I’m going to do it. I’m going to make these T-shirts, and here’s the time that I have dedicated in my week to making T-shirts.” That is far superior, it helps you live a more relaxed and less stressful life, and creates opportunities for having fun as well.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Dave, I’ve seen this in my own life, and I think that in some ways it’s just a matter of getting real about what are the commitments that are actually are you committed versus what resources or time do you really have available, and thus what is actually going to get done versus what is not going to get done.

And to be in the driver seat for actually making those decisions as opposed to, I don’t know, sometimes I feel like a crazy person just like, “Oh, the next thing. Oh, the next thing,” as opposed to getting real, like, “No. In fact, you’re overbooked, you’re overcommitted, overscheduled, and it’s an impossible fantasy to believe that all of those things will be done. And so, it’s sort of like endure the pain now of realizing it ain’t going to happen, and then just decide to schedule, budget the time in a way that is most aligned with your highest order of objectives.

And I know you’ve heard of this and I’ve shared it, but from time to time, you know, everything is sort of descends at once and it’s like, oops, it’s time to take a step back and recollect and get real about the time allocations.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, and when you talk about that one thing that really comes to mind is how so many people right now are wearing the busy badge as a badge of honor, “How are you doing?” “Well, I’m really busy,” as if that means that we’re being successful. And the reality is the busy is a white flag of surrender not a badge of honor.

It’s showing that you cannot control your time. What really matters is what results are you getting. In fact, I teach people, I teach my clients that if anyone says, “I’m busy,” to follow up by saying, “Great. What results are you getting?” And what you’re trying to do is shift your mind away from perpetual motion to productivity.

Productivity is not about perpetual motion. It’s about finding your rhythm, and The Power of Having Fun reinforces that, because so many people feel that taking a break to have fun is not productive but in fact it’s part of that rhythm. Taking that downtime is giving you the ability to really perform at maximum levels when you go back to work, and that’s really what rhythm is about.

If you think about rhythm in a song, there are periods of high intensity, there are middle periods that are sort of drifting along, and then there are silence, and all of those things come together to make a beautiful piece of music. It’s the same thing with our personal productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I dig that. Well, so then, yes, back to having fun, you know, and these oases. I’m curious then, it seems like we have our own intuitive sense for what we like to do, what we find to be fun. But I’d love to know are there some kind of particular components of these oases that make them extra-rejuvenatingly awesome?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. Well, and it’s interesting. You would think that people could figure out what’s fun for them yet, gosh, a lot of very successful executives that I worked with, when you ask them, “What do you do for fun?” there’s a very long pause.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “I forgot. I haven’t done it much.”

Dave Crenshaw
Right. Right. So, one of the steps in The Power of Having Fun is discovery, is going through that process. And one of the things that I did in the book was kind of fun, was I surveyed 500 children from all across the US and asked them two questions. The first question, “What do you like to do for fun?” and number two, “What would you say to an adult who has forgotten how to have fun and be happy?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, nice.

Dave Crenshaw
And the list that was generated that I put in the book, of all the activities that kids like to do for fun had a purpose. It’s not just, “Oh, this is cute. Look at what kids say.” What I’m doing is asking adults to answer the question, “What did you used to do for fun?” When you were a kid you knew how to have fun. If someone says, “What do you do for fun?” there’s no hesitation. You got a list. My kids have a list of things that they can do to have fun.

And so, what you can do is you don’t have to act like a kid. Personally, I believe adults should like adults. I know some people have a different philosophy on that. But what you can do is find the adult equivalent of what you used to do as a child. So, for instance, I used to like to play with Legos, so perhaps building models is a way to do it. Or maybe doing more advanced Legos, or building something else, right?

Or if you like to play outside, you like to run around maybe you can start doing mountain biking, or walk the dog, or whatever it is that’s enjoyable to you. So, you call upon the wisdom that you had when you were a child to figure out what to do for fun as an adult.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s good. That’s good. And so, then, so you’re reflecting back, “Okay, when I was a kid what did I like to do and what could be some grownup equivalence?” Any other sort of pro tips in the discovery phase?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, another thing that you want to do is make sure that you’re focusing on something that is constructive not destructive, and that goes back to your comment about sex and drugs and stuff like that. It’s important to recognize that when I talk about having fun I am talking about things that build you up and make you happier or don’t have negative consequences.

And one example of this is one female executive that I worked with. She determined that for her, one of her little moments of fun in the day was to enjoy a piece of chocolate, it was just to sit and savor that and enjoy that. And for her that’s not a problem but if somebody else has an eating disorder, using food as a potential reward is not what I’m talking about. So, in that case you’re going to want to find something else that builds you up.

You also want to find things that are well within your budget or free. We’re not talking about spending lots of money and it is not necessary to spend lots of money. Another female business owner that I worked with, for her, her daily oasis was to go for a walk, and she put it in these particular terms. She said, “I want to go for a walk down the hill, go see Bessie the cow,” which there’s a cow pasture near where her office was, “and pat Bessie on the nose and talk to her a little bit and then come back.” For her that was enough of an oasis.

So, let’s make sure that it’s constructive, that it’s cheap to free, and that it is, as I mentioned before, that it’s brief.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. Well, so now, working through your stages here, we sort of naturally organically covered it, we got the permission to play because we’ve seen, “Hey, there’s real research that the dopamine is going to make you better. It’s powerful.” Getting to the bottom of what’s fun and scheduling it. When it comes to putting it on the calendar you said, “It’s key just to do it instead of going with the flow.”

Dave Crenshaw
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And to acknowledge the ebbs and flows and rhythms of when you can do that scheduling. I’m curious, are there any kind of patterns you see in terms of beginning the day, end of the day, lunch, or are just kind of tend to make a lot of good sense for a lot of people?

Dave Crenshaw
Usually, I see this right around lunch or at the end of the workday or in the evening. Those are kind of the three major places where most people put their oasis. Typically, in the morning people aren’t ready for it yet. They want to go to work, they’re ready to do work, but there’s nothing wrong with taking that break in addition to lunch.

And notice that I emphasized that it is not lunch. Lunch is what you need to fuel your body then the oasis is what you need to fuel your emotion and your energy. Two separate activities. But those are typically the three major places where people end up scheduling it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then how about protecting that time you’ve scheduled. How do you do that effectively?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, so protection, stage four, that’s about looking at some of the things that could get in the way. So, the perspective that I come from as I say, “You want to think of these as different diseases that can creep into your life and you want to inoculate yourself against them. You want to have a strategy to prepare yourself against them.”

For instance, let’s talk about the busy bacteria, right? We talked about how busy is a problem. And so, one thing that we want to do is get in the habit of scheduling buffer time in our day. And buffer time is basically scheduling space for nothing. And that sounds like, “My gosh, who is this guy telling me to schedule time for nothing? How can that be productive?” And I will tell you that it’s one of the keys to being highly productive especially in our day, in the 21st century.

You know, back 34 years ago when people talk about time management and productivity, it was about maximizing every minute, every hour that you had on your schedule. In the 21st century, we have a radically different problem. Our problem is time protection and time reclamation. We are going to get interrupted because of the pace of technology, so we must have extra space in our schedule to accommodate for those interruptions not scheduling our calendar to a razor’s edge.

So, how does that relate to having fun? Well, if I’ve scheduled my calendar right to the minute and then fun comes up and I’m behind because I got interrupted earlier in the day, then what happens? “Oh, well, this doesn’t matter. I need to take care of work, right?” But if we have that buffer space, and if we’re living well within our means in terms of the schedule, we will feel that we have enough time to have fun which we should.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. And so then with the buffer space, so you schedule time for nothing. So, it’s interesting, I guess I’m thinking about my email inbox and how it lately has been expanding. And so, then when you say schedule time for nothing, it’s not even scheduling time for inbox clearing which I’ve been thinking, “Maybe this is what has to happen if this is ever going to go down,” but rather to just nothing-nothing.

And so, I’m wondering though do you have like a game plan in terms of, “Okay, if I schedule time for nothing, and then in fact nothing comes up, is there like the backup statement or is this just like, I will sit in silence?”

Dave Crenshaw
Oh, no. Of course, if that time comes up and you don’t have anything then you could use it to help check your inbox or do whatever you want to do. But the thing is when that happens then you feel like you’ve got extra time rather than feeling like, “I can’t keep up with all this. It’s too much.”

And, by the way, what you’re bringing up in terms of just getting your inbox to zero, again that’s a different topic I cover in my course Time Management Fundamentals on LinkedIn Learning. And in that I take people through the entire process of creating a time management system so that you’re bringing your inbox to zero on a regular basis.

And that sort of highlights something that I mentioned in the book which is having good time management, having solid principles that you’re living is an important component of making sure that you’re having this oasis in the day. Because if you’re completely out of control with your time management, if you can’t keep your desk organized, if you can’t keep up with the papers and the email and everything that’s coming at you, then, yes, what I’m asking people to do to have fun is going to become a very tall order.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, the final stage is just enjoying the oasis. How does one enjoy fun all the more?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, so this one is a really fun one. Whenever I think about this principle of enjoyment I think of one client that I had, and she told me how she was on vacation. She was at a beautiful tropical location, she’s sitting down enjoying the surf and, well, the surf and the sand is around her, she’s got a tropical drink next to her, and then she’s on her phone scheduling, planning her next vacation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Dave Crenshaw
And she said, “Holy crap, I have a disease.” And so many people have this disease. When fun things happen to us they’re unable to take them in. I’ve experienced this in the past where you have something wonderful happen to you and it just bounces right off of you, and that’s so much a symptom of the multitasking world that we’re living in, our inability to feel it yet we must take time to allow our body to take it in so that we can get that precious dopamine in a positive way.

So, here’s the three-step system that I talk about in the book I gave to this client, and it’s head, heart, mouth. And it’s always helpful to actually point to the body parts to reinforce this in your mind. You point to your head, you point to your heart, you point to your mouth, and here’s how it works.

Head. You intellectually acknowledge something great that happened. So, new instance of my daughter giving me this wonderful thank you card. I intellectually say, to my mind, “That was great to get a card from my daughter. That was enjoyable.” Now that sounds very clinical, and it is. It’s designed to be.

Pete Mockaitis
“I enjoy this experience.”

Dave Crenshaw
Yes, exactly. And it’s supposed to be like that because what you are doing is you’re stopping your brain and saying, “Whoa, don’t move to the next thing. This was good.” Okay? Then we go to the emotional aspect of the heart by asking a question, “How did this make me feel?” This creates an open loop that the brain must close.

So, now I have to think about, “Well, it made me feel really good. It made me feel like I’m a good dad that my daughter would take the time to write this card to me,” whatever it is that comes to your mind. And then we move to mouth which is an acknowledgement, a verbal or written, some sort of external acknowledgement.

So, you can say out loud, “This was great to go on this vacation.” Or, in the case of this card that my daughter gave me, I’ve made another card for her and gave it back to her, and said, “Thank you so much for doing this.” I’m a very practical guy. This isn’t touchy-feely stuff. This is brain science.

What you are doing is you’re strengthening the neural pathways of enjoyment. You’re strengthening your enjoyment muscle and you’re restarting your ability to actually feel good when good things happen to you. It’s a simple principle but it’s powerful. If you practice it over and over, it will completely change your perspective on what’s happening around you.

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

Dave Crenshaw
Well, just if you’re curious about it and not sure if you want to buy the book, you can dive in by taking, there’s an assessment, a free assessment you can get at PowerofHavingFun.com. It’s a 21-question assessment called the Fun Scorecard and you can check your score and find out how well you’re doing in terms of having fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Thank you. So, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Dave Crenshaw
It’s probably not going to be what you expect but I do mention this in the book, and the quote is, “Blessed is he who expects nothing for he shall never be disappointed.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Please elaborate.

Dave Crenshaw
Well, so much of happiness in life comes from a matter of expectations met or exceeded. And where people get themselves into trouble is they set expectations or even just kind of go with the flow and create expectations that other people have for them without really being conscious about it. And instead, if you go through life with saying, “You know what? I don’t know what’s going to happen. I can’t expect what’s going to happen,” then when great things occur, you are more likely to be happy and more likely to be successful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I dig that. So, now, at the same time, Dave, I’m wondering about like, you know, should we call them standards that we have for ourselves or colleagues that we work with?

Dave Crenshaw
Oh, yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in a way a standard is kind of like an expectation, like, “You have met my expectations or you have exceeded my expectations.”

Dave Crenshaw
I look at it a different way.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Dave Crenshaw
I use the word values. I use the word vision and values. A vision is where I’m trying to go           in my life, it’s a place that I’m trying to accomplish. And I do think that we should set our visions high. And values are the ways in which we live our life. But you said an interesting thing which is other people not meeting that standard, and if you make your happiness dependent upon other people meeting your expectations you will always be disappointed.

You cannot control the actions of others. Even if you’re a boss and people are getting paid to do stuff, you cannot control their actions. All you can do is get them excited about the result that you’re trying to get and get them on your side. There’s a very big difference, and a kind of – this is a whole other subject – of hinting at the difference between managing and micromanaging.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Dave Crenshaw
You mean besides mine?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Dave Crenshaw
You know, I’m a big fan of 7 Habits by Stephen Covey. That was probably the book that really inspired me to do what I do. So, yeah, I think there’s a lot of great wisdom in there that I lean on still to this day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite tool?

Dave Crenshaw
You know, my favorite tool of the moment, there are lots of tools right now. I’m really enjoying my Google Home Mini and I use it in my office, and I’ve got all my lights setup to it and all sorts of things. And I’ve found that it saved me a ton of time.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. What activities were you doing that have been displaced?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, if you do as much video as I do, you see I have a whole setup in my office. So, now, in fact let’s see if we can even get it to do it. If you can hear it in the background, say, “Okay, Google. Turn on everything.”

Pete Mockaitis
Neat things, huh?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, so it turned on my whole setup in my office, and I find myself asking it questions all the time, and it’s super convenient. So, again, I’ve got lots of tools that I love to use but right now that’s the one that I’m thrilled with.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And how about a favorite habit?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, it’s going to sound like it’s redundant but, honestly, my favorite habit is what we’re talking about, and I didn’t mention what my daily oasis is. I’m a geek and my daily oasis is to play video games for 30 minutes at the end of each day. And that habit, I cite as one of the reasons why I am successful and, perhaps more importantly, why at 5:00 o’clock each day when my children come into my office, I am able to focus on my family and be present with them for the rest of the night instead of continuing to think about work.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And is there a particular nugget you share in your courses or your trainings that seems to really connect and resonate, getting folks nodding their heads and taking notes and such?

Dave Crenshaw
Boy, I’ll just call the first thing that comes to mind, and it sort of dovetails with what we’ve been talking about. And here’s the principle: you can do anything you put your mind to doing just not all at the same time.

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

Dave Crenshaw
Well, again, you can find out more about the book at PowerofHavingFun.com and you can also reach me, I’ve got my blog, I send out a new video every week at DaveCrenshaw.com

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action that you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, try this, try The Power of Having Fun for two weeks. Measure where you’re at right now. On a scale of zero to ten, how much energy, how much focus you have at work? Then schedule a daily oasis every day, short ones, just 30 minutes for two weeks. Do it and then re-measure where you’re at, and let’s see whether or not the experiment works for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Dave, thank you so much. This has been a real treat and it’s fun, and it’s license for more fun, so win-win. So, thanks for all that you’ve shared and good luck in all that you’re up to. I hope that you just keep rocking and rolling and spreading this good word.

Dave Crenshaw
Great. Thank you so much for the opportunity, Pete. Appreciate it.

240: Mastering the Art of Connection with Michael J. Gelb

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Michael J. Gelb walks us through the power of connectedness, the importance of being aware of the people around you, and practices that can help your internal wellness.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why uber-busy global leaders make time for face-to-face interactions
  2. How to consciously spread positive emotion
  3. Practicing the opposite of stress response

About Michael 

Michael is the world’s leading authority on the application of genius thinking to personal and organizational development and a pioneer in the fields of creative thinking, executive coaching and innovative leadership. Michael co-directs the acclaimed Leading Innovation Seminar at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business and is on the faculty of the Institute for Management Studies.  He brings more than 30 years of experience as a professional speaker, seminar leader and executive coach to his diverse, international clientele.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Michael J. Gelb Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Michael, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Michael J. Gelb
My pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, before you were writing influential books, I understand you had a career as a professional juggler who performed with some pretty big names. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Michael J. Gelb
I worked my way through graduate school as a professional juggler. I used to juggle in Harvard Square. I once made about $80 in quarters in three hours.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael J. Gelb
I used to do children’s parties, and I lived in England for a while. And my buddy, who was the science editor for Reuters news service in Europe, he and I used to get together and practice our juggling in Hyde Park. And one day a fellow came up to us and said, “Hey, how would you like to juggle on stage tonight with Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones, we’ll pay you 50 pounds.” We said, “Sure.” And we were on stage that night and it worked out well so they invited us to the whole tour. And then we got to perform at the Knebworth Rock Festival in front of an audience of hundreds of thousands of people on a stage shaped like Mick Jagger’s mouth.

Pete Mockaitis
Like his mouth. I don’t know, is his mouth different than any other mouths? I guess I’ve got a picture in my head. This is fascinating.

Michael J. Gelb
Yes, it’s just like you picture it. It’s just like you picture it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so how you’ve come so far. I don’t know, maybe you’ve slid. Which is higher? I don’t know, they’re just different, you know.

Michael J. Gelb
It’s not higher.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Michael J. Gelb
The funny thing is I wasn’t a wild Stones fan or anything but I knew it would be a good story, and I got a friend of mine into the concert as a guest and he is still grateful to me to this day. And then we got invited to juggle at a series of Bob Dylan concerts, and I got my friend into that, so he’s still, he just will be eternally grateful to me for getting him into those events.

And I did take my early experience as a professional juggler and I leveraged it into corporate seminars where I would use juggling as a metaphor for teaching people how to learn. I’d put them in teams and get them to pick the balls up for one another and coach each other, and use it as a way to teach people principles of coaching that they could use to be more effective leaders. I once taught a thousand IBM engineers how to juggle altogether in a big hotel ballroom, so I’ve had a lot of fun with the juggling, and I still work it into my programs for groups all over the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, awesome. Well, today I also want to chat about some of your perspectives in your latest book The Art of Connection. What is The Art of Connection all about? And why is it particularly important right now?

Michael J. Gelb
Well, what it’s all about is building relationships. And why did I write this book? Because for most of the years I’ve been consulting and training, leading seminars for organizations around the world, my focus has been on creativity, on innovation and accelerated learning. But if you really want to get anything done you’ve got to do it with other people.

So, I’ve been paying attention to what really works to build those relationships that will help you resolve conflict, come up with solutions in a more effective way, and implement those solutions, and The Art of Connection is packed with pretty much everything I’ve learned in 38 years of working with people around the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. And I’ve read some disturbing research in terms of just how we have fewer friends now than before, we’re more disconnected. Can you maybe give us a little bit of the lay of the land to perhaps the problem or diagnosis?

Michael J. Gelb
Well, we have a blessing and a curse. The blessing is we can get information from people around the world instantaneously, and that’s amazingly seductive. I mean, you can tune into anybody anywhere almost anytime if their phone is on, so that’s, on one hand, how marvelous is that. On the other hand, it’s a relatively superficial level of communication.

So, we have more so-called friends or people in our network but less real connection, less real heart-to-heart, face-to-face, soul-to-soul human interaction. And that does nurture us in all sorts of ways. There’s a lot of research showing that person-to-person connection is a key source of our sense of wellbeing, our longevity, our health, our happiness, and it also translates into success.

What’s fascinating is I work with lots of people who run global organizations and, of course, they do lots of connecting, lots of meeting, lots of information sharing on their devices, but these people will tell you that face-to-face in the room, eye-to-eye relationships and connections are more important now than ever before, and they all go out of their way to make sure they have those connections with the people who are important to them.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a pretty compelling proof point because these are among the most busy in-demand, maybe most tempted to execute communications as brutally efficiently as possible.

Michael J. Gelb
Well, the thing is it’s important to be able to be efficient, to get things done, and we can use the technology to help us. That’s the blessing part of it. But if you use it as something to hide behind, if you use it as a way of objectifying people and viewing people only in a transactional manner, well, people ultimately don’t really like that.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m with you there.

Michael J. Gelb
Everybody wants to be seen, wants to be respected, wants you to connect with them, wants you to empathize with them, and it’s just so much more effective to do that in person.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m with you there. And so, I love it that you’ve gone beyond some of this philosophy and really broken it down into a few key actionable principles or practices. We love actionable here. So, could you walk us through some of the top practices that facilitate great connections?

Michael J. Gelb
Sure can. The first one is to embrace humility.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Michael J. Gelb
And, obviously, this one comes first because if you don’t embrace humility you’re probably not going to read the rest of the book because you think you know it all already.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael J. Gelb
But it’s really the attitude that makes us curious. If I think I know you, if I think I’ve got you figured out, if I think I know what type you are, if I think I’m a good listener, well, chances are I’m not, and chances are you probably wouldn’t agree with me.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael J. Gelb
It’s only when I have that attitude that says, “Gee, if I’m paying attention over the years I’d probably notice that people miscommunicate all the time.” When I get people in a classroom on this topic, one of the exercises we do, we take a simple word, we take any word like the word art, and we get people to write down the first 10 words they think of.

And then we put them in groups of four and we get them to share the words they wrote down and make a little chart of how many they had in common. And what we discover is that people have almost nothing in common.

Pete Mockaitis
So, one person might write movies and cinema and actors, and someone else might write sculpture and clay. Is that what you mean?

Michael J. Gelb
Exactly. Exactly. And then even when people get one or two in common, if you get them to do 10 words of association on the one they had in common, you find out they meant something different by it anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, interesting.

Michael J. Gelb
And this translates into everyday communication challenges. I mean, people are all too familiar with the notion of having a conversation, the other person nods in agreement, and then what happens is different than what you thought you agreed, “Oh, but I thought you said,” “Oh, but I thought you meant,” “But weren’t you listening?” How often are those sorts of phrases repeated in everyday life?

So, one of my mottos is, “If you’re not humble it means you’re not paying attention.” So, once you embrace that attitude, that opens up your curiosity. The other thing it does, if you have this humility, people perceive you as more responsive, as more open, as more accessible and they’re more likely to engage with you. And engagement is, obviously, the key to building relationships, so embrace humility is where the journey begins.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Right now, as you described this sort of misunderstandings, I can’t help, I’m thinking about randomly the movie Bridesmaids in which they’re talking about different ideas for the event, the festivities. And one person says, “Oh, how about a night in Paris or something?” and everyone says yes. “And building off that idea, Fight Club?” and someone is like, “What?” It’s not even remotely connected or related.

And so, I think that’s a funny little exchange that sticks with me because it’s like, “That’s so ridiculous.” But what you’re saying, “No, in practice, folks are rampantly misunderstanding each other all the time.”

Michael J. Gelb
And emoticons and emojis are not substitutes for body language, voice tonality, eye contact and being together with people.

Pete Mockaitis
Even if it’s an animoji, Michael?

Michael J. Gelb
Hey, look, I have as much with them as anybody and they’re delightful tools to play with but, again, if you use it all as a substitute for connecting with people in real time face to face, you’re going to find that your life just becomes a little more shallow and that there’s a lot more misunderstanding.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. So, the core of the humility then is just acknowledging, you know, you probably don’t understand what that person said. So, get off your high horse or don’t presume that you have it figured out, but go ahead and humble yourself and ask the key follow-up questions to make sure that you’ve properly received what they’re trying to convey.

Michael J. Gelb
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so now, you’ve got a few other great practices. What do you mean by being a glowworm?

Michael J. Gelb
Well, this comes from a quote from Winston Churchill. He said, “We are all worms but I do believe that I am a glowworm.”

Pete Mockaitis
I love the accent. Please keep those coming.

Michael J. Gelb
And Churchill, this is in the days when the only way that the leader of the nation could communicate with the people was on the radio, London was being bombed every night for 56 nights straight. People were sleeping in the subway in the underground, and they didn’t know then that they were going to win the war and defeat pure evil.

But one man, with this amazing vision and courage, through his words and through his voice tone, inspired a whole nation to persevere under incredible odds and to emerge victorious, so Churchill really was a glowworm. And, in contemporary terms, we now know, as Churchill understood intuitively, that emotions are contagious for better or for worse. So, a glowworm is somebody who consciously spreads uplifting positive emotion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, now I’m curious, in practice how does one do that in a way that’s authentic and real and gets folks taking you seriously? I guess I’m wondering, it’s probably possible to be over the top in a way that’s like, “Oh, this guy, you know, he’s not even for real.”

Michael J. Gelb
All of this is ideally sourced through authenticity and find a natural way to express yourself. If you’re a pessimist this is harder, which is why in a previous book I reviewed the work of Dr. Martin Seligman who wrote Learned Optimism, so it’s a skill you can learn. It’s a skill of emotional intelligence.

And since optimists get sick less frequently, recover faster when they do get sick, make a lot more money in the course of their careers, outperform their aptitude tests, and live seven years longer, you might consider cultivating this particular aspect of emotional intelligence and do it in an authentic way because your attitude not only affects your immune system moment to moment, that’s why optimists live longer, and that’s why they’re more resistant to disease, why they recover faster because they have stronger immune systems.

So, you want to recognize that your way of responding to challenges in life – and, look, anybody can be an optimist when everything is going your way. It really counts when you’re facing adversity. But the power here is that it’s not just affecting your immune system, it’s affecting the immune system of the people around you.

So, if you get together with people as many people’s idea of bonding is to commiserate, which means to be miserable together. So, we all get together and complain about how bad everything is, “Oh, that’s nothing. It’s even worse for me.” And I got to tell you, what we’re talking about here is a powerful secret of building healthy positive relationships. It’s also a secret of longevity.

My parents are 90 and 87, and my dad recently did 28 pushups. He’s just amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, great.

Michael J. Gelb
And they’re super sharp. I go visit them and bring them a nice wine, cook them a nice meal, and we have stimulating, vibrant, wonderful conversation. They’re super engaged in life, they’re reading three or four books at a time, and they get together with the people in the community where they live. They’re in one of these active retirement communities.

And my dad runs the wine-tasting group, my mom, who used to be a psychotherapist, runs a couple of discussion groups, and they just meet to have breakfast and conversation with their friends. Pretty much every day they go down to dinner. My dad brings a bottle of wine. And they have a rule, and the rule is, “No organ recitals.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Michael J. Gelb
In other words, you’re not allowed to complain about what’s going wrong with various parts of your body.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, man, it sounds like fun. I want to be part of an active retirement community. That sounds awesome.

Michael J. Gelb
But what’s great about it, part of why and when these communities are well-run, and theirs is, it extends people’s lives and the quality of their lives because it turns out that connection or the lack thereof is a huge factor in our wellness. And as we get older, the margin for error gets less.

I wrote this book called Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age, I wrote it to celebrate my 60th birthday five years ago. And one of the studies I reported on in that book, they took cohorts of people who were 80 years old, and those who reported themselves as lonely were mostly gone before 85 and had much higher incidences of various forms of dementia.

Those who reported having three or more positive social interactions on a daily basis were much more likely to be alive at 85 and had much, much lower rates of dementia. So, social connectedness keeps your brain healthy, strengthens your immune system, and it’s also just correlated with what researchers call perceived sense of wellbeing which is a fancy term for happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Excellent. So, then, in practice, if you’re being a glowworm, so you’re taking an optimistic view, you’re trying to make meaningful connections with folks and taking interests in their lives. And so, are there any other maybe key senses or opportunities in which you can really habitually be a glowworm whether it comes to appreciating people or thanking people? Or what are some of the easy ways to do that every day?

Michael J. Gelb
Well, here’s one that’s research-based and really powerful. Maybe you’ve heard about the Pygmalion effect, it’s also known as the Rosenthal effect for the researcher who first documented it about 50 years ago and one of the most striking experiments. They took Army drill sergeants and they told the drill sergeants that the recruits they were getting for the next six weeks were below average. And at the end of the six weeks those recruits performed about 25% below the average standard.

Then they told the same drill sergeants that the next group they were getting were above average. And you guessed it, at the end of six weeks that group performed 25% above average. Now this is measured in real performance, things like the number of pushups they could do.

Pete Mockaitis
Or like shooting accuracy, like quantitative measures of performance.

Michael J. Gelb
Quantitative measures. Of course, the groups were completely average, the only difference was the way the drill sergeants were primed to view their recruits. And when they told the drill sergeants this they refused to believe it. Same kind of studies have been done over and over again with teachers. If a teacher is told that children are gifted, guess what? They perform like gifted children. And if the teacher is told that the children are slow and difficult, guess what? They perform more slowly as though they were more difficult.

So, the notion of looking for the best in others, and this is really important in a marriage. I mean, if you look at Gottman’s research on what makes marriage work.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve been doing that, yes.

Michael J. Gelb
Yup, one of the really important things is you look for the best in your partner. William James said, “Wisdom is knowing what to overlook,” so this gets really, really powerful, too, when you realize that the same thing applies to your self-image. So, are you looking for the best in yourself every day? So, this isn’t just rah-rah cheerleader optimism on some superficial level. This is powerful.

How do you see yourself in your own potentiality every day? How do you give other people the best opportunity to do well to bring out people’s best? And here’s the thing, this is, again, it’s not mediated by some cosmic, well, maybe it is mediated by cosmic energy but we can’t validate that. But when Rosenthal looks at what happens when the teacher who’s been told that a group is gifted, what does that teacher do?

In the interaction with those children, the teacher is nodding in a positive way, she’s smiling, she’s making eye contact, her whole body language is affirming and encouraging, and in that environment the child is more likely to come up with a good answer. And when the teacher has been told that these kids are difficult, all too often what happens is she’s shaking her head subtly in the negative, and she’s less patient with the answer, and she’s more likely to interrupt the child, and say, “You’re wrong.”

So, it’s mediated by these subtle, non-verbal cues, so if you can, you want to consciously choose to be sharing uplifting positive cues with other people and yourself throughout the course of your day. That translates into what we often call charisma.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I love that. So, in proactively seeking out the good in people, it’s sort of like you’re not faking it in the sense of you’re just actually responding naturally to what you believe.

Michael J. Gelb
Sure. And it doesn’t mean you’re not critical and discerning. Yes, please be critical and discerning. See the weaknesses, see the challenges, see the difficulties, and then figure out how you’re going to make the best of that particular situation, that particular relationship. And having said that, be wary of people who you experience as continuously draining your energy, people who are rude or obnoxious or abusive, and do your best to avoid being around those people whether they are in your life or on your television screen.

So, there’s a little section in the book where I say, “To be a glowworm, avoid tapeworms,” so that kind of sums up the message right there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, fantastic. Thank you. Well, could you share with us a couple of the other most powerful principles and practices here?

Michael J. Gelb
Sure. Well, the next one in the book is to achieve the three liberations.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael J. Gelb
And what are the three liberations? The first is to free ourselves from the reflexive tendency to view everything from our own evaluative lens. In other words, “Do I like it or do I not like it?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Michael J. Gelb
And this isn’t helped by contemporary sites that have a thumbs up and a thumbs down for absolutely everything we see. And it’s fine to like or dislike things but if that’s the only way you look at the world you may not be seeing it as it is. You’re just seeing it in terms of how the lower centers of your brain view it in terms of, “Is it good for my survival or not?” which isn’t the way we view the world in the most enlightened manner. So, first liberation is to be free from evaluation and learn to observe things in a more objective manner.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael J. Gelb
The second one is to learn not to take things personally, and this is kind of tricky. And I confess, my personality type, I’m the type I take everything personally. I’m ready to just have a big conflict very quickly, that’s my nature. That’s part of how I’ve learned all this because I’ve learned to not react in my automatic habitual way which might be to make things worse because I’m from New Jersey. People say, “You talking to me? You got a problem?” People can be very confrontational where I grew up, and usually that makes things worse.

So, I’ve learned to ask myself the question, “How would I respond to this if I didn’t take it personally?” And I love that question because, all of a sudden, it opens up a lot more circuitry in your brain to think of creative ways to respond instead of responding in a defensive ego-centered manner.

And then the third of the liberations is to liberate yourself from whining, blaming and complaining because that’s just going to get you basting in your stress hormones and exacerbating the stress hormones of your fellow commiserators, so free yourself from whining, blaming and complaining, and start focusing on solutions.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Michael, you sound like some great liberations. Indeed, it would be liberating to either be free of these things. So, I guess, in practice though, if these are sort of deeply ingrained mental habits, how do we get the momentum in achieving these liberations?

Michael J. Gelb
That’s why in the book each chapter has a practice at the end I call the greatest point of leverage, because there’s all sorts of practical things you can do. But I’m really thinking in behalf of the reader, on behalf of the students in my classes, “What’s the one thing you can do that will just have the greatest point of leverage for really having the ability to apply this?”

And one of them is to learn to organize your nervous system. Now in the book I put in a practice that I teach martial arts, I teach Aikido, Tai Chi and Qigong.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Michael J. Gelb
And one of the great things in martial practice, you’re basically learning to shift your whole physiology out of the fight-flight response and into a centered balance freedom so that you can respond and relax way. The more dangerous fighter is the more relaxed fighter. You look at all the clips of Muhammad Ali floating like a butterfly who’s able to sting like a bee because he just looked so easy and comfortable. And that’s what we say about people who are really good at anything, is they make it look easy.

So, if you want to be really good in building relationships, or the art of connection, you want to cultivate this ability to shift out of the amygdala hijack, stress response, fight-flight modality and into this poised, centered, balanced, alert, ready-for-anything modality. So, one of the things people can do, there’s a practice in the book, you can do it every day, it doesn’t even take that long but it’s a great way to center yourself, organize yourself.

And if you do it every day when you’re not in a crisis or a conflict or a difficulty, then you’ll have much more ability to really utilize it when you need it. If you just try to say, “Oh, what was the thing that guy wrote in that book,” and try to use it when all of a sudden you feel you’re under a personal verbal assault, you probably won’t be able to bring to bear, so it’s something to practice every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you maybe walk us through one of those live right now?

Michael J. Gelb
Sure. Okay. So, obviously, people want to make sure they’re in an environment where it’s okay to bring your full attention to what you’re doing in the moment besides, for example, driving. Or don’t do this while you’re doing something else basically. So, put down the scissors.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s the quote of episode, “Put down the scissors.”

Michael J. Gelb
Right. So, create an environment where you won’t be interrupted if possible. And once you know this, once you know how to practice this you can then pretty much do it anywhere, but for learning it in the beginning, and if you’re sitting, either sitting or standing, let’s just say you’re sitting. You want to have your feet flat on the floor evenly distributed between the two feet.

You want to sit, feel around in your rear end for your sitting bones, feel the two points of contact with the chair. You want to be aware of those two points, two feet on the floor. And then you want to sit at your full stature, so align around the vertical axis.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael J. Gelb
If you say out loud the phrase, “Let go.” Just say it right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Let go.

Michael J. Gelb
Let go. Do you notice where your tongue goes when you say L in let go?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like up and into the front.

Michael J. Gelb
Yeah, just behind your upper teeth, your palate, so let your tongue rest on that point. It turns out that that point is an acupuncture point that connects the flow of energy down the front of your body and up the back of your body. So, your tongue rests lightly on that point. Now, can you picture the Mona Lisa in your mind’s eye?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Michael J. Gelb
You know her famous little smile?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Michael J. Gelb
Do your best to imitate her little smile.

Pete Mockaitis
With the tongue still there?

Michael J. Gelb
Right, with your tongue still there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you.

Michael J. Gelb
Got your little smile. Eyes are open and soft, so you’re using your peripheral vision and you’re seeing as much of the space that you’re in as you can. So, you’re aligned around the vertical axis, eyes are soft, tongue on the point, got the little smile. Next ingredient is invite the breath in through your nose and fill your lower belly with your inhalation, so your lower belly is going to expand, your lower ribs and your lower back expand on the inhalation.

And then exhale and, of course, your lower back and lower belly and lower ribs compress. And then real simple, expand the time of the inhale, slow it down, so maybe start with the count of six              on the inhale, and then a count of six on the exhale. And then practice that for a minute or two at least once a day. If you can do two or three times a day so much the better.

But what you notice about that simple practice is we’re doing things that are the opposite of the stress response. What happens to your posture in the fight-flight response? You’re trapped.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. You’re like tensed up and raring to go.

Michael J. Gelb
Right. You’re ready to go, you’re ready to fight or run away. So, when you’re upright it sends a different message to your whole nervous system. What’s your facial expression like when you’re in the fight-flight response?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like a warrior like ready to aargh.

Michael J. Gelb
Yeah, it’s some kind of frown or gritted teeth or angry look. Instead we have a little smile like the Mona Lisa. What are your eyes like? They tend to get tight and focused on a point. So, here we’re softening the eyes and taking in the periphery. And your breathing when you’re in the fight-flight response tends to be just in your chest and very rapid. So, we’re breathing all the way into the belly and we’re slowing it down.

So, we’re training ourselves to do the opposite of the stress response and this puts us in a very resourceful, centered, balanced place. And it’s not that you can stay in this place all the time, but if you practice this for a few minutes a day you can get back to it faster when you need it, and that’s the real key. It’s not that you don’t lose it. We all lose it from time to time. How quickly can you get your center back so you don’t say something or do something that you’ll regret?

The founder of Aikido, the martial art that I studied and taught for many years, is one of the great martial arts masters ever. And one of his senior students is one of the masters that I studied with, and this master once said to the founder, “You’re perfect. You never make mistakes.” And the founder said, “Oh, no, I make mistakes all the time. I just correct them so quickly that you can’t see it.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s good. And I’d love to get your view then in terms of in great detail – and thank you for that, that’s really nice to make it complete and actionable – about what’s going on with the body. And so, is the mind, where are we focusing that? Are there particular thoughts? Or where is the attention should that be placed upon?

Michael J. Gelb
Lovely. So, for starters I just get people to place their attention on their breathing and on the little checklist I just gave you. Make sure you’re smiling, put your tongue on the point, check that you’re at your full upright stature aligned around the vertical axis, feet on the floor, balance on the sitting bones. So, at first, that’s more than enough for people to do with their minds.

Once you have consolidated this so that you can just say, “Okay. Center. Boom.” And then if I say that to myself I don’t have to repeat all those things. I instantaneously shift my posture, open my vision, tongue goes to the point, I have my little smile, and I invite the breath in to my belly. So, then, you can invoke a quality or an intention that you want to bring in the moment.

So, a useful one is courage, for example, if you’re facing a difficult situation, or grace, or poise, or creativity, or compassion.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Sorry, keep going. Keep going. I guess I’m thinking for a connection, I was like, curiosity, yeah.

Michael J. Gelb
Mm-hmm, or humility, or being a glowworm. So, you get the ideas. Now you’re conscious and you can choose the way you want to be. From this physiology you have way more freedom. If you’re in fight-flight you gave up your freedom. You’re preprogrammed. It’s all played out and you’re probably going to make the situation worse, so free yourself. And this is the physiology of internal freedom. And then, you’re right, it’s good to add a conscious intention and we just shared some of my personal favorites. People can make up their own.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig this. I dig this. And I’m chuckling a little bit because I see Dr. Marcia Reynolds is one of your book endorsers and it feels like a little bit of her is what I’m reminded of as we do this. We had her back in Episode 14, one of the most popular episodes, and it’s powerful stuff.

Michael J. Gelb
Well, she’s an old friend of mine and she teaches you how to outsmart your brain. What she’s talking about is outsmart this habitual preprogrammed part of yourself so that you can use your creative intelligence. She and I have always, we just had a meeting of the minds when we first met because we’re on the same wavelength of using different metaphors to teach people these universal truths about self-balance and self-understanding and inner freedom so that you can have a more beautiful life. That’s really what this is about.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, tell me, Michael, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Michael J. Gelb
One of the fundamental points of this book, I emphasized it by translating into Latin is, “Conjungere ad solvendum,” which means, “Connect before solving.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael J. Gelb
It’s based on a lot of really practical wisdom. It’s based on the work of some of the greatest therapists. They find people in therapy resolve their biggest issues when they feel they’ve made a real empathic connection with the therapist. Well, guess what? Same thing happens with your husband or your wife or your children, and the same thing happens with your team at work, so connect before solving.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, excellent. Thank you.  So now, Michael, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Michael J. Gelb
Okay. I got a lot of favorite quotes but I’m going to give you my favorite quote that I put in The Art of Connection, and it’s in the chapter on listening. It’s from Andre Gide who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, and he said, “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Oh, it’s fun. I could chew on that for a while. Very nice. And how about a favorite book?

Michael J. Gelb
Favorite book. Well, the book that really got me started was Man’s Search for Meaning. There’s two actually, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and Man’s Search for Himself by Rollo May. I read those two books when I was 14 or 15, and then I read Toward a Psychology of Being by Abraham Maslow, and then I read Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung. And I’d say those books set the course for the rest of my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Michael J. Gelb
Oh, well, it is centering practice. It’s what I shared earlier and to me it’s so important. I do it for probably about an hour a day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

Michael J. Gelb
I do about 20 to 30 minutes of Qigong standing meditation and then I do various sets of Qigong that I’ve cultivated, I teach. I’ve studied this for many years and I try to teach the ones that are most helpful to others. And I’ve been teaching the ones that I actually do myself because I figure there’s a reason I chose to do them, so they’re the ones that I think I will share with others.

And my other key tool or practice is when I’m home I take a silent walk in the woods every day. Actually I took one earlier today in between interviews, and I just shut off the phone and go for a walk, and I don’t speak. I mean, if somebody says hello, I say hello, so I’m just going out for a walk. But basically it’s just silence and nature and, wow, I mean, what a blessing.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. And is there a particular nugget that you share in your books or when you’re speaking, working with clients that seems to particularly resonate, get folks nodding their heads and taking notes with all the more vigor?

Michael J. Gelb
Well, it’s fun that you mentioned that one because this book, The Art of Connection, building relationships, the notion of being a glowworm, the idea of being around people who inspire you, so one of the ideas that I’ve had around that for many years is it’s great to find real people who you can be with, who inspire you, and you can also draw on historical sources.

So, I wrote a book called How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, and why did I do that? Because Leonardo is my childhood hero, and I immersed myself in studying his notebooks and translated it into this book. And the point of that is I love Leonardo so I learned as much as I could about him and it enriched my life immeasurably. So, the nugget for people is figure out the historical figure that inspires you the most and immerse yourself in that person. You can have a virtual mentor as well as a real-life one.

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

Michael J. Gelb
I invite them to my website MichaelGelb.com, it’s G-E-L-B. People can sign up for our free newsletter. We’ve got lots of free articles and we’re just getting our YouTube channel going, but we’re going to be posting all kinds of practices for people. If people are interested in the Qigong we have a couple of those that are up there. You have to hunt around for them a little bit but we’re going to make it clear and more accessible. It’s all at MichaelGelb.com.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Michael J. Gelb
Yes. Yes. My challenge is to bring passionate curiosity to understanding the dynamics of your relationships. Don’t take people for granted. Don’t put them in a box. Try to see everybody in a fresh, open, compassionate, empathic, loving way, and then notice the effect that has on yourself when you look in the mirror in the morning.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Thank you. Well, Michael, this has been a real treat. You can hear it in your voice that you walk the talk, and so thanks for sharing all this wisdom. Great stuff. And I wish you lots of luck in staying centered and book sales and teaching and changing lives and all you’re up to.

Michael J. Gelb
Thank you so much.