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506: Finding the Joy of Missing Out with Tonya Dalton (Host of Productivity Paradox)

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Tonya Dalton explains how saying no to opportunities leads to more satisfying work days.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you should embrace JOMO
  2. How to determine worthwhile opportunities
  3. How to say “no” without feeling guilty

About Tonya:

Tonya Dalton is a productivity expert, author, speaker and founder of inkWELL Press Productivity Co, a company centered around productivity tools and training. She released her first book, The Joy of Missing Out, with Harper Collins this month.

Tonya’s messages about business management, productivity, and the pursuit of passion have impacted thousands and inspired her to launch her podcast, Productivity Paradox which has surpassed more than 1.5 million downloads.

Tonya has been featured on Real SimpleEntrepreneur, Inc.CheddarLauren Conrad, and Fast Company among other places. In 2019, Tonya received the Enterprising Woman of the Year Award and was named North Carolina’s Female Entrepreneur to Watch by The Ladders.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Tonya Dalton Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Tonya, welcome back to the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Tonya Dalton

Thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here again.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m glad we didn’t miss out on having you back again. We’re going to talk about your book, The Joy of Missing Out, and maybe you could orient us first and foremost. So FOMO versus JOMO, what’s the story here?

Tonya Dalton
For your listeners who are not familiar, FOMO is the fear of missing out, which I think so many people experience. They feel like opportunity knocks and, “I have to open up that door every single time. Otherwise, I’m going to miss out. And if I do, oh my gosh, I’m going to worry about it.” And it’s this terrible thing. And so, we often have this fear of missing out. And, to alleviate that fear of missing out, we try to do everything. We chase our tails being busy all day long, trying to do it all.

And I try to tell people, all right, we need to let go of the FOMO and embrace the JOMO. We need a little more joy of missing out. I truly believe that there is happiness already really nestled into our day. There’s joy just waiting to be had, but because we’re filling our days and because it’s so crammed full of tasks and errands and projects and this and that and the other, we miss out on finding that joy, even though it’s right there.

So when you think about your ideal day, there’s a lot of incredible, amazing things in it, but there’s also some things that are missing. There’s that feeling of being stretched too thin, that’s gone. That feeling of saying yes out of obligation instead of saying yes to things you want to say yes to, that’s missing. So really getting rid of a lot of that clutter and that noise in our lives, that busy-ness allows us to find the joy that’s already there waiting to be had.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, I think that really resonates. My mom just recently reminded me that John Mulaney has a joke, one of his specials associated with, once you reach a certain age, when plans get canceled on you, it’s like crack, it’s so thrilling and exciting because you finally have the opportunity to do nothing.

Tonya Dalton
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Which is awesome. And so then, that just sort of raises the question, well, why not just conscientiously decide to do nothing?

Tonya Dalton
Why don’t we purposely choose to have our days with a little bit of more open space, a little more freedom in our day?

Pete Mockaitis
And so when it comes to the joy of missing out versus the fear of missing out, to what extent is it true that you might be missing out and that’s terrifying and really unfortunate that you are not taking advantage of a given opportunity versus false. And I guess that’s kind of the core of it. Is identifying what matters and, and making informed choices. But are there some reliable guides, some indicators, that, “Ah, this is all an opportunity well worth taking,” or, “I really will regret missing out on this opportunity”?

Tonya Dalton
Yes, I really think so. It really is this idea, when we’re talking about productivity, I think the reason why productivity has failed so many people is because they think there’s this magic system out there, and they think they have to work their life and shift it and change it and make it work to fit this system. When in effect, let’s put you and your priorities front and center, and then let’s custom design a system to work for you to play to your strengths and play to your weaknesses.

And when you do that, when you create a system for your life that really feels manageable, maintainable because it plays to your strengths and to your weaknesses, when you really are allowing your priorities to sit front and center, that can really act as your filter for “What do I want to say yes to,” and, “What should I really be saying no to more often?”

I think that’s the issue a lot of times, is that it’s not when it’s black or white. It’s not when it’s good and bad. It’s when it’s the good, better and best. How do you know what to say yes to and what you should really, just let that opportunity knock and move on by to the next door so to speak?

And so really that’s one of the things that we talk about a lot in the book is, this idea of it isn’t just about saying no, it’s about finding your yes. It’s finding the yeses that are meant for you. The things that are really tied to your priorities, to your purpose, to your passion.

And a lot of that is really tied to the idea of your North Star, which is what I talk about in the first section of the book, which is your mission, your vision and your core values, and really allowing that to be your filter. To act as your first filter for, there’s opportunities here, do I even want to say yes to it?

Because I think that’s the problem. Is a lot of times we think to ourselves, “Well, I’ve got 15 minutes, I’ve got the time to do this 30 minute project, so I should just say yes.” And really, the question of time, that’s not really what we should be asking ourselves. We should be asking ourselves, “Does this fit the life I’m really looking for?”

I have this whole finding your yes blueprint that we walk through in the book, that asks these questions. How does the opportunity feel? Why do you want to take it on? Does this align with your North Star? We don’t ask the question of time until like four or five questions in. And I think that’s the problem is, we don’t often times know what we want to say yes to.

So in an effort to be at all, we say yes to everything, and that’s why we end up feeling overwhelmed, because we don’t know what we want to say no to. And I truly believe we all have our own yeses that are meant for us, that are tied to our North Star. And when we can really figure that out and we can use that North Star as our filter, that makes it so much easier to let those other opportunities to pass us by, and not feel like we’re truly missing out. To feel like, okay, this feels good. That these things are not things I’ve taken on.

Pete Mockaitis:
You said overwhelming and that reminds me of our previous conversation. I thought about it again and again, and you said, you said it better than, “That it’s installed into my brain.” But you said that, “The feeling of overwhelm comes not so much from having too much to do, but rather the feeling that we’re not actually making progress on the things that are important to us.” Did I say that right or how do you say it?

Tonya Dalton
I like to say the overwhelm isn’t having too much to do, it’s not knowing where to start. So it’s tied to that whole idea of, what do I want to work on? What do I want to say yes to and where do I start? And we’re spinning in circles, driving ourselves crazy. And this is why we feel overwhelmed because we have a to-do list that is three miles too long and unachievable and unattainable in our day.

And this is what happens is we end up with this long to-do list. We’re checking a million things off of it. We’re running around busy, slipping into bed at night thinking, “Gosh, why didn’t I get more done?” Even though we were busy all day long. Even though we chased our tail. Even though we checked all those things off.

When instead we choose where we’re going to start, when we choose to focus in on what’s most important to us as the cornerstone of our day and really the center point of what we want to do. When we do that and we do fewer tasks that have more meaning, that is when we really feel like we’ve accomplished something. That’s when we finish our days feeling satisfied.

And I think that’s really the difference is, knowing where to start that you’re not going to start with the menial tasks, the things that aren’t really important and driving you forward, but knowing where you’re going to start with those big tasks that feel really good to our soul. Instead of filling our calendar, let’s work on filling our souls and feeling really good about our days.

Pete Mockaitis
I think the corollary to that that struck me is that, I’ve had days that had lots of activity to them, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed, and it’s because each of those things indeed was filling up the soul.

Tonya Dalton
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think it’s hard to feel overwhelmed say on a camping trip. Even though I’m doing a lot of things. I might be hauling a canoe over my head, cutting wood-

Tonya Dalton
Catching dinner.

Pete Mockaitis
… Boiling water. Yes. It’s like there’s a lot of activities happening here, but I don’t feel frantic. Like, oh no, it’s just sort of like, well, yes, this is exactly what I wanted it to be doing, is enjoying some outdoor time and being with great people and mission accomplished.

Tonya Dalton
Yeah. I think that’s so true and I think this is the thing. I like to tell people that productivity is like what I use to get them in the door. “Oh, come over here, look at their productivity,” and then they come in and I go, “Okay, it’s really about being intentional. It’s really about intentional living.”

It’s choosing how you want to have lived your life and choosing how you’re going to spend your day, and really doing the things that do have meaning to you. Whether that is when you’re camping and doing a lot of things that are really important, like you said, like getting the canoe together and getting dinner and cooking the dinner and doing all those things.

You end up feeling really good because you’ve gotten something accomplished. You’ve worked towards your goal versus chasing our tails, picking up the dry cleaning, returning a shirt to Target, doing these little teeny tiny tasks that are really filling up our schedule and keeping us from doing the important work that will make us feel like we’re making big steps towards where it is we want to go.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so now I want to talk a little bit about the particular how’s of zeroing in on some of the North Star guidance. But first maybe could you inspire us by shooting a tale of a transformation? Someone that you worked with who was dealing with one set of circumstances and experiences of stress, anxiety, overwhelm, and then what that person did and the results that emerged?

Tonya Dalton
Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve worked with a lot of different people. I like to tell people that I’ve worked with men and women in all different seasons of life with all different life circumstances. I think the difference that it makes with what I teach in the book and in my courses is truly, it’s all about customizing it so it works for you.

So, I had this one woman who I was working with who was really struggling because she just felt like she was in a dead end job, but she felt like, “Well, I don’t really have any choices because this is what I trained for. This is what I’ve been doing for the past 10, 15 years, so there’s no other options for me. There’s no other place to go look because this is just how things are.”

And I think that’s oftentimes what people fool themselves into believing that there are no choices. When in fact if we look around and we change our perspective a little bit, there are options everywhere. It’s just a matter of sometimes having to go and look for them a little bit.

So she was feeling really, really stuck and those are her own words. She was like, “I just feel stuck and I feel like, I’m not really happy, but this is just how life is. I’m chasing after the kids and I’m doing all the things that they need me to do, and there’s no time left for me.”

So she and I sat down and we worked on, discovering her North Star, uncovering what her mission, her vision and her core values are, and then creating all these systems at work around that. And it was interesting, because at the start of working together through this course, she was really determined that this was just not going to work, because this was just how life was.

And then by the second week you could see that she was like, “Okay, there are some choices.” So we first opened up her eyes to the choices and really taking a lot of what she discovered about herself. And this is why I think it’s so important to start with that discovery phase. To really think about who you are in your heart of hearts.

So she took what she learned from that discovery phase, and then she started really implementing that into, how do I make it so this is the center point of my day. And so she started to feel really good about that. And then we started doing the simplifying and adding systems and making sure all the other things are running.

And then now, I just caught up with her a couple of weeks ago and she goes, “I quit my job. I’m now doing something I’m absolutely passionate about. I had conversations with my family about what their schedule look like, what did I want, what did they want?” We have a lot of these misconceptions that our kids want to do 5,000 different things. Our boss wants to give us 5,000 different projects.

And when I started having her create these conversations where she was like, “What do you really want? What are your priorities?” We began to uncover that a lot of this was stories she was telling herself. That her kids really wanted to do five different after school activities every day. When in reality, her kids were like, “No, we’d be fine just doing, piano and doing field hockey.”

And so she was like, “Oh.” So she was able to really make that manageable, not only for herself but also for her family. And now she’s starting up a job that she’s truly passionate about, that’s really tied very strongly to one of her core values of faith. And she says she’s in a completely different span of life than she was back when we started a year ago, because she really customized and made it all work for her.

And to me that is really what’s most exciting. Is when you see those light bulb moments where people are like, “Oh, I do have choices.” Or, “Oh, this is why I feel this way.” Or, “Oh, I love how now I’m spending more time on these things I really love.”

I mean that’s just one example, but I’ve had people who have gone back to school. I’ve had people who have changed careers. I’ve had people who’ve done all different kinds of things, because I think when we open our eyes and we begin to realize that we really can make life work for us, that life is meant to be enjoyed rather than just endured. And that we can create systems so the other things still happen so that the grass still gets mowed, the bills still get paid, the laundry gets done, and those types of things, that it really is achievable to have that ideal day and make that into your everyday. And that is truly what I love about what I do.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s exciting stuff. And so, we talked about that mission, vision, values pieces last time. So I’d like to zoom in on saying no in terms of one, I guess being okay internally, psychologically with your own self—

Tonya Dalton
Going to say space to say no, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And secondly, how you find the ability to articulate that when you’re kind of nervous. What are your top perspectives when it comes to saying no well?

Tonya Dalton
Well I think this is one of the problems that people have is, sometimes we know we should say no and we’re like, “Ooh, I want to say no to this.” But yes, feels so good coming out of our mouth for about 10 seconds. And then it’s like, what did I just say yes to? Because a lot of times we’re either taken off guard or we feel guilty. We feel bad because we feel like we’ve let people down.

And we forget that every time we say yes, we’re actually saying no to something else. So every time we say yes to someone else’s project, we’re saying no to our own passion project. When we’re saying yes to volunteering for a project that we’re not really excited about or truly invested in, we’re saying no to our own goals and we’re saying no to time with our family.

So if you start to reframe that and realize, you know what, every time I am saying yes, I’m actually saying no, but most times I’m saying no to my own priorities and to the people and to the things that are truly important to me. I think that’s the first stepping stone to get to is to realize, “What am I saying no to every time I’m saying yes?” Because I really think that makes you stop and think for a minute when somebody asks you to do something.

But I think it’s really important too, to have a little something in your back pocket ready to go. Because we are thrown off guard, and then a lot of times if we say no, we ended up overexplaining, over apologizing and somehow, somehow getting roped into saying yes after all.

I like to teach people that there’s a really simple strategy to use called the sandwich strategy. And it’s like the little black dress of saying no. It works in all situations and it really is so simple and easy to do.

So it’s essentially this idea that if you think about a sandwich, you have two pieces of bread with some kind of filling in the middle, the meat in the middle, right? Well, with our sandwich strategy here, we have two slices of kindness, that’s our bread with that solid no right there in the middle.

And when we sandwich our know, it makes it more palatable. It’s easier to give, and it’s easier for that person to receive so there’s not a lot of guilt.

So let me give you an example. Let’s say someone asks you to volunteer for yet another project. You could say to them, “Oh, thank you so much for thinking of me. I really appreciate that you’re pulling together a group of people to really make this fundraiser happen. Unfortunately I can’t give it the time it deserves. However, I do have some ideas that I’d done for this other project, so I’d be happy to pass those along to you.”

So there, we’ve had kindness at the front, kindness in the end, but right there in that middle there was that no. There’s no question about it. I can’t give it the time it deserves.

And to be honest with you, that phrase, I can’t give it the time it deserves, is one of my favorite phrases to use when you’re saying no. Because I’m not saying I’m busy, I’m not elevating myself. I’m not saying what they’re doing is unimportant. In fact, I’m saying, “Gosh, what you’re doing is so important, it really deserves time and I am not able to give it to it.”

So that’s really the sandwich strategy in a nutshell. It’s starting with kindness, putting in you no and then finishing up with a slice of kindness.

And because it works for all situations, it’s so easy to remember. If let’s say that somebody asks you to go out for a girls night, and you’re really wanting to spend more time at home with your spouse. You could say, “Oh, thank you so much for asking me to the movies. I’ve heard some really great things about it. I’m so sorry, but right now I’m really committed to spending a little more time at home with my husband, and so I’m going to give this time to him. I really think you guys are going to enjoy the movie and I would love to go next time.”

I think so often we forget that being kind and being assertive are not mutually exclusive. We can be assertive with our time, we can be assertive with our calendars, we can be assertive with our boundaries. And that doesn’t mean we don’t have to be kind or generous or thoughtful. We can be both at the very same time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Excellent. That’s a real nice clear perspective on saying the no. And so then, you’ve got a nice section on finding clarity within the realms of focus, time and energy. How do you recommend we go about doing these things?

Tonya Dalton
Well, this is the thing is, I think we don’t realize that we have these three precious resources of time, focus and energy. Once we give those away, we cannot get them back. Once you give away time, there’s no getting it back. But we don’t think anything of handing out 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there, five minutes here.

If we thought about our time like we do our money, we wouldn’t do that. If we had a set amount of money for the week, we would make sure that we paid our bills, that we fed ourselves and fed our families. We would make sure that we paid our mortgage before we started handing out dollar bills. But with our time, we don’t think about, first I need to invest it in the places that matter, invest it in my priorities, invest it in my goals, and then I can hand it out.

So when we shift the way that we’re looking at how we spend our time and we start looking at it as an investment, I think that really does help. So we go through in that section, that section two of the book, this whole idea of how do we clarify our day so that really we are spending most of our time on what matters most.

And this is where I get into that very controversial idea of tossing the to-do list. The to-do list is one of those things that people have talked about for decades and decades. It started back with Bethlehem Steel where they started doing a to-do list. That’s where it actually originated. And people have taken it so much further than what it was originally intended.

It was originally intended to be a list of three things when it first was brought about. And now people have these to-do lists that are 25 miles too long. So I really tell people, “The problem with a to-do list is it’s taking you everywhere, but where you want to go. It’s long, it’s unorganized, it’s jumbled, and it doesn’t tell you where to start.” And as we said earlier, overwhelm isn’t having too much to do, it’s not knowing where to start.

So if instead of making a to-do list, you spend five seconds longer—and I can promise you that’s all it takes—to make a priority list, that tells you very intentionally where you want to start. I like to say that a priority list is a to-do list with intention.

So like I said, it takes the same amount of time. It’s just really thinking through what are the tasks that are most important to you?

So it’s a little bit of a riff on the Eisenhower matrix, which I know you’re familiar with and I’m sure your listeners are familiar with, which was originated from Dwight D. Eisenhower, our most productive president, and then adopted later on by Franklin Covey and that whole system. But we, instead of having the four quadrants in the priority list, we start at the top with, there’s three levels.

So we have the top level, which is escalate, which is our tasks that are important and they’re urgent. So they’re important in that they are connected to our North Star. That mission, that vision, that core values. It’s linked to a goal. It’s something that’s essential to be done by us. It’s advantageous. It’s not tied to our perfectionism or a story that we’re telling ourselves about what we should be doing. So it’s important, but it’s also urgent.

And so we put our items at the very top because that’s really where we want to begin our day. With the things that are important, but have a deadline, because that’s why they’re urgent. And then that next level goes right underneath it. So instead of being a quadrant, it’s just almost like a vertical list. That second level is cultivate. Which are our tasks that are important but not really urgent.

So what’s amazing here is that this is truly the area where you’re going to see a lot of professional growth, a lot of personal growth, because these are things that are going to cultivate. These are investments in ourselves that will pay dividends in the future. So these are things like, creating a budget, taking a course, bettering yourself, reading articles that are in your industry, doing things like that. Working on a presentation that’s not due for another two weeks.

So things that are really important, but they’re not urgent. But because they’re not urgent, a lot of times those get pushed aside, even though that’s really where we’re going to see the most growth because they’re not screaming out at us. So that’s our second level.

And then our third level is our accommodate. And these are our tasks that are urgent. So they’re screaming out, they want to be done, but they’re not necessarily important. They’re not really tied to our goals, our vision of where we want to go. But because they’re screaming out at us, we oftentimes want to do them first. And a lot of times they’re really easy things. There the kind of ticky tack things in our day. Running to the dry cleaner, or returning a shirt to Target, Answering emails. Because 99% of what’s in your inbox right now, is not really important, but it’s urgent. It needs to be done. Those emails need to be returned.

So when we create this priority list with those three levels of escalate, cultivate, and then accommodate, and we start our day at the top and work our way down, it really does help us focus our day on what’s most important. Because we’re beginning with those important tasks and we’re making sure those get tackled first, which is why we can end up feeling like we have bigger wins in our day. And I think that’s really important, ending our day feeling successful.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s talk about email for a second here. So I agree with you that the vast majority of the emails that come in are not necessary to look at or reply. And yet, there are some that are just, change your life.

Tonya Dalton
That’s true. That is true. Not everything that’s in there is trash. There’s some jewels in there, yes, for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
So how do you think about processing email?

Tonya Dalton
Well this is the thing is, you’re right. There’s lots of great nuggets in there. There’s a lot of things that we need to just kind of discard and get rid of or just quickly reply to. Email is an important communication tool, especially when used correctly.

The problem is though, is that your inbox is like digging a hole in a sand storm. That whole idea of the inbox zero is such a great idea and I’m an inbox zero type of person, but that zero, and this is what I can’t remember his name, Merlin Mann, I think it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Merlin Mann.

Tonya Dalton
Yes, Merlin Mann who came up with that term. He talks about, it’s not about the zero, it’s not really about the number, it’s about how you feel about your inbox. That it’s not really dictating your day and it’s not taking over your day. So if we’re spending all day going into our inbox, trying to empty it out, but it keeps filling itself back up, that is really an exercise in frustration. And it’s taking up so much of our time, considering most of the information in there is not truly important.

So if instead, we chose to very intentionally batch our emails and check our emails, let’s say four times in a day, that would give us bigger pockets to focus on the important work.

So for me, and I’m going to go ahead and throw this out there, and tell you that email for me, I’m like Pavlov’s dog. I hear that ping of the inbox and I’m like, “Oh, what’s in there?” I don’t know why. I don’t know what it is. It’s not the same way with texts. But, I love checking my inbox, even though I know it’s mostly junk.

So what I did for myself is, I started checking email four times a day. So I come into the office, I start off by creating my priority list. I process my day, I take care of setting my day up, and then I check my email for the first time. Then I let other people’s priorities begin to invade my calendar.

So I do a quick check and I get myself a container of time, 15 to 20 minutes to check it in the morning. And then I check it again around lunchtime, and then I check it again mid afternoon, and I check it again after closing time for work.

And I do it four times a day because that allows me to get through my inbox and really respond to the things that are important in there and allows me to clean it out and keep on top of it. But I’m not in there all day long.

So what happens is, if we’re checking email every five minutes or so, we’re continually interrupting ourselves. We’re not getting to that deep work where we can really do great things, the important tasks on our list.

If instead we batch it, we have these bigger blocks of focus time, where we can really get into our big work. And I think that this is the thing. It’s not about getting rid of email. It’s really about how can we make email effective, so it truly does work for us. So for me it’s four times a day.

Now I have worked with other people who are like I only check it twice a day. I have some people who were like, “Four times will not work with me. I need to do six or I need to do eight.” And I’m like, “That is great.” Again, it should be totally customized to what works for you, just be intentional with it. Make a decision when you’re going to be in and when you’re going to be out. And when you set that container of time, abide by it. And then use the time that you were checking email to do that big important work instead.

Pete Mockaitis
And so for you personally, four bouts of 15 to 20 minutes keeps you in control such that you are hovering near zero ish most of the time?

Tonya Dalton:
Yes. And like anything else, when you’re batching tasks, you’re able to do it a little bit faster. You’re getting kind of that zone where you’re just automatically like, “Okay, quickly checking them,” and you can tell what’s trash and what’s not. And you’re cleaning it out and you’re checking things. And because you’re in that batch zone, it’s so much more effective than if I pop in there and I check one or two emails, and then I come in 10 minutes later and I check one or two more emails, and then I come in 10 minutes later.

Anytime that we’re batching tasks and we’re doing the same repetitive action again and again over and over again, it’s very similar to that assembly line, right? It just moves quicker. So we get that task done off of our plate and then we move on to what is truly important.

Pete Mockaitis:
All right, so Tonya, when folks are on board, they say, yes, JOMO, I’m embracing it, I’m going to live it and love it, are there any common mistakes or missteps that seem to pop up a lot when folks are starting down this journey?

Tonya Dalton:
Well, I think one of the biggest mistakes we make, and this happens whether it’s with JOMO, or a goal, or a project or anything else, is we try to take it all on at once. Okay, there’s all these different things you can do, and we talk about different strategies and tactics throughout the book, but people try to take it all on at the same time.

I think anytime that you’re trying to effect a change and you’re trying to, maybe live more intentionally, it’s okay, let’s take a step back and let’s figure out what’s one thing you want to do first. Let’s focus just on one small thing and let’s make these adjustments slowly. So it really feels a little more natural so we can begin to see how does this really work for you? And we can make those adjustments that I think are really important and are really necessary.

And then maybe a week later, let’s add another step. And then maybe a week later, let’s add two more steps. And build up to it instead of trying to take it all on.

It’s kind of like, have you ever tried to start getting up earlier. People think, “Oh, I want to start this morning routine so. You know what, I’m going to start getting up two hours earlier.” Well, getting up two hours earlier, getting up at eight o’clock in the morning and then six o’clock the next morning, that’s jarring to your system.

So instead back it up. Back it up 30 minutes for the first couple of days, and back it up another 30 minutes and then back it up 30 minutes again. It’s taking these baby steps and making it so we can acclimate to these changes and really start building them in as habits. Because that’s one of the other things that we talk about throughout the book is, this idea of let’s take the thinking out of it. Let’s make it so a lot of these intentional things that we’re doing, these intentional choices, become habits. So we don’t even have to think about them, they just happen automatically.

We talk about that whole idea that our brain is one 50th of our body, but it burns one fifth of our calories. And we can choose, do we want to burn our calories on the nonsense and the things that aren’t really important? Or do we want to burn our calories on the things that are really going to drive us towards that life we really want? And when we choose to allow habits to kind of step in and work on autopilot, especially when they’re good, healthy, intentional habits, that allows all that to run automatically and seamlessly, allowing our brains to really focus in on what matters most.

Pete Mockaitis
And when it comes to these baby steps, have you found historically that there tends to be one or two or three that make a world of difference, and just get that ball rolling quite effectively, consistently?

Tonya Dalton
I love that question. I would say, just like anything else I talk about, I think it really is personal to you. I usually tell people, “Start with what you’re most excited about. Start with what you’re most passionate about. What got you most excited? Let’s start there, instead of trying to say like, you have to start here, then you go here.”

The one thing that I do really encourage people to do is really do start with that discovery phase of what is important to you, because then we can really tweak and make everything work for you. And when I say for you, I don’t just mean like what you’re really good at. I also mean what you’re not good at. Let’s make it play to your strengths and your weaknesses.

So thinking about that and then starting with what you’re truly most excited about. Let’s say that the morning routine is what you’re most excited about. Let’s start there. Maybe it’s the priority list, then I would start there. So really to me, ultimately, with everything that I teach and everything that I talk about, it really is about this idea of customizing productivity, making it mold and work to you and your life. Instead of you feeling like you have to twist and turn yourself to fit the systems, let’s twist and turn the systems so they work for you.

And that’s really what I want people to get out of the book is that, when they finish reading the book, they’re like, “Okay, I know how to make this system for myself work, and I’m ready to get started.”
Because I wanted people to feel like they had a roadmap for how am I going to really start implementing this idea into my real everyday life? It needs to really work for me.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well Tonya, I want to hear about some of your favorite things and we’ll see if any thing’s newly favorite. Last time your favorite quote was from Oprah. Are you sticking with, “Do not think you can be brave with your life and your work and never disappoint anyone. It doesn’t work that way.” Or, do you have a new favorite one?

Tonya Dalton
Good question. That’s still my favorite. It’s really hard to let go. I mean, Oprah, she knows what she’s talking about. And I think too, I think this is a thing, especially when I talk to people about, JOMO and really finding that joy of missing out, that there’s going to be times that people do push back. There’s going to be times that people are like, “Well I just think you should say yes to this because you should say yes to it,” and don’t believe you can be brave in this life and not get a little bit of flack from people. But yeah, I’m still with Oprah. She and I are still one.

Pete Mockaitis:
Okay. All right. We’re sticking with it. And last time you had a favorite study about multitasking at a Duke. Any other studies that have caught your eye?

Tonya Dalton
Well, I have this other study that’s actually about multitasking that I really like as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear it.

Tonya Dalton
Multitasking seems to be one of my favorite things. There’s been a lot of studies on it and there was a study at the University of London on multitasking, and what they found was that, when people were multitasking, they performed as well as people who had stayed up all night long. And so what they did is they had a control group that was, multitasking. They had a group that went to bed, they had a group that stayed up all night long, and they had a group that smoked marijuana.

Now, the people who are multitasking did not perform as well as the people who had stayed up all night or the people who had smoked marijuana. So I like to tell people, “When you are multitasking, not only are you increasing your cortisol, not only are you stressing yourself out, but you might as well either stay up all night or smoke drugs.” To me it’s most interesting about this study—

Pete Mockaitis
“You might as well smoke drugs,” wonderful pull quote.

Tonya Dalton
Maybe not my pull quote please, no… But I think that’s so true. When people hear that, they’re like, “Oh my gosh, I keep multitasking because I think it’s increasing my productivity,” but it actually is decreasing your productivity 40%. That means you’re losing about, I think it’s like 17 hours a week when you try to multitask. That’s a significant amount of time.

So really, when we think that we’re working harder, we’re not really working smarter, we’re just wearing ourselves out.

And the other part of that study that I thought was so fascinating is there was this inverse corollary where the better someone thought they were at multitasking, the worst they actually were. Which I found interesting because they said, they would ask people like, how good are you multitasking? And the higher they rated themselves, the worse they performed.

So this is the thing. There’s very few super taskers out there who really can multitask.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s almost like I’m one of them. So, caution, caution there. The odds are not in your favor.

Tonya Dalton
Yes, the odds are not in your favor and that’s one of the things that the researcher said. He says, “People want to fool themselves into believing that they’re the super taskers, but they’re not.” I mean, that’s like his direct quote, “but they’re not. They’re just fooling themselves.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well so, last time you mentioned your favorite book is Jane Eyre. Are there any other favorites you’d like to mention?

Tonya Dalton
Well, I just read not that long ago James Clear’s Atomic Habits, and I really enjoyed that book. That was something that I really enjoyed recently. On the fiction front, I’ve been doing quite a bit. I’ve been reading some Ruth Ware, and I’ve really been enjoying her. I don’t know if your listeners are familiar with her, but she just came out with one called Turn of The Key, and then she did, The Woman in Cabin 10. Those have been my reads lately that I’ve been enjoying.

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

Tonya Dalton
I would tell them to go to joyofmissingout.com for information on the book and where you can get that, it’s available really anywhere books are sold. And then if you want to connect with me or learn about my podcast or anything that I do, my products or anything else, you can go to tonyadalton.com. So that’s Tonya with an O and a Y, tonyadalton.com.

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

Tonya Dalton
My call to action could be just go get the book. Because I really do feel so passionate and excited about the book. But really what I want people to take away from this is, we’ve talked about that idea of the small steps and starting small. I think that that’s really what I want people to walk away from this episode remembering. That that ideal day that we dream about when we’re in the shower or we’re waiting for our coffee to brew, it feels so far away from where we are.

And, so because it feels so far away, we sometimes think it’s not ever going to be possible. But, if you take one small step each and every day closer to that ideal day, if you get 1% closer each week, by the end of a year, you’re going to be 52% closer to that ideal day, to that ideal life. It really is the tiny little itty bitty steps that matter.

We often think it’s the big giant leaps. It’s the leaps of faith and the giant running starts. But oftentimes, it’s just taking that first step that builds that initial momentum, and that’s really all we need to keep us moving forward. And one tiny step each and every day really does make a gigantic difference in how we feel about our days, and how we feel about ourselves, and how we feel about getting to that ideal life that we want.

Pete Mockaitis
Tonya, this has been so much fun. Thank you. I am overjoyed that we didn’t miss out on this conversation

Tonya Dalton
Me too.

Pete Mockaitis
So, keep up the good work.

Tonya Dalton

Thank you. Thank you so much for having me again. This was great.

505: How to Make Data Inspire Action with Nancy Duarte

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Nancy Duarte explains how to combine data with story structures to create inspiring presentations.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three-act structure of data
  2. The true hero of your presentation
  3. How to make magical moments for your audience

About Nancy:

Nancy Duarte is a communication expert who has been featured in Fortune, Time Magazine, Forbes, Fast Company, Wired, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, LA Times, and on CNN. Her firm, Duarte, Inc., is the global leader behind some of the most influential visual messages in business and culture. As a persuasion expert, she cracked the code for effectively incorporating story patterns into business communications. She’s written five best-selling books, four of which have won awards. She’s been ranked #1 on a list of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Nancy Duarte Interview Transcript

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

Nancy Duarte
Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am excited to dig into your wisdom. And I’d love it if you could start us off by sharing a story about one of your clients who really transformed their presentation using stories.

Nancy Duarte
Oh, that’s a fantastic question. So, we work with really, really great brands. I can’t name the customers but I sure can tell you outcomes of what’s happened to them after they started to embrace stories. So, there’s one local public CEO here who went from unfavorably rated on Glassdoor to the highest-rated CEO and a lot of it had to do with when he would talk about his work. It was kind of self-congratulatory and we taught him how to tell stories and how to make a stronger connection to the audience and it actually skyrocketed his Glassdoor rating. He worked hard on internal communications which is important.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s amazing. Well, I’d like to hear a little bit more about that. So, for example, when presenting in front of employees, he would kind of convey that he was responsible or she was responsible for that victory and accomplishment and results, and you sort of had a shift there. Or, how did that go down specifically?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah. Well, what happened is, because he was an accomplished CEO at his former public company he would always point back to big victories, big victories at this other company, big victories at the other company. And then what we asked him to do was part of telling a great story is the fact that the story has a messy middle. That’s the most exciting part of a movie, right? The boy doesn’t get the girl and then the monster steps on them and then they got shot in the shoulder with an arrow, and then they have to climb out of the pit. Like, that’s the exciting part, and that’s the thing we love about stories is that life is hard and we’re watching and cheering for this person as they go through these hard times.

So, we explain, that’s the part, that’s what makes you transparent, that’s what makes you humble, that’s what makes people connect to you if you tell a story where you failed. And so, he did. He told a story about a skunk-work project that he started when he started at this new company that he was at and how it failed and what he learned from it. And just adding that one anecdote into this one talk, he was flooded, like, “That’s the best talk you’ve ever given. I loved it. It was the best one ever.” It just had to do with being real and talking about, “Hey, I’m not going to fail on your watch. I already learned this lesson,” and being really open and transparent about who you are and things that you’ve overcome. A lot of leaders are afraid to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s huge, and I guess the proof is in the pudding right there in terms of the complete transformation and perception.

Nancy Duarte
Exactly. And then the results. There’s a lot of sensitive topics right now that a lot of people are having to address at work and in life, and I think when you frame them in a story and tell it as a story, people will remember them more than if you just whipped out a PowerPoint and click through a bunch of slides. I think people are craving human contact, human flourishing at work, and meaning, and story creates all those things.

Pete Mockaitis
And you have put some numbers to that in your book there DataStory associated with the extent to which stories can resonate a whole lot more than facts and data. Can you share some of those perspectives?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah. So, my new book is really about how to explain data so that people move to action through storytelling. So, when you see the words data and story combined, some people think it means that I’m saying, “Oh, yeah, apply a bunch of fiction into your data.” That’s not what this is about. It really is about taking the strength of the framework of a three-act structure of a story and using it to explain your data.

So, now we can hook up FMRI machines to the brain and see what’s happening when a story is being told. And now we have scientific proof that the sensing parts of the brains fire up when a story is being told, and so why not use this magnificent framework to actually explain data so that you can move people to action because of the results of the data. So, that’s kind of the premise of the book.

Pete Mockaitis
And I was really struck with your charts that sort of showed the bar chart sort of moving in different directions and how that can correspond to different kinds of stories. So, could you give us a little bit of an example or overview of how those things go together?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, I love that. So, one of the other things that’s happened as far as science and story is that the computational story lap put in all of the books from the Guttenberg Project that was almost 1700 books, public domain fiction books. They fed it into a computer and it actually did show that stories have six finite arcs. And those arcs, they either end in a happy ending, you know, comedy or tragedy, they end and it resolves or it ends and it was tragic.

And same thing happens to a chart. So, picture in your mind, you have a line chart, and the happy ending to that line chart would be if it went up. And then a tragic ending would be if you wanted the line to go up and it went down. Well, those are classic story arcs. And the way you communicate when the line is going up versus the way you need to communicate if its ending is a tragedy, people process those stories very differently.

And so, the book gets into what to do if your chart falls on one of the six emotional arcs, what it is that the audience needs to hear from you and how to communicate that particular arc structure to an audience. It sounds complicated to explain verbally but there’s visuals in the book to support it. But I think sometimes we don’t consider the emotional impact that a chart, like rushing toward the X-axis just like falling, and when what happens in people’s hearts when the line rushes high into the right. And so, it just makes you stop and consider how to communicate those story structures because your data actually is a story structure.

Pete Mockaitis
And those six arcs that’s kind of just like the trajectories in terms of up, up, up, or down, down, down, or up then down.

Nancy Duarte
Down, up. Down, up, yeah. It’s like a rollercoaster ride, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, maybe just to bring it to life, could you share sort of one story in conjunction with data so that listeners can say, “Ah, that is a lot better. Thank you”?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, that’s a great ask. So, I could share a data story where we found an insight in the data and then you frame it in three acts, like a three-act story. And so, it’s a super simple one but I’ll share it anyway. I’ll just pick one of these super simple ones. Like, an act one. So, this is where we found an opportunity in the data. So, you found something that’s great and you really want to exploit this opportunity you found in the data.

Act one is you state the current situation. So, you would say, “Our new webinar about cloud services attracted more attendees than our historical high,” that’s the current reality. “And…” there’s a complication, “…there were 642 highly-qualified leads that came in from the webinar and it surpassed all other marketing channels by 22%.”

The third act is what’s the action you want to take. So, it’s, “We should, therefore, redirect our marketing funds to cover quarterly webinars to increase highly-qualified lead flow.” So, what’s a tiny itty-bitty executive summary told in three acts that paints the current reality, what’s going to be kind of hard about it, and what we need to do about it, and it’s data. It’s not fiction like I said. It’s not a fairytale. It literally is using the three-act structure to construct an executive summary so you could tell a manager and try to get funding for your webinars, or whatever it is that you’re trying to get done.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so now I love that story, and I’m thinking if I’m on the receiving end of it, I’m going to say, “Heck, yes. Let’s double-down, triple-down on this approach. I’m in.” So, what would be the alternative way of presenting kind of like that same set of things that’s much less effective?

Nancy Duarte
Like, what happens is you might just flick a chart to the boss, you don’t communicate. So, some people would say, “Well, the data speaks for itself.” Well, did it really say, “Hey, let’s go and get more funding”? No, the data might’ve said, “Hey, that was 22% more effective,” but it won’t ever say the action that needs to be taken. So, there’s kind of these different mindsets about data. Some people just love to be in the data and they flick it. They’re like, “Well, it’s outside my paygrade to do anything about it. I’m just going to flick these charts.”

So, part of what this does is it challenges you to move just from exploring the data to dipping your toe into explaining it, because when you explain the data, that’s when you move from being an individual contributor to becoming a strategic advisor. So, a lot of this is about shaping what the data is saying so that people above you understand it, and it actually helps your career. It’ll actually help your career trajectory because artificial intelligence can go now and it can explore the data, and it can actually tell you the findings in the data. But a robot or artificial intelligence will never be able to tell you what to do about it accurately. So, it really is a career move to learn how to explain data well.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And there have been so many occasions in which I have looked at slides and there’s a bunch of stuff on there, and I’m thinking, “Is that good? Is that bad? There’s a lot of lines. They’re squiggling. Are we happy about those squiggles? Are we not happy about those squiggles?” And so, I think that is huge when you share that message.

And I’m big on, well, I’ll get your take on this. I’m really big on having the slide headlines kind of convey the points. Instead of saying, “Sales over time,” the headline would read, “Sales have increased significantly more this quarter as compared to previous ones,” for instance. So, we know, “Oh, okay, this is significant and it’s a big deal and it kind of lets us know what to focus in on.” What’s your take on this?

Nancy Duarte
And that’s great, yeah. So, the chart title itself should stay true, like it should just state the fact of the chart. And what you mentioned, which is great, is the slide title. Now, the slide title is where you can make an observation, and that’s what you did. You made an observation that this quarter was great, it’s up significantly. That’s an observation you can make on the chart.

And then there’s another layer of information that’s, “Therefore, what do we need to do about it?” Because what’s interesting is it’s usually human behavior that makes a chart go up or down. It’s like, “Oh, hey, the salespeople sold more so revenue is up.” “The accounting screwed up so our profit is down.” Human behavior makes charts go up or down, or like clicks on a website makes charts go up or down, so there’s a desirable direction you may wanted to go. But then, once you’ve observed it, and said, “Hey, Q4 was significantly higher,” that’s an observation, “Therefore, what do we need to do about it? Is there an opportunity to exploit or a problem to solve so that the next quarter can be even higher?”

And so, that’s kind of where the gap is between an observation and understanding what action they need to take because of the observation. So, you’re right, so your slide title should be either an observation or an action to be taken. Absolutely agree.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay. Cool. Now I want to talk maybe about you mentioned the phrase earlier dip your toe into the explaining of data, and I think that’s an apt picture because I think when I teach these in workshops, I have participants who seem a little bit scared to say, “Oh, man.” Like, when I gave these example headlines, like, “Hey, don’t do this. Instead do that.” I’ve had people say, “Oh, those are pretty sensational headlines that you’re using there, Pete.” I don’t know whether sensational is sort of over the top, it’s too much, it’s intense. Like, it’s sort of it’s almost shocking for some who are not accustomed to this practice. So, what’s your take if people feel a little risk averse or they don’t want to be too bold in making a statement about what the data show? How do you think about the psychological elements here?

Nancy Duarte
It’s really interesting because one of the things, if we could get data to tell us every little bit of every little step and it be perfectly true and right, I think there are some temperaments that would wait and wait and wait and not make a move until they could have many, many, many facts of data to do that. What’s interesting about your question is you’re asking a bit about the mindset of the people that are trawling through the data and whether or not they want to make a claim about the data.

What happens the minute you stake a point of view about the data, you’re kind of walking around with a target on your back, and a lot of people aren’t comfortable with that. So, that’s why you’re moving from an individual contributor position into a strategic advisor position because you’re willing to take the risk, you’re willing to stake a claim or make a point of view about the data, and you’re willing to say, “You know what, now we need to go hire another sales guy. That’s the action I think we need to take.”

Not everybody wants to move into these kind of managerial and leader positions to where they’re willing to say, “I have a point of view. And you know what, next quarter I might’ve been wrong but I’m willing to stake a claim and say I do feel we need to step forward in this direction.” That’s the part that makes people scared to form a point of view about the data because they don’t want the responsibility that comes with it because it does with responsibility once you have a point of view.

Pete Mockaitis
But it sounds like what you’re saying, let me put words in your mouth, is that it is, from a risk-reward profile, it is a better career strategy to take some points of view than to play it safe.

Nancy Duarte
Exactly. Exactly, if you want to grow in your career. You know what though, and I don’t want to pooh-pooh the fact that we need some really deep-thinking individual contributors that can become almost like fellow partner-level and fellows inside organizations. There’s a place for that because we need a lot of freaks of genius around data itself. But if you want to go in management and leadership, you need to start to create points of view about the data.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And so, now you mentioned that we got to cover actions, what we need to do as a result of this data. And you have a bunch of verbs in your book, which I get a kick out of.

Nancy Duarte
I love that page. I love that page.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how do you think about verbs and what are we doing wrong when it comes to our verbs?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, this was such a fun journey for me because we work with amazing brands and I pulled thousands of just data slides, slides that had a chart on it, and then I pulled apart the parts of speech, collected every verb that was associated with data on these 2,000 slides, and then I found a pattern in the verbs themselves. I’m such a pattern finder and I love that you love that page because it was a lot of work.

So, there’s two types of verbs, they have two different kinds of energy to them. There’s what we will call a performance verb, and these would be things that help you reach KPIs, help you reach big organizational results. And then there’s process verbs, these are the activities you do in support of a performance verb to get something done.

So, think of the verb to run, right? Run is a verb, but you have sub-verbs to get you there. You have to pump your arms, you have to pump your legs, you have to breathe really heavy. Those are process verbs that you do to get you so you can run. So, it’s kind of like that. There could be a big performance verb that could be measured by an executive and then the supporting verbs that fall under it.

It was fun. This is definitely how the title of the book says to take action. This is definitely the guts of the types of action you may take from data. It was pretty profound. It was fun. It’s not exhaustive, I mean, but it’s pretty exhaustive. I went through it and couldn’t find anymore verbs, at least in our work or our clients’ works.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s interesting, when you say run, and I’m thinking about process versus performance, I’m kind of thinking of the word run as being in the middle, and performance would be like, “I got there, you know. I got there in four minutes, 12 seconds. And at this rate of speed I was running, that’s my high performance.”

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, what’s interesting is a process verb is you’re either done or you’re not a little bit. So, the process verbs are binary, you’ve either completed it or haven’t, and the performance verbs are ongoing or kind of a bit more conceptual. Like, “I want to disrupt the market. Like, the data says we should…” You could say, “Oh, we need to create flavor innovation,” that is something you could do based on some data. Or you could say, “We need to disrupt an entire market on flavor innovation.” It’s so different and has so many more things you have to do to support that performance. I guess you can call them mega verbs and minor verbs or something, but you could stack a lot of activities under a performance verb. Whereas a process verb is more finite.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’d love to get your take here on the pros and cons and the ideal context because I hear what you’re saying, those performance verbs, they’re mega, they’re big, there’s a whole lot of stuff that would go under them and could change some strategic things in a big way. And then, also, some people might find them a little bit fuzzy. Like, “What exactly are you saying? Are you saying we’re going to create new flavors and a lot of other things?”

Nancy Duarte
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I guess how do you think about where you’re better off having more process things versus more performance things?

Nancy Duarte
It depends on who you’re trying to appeal to in the organization. So, like, if you’re a project manager and you’re managing your own project, you’re going to have a ton of process verbs just to get the project done, and you could stack them up in timelines and do all kinds of things with it. The minute that you feel like you have a proposal that’s so big you need to put it on your boss’ desk or your manager’s desk, then it needs to have a clear hierarchy to the verbs.

And that’s kind of what this creates. It’s like, “If we’re going to do this great big thing, this big market-changing thing, name that and then put all the activities under it that support it.” And so, there is a different kind of an energy if it’s going, depending on the scale of the person above you. There’s different ways kind of in the book of how to frame that based on who you’re communicating up to, or if you’re communicating to your peers in an update meeting as a project manager, that’s different than communicating at a board to a board of directors or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I can see that you might get some mismatches if you’re going super mega with the performance verbs to some folks who are like, “Okay, so what do you want me to do now?” like that sort of spelled out. And then vice versa, the executive might say, “I don’t know why you’re troubling me with this minor thing. Why don’t you just sort of handle that?”

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, execs are too busy, really, to have to think through it for you and they want to make sure you’ve thought through it. So, the interesting thing, too, is any of these data recommendations you’re making, you can have a massive appendix, slides are practically free. So, have the guts, be in front, have it be brief and tight and lovely, and then, man, you could stack 200 slides in an appendix. And if they’re really curious about the details you provided them, but just don’t make them slug through all your details. But it’s kind of nice to have them there because then I’ll be like, “Man, that person really thought hard about this.” I’ll always peek at an appendix.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. I look at the notes, and, “Is that statistic significant?” So, I’m right there. Okay. So, reorienting a bit here. You have a fun turn of a phrase that we should be more like Yoda when we’re doing our presenting. What do you mean by that concept?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, and what’s interesting is when we have something really important to communicate, sometimes we’re so either excited or scared about having to communicate it. We get so caught up that we think when we walk in the room we are, in storytelling it’s called the central figure, that we’re the hero, we’re the protagonist, we’re the ones talking the most, which usually happens in a story or a movie. Usually a hero is a central figure and they have the most dialogue. And it might feel like that because you’re in front of everyone presenting, but, in reality, you have to flip the context of who you are because the audience is actually the hero.

So, if you get up and you’re presenting, and your audience does not latch on to what you say, your idea dies. Like, they are the carriers. They’re the ones taking out the action from your idea, so if you don’t convey it well, you’re suddenly rendered powerless by your audience. And so, you have to actually approach your presentations or any communication that you do, email, blog, anything. I get my husband to do chores at home by doing this. You have to really think through, like, “Wait, what is it?”

Pete Mockaitis
How does that work?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, I know, I know. I’m, hopefully, someone who loves you is listening and can get you to do their chores. Now, you have to really flip the mindset and realize, “Look, I’m in their lives as a mentor not as the hero.” In myths and movies, a mentor is like Yoda was a mentor, Obi-wan Kenobi was a mentor. A mentor comes along and does one of three things. They help the hero get unstuck, or they bring a magical gift, or they bring a special tool.

So, you look at, say, Obi-wan and Luke Skywalker, he brought the Force and he brought a lightsaber. He gave him a tool for his physical journey and a tool for his spiritual or heart journey. That’s what it should feel like when people sit through your presentation. They should say, “Whoa, I have the emotional feel to keep going,” or, “Oh, wow, I did not know that, and now I’m unstuck,” or, “Oh, my gosh, I’m going to run go do that because I was stuck right there.”

That’s how they should feel when they’re sitting through a presentation. They should feel like, “Oh, in my life journey, when I sat in that presentation, I got unstuck.” And it takes a minute for you to flip your framework of who your presentation shouldn’t be in service of yourself. It should always be in service of the audience.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really dig that. And so then, when you talk about magical items, what can that look like in practice?

Nancy Duarte
So, usually anything that’s kind of magical is something that appeals to the heart, something that would change a heart. Like, if you look at all the different magical moments, it’s like something kind of supernatural happens and they get some sort of a breakthrough. So, sometimes it’s like something unexpected. It could be a surprise. It could be a bonus. There are all kinds of ways to make something feel magical. Sometimes it’s even in the delivery of it.

Like, even in the book, in the DataStory book, I say, “Oh, you could throw a whole chart up there. But if you show it over time and create suspense and surprise, then the results feel even more magical.” So, it’s a tool to help them get unstuck, and there are ways when you communicate it to make it feel like that was a magical thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that connects and resonates with me as I’m thinking about sometimes, and I guess I’m a weird guy, but if I read in a great book, I’m thinking about Robert Cialdini’s Influence right now.

Nancy Duarte
Oh, I love Robert.

Pete Mockaitis
In a great book that sort of shares the story of a scientific study, they sort of set it up, like, “Hey, some people went on the street and they approached folks, and they asked them a question.” And so, actually I can feel my heart thumping a little bit, it’s like, “Well, what happens in the baseline control versus the new thing?” And it’s like, “And it was four times more effective when they asked it this way.” And so, I think that’s exciting stuff. And you’re right, when you build that suspense, you have that experience as opposed to it’s just sort of cut and dried, like all the data is on one slide all at once, and you’re a bit overwhelmed as opposed we’re building into something.

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, it’s all in how it’s revealed over time. You’re saying the same things but it’s in how you frame it that can turn something that would be just fact-based into, as you’re revealing it, they’re feeling something.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess in that same vein, you’ve got a nice turn of phrase with STAR moments, an acronym for something they’ll always remember. Could you give us a few particular examples of this and some tips on how we can generate more of those moments in our presentations?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, so STAR moments, something they’ll always remember. One of my favorite examples, it’s actually in my TED Talk is where Steve Jobs spent about the first 30 minutes of the iPhone launch creating and creating and building and building and building suspense. And then the moment he turned the iPhone on, you can hear a gasp, an audible gasp in the audience, like “Huh!” when they saw scrolling for the first time. Your listeners might be too young to remember that.

But when they saw scrolling, they knew right then that he had made a revolutionary new product that had never existed before. But he could’ve just like, whoop, and whoop, and got it on, and like turned it on and all of that. But he knew the moment that they saw, so he went through the hardware, he went through the features, he went through the buttons. They never even saw it turned on yet. And when he turned it on, it took everyone’s breath away.

So, some of that was the timing. Now granted, some of it is the amazing product, but you could use a shocking statistic. It’s something that whatever is in your talk that you want them to chatter about at the watercooler or after, when they leave the room, it’s like, “Wow, I’ll never forget that.” It could be a shocking image, it could be a powerful metaphor, it could be an emotive anecdote or a story. There’s just a lot of different ways you can create that moment where they’ll be like, “Oh, my gosh.” And it could be any emotion. It could be shock. It could be awe. It could be tears. It could be like something in it where they just were like, “Well, I’ll just never forget that.” And really great talks have those.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I’d love to incorporate some more of those. So, that’s a fun example of Steve Jobs. Can you lay a few more on us?

Nancy Duarte
Another fun one that I love is when Michael Pollan, I don’t know if you are familiar with his books.

Pete Mockaitis
With the food?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, with the food. And what we did in that example was he was wanting to explain how broken our food supply system is. And you can find this video, it’s actually really well-done. It was from kind of like TED-like event called PopTech, and he spoke there. And so, we went out and bought two Big Macs, and he had I think it was only one Big Mac. He had one Big Mac on the table and he wanted to explain how much crude oil it took just to make that one Big Mac, and it took like 36 ounces or something.

So, we had him pouring crude oil into these clear glasses so everyone could see how much crude oil it took just to make that one hamburger. And that was like a moment they’ll always remember. And, besides, we didn’t use real crude oil. We used Hershey’s syrup. So, at one point, he dipped his finger in what everyone thought was oil, and licked it, so that made it kind of extra special.

We had one happen here the other day with data, one of my client service people. He was going over how we’re doing on our revenue, and he said, “Wow, this quarter over this quarter, we’re really low.” And everyone was like, “Oh, no,” because everyone’s bonuses depend on how well we do our invoicing. And so, then he said, “Oh, but look, this is how much we have to invoice. Get your invoicing in.” And it went, woo, it went way up, and everyone applauded. So, everyone knew we would hit the number but it also put the right kind of pressure on client services to get their invoicing done, right? So, there’s ways to do it to create action that’s just different.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we talked about the arcs, we talked about some of the words and the special moments. And I think that, maybe as we’re entering the end here, could you sort of summarize kind of what’s the step-by-step? If we want to create a data story, what is the A-B-C of things that happens?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, I think obviously the explore phase, my assumption is everyone has done that well, because once you’re done exploring, whatever the data sets or multiple data sets, you do the synthesis and you have an outcome, you have a problem or opportunity that you found in the data. So, that’s where you’re at. That’s where this book starts. We’re under the assumption you found a problem or an opportunity in the data and now you need to communicate it.

Then what you need to do is think through what your executive summary is, and that’s that three-act data story. I read you one where it’s like, “What is the three-arc structure of your executive summary?” Then think through, “Who am I delivering this to and how much information do they need?” You might be able to just stop at the executive summary and put it in an email and send it to your boss, or it might be such a high-performance verb you’re asking everyone to do, you might need to make a 200-page document.

So, you just got to really think about “Who needs to read this?” Like, we create Slidedocs which are these skim-able, they look almost like magazine, skim-able, readable documents. And I recommend you make, if it’s kind of a bigger proposal, you build about nine or so skim-able slides in the front. And like I was saying a bit ago, maybe you build as dense of an appendix as you may need to support it, and then you circulate it, and then you talk about it and get approval.

So, the book, really, was in service of faster decision-making. So, I think your audience specifically plays a role a lot in coming up with ideas, and then some people get frustrated in organizations because their ideas aren’t heard. So, even though this is framed for data, you could actually use a lot of the frameworks here for any idea. It doesn’t just have to be data and how you craft it and communicate it. Put it into a document in a way that somebody above you in the organization understands, it really should be able to help your ideas get unstuck. If you’re feeling like you’re hidden or your ideas get hidden, this will really help with that.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. And now I just kind of want to go with a free-for-all in terms of top do’s and don’ts when it comes to slides and presenting, you know. You can just let loose things you see all the time that you think need to stop right away or things you’re so surprised you never see when you really should.

Nancy Duarte
Uh-huh. Great. Well, number one, my number one top do, I already kind of answered this. Start with empathy. Think about your audience first. The other thing is I think there’s this gap. I don’t think a lot of presenters can read the audience. I was actually just talking to someone who was telling me about this situation where the audience slowly got up and left. And by the time this guy was done presenting, there was only like six people in the room, and I’m like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait, wait, wait. Why did they keep going?” Like, the minute five people left, I’d stop and be like, “Hey, can I poll you real quick? Am I answering what you guys came here to hear? And if not, can we just go to a Q&A for a minute?” Like, I would’ve just stopped.

So, I think sometimes when it’s a bad presentation, I don’t think enough people stop and just turn it into a Q&A. That would be the ideal. Slides are still cluttered but I think it’s because people use them as a crutch. I think people use their slides as a teleprompter. So, I still would recommend people take their dense slides, split them out across multiple slides. I can do a 40-minute talk and I can have up to 300 clicks. You’d never know it. It doesn’t look like that but it’s better than having these dense slides that people read.

And I went on a campaign, my book slide:ology was all about making cinematic slides, highly-conceptual slides, and using them as a visual aide. But 85% or so of content that’s built in a slide deck really is a document, and it needs to have the density. You can’t pass around pictures of kittens on a slide and people know what you’re talking about. You have to have the supporting content if you’re going to circulate it like a document. So, that’s when I wrote the book Slidedocs. What I was trying to do was polarize and say, “This is a visual aide and it has this level of hardly much visual density. This is a document. Make them really dense but don’t do that weird in-between thing or it’s not a document, and it’s not a slide, and it’s not a visual aide. But to really just make it dense like a document or sparse like a visual aide.” And I think there’s still too much stuff in that weird confusing middle. People aren’t kind of pushing their decks to the edges. So, I would say those are my big pet peeves.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Nancy Duarte
I think you’ve done a great job. I don’t have anything. I’ll let you know if another idea gets sparked.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, about could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Nancy Duarte
Oh, I love that. Yeah, I love a quote by Winnie the Pooh. I used to have it, not engraved, but in vinyl lettering in my reception area, and it says, “Promise me you’ll always remember. You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” I love that quote. I tell it to others, mostly to women. I have to tell women. I think we’re hard on ourselves, and we ‘re braver and stronger and smarter than we give ourselves credit for.

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

Nancy Duarte
You know, there is definitely like a book that kind of changed me, and it is based in research, and it’s a book by a guy named Chris Vogler, it’s called The Writer’s Journey. And I did a lot of research on story all over the place. Got into Joseph Campbell, just did three years of research on story. But the way he framed the story structure and the archetypes changed my heart to where now I use story almost as a lens, as a coping mechanism for life. And so, that body of research really meant a lot to me.

Pete Mockaitis
And any other favorite books?

Nancy Duarte
That one I love. There’s the classic books that every business person reads, like Good to Great. Right now, I’ve bought and distributed the book Ownership Thinking because I really want people here that work here to understand that bonuses are paid out based on profit, and have people become more understanding of how a business is run. And that’s been really, really fun to train in that. So, that’s the one I’m kind of fixated on right now.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Nancy Duarte
Oh, I use this thing called Pocket. And so, if I’m trying to plough through my day and an interesting article or something on the internet, instead of reading it right then, I put it in my Pocket. And then what’s cool is you can open the app on your phone, and whatever, and you could read all these articles on the airplane even if you don’t have Wi-Fi and stuff.

But the interesting thing is I used to pause and actually read a lot during the day and I’d be like, “Oh, that’s interesting.” Now I put it in my Pocket and then maybe three days later I go to read it, I’m like, “I don’t want to spend the time on that. It’s not as interesting two days later as it was when I thought I saw it the first time.” And so, I’m actually saving myself time and then being choosier in what I choose to spend my time reading.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is really great. I love that. I feel the same way with if I get a good idea, like, “Oh, wow, that’s amazing. I should do something with that immediately.” And then like, “Well, no, I’m just going to tuck it over here.” And then a couple days later, it’s like, “You know, I don’t think that’s so great.”

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, I used to do that. Like, I’d get an idea and pound out an email and send it to someone, and now I don’t. I just save it or I tag it to go four days later, and then I look at everything and then I’ve been deleting things I thought were great ideas in the moment, and not telling anyone about them.

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s see, that’s a tool. How about a favorite habit?

Nancy Duarte
I like my morning routine. I think what you have on your mind when you fall asleep kind of shapes what you do with your brain cycles while you sleep. So, I try to read on contemplative spiritual things or psalms. And then in the morning I try to read things from books of wisdom, and then I feel ready to work. I carve out up to three hours at least four days a week. And I’m a morning person. I’m up at 5:00, 5:30 so I could use the first three hours to create or write or invent or produce, and it just makes me feel like I lived a fuller life if I make something every day.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, they share it with you frequently or retweet it?

Nancy Duarte
Yeah, I think the ending phrase or close to the end of my TED Talk where I say something like, “The future is not a place that you go. It’s a place you get to create.” And I get quoted for that a lot and I think I’m very much, I live in the future. My brain is always in the future trying to think about, “Where does the company need to be in 18 months? What should I write in 18 months?” I’m always living my life about 18 months out. And so, that always meant a lot to me but I didn’t realize other people would feel like they too have the power to create their future. So, that was a fun one.

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

Nancy Duarte
Well, we have Duarte.com which is my company website. We’re up on Twitter on @duarte. I’m up there @NancyDuarte, and I do connect to anyone who connects me on LinkedIn.

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

Nancy Duarte
I think that being other-centric. If there was one thing I could ask everyone to do it’s to get to a place where you have mental models that help you understand empathy and understand the other person before you communicate to them quickly or rashly. Just do a little bit of planning before you open your mouth goes a long ways.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Nancy, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you tons of luck with your company, and the book “DataStory” and all your adventures.

Nancy Duarte
Thank you so much. It was fun to chat with you.

504: Building a Gratitude Mindset to Increase Productivity with Karl Staib

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Karl Staib says: "One of the best ways to get ahead at work... is being grateful for other people."

Karl Staib shares how gratitude leads to a more pleasant and productive work life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How gratitude improves productivity
  2. How to cut negativity and boost gratitude
  3. How to find more energy for your goals

About Karl:

Karl Staib is an author that seeks out growth at every turn. When his father passed it was focusing on gratitude that helped him get through one of the most difficult times in his life. That’s why he wants to bring more gratitude into the workplace. His work inside a fortune 500 company that regularly ranks in the top 10 for best places to work has shown him the importance of gratitude and how it increases productivity and communication. If you enjoy his writing, he encourages you to reach out to him at BringGratitude.com.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Karl Staib Interview Transcript

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

Karl Staib
Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear your take on gratitude. Maybe we can start off by hearing what are you most grateful for?

Karl Staib
Oh, that’s a great question. I’ve got so much. I wrote in my journal this morning and I’m grateful for my dog, I’ve got two wonderful boys, a really caring wife, and my brain. I think it’s important that I’ve been having a better relationship with my brain and the thoughts that go on behind the scenes as I get older.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, so maybe let’s start by hearing when it comes to gratitude, if we can contextualize this a little bit, I mean, it’s a great thing to have, sure. But, specifically, how does that help us become more awesome at our jobs?

Karl Staib
Okay. So, it’s a really good question because I think just the act of being more grateful helps rewire how our brain thinks. And so, there’s numerous studies, but Edward Deci did a study and it basically talks about the positive interactions that we have either help us become more productive or reduce our productivity.

So, if we have six positive interactions, the one negative, we’re 31% more productive. If it’s three to one, we flatline. If it’s less than that, we decrease in productivity. So, right there it just shows the willingness to tackle things and stay on top of things.

And so, another study by David DeSteno talks about what happens when you are giving reinforcement, encouragement throughout the day or on a project. You’re 30% more likely to stick with it. And so those little things, when you fall down, when you make a mistake, you’re more likely to get back up and try again and keep at it and then you can thrive at work versus like kind of packing it in and not trying your best.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s intriguing. Let’s talk about that first study. So, six to one positive interactions, did you say? And how are you defining the interaction?

Karl Staib
So, I take a little creative license. So, it’s interactions with other people. So, if you’re grateful for people at work and you show them that, it boosts. So, there’s another study that basically talks about if we work together and I stop by your desk, and I say, “Hey, Pete, this was amazing. Like, you put this extra slide in here, this bar graph showed exactly what we’re trying to illustrate. Thank you so much. This is fantastic.” And then you walk away like, “Damn, I’m hot stuff.” That is equivalent to getting paid more money. That’s how our brains work. We think, “Oh, wow! I just did something well for somebody that I really wanted to help.”

And so, if you think, as a boss, or even a coworker, if you can give people compliments, I mean, honest, genuine compliments, you’re going to have them feel better, work harder, and want to be around you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great stuff. Well, I’m wondering, we have sort of a limited amount of control over whether or not we’re going to get some of these positive encouraging interactions from others. How do you recommend we, I don’t know, get more and do it yourself to the extent that’s possible?

Karl Staib
Oh, yeah, yeah. So, it’s important we don’t rely on these external validations completely. It is a good scorecard, right? So, if you go on to work and you don’t care and you basically hide in the corner, and you’re not very helpful, you know you’re not going a good job, you know that you’re not worthy of gratitude so even if somebody came up to you and gave you some appreciation, you probably wouldn’t believe them because you’re just like, “Ah, I’m just going to hide in the corner. I’m going to try to avoid work.” But the thing is it’s about the mindset. 

So, one of the biggest issues that I have is meetings at work. I despised them. It was a waste of time. I would tell all these stories inside my head as I was walking into the meeting and I was setting myself up for failure. And I remember when I started on this gratitude practice journey, my father was passing and it’s kind of what’s spurred me to start up my gratitude journal again. And when I did, I realized kind of a little bit of a switch going off inside me.

I remember a conversation with my dad before he was in the hospital and before he passed. We talked about it’s what you make of it, right? That’s one of the pieces of advice that he always emphasized to me. And I was taking it to heart. And because I was so tuned into, “Okay, I need to work on my mindset.”

My dad was one of my best friends, one of my confidantes, and so I knew that I wasn’t going to have this anymore and I didn’t want to go into depression. I had issues with depression in my past, especially in my 20s and early 30s. So, when I did some research, I knew gratitude helps in so many ways.

And so, as I started kind of diving back in and writing these bits of gratitude, I realized I was not grateful for going into these meetings. And those meetings are always opportunities, those are some of the best opportunities just to connect with other people, to go in and learn different things, and it doesn’t have to be about the project. It could be, “You know what, today I’m going to just practice being calm and focusing on my breath in this meeting.” And maybe that’s a meeting you’re not as involved in, right? You’re maybe on the outskirts.

And then there’s others that you say, “I’m going in. I’m going to ask one really poignant question. One question that I think could help maybe create a small little moment of, ‘Oh, I never thought of it that way before.’” So, when we start planting in those seeds and start being grateful for the moment before us, it makes it so much likely that we’re excited and that we try our best in that meeting, and then we make sure that whatever comes out of it we’re getting something and we’re appreciating whatever it is that we get out of it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting. So, in practice, what you’re doing inside your brain, at first, you might feel, “Oh, these meetings are stupid. They’re a waste of time. They drain my energy. They’re not any good.” And then you find a way to give meaning to them, like, “In this meeting, I’m going to do this, or I’m going to appreciate that, or I’m going to focus on my breathing or whatnots.” So, are there any kind of key questions you’re asking yourself? Because I imagine, when you’re in a bit of that funk, it’s kind of hard to just flip the switch. Is there any kind of transition questions you ask internally or things you do to make the jump?

Karl Staib
Oh, yeah. It’s a good way of framing. It is about questions, right? So, if I go in thinking, “Oh, how much is this meeting going to suck?” versus I go in thinking, “What can I learn from this meeting?” It’s very much like that fork in the road. You can go left, down that dark, scary, ghost-ridden pathway, or we can go to the right where the butterflies are flying around. But both ways are a path that we can take and this is where awareness comes in and you can say, “Wait a second. I notice myself asking, ‘How much is this going to suck?’ What if I ask myself a different question? What if I set myself up to see this in a different way?”

And you say, “What is one thing I can learn from this meeting? And after one hour, I’m going to write this down. I’m going to take a note and say, ‘I learned…’ whatever it is. I learned how to ask a better question. I learned how to pay attention to how somebody else talks and speaks.” And I’ve noticed like work is a lot more enjoyable when I’m engaged, when I’m creating that mindset that allows me to feel engaged.’”

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s interesting because you can say, if you’re watching closely to see what you can learn about how a person is presenting, you can learn things to do, like, “Ooh, that worked very well. I should do that.” And things not to do, like, “Oh, man, everyone was bored and paying no attention at this point. Note to self: Provide a slide headline that clearly articulates what is on that chart or something, for example.”

Karl Staib
Yes. Yes, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s handy. good or bad, you can turn that into learning and that’s a great question, “What’s one thing I can learn?” What are some other key questions that help point your focus in helpful ways?

Karl Staib
One of the most important things that I like to do is, you know, I suffer from anxiety. My palms sweat, I get choked up if a bunch of people are looking at me, so what I do is I say, “How can I focus on my breath and relax through this whole meeting?” And just planting that seed, and then what happens is subconsciously your brain starts to notice, like, “Are you getting a little tense?”

And it’s always going to happen. I’m never going to get rid of my anxiety but I can notice it, appreciate it, and then work with it, and it becomes a friend that having this dance with during this meeting instead of, “Oh, my God. I’m anxious. I don’t know what to do. Like, I’m freaking out.” And, all of a sudden, somebody calls on me and I’m so stuck in my head I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to do.

And by saying, “Okay, how can I relax throughout this meeting? And how can I notice when I get tense?” And, all of a sudden, you start to be more aware, and you can say, “Oh, take one deep breath right now.” And it’s done wonders for me. It’s really helped me with my anxiety in meetings.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, there’s a bit of a problem-solving focus there, so, “How can I notice? How can I relax?” And then you’re getting a chance to experiment and get better at something. That’s cool. Any other great questions?

Karl Staib
Oh, man. I think one of the most important things is how do you like to stay engaged. You might say, “Well, what’s the best way for me to take notes?” That simple phrase, right? Like, “What’s the best way for me to take notes?” will allow you to think, “Well, maybe I’ll try doing visual notes this time.”

Whatever it is, now you’re retaining more of that meeting and you’re more engaged as well. So, when you do need to ask the question, it’s easy to recall if someone does ask you a question, you’re on it because you’ve been in that mode of, “I know what’s going on. I know what the context is and I can really shine in this moment.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when it comes to gratitude, you define three different levels. Can you unpack this for us?

Karl Staib
Yeah. So, as I’ve been digging into gratitude and really understanding the research behind it, I realized most people just think of gratitude as an external thing. And so, I started unpacking it and I realized a lot of my studies through Buddhism, through Zen, Christianity, I realized it goes much deeper than that and it starts with surrounding gratitude.

Surrounding gratitude is the things around you: your computer, the glass of water, your cup of coffee. It’s very easy to say, “Oh, yeah, this is delicious cup of coffee and it helps boost my energy.” Now that is a very straightforward thing that most of us do kind of automatically and very subconsciously but it gets a little harder with the next one, and it’s sharing gratitude.

And sharing gratitude can create a bit of awkwardness inside a conversation with somebody else at work. If you walk up to them and tell them how good they are, they could feel embarrassed by that, they might not have the reaction that you planned that they did, and so it gets a little hairier and so we don’t do it as often as we should. We’re a little afraid to compliment somebody. Most of us are very bad at receiving compliments.

We struggle with celebration when it doesn’t fit into the norms of our culture, the small bits of celebration that we should be doing. I don’t know about you, but if I write a great email, sometimes they take a while, maybe an hour, hour and a half, like I do a little dance after that. And I’ve built that into my day to help me feel grateful for that moment, for that time that I spent to really make sure that message was conveyed that I hope it would.

And so, that is where it starts to get a little bit trickier because that’s where self-gratitude comes in, and that’s that third component. And we don’t treat ourselves usually very nice. I like to call it the inner bully. We beat ourselves up. We call ourselves names. We don’t think about all the hard work. I mean, let me ask you, Pete, just a year, two years ago, how far have you come since then?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. Oh, it’s been a crazy two years. Two kids, home purchase and maintenance, podcast growth. Real far. It’s kind of exhausting.

Karl Staib
Yeah. And it’s hard, right? Like, I can feel your reluctance coming through. You’re just like, “I almost even don’t want to go there, right?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I mean, there’s been a lot of improvement and growth and some cool ways and not as much sleep but I guess that’s what happens with kids in due time. My wife is a saint. She’s been doing less sleeping than I have. But, yeah, lots of improvement and I’m glad for it. I’m sure glad that we got those kids and podcast listeners and all the other blessings.

Karl Staib
And do you celebrate that? Do you celebrate yourself as a father, as a husband? Do you have any cadence around that?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, kind of. I think that I had a great podcast conversation with BJ Fogg talking about forming great habits. And he talked about celebration is really important to building those habits, and it could be as simple as saying, “I’m awesome.” And one of mine comes from Mortal Kombat II when you defeat your opponent while taking zero damage, it says, “Flawless victory.” So, that was a little affirmation celebration I got when I beat my brother in a video game as a youngster.

And so sometimes I will trot that out and occasionally I’ll just take the time to play some celebration music, like if we got a sale, like I might go play the song, “Whoomp There It Is.” This is like, “I’ve been waiting for that email. And there it is.” So, yeah, BJ said I was a natural celebrator. But not every day am I natural celebrator. It comes and goes.

Karl Staib
Yeah. And so, it’s one of those things, right? When you look at your life and you look at how far you’ve come, this is important. Hopefully, people who are listening right now really understand it’s great. Let’s say you’re at work, and you have to think about how we talk to ourselves internally. But let’s say, for example, you go up to somebody at work, and you say, “Man, you’re awesome.” Now, I kind of call that a level one gratitude, right? Like, it’s nice, it’s good to hear, but if it’s not specific, a lot of times you’d easily forget it. And this is what’s really important about gratitude and really help to rewire those neurons is to go a little bit deeper if possible when you have the time. And it’s why I suggest people keep a gratitude journal at the end of the day. So, usually what we remember is the most impactful part of our day and the things at the end of the day.

So, if you take some time and write three things you’re grateful for at the end of the day, you can do this at the end of the work day, this helps too because if you get into that routine. But the closer you can do it to bedtime the better because what happens is that’s the stuff that will solidify in your brain as you sleep. So, you’re tightening these neurons and making it easier to access the next day and the next day after that, which is really important because if you can be grateful before bed, you’re going to be more grateful throughout the day.

And so, as you’re more grateful throughout the day, it makes life more enjoyable and it helps lower your stress so you’re going to be healthier because of it. But what’s really important is your what and your why. What are you grateful for? And why? And so, this is where I think a lot of people get tripped up on their gratitude journal because they’re like, “What? Oh, I’m grateful for my cup of coffee. I’m grateful for my wife.” And it gets just to the surface. But, why? Why are you grateful for your wife? Can you give me, why are you grateful for your wife?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, she’s just so, so there’s so many things. I’d say, well, hey, we just talked about sleep. I’m grateful that she frequently sacrifices sleep in order to take care of nighttime wakeups from the kiddos, and it keeps me from feeling like a miserable zombie the following day because she’s handling that important responsibility. So, I guess that’d be one specific why.

Karl Staib
Yeah, so that specific why help deepen that experience for yourself. It helped put that into your subconscious a little bit deeper than, “I’m grateful for my wife,” or, “Hey, she’s awesome.” And that’s the stuff that’s then easier to recall. So, one of the best ways to get ahead at work, and this is a little hack, is being grateful for other people.

And so, try not to focus on yourself. The idea is just focus on other people and why you’re grateful for them, and try to express this gratitude in front of other people. And when you do this, remember it’s important to be genuine here because people can tell when you’re not. But if I work with you, Pete, and I say in a meeting with my boss or our boss, maybe you’re not there, but I say, “Man, Pete’s been awesome. Like, as soon as I ask for help, he turned around this email, or this design, or whatever it is, in just a few hours, and it was so good.”

Now, what the boss will remember is you complimenting that person, but they’ll also equate you with that compliment. And so, you’re sticking in their brain double because you’re giving somebody else a compliment and they’re equating you with that compliment. So, you’re creating win-win on both sides, which is one of the best things you can do in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I guess I’m surprised to learn that they’re equating me with that compliment. Is there some research behind this? Or what’s the story?

Karl Staib
Yeah. So, what happens in the brain is as that person hears that compliment, they’re hearing it from you. Now, it’s basically kind of the mirror neurons that are going on, right? Like, if we see somebody else behaving nicely, opening a door for somebody. We’ve all seen those commercials where you’re nice to somebody and then they pass it on, and they hold the door for somebody, and then somebody else picks up the tab at a Starbucks for the person behind them. It’s very similar to that. It’s seeing, like, you are being grateful for somebody else, and that person sees that, and says, “Wow, they must also live that way too, or be that way too.” And that’s why it works so well.

And it’s true though. Like, if you notice, and this is a positivity thing, but you wake up, you’re in a good mood, you just got a pep in your step, and you go through the day, and you’re just like, “Man, life is good.” You hit some traffic but it’s okay. You just got a good groove going on today versus the day where you got up on the wrong side of bed. You hit that same traffic and then you end up getting angry and mad and everything is wrong, and you go on to work, and everything just goes to hell. It’s the same traffic. Everything. But it’s your mindset going into it that was different.

And so, that’s why it’s so important to work on those things. And that’s what happens when you take that time to be grateful, you become more patient, you relax a little bit, you don’t try to force things as much because what ends up happening is you’re pausing to slow down the moment. If I have to think of something I’m grateful for, I can’t worry about anything else, I can’t do anything else, I can’t think another thought. Once a thought is in there, that’s that thought, right? There’s no double-thinking thoughts at the same time. You can’t think negative and positive.

And so what ends up happening is you are setting yourself up to create a more positive mindset and to be more resilient. And that’s the stuff when you get knocked down at work and somebody says something mean to you, or somebody talks behind your back, you can allow it to wreck your day or you can say, “You know what,” and I know, Pete, this is hard, but being grateful for that person. Being grateful for the opportunity to be just a little bit more empathetic towards that person.

I always give the traffic example because I struggle whenever I hit traffic, my blood boils but I’m working on not allowing it to do that to me. You’re in traffic. And you can choose, like, “Okay, I’m going to stay mad and I’m going to be pissed off, and I’m going to yell at everybody.” Or, I can say, “I’m grateful for this moment because I can look out my window and see the trees. I’m grateful for this moment because I can turn on my favorite song.” And that pause allows you then to stop and not be so reactionary.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I dig that, that pause and the why piece because I kind of wanted to get some more details associated with if you identify, “Hey, I’m grateful for this,” you write it down. It seems like sometimes you really feel it, and sometimes you don’t. And Hal Elrod discussed this when we were chatting in our interview that sometimes the gratitude is just sort of an intellectual thing, “It is good that I am in a car and it has proper climate controls.” You know, like, “That is a fact,” as opposed to, “Wow, this is just so warm and cozy and perfect.” I don’t know.

You talked about the why and as opposed just the what. Do you have any other pro tips on how we can really get there so that we are feeling the gratitude as opposed to just simply identifying, “Yes, this is something worthy of gratitude”?

Karl Staib
Yeah, that’s a great point, right? Because if we force it, it doesn’t have the impact that it could, right? Like, we can’t force love. You can’t make yourself be happy. But it’s not about, in this case, being specifically happy about the traffic and that you can’t get to where you want to go. It’s about being grateful for what you can be grateful for.

So, what’s important is to put everything into perspective, right?

We have to look at things and we’ve got to say, “Okay, is this really that bad? Like, I’m stuck in traffic. Maybe I’m late getting home to my family.” But if you’re saying, “This is miserable. I’m never doing this again. I’m not going to do this driving anymore,” that’s not a bad thing. Anger is not bad. We should feel angry. We should feel all our feelings. And maybe that spurs us to make a change in our lives. Like, that’s something to be grateful for, and that’s kind of the point of this, is it’s not about being happy. It’s about working on your mindset because there’s always a way to find some small thing you’re grateful for.

You just got to slow down a little bit and allow yourself to focus on the super small things that you can control and you can enjoy, and that’s the stuff that’s going to really help you focus your mindset in the direction.

Pete Mockaitis
And you also have a term called way power. What is that and how do we use it?

Karl Staib
Okay. So, you’ve probably heard of the study where you go through the grocery store and you have to deal with picking out, “Which bread do I want? What type of strawberries do I want?” And the more you make these decisions the more your willpower depletes. When your willpower depletes, you go to the checkout lane, you see the Snickers, you pick up the Snickers because you’re exhausted, you’ve made all of these decisions throughout the day, and you put that Snickers down on the conveyor belt, and you walk out with your Snickers bar, and you start eating it even before you get into the car, right, because you’ve had enough. Your brain can’t take anymore decisions.

Now that is how a lot of us do any type of good habit-building. We say, “I’m going to work out today. This is the day that I’ll wake up early.” And then the alarm goes off, and you don’t wake up early, and you hit the snooze alarm, and then you push off working out to the next day. Now way power is really important because it’s the wind behind your sails. It’s not, “Oh, I’m doing this and I have to do this.” It’s, “I want to do this.” It’s the why behind it.

You have kids, you’ve got young kids, and your wife is waking up early, and I’m guessing she’s looking at this as an opportunity to bond with her kids. I don’t know your wife. I don’t know you when you wake up at 4:00 a.m. or whatever it is to feed the kids. But if you can say, “You know, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to bond with my kid.” That right there is setting yourself up to have a better experience than, “Argh, man, it’s 4:00 a.m. I’m too tired for this.”

Those thoughts are going to deplete you, and then you’re like, “No, I got to just get up and do it. Pete, get up. Do it.” But if you say, “Okay, what are my options? Stay here, let the baby cry, or stay here and let my wife do it? You know what, I’m going to take this as an opportunity to bond with my kid.” And that is way power. That’s you finding that small bit of appreciation, of gratitude towards doing that thing and allowing that to guide you versus you forcing yourself to do it.

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

Karl Staib
I think it’s really important when people focus on working on their mindset, is to bring some awareness and watching those thoughts. And you don’t have to meditate. But the idea is you have to notice these things that are happening, right? If you’re stuck in traffic and you feel the anger coming on, you can ride that wave and just let it go, or you can pause and you can slow down and allow yourself to take a moment and relax and not let that anger overwhelm you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Now can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Karl Staib
So, I’m a big fan of the show so I have two, “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” And that’s Zig Ziglar. That’s a great quote.

Okay, number two. “My dad encouraged us to fail. Growing up he would ask us what we failed at this week. If we didn’t have something, he would be disappointed. It changed my mindset at an early age that failure is not the outcome. Failure is not trying. Don’t be afraid to fail.” And I think that’s so important. Failure is not who we are. It’s not defining us. What defines is what happens after.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study?

Karl Staib
There’s a study where optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56%. And this comes through their ability to bounce back. And so, that’s what I want people to try to practice.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Karl Staib
Can I give two?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Karl Staib
Emotional Success by David DeSteno. There’s a ton of research in gratitude in there. And then Siddhartha by Herman Hess because he was very influential of me, really digging into my mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Karl Staib
My gratitude journal, I keep it on my phone so I have it always on me. And it sounds silly but whenever I have a tough meeting or whatever, I just pull up my phone and I write one thing I’m grateful for, and it usually kind of shifts my focus. Man, it’s helped me so much.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Karl Staib
Walking. I love walking. It’s usually when I come up with a lot of my ideas. Helps me process. We are meant to move as a species, all animals are. And if we sit or lay down too long, our anxiety takes over. So, it helps me keep my anxiety at bay too.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a key thing that you share that seems to connect with folks such that they quote it back to you?

Karl Staib
Hmm, yeah, the three levels of gratitude. A lot of people say, “Yeah, I know gratitude is important. I know I should be thinking about it more, being more appreciative of my life, but I never heard it in that way.”

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

Karl Staib
Yeah, I challenge them to keep a gratitude journal for 30 days. I do gratitude challenges. It’s how most people have found me. November, January, March, May and September, September just wrapped up. November, the next one starts. And so, I suggest, if they want, they can go to BringGratitude.com/thanks, like thanks for listening, and they can get some freebies, the five tools to be 31% more productive, they get information on how to join the challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Karl, thanks so much. I’m grateful for you and wish you all the best as you keep on going here.

Karl Staib
Thank you so much. This is great. And I love the questions and how you dug in and you really forced me to do deeper than I was anticipating in going.