All Posts By

Pete Mockaitis

281: Making Better Decisions by Thinking in Bets with Annie Duke

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

World Series of Poker champion Annie Duke shares her insights into making better, more informed decisions in an unpredictable world.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How thinking in bets reframes your decision-making
  2. Why to distinguish between the quality and outcome of a decision
  3. Three fun rules for better decision-making groups

About Annie

Annie Duke is a woman who has leveraged her expertise in the science of smart decision making to excel at pursuits as varied as championship poker to public speaking. For two decades, Annie was one of the top poker players in the world. In 2004, she bested a field of 234 players to win her first World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelet. The same year, she triumphed in the $2 million winner-take-all, invitation-only WSOP Tournament of Champions. In 2010, she won the prestigious NBC National Heads-Up Poker Championship. Prior to becoming a professional poker player, Annie was awarded the National Science Foundation Fellowship. Because of this fellowship, she studied Cognitive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Annie Duke Interview Transcript

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

Annie Duke
Well, thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited because I cannot think of any other guests I’ve seen on TV prior to interviewing. Well, maybe Dan Harris, the news anchor but, yeah, you and Dan, that’s it.

Annie Duke
Well, there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so great to have you here. And so tell us, I noticed when we were kind of getting situated, you mentioned that you prefer to not keep score when you’re playing tennis. What’s the backstory there?

Annie Duke
Oh. Well, so, I grew up in a family where there was a lot of competition going on. My father is a really competitive guy. He, in fact, was quite an accomplished regional amateur tennis player, lots and lots of championships. And I used to play cards with my brother and my father, and my brother was older than I was and so I didn’t do a lot of winning but I really wanted to win.

And then, obviously, when I was playing poker it’s a very competitive environment. When I retired from poker in 2012, I just, I don’t know, I started seeking out situations where it felt much more sort of win-win as opposed to zero-sum. So when I played tennis with people, although they don’t always comply, I ask not to keep score.

I mean, like we’ll keep score for a game because I think that’s just important because there is strategically, obviously, it really matters within a game how you’re playing, but in terms of the sort of overall score, who won or lost, I try not to focus on that too much and try to think about, “How can I improve my game strategically?”

What I usually do with anybody that I’m playing tennis with is I usually drag them to my tennis lessons because I feel like if they’re better then I get better. And the games that I play with my kids tend not be very win-lossy, so like one of our favorites is apples to apples, it’s just sort of hilarious.

Pete Mockaitis
It is. Is the card game hilarious comparisons and so, yes, I do like that.

Annie Duke
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny, I thought you were going to say you don’t like keeping score at tennis because it’s so weird. Was it 15 and 30 and 40? I never understood that but maybe it makes somehow to someone.

Annie Duke
I bet the French could explain it. I think that that’s where it started. That is strange. No, yeah, it’s just that I’m sort of thinking about it more as, “What can I do to improve my game regardless of whether winning or losing, it’s the person that’s across the court from me?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. Well, so I’m pretty intrigued by your book called Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts. That sounds perfect for what we’re about here, sharpening universal skills for professionals. That’s a big thing that comes up a lot. So tell us, what’s sort of the main idea behind the book and what led you to write it here and now?

Annie Duke
Yeah, thanks for asking me that. So the main idea of the book is that we act like the results of our decisions and the quality of our decisions are really closely linked. So we think that the world is a much more predictable place than it actually is, and we aren’t really acknowledging how much uncertainty there is, that how much it’s the case that you can make really good decisions and have very bad outcomes, because of them you could make very, very bad decisions and have really good outcomes because of them.

And not only do we not acknowledge how much uncertainty there is in that which really stems from sort of two places. One is luck, that even if you make a perfect decision there’s still luck involved in how the future unfolds. But also hidden information is another place where there’s a lot of uncertainty, meaning there’s lots of information that’s hidden from you, there’s just lots and lots of things that we don’t know or can’t know as we’re trying to make decisions.

So decision quality is really dependent on how much are we taking into account luck but also what do we know, like what do we know as we’re trying to make that decision? And we don’t acknowledge or kind of admit to how much uncertainty there is. We’re much more sure of the things that we believe than we probably should be, and we’re much more sure about how the future will turn out than it should be.

And as the title might suggest, one of the things and ways that I think about that is to say, “Let’s start thinking about things through the frame of thinking in bets,” because when we’re challenged to a bet, what it does is it really exposes the uncertainty and whatever it is that we’ve just been challenged to bet on even something really simple.

Like if I were to say, “Citizen Kane won Best Picture,” and you said, “Wanna bet?” All of a sudden, I would step back and say, “Hold on a second, maybe I’m not so sure of that.” It exposes the uncertainty. And if we can expose the uncertainty more, we’ll be better decision-makers because it’s just more accurate to how the world is.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Annie, that’s so good and there’s so much I want to dig into there. So you say that we should make a distinction between the quality of a decision and the outcome of a decision. That is very wise and simple and yet I think totally overlooked. Could you expand on that a little bit?

Annie Duke
Yeah, sure. So I think that we kind of – we sort of know when we talk about it in the abstract that you can have a bad outcome as a result of a good decision, and a good outcome as a result of a bad decision. So, I mean, just sort of in the abstract. If I say to you, “When you run red lights do you sometimes get through safely.” You say, “Yes,” which is obviously a good outcome.

And if I asked you if that was a good decision, you would agree, no. And if you run green lights, obviously, you can get to an accident. So, just because, you know, if you’ve been at a bar and you choose to drive after you’ve had one too many, and you get home safely, which is a good outcome, I imagine that you’ll agree with me that that doesn’t necessarily mean it was a good decision.

So in the abstract we kind of get this. The problem is that our behavior doesn’t really get this. So one of the examples that I gave in the book that I actually open the book with has to do with the 2015 Super Bowl. And Pete Carroll’s Sea Hawks, at the one-yard line, The New England Patriots, they’re down by four, it’s second down and they have one timeout.

So what happens there? It’s a very famous play. Pete Carroll has Russell Wilson throw a pass, that was someone unexpected. They were expecting him to hand off to Marshawn Lynch. He throws the pass and Malcolm Butler intercepts the pass in the end zone and, obviously, the game is over. So this is clearly a disastrous result.

But what you see is that people don’t behave as if it’s that abstraction of, “Well, did he run a red light or did he run a green light in order to get to that disastrous result?” Instead, people just announce that this is a horrible decision.

Chris Collinsworth, during the game, really, really slams the decision, and then the next day, in the headlines, it’s really not an argument about whether there was some sort of method to that madness, it’s, “Was it the worst decision in Super Bowl history or the worst decision in NFL history?” Period.

Pete Mockaitis
Those are choices.

Annie Duke
Those are the choices. So, we can get into it if you want but I would highly recommend people go read what, for example, Benjamin Morris wrote about this on Slate, to see that there’s a lot of good analysis that suggest that this actually was a pretty mathematically good decision. Bill Belichick himself, by the way, has said that he agrees that it was a good call.

The one thing I will throw out there is that the chance of an interception, over the last 15 years in the NFL, was only about 1% to 2%. In fact, in that particular situation, zero balls had been intercepted during the course of the season. So I think that we can just sort of have this jumping off point that if an interception was such a rare occurrence that that in itself suggest that maybe the decision-making couldn’t have been the worst in Super Bowl history. And yet everybody acted like it did.

Certainly, the pundits the next day, the newspapers did, most football fans agreed that this was a really terrible decision even though the chances of this really bad outcome were so low. And it seems like you could really make an argument that that was just quite unlucky. So that’s obviously a football example. But everywhere in the world, even though in the abstract we kind of understand this concept that outcome quality and decision quality are pretty loosely correlated.

We don’t act like that. We act like once we know the outcome that we can see right into the quality of the decision and that those two things are very tightly linked.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood, yeah. I think that that’s connecting. And I want to hear maybe sometimes where, so that’s a football example, maybe like in the professional world or careers or executives or business, like where this sort of conflation occurs again and again and it’s bad news.

Annie Duke
Sure. I mean, I’ll give you a variety of examples.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it.

Annie Duke
Right. You hire someone and they don’t work out, “Ugh, I can’t believe. We should’ve known that was such a bad hire.” That would be an example. You launched a product and the product fails, “I should’ve known it. That was a terrible product to launch. Why did I do that? That was so ridiculous.” Here’s the opposite. You hire someone and they turn out great, “I’m so good at that.”

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m a brilliant judge of talent.”

Annie Duke
Right. “I’m a brilliant of judge of talent. You should bring me in for every hiring discussion we ever have or vice versa.” And I gave a pretty detailed example actually in the book following the football example from business, where a CEO that I was working with was really down on himself for what he thought was a horrible decision that he had made about a year prior to my working with him.

And he had just a president of one of his subsidiaries, and the subsidiary was underperforming compared to the market. “What I knew at the beginning was I fired him, and I haven’t been able to replace him and it’s been a total disaster, and it was such a bad decision to fire this president of this subsidiary.”

And I said, “Well, gosh, you haven’t given me enough information to know whether that was actually a bad decision because all you’ve told me is that it didn’t work out. So why don’t you tell me some of the things about the decision?”

And as we walked through the decision, and they were the kinds of things you might imagine. Like I asked if they had worked to identify skill gaps, if they had tried to fill the skill gaps, had they hired a coach in order to really work with the president, had they looked at the rest of the market to see whether they thought there was a good available talent pool to hire from which obviously would be important in that decision.

It turned out that not only had they done all that and thought about those consequences, but then they had actually even considered splitting the job into two so that that president could actually be sitting where their strengths were and then they could hire somebody else into where the skill gaps were. And they had decided that that actually wasn’t a good idea from morale reasons but also just financially, obviously, now you’re essentially paying for two presidents when they thought, given their experience in making high-level hires, that paying for one person would really do.

So it seemed like a really thoughtful decision that hadn’t worked out. And he’d been really beating himself up for a year, and it was affecting his future decisions because he had linked this together so tightly. So it’s a problem that we call resulting and you can see why it’s called resulting. It’s taking the quality of the results and working backwards to the quality of the decision in a way that it’s using it as too much of a signal for that.

And he had been resulting for the last year and it was really affecting his decision-making going forward and put him in a really bad place to sort of morale-wise and psychology-wise. So this is actually a really important problem to be able to sort of address.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, resulting, there is a word, you know, it sounds like a good thing when you say it, “Yeah, results are great, and the root form of that was to be also great.” But, no, no, you’re saying that is kind of a form of cognitive bias or suboptimal mental work there.

Annie Duke
Yes, exactly. You know, I think we think that when we’re results-oriented that that’s a good thing. It turns out that maybe being process-oriented would be a better thing and trying not to be as caught up in the results. And the main reason why is that when we’re analyzing a given decision we’re only analyzing that one decision.

We haven’t run Monte Carlo where we get to sort of do a computer simulation of that whoever we’ve hired or whoever we’ve decided to let go 10,000 times in order to dig down into what the actual answer might be. And it’s very hard to know just from the result whether we’re in a kind of Pete Carroll decision where a one-percenter hit, or whether we actually made a decision which 80% of the time wasn’t going to work out well so that the result was actually quite expected.

The problem is all of that is kind of hidden from view. It goes back to what I said about these two sources of uncertainty, there’s the luck element, and we don’t have a lot of control over that obviously, and then there’s this information element, you know, “What are we taking into account? What kind of information are we gathering in the process of the decision?”

And it’s hard to know after the fact where we’re supposed to sort of lay the blame for or maybe even not blame for the decision for the way that it had turned out on both sides whether it turns out well or whether it doesn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Well, so I guess I’m wondering, in your example of the executive, it seems like he internalized something about that decision and how it turned out and what it means for him and his abilities. And so I’d like to get your take on sort of what is the optimal practices or approach to learn from your prior bets and to be sharpened and more brilliant each time you make another bet?

Annie Duke
Well, I think that the first step, I mean, there’s kind of a lot to this so let’s try to unpack it a little bit at a time because I think there’s a lot here. So let’s start with the first step is to change your thinking from viewing decisions as right or wrong in the first place. So let’s start with the idea that right and wrong are kind of a bad construct through which to look at the world.

So what do I mean by that? Well, you know, there’s some luck and there’s some skill involved in every decision and even if we make a decision that’s pretty good, maybe there’s a better decision to be made. So the second worse decision isn’t wrong. You know, it’s better than the worse decision that you could make, and the second best decision isn’t necessarily right.

And even if you make the best decision that’s available to you, in the future you might find out that there was other information that was available that could’ve even made that decision better. So once we start viewing things through this idea that we’re kind of always in this under construction or in progress phase, what happens now is that when we now get an outcome that’s either good or bad, which is another place which where maybe we can understand that outcomes aren’t 100% good or 100% bad, right, so we can do this here as well.

But once we get an outcome and we kind of know the quality of the outcome, we’re much less likely to use that to sort of make some sort of categorical claim about the decision, and rather take it as evidence or as an impetus to go in and examine the quality of the decision that we understood was in progress or under construction in the first place.

So, and I think that one of the best ways that we can see why this is valuable is in terms of beliefs. So beliefs are always informing the decisions that we make. So, I mean, if we think about the CEO, he had beliefs about what the talent pool looked like if he was going to go out and try to recruit somebody into that job as an example, right? So that would be the kind of belief that he might have.

He had beliefs about whether, after what he had done, the skill gaps that still needed to be reinforced were able to be sort of patched up for that CEO. So there’s all sorts of beliefs that inform any decision that we have. And if we view our beliefs as right and wrong as opposed to in progress, as we’re just trying to move toward an accurate model of what is actually the objective truth, then what happens is that it becomes very difficult to be open-minded to new information and also to be hungry for new information because you’re just either wrong or right.

So if you’ve got yourself in a category of right there’s nothing new to be learned and you’re not going to be open-minded to other people who might hold a different point of view because naturally they’re wrong. And if you’re wrong, you might completely reverse a belief where parts of that belief or some percentage of that belief was actually a pretty accurate view of the world.

So I like to think about wrapping that uncertainty in as the first step to trying to solve for this because then you aren’t as hungry for the answer in the first place. It’s more like, “It didn’t work out. Hmm, that’s kind of an interesting data point. I can bring that back in to look at the decision.” As opposed to, “Well, that was just terrible. I should’ve known. That was awful.” And now all of a sudden you’re just reversing something completely that shouldn’t be reversed in the first place.

So that would be the first place that I would start.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s interesting. So it’s not like we’re not open and shut and done with it having seen a good or bad or spectrum of optimal to slightly less optimal, you know, outcome. But rather that is sort of a starting point, “Interesting. We have one data point and we’re going to dig in further,” rather than saying, “Okay, that’s that.”

Annie Duke
Right. And I think that you can think about it this way. because in places where we really know where the luck sits, I think it becomes easier to reason around this. So we want to think about our outcomes more like we would think about the outcome of a coin flip that if you have 10,000 coin flips there’s a lot that you can say about the coin, that it will land heads 50% of the time it will land tails 50% of the time.

But if I flip a coin once, and I called tails, and it lands heads, hopefully you aren’t saying that I’m really bad at calling coins. Likewise, if I flip a coin and I call heads and it lands heads, I hope that you’re not saying that I’m really good at calling coins because it’s only one outcome. And for most of the kinds of outcomes that we have in our lives, we can’t collect 10,000 of them. We only get to have a few, a handful of them.

I mean, for some things like choosing your partner. Hopefully, you’ve only done that, you only do that once. But even so, like the craziest person it might be four times which still isn’t enough to tell very much about whether you’re actually good at that or not.

You’re generally not making 10,000 hires into the exact same position in your whole life as a, you know, if you’re in HR, that kind of thing. So we want to be careful about how much signal we’re taking from an outcome in the first place. And, again, this is a place where in the abstract people seem to be better with this. When I describe this coin flip problem, people say, “Yes, of course, it would be silly for me not to acknowledge the uncertainty in a coin flip, and to think that just because it landed heads one time or tails one time that I’m supposed to know something more than that was just luck.”

And we want to try to treat our life’s decisions and our life outcomes a little bit more like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Annie, now you got my wheels turning a little bit because, you know, there is a decision that I make again and again, I’ve made about 300 times, well, 300 times in the affirmative, and that is, “Which guest comes on the show?” And you made the cut, Annie. Nice work.

Annie Duke
Well, thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And so I guess I’m thinking, “Well, hey, I am making this decision hundreds of times.” So we talked a little bit about the mindset associated with not being binary and trying to be curious and interested and to learn from it. So if you do find yourself in such a position, what are some best practices to keep getting better and better at it?

Annie Duke
Well, I think it’s to be open-minded to try to learn from what’s working and what’s not and understand that whenever you decide that it’s always going to be a working hypothesis, so that when new information comes in that doesn’t necessarily conform to your working hypothesis, that you just don’t reject it as not actually being informative.

So let me try to explain what I mean by that. So let’s say that you have guests come on the show, and you have a guest come on who does analytics. Right. Okay. And he’s a terrible guest. So you might now have a working hypothesis that people who are in analytics are terrible guests. So that’s what you don’t want to do, is say, “Well, now, I’ve just made this decision and so I’m not going to invite anybody who’s in analytics anymore because I’ve now made this hypothesis based on the one guest.”

What you want to be, as much as possible, be open-minded to what are the qualities, what are the actual qualities in the guest that actually make them great on the podcast, and what are the things that are signals that maybe they might not be such good guests. And while you might have working hypothesis about why that is, you should always be trying to do some A/B testing, right, and try to disprove yourself, number one, right?

And number two, be open-minded when someone doesn’t fit the mold that maybe you need to re-jig your model. So I think what’s important, even when you do have 300 guests because you are choosing them one at a time, is to make sure that you don’t become rigid in whatever your hypothesis is. Don’t think that the facts that you’re observing and the way that you’ve modeled it is an answer like two plus two equals four as an answer.

Again, always treat it from that standpoint of uncertainty that you have a hypothesis, a working hypothesis that is in progress and under construction so that you are much more open as you have new experiences that might inform your future choices.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And you know what? I like that notion of being open-minded and humble because I’ve been surprised both ways, you know, of my guests, I mean, I thought that would just be smash hits in terms of his downloads, if that’s the outcome we’re measuring, and they weren’t, and those who I thought, “Okay, you know, that was a good chat. We’ll see,” who really were record-breakers. And so it’s fascinating to see, and I think that’s useful, I think just to realize, “Huh, I am wrong a lot. How about that?”

Annie Duke
Well, let me just suggest something that maybe you’re not wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. There you go. I did it. I did it. I’m guilty.

Annie Duke
You did it. See? So let’s think about it this way. Maybe, given the information that you have and the past guests that you’ve had on, and the categories that you know that your audience really enjoys listening to, and the information that you had about the guest, you made literally the best decision that you could in inviting them on. And it just happened not to work out.

Because I think that you can agree that even if you have the best information, you know, the most information that you can, and a lot of experience, and you’ve accumulated a lot of experience and expertise in inviting a guest on, that it’s never 100% sure that that guest is going to be a hit. There’s always some percentage of the time that it’s just going to turn out that they aren’t what people wanted to listen to, or there wasn’t chemistry between the two of you perhaps. Maybe they were a great guest on a different podcast but it didn’t work out with you or vice versa.

And so saying, “Ooh, I was wrong.” I’m not sure that that’s constructive, instructive rather, right? Maybe it’s, “Huh, that was really interesting. Let me think if there was some sort of thing that I could’ve seen that would’ve helped me come to that conclusion.” And if there wasn’t, well, then maybe you just had bad luck.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, Annie, this is so humbling and powerful, I’m like meta in real time. It’s like we just talked about the right and wrong thing, and here I am going right there. And so I think that’s just illustrative for me and hopefully for listeners, not so much that, “Pete is a moron and who doesn’t listen.”

Annie Duke
No. No.

Pete Mockaitis
But rather, we have it really ingrained in us, this right and wrong notion. It’s just like our natural default setting.

Annie Duke
Well, I think that this brings up a really good point. So, you know, I’m listening, too, and, of course, I heard you do it, and so I said, well, maybe what you can do is if a guest doesn’t work out, instead of saying that you were wrong, try to figure out if there was something more that you could’ve found out about them that would’ve helped you to have predict it, right? So try to sort of figure out what you could’ve learned from that experience as opposed to calling yourself wrong.

Now I don’t know for sure but you may catch me saying wrong or right as well. And the reason is that this stuff is really hard. Just as you said, we’re sort of hardwired into this very black and white thinking, we’re very hardwired to connect outcomes to decision quality, to declare ourselves or somebody else wrong, or ourselves or somebody else right. And it’s really, really hard to overcome particularly on your own. It’s hard to spot in ourselves.

The good news is, and this is sort of again getting down and to digging down into that question you asked about, “How can we help make this better?” is that we’re pretty good at spotting it in other people. So it’s not surprising that I spotted it in you. It’s easy to see that. If I had made the same declaration, “Oh, well, I’m wrong all the time.” You’d say, “But wait a minute, Annie, you just said why you’re thinking about things as right and wrong?” because you would’ve spotted in me immediately as well.

So that’s the hint is that on your own it’s very hard to overcome these biases. The science is pretty strong on that that it’s hard to overcome on your own. But in groups, now that’s a different story. In groups we can really help each other out because we can watch each other’s information processing and decision-making facts, let’s put it that way.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. So when it comes to groups do you have a couple of tips on best practices to leverage that well? Because I guess group think can still happen where don’t need any of that benefit.

Annie Duke
Yeah, so we definitely want to be careful of creating a situation where the group is essentially ourselves on steroids.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re so smart, Annie. I love every idea you have.

Annie Duke
Thank you. But that’s kind of, we know, gosh, I mean, in looking at what’s happening in politics right now, we know that that is our natural tendency is to kind of go to this confirmatory style of thought. So it does take some intention on the group’s part.

So here’s number one. Make sure there’s three of you at least not two. And the reason why you want three of you at least not two, is that, I’m going to steal this from Phil Tetlock who wrote an amazing book called Superforecasting which I would highly recommend to anybody. You want two to disagree and one to referee. So it’s very helpful to have a referee involved. So try to get three. If you can get more that’s better.

And then what you want to do is actually explicitly make an agreement with the people in the group that you are going to interact with each other in a way that actually goes against what the normal, the kind of social norms are, the way that we normally interact with each other.

So normally we sort of want to be team players and we want to build consensus and we want to be agreeable, right? We want to be people who aren’t the naysayers. And, obviously, when we do that, that creates this kind of, that’s much more likely to create this kind of echo chamber-y group think kind of thing going on.

So here’s what I suggest is. As an agreement within the group, you agree to three things. Thing number one is that your goal is going to be accuracy. Now, what does that mean? That you are saying, “As a group we’re going to help each other to work on the focus being less about being right and more about being accurate.” What’s the difference between the two because they sound obviously the same?

We can think about being right as, “I have these beliefs, I think that the world is a certain way and I’m going to reason about the world in a way that’s just going to confirm what I already believe.” So you can think about it this way. Like if you have a very strongly held political belief that you’re noticing all sorts of things that conform with the beliefs that you have, you tend to be reading news sources, or watching television channels, news stations that already agree with you. So your views are being reinforced.

And then on the flipside, you’re not actually noticing or seeking out information that disagrees with you. And if you’re confronted with the information that disagrees with you, you’re pretty good at trying to discredit it.

Pete Mockaitis
“Now, that research was funded by, you know, someone who is biased so we can’t trust it.”

Annie Duke
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m going to dismiss it wholeheartedly.”

Annie Duke
Right. Or, “I know this person is really biased in their thinking so, clearly, they’re not telling me the whole story.” And what is that? That’s really saying, “Well, that person disagrees with me so I’m just going to say that their opinion is invaluable because of that.”

And this is the way that we tend to process the world, right? So if you’re on the Liberal side of the aisle you tend to be watching MSNBC. If you’re on the very Conservative side of the aisle, you tend to be watching FOX News, and that’s kind of where you stay. And if you did go and take a peek at MSNBC, you would figure out all the ways that what they were saying was biased, and if you did go to take a peek at FOX News, you would figure out all the reasons why what they were saying was biased. And that’s just kind of the way we process the world.

And it’s true certainly outside of politics as well. When we have a particular strategy about how we think that marketing should be done, people who don’t think the same thing as us we tend to be very dismissive about. And vice versa, we think they’re wrong. So we aren’t very open-minded to things that don’t conform with the beliefs that we already have. So that’s reasoning about the world to be right.

The reason why someone who’s Liberal is watching MSNBC is because they want to hear that they’re right. The reason why someone who’s Conservative is watching FOX is because they want to hear that they’re right. So that’s reasoning about the world to be right.

Reasoning about the world in a way that’s trying to be accurate means we’re going to acknowledge. So let’s say we’re in a group together and we’re trying to form this agreement. We’re going to acknowledge that there is some sort of objective reality, there’s objective truth, and that we’re both trying to work together to construct the most accurate view of what that objective truth is.

Now, we could think about this if we go back to this idea of thinking in bets. When we think in bets, when we create that consequence, that downside consequence to having a belief that is not accurate, it focuses in on the accuracy piece. Because the person who wins in a bet, if we’re betting against each other, the person who has the most accurate view of the world, beliefs about the world, is going to win against the person who just wants to believe that the things that they believe are true.

So what happens is that, like if I were to announce, “Citizen Kane won Best Picture,” and you said to me, “Do you want to bet?” It forces me to focus on the uncertainty, it forces me to focus on what I don’t know, “What do you know that I don’t know? Why might be I wrong?” And those are all questions that have to do with accuracy. “Is this view accurate?” And it forces me to pull out Google.

So that’s the first thing that we’re going to agree to in the group is that if I hear you reasoning a way where I think you’re just reasoning to be right, or you’re being overly critical of views that disagree with you, or too accepting of things that you read or say or hear that do agree with you, I’m going to call you on it, and I’m going to say, “Hey, why might you be wrong? Like, why do you think maybe you might be biased?” So we’re going to have a commitment to accuracy. That’s number one.

Number two is we’re going to be really tolerant of diverse viewpoints. So when we’re going to seek out sources of information that disagree with us, we’re going to agree to discuss them. if you disagree with me, I am not going to dismiss you. I’m going to work my best to not be defensive when I hear it, and I’m going to try to figure out what it is that you might be right about that I hadn’t considered.

What are the things that will help me construct a better view of the world? And that doesn’t mean that if I have some beliefs that disagrees with you that I go from 100% sure of that belief to 0% sure of that belief because you happen to disagree with me. And maybe that I was 80% sure that my belief was accurate, and now because of things that I’ve talked to you about, I’m now 72% sure. I’ve just moderated the belief in some way, which is most of what you’re going to do.

So you try to allow dissent into the equation and you agree that dissent is going to be okay in the group that just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I don’t like you. And, in fact, that my disagreement with you is helpful to you because it’s going to help you to create an accurate view of the world. So we have accuracy and dissent. And then here’s the third piece that is really important. We’re going to hold each other accountable to visiting in that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Annie Duke
So you know that if I hear you say something that’s biased, or if I hear you say, “Wow, I had this guest on and they were terrible. I was so wrong to invite them,” then I’m going to call you on it, and I’m going to say, “Well, are you sure that you should be thinking about that as wrong?” And that’s going to be okay and I’m going to hold you accountable to that kind of thought.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is powerful. I love it. And like when you put it in those terms, in terms of we’re going to establish this agreement upfront, we’re going to kind of – it’s like a pact or an alliance that we’ve designed, this is how we work, how we roll here. It seems like it almost turns the whole thing into a fun game as opposed to – it just kind of removes the whole lot of like the tension and the politicking and the jockeying for approval. It’s like that we’re all just playing a game called, “Let’s get super accurate and sort of have fun with it,” you know.

Annie Duke
So I love that you framed it that way. You’re a man after my own heart with that because I think that it gets down to kind of what the secret sauce is here, and I think that you’ve really pinpointed it in a really great way.

So why is it that we want to affirm the things that we already believe? Why is it that we reason that way in the first place? Well, the things that we believe, these beliefs that we have are really the fabric of our identity. And as we sort of look over the history of our lives, and this is a lot of the way that Daniel Kahneman really thinks about this. Another book recommendation that I would give is Thinking Fast and Slow. I think it’s a great overview of this kind of where biases and heuristics get in our way.

But he really talks about it through this lens of we want to have a positive self-narrative. We want to think that we’re smart and we’re competent and we’re good actors and we’re good people. And a lot of that means that we want to feel that the things that are part of our identity are right, that we weren’t wrong about stuff. That doesn’t feel good, it feels like a downgrade in our self-narrative.

So a lot of what’s driving this information processing and the way we process information is because we want to feel good about ourselves. We just kind of want to feed our ego. And the way that we’re sort of feeding our ego and feeling good about ourselves, getting that positive update to our self-image is like, “Oh, yeah, that thing I believe was totally right.” And that makes us feel really good.

So what the group does, because it forms this, it creates a different goal to the game. Like now the goal is, “I want to be the best mistake admitter, because if I go to you and I say, ‘Oh, I really think I messed this decision up. Let’s talk about it,’” that’s when you, because we have this agreement, your face is going to light up and you’re going to give me all sorts of social approval for doing that because you’re going to recognize that I am executing on our charter in the best possible way.

In a way that’s so much better than me coming up to you and saying, “I made this brilliant decision. Let me tell you all about it.” And you’re going to be like, “Oh, that’s not really part of the charter.” Right? But if I go to you and I say, “Man, I really think I made a mistake,” you’re going to be like, “Yes, let’s totally talk about that,” and that’s now going to be what makes me feel good. So it shifts what the rules of the game is. It’s like how are you keeping score? How do you get a point?

The way we come into the world is I get points for just like, “Oh, that thing I believed is really true and I’m so smart.” Once we form this group and we work together, now I get points for mistake admitting, and credit giving, and belief calibration, and changing my mind. That’s now what I get points for, and that’s what I feel good about, that’s now what contributes to my narrative.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, this is powerful. This is transformative stuff. Thank you. I’ve actually a couple of things I want to touch before we have to conclude or hear about your favorite things. And so one of them is intuition.

Annie Duke
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
We talked a lot about being rationale and collecting data and refining and being predictively accurate. Well, you know, you are a World Series, a Poker Champion. I imagine you’ve relied on your gut a time or two in gaining this accomplishment. How shall we be thinking about intuition and to the extent we can trust it and play that game?

Annie Duke
Sure. So the way that I think about intuition is that intuition is an incredibly useful tool but it should never be a reason for doing something. So let me explain what I mean. A lot of the decisions that we make actually have to rely on intuition because you don’t have time to map out some kind of probably realistic decision tree.

Here’s an example of a time it’d be really good to use intuition. You’re driving along the road and a deer jumps in front of your car. I hope you’re not taking a whole lot of time to think about it, and you’re just using your gut to figure out what you’re supposed to do there. But, certainly, at the poker table you have to make a lot of quick decisions.

You’re in a sales meeting and you sense that it’s going south and so you make a judgment call right in that moment that may be off script in order to get it back on track, right? And that’s really, really important. Like we need our intuition for a lot of decisions because we just don’t have time in order to actually go through a deliberative process for a lot of the kinds of things that we have to decide, so let’s be very thankful for intuition.

However, what’s really, really important, I think, is to make sure that intuition gets held accountable to a deliberative process in the same way that I want to be held accountable to you. So that means that when you ask me later, “What was it? Why did you change strategy in the sales meeting?” You should not accept from me as an explanation, “My gut told me so.” That’s not enough of an explanation, right? That’s just a cop-out.

I should be able to tell you what was it that I saw or felt that made me think that I needed to change course, because if I can’t properly explain that decision to another person such that they could understand it and execute it itself, themselves rather, then I should be questioning the intuitive response itself.

So I need to be able to explain to you after the fact, “Well, now that I think about it, you know, this is what I saw and this was what his body language was,” or, “This is what she seemed to be doing where it felt to me like she was about to let the deal break,” or whatever it might be, like I should be able to explain that to you in retrospect. And if I can’t, if the only thing that I can tell you is my gut told me so, then I should go in and re-examine my intuition.

Because let’s think about what intuition is in the first place. Intuition is like the whole of your life experience informing some sort of a gut reaction that isn’t being driven by a conscious process but it’s certainly being informed by all your past experiences. So what I want to do then is make that accountable to a deliberative process so I know, so I can create a new experience to then further inform and refine my intuitive or gut response.

One of the best ways to get intuition to line up is actually to teach, and that’s sort of what I’m asking somebody to do there. If I’m explaining, if you’re demanding from me that I explain why I did what I did, you’re asking me to teach you why I did it. And I could tell you from poker that I started teaching poker in seminars sometime around like, I want to say, 2004 or so.

And when I started teaching, my game really changed. All these things that I’ve been doing intuitively that, you know, I’ve been working okay for me, but I hadn’t really thought about it in any kind of explicit way. As I went to try to teach them in a seminar, there was a certain set of those things which I realized, “Oh, I can’t actually really justify that. I can’t really explain that very well to these people so that they could go do it themselves.”

And then I went in and re-thought what my gut feeling was about what I was supposed to do in those situations, then I realized there was actually a much better answer, and my game ended up changing for the better through that teaching process and it was because I was refining my intuitive or gut responses.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well said. Well said. And I’m intrigued, this is like a smidge off topic, but like when it comes to body language or tells or, I guess, that’s a whole another episode.

Annie Duke
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, is there anything that you think that we humans pick up on a lot from other people and that’s totally valid and we should just, you know, articulate it explicitly and say, “Yeah, that’s real and that counts”?

Annie Duke
Well, you know, so there are a lot of things. I would highly recommend people go and look up a guy named Joe Navarro on Amazon.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, What Every Body is Saying.

Annie Duke
Exactly. You will find a lot of stuff about body language in there that is going to be articulated much better than I ever could. He is brilliant and it’s an amazing book if people should just go pick it up. But, you know, there’s lots of things that have to do with – I mean, we’re pretty good at spotting deception in general.

Sometimes we talk ourselves out of it because we want to believe and we want to trust but I think that the signals are pretty strong for those kinds of things. You know, spotting discomfort, spotting openness. When somebody is really open in a conversation I think that it’s very easy to spot. In fact, it’s really interesting. The next time you’re in a restaurant and you see people who are clearly like on a date, you should be able to tell pretty quickly whether the date is going well or not by whether they’re leaning into each other or not. So that would be a really strong sign of comfort for example.

So I think that we’re pretty good in understanding these things, and you can understand from an evolutionary standpoint why that might be. You know, we need to know whether someone is an enemy or whether someone is about to attack us, or whether somebody is a friend. And so I think that these signals can be very strong and we can train ourselves to really pick up on them which is incredibly helpful obviously. So go read Joe Navarro. He’s much better at that stuff than I am.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And I also want to get your take, you know, we talked a lot about uncertainty and sort of probabilities and refining the model as you kind of learn more and integrate that. So I think that, at the same time, you know, there is an irrational force called fear. We’re just like fundamentally uncomfortable with uncertainty even though it’s all around us, it’s there. We don’t like it and we sort of the devil you know versus the devil you don’t, a lot of us will default to the devil you know. So any pro tips on kind of pushing past fear or getting comfortable with uncertainty?

Annie Duke
Yeah, what I would say is that I think that the more that you actually write down the decision and the process and get other people involved with it, so work through these decisions that you’re afraid of because of the uncertainty on the other end. Really map it out, you know, “There is decision A that I can do, there’s decision B, there’s decision C. I’ve got to choose among these three. Let me really think about decision A and what the scenarios are that I think might result from decision A.”

Really think about it not just by how might it work out but really dig into that how might it go wrong piece. Get those scenarios setup, take a stab at what the probability of each of the outcomes is, and just take a stab at it. You’re not going to be perfect but taking a stab is better than pretending like it’s 0% or 100%. I mean, it might just be a range, “Well, I think this will happen 30% to 50% of the time. Well, that’s okay because that’s better than 0% to 100% at a time.”

And it starts to get you to be comfortable with that uncertainty. So do that for each of the decisions with other people. Write all of that down. Look across that. Decide which decision you think is best. And realize that no decision is still a decision so you better map that one out, right? So you better map out sticking with the status quo, “And what do I think the outcomes are from sticking with the status quo?” And treat it as if it’s a new decision. That’s a big mindset shift.

Because I think that one thing that causes people to stick with the status quo is they aren’t treating it like a new decision. So if they’re not thinking about it as a decision, then if it doesn’t work out it’s like, “Well, I didn’t decide for it not to work out. That wasn’t my fault. I didn’t do that.” But treat it like it’s a new decision.

Now, memorialize all of that, figure out what you’re going to do, and take that and put it on a whiteboard, and just leave it there with all of the probabilities that go along with it because now whatever way that decision turns out, it’s up on the board. You’ve already thought about that in advance. And I think that’s the best way to start getting comfortable with it and it’s really just ripped from the pages of the poker world.

When I make a bet, I understand that there is some chance that you call, there’s some chance that you raise, or some chance that you fold. And, hopefully, I’m making decisions that are going to get me the best outcomes in the long run but I know I’m going to lose a lot of the hands. I have that kind of wrapped into the decision process upfront because I’m considering those scenarios in the first place.

And I think that’s what allows you to get it. In a weird sense, being afraid of uncertainty comes from not facing it down. But if you just go ahead and face it down you won’t be so afraid of it.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Cool. Well, Annie, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to highlight before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things here?

Annie Duke
No, I think we’ve covered a lot. I mean, I’ve really enjoyed the conversation. I think we’ve gotten to a lot of great places.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. Thank you. Well, I’m going to be chewing on this in the future, I’m sure. So, for now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Annie Duke
Yes, so I find that my favorite quotes tend to change like weekly, and it kind of depends on what I’m sort of thinking about at the time. I got this quote, I’ve actually been thinking about this quote this week which is from Heinz von Foerster, which is, you know, an obscure person, the quote is, “Objectivity is the delusion that observations could be made without an observer.”

And I’m really loving that quote because I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how people use data to make their case rather than to find the truth as if data is somehow some objective thing that exists in the world independent of human beings, you know, collecting it, analyzing it, interpreting it. So this is something that’s been on my mind a lot.

It’s actually in my newsletter this week because I’ve been thinking about it, and so I found this quote, and so this quote is my favorite quote right now and it will be different than my favorite quote likely in a week or two. But that’s what it is right now.

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

Annie Duke
So it depends on what category. You know I have this trouble when people ask me for my favorite movie as well because there’s a lot of them. So I have favorite books that are like Animal Farm and Catch-22 and Lolita, books that are kind of in that fiction category that are these really, you know, Slaugtherhouse Five is another one, that are books that I read when I was young that had humongous impact on me. And I still consider those among my favorite books.

And then there are books that I sort of put in the category of things that I think about in my intellectual sort of the work that I do and in the decision-making world, and those kinds of books are things like Thinking Fast and Slow or Predictably Irrational or Superforecasting or The Power of Habit. And you can go lots of places if you just start with those four. They’ll lead you into a web of thinking about things in this space.

So it’s always hard for me to choose because I really think about things in different categories and what part of my soul they’re informing or feeding, I guess.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we’ll take them all and link them all. Thank you.

Annie Duke
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours?

Annie Duke
So I would say that one of my favorite personal practices is that I really do, as a practice, try to shut everything down by dinnertime in terms of my work life. I am really, really committed to time with my family and time with my partner, and it’s important that I get to spend as much time with him as possible and as much time with my kids as possible.

And I think it’s really easy to lose that balance if you don’t set really strict guidelines around it. So once it’s time for me to start making dinner, it’s family dinner, and no work after that. As much as I possibly can. Now, it bleeds in a little bit but I would say that just setting that in motion makes it happen so much less because I have to kind of break a contract with myself so it needs to be really, really pressing and really important for me to allow that to happen. And I think that the interesting thing is because I do that I think I actually get more done rather than less.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Thank you. And, tell me, when you’re sort of teaching some of your area of knowledge here, is there a piece that really seems to kind of resonate and get folks nodding their heads and agreeing and quoting yourself back to you?

Annie Duke
I’m going to paraphrase myself here because I don’t have the exact quote in front of me but it’s something that I said in a piece for Nautilus that I have said elsewhere, and this is the thing that I’ve seen quoted back the most, which is, “We should spend much less lot time blaming ourselves from bad outcomes but also much less time patting ourselves on the back so hard for the good ones.”

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

Annie Duke
So a couple of places. One is I’m very active on Twitter so you can see me at @annieduke on Twitter. I post lots of content there. I have a website annieduke.com where if people want to hire me or just get in touch with me there’s a Contact form there, and I see all of that and I’m happy to respond to any hiring request or just a question, if you have a question go there.

You can also find archives of my newsletter on there. And if you like it, you can subscribe to my newsletter on my website. My newsletter comes into your inbox every Friday and it’s really kind of discussing these issues as they apply to things that are actually happening in current events either in the political world or the business world or in science.

So it’s a way to kind of get an idea of how to apply these kinds of concepts and ideas and practices in the real world. Plus, I always put a fun visual illusion in there too because I’m a big fan. So those are the best ways to get in contact with me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Annie Duke
Yes, I do. My call to action is that people go and look at whatever their social media feed is that their favorite, either their news feed, their Google news feed, their Twitter feed, whatever it might be, wherever you’re getting your news, and go look and see if it’s balanced. Try to figure out, “Am I only on one side of the aisle here mainly?”

And really, really try to make sure it’s 50-50 and read from both sides of the aisle not with the intention of reading from that side of the aisle that you are not on to see why they’re so wrong. But try to make it so that you are really focused on trying to change your mind about one thing every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, perfect. Well, Annie, thank you so much for this. This is powerful stuff and I’m looking forward to, hopefully, having more and more great outcomes from great decisions but not, you know, directly ascribing one is the result of the other, and falling for some of those errors. So this was a ton of fun and I wish you lots of luck in all you’re up to.

Annie Duke
All right. Well, thank you very much for having me on. I really enjoyed it.

271: Building Social Wealth with Jason Treu

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Jason Treu shows how to encourage strong and meaningful connections.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Easy ways to facilitate more meaningful connections at work
  2. How to address your blindspots more quickly
  3. Questions to cultivate empathy

About Jason

Jason is a top business and executive coach. He’s a leading expert on human behavior, influence, sales, networking and leadership. At the heart of his strategy is the understanding that people and your relationships are your true “wealth.” Everything we accomplish in life is with or through other people.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jason Treu Interview Transcript

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

Jason Treu

Well, thanks for having me on the show and speaking to your fantastic tribe.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I want to hear first and foremost about a game and workshop you invented called Cards Against Mundanity. What’s the backstory here?

Jason Treu

Well, probably now going on 18 months or more ago, I was talking to one of my mentors. And they told me that I needed to try to do something that had the potential to go viral, and I needed to pick something big and something I was going to go all in on. And it was just like, “Well, you just need to figure it out and do it.” And although that’s sort of not specific, I knew that there was some big idea. And I went through a list of things I was like, “I really would like to do a TEDx speech, but if I do one, I want to do one that’s a “How To” speech because then if I finish it, I’ll have something specific that I can translate to a corporate audience or entrepreneurial audience, other people.
So, I thought to myself the one thing that I really wanted to try to do was to try to work on some challenge people might have on culture and performance. And so, I spent about three months doing research and I almost gave up because I wanted to find a research and then build the idea around that, not go in with the premise of something that I thought might work, because I thought that ultimately would be flawed and that might lead me to a result that wouldn’t be as good as the one that I would come up with.
So, I was looking through some research and I came across this professor – his name is Arthur Aron – and he did some research back in 1997, and it was on how to make best friends. And I was like, “This is pretty interesting.” So I read through the research report, which is always pretty dry. And as I was reading at the end the thing that really jumped out at me was, he did a game with 54 grad students that were complete strangers, had never met each other, had no knowledge of each other or anything else, sat them in front of each other, put 36 questions that they asked each other in only 45 minutes.
And they measured afterwards what those people thought of the experiment, and 30% of the people rated that relationship with the complete strangers that they did not know any knowledge of before, as the closest relationship in their life.

Pete Mockaitis

Wow, yeah.

Jason Treu

That’s pretty amazing. Just think about that – in 45 minutes someone has done what most people are doing decades or a lifetime – they had done in 45 minutes. And I thought to myself, “That is absolutely extraordinary.” And then in the original research study, one of the couples ended up getting married. But the interesting part is that’s 1997 – pre-social media, so none of the distractions. But he’s done it dozens of times since then and the results have stayed pretty much the same every time that they have done it.
And then the other part of it, I was going across some research by Google, and they were looking at how to build the perfect team. And they hired researchers and they spent three years and millions of dollars, and they could not see any patterns or trends. And then one of their researches walked in on a group and the manager of the group said, “I have stage 4 cancer and I may not make it. I want to let you all know.” And they saw the performance in that team soared over the next six months. And they figured out the only characteristic across all of Google’s 180 teams was psychological safety.
And that’s a fancy word for “vulnerability”, and what that means is that they got to know each other on a deep personal level, they were able to raise controversial ideas and ask questions about people making fun of them or anything else. And that is the basis, and in fact it’s become so embedded in Google’s culture. They had this other business called Project X – it’s their secret business where they go and try these crazy experiments, and they’re spending I think a billion dollars a year on this business. And the first thing that everyone goes through in training is psychological safety, over everything else.
So, when you combine all that, it was like, “Okay, how can we do this in a group scenario?” And so basically I put together cards, like Cards Against Humanity, and you ask questions, such as, “If you could pick one year of your life to do over, which one would it be and why?” And you share this in a group full of people.
And it’s extremely powerful, people who’ve done it had great results, because you start to bond people over experiences. You get emotionally involved with the people. And the thing about it is when you start to care about other people in the room, your performance goes up, your collaboration goes up, your communication goes up, and it’s just like magic. You’ll see results overnight, and teams have rocketed in their results, and organizations, if you’re a small business. So it’s pretty interesting.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that’s so cool. And I’ve played with the Arthur Aron’s study, and once on Valentine’s day I was with my girlfriend at the time. I said, “Hey, let’s go through these questions.” And sure enough it did facilitate closeness. And I know that Aron has replicated it, in terms of same gender and mixed gender cohorts in doing it. So, with your game, how many questions are there and to what extent are they same versus different than Arthur Aron’s?

Jason Treu

I switched them around; they’re not the same. Some of them are. And so, what I do is I put it in a group full of people, and you can play on the small side of it it’s four people, and I’ve done it up to 15, which is probably the maximum; 12 is probably closer to it. And I asked people to do about three rounds, because I’ve seen that’s the magic number. And the other part of it I changed is that at the end everyone goes around and has one minute to say three things that they learned about people inside of the group, because I found it’s very powerful to be able to do that, because it shows you’re listening and hearing other people.
And one of the things that in research and my TED Talk I found is that if you have a very good to best friend in an organization, your productivity is seven times higher and your retention rate on staying in the organization is seven times if you have that. And so, it’s really to find even one person that you’re really closer to out of this experiment is game-changing for any team or organization. And the other last thing I found is that I’d done this on parallel teams in bigger organizations, meaning they haven’t participated in the same room and you see the results, as long as they know that they’ve both done it.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, that’s so cool. So then, I’d like to dig in here a bit. So, when you talk about coworkers being able to engage with each other and create these meaningful connections – so you have one specific tool, which is the card game and that facilitates psychological safety and good friendship formation, which is linked to all kinds of goodness. So, could you share with us in workplaces what are some additional tools or approaches or mechanisms by which we can encourage and facilitate this kind of transformation to take root?

Jason Treu

Yeah, so another thing that you can do that I’ve had clients do is when you start off a weekly meeting of any kind, is I’ve had people bring in pictures. And have 30 seconds to a minute and share a story about what that picture means to them and why it’s meaningful. And that builds really great connections and you’ll find that people who do that in a short period of time will rate that meeting as their favorite meeting of the week that they have. And they’ll be way more productive because they have a lot more of emotional investment inside of the organization.
I found other things, like if you have a meeting with people, if you allow the junior staff to go first and senior people last, you create a lot better conversations between people, and if you get them out, and I think that’s pretty important. I found the other thing too that’s helpful is when you have a big event, is to go back and really have a brainstorm on what went right, what didn’t go right. But do it in a very productive way, where there is no right or wrong answer necessarily.
At the beginning and you start to have a brainstorm and then you whittle it down, because then everyone has a voice and you get all of the people to communicate. And that’s why creating psychological safety is so important, because what happens is that a lot of the greatest ideas in the business aren’t getting shared, because no one’s putting them forward, because they don’t know where to go to.
So I’d say the last thing, and a quick thing is, people who own businesses or are at a senior-level often get entrenched and never really communicate with people in the organization. And so, I have them walk around for 15 minutes three times a week and just talk to people about what’s going on in their life. And they immediately see significant results, because it shows people that you care. And I think that if you start to do that, you’ll have people come up to you with ideas, suggestions, they’ll be much more engaged, because the key element of building trust, which is the fabric that holds everything together, is caring. And that is the one factor that trumps everything else. And so you’ve got to deeply care about the people and organization and have everyone do that from the top down, or you’re missing out on a lot of productivity.

Pete Mockaitis

I love it. Jason, you went right to the actionable tactics, which is great fun and so handy. And so then, you sort of, I guess, synthesized a number of the drivers for why this stuff works into a few key principles, which you lay out in your book Social Wealth. Can you orient us to that a bit?

Jason Treu

Well, one of the things I did with the book Social Wealth is I wanted to do a “How To” guide on how to build relationships, because I found they’re really learned behaviors, and I think a lot of people believe that they’re born with these skills, and if they don’t have them, then they won’t be good at them or they’re introverts or socially awkward, which is really the majority of people. And so then they just opt out or they just don’t have great relationships or they settle for way less than they should.
So I wanted to go through and have it so people could understand that there are great ways to meet people, build these skillsets. It’s just like going and getting in shape. If you go once a month, you probably won’t be in great shape, unless you have freaky genetics. So, you’ve got to go and do that. And the reality is the most important capital we’ll ever have in our life is the relationships that we build with people. No one had a tombstone that said, “I worked a good life.” That’s not happening. So, it’s the relationships and the experience. My dad passed away…

Pete Mockaitis

I’m sorry.

Jason Treu

Several years ago. He shared with me in a moment at the end that he was like, “I should’ve invested more in the relationships and in people, because there’s a lot of regret I have with relationships in my life.” And I thought to myself, “That’s pretty wise words from someone who’s hours away from passing away.” And I truly believe that in the end the only thing we’re going to look back is the relationships that we had built; nothing else. So we need to spend time doing this.
I think also what’s happening is that you’re seeing that there is no work-life balance, there is no work-life integration. Basically what’s happening – people who work – their friends are at their job, they’re one and the same. And so you’ve got to be able to navigate that, you’ve got to be able to build these relationships, you’ve got to understand how to do it, and build the best ones for you. And that you are going to have to change those relationships over time, because just like there’s a great quote by this movie Stand By Me, and it said, “Friends will come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant.” And I really believe that.
Now you’re going to have some good friends that might last for a whole lifetime, but a lot of people won’t evolve the same way you will and they’ll go in other directions. And if you continue to hold on to those relationships, those are the ones that hurt us the most because they tend to start being 70/30, 80/20, and then we feel used and taken advantage of, and they take a really big emotional toll. When the reality is then when you get out of balance you should have a conversation, and at some point you’re just going to have to let them go, if they don’t readjust and swing back.

Pete Mockaitis

Interesting. Now when you say 70/30, 80/20, you mean sort of like the give-take?

Jason Treu

Yeah, the give-take, yes.

Pete Mockaitis

And so, that’s intriguing. Could you give us an example of that unfolding? So, how one person maybe grows in maybe a greater or different direction than another, and as a result there’s more taking that evolves, and then how that conversation could go?

Jason Treu

I think if you look at a person who is focused on their career, on their personal growth, on creating a better version of themselves – there’s not that many percentage of people that are doing those types of things, right?

Pete Mockaitis

Jason, I’d love it if you could drop a number for us. Rough guesstimate inside your heart and mind.

Jason Treu

I probably would say 5 or 10%. I think that may be even optimistic. But I think the challenge is if you’re of those people or maybe a version of that slightly down, that’s at least 75% committed to that, and you’re around people that are very complacent or okay with what’s going on and are not looking to be accountable in their life and looking to overcome challenges and are willing to choose paths to help them get better – they’re going to eventually drag you down, because they are looking out for themselves and they’re not going to be in a situation where they’re givers. And that is the challenge that we all have.
So when that starts to happen, you emotionally more invest in people – you’ll start calling them more, you’ll start planning things more, you’ll start spending more money when you go out and do stuff. You’ll see all these things start, the tide will turn. And you then have to have conversations with people about that and then take a hard look at the relationship you have with people, and that can either be personally or professionally. And then you’ve got to make some decisions based on their response and your interaction. If they’re committed to their own growth and their own creation of a better version of themselves, or if they’re fine sitting in their comfort zone and complacency, and that is where they’re committed to stay.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, thank you. So then, I’d love to hear some more, in terms of the skills and principles to bear in mind as you’re going about living life and doing work. How do you recommend that we go about engaging with others to create all the more meaningful connections that we can make?

Jason Treu

I think that the key is, change comes from the inside out. And the first step is self-awareness, and understanding your own emotions and how you’re reacting to situations. So I think it’s important to go back and understand and find out what are your blind spots. What are the patterns that can sabotage your own success? Because if you don’t, you’re going to have a difficult time interacting with other people, because you won’t understand why you’re torpedoing your relationships or not building them forward. You’ll think it’s someone else, luck, or all these other things, when the reality is that everyone has these challenges, and you just have to start to identify them.
So, for instance an example would be, I had a client and I did sales training a couple of years ago. And this woman came up, and she has a pretty high-pitched voice and she was in her mid-30s and was saying, “I want to sell better. I’ve been doing well…” And this is in front of her peers and other managers. And I was like, “Okay, let’s talk about this.” And we ended up getting out of her that she felt shame, that she was really despondent, she felt she wasn’t good enough.
And the reason stemmed from back in high school and college, whenever she got on the phone and she talked to her mother or grandmother, they would make fun of her voice. And they would say things like, “You’re never going to be successful in business. You’re never going to get married. You need to lower the tone of your voice.” And they almost always mentioned it to her, and it’s something that stuck in her head. So now, every time when she gets on the phone with clients, that tape is running in the back of her head. So, you could tell her how to build better relationships, but that’s not the issue in and of itself. It’s the fact that you’ve got to turn that on its head and eliminate that, because otherwise she’s going to be maybe a little bit more successful, but not much, because those things are going to continually hold her back.
So, that self-awareness and fixing that issue and challenge is going to go a significant amount of way, because then you can teach people the next step, which is more social awareness and the emotions, thoughts and behaviors you can sense then in other people and better relate to them. And that is how you build faster, quicker relationships. But if you can’t relate to yourself, then you’re not going to be able to do it with other people, if that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis

Understood. So then what are some of your top suggestions for getting that self-awareness, and surfacing and addressing blind spots quickly?

Jason Treu

Well, the challenge is you really ultimately need help from someone else, because our brain is wired to keep us safe. It is not wired to keep us happy, so it blacks out these things. Now, what you can start doing is start asking yourself, “Okay, what behavior do I want to change?” The next question to someone else is, “What are the stories that I’ve made up in my head about that behavior?” For instance if it’s, “I want to lose weight in the new year”, and the story is, “Well, I can’t lose weight because people are constantly making fun of me, people won’t interact with me because I’m overweight, and that’s holding me back.” Okay, that’s great.
Well, then you start to look in what emotions that is coming up from, what emotions are you feeling when you feel that you aren’t losing weight and you aren’t making progress? And then you start to battle and grapple with that, and then you start asking yourself questions around, “What are the limiting beliefs that come up when I feel those emotions? I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not pretty enough”, I’m whatever it is. And then you ask yourself, “When’s the first time that I’ve ever felt that way that I remember?”
And you really have to push yourself, because then that starts to jog a memory in your head about when was the first time you felt like that, because then it starts to trigger patterns and show you what’s gone on, and when and how long and pervasive this has been. And you can start linking it back. And then you have to go back up the stack and you have to say, “Okay, if weight was not an issue and I was in great shape, then what beliefs would I have around that? I’m enough, I’m awesome. What emotions would I be feeling? What stories what I have around the world around me?” And then you can start reverse engineering what it is and how you’re feeling, and then start to read that, take a look at it, and then take actions.
But the other part of it too is that I found that there are two things that people mistake. One is motivation and drive. And motivation is very fleeting. It’s like we’ve all read a book or seen a movie or done something and we’ve been like, “Man, that’s awesome. That’s great, I love that.” And the next day nothing happens. Well, the differences is drive, is you understand the “Why” behind whatever you’re doing, and you will do that. For instance you will run when it is 10 degrees outside; you’ll not make an excuse that it’s too cold, because the drive is much more powerful. But you have to ask yourself questions: “So why am I doing this? Why is that goal or what I want, why do I want it?”
And then you have to ask yourself the harder question: “What am I lacking in my life that that goal is going to help me with?” Because once you do that, then in both of those questions you can move forward and you’ll be really successful because now you’ll be holding up basically an accountability in and of yourself, and getting to the real answers, instead of letting yourself off the hook and dealing at the surface level. Then you can start really having much greater self-awareness, and you can create massive change in your life really quickly.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, excellent. So from that point of having collected some self-awareness, what are some of your top suggestions for building that social awareness?

Jason Treu

So I would say one, you need to practice empathy, because I think when you can practice empathy with people, you can start to understand their viewpoint and you will find common ground much quicker. I tell all my clients and in my conversations with my friends I say, “You’ve got two choices in life – you can be right or you can be happy. Rarely can you be both. So which one do you want?”

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah.

Jason Treu

When you cut it down like that, then you have to realize that is a significant part of life. And I think when you have more empathy, the other thing that happens is that you’re able to have more difficult conversations with people, because really that’s the requirement for being a great leader or a manager, is having difficult conversations when you don’t want to have them, because then what happens is that you get a greater understanding of the people around you, of the challenges, of emotions, and then you’re on the same page.
And that really is game-changing, because then you don’t have this stuff bottled up for months, years or whatever, or never have it. And then that will make a significant conversation. With empathy there is listening skills – that’s a requirement to do that. I think you start doing a few of these things, you’re going to see significant changes in how people respond to you or people interact with you, how people want to help you, because it will be different than how they are interacting with other people.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Now when we talk about some of these empathy elements, do you have any favorite questions that you use either to ask yourself internally, or to ask the person that you’re speaking with, that sort of naturally cultivates more empathy?

Jason Treu

Well, I like to ask people questions… In my head I try to ask myself, “What would the other person be thinking or feeling?” Not how I would be doing it. And then that helps me put me in a frame that takes me out of my defensive posture, and also puts me more in the moment. The other thing too is I try to listen without formulating my counter-argument, because if you do that… That’s what people do, typically they’re not really listening and they don’t really hear what the other person is saying.
And I ask clarifying questions. So, if someone says to me, “You know what? Jason, I’m really upset with you because you didn’t show up for my party or event.” And then I’ll tell them why, and then I’ll be like, “Okay. Well, is there another reason? Is it because you feel like I haven’t been showing up?” And if they say “Yes” or “No”, I try to ask a clarifying question, like, “Okay. Well, there’s something else going on here. We need to dig deeper in order to figure it out, because I’m willing to do whatever it takes. I just don’t know and I need your help to understand why it is that you’re feeling this way and what actions I can take to make the situation better.” So you have to dig down and keep asking “Why?” and ask clarifying questions, and then I think you can get at the heart of the matter, because usually it’s several layers deep.

Pete Mockaitis

And that takes some courage too, because it could be like, “Well, because, Jason, you always do this.” You tell me. We could role-play a little bit. “Because, Jason, you always do this, and you’re one of my best friends. And you said you’d make it and you didn’t. And so, it just makes me kind of wonder what can I really count on you for, and it just makes things feel pretty darn insecure.”

Jason Treu

Yeah. And I think what you’d say to someone in that situation is that, “I hear what you’re saying, and being late and not showing up is a problem. So I’ll make a commitment to you that if I say that I am going to come, I’m going to come. And if I can’t make it, I’m going to tell you I can’t make it and not feel bad, because the problem is I feel bad if I can’t make it, so I just always say ‘Yes’. And I need to draw more clear boundaries and communicate them better, because the way that I’ve been acting is not helpful and it’s not considerate of your feelings, your effort, your time and everything else, and I have to be accountable for that.”

Pete Mockaitis

And what I like about this is, it sounds almost like yeah, of course, we should always do this. But it’s not as much common practice as it may be common sense.

Jason Treu

It isn’t at all. And the problem when you don’t do this is that people harbor ill will and you don’t know why that is. And if you’re in a business setting, that undermines what’s going on, because then people’s retention goes down, they sabotage projects, they don’t put forward their best effort, they don’t help people collaborate. All this stuff is a chain reaction. And the same thing obviously in your personal life.
So, the key thing is, you have to be accountable, and that requires you to lower your ego and you’re going to have to put it in a different place and realize that you don’t have all the answers, and you are on a journey and you’re going to have to pivot constantly in your life. Now, if you’re unwilling to be in that situation and you’d rather be right than happy, then you’re going to be getting very limited results in your life and you’re going to live a very, very small life.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, so big stakes. Jason, thanks for this. Tell me, is there anything else you really want to make sure to highlight before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jason Treu

I would say that if you’re going to go out and start building relationships both personally and professionally, the key thing is to get in the right rooms with people, because I feel like if you’re not there, then it’s a waste of time. And the places that I love to go that are gold mines are charity organizations, because they have movers and shakers, people who are socially aware, that care, are successful people; cultural places such as museums, symphony, opera; and the other place, which may have a mix of people but at least they have things that you’d be interested in, is interest groups, like running groups, art groups, painting, book clubs, whatever it might be. Those are great places to meet people, because you have things in common. And I think a group scenario’s helpful, because then you can meet a lot of people quickly in those organizations, and people have their defenses down, so they’re much more open and it’s much easier to meet them and to build relationships. And obviously that helps you both personally and professionally.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright, thank you. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jason Treu

Yeah, so the quote that I really like is a quote from Maya Angelou, who said, “I’ve learned that people forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And I think unless we really understand the true role of emotions in our life, and being able to relate to other people and how powerful that is, we’re setting ourselves up to live a really small life, because people – it’s about how you make them feel when you engage and interact with them. It’s not an intellectual contest.

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Jason Treu

Really, I would say anything by Brené Brown. She’s a great author on leadership and management. And she’s a shame researcher and she has the top five most downloaded TED Talk of all time called The Power of Vulnerability, and she really talks about a lot of these issues on shame, vulnerability, how to build better relationships. And I think it can get at the real nuggets that are going to help you both in your professional and personal life. And every time I hear her speak – and I’ve heard her several times – she’s brilliant in what she does. So, I would highly recommend her, and she has quite a few books out, so you really can’t go wrong with any of them.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Jason Treu

Again, I use two things. One is an accountability mirror – to ask myself every day what am I opting out of doing, and why? Because that helps me keep real in what’s going on and not procrastinate and put stuff off. The other thing is, I just go old-fashioned, I use Google Calendar and I schedule everything in for the week.
I sit down on Friday or Saturday or Sunday at the absolute latest and put in time when I’m going to work out, I’m going to go do meetings, after at night, or whatever I’m going to do, so I can see what I need to do. And when I need to wake up, and the rest of the things that I need to do during the week, because I feel like you’d be way more productive when you know what you have to do and you’ll procrastinate a lot less, because you’ll understand what’s possible and what’s not, based on the calendar that you have. And also if you don’t have any free time, you’re going to find out that you’re going to turn into someone in business who’s very tactical, and you’re probably putting out all these fires and not being strategic, which means you’re not really working to your capability, and the organization itself is suffering. So, you’ve got to block out time and you’ve got to use it.

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you. And is there a particular nugget that you share that seems to really connect with folks and gets quoted back to you frequently?

Jason Treu

Again, I think that the one thing I found from doing my TEDx Talk with people is that you will build relationships a hundred times faster if you’re vulnerable. But the key is that everyone wants everyone else to be vulnerable, but they don’t want to be vulnerable themselves. So what you have to do is be vulnerable first, and share something, even very small, because when you’re vulnerable and you share, people unconsciously believe that it’s safe for them to share because you led with it, and they’ve been taught that their life when people do that.
So, be vulnerable, lead with something, and ask really great questions. The questions I like to ask people initially when I meet them is like, “What are you most excited about in your life right now?” Or a question might be like, “What are you passionate about at work?” or, “What are you passionate about in your life?”, because it gets to the core things that people care about.
And you can ask that during a first conversation; you don’t need to wait. Waiting around is just because you feel like that’s a story in your head that needs to happen. Because I do it all the time, and it leads to way better conversations and I speed up the relationship-building process really fast, because I’m getting to real conversations when I meet someone the first time. I’m not waiting until the third, fourth, fifth or tenth.

Pete Mockaitis

Excellent, thank you. And Jason, if folks want to learn more or get in touch with you, where would you point them?

Jason Treu

So, they can go my website at JasonTreu.com. And then if they want they can go download the game that we talked about in the beginning – Cards Against Mundanity – at CardsAgainstMundanity.com. So, playing it is free, and you can get results, and you can play with your friends. And you can play you’re your wife, so you have a Valentine’s Day thing.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Jason Treu

I think it’s true, and it may seem trite, but all growth comes outside of your comfort zone. So if you don’t feel like you’re doing something that’s scary or making you feel awkward, you aren’t really pushing yourself. And you’ll find the people that are the most successful are learning to deal with more and more uncertainty, but dealing with it in a healthy way. And that requires years and years, so you might as well get started now and just you’re going to see your life go in some magnificent directions.

Pete Mockaitis

Awesome. Well, Jason, thank you so much for sharing this great stuff. I wish you tons of luck, and hope that you keep on rocking with your coaching and your mundanity-breaking, and all that you’re up to!

Jason Treu

Yes. Thanks a lot, and thanks for having me on the show!

270: Reclaiming Workplace Inspiration with Scott Mautz

By | Podcasts | 2 Comments

 

Scott Mautz introduces the nine anti-muses and provides strategies for regaining inspiration at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The difference between inspiration and motivation
  2. The nine anti-muses that drain inspiration from your work life
  3. Five ways to reframe the fear of failure

 

About Scott

Scott Mautz is a popular keynote speaker and author of “Find the Fire: Ignite Your Inspiration and Make Work Exciting Again”. He’s a Procter & Gamble veteran who successfully ran several of the company’s largest multi-billion dollar businesses. He’s the CEO of Profound Performance LLC (a keynote, coaching, and training company), teaches at Indiana University, and has been named a “Top 50 Leadership Innovator” by Inc., where he also writes a weekly column for the national publication. He’s appeared in Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, and many other national publications and podcasts.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Scott Mautz Interview Transcript

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

Scott Mautz
It is awesome to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we’re going to have a whole lot of fun, and I’m intrigued. One thing I learned about you recently is that you have performed some standup comedy. What’s the backstory here?

Scott Mautz
Indeed, I have. It started on a dare, actually, Pete. So, in college people were like, “Oh, at least you’re not like the un-funniest guy in the world.” And I entered the search National Comedy Competition and I almost won the dang thing, and I thought, “Whoa, wait a minute. Okay, I may want to do something with this.”

So I didn’t decide to go after it full bore as a profession per se but I did do a lot of paid gigs, did a lot of discussion of standup on stage for many years in grad school, and then I just kept at it as I entered the professional world as a major outlet, I guess, for lack of a better word, of I just want to express myself on stage, and had been doing it, boy, for a long time. But it’s been a while since I’ve done it now because my speaking career takes the front seat to that. So I try to pepper a little bit of that into my talks though because that part of me will never really go away.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s fun. You know, my wife and I, we just saw John Mulaney…

Scott Mautz
Oh, he’s fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
He did seven shows in Chicago, in this giant Chicago Theater. Sold them all out. And it was entertaining, you know. He’s got a whole flavor that’s enjoyable.

Scott Mautz
Yeah, he’s fantastic. He’s skilled.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I want to hear your skilled area. It sounds like standup comedy is not the primary thing you’re known for.

Scott Mautz
That’s right. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
But it gets in the mix. And so, your recent book Find the Fire has been getting some real momentum lately. So, yeah, tell us, what’s the scoop with this book, and what’s the main, and why is it important?

Scott Mautz
Yeah, I appreciate it. Thank you for asking that, Pete. Well, Find the Fire, the subtitle is Ignite Your Inspiration and Make Work Exciting Again. Here’s the premise, my man, it boils down to this. And I don’t know if this is going to surprise you or not. But it turns out that 70% of us, 7-0, have lost that loving feeling, as I like to say, at work that we actually no longer really feel fully inspired in our jobs, 70%.

And what’s crazy about it is that the research shows the majority of us, like over – in fact, the latest update is well over 70% say that, “Look, if I want one thing from my boss, one thing from boss, please, the number one thing is I want him or her to be inspirational.” And, yet, ugh, at most, about 11%, 12% would say, “Yeah, my boss is inspirational.”

So that’s a massive gap. And what happens, Pete, is people say, “Okay. Well, you know what, that’s life. That’s life in the big city. I’m never going to fully get back my inspiration at work. They call work work for a reason. That’s life. And inspiration, of course, is elusive and mysterious and it’s tricky, and I’m going to have to wait till it shows up in my life again.”

And the truth is, and this is what the book is about, Find the Fire, the truth is after having researched this for, gosh, almost 15 years now, Pete, I can tell you, that inspiration can, in fact, be codified and coaxed. You can create the conditions where inspiration is much more likely to occur. That’s what the book is about.

And to give you a little bit more flavor of that, you know, I intersperse, probably not surprisingly, humor in that to lighten up what could be a heavy subject, trying to find inspiration in our lives. And it can be heavy for a reason to perceive that way because a lot of people go about trying to re-ignite their fire in the incorrect way.

What research tells us, Pete, is that social science shows most of us, when we’re feeling uninspired, what we’ll do is simply ask, “Well, what inspires me? And I’m going to go try do more of that.” The answers are as different as the person you’re talking to. If I were to ask you, Pete, it would be, who knows? It could be Lionel Richie, I don’t know. For other people it’s going to be Irene Cara, it’ll be a sunset, it’ll be a great leader, whatever.

But the truth is, the answer to that question, “What inspires me?” is far too passive. It’s elusive and when we find out what that is it can get repressed in a toxic work environment. And it turns out we’ve been asking ourselves the wrong question for years. The right question is not, “What inspires me?” but, “How did I lose my inspiration in the first place?” And believe me it was everywhere. When you started your job, you didn’t have to think about it. It was in every nook and cranny, everywhere, like a half-finished highway construction, you couldn’t avoid it. You didn’t have to try.

And so the premise is simple. If you can identify the wells that have dried up of inspiration over your life, how you’ve lost your inspiration, it’s so much more efficient and powerful, Pete, to refill those wells than it is to try to dig a brand new well of inspiration which can take years, it’s far too passive, far too elusive. And the book talks about what drains our inspiration and how you can bring it back into your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So you’re saying that the source of inspiration, it varies wildly, and widely, from person to person, but the sort of disruptors, the evaporators, the drainers of inspiration are somewhat universal.

Scott Mautz
That is exactly right. And I find this very curious, Pete. I’ll set this up for you with – how’s your Greek mythology? You’re ready to brush up on it a little bit?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I totally, in preparation for this conversation, I picked up, you know, the Wikipedia article about the nine muses, so. And, in fact, I remember learning this once, and so we could talk Thalia and Urania, NBD… it’s all good.

Scott Mautz
Nice. I’ll give the briefest of refresher course. For all the listeners out there that are scratching their heads saying, “So how is this awesome on the awesome podcast?” Here’s what it all boils down to. Greek mythology teaches us that Zeus and Mnemosyne, god and goddesses, they had nine daughters. As Pete mentioned, they’re what’s called the nine muses. You probably heard the term before, “I’m waiting for my muse to whisper to me.” That’s a frequent terminology you hear from artists.

And, in fact, these muses that, according to mythology, they’re the ones that inspire us. It’s where the word music came from, or the word museum came from which is essentially the output, the physical warehouse, stores all the output from the muses in the museum. And as mythology teaches us there were nine of these muses that presided over different fractions of arts and science.

Well, I find it fascinating, and I’ll let your listeners determine whether or not it’s a coincidence, that statistically speaking, research shows us there also happen to be, precisely, nine, what I call, anti-muses, nine forces that break out from the pack of all the things that can drive us nuts about our work life. I find it curious that nine things statistically broke out, head and shoulders above everything else, for being the most common things that can drain our inspiration from our work life. Thus, I call them the nine anti-muses.

And, Pete, you steer, but let me know. If you want, I can go into now describing what these nine anti-muses are.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I do want to hear each of them and if we can certainly find it the sort of solution or approach to sort of preempting that. But, first, I want to hear, you mentioned – I love a bit of statistical research robustness. Can I hear a little bit about, what was that process by which you landed here? It seems like the number nine wasn’t, you said, “Okay, I’m going to land on nine because that’s cool schtick for my book.” But rather, nine just bubbled up naturally from a research process. What did that look like?

Scott Mautz
Yeah, great question and it truly was a coincidence. In fact, I didn’t even know there was nine muses when I started my research, when I stumbled upon the nine forces. I found out later that it was reverse. I found out there was nine muses and thought that very interesting when I stumbled upon the nine anti-muses, if you will.

But this process is pretty much this way. I’m very blessed to be able to have access to all kinds of research in what I do in my life now as an author, as a writer, I also am a adjunct professor at Indiana University where I teach others-oriented leadership, and I get all kinds of access early on, especially because I also write for Ink Magazine ten times a month, and I get access to fascinating research sometimes before it’s even published.

So, for a very, very long time, I simply began by reading everything I could about the field of inspiration. What is really? What are its roots? Why do we believe it’s so mysterious? Understanding the anatomy of inspiration, if you will. And then I began getting my hands on the most cutting edge, I guess, information and research available in the arena of inspiration. And piling it up year after year I came across a rich vein of research from a couple of experts in inspiration out of the University of Rochester, and continue to just build up my pot of research.

Then I came across several studies and started to cross reference them for determining, “Okay, now that I have this backdrop of understanding of inspiration, what it really is and how it affects our lives, how is it taken away from us? What does the research tell us?” And I began to cross reference studies that would indicate these are the most common sources of inspiration drain.

And after, probably, 20 to 30 cross references of over a hundred studies, I was just amazed to find out it kept pointing to these nine that were breaking out from the pack. After that I came across a story, believe it or not, of the muses, I discovered there were nine muses, and I thought, “Man, that’s really cool.” And I don’t know if that’s coincidence or not. You believe what you want to believe but that was the process.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I appreciate going into some detail there. And so maybe before we dig into the nine, if you can give us a quick contextual orientation here of how shall we define inspiration? And what are some of the, you know, most basic building blocks or anatomy of inspiration?

Scott Mautz
Yeah, a super place to start because people, they don’t necessarily – you ask them to define inspiration, it’s very difficult. I mean, we know what it is, Pete, we know the feeling. We know that sense inside us that builds up, that excitement that pushes everything to the peripheral, but it’s hard to describe it. We know that it’s behind many of our greatest accomplishments.

But what we may not realize is that, in truth, inspiration is really, it’s the Holy Grail of enthusiasm. Its power extends well beyond that of motivation. And let me just briefly explain the difference between inspiration and motivation, and I think that’ll really make it clear what inspiration really is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Scott Mautz
Motivation, that’s the pragmatic consequence of inspiration, right? It’s that engineer in you that proceeds in a step-by-step fashion, one step at a time, with marching orders in hand until you achieve your goal. And that’s a good thing. Who doesn’t want that?

Inspiration precedes motivation though. It yields a moment of galvanizing energy. It shoves motivation into action. And here’s the big distinction. With motivation we take hold of an idea and we run with it. But with inspiration, an idea takes hold of us, and that can make all the difference in the world, free levels of energy, discretionary energy that you have to put behind something.

When an idea or a feeling takes hold of you, you feel like you almost have no choice but to throw your discretionary energy behind that thing. That’s why inspiration is so darn powerful and why it’s so important that you bring it back into your work life.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s intriguing. As you described this, and I’m thinking about times I felt what you’re describing, at times for me, it feels sort of close to obsession. It does have a hold of me. It’s like I’m so curious like I want to know the answer to this thing. I want to see if this is possible or true or the case for a particular argument, if a given idea is likely to work and has sort of valid underpinnings.

And so it’s almost like I can’t help but think about it sometimes more than maybe is ideal or healthy for work-life balance. And so I don’t know if you have anything to say: inspiration versus obsession.

Scott Mautz
It’s a darn good question. I think it borders into obsession when you lose the plot of why are you seeking to be inspired in the first place. What’s the point of harnessing that inspiration in your life? If it’s to achieve a balanced objective, if it’s to serve something greater than yourself, if it’s to achieve a personal accomplishment, and it’s directed and focused, it’s fantastic.

It’s when it borders on obsession it can become dangerous. Frankly, Pete, in addition to keynoting and workshops, I do some one-on-one coaching as well, and sometimes I have to coach entrepreneurs that have started their own business and their inspiration has gone beyond into the realm of obsession. But you have to bring it back to the, “Why are we inspired and why do you want to be inspired?” to keep it all in perspective.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, all right. So now that we are fully contextualized, bring it on. Let’s do the rundown. The nine anti-muses, you know, what do they look like and what do we do about them?

Scott Mautz
Fantastic. So here they are, nine anti-muses. These, again, this is not my opinion. This is what a heck of a lot of data tells us, these are the nine things that are most common that drain our inspiration from our work life.

So the first one on virtually anybody’s list, regardless of the data source, regardless of the psychologists that I interview, regardless of the source, is fear. And fear is probably, almost literally, the antithesis of inspiration, more specifically the fear of failure, fear of criticism, and fear of change. And I’ll come back, we absolutely must talk about that one because its prevalence is ridiculous, 50% of all adults say that fear of failure is the number one thing in their life that’s kept them from revisiting or accomplishing their goals.

The second anti-muse is settling in boredom, a feeling that if we were truly honest with ourselves, truly honest, we’ve had a plateau in our career, and it’s much easier to just put it into a parking spot, right? Life is dotted with many tempting parking spaces and we may choose to pull into one of them, if we’re honest, and over time we become bored, and our learning and growth stutters. And before you know it, the inspiration has evaporated right out of the side of the door here.

The third one is inundation, becoming overwhelmed. Overwhelmed is like the new black, you know, it’s in fashion. It’s so interesting to say, compare stories of how overwhelmed we are these days. Well, it’s having an impact, as you can imagine, in many ways, besides the fact that it just pushes away inspiration from our life.

The fourth anti-muse, the fourth way we lose our inspiration, whether or not we realize it, by the way, subconsciously or not, is a lost of control. Having far too little influence on outcomes in our business, outcomes in our life, far too little control over the events of our life. Closely related to that one, the fifth anti-muse, and, man, this one devastating in its totality. I can’t tell you how many people in the thousands of interviews I did for this book have told me about dwindling self-belief, the fifth anti-muse.

The sense that when a push comes to shove, deep down inside, you have this fundamental belief that, “I’m not good enough,” and you’re caught in this world of comparing to others rather than comparing to who you were yesterday and how to become a better version of yourself versus yourself yesterday rather than comparing.

The sixth anti-muse is disconnectedness. This one is a tricky one. It sneaks up on us more than any of the other anti-muses. And what I mean by that is you look up from your work one day and you realize, “Man, I don’t have as much time to spend with my friends.” Maybe you’re in a new business unit, for example, and you haven’t made friends yet. Maybe you have a few toxic team members that are kind of ruining the fun of what it used to mean to come to work and to connect and bring joy to each other. You feel disconnected from the place that you’re working at.

The seventh one is dearth of creating. And out of all the interviews, Pete, that I conducted, and all the stories that I gathered, believe it or not, the most emotional stories, tied closely with the stories behind fear and fear of failure, where people had told me they’d simply stopped creating in their work life, and in their life.

That’s what I mean by dearth of creating. You’ve stopped. You realize, “When was the last time I contributed something unique and powerful with my personal stamp on it that only I could’ve done. I’ve fallen into a process of following process, and meeting after meeting, and blind output without a unique stamp and a unique creation,” which is closely related to the eighth anti-muse – insignificance.

And feelings of insignificance at work in that what we’re working on, if we were truly honest with ourselves, it doesn’t really matter, it doesn’t matter to the company, it doesn’t matter to other people, and most importantly, it doesn’t really matter to you.

And then the last, the ninth anti-muse, the last, is what I call lack of evocation which is where you work in a toxic work environment or for a toxic boss where all other things that might be positive about the workplace environment, they’re all just crushed under the weight of toxicity. Again, most commonly by just a brutal boss that sucks all the joy out of your job for you, or an overall unhealthy workplace culture and environment.

So those are the nine anti-muses, Pete, and we could steer wherever you want to. I would suggest, perhaps, a discussion on fear for a bit, but we’ll go where you want to go.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Well, boy, Scott, tell you what. This is heavy stuff.

Scott Mautz
That’s why there’s humor in the book.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m tearing up a little bit. It’s just so sad, you know, to imagine a workplace that is just dead, devoid of inspiration and that this is many people’s lives. And I think all of us experience, you know, one or more of these on a given week, sure. But as you just sort of stacked them onto each other, I imagine, “Oh, man, you see a workplace where you have all of these every day. It’s yucky.”

And so, thank you, Scott. I mean, this really kind of gets me, you know, call me an optimist but I’m like all the more energized about the entire mission of How to be Awesome at Your Job. It’s like, “That is not okay and, by golly, we’re making a difference to reduce the prevalence of this which is not appropriate in a workplace for just the experience of being alive as a human being.”

Scott Mautz
Very well-said. I mean, I couldn’t say that better myself, Pete. And here’s the good news, the book is called Find the Fire, not “Put a Wet Blanket over the Fire and suffer from a lack of oxygen.” So I’m going to provide oxygen now for your listeners…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes.

Scott Mautz
…if you’re ready to go there.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I would. And, you know, what’s interesting is I was thinking of a situation, I’ve known a few people that they’re in, in which their inspiration just goes whoosh, gets zapped out quickly. And that was when there was sort of a change in leadership at the workplace. And so whereas before they were doing their thing and having fun with it, just rocking and rolling.

But then with the change in leadership there also came quite a lack of clarity in terms of, “Okay, who’s really in charge here? What’s really my job here? Who actually gets the decision, authority and rights under this area? What exactly am I supposed to be doing today at work?”

And so, in a way, I guess, rather than neatly falling into one of these nine, it kind of sort of embeds a couple inside it like a loss of control or an insignificance and disconnectedness, boredom if you’re not doing much because you don’t know what you should be doing. So it’s sort of a cocktail that all at once brings in a number of those.

Scott Mautz
That’s so true. And it’s a great point, Pete. You know, I often get asked about lack of clarity, and here’s a quick way to think about it. The opposite of clarity is to have something be muddy. And what’s create mud? Well, it’s a combination of the raw dirt, and when we pour water on top of that, and if you think about it it’s a simple analogy.

The dirt is the core work that we do. The root spring up from that. It’s what gives us nourishment and provides our income, it gives us our sense of wellbeing and a job and a sense of purpose. That’s the dirt. Now what happens when you get new bosses or you get a changeover? They come and they bring water to that dirt. To them the water is very clear, right? They have a clarity of intent. And they want to pour their knowledge, and their clear knowledge, and their clear experiences over you.

And what happens when water and dirt mix? It creates mud. And those two things create this universe where, despite the intent of the giver of that water, things can get very muddled up. So to get back to clarity in your life, despite the best intentions of those new bosses that are bringing the lack of clarity to the table, you just got to get back to the objective of what is it you’re trying to accomplish. Push back on the creation of new work.

And I talk in the book Find the Fire about many ways to do that. You mentioned that you have to like get clear on role definitions and even a decision criteria definition. I used to work at a company, in fact I worked for Procter & Gamble for 23 years and I was blessed to run some of their largest multibillion dollar businesses.

And one of the things that we learned was the importance of being very clear on the decision-making process when things get really unclear. Who decides? Who has a vote? Who’s just an executor? And you would be amazed. I’d go into a meeting and talk about lack of clarity, there’s 10 people in the meeting, “Who here thinks they have the accountability for this decision?” Eight of them would raise it. “Who thinks they’re responsible for the outcome of this decision?” You know, seven would raise it. I’d be, “Oh, my gosh, we’re in trouble.”

So just trying to provide the clarity in that mud is powerful. And you’re exactly right to point that out because it’s a big cause of drain of inspiration in our lives.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so good. Well, then let’s dig into some antidotes here. So when it comes to this fear stuff, fear of failure, of criticism, of change, what’s the prescription?

Scott Mautz
Yeah, let’s talk fear of failure because it comes up number one on the list, almost regardless of the source of data. And so I just want to talk about fear of failure for a second because, Pete, here’s what I really want your listeners to understand to help them be awesome at their job. It’s very difficult to be awesome at your job when your brain is busy reframing and engaging, I should say, yourself in the wrong conversation, and that’s what fear of failure does to us.

If this was a visual show, if it was a TV show, I’d have a slide up showing you what neuroscience teaches us about the fear of failure, that there’s a part of the brain that literally shuts down in response to fear of failure. It’s the frontal cortex of the brain, the part of the brain that’s responsible for growth and risk taking and exploration. That part literally shuts down in the face of fear of failure, so there’s a physical aspect to this and it engages that fear of failure, engages our brain in the wrong conversation.

And if you want to be awesome at your job and help others be awesome at their job you have to reframe the discussion your brain is having with yourself about fear of failure. I’ll give just a few examples. Here’s a few ways you can reframe your fear of failure. I find these to be very powerful. First, what if I were to tell you and your listeners, Pete, there’s only three ways that you can actually fail: when you quit, when you don’t improve, and when you never try?

What if I were to remind you what the great Zig Ziglar once said, a motivational speaker, one of the greats of all time. He once said, “Guess what, folks? Failure is an event not a person.” I wish I had a dime for every person I coached, Pete, that take some recent failure as a harbinger of things to come in the future and believes like, “Well, this is a prognostication of what…this is what I’m going to become. I must be this failure.” And you’re not.

What if I were to tell you, just a few more ways to reframe it, what if I were to tell you that failure, the truth, it doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you. It doesn’t happen to you to destroy you and your confidence. It happens for you so you can learn and grow from it.

What if I were to tell you that you don’t suffer when you fail. Your ego does. I tell myself this all the time. Guess what? Your ego and you are not the same thing. They’re two different entities. When you fail, your ego takes a blow and it needs to sit at the kids’ table where the rest of the unhealthful emotions that have played far too big of a role on your life.

And, finally, one last way to reframe, I always remind myself that when I’m feeling that pit in my stomach before I’m about to try something new that scares the heck out of me, I remind myself that when I’m feeling that, that fear, that’s not there to scare me, that’s there to tell me that what I’m about to do must be worth it otherwise I won’t be feeling anything.

Just like that – in what? – in two minutes I offered five ways to reframe the fear of failure. And your listeners can do the same and must do the same because this is a toxic source of inspiration drain and even, Pete, for the people that are saying, “Dude, I hear you but I’m blessed, the fear of failure doesn’t apply to me.”

Good for you, you beat the odds, but statistically speaking it is mathematically impossible that you don’t have somebody in your life that suffers from fear of failure, whether it’s a co-worker or particularly, and sadly, whether it’s a child. The data is becoming very clear that, especially as kids enter college age, they were recording the lowest levels of self-esteem we’ve ever recorded on college campuses and a lot of that comes from the pressures kids put on themselves and the fear of failure that is just running rampant in college campuses and amongst kids in general.

Pete Mockaitis
Whew! This is potent stuff. Yeah, I’d love to dig in on the notion of when you fail you don’t suffer, rather your ego does. So I think some listeners would say, “Well, yeah, that still sucks, though, Scott. Is it beneficial to have a suffering ego?”

Scott Mautz
I like that. And it can suck if you assume the ego is imminently intertwined. And what I often do, I literally do this, Pete, I literally do this. When I’m thinking about something like, “Oh, man, I’m going to do that. But if I blow it, Oh, my gosh, I’m going to look like a fool.” I literally picture separating my ego from myself, from my true self, and making it go sit at the kids’ table where I’ll look at it and I’ll understand that, “Yeah, I know we’ve got to feed it and rub its belly every once in a while, but it’s not who I am, it doesn’t sit at the adult dinner table.”

And what I find is the more you can separate, and at least be aware of that, it’s really powerful because most people aren’t aware. Their ego and their sense of self are so intertwined they have a hard time separating the two. And it’s okay to take dents in your ego and, by the way, it’s okay to have an ego. There’s no one that has 0% ego. A lot of people have less than others and that’s cool. It’s just when we let it define and define who we are that it becomes problematic.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s so interesting. And so then, when you visualize your ego what’s it look like? It’s a kid version of you?

Scott Mautz
Yes, that’s usually the way I look at it. Frankly, that’s exactly the way I picture it, a kid version of me sitting over there, you know, often whiny, often self-preservationist, often wondering about, “How is this thing going to reflect on me?” and, frankly, most often not service oriented. And I find that I’m very much able to keep my ego and my fear in check when I remind myself, “Okay, what’s the servitude in what I’m about to go try? Who am I going to serve to help them become a better version of themselves? Or what end benefit will I have for somebody else with what I’m about to try besides just the selfish benefit for me?”

And people give you a lot of slack when they know you’re trying to give them service, right? And I always find that that’s helpful, and I view that little kid ego sitting at the kids’ table as the most selfish version of myself that’s not focused on serving others. And that helps me put it in its place as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that is nice. And then if you think about sort of humility as a virtue, and people like people who are humble, and similar roots to the word humiliation, when you have an ego that gets some dents then that can, in fact, be an asset to have your ego cut down from time to time.

Scott Mautz
Right. That is exactly right. And it’s not easy to do it but it starts with self-awareness that it does need to be cut down from time to time, right? Now I’m sure you’ve met people, Pete, I’m sure you’ve met people that are completely unaware that their ego is running rampant and taking over. I’m sure you’ve met that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, from time to time.

Scott Mautz
Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, that’s awesome. So that’s a nice dose of good solutions when fear is in the mix. So, maybe you tell me, Scott, as you think about professionals who are in their daily work organization environments, is there another particular anti-muse you think would be valuable to deconstruct?

Scott Mautz
Well, you know, you almost have to talk about, for a minute, inundation and overwhelmed because we’re all feeling it. And you had indicated this before, Pete. I meant to say that no human being experiences all nine anti-muses at once, or if they do they’re a complete and utter mess. That’s not like the statistics don’t support. Research doesn’t support that that’s what happens to us, generally speaking.

What happens is, like you said, most of us can associate with three or four of these in periods of our life over time or in any given week or sometimes within a given day. And so the single most common next to fear is probably, virtually everybody feels inundated. So one of the things I wanted to share with your listeners is us feeling overwhelmed and inundated is at least in part our own fault. And I know people don’t like to hear that. They want to know that, “No, it’s the demands of the business. It’s the demands of the world we work in. We must do more, more, more. Produce more, more, more with less, less, less.” And part of that is true.

But we’ve also lost the art of pushing back especially when new work requests come into the fold, and I talk a lot about this in Find the Fire in the inundation chapter. And if I may, I’ll share just a little bit of advice about how to master the art of pushing back because I think it’s a powerful way to keep things on your plate manageable enough that inspiration has a chance to show up in your work life again, and just a few tips on that.

One of the most that I found when it’s time to push back on a new workload request is to come from a place of accountability, and give a different yes to the request. The reason we don’t push back is nobody likes saying no. It’s painful, right? It’s painful to tell somebody no especially your boss. Especially your boss. But you don’t have to say yes but you can give a different yes to the request.

You know, “Yes, I understand you want that done,” to your boss, “but first let me come from a place of accountability. I’m accountable to deliver my entire workplan. Let me lay out on paper for you the workplan. This is what I’m working on,” which, by the way, research shows that 74% of most bosses have no idea of the true impact of what their employees are working on, how much time they spend doing it, and the amount of things they actually do during the day.

Visualizing it on a piece of paper, respectfully, and playing it back and saying, “This is my total portfolio of work. If you want me to do this, these are the two things that are going to suffer, and I want to deliver the total portfolio work to you.” So rather than just saying, “I don’t want to do that. I have too much to do,” you demonstrate on paper how much you have to do, what has to give in order for you to take that on, and then you can also accompany that with a different yes.

“So as you can see here, boss, from my workplan that I laid on paper for you, I can’t take this on without something else suffering, which by the way earns more appreciation for what you’re working on,” by the boss as a side note. “But because I can’t take that on, I’ll tell you what, let me give you a different yes. I’m going to steer you to somebody that can help. I’m going to help you whittle down the amount of work it actually has to get done there. I’m going to lay out for you a resource that we could hire to take at least part of that research project on,” etc.

You find ways to get to an agreeable sign that you’re trying to help with the objective of the request even if you can’t actually do the work itself. Very powerful ways to push back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I like that. And, Scott, I’ve got to ask. So, now, I think, hey, talking about fear again. If a listener is saying, “Okay, Scott, I have a sinking feeling that were I to do that my boss would say, ‘Hey, I don’t want to hear your whining or your excuses. We all have a lot on our plates, and I need you to make it happen. All of it.’” What do we do?

Scott Mautz
Boy, is that really familiar? Is that ever familiar? And, first of all, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of us were to, obviously, to experience that, and from time to time that, for sure, is going to happen. But this is where people fall down, is in the face of that first push of the boss, looking like whining or they’re accusing you of whining.

They have to understand, you have to get them to understand that, look, at the end of the day, you indeed are trying to be responsible and accountable. And then you go item by item, and you engage in discussions on, “Okay, I hear what you’re saying. All these needs to get done. Let’s talk about the realities of each of these pieces of work. Are there things you can do to help me achieve this objective in a different way?” You don’t wear down and just give in yet.

Now, I’m not saying, Pete, that there’s not going to come times where, if you have the kind of boss that’s toxic and is just going to say, “I don’t care. Do it.” Okay. Well, that speaks different volumes for how to address lack of evocation and how to work with a boss how just won’t work with you. but in that scenario, you have to be realistic and say, “Okay, I’m not going to give in just yet. I understand he thinks I’m whining. If I continue to come from a place of accountability and can demonstrably show the impact it’s going to have on the other deliverables, and get that boss to engage on, I hear you. I know it all has to get done. I want to roll up my sleeves with you to figure out how all of this can get done together.”

You have to keep at that. And if it gets to a point where he’s like, “I hear you. You’re not getting it.” Go away and just make it happen. Well, that’s a different discussion to have. That’s where you get into a different chapter of the book, how to deal with just toxic bosses. But the big point is hold your ground, be firm, you could even use what I call the Bermuda Triangle of bargaining in those cases where they’re playing hardball with you saying, “It all needs to get done.”

You’re like, “Well, hold on a second. Let’s talk about the Bermuda Triangle area of bargaining.” You wouldn’t use that term with him or her. But what that means is there’s three things: time, resources and scope as a triangle. And in the middle of that gets suck, time and wasted opportunity and energy and everything. So you talk to that boss and you say, “Look, there’s time, resources and scope. I can accomplish what you want, the full scope of it if you give me two times more, two more weeks, or we can reduce the scope, give me a few more resources and I’ll do it in half the time.”

You get the point. You use time, resources and scope, those are three variables, and you negotiate with your boss. So if scope is absolute, “You must do it all of it. I’m putting my pin on scope.” Great. Negotiate on time and resources then. Makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. I’ve seen a slide like this long ago. Thank you for resurrecting it for all of us. That’s good stuff. Okay. So, well now, I’d love to hear a touch then in terms of, hey, we got some toxic boss, toxic colleagues, there’s a lack of evocation. What do we do?

Scott Mautz
Yeah. Have you ever experienced that, by the way, Pete, that kind of environment? I was wondering if you’ve ever had that.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, only for small…fortunately, only in small stretches of my career but there was a time when I worked in the pantry at Kmart in high school in which I was not impressed by some of the leadership examples in my midst. It felt like it was toxic at times in terms of, you know, if I stack the Pepsi wrong. Oh, man, it was so brutal.

Scott Mautz
The reason I asked is if you can remember, then I will address your question. It kind of douses everything else out, doesn’t it? It doesn’t matter what else is good about your job, when your boss is toxic nothing else matters. Is that a true statement? Do you think?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, if you encounter your boss frequently it really can very much be the case.

Scott Mautz
Yeah, and research tells us that’s what most people would say. So I talk in the book, and I will just touch on a few pointers. I give a little bit more of a complete plan on what do when you have a manager that’s like that and how frankly you can not only kind of work with them but turn them into a source of actual inspiration for you.

Here’s what some of the data and experience tells us that we do. First of all, and people don’t want to hear this but this is truth. First and foremost you have to bring the attitude that you want reciprocated. The more that you paint the boss into the corner, the more that you talk about that toxic boss as a toxic boss, the more it feeds on itself, the more you come to believe it, and maybe this is the most important point, the more you feel like you’ll never be able to reverse that situation.

And, by the way, people hear about that when you’re talking about your boss and, God forbids, if the boss ever finds out, that makes it really difficult to ever build new bridges. So, first and foremost, you got to bring the attitude that you wish was reciprocated back, number one. Number two, and I think people like hearing this one even less, you’ve got to learn how to give that boss feedback. You want to talk about fear of fear, that’s a scary thought.

But you make sure that your boss is open to it, and some of them aren’t, and I understand that, but you would be surprised. And what the research tells us is, in truth, even amongst toxic bosses, the vast majority of them really don’t understand the full impact of their behavior and what it’s having on their employees. And it takes brave people to call them out on it and say, “Okay, I want to make sure you’re open to some feedback assuming you agreed.”

Pete Mockaitis
And you just ask that question, “Hey, boss, you open to some feedback?”

Scott Mautz
Yeah, it sounds so obvious. And if they say no, okay, well, then the next step is quit. But you proceed with bravery and then you just kind of follow kind of a pretty straightforward pattern with humility, with transparency, with empathy. You help them understand the impact that their behavior is having on you and on the organization, never making it about them as a human being because bosses and human beings become defensive when it becomes personal. It’s about their behavior and the impact their behavior is having on your ability to do your job and your ability to want to show up to your job.

That is very straightforward, you be respectful, always direct with specific examples as you give the feedback and don’t waiver, as difficult as it is, believe me you’re doing that person a favor because the odds are they might also be a fairly intimidating individual and, believe me, they’re not getting enough feedback, and feedback that might actually make the difference for them.

And, finally, you just got to make sure you’re focusing on your perspective of how to help them not like what you would do if you were the boss, which is a big trap that people fall into when they start giving feedback to a boss. So those are just a few tips.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great stuff. Thank you. Well, Scott, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Scott Mautz
Yeah, I think I just wanted to mention that if the listeners are interested in what they’re hearing, the book is called Find the Fire, and I’ve put something together for your listeners, Pete. If they go to ScottMautz.com, S-C-O-T-T M-A-U-T-Z, right on the website, I have it ready to go, a prompt will pop-up where they can download a free workbook that goes along with the Find the Fire book that helps them, it’s a fill-in the blank workbook that helps them write down and retain the key concepts in the book.

And we all know, and research is very clear on what happens when we’re able to write down concepts for the retention of those very ideas. So they’ll be able to get there a free workbook at ScottMautz.com along with a lot of other free tools that I have prepped and ready to go for your listeners.

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

Scott Mautz
Oh, yeah, sure. I have two. Maybe my favorite of all time is probably not surprising given the way our discussion opened about my love of humor, but I really do believe that, “The shortest distance between two people is laughter.” And I found that to be imminently true in my life. And another quote, which is also some of the best advice I could give another human being, is to, “Chase authenticity not approval.”

And I can’t even tell you how many people give away their power, and I talk about this in Find the Fire a lot, when they choose to chase the constant approval of others – their boss, their mother-in law, their sister, whoever it might be – and they chase approval, constantly seeking to compare to others, wanting that approval rather than chasing the authentic version of themselves and being who they were meant to be, not what’s expected of them.

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

Scott Mautz
My favorite book I have on my table, I have it in front of me here, it’s called Die Empty by Todd Henry. It’s a fantastic book that sums up a lot of what’s important to me and my life. It’s a book about unleashing your best work every single day so that when you’re on your death bed you don’t have regrets about, you know, “I wish I would’ve created this. I wish I would’ve done that.” A fantastic read. I think your listeners would enjoy it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And tell me, is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect with folks, like they’re nodding their heads, they’re re-tweeting, they’re quoting it back to you?

Scott Mautz
I’ll probably start with the authenticity one that I get so many comments back on, the importance of chasing authenticity instead of approval. I’ll probably stick with that one because so many people bounce back to me on that one.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. And, Scott, tell us, is there a particular challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Scott Mautz
Yeah, I think it’s just you don’t have to accept that inspiration is something that is mysterious. It can be codified and coaxed. You can create the conditions where inspiration is much more likely to occur. You really can. If you understand what drains it then you’ll understand how to counter those and refill those wells. And when you have inspiration at your side, man, could you ever be awesome in your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Scott, this has been so enriching. Thank you so much for taking this time and sharing these goodies. I wish you tons of luck with the coaching, and professor-ing, and writing and speaking, and all you’re doing there.

Scott Mautz
Thanks so much, Pete. An absolute pleasure.

269: Why Willpower Doesn’t Work (and What Does) with Benjamin Hardy

By | Podcasts | 2 Comments

 

 

Medium writer Benjamin Hardy makes the case for why and how to shape our environments to support success.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to use the sunk cost fallacy to your advantage
  2. The definition of a forcing function and how to apply them at work
  3. Why pen and paper beats digital journaling

About Benjamin

Since late 2015, Benjamin has been the #1 writer on Medium.com. Ben’s writing focuses on self-improvement, motivation, and entrepreneurship. His writing is fueled by personal experiences, self-directed education, and formal education. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology at Clemson University. His research focuses on the psychological differences of wannabe entrepreneurs and actual entrepreneurs (dreamers vs. doers).

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Benjamin Hardy Interview Transcript

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

Benjamin Hardy
Thank you, Pete. Very glad to be here with you, man.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you’ve got a pretty cool claim to fame, and it’s that you are the number one writer on Medium. I guess we measure that in page views by the tens of millions. So, congrats. That’s really cool.

Benjamin Hardy
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
How does that happen?

Benjamin Hardy
I mean, a lot of luck, a lot of good timing, and a lot of things. I mean, I started writing online in 2015 shortly after becoming a foster parent of three kids, was in a PhD program, still in that program actually. I’m almost done. It’s organizational psychology, so I have lots to talk about because it’s psychology of the workforce, how to keep people motivated and whatnot.

But, yeah, I mean, after I became a foster parent it kind of really put a lot of external pressure on me. I’d been wanting to be a writer since 2010, had spent from 2010 to 2015 reading, reading, reading, reading, and I’ve always been an intense journaler. But it was when I became a foster parent actually did that pressure kind of really forced to like think about – think things through.

And then that led me to investing some money into a domain name, an online course that taught me how to write viral articles, and then seeking mentorships. And then just pumping out lots of articles in my spare time and getting lucky and, I mean, I could tell you as much as you want to hear as far as, in my opinion, what makes good writing but, yeah, having lot of…it’s been a fun ride.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I would be intrigued if maybe there is a key principle or rule of thumb or mantra that you keep front and center that contributes, you think, to the success there.

Benjamin Hardy
Yeah, yeah, I mean, as far as the marketing, you have to get really, really good at writing headlines and structuring articles in a way that is very easy flowing for people to read. As far as writing, the three components are being very good. You know, you’ve got to be a very good communicator. Being able to weave concepts, principles, stories, so you have to communicate but not just communicate head knowledge.

You have to have the head knowledge which is expertise or something on a topic because if you don’t have that then you just sound like you’re sharing your opinion and it’s not credible. But if you just have the head knowledge, if you’re just writing facts then it’s not compelling and it’s not persuasive. And so I think kind of the triple threat is knowing your stuff so well but actually knowing when it… and then understanding it kind of at the heart level, the emotional level, and being able to speak from experience in a communicative way and a persuasive way.

So kind of emotions, expertise, and good communication is what I think really makes it powerful because when you can speak really persuasively but then you’re backing your stuff up with like, you know, tons of science or compelling or very credible sources then not only is it emotional for people, but they’re like, “Oh, wow,” they believe it’s true because you’re backing it up over and over and over. And so that’s kind of some keys, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. Well, I appreciate that. It wasn’t just like, “Well, the key is to put a number in your headline,” and then it’s like the eight reasons willpower doesn’t work, “You won’t believe number six.” That’s all there is to it, you know.

Benjamin Hardy
That’s all you need, my man. That’s it. Now you can go be famous.

Pete Mockaitis
I had a hunch like each of those things sounds hard in the sense of, “That’ll take some time to develop that capability just like real life.”

Benjamin Hardy
Oh, yeah, it’s not an overnight thing, you know what I mean? So you can apply some strategies overnight that make a big difference but at the end of the day you’ve got to be good at what you do. Like Cal Newport says, you’ve got to be so good you can’t be ignored.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m excited to see you have put some of these skills to work in crafting your book here Willpower Doesn’t Work. Tell us what’s this all about?

Benjamin Hardy
Yeah, Willpower Doesn’t Work is kind of, I mean, I don’t know I’d call it a manifesto but it’s like a countercultural punch in the face to Western culture. So Western culture, especially in the self-improvement world but also like in the pop psychology world, is very individualistic. That’s just our culture. We’re a very individualistic society. We’re very focused on ourselves.

And so when we’re talking about self-improvement and stuff like that, we’re always talking about, you know, we’re always focused on the self, you know, have more willpower, have a better mindset, how to set better goals. I mean, it’s all about you and there’s no focus on the context around you. There’s no focus on the environment or very little because in our culture we kind of downplay how much the environment truly shapes us.

So what the book is all about is it’s all about, first off, how important our environment really is, the fact that you’re a different person in one situation than you are in a different situation, and how environment shapes your identity. And then, really, ultimately how to shape the optimal environment so that you can succeed.

And there’s a curt quote that comes from Marshall Goldsmith. He wrote the book Triggers, and the quote is, “If you do not create and control your environment, your environment will create and control you.”

I go into a lot of science and research since I study organizational psychology, but there’s been a big shift over the last 50 years in the research. So back in like, well, really, it’s been a long time coming, but in the 1920s and 1930s, all of the research on leadership, for example, was focused on men. So the first core leadership theories were the great men leaders, great men theory of leadership. I mean, it was like it all about how leaders can only be men.

And then we went to the trait perspective where it’s like, you know, you could only be a six-foot tall man. And, ultimately, we were all focused on traits and stuff, and even personality types. I mean, it’s so popular. We’re all so focused on these fixed traits. And, in my opinion, the science at this point it’s pretty clear that it’s all about the environment, and about creating that environment, that’s why companies like Zappos are so popular.

But all the research in organizational psychology is focused now on, “How do you structure environmental settings so that employees can be successful so that leadership can happen?” So, really, this book is just all about, “How do you setup the environment so that you can win?”

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, so maybe we should back it up a little bit when you talk about winning. I guess that really starts with a decision to commit to a particular goal, result, outcome to begin with. So what’s your take on where it all starts and how you arrive at a point of conviction that this is the thing that I shall pursue?

Benjamin Hardy
I love that. So it actually directly relates to my research. And so throughout my doctoral research, and I know that we’re not going to be talking about entrepreneurship specifically on this video or on this episode, but I actually do study the difference between wanna-be entrepreneurs versus actual entrepreneurs but it relates to everything. Really it’s the difference between dreamers and doers, you know. What is the difference between those people who can never reach that point of conviction versus those people who become fully committed?

And, ultimately, kind of what I’ve included after studying all sorts of people on this topic is that, yes, you have to have some internal desire, but that’s too focused to get on the individual. You have to ultimately do something in the real world. And so there’s a few components but I think the main one is that once a person starts financially investing in themselves, in their skill development, in their relationships, once they actually start investing money in what they want to do, then all of a sudden they become hyper committed.

Like there’s a lot of research in economic stuff called escalation of commitment where like once you commit, or once you start investing money, dollars, into something you become very committed to it, almost so committed that it becomes hard not to commit. It kind of goes along with the idea of sunk cost bias where you become so…have you heard of sunk cost bias before?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Certainly. It’s like you’re trying to justify what you want, you know.

Benjamin Hardy
Hundred percent, yeah. Almost all the research on sunk cost bias points in the negative direction, it becomes an irrational commitment. But, it’s the same level of commitment that leads to success. The only reason people think it’s irrational is because often it ends in failure. You know, if you think Elon Musk, he was so convicted in his companies that he sunk all of his money into it. And because he succeeded, we all think he’s a hero. If he had failed we would’ve called him irrational.

But the same principle applies. If you start investing money, you become very committed whether that’s to an organization, whether that’s to a goal, whether that’s to a relationship, whether that’s to your skills, once you become invested, you become committed, and as you get committed then you start to wrap your identity around that thing. You start to change your identity and believe that you are that thing, whether that’s entrepreneur or leader or writer, and you start to go from wanting to be that thing to actually being that thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s intriguing and powerful. You know, this is bringing me back to Robert Cialdini talking about commitment consistency in his book Influence and those sorts of principles. Now when it comes to money, is it important that it be a sizable sum of money or do you really get the ball rolling if you spend 12 bucks on an Amazon book in the direction that you’re pursuing, like things are happening already?

Benjamin Hardy
I, a hundred percent, think it can definitely start small. I mean, I have been coming to grips with this principle, and, by the way, I love Cialdini. I’ve spent so much time studying his work in commitment and stuff, but, yeah, it always starts small. Like when I was first starting my PhD program, when I was like really starting to say, “I want to start this whole writing thing.”

As a PhD student you’re making 12,000 bucks a year. You’re getting about a thousand bucks a month plus you get your tuition paid for. And so for me it was like, “Okay, I need to buy a website,” and that domain name costs 800 bucks. That’s more than $12 but I bought an online course for $197 that taught me how to write viral articles or viral headlines.

And so I do think it can start small, it can start with books, it can start with really what needs to happen is that you see yourself moving in the direction you want to go. Like if you watch yourself buying and reading books on a topic, you’re like, “Oh, I’m observing myself performing these behaviors.” That’s how people develop their identity, it called self-signaling in psychology.

Basically, what it means is that we, ourselves, we don’t really know ourselves as much as we think we do. We judge ourselves the same way we judge other people. It’s based on our behaviors. And so if you start watching yourself behave in certain ways, you’ll start to believe it, and that’s how confidence develops. You know, confidence is the product of successful behavior, and so once you start behaving in a certain way, and you start to kind of developing some consistency, all of a sudden you start to have confidence, then you can become passionate about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s cool. I like that. And so, then, when it comes to the environment, you know, I dug your quote from Marshall Goldsmith. It also reminds me of one by Churchill who said, “We shape our dwellings and then our dwellings shape us.”

Benjamin Hardy
By the way, Marshall McLuhan also says we shape our language and then our language shapes us.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. We got a full-blown theme here.

Benjamin Hardy
By the way, the whole book is about how your environment shapes you, and that the only way to proactively become the person you want to be is to shape the environment that you know will shape you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s compelling. So let’s hear it. How do we go about taking those steps to shaping such an environment?

Benjamin Hardy
I mean, first things first. You have to somewhat – I mean, you kind of have to know what you want. You don’t need to know all of it because a lot of the change happens once you’re in the environment. Or I think there’s so many layers to this question. I think, for the starters, I’ll talk about, in the book I talk about two types of optimal environments.

So I call them enriched environments, and that comes from a lot of theory and organizational psychology about basically how people have been structuring jobs. They call it job enrichment which is basically all the stuff that Dan Pink talk about in his book Drive, I believe, about creating jobs where people have more autonomy and stuff. I mean, that’s all based on research in organizational psychology.

But, basically, the two types of optimal environments that I talk about in the book are environments of high stress and then environments of complete rest. And, basically, it’s the idea that you need to be fully engaged and absorbed in whatever environment you’re in. So in order to be fully absorbed in, let’s just say, like a flow state, where you’re totally engaged in what you’re doing, you’re totally focused, there’s got to be several factors.

You’ve got to have high level of responsibility, there’s got to be consequences for performance. Ideally, you should be doing something that you’ve never done before and that somewhat above your skill level. I mean, it needs to be challenging and difficult, and there needs to be feedback, you know what I mean? It’s basically like the equivalent of being at the gym with a personal trainer. It should be very difficult and you should be having to rise to an occasion, rise above what you’ve done before so much so, and very few people work environments are like that.

Most people are in a semi state of distraction, there’s tabs open on their stuff, there’s notifications popping on their phone, there’s very low consequence for bad performance, it’s mundane, it’s routine. And so step one is, “How do you create an optimal environment that’s high stress?”

Then step two is you can’t do that all day, it’s not about being busy, it’s about being productive. And so you need to, have an environment for rest and recovery where you fully detach from work and where you, then, just focus on whatever it is you want to do at home whether that’s to be with your family or whether that’s like rest and recover in some other way.

There’s a lot of research in organizational psychology that talks about a concept called psychologically detaching from work. And, basically, it means that in order to fully be engaged while you’re at work, you need to fully detach and be engaged in life and rest, and let it go. And there’s like all sorts of negative effects if you don’t ever detach from work, like you have a hard time fully engaging, you burn out quicker.

And so I think, kind of just bringing this together real quick, there’s a quote from Dan Sullivan, he’s the founder of Strategic Coach, but he says, “Wherever you are that’s where you should be. Wherever you are make sure you’re there.” And so the idea is when you’re fully resting, like actually rest and recover. Almost all of your best ideas are going to happen while you’re resting. And then while you’re at work you can fully engage at a much higher level. You can be much more proactive, you can take on more responsibility.

And so I think that, first off, understanding those two types of environments and kind of assessing yourself how often are you in those types of environments. Like when you’re actually home, are you actually resting? Or is your environment setup for failure? Like do you have a TV in your bedroom? You know what I mean? Like, is your environment setup to fail?

And so I think, first off, is assessing how often are you in a flow state and knowing that flow is purely based on your environment is number one. I don’t know if you want to just talk about that first and then we can talk more about how to actually structure those things.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. So I would like to hear about how one constructs both a high stress and a high recovery environment. And so it sounds like the antithesis to high stress was, “Hey, you know, we got a lot of bad distractions, we’ve got not a whole lot of really high stakes,” in terms of if you succeed or fail  in a given day, it’s like, “Well,” you know, you’re probably not going to be fired or promoted or get a fat bonus or whatever kind of, on most days. So how do we go about putting an environment in place in which we do have this stress so that we could be totally in and rocking? And then afterwards let’s talk about the recovery side.

Benjamin Hardy
Totally. Absolutely. So there’s a concept I talk about in the book called forcing functions. And forcing functions are basically a simple way to kind of manipulate your environment so that basically desired behavior is the norm, it’s the automatic. I mean, a simple forcing function literally is just leave your phone away from your person. Like if you’re not required to use it, like while you’re at work, for example, don’t have it around you. Leave it in a bag or something.

Basically, just put constraints in place so that you’re not going to do something stupid. That’s basically what a forcing function is.

Other forcing functions, and this is more relevant to just like self-improvement, but I think it could be related to the job site. Like Ramit Sethi, for example, he’s like an online entrepreneur, but he invests like a good amount of money every year into a personal trainer. And when he does that, and it’s almost the same principle we’re talking about before, it forces him to go to the gym. You know what I mean?

And so let’s just say a person has a goal, whatever it may be, get a promotion or get a better job. A lot of it is thinking what you want and then embedding these forcing functions to make it happen. I mean, a very simple interesting forcing function just for high productivity is, so one of the people I talked to, he purposefully, if he’s going to go work for a few hours, like let’s say at the library or something, he purposely leaves his power cord at home for his laptop because he knows that now his laptop only has three hours of battery. For him, it forces him to be more focused because he knows that his battery is going to die in three hours, then when it’s dead, and he’s got to go home. Those are really simple low-level things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d like some more. So we talked about, hey, leaving the phone, leaving the laptop charger, paying some money up front for a personal trainer. I’d love, if you got it, a smorgasbord to spark some inspiration.

Benjamin Hardy
So is this all straight up in the context of being at work?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think it’s okay if we drift a bit in terms of things that boost your general productivity and effectiveness and energy but, yeah, if you got some office-specific tidbits those are great to prioritize.

Benjamin Hardy
Yeah, definitely. Definitely. For me, in what I’ve seen, a lot of it has to do if you’re in a job, for example, like how can you take on more responsibility? A very simple forcing function is literally just applying Parkinson’s Law which is tell your advisor whoever it is that you need to report that that you’re going have something done very soon.

Like if you tell them vocally that you’re going to have their report back, or whatever it is that you have to give them, if you give them a very short timeline on where you’re going to have it back and you’ve made it verbal so that now they’re expecting it, all of a sudden you’re going to get to work. Parkinson’s Law basically is work fills the space of the amount of time you give it.

And then asking for more responsibility, like seeking greater responsibility, actually trying to –  I mean, a lot of these are very simple and basic.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fine.

Benjamin Hardy
Yeah, you just want to – and say it like how it is. If your job is not setup so that those things are in place, I’m not saying go quit. I’m saying you might have to have some conversation so that you can be in a position where it does matter. That may require that you seek more mentoring or something. A lot of it is just taking responsibility for your job and for your situation.

If you need to have a conversation with your boss and say you want more work, or you just need to show up more. A lot of that is just being proactive. That step is not necessarily about tweaking the environment but it’s more about tweaking the expectations around the environment. And there’s a lot of research that talks about how you rise or fall based on the expectations of those around you, that’s called the Pygmalion Effect. And so if you have leaders that don’t expect much of you, sadly you’re probably going to drop to those expectations.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s potent stuff. Now let’s talk about the flipside of it then when it comes to building out the high recovery environment or any, why it’s forcing functions to be implemented there.

Benjamin Hardy
Totally. So to the extent you can, and I think Greg McKeown, who I know has been on the show, one of the things he talks about is literally just asking for specific things with your job. I mean, if you can ask for certain days off or certain types of schedules, asking if you can work from home. But if you can’t, asking for certain amounts of time off.

So, basically, the idea is this. The best creative insights are not going to happen while you’re at work. The research that only 16% of creative ideas happen when you’re sitting at your desk. And so, you need to be very focused when you’re at work but you also want to optimize for rest and recovery, you want to optimize for being away.

And so there’s a lot of research and a lot of cool ideas around sabbaticals, around mini retirements. If you think about Bill Gates, he did his think weeks where two weeks a year he would leave. He would totally detach, he was very inaccessible, and he would just spend time reading articles thinking. And he said that’s where his best ideas came from.

And you can apply that at a really small scale. A lot of people talk about having a disconnected day where you leave, where you go away for a day and you just rest. You don’t have you phone with you, you’re unreachable, like you just go and have a you day where you’re just resting, or you’re maybe listening to an audio book or writing in your journal, or going on a hike.

The more of those types of days you can embed into your life, or weekends, or mini retirements where you’re doing maybe like a five-day weekend, like once every month or two, the power of leaving your routine environment is very important because when you’re outside your routine environment, when you allow yourself to actually rest and recover, then you start to get some really good clarity, and there’s strategies around getting that clarity and connecting with your why.

Like I would talk about writing in your journal in specific ways, and I talk about that in the book. So there’s a lot of kind of research around the idea that the power of a decision is based on the emotional state that you make that decision. And so a lot of people, they don’t make powerful decisions because they’re not in a very powerful mental place when they make that decision.

When you get out of your routine environment, when you can kind of see the forest of your life for the trees because you’re kind of outside of it, you’re not like staring it in the face, you can kind of take a breath, you can look at life, you can kind of reconnect with who it is you want to be or with your core values or whatnot.

The more of those days you can take, especially if you’re spending time in self-improvement, like reading audiobooks along the way, or writing in your journal and thinking about your goals, it’s making powerful decisions in those states that allows you then to come back into your environment, into your life, at your job, wherever you are and live in a much higher level. And I think everyone who’s listening to this podcast, regardless of where they are in their career, they’re probably listening to this podcast because they want to upgrade themselves and they want to continue to upgrade their career.

And so I think spending plenty of time resting and recovering, first off, so that you can psychologically detach so that you can come back and be in flow while you’re at work so you can be super productive while you’re there, but also giving yourself plenty of time to totally just detach and reset and reconnect with yourself, and then make powerful decisions outside of your environment about who you want to be, what you want to do, and then jumping back into life, and actually living that out, that’s how you upgrade yourself, that’s how you become successful regardless of your career path or your job. You can become successful in any field if you give yourself plenty of time to self-improve. Stephen Covey calls that sharpening your saw.

Pete Mockaitis
And so when you talk about a powerful state for a powerful decision, so it sounds like you’re sort of contrasting that, as opposed to a state in which you have very narrow shallow distracted attention and feel constrained to not have a lot of time, energy, focus, attention to having that time, that rejuvenated space to rock and roll.

So that sounds like what you mean by powerful state because, well, I got Tony Robbins in my head right now. I was like, “Make your move chest,” you know, powerful state, peak state, jump up and down. So are you talking about a powerful state in the sense of, “I am so freaking excited,” as well as, “Hey, I’ve got sort of time and resources to apply the thought”?

Benjamin Hardy
I would say it’s slightly a blend of both. So there’s a really good book called The Power of Moments that recently came out by Chip and Dan Heath, and they talk about powerful moments whether they’re peaks or like pits. Pits are like hard moments where you’re facing hard truths, or just transition moments. Those are the things that generally are most memorable. Like when you think back on your life, you’re generally thinking about highs, lows, or transitions. Those are the kinds of things that are most potent in our memory.

Like with the Tony Robbins like how you get yourself into an elevated state so that you can make bigger decisions, there’s some good stuff in there but a lot of it is mostly just getting clarity, getting clear on what you want, reconnecting with what you want. And so I would say it’s kind of a blend of both.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So I would like to talk a little bit about this clarity and this journaling stuff here. So we talk about giving it the time, energy and attention and space required to touch base with what’s really important and what matters. But it sounds like you’ve also got some particular prompts or questions that you suggest pursuing in order to really zero in on that.

Benjamin Hardy
Yeah, definitely. Giving yourself the space to do it is important. For me, when I’m journaling, and read plenty of books on this. A really, really good one I would recommend is called Write It Down, Make It Happen written by some English professor of some sort. She was great.

But, basically, journal writing has been found to be helpful for a lot of reasons, one of them being emotional regulation. So a lot of people have a lot of suppressed emotions of some sort, you know, suppressed trauma. One of the best books on the topic that’s staring to get a lot of steam is called The Body Keeps The Score. It’s written by an amazing medical doctor.

But, basically, a lot of the reason people are stuck is because they have suppressed energy or emotions that they just don’t want to let come back up. And one of the main tools for writing in the journal is just to emotionally regulate, writing about what you’re dealing with, getting kind of understanding your emotions. There’s a lot of really cool research talking about it.

Well, so another one of the kind of myths that I try to slam in this book is the idea that you don’t necessarily have what I would call a fixed personality. In Western culture, because we’re so individualistic, we think that the personality you’re born with is the personality you are for the rest of your life, and that’s why we’re so focused on personality tests and stuff like that.

From kind of combining a lot of the stuff in the medical field about trauma, what usually happens when a person goes through a traumatic experience or even just stress, is that they start to – basically it’s what they would call, your personality becomes frozen. You stop living in the present, you stop integrating new experiences, and you kind of get stuck. Or you stop creating these peaks, pits or transitions, these challenging moments that gets you.

And so kind of going back to journaling, one of the reasons, so you want to write in it to break through some of those emotions, but you also want to write in it to purposely create some of these life-altering experiences. They don’t have to be these high-high peaks like the Tony Robbins style, although that’s what they call them is peaks. Tony didn’t make up that word. He just used it in his own ways.

But peak experiences come from Abraham Maslow. But, ultimately, I think you want to create those. And so in my journal, not only am I writing about the emotions and stuff that I’m dealing with, but also you want to think about what are the experiences you want to create that would allow you to continually upgrade as a person and so you want to strategize in your journal.

Not only write about the stuff that’s difficult but you want to write about the things you want to actually do and why you’re writing. Because what’s cool about writing pen and paper is that it allows you to focus on the topic but it also allows your mind to wander at the same time. And when your mind is wandering, it’s able to make connections to distant places in your memory or in your brain or just based on where you’re located in the environment.

And so while you’re writing you actually end up getting a lot of a-has and insights, or at least you come up with ideas that are things that you can then attempt to do, whether that’s you may get the idea to call your advisor or your boss and make a recommendation, or send that email, or an idea to maybe be more productive or proactive at work, it maybe an idea of how you can help a colleague.

It’s basically giving yourself the space to think and then maybe developing the confidence to actually try stuff you haven’t been trying so that you can actually do stuff to get different results.

Pete Mockaitis
And so that’s intriguing when you mentioned the pen and paper situation is helpful because you’re focusing on the thing, and yet also wander. So you’re saying you don’t get the same effect in a digital writing environment.

Benjamin Hardy
Nope. Not at all. No, writing with a pen and paper is so slow and kind of tedious that it allows you to wander in random places, that’s why journal writing is inherently random, you know what I mean? Often, for most people, it goes from topic to topic is because not only are you slightly focused on a topic but your mind is also like roaming around, and so it picks things up that you couldn’t pick up if you were so – I think it’s a better tool for creativity on a brain level for most people than just writing in an app.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, thank you, that’s a great distinction to tuck in here. Well, Ben, it sounds like we could cover a whole lot of goodies here. You tell me, is there anything else you really want to make sure to highlight before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Benjamin Hardy
No, we can just shift gears.

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

Benjamin Hardy
Sure. I think I’ll just probably repeat the one I did before just to emphasize, “If you do not create and control your environment your environment will create and control you.” I guess another one that goes with that is just, “Willpower is for people who haven’t decided what they want to do.”

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

Benjamin Hardy
I really like Ellen Langer’s work honestly. She’s my favorite psychologist. She’s a Harvard psychologist. She wrote two really good books and has spent several decades studying. Her research is really non-conventional but her two books are called Mindfulness, and she’s kind of the godmother or the queen of mindfulness which her stuff is so different than the pop stuff that you see online these days.

She wrote a book called Mindfulness and she wrote a book called Counterclockwise. And her Counterclockwise study is so interesting. Basically, what she did was she took – do you know the Counterclockwise study?

Pete Mockaitis
I really don’t. Let’s hear it.

Benjamin Hardy
Okay. Okay. Cool. So she took a bunch of men in their 70s.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay. Go on.

Benjamin Hardy
Yeah, you know it?

Pete Mockaitis
We’ll see. We’ll see.

Benjamin Hardy
This study actually happened in the ‘70s, in the 1970s. So she took a bunch of like eight men in their 70s and took them to a place that they designed to look like the 1950s. And so it looked like they had old pictures, old magazines, and basically what she did was she had the men get dropped off by their families and then they spent the time reminiscing as if it was the 1950s.

And so they couldn’t talk about anything after the year 1958, and I think that this study actually happened in 1978, so it was like 20 years earlier. And so they had to pretend like they were the 50-year old version of themselves, and they had to pretend like that that’s who they were, so they had to talk about current events of the time as if it was real. They had to talk about their job as if that was who they were, and they spent five days doing this.

And then when the five days was up, and what’s interesting is that a lo of the people who came when they’re getting dropped off by their kids, they were coming in on canes and stuff, they had to, you know, they could barely – so they came in, some of them can’t even really walk. And what Ellen Langer and her team of graduate students did is they treated them as if – it kind of goes this whole idea of actors but it’s very different.

They treated them like human beings and gave them the context to act differently than they would’ve been expected to act because there’s so much interesting research about how, you know, I already talked about the Pygmalion Effect about how people respond psychologically based on the expectations of the environment, but their biological metrics also kind of are altered by the expectations of the environment, that’s a new and emerging field called epigenetics.

But, basically, what happened with the study was after like five or seven days, it was time for the study to be over, and these men scored totally different on their dexterity, their vision was better, their memory was better, some of them who had walked in on canes like walked out on their own two feet. It’s a very compelling study, and it’s called the Counterclockwise study, Ellen Langer.

Basically, that kind of opened the door for a lot of her research in studying how context and environment and expectations, and all of these things relate to identity. And so one of the big a-has that I would hope that anyone that hears this ideas takes is that who you are in one situation is not who you are in a different situation.

That is kind of a Western perspective and it’s a very fixed and rigid mindset and it totally ignores the power of context. So who you are in one situation is different from who you are in a different situation. Your personality is not fixed but it’s fluid, and it’s also based on environment, and your identity is not singular but it’s based on your situation.

And so once you kind of get those things then your level of responsibility becomes shape the environment that shapes you, or as Churchill would say shape the building, or whatever, shape your home that shapes you. That’s kind of, I think, ultimately where the responsibility comes when you start to understand these things.

And my prediction, because now that the fields of epigenetics and stuff, and neuroscience are becoming so popular and they’re realizing the power of environment, my prediction is that you’re going to see a big shift in a lot of the self-improvement writing, and it’s going to start to focus a lot more in environment because the science that’s been around in psychology for three decades is staring to become very compellingly clear in other fields now.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, intriguing. Thank you. And so you’ve list a few but could you also share with us a favorite book?

Benjamin Hardy
I think I’ll just stick with the recommendation I gave about The Body Keeps The Score, that’s a really good one right now for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And how about, is there a particular nugget or piece that you share that seems to really connect and resonate and get folks sort of quoting you back to you?

Benjamin Hardy
Yup, definitely. It brings all these ideas together. So, number one, it’s not your personality that shapes your behavior, it’s your behavior that shapes your personality. And, the behavior that leads you to certain environments, so that’s one key is your behavior shapes your identity. Number two is it’s not confidence that leads to success, it’s successful behavior that creates confidence. I think that those two are nuggets that people can internalize, they can actually make some big change in their lives.

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

Benjamin Hardy
I would point them to my book Willpower Doesn’t Work. they can read all my articles on Medium.com, they can check out BenjaminHardy.com, but, yeah, my big ask or my big challenge would be go check out the book Willpower Doesn’t Work.

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

Benjamin Hardy
Try as hard as you can to create these two types of optimal environments in your life, or what I would call enriched environments. And I think that it’s really good to really assess how much time you’re spending in these types of environments. Because your environment is either pushing against you or it’s pulling you forward. And if your environment is not pulling you forward, and if it’s pushing against you, then you’re going to have to use willpower.

So I think it’s easier actually initially to start with the rest and recovery environments. Like when you’re home, be home. Leave the distractions alone and actually do something engaging at home and disconnect from work, and then with those insights and rest that you’ll get, like actually make your job high level, make it high demand, take on more responsibility, create consequences through publicly saying when you’ll have stuff done, take on more responsibility.

I would say just create more enriched environments in your life through forcing functions like we’ve talked about or just through making your life more engaging. Those types of environments are very rare in today’s society. Most people are very distracted, very few people are fully on or fully off. And if you can create those environments it’ll allow you to do that. It’ll change your life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. Well, Ben, this has been so fun. I hope that book is a smashing success, and I wish you lots of luck in your writing and all you’re doing here.

Benjamin Hardy
Thank you, Pete. Seriously, thanks for being so accommodating and for taking the time. It means a lot.