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Each week, I grill thought-leaders and results-getters to discover specific, actionable insights that boost work performance.

633: How to Get Unstuck, and Find Your Perfect Career Fit with Ashley Stahl

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Ashley Stahl says: "Clarity comes from engagement an it's never going to be from thought. You really can't think your way into clarity."

Ashley Stahl discusses how to find your dream career by getting clear on your core skills, values, and motivators.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The #1 reason why people end up exhausted in their careers
  2. How to identify your 3 core skillsets
  3. How to turn a bland job into a grand job

PLUS, we’re giving away copies of Ashley’s book to celebrate the new year! We’ll send copies to the first 24 listeners who share a link to this post on LinkedIn, along with their favorite nugget of wisdom from the episode. Don’t forget to tag both Pete and Ashley in your post!

About Ashley

Ashley Stahl is counter-terrorism professional turned career coach and author of the book You Turn: Get Unstuck, Discover Your Direction, Design Your Dream Career, and she’s on a mission to help you step into a career you’re excited about and aligned with. Through her two viral TEDx speeches, her online courses, her email list of 500,000 and her show, You Turn Podcast, she’s been able to support clients in 31 countries in discovering their best career path, upgrading their confidence and landing more job offers. 

She maintains a monthly career column in Forbes, and her work has been also featured in outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, CBS, SELF, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and more.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Ashley Stahl Interview Transcript

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

Ashley Stahl
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to spend this time with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. Well, I’m excited to get into what you’ve got to say but, first, I want to hear a smidge about your background. Now, I noticed in your LinkedIn that you have experiences both working for the Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, California, as well as fighting terrorism, although separately. It’s not fighting terrorism with Arnold Schwarzenegger, which I’m sure he’s done in a number of movies. I couldn’t list them. So, do you have any pretty wild stories from either of these encounters?

Ashley Stahl
Oh, my gosh. I’m so excited you asked me this. Nobody’s ever asked me about this.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it when people say that.

Ashley Stahl
Well, first of all, I used to answer Arnold Schwarzenegger’s government phone calls and so I would always be that intern that’s like, “Office of the Governor,” and then you would get all sorts of people across the rainbow that would be calling in. And one of my most common calls were people who would kind of sound normal at the beginning, “Hi, I’m looking for Arnold Schwarzenegger,” I’m like, “Oh, I’m his intern. I can help you.” And then suddenly they would go straight into emulating him, and they go, “Get down, we have to get out of here.”

And I was in charge of the FBI logs to basically report people who are going crazy to make sure that they weren’t an actual threat to national security. So, I was constantly having to fill out my little log every day, like, “Irene called again from Florida, David from Venice Beach,” so I was reporting all sorts of people, and that was a crazy job.

As far as counterterrorism goes, working at the Pentagon at Washington, D.C., I wouldn’t say that I had funny experiences. I feel like the experience even getting into the Pentagon was a lot of failure for me, learning how to job hunt, which informed my entire career path, mastering the job hunt. But I think that was more of a serious time. And I came into the Pentagon when NATO was trying in Afghanistan in 2011, so it was much more of a tense environment at that time and a lot of heaviness.

Ashley Stahl
Even though the Pentagon was very serious, I will say that I was caught sitting at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk asking another intern to take a picture of me to send to my mom, and I got in trouble by the head of the office and a couple of political appointees walked in right as I was doing that, so I definitely learned my lesson on respecting the situation at a young age.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, they haven’t done it.

Ashley Stahl
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I mean, I couldn’t resist myself. I would, first, maybe. Okay. So, then these people who were just quoting Arnold Schwarzenegger, they had to be logged as threats, like, “Get down,” because that is…

Ashley Stahl
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Wow. So, by that standard he might have more threats than any other governor around because nobody else is going to call the governor of Illinois and say, “Get down.”

Ashley Stahl
Oh, look. Listen, one thing I’ve learned working in the government is that there will always be something else weird. Everybody is a special little snowflake working in government offices and they will get their share of weird constituent phone calls. I also went down to the bottom of the California building, downtown L.A., during my internship, and I would answer all of the protester grievances, so that was where I learned how to handle a lot of angry energy and kind of neutralized it and keep my people skills at bay, and those are just a couple of things.

Also, I used to get his mail, and that was the time when anthrax was a full-on trend, and so people would put baby powder in his mail to pretend that it was anthrax, which was terrifying. So, I was like the sacrificial lamb on the frontlines of the baby powder wanna-be-anthrax situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man. Well, that’s a wild cross section of experience, so that just sort of sets the stage for you know a thing or two about careers, discovering direction, designing your dream career, and more. So, I was intrigued, so as we were emailing back and forth, you said, “I’ve got some stuff that your people have never heard before,” so, I’m intrigued.

Lay it on us. How do you think about career, strategy, job hunting, getting unstuck stuff differently than other career coaches out there?

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, I’m pretty unconventional. There’s so much content out around how to get a job, and how to master an interview, but there’s not a lot of people out there who are going against the grain.

Like, for example, one of the things I learned early on in my career in my 20s was don’t follow your passion. Passion is interesting. It’s valuable. It’s something to consider, but it will never be as important for your career path as your core skillset. Really taking a look at what are your natural talents, what are your natural gifts, and how does that inform your career. So, that belief system is just the basis of what I write about in my book or what I do on my podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Well, then you talk about some core pieces in terms of core nature, core skillsets, core values, core motivations. How about we start with skillset? You’ve got a nice little listing. Tell us about it.

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, I have a list of 10 core skillsets because I think the answer for anybody who is feeling stuck, or unsure of what their next move is, or something is missing at work, is coming back home to who you really are. That’s the concept of making a you turn is reconnecting to yourself. And that comes back down to noticing where you’re innately talented.

And one of the things about your core skillset that can be kind of challenging is that it’s so obvious to you, it’s so natural to you, that it’s almost hard to notice that you have whatever that thing is as a skillset. So, one question I tell people to ask the people in their life, whether it’s their parents or their close friends or their colleagues…

So, when you ask somebody, “When have you see me at my best?” and I always tell people that it’s not going to be easy to tell that for yourself. It’s so much more helpful when you can collect that information from someone else so you can really take that in. And so that’s why I ask people to write their responses so that I can read them. And instead of asking them in a verbal conversation, I’ll have them text me back or something like that so I can have that information.

And then the question from there to ask yourself is, “What skillset am I using when people see me at my best?” Because here’s the truth of the matter, according to research both in dating and also with job hunting, oftentimes other people have a better sense of who you are than you do. And it’s not because we don’t know ourselves. It’s because it’s easy for someone else to neutrally see where we stand out. That might be obvious for us and not so obvious to the rest of the world, and we might not even realize that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s powerful. I think it really rings true in terms of when I’ve been amazed at the work of others, and I’ve said, “Oh, my gosh, this is so great.” They’ll say, “Well, it’s not a big deal. I just kind of cranked this out in like 20 minutes.” Often, it’s sort of like a design task because I’m not great at that, it’s like, “Oh, this is amazing. This is so gorgeous. How did you do it? It must’ve taken you forever.” They’re like, “No, just 20 minutes. I mean, it’s really no big deal.”

And so, I think that’s really true and that it comes so naturally to you that it doesn’t seem…you don’t feel victorious because it wasn’t hard, and so it doesn’t register and trigger like, “Oh, wow, I’m so proud of that thing I just did. I’m awesome at this,” because it was just that easy.

Ashley Stahl
Oh, yes. And I also think a lot of people kind of get stuck on this idea of clarity. Like, if I had a penny for everybody that said, “I need clarity,” you and I would just be on a private jet with your family right now living on an island or something, because the ultimate truth for me is that you don’t need clarity. You just need to reconnect to yourself. Hence, this concept of making a you turn.

So, the 10-core skillset—I’ll go through these for any of our note-takers—I think, really kind of bring you back to the question at the root of “Who are you really?” and then the realization that there are so many different versions and ways for you to truly harness that core skillset and use it in the world. So for example, right now on this podcast, if you notice, my core skillset is words.

And what’s really interesting to consider, as you look at your core skillset, is how many different ways there are to express your core skillset. So, in my case, words can look like many things. It can look like me being a speaker, an author. It could also look like me being a salesperson or a business development professional in the workforce. It could look like me being a real estate agent, a talent agent, because it’s all about I am turning words into money.

Another thing to really look through when you’re considering these 10 core skillsets, words just being one out of the 10, is asking yourself, “Am I introverted or am I extroverted?” because if you take at take a look at the words skillset alone, there are many different ways or versions to express that. The internal way of expressing it is as a writer, or a content creator, I mean, there are so many different ways, as an editorial strategist, whatever have you. But the external way of expressing the words core skillset is more of a speaker, a spokesperson. So I saddle both sides of the fence as a writer and also as a speaker, a podcaster with my own show, all of those things.

And so, it’s really key through that people ask themselves, first and foremost, as they’re looking at the core skillsets, “Am I an introvert or am I an extrovert?” And I know there’s a lot of research on being an ambivert, but I do think people tend to lean one way or the other.

So, would it be helpful for me to go through all 10?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes let’s do that.

Ashley Stahl
So, I can kind of just go through them for anybody who’s taking notes, kind of think about where they fit, and really start asking themselves, “Am I an introvert? Am I an extrovert? How do I want to express this?” So, the first one, other than words, which I already gave you, guys, is innovation. And you kind of want to think about this as an energy, not just a tactical skillset.

So, the innovation person is the intrapreneur, it’s the entrepreneur, it’s the creative self-starter, it’s the person who maybe maintains their own book of business throughout a company. It is somebody who is coming up with solutions for different problems. So, it’s really important if you think about innovation, you are probably the entrepreneur at heart or the highly-creative person.

The second core skillset is building. This one is very much so on energy. So, one way it can look is being a mechanic, a construction worker, a little bit more tactical. Another way it could look is a little bit more conceptual and concrete like a web developer or somebody who’s building out a website. So, there’s many different ways that you can harness these skills.

The third one is words, which was mine, and I talked to you guys about that one. And then the fourth one is motion. Motion, as a core skillset, is all about using your body, using your physical energy throughout the day. So, this could be as literal as a fitness professional, this could be like a masseuse, a tour guide, anybody who’s using their energy and their body throughout the day and being in a state of movement is the motion core skillset.

And then the fifth one is service. And there’s a lot that I have to say about this core skillset. The service core skillset is the humanitarian, the helper, the social worker, but the big challenge that I have with the service core skillset is a lot of people have different childhood wounds or upbringing challenges that kind of result in them thinking that they have a core skillset, when really all it is is a coping mechanism that they developed throughout their life.

And so, anybody who’s a service person, I always kind of pause and say, “Are you really a helper or is that just something you’ve learned? Are you just a people pleaser? Is this a coping mechanism?” So, it’s important with that particular one to ask yourself, and even any of them, to say, “Does this skillset come from a wounded place or an inspired place in my career?”

And the sixth one is coordination. God knows the world needs these people. These are the detail-oriented operations people, project managers, event coordinators. They make the world go around, make sure that we’re not dropping the ball. And then the seventh one is analysis. These are the people who have a gift for research, academia, the economists, even intelligence analysts, anything that involves you going deep and having that natural affinity to do that.

And then number eight is numbers. So, holler out to my number crunchers. This is kind of what it sounds, the bookkeeper, the accountant, the investment banker, the financial modeler. And then number nine is technology. This is the IT genius, the artificial intelligence visionary. And then the tenth one is beauty, and I love this one. These are the people who make art of the world around them whether they’re an interior designer, a jewelry designer. They have an eye for aesthetics and they have a capability of creating that.

So, like I said, all of these are expressed differently if you’re introverted or extroverted, and they also are just their own energy fields, and it really helps to kind of look at these when you ask, “When have you seen me at my best?” so that you can kind of take a look and say, “Oh, wow, everybody who’s seen me at my best is noticing that I’m in service when I’m at my best.” And kind of asking yourself, “Is that a default setting for you? Is that a natural place for you? Is that where you have a gift?” and not taking your gifts for granted because, far too often, we think where we’re great is just easy for everybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing. As I run through this, I think I see three contenders for me. It could be innovation, it could be words, it could be analysis but I’m pretty sure it’s not any of the others.

Ashley Stahl
Yes. Well, you’re hitting on a really good point. Everybody tends to identify with three. Like, three is the magic number.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, all right. How about that?

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, anytime I’ve done this, the client, or somebody, the courses, or whatever have you, I hear somebody saying, “Oh, I think a few of these feel like me.” So, here’s a thing to know, your primary core skillset is what matters the most. That’s what you’re building your career off of. And this becomes really relevant when people say, “Should I stay? Should I go? Am I in the right job?” What I always say to that is, “Are you honing the core skillset that you want to carry with you throughout your career? Or, have you exhausted opportunity to grow?”

That’s the top consideration because you’re really carrying a skillset with you for your life. And you might express it in different ways and you use it in different ways, but when you really get that, you’re able to make career pivots or changes, and make sense of them when you go back to your skillset and really sync in to the next move you’re making, whether you’re talking to job interviews or hiring managers, being able to talk about how your core skillset relates to the next job you want, for example.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I really love that that’s a very clear acid test in terms of, “Am I continuing to grow this or am I not?” And I think it’s kind of like the Golden Goose in terms of the long arch of a career, that’s what you go to have going. Otherwise, if your skills are atrophying then you may very well be less valuable three, five years from now than when you started, which is not the direction you want to go in. Ideally, you’ll be increasingly super valuable, indispensable with the associated compensation and fun responsibilities growing all the way until your retirement part.

Ashley Stahl
You know what’s so amazing about what you’re sharing is I recently read some data that was saying every five years, one of your skills becomes completely obsolete in the workforce. And I’m aware that by 2025, about 16% of job titles don’t even exist yet. So, that’s been really relevant especially for Generation Z who’s transitioning into the workforce now to know that there’s a lot of jobs that are about to become available that we haven’t even heard of, and it’s so important to stay aware of that. And, yet, our core skillset has many different ways of expressing itself when you know what that is.

And kind of going back to you saying you have three core skillsets, it’s about deciding which one are you uniquely brilliant in, how do you want to lead with it. And I will say that they all kind of do come up with this cocktail where it’s like let’s say motion and innovation are your core skillset, you can kind of think, “Okay, innovation and motion, maybe we’re going to get a fitness influencer, somebody who creates a business and kind of honors motion throughout the business with their fitness side of thing.”

So, it is kind of fun to play with that and do the combinations with yourself, but it’s still important to know. And that’s one of the number one reasons people are exhausted in their work is because they’re not working within their core skillset or most of their days in a different skillset.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m curious, if you’re frequently working with clients, folks identify three, how do you push forward to zero in on the one?

Ashley Stahl
I think intuition is a really big deal and just your body, like, really tuning into your body. So, for example. I gave a TED Talk recently. I was talking about how there’s 200 million, if not more, neurons in your gut, which is why it’s called the second brain right now. And when you think about that, that’s the size of a cat or dog’s brain. And so, there’s an intelligence to you having a sinking feeling in your stomach. There’s an intelligence to having butterflies in your stomach.

So, one thing that I really ask people is about what experiences they’ve had at work even if they hate their job that they didn’t mind or that they kind of likes, and I pay attention to their body language and how their energy frees up or their voice to see where they’re getting energy. Because one of the slippery slopes I think people take in their career is they work in a zone of goodness and not in their zone of genius. And when they do that, maybe they’re working in their secondary or third core skillset, they’re really missing that juice of who they really can be in their work.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s handy as I think about it. For me, innovation is leaping forward because I just think about the podcast, you know. The analysis and research is a means to an end of we’re evaluating you, Ashley, and seeing, “Okay, does she have good stuff?” and so we’re using deep research in terms of like the verdicts, “Do we invite Ashley and do we pass?” And then the words, in terms of, “How do we…? What’s the title? What’s the teaser?” I mean, that just sort of we need to do that to make it kind of compelling. But what I’m loving most is the discovery, like, “Holy crap, what you say is true and I didn’t know it before. I love this,” and it lights me up, and the research and the words are kind of a means to that end.

Ashley Stahl
Yeah. Well, you know what’s so amazing about the truth is I don’t necessarily think the truth is something that people learn. I think it’s something you kind of recognize. Like, how many times has somebody said something, and all of you is like, “Yes.” It’s almost like they put words to what you knew and you couldn’t express.

And I think that’s what so powerful for me about being an author is that it’s kind of like that person that has an autoimmune condition and they’re shopping for doctors trying to get an answer, and they have this illness, and they just want to know what it is, and even if they finally get the news and it’s horrible news, there’s still such a relief to knowing what it is and knowing what you’re working with. And I think that’s the gift that we, as authors or podcast hosts, get to give the world, if words are our core skillset, as we get to put words to things that people haven’t been able to vocalize, and there’s such a healing and a harmony that we can create for people with that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s true. Yeah. You know, I remember, what’s coming to mind is there’s I think it’s an audiobook publisher, Sounds True, and it’s like, “That’s just the best brand.” If I will start an audiobook publishing house, that’s the name I would’ve wanted but they already took it, because it sounds true. And that’s often how it feels when you’re engaged in a conversation. It’s like something lights up inside you, it’s like, “I don’t have the hard data but that sounds very right and true and, yes, internally.”

Ashley Stahl
Yeah. And, you know, what you’re sharing, also it’s really important for anybody listening to realize, like some of us are kind of cut off from our bodies. We don’t feel our feelings. We don’t feel what feels good. And so, anybody who’s kind of going through that as they’re listening to you and I talk about the truth, it’s like your only assignment, if you can’t feel where you’re expanding or contracting inside and where you’re feeling pulled to in those breadcrumb moments where you’re getting little nudges is just to start paying attention to what feels good. Start paying attention to where your energy is good. Start asking people where they’ve noticed your energy get really good. I think that’s just a starting point is leaning on the people around you that you can count on to educate you on when they’re noticing you really shine because it’s tough.

And, yet, one of the biggest barriers to figuring out what you want to do is listening to everybody and not even listening to yourself anymore. So, I think walking that line is a big deal.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, hey, that’s awesome. We talk about core skillsets. We’ve also got core nature, core values, core motivations. Can you give us just maybe your favorite tactic to get a good kernel of insight into each of these?

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, I would say your core nature is really about the energy you bring to the room. And I actually talk about this in the first chapter of my book before I get to core skillset because I think it’s the foundation. So, one question to ask people who know you is, “How does the room change when I walk in? How would you describe my presence in the room?” When you’re able to ask that question and start to kind of collect the adjectives that you get from people around you, you’ll start to see a trend.

For anybody who knows me really well, they’re going to say the room gets lighter because I have a sense of humor and I’m a joker, and so people start to kind of laugh when I walk in because I’m kind of a goofball, stuff like that. And when you start to notice that, you can ask yourself, “Okay, here’s the top three, or four, or five adjectives I’m seeing people describe me as. This is my essence. This is my nature. This is me when I’m me.” And when you look at that, it’s like, “Who do you know in your life that has a similar nature or energy to you?” And from there, you can kind of look at different career paths that people in your life have or that you’re aware of, and you can start to say, “Okay, these are my different career options. Now, let me get clear on what my core skillset so I don’t go into a career that demands my energy but isn’t using my core skill.” So, I think your skillset is really a filter for your options.

And, from there, I would say your core values are a really big deal, and that’s something I wrote about in another chapter because there’s two dynamics in people’s career at any given moment. The first dynamic is the what of what they’re doing. That comes down to their core skillset, their job title, how they’re bringing their energy into work and what their responsibilities look like. The other side is the how of how your job looks. Given that 50% of people leave their job because they don’t like their boss, the research is in, how your job looks matters just as much as what your job is, and that comes back to your core values.

So, I think everybody has maybe five core values. And I try to tell people don’t go for much more than that, don’t choose many more than that because it’s hard to juggle that in your career. But I hold core values as foundational, fundamental, non-negotiable principles by which you live your life. And when you can start to tune into what your core values are, you can see those as a filter for what companies or people that you want to work with.

You know, I had a client who was a lawyer, and a lot of her core skillset and core nature pointed to being a lawyer, and there are many options that I pointed to but lawyer made sense. And when we got down to it, we realized that it was really a core values issue because balance was one of her core values, and she was a mergers and acquisitions lawyer, which means that when there’s a deal that’s live, you don’t go to bed, and she doesn’t see her kid or her family. And so, we ended up making the decision for her to change over to family law, and that completely changed her life. There’s a process for her to do that. Now, she’s very 9:00 to 5:00. She loves being a lawyer again and she has that balance.

And so, I think for anybody who feels like something is missing in their career, often what’s missing is a core value or you’re not working within your core skillset. Those are two things to consider. And when people are radically unhappy in their career, viscerally unhappy, usually what’s happening is a core value is not just missing but it’s being violated or trespassed upon. So, getting clear on those core values and your core nature, your core skillsets, those are three steps in my 11-step roadmap to making a you turn.

And I could go on about this stuff forever but, hopefully, everybody listening can kind of take that time to look at their core values. And those are words like family, balance, authenticity, love, connection, self-expression. These are all core values as possibilities.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, core values have come up a few times on the show. And what’s your pro tip in terms of if folks kind of have an idea, like, “Ah, this is probably one and that’s probably another. But then, beyond that, who knows?” How do you recommend you go get those clear?

Ashley Stahl
We get this advice in dating. Pick somebody that has…and I love comparing job hunting to dating because there’s so many parallels it’s crazy. But we get the advice of pick somebody who shares the same values as you. But here’s the truth of the matter. Everybody’s value can look different.

I had a client who told me that her core value was adventure. And I had another client, he told me it was adventure. When I asked the woman, who lived in New York City, I said, “What does adventure look like for you?” she said, “It means trying new restaurants in New York.” Okay, great. That’s adventure for her. When I asked the other guy, “What does adventure mean for you?” he said, “Skydiving.” So, we’ve got completely different ways of expressing the core values. So, I think that’s really important, not just to write down a word that means something for you but asking yourself, “How am I showing up in this word? What does it look like for me?”

And I think one of the most slippery slopes of core values is people are too aspirational when they’re choosing their core values. So, you’re saying that this comes up a lot on the show, but I think one thing that I don’t hear often is the phenomenon that people think that something is a core value when, really, it’s just something they want more of in their life, and that’s really valuable to know what you want more of but it’s not a core value. A core value is what is the non-negotiable ingredient to who you are, and you know you have a core value when if you remove that word, you’re not you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, yes, core value, non-negotiable. So, we reflect on it. And what else in terms of arriving at it? It’s not just something you want more of, but it’s something that is a non-negotiable must-have.

Ashley Stahl
Yes. So, the thing about core values is that, far too often, people are picking words that they want to be more of and not words that they are. You know something is a core value where if you take away that word, you’re not you anymore. So, humor is a core value for me. If you remove humor, I’m not here anymore. I’m not me. That’s when you know you’ve hit a core value.

I had a client who wrote peace as one of her core values, and I’m like, “Hmm, you’re not the most peaceful. I don’t know if this is a core value for you.” And she ended up totally agreeing with me. So, I think it’s important to be really honest with yourself when you’re choosing your words. Look at what they actually mean for you. Get curious for the opportunities in your life, how those core values are manifesting for the other person or for a company, let’s say, if you’re not. Maybe in your love life, you look at what it means for your partner. Maybe in your career, you look at what that looks like for the company you’re at and how your job is going to play a role in that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I guess to distinguish, core value is a fundamental non-negotiable thing that you got to have in life or a thing. And your core nature is just sort of like your essence, your you-ness, your “What do I feel when you enter the room?”

Ashley Stahl
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Any further distinction?

Ashley Stahl
No, I think you’ve got it. Your core nature is your vibes, how the vibe is you bring to the room. Your core values are your principles, and your core skillset is your gift. And if you can really take a look at those three things, you are so much further ahead than so many people in your career. And I think a lot of people are in careers right now that maybe aren’t working for them. And if that’s the case, there’s this really cool field called job crafting, and it’s all about taking a bland job and turning it into a grand job. I love saying that because it’s so ridiculous.

[33:28]

But, really, that’s what it is. It’s taking a look at your core skillset, and saying, “How do I ask my manager…?” or if you’re a business owner, “How do I carry this into my business and initiate a project that allows me to kind of morph what I’m doing in that direction?” So, let’s say you’re working in tech but you want to be a writer. How can you ask your boss for the permission to take initiative on a project that allows you to be a little bit more of a writer but still provide extraordinary value to your company? So, I think job crafting is a really big deal if you’re not currently working in your core skillset. And I do think that people who aren’t working in their core skillset, or honoring their core values, is an explanation for why so many people are unhappy at work.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, you got one more. Core motivations. What’s the story here?

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, there is so much to core motivator. And one of the things that I’ve learned as I was writing the book is that everybody, obviously, is motivated by something else. So, one way to kind of tune in to your core motivator is in your job interviews, really asking yourself, “How does this manifest for me?” So, I’ll go through, there’s ten just like the core skillset, if it’s helpful for me to go through all ten.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Ashley Stahl
Okay, cool. So, number one is meaning. This is about people doing work that really aligns with a spiritual purpose. So, this could look like aligning your core skillset and your core values with a very deep sense of personal mission. Number two is about optimal health. So, this is about work that supports your health or your physical wellness. This is why you see certain people who are probably the motion core skillset. They’re motivated by doing something every day that comes with their health. The third core motivator is time. So, this is work that allows you time freedom or flexibility. This is a career that gives you a sense of control over how you’re spending your time, and it’s a huge motivator for people whether you’re in a job interview. You want to take these motivators and ask questions that allow you to get insight on whether that need will be met.

Number four is impact. This is work you know is changing the world or making a difference. I think what’s really interesting about the impact people is that impact might not show up in how their day-to-day job looks. It’s a conceptual backdrop to their job. And what’s so important about that is that their responsibilities and what they’re doing might not be tied to the actual impact it’s having, but just knowing that they’re doing something that’s making the world better, they’re a little tiny cog in a much bigger important wheel, is enough for them. That’s what motivates them.

And the fifth one is visibility. So, in the influencer space, I’m sure you’ve interviewed plenty of us where it’s work that grants you prestige or recognition. This is a career that gives you validation. And, obviously, if you’re not checking yourself, it’s really a wounded motivator unless you kind of take care of yourself and just know this about yourself.

And then the sixth one is accomplishment. So, this is for the people who are very motivated by checking things off a list. They like to feel a sense of completion. This is the career person that loves deadlines, they love that dopamine hit when they get an achievement. It gives them a sense of motion and completion and gratification.

And then number seven is training. So, this is work that actually allows you to learn as you do it. I would say that you’re probably somewhat motivated by that just being a podcast host, and same with me with my podcast. I love to learn. And then number eight is ease. And, actually, I love the ease people, like they crack me up because the person who can own that as a motivator, there’s something very refreshing about how honest they are that they want work that allows them comfort, which means it helps them avoid shame, or fear, or failure, anxiety, whatever it is. It’s a career based on simplicity. Doing work that you feel competent doing without much challenge to your growth. So, this is for the person who’s very motivated by easy times and just getting by without much thought on their career.

And then number nine is spending. So, this is work that you’re motivated to spend money in your work or save it or keep it. Some people are literally just motivated by the pursuit of money, and I think there’s a lot of judgment on those people, but I think there’s something really amazing and inspiring about someone that can say, “I just want to make a lot of money, and that’s what I’m motivated to do.”

In personal development, I think there’s a lot of challenges to that statement that there’s something below the desire for money and what is that really about. But I actually have found in my work as a career expert the past decade, and that’s really what I’ve put into the book that I wrote was just all of the interviews and surveys I’ve done. Some people naturally just enjoy what money brings to their life to a level where they’re not needing much else. This is what motivates them.

And then number ten is self-expression. So, this is work that grants you the freedom to channel your emotions and ideas, and bring them to light. So, this is a career that really leads with creating through your feelings and through your ideas. This is definitely something that motivates me.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, can you contrast, for me, meaning versus impact?

Ashley Stahl
Yes. So, meaning, when you really look at that one, what’s different about it from impact is that it’s something that is more aligned with a spiritual purpose. It’s your own sense of mission. It’s more self-focused. So, somebody who’s seeking meaning, it’s about them. Somebody who’s seeking impact, it’s about the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And what’s interesting about ease is I was thinking about David Allen, Getting Things Done. He’s been on the show a couple of times and he said, “If you ever had a crank widget job in which you got a bunch that needed cranking, a widget crank, a widget cranker, that’s a job, is you just do that and then you’re done.” It’s like, “At the end of the workday, you’re not at all thinking about the widgets and the cranking. It’s just like not there.”

And so, ease, in some ways it doesn’t mean like you’re lazy or you’re a bum. It just means like I’m thinking about farmers and some of them have very long, very demanding workdays, but in a way there’s some ease in terms of, “I don’t need to think or worry about what I need to do, which is very clear. Those cows need to be milked, that field needs to be plowed, and so I’m just going to do that and roll with it. I don’t have to agonize over the political stakeholders and how I’m going to appease all of them and their complex interrelationship struggles and conflicts. I’m just going to do the thing that really needs to be done now,” and so that’s a variety of ease.

Ashley Stahl
Exactly. And I’m really inspired by these people because I find that we live in a world where it’s really easy to be complicated. It’s actually so much harder to be simple, and these people have it down. And a lot of the work that they do in this category is very meditative, it flows, it’s easy. They’re not the people who are wanting to necessarily grow in their work. Maybe they’re growing in some other area of their life, and they’re just not motivated by that in their job.

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

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, I would say the final thing that we didn’t cover because there’s just so much, I mean, having written a 300-page book on it, is people’s interest. I think a lot of people get lost on how to figure out where to put their interest in their career. And if there’s any advice I could give to anybody listening, your interest is really your backdrop.

So, for example, I love cupcakes, and that doesn’t mean that I am going to be a baker of cupcakes. There’s a difference between loving to consume something and being meant to produce something. And so, if you have an interest and you want to bring it into your career, first think about your core skillset, how you’re spending your time and doing your day, then think about your interest more as the backdrop that you’re doing it in. So, if you love travel, maybe you’re going to work at a five-star hotel, but what’s more important is how you use your skillset.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that adds up in terms of, “I think I’m passionate about coffee.” It’s like, “Well, I mean, drinking coffee is very different from…”

Ashley Stahl
That doesn’t mean you need to be a coffee-maker.

Pete Mockaitis
“…making coffee, selling coffee, consulting coffees shops.”

Ashley Stahl
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
You might hate those things, and then just enjoy drinking coffee when you’re there, and that’s all.

Ashley Stahl
Exactly.

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

Ashley Stahl
A favorite quote. I love Rumi’s quote, “Act or live as if the universe is rigged in your favor.” I have found that that quote has given me so much peace at times where whatever is happening for me in my career or my life, I can’t make sense of it, I always trust that there’s something working in my favor, and it just hasn’t been revealed to me yet.

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

Ashley Stahl
I found a bit of research from Stanford, and I’ve struggled to find it ever since. I think I read it in a scholarly journal or something like that. But, recently, I read that 84% of your best ideas don’t come at work. That was by Stanford, and I love that because it’s such a reminder of how important it is for us, I mean, all of us are innately creative beings to create white space outside of our work and stop getting into that addictive pattern of booking ourselves back-to-back-to-back not allowing for that genius to come through in our day-to-day lives.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I like that. When I slack off at work and I feel guilty, I just tell myself, “This is part of my creative process.”

Ashley Stahl
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And there’s the hard data to back it up. So, thank you. More of that. And how about a favorite book?

Ashley Stahl
I mean, obviously, I have to say my own book You Turn, but if that is not self-serving enough, I could say my favorite book and the person that motivated me to be a writer in the first place and really influenced the way that I write is The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

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

Ashley Stahl
I absolutely love Insight Timer app. There are some meditations. There’s a woman on there, named Sarah Blondin, and she has free meditations, and I always put my noise-cancelling earphones on, and I completely turn off the world for 10 minutes, and her meditations get me so grounded in my work. I always do it before a really, really big meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Ashley Stahl
My favorite habit is probably fitness, and that’s something that’s brand new. I hate that I’m saying it because it feels really trite but it was really hard for me to get into fitness. I hired a personal trainer. It’s kind of forced me to exercise a few times a week, and I’m really proud of that because it’s given me such a level of new focus and energy in my day, and I’m so glad I’m doing that.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, one thing I’ve said often is clarity comes from engagement, and it’s never going to come from thought. You really can’t think your way into clarity. So many people are sitting there, marinating, and engagement can look like so many things. It can look like as simple as reading my book or anybody’s book or listening to this podcast. It can also look like taking another job and trying it on.

Far too often, people hold their careers too heavily and they slow themselves down for making decisions. And what I think with this is I walked into the Pixar offices a while back, and I saw a big sign on the wall that said, “Fail faster.” And what I loved about that was that, to me, is the sign of a good career. If somebody who’s willing to be experimental to lighten their energy towards their career and engage in some way even if it means taking something that feels pretty big.

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

Ashley Stahl
I would say, right now, we have a bundle of courses and you can order my book at YouTurnBook.com or else you could hit me up on Instagram @ashleystahl.

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

Ashley Stahl
Yeah, I’d shamelessly have to say I hope that they read the book. I mean, it’s everything I’ve collected over a decade of work with thousands of job seekers in my courses. And it has been such a labor of love and soul. And if they don’t read the book, I would say at least re-listen to this podcast episode and take some notes on your core skillsets so that you can carry that with you into your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ashely, this has been fun. I wish you lots of luck and many unstuck moments.

Ashley Stahl
Thank you so much.

632: How to Reclaim 40 Hours Every Month (WITHOUT Multitasking!) with Dave Crenshaw

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Dave Crenshaw says: "The holy grail of productivity is increasing how much you're worth per hour."

Dave Crenshaw shares hard-hitting research on the perils of multitasking—and how to improve your focus.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The right and the wrong way to “multitask” 
  2. Why we love to switch tasks—and how we can break that habit 
  3. How a 2% increase in productivity makes all the difference 

About Dave

Dave Crenshaw develops productive leaders in Fortune 500 companies, universities, and organizations of every size. He has appeared in Time magazine, USA Today, FastCompany, and the BBC News. His courses on LinkedIn Learning have been viewed tens of millions of times. His five books have been published in eight languages, the most popular of which is The Myth of Multitasking—a time management bestseller. As an author, speaker, and online instructor, Dave has transformed the lives and careers of hundreds of thousands around the world.

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

David Crenshaw Interview Transcript

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

Dave Crenshaw
Hey, I’m thrilled to be back, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, last time we talked about having fun and how that’s super important. And I tell you what, your words come back to me frequently when I’m like having fun in the middle of a work day on a break, I was like, “Is this appropriate?” It’s like, “Dave said it’s going to make me better,” so thank you.

Dave Crenshaw
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
So, tell me, how are you having fun these days?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, I take July and December off now every year.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. Well done.

Dave Crenshaw
So, I just came off of a nice long December break, spent some time hanging out with the kids, I may or may not have played a little too much XBOX so I’m feeling good. I’m feeling rested and ready to go.

Pete Mockaitis
Did you get the new XBOX?

Dave Crenshaw
I did.

Pete Mockaitis
I did, too.

Dave Crenshaw
I made that a priority.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, kudos. Those were hard to snag for a little while there. Well, let’s talk about multitasking. So, you’ve got your second edition here coming out The Myth of Multitasking. I want to really dig deep into this. First of all, what’s the big idea here? What is the myth of multitasking?

Dave Crenshaw
The myth of multitasking is that multitasking simply does not exist, not in the way that people think about it. The word is an inelegant and improper word to describe various things that could be happening. So, what I cover in the book is helping people understand what really is occurring in their day when they try to do multiple things at the same time, and identify whether they’re being productive when they do it, or whether they’re really screwing things up while they’re attempting it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love the way you teed that up because it sounds like there’s some nuance and some distinguishing to be done which is why I wanted to have this conversation with you because that’s kind of come up before a bit but I think we can drill really deep here. So, if multitasking isn’t the appropriate term, what alternatives do you think we might and should be using?

Dave Crenshaw
Sure. So, what I present in the book is that one of two things are happening. Either you are switch-tasking or you are back-tasking. Switch-tasking is when you’re switching attention. You’re switching between listening to this podcast and answering an email, you’re switching between having a conversation with someone at work and thinking about the unresolved laundry that you left at your house, and every time you switch your attention from one thing to something else, you pay a cost associated with that. So, switch-tasking is always ineffective and we can go more into depth on that.

The other is back-tasking. That’s where something mindless, mundane, or automatic is occurring in the background. For instance, I’m listening to this podcast while I’m exercising, right? Hopefully, at this point, I don’t have to pay attention to how I run on the treadmill. I can focus on Pete talking. And that can be productive. The problem is, first of all, most people are using one word to describe multiple options, so they say multitasking, and we create a lot of confusion when people use that word. And when people say they’re a good multitasker, most often they’re talking about switch-tasking. And saying that you’re a good switch-tasker is like saying, “I’m excellent at screwing up multiple things at the same time.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Ooh, strong words. So, that seems to be the core distinction. So, back-tasking means something is so automatic it can be done in the background and requires no attention and, thusly, we’re pretty much only really doing one thing as far as our attention is concerned.

Dave Crenshaw
Correct. And that also includes things like starting the printer, printing a job, delegating a task to a coworker. Basically, something else is occurring that doesn’t require any effort from you, that can be productive and that should be encouraged but that’s not what most people are doing. You see how people are behaving in the workplace and in their day, especially now that so many people are working from home. And what are they doing? They’re constantly switch-tasking and they’re telling themselves, “I’m multitasking. I’m being productive,” but what’s really happening is things are taking longer, they’re making more mistakes, and they’re increasing their stress levels.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I like the term back-tasking, I think that’s short for background, things happening as you’re tasking. And, indeed, when you mentioned the printer, I think that’s a great example because sometimes I feel euphoric. There’s a strong word. But if I have, let’s say, I’ve got some dishes being cleaned by the dishwasher, I got clothes being cleaned by the washing machine, I’ve got a vacuum robot going, and I’m doing something else, I mean, that’s like nirvana for me in a productivity nerd kind of a way.

Dave Crenshaw
And you even have your podcast working for you. Wow!

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true, people are listening.

Dave Crenshaw
You’ve got a podcast working for you right now while we’re recording this podcast so that’s effective back-tasking.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s totally true. Thousands of listeners as I sleep. I get a kick out of it when I see people, like sometimes I’ll refresh and I see downloads happening like at late night, like on a holiday or something.

Dave Crenshaw
Oh, we got to talk about that. That’s a different issue altogether.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, I shouldn’t be refreshing my podcast stats on a holiday?

Dave Crenshaw
Correct. Yes, that’s something else. That’s switch-tasking on your holiday. See, it is back-tasking because it’s taking care of it, but the moment you jump in and start looking at it, now you’re switch-tasking.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I guess fair enough. I’m just going to let that go. It’s not about me. It’s about the listeners. Okay, cool. So, the book, it’s on its second edition here. Are there new discoveries that you’ve made associated with multitasking? Lay it on us.

Dave Crenshaw
Sure. Well, okay, so the book first came out in 2008, and you think about where we were and what we were doing in 2008. Something like a Twitter was just barely starting to surface at that time. And, in fact, this shows how dated the original version was. The original version had a BlackBerry on the cover, right? And now you think about how powerful the phones are that we use.

One of my favorite comedians, Gary Gulman, says calling an iPhone a phone is like calling a Lexus convertible a cup holder. And we’ve got these devices that are constantly vying for our attention and then, on top of it in the workplace, since we’re talking about how to be awesome at your job, in a work context, there are so many different channels of communication that people are using. They’re using Slack, they’re using text message, they’re using Skype, they’re using Zoom. And so, when we have all these channels of communication, we’re creating lots and lots of different ways that we could switch-task in our day.

So, I had to make some updates and some adjustments to address, in particular, that issue; the channels of communication. A lot of other things are still the same. The tendency that we have to have a conversation with a human being while we’re tempted to look at our phone, that’s always been there. It’s just maybe a little stronger than it used to be. So, some things have changed radically and some things have stayed the same or just gotten more intense in their impact in our day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now let’s really zoom in on the comment associated with if someone says they’re really good at multitasking, they’re really good at screwing up multiple things at the same time. So, all right, lay it on us, many people really do think they’re good at multitasking. Are you going to tell them their own experience is wrong? Dave, how do you counter that?

Dave Crenshaw
Well, honestly, the best way that I have to counter it, and it’s not going to work well in a podcast, but I can tell people where they can get it and, of course, it’s in the book. There’s an exercise that I do. I do it in my live presentations, I do it in the book, and if you go to DaveCrenshaw.com/exercise, you can find it. And I do an exercise in the book where, first, someone performs a task. It’s just simple; just copying numbers and letters, right? And they focus on that for 30 seconds and they do it and they see how long it takes. And then we do it again, but this time we switch-task.
So, for instance, if I was just doing the alphabet, I would write A and then I would write 1 and then I’d write B and then I’d write 2. And that simple exercise does far more to convince someone than me rumbling on for 30 minutes about the scientific studies, and there’s a mountain of scientific evidence that shows that it’s less effective. But when you get someone to experience firsthand how much they screw things up doing the most simple thing in the world, it opens people’s eyes. The truth is right in front of them and they can’t hide from it.

And what you’ll see is, first of all, everything takes longer and the mistakes, people start just writing weird numbers and letters, and they’re crossing things out, and they’re going up and down, and their work just goes all over the place, and then how they feel, the stress impact of that. And when you experience it that firsthand, it opens your eyes, and then you start thinking about what your work day is like, and why at the end of the day you feel so stressed out, and why you feel like you didn’t really accomplish anything that whole day. And it’s simply because you were switching rapidly throughout the day between all these different activities.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I have seen one of your videos in which you did that exercise, and it is…you’re right, seeing is believing in terms of like you feel it. So, folks might counter that by saying, “Well, you know, I never really actually have to list the letters and the numbers in order while alternating.” So, can you drop some additional sort of research studies in terms of like maybe just how can we convincingly, compellingly prove that this is a big deal? It’s not like you’re, I don’t know, 3% less effective but rather massively less effective when you multitask.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. Okay. So, just a few things to consider. There’s a study by RescueTime that found that the average number of minutes a worker can go until checking their email or instant messages, so that’s excluding all the other things like other people interrupting them, six minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Dave Crenshaw
Every six minutes, on average, someone checks their email or instant message. Then you consider that there’s a cost associated with that. It’s not just the check, right? You got to look at it and then you’ve got to remember, “Where was I?” I could be in the middle of writing an email, and then another email comes in or a text message, so I stop. I look at the text message, I read it, I go, “Okay.” And they’re asking these questions, I say, “All right,” I type back the answer “42,” I send it back. Now, what do I need to do? Now I have to return to the email I was writing, I have to re-read everything that I was doing, I have to get my train of thought back to that frame of reference, and then I can start working again.

Another study out Michigan State found that just under a three-second interruption doubles the likelihood of making a mistake. Just three seconds. And this is an impact that everyone is experiencing constantly. That’s why I paraphrase Mark Twain, and I say, “There are lies, damned lies in multitasking,” because it’s a lie that everyone lives. We live it constantly throughout our day. And the beautiful thing though is if you can reduce it, that’s really where the evidence comes from, is when you start to cut down on the switches and you start to feel sanity return to your day. And you start to realize, “Wait a minute. I can get done everything that I was getting done in about a quarter less time.”

I had clients who go through my training and I’ll tell them, “When you go through this training, you’re going to recover about 40 hours every single month,” and they think that’s insane, that’s an unbelievable claim, and I used to hear it coming out of my mouth and say it’s an unbelievable claim. But I have had people literally tell me, Pete, they say, “I thought you were crazy. Now, it’s 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon, I don’t know what to do with myself.” And it’s simply by reducing one thing. By reducing the switches that take place in your day, you reclaim that much time.

Pete Mockaitis
That is striking. Well, maybe could you share with us maybe a particular success story, that 3:00 p.m., that drive it home in terms of it being real in terms of really painting a picture for what was this person’s life and work like before, what did they start doing differently, and then what results did they see from that?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. Well, in that case, and I don’t have direct permission from this individual to use his name.

Pete Mockaitis
Call him Hank.

Dave Crenshaw
Okay, yeah. Hank, a real estate professional, very well-respected, successful in his industry, but just burning the candle on both ends, working long hours, feeling stressed out constantly, and that’s why he brought me in was to help him. And this was back when I did it in person. Now, my training is on LinkedIn Learning, which you’re very familiar with. But he brought me in to help him with this, and what we did is we started to look at how many different interruptions he was getting in his day, and we were saying, “Okay, which of these are absolutely necessary?” because you can’t get rid of all switches. I never make that claim and no one should ever think that that’s what I’m saying.

But what you can do is you can implement strategies to reduce the number of switches. “Which of these interruptions can wait? Rather than leaving my phone on 24/7 and setting the expectation I’m going to answer every time you call, what if I checked my messages every hour on the hour?” When we think about that, especially like in a real estate business, that reduces the number of switches by an order of magnitude. That would cut it down by 50% or more the number of interruptions that are taking place in your hour. He said, “Rather than checking email constantly,” that’s what most people do, right? Either their phone notifies them or they’re constantly hitting send and receive sitting at their desktop computer.

And if instead, if we say, “Here is a scheduled time in my day, three times in my day when I’m going to check my email,” that kind of stuff cuts down. And so, it was little strategies like that that I implemented with him that’s just stacked on top of each other and helped him realize, “Wait a minute. I can perform much more productively if I start to emphasize my ability to focus.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s exciting. So, let’s hit the word cost for me here. You say when we do a switch, we incur a cost. Tell me, what are the types of costs and just how costly is it?

Dave Crenshaw
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
We heard about making more mistakes and taking longer. Do we have any quantifications on any of that?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. Well, the quantification really depends upon the individual. Some people pay less cost than others.

Pete Mockaitis
Bargain shoppers.

Dave Crenshaw
Oh, yeah, yeah. And there’s a question that often gets brought up about the statement that women can multitask and men can’t, right? And there have been studies into this. Some will say there’s no difference at all. I’ve seen some that say less. I have consulted a lot of female executives, business owners, and what I would say from my experience is that women do incur less switching cost than men do, but there’s a problem with that statement. They’re still incurring switching costs.

And what is that cost? Yeah, what is the cost? It’s the amount of time to recover; the mental recovery time. Sometimes even the physical recovery time of locating the thing that you set down and forgot where it was. There are a handful of costs that we incur every time we switch our attention. And this is a funny thing, and this shouldn’t surprise you as someone who wrote the book called The Power of Having Fun.

Occasionally, I’ll recommend that people practice learning how to focus simply by just watching a show on Netflix but doing nothing else. And as I say that statement, I know that there’s probably half your audience that feels tension at the thought of that, right?

Pete Mockaitis
No snacks, no bathroom, no…?

Dave Crenshaw
Okay, bathroom, we’ll let that go.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you can do that before or after the show, I think.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, exactly. But what about not media multitasking? What about not looking at your phone while you’re doing it? What about not looking up on IMDB, “Who’s that actor that I’ve seen before, while I’m watching it?” Our brains have become so conditioned and hardwired to jump from task to task, from thought to thought, that we are creating a situation where we are perpetuating switch-tasking in everything that we do. And so, there’s that other part of it which is the amount of time that we gain but it’s also the amount of stress that we relieve when we stop behaving like we’re a CPU that’s being overclocked.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, any sense for how many minutes that is? I heard one study, I think it was from Microsoft, that when you entertain an email interruption, it can take like 24 minutes to get back to what you were doing.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that valid or are there other stuff in that ballpark? I imagine, you said it does vary from person to person, but I would just love it if there’s anyone on the fence, we can just nail them with a number.

Dave Crenshaw
Well, yeah, I’ve seen that study from Microsoft. It’s pretty old and I see that it still gets cited. One thing to keep in mind with that study is they’re talking about software programmers. So, it’s the amount of time that a programmer took to recover, and that is extremely high for an intense task like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you’re deep into it.

Dave Crenshaw
I can tell you, like the U of U, University of Utah, they have a great department by David Strayer where they do a lot of studies. They found that just issuing a voice command to a car while you’re driving, it can take 27 seconds to regain your attention. So, the answer to that, I wish I could give you a hard number but I can’t because it varies according to the individual and it varies according to the task that they’re performing, both the switch that occurred and the thing that they were doing before.

But I can tell you that BaseX research did a study a while back, and I still find this number to be pretty accurate, which is that the average knowledge worker loses 28% of their day due to interruptions and the recovery time associated with those interruptions. I would say that it’s probably closer to over 30% at this point just based on my field experience.

So, again, we go back to that question, if you reduce the switches, you can reclaim 40 hours every single month. That is an entire work week every single month. Where does that come from? It’s the reduction of switching costs.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Powerful stuff. So, then, okay, first of all, why do we do this to ourselves then? I think some people even know it’s destructive and we continue to do it. It’s almost like it feels good or we just got a curiosity that we want to scratch. What’s going on inside our brains?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. Well, an example of that is if you haven’t seen the documentary on The Social Dilemma, that is extremely eye-opening. And it talks about how even some of the things that we use, like the social media, are deliberately created to be compulsive and to feel that we must do them.

So, part of it is the ghost in the machine, is “What’s been created that’s doing this?” And part of it though is just human behavior. There’s a psychological concept called variable reward ratio. And it’s the same thing that drives compulsive gambling. It’s the same thing that drives people pulling the lever or pushing the button on the slot machine. And the idea is that sometimes you’re going to get a payoff and sometimes you aren’t, and that is very attractive to the human mind. We like the randomness of it and so it becomes…we want to keep pushing the button, “Am I going to get the jackpot?”

Well, what’s the equivalent in our work day? “I’m going to hit send and receive. Maybe someone is going to say yes to my proposal. Maybe I’m going to get something from a Nigerian prince that’s going to make me millions of dollars.” Whatever it is, we know that it’s not going to pay off most of the time, but the fact that it might pay off is enticing. The fact that you might see that you got a whole bunch of new subscribers to your podcast, going back to that example, right?

So, we have to start conditioning ourselves to be okay with silence, to be okay with not getting an answer. And there’s another concept that I teach elsewhere where I talk about the missing minute and restoring that minute to your day. Meaning, giving yourself just 60 seconds for nothing. I guarantee, people are going to listen to this podcast, they’re going to get done with the podcast, and they’re going to do one of two things. They’re either going to jump back to work or they’re going to click the button and go to the next thing.

Now, that’s great for you to get views but it’s not necessarily serving them as much as it could be if they just stopped, set a timer for 60 seconds, and just sat with it. Just tell the brain, “It’s okay. It’s okay that you’re doing nothing right now.” And the more that you create little pockets like that in your day, the more you start to realize, “I am in control.” And you can retake that control 60 seconds at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
That is inspiring. Well, Dave, perfect transition. I think we’ve built a real good why, so let’s really rip into the how.

Dave Crenshaw
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
What are some of the top sort of high-impact, high-leverage practices we can engage in to help us reclaim control here? So, one of them is taking a 60-second breather to do nothing. I love it. What else?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. By the way, I like to think of these, I call these switch busters. I like the show MythBusters. I know it hasn’t been around. It’s not for a while.

Pete Mockaitis
Somehow it just seems up your alley. I don’t know you super well, Dave, but it just seems right when you say that.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah. So, these are little things that you can do to reduce the number of switches in your day. No one of them alone is going to solve the problem but all of them, together, start to really build a nice big strategy for reducing switches. So, yeah, we’ve talked about that. I also mentioned about setting a schedule for when you’re going to check your email. In that case, if someone is taking six minutes, every six minutes they’re checking their email, their instant messages, even if we can cut that down to every hour on the hour, we’ve reduced the number of switches that you’re making by 60% or more. We’re making a big, big drop.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s like 70 a day, nine eliminated times eight hours. There you go.

Dave Crenshaw
There you go. Yeah, so now we just do it eight times a day. Or even better, what about three? What about the beginning, lunch, and the end of the day? What if it’s less than that? And only someone listening to this can answer that question for themselves because every industry is different. But the question you would ask yourself is, “How long can I reasonably go? What is the longest that I can go without damaging my career, without making things hard on my customers and my coworkers? What’s the longest I can go?” And whatever that is, create a schedule and start using that schedule.

And I’m going to pause for a second and teach a different principle that’s really important, which is there’s no such thing as a perfect system; there’s only the next draft. Meaning, just try something. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, don’t try to make it perfect. Just try something, give it a go, and then make an adjustment after a week or two, and then tweak it again. Maybe you went to three times a day and that was not enough. So, maybe you go to four times a day or something like that. If it doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean that the principle is broken. It just means that your system needs a little bit of adjusting.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And I love to get your view, right now, I’m thinking of a lawyer friend of mine. I think we talked about something like this once, and he said, “Yeah, that’s really just not an option for me to ignore the partner’s email to me, an associate, for a full day.” And so, I guess your response will be, “Well, hey, maybe it’s a half a day or a quarter of a day or an hour, but it’s something other than nonstop checking.” Any pro tips on how we can sort of help shape our environment in terms of like the people and the messaging we convey to them?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, so that’s another switch buster. In fact, that’s the one that I really key in on the second edition, which is having a conversation about channels. One problem that we run into in a variety of areas at work is the assumption of common sense, and we believe that everyone should have common sense, but common sense is not common. Common sense is the result of repeated life experience. The easiest example of that is it is common sense me, being an American, that cars belong on the right side of the road, right?

Pete Mockaitis
But of course.

Dave Crenshaw
But it is common sense for someone in the UK that they belong on the left. And that is simply because that’s what we’ve seen our entire life. So, then we go into the work environment, and let’s just say that we’re using something like Slack to communicate with each other. What is the shared common sense of how much time we should allow until we respond to something? What is the shared common sense of how much time we should allow for an email response? Or what about a text message?

So, you have a discussion with your team and you just list out each of the channels: text messages, email, Slack, whatever it is you’re using, phone calls. “Let’s get together, let’s have a conversation, let’s agree, how long can we wait? And what should these channels be used for? Can we say that text messages are the back channel, that they’re for emergencies only? So, we know if someone sends a text message, it needs to be done within the next several minutes. But we don’t put anything into that channel that isn’t an emergency.”

And you have a conversation about what is an emergency. A lot of the stuff that you have at work is not an emergency; it’s just an impatience-y.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And your point on common sense there, it’s so compelling because people have wildly different expectations. And this comes up, I’ve facilitated a few training sessions in which we have a norms discussion around email, and it’s just wild. Some people are like, “Oh, you don’t need me to reply within an hour? Oh, wow!” And it’s just sort of lightbulbs go off. It’s like some of the easiest result I can deliver in a training, frankly, to just have that conversation.

Dave Crenshaw
And they do it themselves which is great.

Pete Mockaitis
And then, likewise, I remember back when I was single and had some dating activity going on, I remember, through a friend of a friend, someone said, “Well, Pete Mockaitis is a real jerk.” And I thought, “Uh-oh. Did I not communicate that I’m like seeing other people? I thought I made that clear.” And then apparently the reason I was a jerk was because I never replied to a text message for about four hours. And it’s like, sometimes I won’t reply to my mom’s text messages for like 12 hours because I have all my notifications off, and my phone is off to the side, and I’m in a good work groove, and that’s just sort of how I operate. But there is no common sense. It’s all just sort of the expectations you mutually agree upon with the people you interact with.

Dave Crenshaw
Right. And that illustrates, too, that it’s not just your team members. You can have those conversations with your customers. There’s nothing wrong with educating your customers, saying, “Hey, if you need to get me for a normal thing, send me an email. I’ll respond within a business day. If you have some catastrophic problem, here’s my phone number. Use it for that.”

So, you can have these negotiations, this training, whatever you want to think of it, that we all get on the same page as much as is possible. And, again, will that get rid of all switches? No. But will it greatly reduce the switches? Yes. And what it will do is it will help us move from the culture of now to the culture of when.

The culture of now says, “At work, when I have a question, I want an answer now. I’m going to knock on your door,” or at least we used to when we weren’t working from home, “I’m going to knock on your door, I’m going to send you a text message, I’m going to give you a phone call, and if you don’t answer any of those, I’m going to keep doing it until I get an answer.” This just perpetuates switch-tasking in our day.

If you move to the culture of when, you say, “I will respond to everything, and this is when I’m going to do it. This is when you can expect a response.” And that one thing alone dramatically saves time and reduces mistakes and helps everybody feel less stressed.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Okay. Any other top tips, Dave? Lay them on us.

Dave Crenshaw
Well, we kind of danced around this and this is not going to surprise you at all. Making sure that you have clear time off, making sure that you have a time when you’re going to work and when you’re not going to work, and respecting that because that’s going to help you be more focused when it’s time to work. Like, I just came back after a nice long break, like I’d mentioned, and so I believe that my success is dependent upon the fact that I did that.

Also, though, related to the schedule is scheduling the time for your most valuable activities. If I talk to an average person, they’re going to have between 5 and 25 job descriptions, and more if they’re a business owner. And so, what I want to do is I want to look at all those different things, and say, “Which of these is most valuable? Which of these is worth the most per hour? Or which of these is the hardest to replace or will help you advance in your career the most?”

And then I want to look at the schedule, and say, “How much time are you spending in this most valuable activity? When is the time of your day, or the time of your week, when you are least likely to be interrupted, when you can be the most focused? Schedule time to work on that most valuable activity during that time. And that not only will reduce the switches but it increases your value per hour.”

And, to me, that is the holy grail of productivity, is increasing how much you’re worth per hour, not how much you make per year. If you increase your annual salary but you also increase the hours that you spend working, that wasn’t a raise.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I’m right with you.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, you’re just making more work for yourself. But if we can increase how much you make and decrease the hours that you’re working, now that’s fantastic, and that gives you the freedom to reinvest that time into whatever else you feel is worth investing that time into.

Pete Mockaitis
Amen. I totally agree with you there, but some people may say, “Hey, that might be easy for you self-employed trainer types to say,” but I just have a good friend who got a job, it’s a sales role, and it’s pretty awesome. They said right up front, “Hey, we don’t care so much like how many hours you work or which hours you work, so long as you’re hitting these particular goals of new prospect meetings occurring per month.” So, it’s like game on. Like, if he can crack the code on more compelling communications or whatnot, he can work less or, if he wants to, hey, work more to get more commission.

But it is magical because there are some thresholds, like at some point when your hourly compensation rises to one point, it’s like, “You know what, now might make sense to have me hire someone to help clean the house. It might make sense for me to hire a handy person to fix up some things.” And then it just can really snowball because you break these thresholds where outsourcing more and more makes great sense and you’re able to deploy that time to either even more wealth creation or alternative results and fun that you want to make happen in life.

Dave Crenshaw
Yes. And it doesn’t have to be limited to someone in sales or someone who runs their own business or whatever it is because everything that you just said there is one less thing that you have to think about, one less thing that you have to devote time and attention to, which means less switches. And less switches means you get things done faster with less mistakes, with less stress.

And sometimes people hear that too, and they go, “Well, okay, that’s great but I can’t hire someone to do this and that.” Okay, fine, but you do hire people. You don’t make your own hamburger, do you? Not most of the time, maybe on the weekend. You go to wherever it is. You go to Wendy’s and you hired someone to make that for you. You relieve yourself of the burden of having to think about how to put that thing together. When you hire Uber, you’re relieving yourself of the burden of having to spend time driving, which, by the way, is one of the least productive things you can possibly do.

And you can look at it and say, “How can I use technology to reduce the amount of time I’m spending doing each of these things? How can I outsource one task at a time? Could I use Fiverr? Could I use Upwork, to have one person take care of part of this so that I can focus on the thing that I do that is truly amazing and truly valuable?” The more you start to be aware of those things, the more you start to do them, the more productive you become. And, again, I’m kind of throwing some stuff out here, and maybe some thing is going to hold on.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I just appreciate that you do it.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, but I go back to that principle of the 2% increase in productivity. A 2% increase in productivity is an entire work week every single year. So, if you look at the computer you’re using, the keyboard that you have, the chair that you’re sitting in, all of those things can create switches. If I have a chair that is uncomfortable, isn’t that going to cause me to switch my attention a few times a day to go, “Man, I don’t feel good. I’m not performing well”? I just lost a whole lot of time and a whole lot of value, so it’s worth making the investment to get the best quality tools that you can get.

I’m sitting here, I’ve got a mouse in my hand that’s a gaming mouse with lots of different buttons that are assigned to macros. I just upgraded my computer to the best quality, and I like gaming quality stuff because gaming quality is built to demanding specifications. They usually perform better, so I just upgraded my computer for the year. I guarantee, that upgrade is going to yield me at least two weeks this year. It’s probably about a 4% increase in productivity. And that sounds crazy but once you start doing the math, you realize, “Wait a minute. Little things really start to add up.”

Pete Mockaitis
Dave, just because I don’t know how many of us can dork out on at this level, I’m going to join you here because I’ve talked to myself about that as well in terms of like, “Hey, my computer is pretty good. It’s 2017. I don’t feel like I’m often annoyedly waiting for stuff.” By the way, my trick was I got a super fancy SSD, a solid-state drive, and plugged it in via a Thunderbolt, or USB-C, and that’s my bootup drive which I found gave me a lot of acceleration for not a lot of dollars.

But run me through the math. So, well, one, I just love to justify buying new stuff. But so, if my computer is fine, and then I went to top of the line, how do you see that turning into extra minutes for me each day, week, and year?

Dave Crenshaw
So, let’s just start with that simple math: 2% increase. So, if you’re 52 weeks a year, 2% is one week, right? So, if I increase anything that I’m doing by 2% overall, that almost immediately adds up to one week.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Dave Crenshaw
And then we ask the question, “Well, what is my time worth? What is a week’s worth of time in terms of my career?” And everybody is going to have a different number for that. And then, not to get too crazy with the math, but I also like to use the rule of three, which says, “If I‘m going to invest a dollar in my career, in my business, I want to get three back in return.” So, I look at that week. Let’s say that one week of time is worth a $1,000, okay? I’m going to be really conservative. It’s worth a $1,000. That means I can invest $300 to increase my productivity by 2%. Makes sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Dave Crenshaw
Or $333. Because if I can invest $333, I’m going to get one week back, and then I’m also going to make money on top of it because of that value. And that’s being ultra conservative because, in many cases, these time gains stack from year to year. I recently did a video about this where I was teaching that concept and some of the things that I’ve done, and I’ve realized, looking back over the 20 years of my career, give or take, I’ve probably gained three to four years’ worth of time.

And that sounds crazy, but then you look back, and I go, “Wait. Did I really gain that much time? Let’s see. I’ve written five books in that time. Well, I’ve actually written six because I wrote a YA novel for fun. I’ve created 35 courses for LinkedIn Learning.” I can just start stacking out the list. “And, plus, I’m working less hours than I’ve worked in my life.” It is a real principle, and I’m making more than I’ve ever made.

So, little things, it started 20 years ago with me doing the same principle, looking at my workspace, looking what I was saying, and saying, “How can I gain some time?” And every little change has added up and made that happen.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. And so, well, here’s where I guess the rubber meets the road. So, if we want a 2% lift in productivity, and we’re thinking about upgrading your computer, then that means, in a 480-minute, eight-hour work day, we’re going to need a fifth of that. We’ll just call it 10 minutes. You think you’re gaining 10 minutes a day from your upgraded computer?

Dave Crenshaw
I think that’s an easy question to answer. In the case of your Thunderbolt drive, didn’t you gain 10 minutes?

Pete Mockaitis
I did but I want to see if I can justify and upgrade the whole computer.

Dave Crenshaw
So, in my case, so I looked at my computer and I actually have mine…the one that I had before was a tank. It was probably coming up on four and a half years. And just for tax purposes, I came on the year, I go, “Well, I need to make an investment,” so that was an easy one to make. And I probably, just looking at benchmark scores, I probably increased the speed of my computer by 30%. Now, am I going to use that full 30% every time? No, but I’m definitely going to get 4% to 5% out of it constantly all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess that’s what I’m wondering. Like, to zoom in even more, it’s like I don’t often find that I’m just sitting waiting for my computer to handle something.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, but that’s not the problem, or that’s not the issue. The issue is, “Could you wait less? Could things happen faster than you think?” And they can. They always can. Not just for the computer but other things.

Pete Mockaitis
Are we talking about waiting for one and a half second to half a second on a page load to open? Is that kind what the building blocks here?

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Dave Crenshaw
Now, I sense, what I know of you, Pete, you’re an analytical guy. You want to know the numbers, and I confess that I am entrepreneurial. I do entrepreneurial math.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Dave Crenshaw
So, I generalize broadly but I have found that my generalizations actually turn out to be quite accurate over time. So, yeah, I’m not like sitting down and crunching the numbers on this, but I can go, “Reasonably speaking, am I getting that kind of return? Yes. And am I going to be extra conservative with that assumption? Yes.” And it usually turns out to be correct.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve noticed, like, “Hey, when I open up a program, I wait less now with my newer computer.”

Dave Crenshaw
Oh, yeah, everything. Chrome opens faster. There are things that we’ve done. Like, for instance, with video editing, because I know you do stuff with that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s huge. Amen. Yeah, if you’re video editing, you’re going to need that.

Dave Crenshaw
Yeah, I open it up, I’m spending a lot less time with that.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Okay, that answers that. Video editing is demanding and makes you wait.

Dave Crenshaw
But here’s another thing that you could do. So, I use a thing called Phrase Express, and there are things like this, that are phrase macros. And so, I found that I was typing the myth of multitasking over and over again. Kind of ironic, right? So, I changed it into a macro where I just type a couple of keys and it spells out the myth of multitasking. You start creating a framework of that where you’ve got 50 to 100 phrases, you just boosted your productivity by 2% to 4% quickly. And that doesn’t cost hardly anything or maybe nothing at all to implement that.

Pete Mockaitis
Dave, good, good stuff. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Dave Crenshaw
Yes, the one thing I would say, and we haven’t really hit on this much, is the fourth effect. I’ve talked about the three effects of multitasking, or switch-tasking: things take longer, you make more mistakes, you increase your stress levels. But there’s a fourth effect, and this applies even for people who think that they’re good multitaskers, they think they can get away with it and still be productive. That’s fine. But when you switch-task on a human being, even back-task sometimes, you damage that relationship, and that’s unavoidable.

Because when you switch-task on a human being, you are communicating to them that they are less important than whatever it is you’re doing in the moment. And none of us would wake up and start our day and go down to see our spouse, and say, “Hi, honey. You’re unimportant. What are you going to do today?” Or, someone calls your business, you say, “Thanks for calling XYZ Business where you’re unimportant. How can I help you?”

We would never do that but that’s exactly what we do when we pick up our phone and we’re playing with it when our spouse is talking to us. Or, when we’re in a Zoom call and we’re kind of checking email out of the corner of our eye, we’re damaging relationships. Now, that’s negative.

The positive is when you stop doing that and you focus on human beings, you build relationships because it’s unfortunately uncommon to treat people that way now. So, you stand out when you’re someone who gives someone your full attention, and you build the relationship, you make them feel important. And there’s just hundreds of reasons why that’s a fantastic thing to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Well, now could you share a favorite quote, something that you find inspiring?

Dave Crenshaw
I’ve got it hanging on my wall right here next to me. It’s, “Every time you devote time to practice, you haven’t lost. You’re always a winner.” Any guess where that came from?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m guessing it’s a sports person but I don’t know.

Dave Crenshaw
Well, it’s Bob Ross.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, lovely.

Dave Crenshaw
So, that reminds me that I’m always learning, I’m always making mistakes, and sometimes I can get hard on myself, but I remember that every mistake is a practice. And if I’m practicing, I’m always getting better and always winning. Good old Bob Ross.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Dave Crenshaw
I’m listening to Is This Anything? with Jerry Seinfeld. I am inspired by comedians because so much of what they do is very similar to what I do as a speaker. They have to hone their craft, and so I like getting inspiration from uncommon places. So, Jerry Seinfeld is giving that to me right now.

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

Dave Crenshaw
I always say that calendar is my favorite tool, but in terms of an app, I’m a fan of Evernote. I like the simplicity of it in keeping notes and staying on top of everything.

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

Dave Crenshaw
Well, if they’re interested in getting The Myth of Multitasking, you go to MultitaskBook.com. That’ll take you right to the Amazon page. And then, of course, my website DaveCrenshaw.com, all sorts of free resources there for you.

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

Dave Crenshaw
Pay attention. Pay attention today. Think of someone that you’re going to talk to whether it’s at work or at home. Practicing at home will help you get better at work. The next person you talk to, give them 100% of your attention.

Pete Mockaitis
Dave, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck in all your single-tasking adventures.

Dave Crenshaw
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure, Pete.

631: Accelerating Growth through Coaching with Andrea Wanerstrand

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Andrea Wanerstrand says: "It's not in the doing; it's in the being that differentiates you."

Andrea Wanerstrand shares how widespread coaching has helped transform Microsoft.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why curiosity is the secret sauce to growth
  2. Three coaching approaches that accelerate growth
  3. How to get into the coach mindset

About Andrea

Andrea Wanerstrand works with leaders across the globe in transforming their teams to keep pace and get ahead in today’s digital market through developing leadership and management capabilities. She is an International Coaching Federation (ICF) certified executive coach, serves as a global board director with the ICF, and leads the global coaching programs at Microsoft. 

With a business strategy focus, Andrea has 15+ years of international experience in organizations from 50 to 100,000+ employees with a multi-industry background including Technology Solutions & Services, Business Management Consulting, and Telecommunications. Expertise in leading the development and management of large-scale global talent lifecycle & development programs specializing in sales, marketing, technical operations, and customer service organizations. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Andrea Wanerstrand Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Andrea, welcome to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Andrea Wanerstrand
Hi, Pete. How are you today?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m well. I’m well. I’m excited to dig into your story and your wisdom. But, first, I want to hear, there’s an interesting backstory to your name of which we practiced the pronunciation several times beforehand. What’s the story?

Andrea Wanerstrand
Well, Wanerstrand is my husband’s name. I took on his clan name, if you will, and he is the only American citizen in his family. It is a Swedish name. It’s actually Lake Warner which is the largest lake, and strand is shore in Swedish. And, yes, I was dating him for about a year before I could even spell it properly or pronounce it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. Well, I don’t think that’ll be hard but I will, I’ll call you nice things and we’re going to hear some nice things, talking about coaching, and coaching cultures, and the benefits, and your Microsoft story, but maybe let’s zoom out to fundamentals. At the core, can you tell us how and why coaching boosts performance?

Andrea Wanerstrand
Well, at its core, the technique of coaching really is drawing on the wisdom within the individual that already exists. It holds them whole, capable, and resourceful and it allows curiosity to come forth. And it’s a technique that each of us can use to really help those around us get clear with their objectives, get clear with what they want to accomplish, and get clear in understanding how capable they really are.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sounds like some great stuff. And I’ve experienced that on both sides of the coaching table, I guess, as a coacher, just the coach, the coach or the coachee. And so, can we put maybe some numbers on this? I know that there’s a human capital report with ICF that you’ve done some work with. Could you lay the case out in terms of benefits for individuals and organizations and figures? What are we seeing?

Andrea Wanerstrand
Well, ICF actually has come out with some even more recent studies but what we definitely see is that managers and leaders, and particular in organizations, that show up more coach-like outperform their colleagues and they’ll see it in the work health index in double digits, if you will. So, many companies and managers have employee polls as to how supportive their manager is or how effective their managers are.

So, the industry itself, at large, shows that when managers and leader, and us as individuals with our teams, show up more curious and show up more coach-like, i.e., we’re not asking folks in business necessarily all become professional coaches, but what the survey show, as well as the research data, is that you will see greater performance and greater autonomy across your teams when you enable them through the power of coaching.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And for those who are not as familiar, what is the work health index?

Andrea Wanerstrand
Work health index, that’s a great question. So, in many corporations, there is an employee poll, asking questions of like, “Does your manager coach you? Do you feel supported? Do you see yourself advancing in this organization?” And so, it’s really about the health of the organization. And this is a global type of measurement, managers are often measured to the score that they get in that. And what we find is those that we have taught to be more coach-like score significantly higher and have more engagement with their employees.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I imagine the work health index and engagement figures are then, in turn, linked to all sorts of other great outcomes in terms of people have more creative ideas, they stick around longer instead of trying to jump ship as soon as they can, etc.

Andrea Wanerstrand
Well, absolutely. What you see is retention. You see actually greater business outcomes. So, it’s really when folks feel empowered, when folks feel confident, they’ll achieve greater results. And so, depending on what industry or business you’re in, the power of being more coach-like with your team, if you’re a project manager or if you’re a people person, people leader, if you will, the results are very similar in the fact that when you enable innovation and creativity through the power of coaching, you’re going to get extraordinary results compared to those that perhaps don’t embrace a growth mindset. And we look at curiosity as the underpinning of a growth mindset, and the lever for curiosity in organizations is coaching.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Growth mindset, to curiosity, to coaching, I see that channel pathway. It makes some good sense to me. And so, I’d love to get your sense for maybe beyond the numbers and the conceptual. What do you see, hear, feel on the ground level in terms of individual contributors and manager’s experiences at Microsoft? Like, have any benefits sort of surprised you or things that you’ve heard folks say and make you go, “Oh, I guess that’s also great from coaching”?

Andrea Wanerstrand
What I’ve found is that many of our sales folks, their individual contributors in the organization, they’re using the curiosity with their customers. So, Microsoft, in particular, was a very licensed transactional company for many, many years, and then we moved into the solutions world as we moved to the cloud. And in that, you have to understand what your customer is going through, what their needs are, how you can help them.

And the power of coaching such as, “What’s on your mind?” or, “What’s the real challenge going on here?” and showing up with curiosity has allowed the connection with our customers to be accelerated, it takes less time to actually get to something that’s something actionable and has an outcome for our sellers when they deploy these types of techniques with our customers. So, there’s that.

Our managers, as they’re becoming more coach-like, they’ve upped their capability to be able to identify in the moment, you can coach in 10 minutes or less. It’s just being more coach-like. They’ve upped their capability for identifying coaching moments when, really, that individual just needs a confidence boost rather than being told what to do.

And so, we’re seeing results on both sides of the coin, if you will. Our individual contributors are utilizing the techniques of being more coach-like and utilizing the growth mindset with our customers. And then, also, even managers are using it with their teams. And there’s a cascading effect when the manager uses it and the employee uses it, and then the customer benefits.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Okay. So, benefits all around. Well, then, having established that, folks are buying, “Okay, that sounds cool. Let’s bring it on,” can you share with us the story in terms of how did this come to be in terms of start at the beginning? What happened with Microsoft that led us to embark on this coaching journey? How did the narrative kind of unfold there?

Andrea Wanerstrand
Sure. I don’t think it’s any surprise that Microsoft at one point in our history, and not so long ago, was considered kind of the old school. You would see the Apple commercials against the Microsoft commercials where the Apple was the new sleek device and Microsoft was looking a little dated, right? We also, as I mentioned, we’re more transaction. We sold licenses to software but we’ve had to evolve our model. And now we are a solutions company and our mission has changed from putting physical devices on every desktop in the world to empowering everyone across the globe to achieve more.

And so, in order to have something big and bold like that, you’ve really got to embrace a different mindset. And when Satya Nadella came into our leadership, he really set the tone of what is a growth mindset and how is that different than how we’ve thought about before. And this is moving that dial from a know-it-all culture where we were the only game in town for a very long time, to, “Now we have competition. And how do we differentiate ourselves? And how do we expand and think of what is needed next as you saw marketplaces expanding?”

Things like Uber didn’t exist back then. Airbnb. We had classical definitions of what is a large account, and then you had these magical unicorns that were coming out left and right and using technology and innovation. So, that growth mindset as our cultural north star became very important. And in order to really foster the north star, one of my favorite quotes is Marshall Goldsmith’s “What got you here won’t get you there,” and so we really had to look at, “How do we scale?” We were not adding on people so, “How do you scale through others? How do you add on and accelerate?”

And the power of coaching, really that activation of curiosity and empowering a growth mindset, was the trigger that we thought was necessary. So, for the last few years, we’ve really been dedicated to expanding our leaders as well as our frontline salespeople with our curiosity through coaching.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And can you paint a picture for sort of what’s the current state in terms of coaching at Microsoft? I mean, it is expansive. Can you lay it out for us, like, where and how all is coaching being deployed?

Andrea Wanerstrand
Absolutely. So, we have some training efforts that we’ve done for our managers. In fact, all people managers at Microsoft are required over the next year to complete our core coaching habit training that we’ve done.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that the Michael Bungay Stanier coaching habit?

Andrea Wanerstrand
Yes, it is based on Michael Bungay Stanier’s work. We partnered with Michael and created a course within Microsoft that we have as an interactive course. It’s on what they call a MOOC platform, massively open online course. And it allows for folks to do micro-learnings, so bite-sized learning, as well as practice and cohorts, how to be more coach-like, and then actually go apply every week.

So, we created that with Michael a little over two years ago now. We launched it two years ago this January 2021. And from that as a baseline, we’ve now trained 93% of our global sales and marketing organization managers and 33% of all Microsoft managers as well as another 5,000 and growing individual contributors in our sales and marketing organization. So, it’s becoming a common language on the questions that we use, the Facebook question, “What’s on your mind?” that Michael kicks off with everybody. He calls it his kick-starter question.

But we also have melded that with our Microsoft values and our manager expectations of model, coach, and care. So, we’ve had that going, as I stated, about two years now. We also have ongoing kind of neuroscience reinforcement going on, I believe, in the power of social cognitive theory, which means at its simplest form, “I’m more up to do it if I see you doing it too.” And so, we have mechanisms in place to constantly be a drumbeat, if you will, to help people show up and be more coach-like.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. And then, so if…wow, 93% of sales and marketing, people managers, and then a third plus of all managers are there. To what extent do you engage with, I guess, hired guns or coaching pros as well?

Andrea Wanerstrand
Certainly. So, we look at coaching through three modalities, and this goes back to the Human Capital Institute’s research from 2016 with the International Coach Federation. We look at coaching as a service, which you’re talking about. We look at coaching as a capability that I just shared, so this, like manager and employee training on how to be more coach-like. And then a third one is coaching champions.

Let’s talk about what you called the hired gun but we call it coaching for service. Generally, this is done in a lot of organizations. Outside, external coaches are hired. They’re either hired to help a high-performer that is going to accelerate their work or sometimes it’s brought for a situation to do some course correction.

At Microsoft, we have certainly those traditional programs in place. We also look at democratizing coaching, i.e., letting it be available for different purposes throughout the organization. We’ve done some coaching on your coaching, bringing in external coaches for our managers. We’ve run a coach training program.

So, in particular, the coaching as a service is still a standard format for modality of coaching in our organization and we’ve gone deep in the last two years with coaching as a capability. And then we have a beautiful group of champions of coaching. And these are champions that are of being more coach-like in the capability section, as well as there’s over 200 and growing certified professional coaches across Microsoft that just happen to be coaches on top of their regular Microsoft day job and they all show up with a passion for curiosity and championing that throughout the organization.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really cool. And so then, that sounds like a substantial investment and so, globally speaking, so there’s reports speaking to the benefit impact of coaching in terms of the worker health index and engagement. How does Microsoft go about measuring the ROI? And, to the extent that you’re at liberty to share, does it look good?

Andrea Wanerstrand
Well, the great news is that we are seeing that year-over-year trending increasing. When we launched in January of 2019, it was right before our first employee pulse poll and so we really had a great baseline, and we are seeing year-over-year so we hope to see the trend completing. It is a journey though. Even in professional coaching, you start off in the International Coach Federation where you go through 60 hours of training, and then you get a 100 hours’ worth of actual application, and then you can finally test to be a professional coach.

And then you’re an associate and you need to now gather more hours to actually become a professional level. And then you need to gather a thousand more hours to become the master coach. The same applies when you’re doing coaching as a culture within an organization, asking managers and employees to have a growth mindset and be more coach-like. It is a journey.

And so, the great news is we see year-over-year improvement, and our managers are able to identify coaching moments, they understand what’s the difference between telling and actually coaching, and they’re learning to integrate it.

And so, again, we’re working through, “How do you integrate that into your everyday conversations? How do you keep the habit consistently and be able to show up as curious as possible, especially under stress?”

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess when I’m thinking about ROI, I’m specifically thinking sort of dollars in and estimates of dollars value created. That’s hard to do, estimates, assumptions. But how is that shaking out?

Andrea Wanerstrand
Yeah. So, now you’re going to ask me for some Microsoft specifics that I can’t give you all the exact details on but we are seeing significant acceleration in key teams, if you will, and all teams. But, in particular, when you look at those from an ROI, our folks are able to be differentiated and be able to change from where they were before and now accelerate the business.

So, I’m not at liberty to share the Microsoft physical numbers for you, but when I look at perhaps a team that did not…maybe was challenged in meeting their numbers before, and through adapting to a growth mindset, taking on being more coach-like, we are seeing year-over-year change and in the positive direction for them achieving the business results and, in many cases, exceeding the business results. We see numbers of managers that were perhaps more micromanaging doing more empowerment of their teams.

So, while I can’t give you a dollar amount, I can tell you that it is significant and it is of a nature that we see immediate business results. And if we weren’t, our senior leadership would not have embraced it, nor would they have made it a requirement for every manager in the company over the next year or two, again, this is a journey, to get trained on how to understand the techniques that can enable autonomy and empower your teams.

Pete Mockaitis
And if memory serves, the last time I looked at Microsoft’s financials on the revenue side, where the sales and marketing folks are getting lots of coaching love, it looks really nice. So, of course, there’s many variables of work but I guess we’ll leave it at that.

All right. Well, so then let’s really zoom in here. So, we have, was it, you said maybe 6,000 plus, was it, individual contributors have directly benefited and experienced some of this coaching goodness. Is that right?

Andrea Wanerstrand
Well, 6,000 of the individual contributors have actually gone through the coaching programs themselves so they could become coaches.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s huge.

Andrea Wanerstrand
And all employees, hopefully, in Microsoft, as we get our 16,000 plus managers through this, will hopefully benefit from the actual coaching techniques that we’re teaching.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now, that’s the perfect segue. Let’s talk about these actual coaching techniques. So, we’ve had Michael Bungay Stanier on the show a couple of times, and I love his stuff, so, listeners, I recommend you check out those episodes. But you’ve seen it firsthand many times over. Can you share with us, what some of the top do’s and don’ts for being more coach-like? Are there some favorite tips, tricks, scripts, questions? If we want to go do that, what should we do?

Andrea Wanerstrand
Absolutely. So, first and foremost, if you want to understand the simple techniques of how to be coach-like, as far as coaching in the verb coaching, okay, versus being coach-like, Michael’s book The Coaching Habit and his The Advice Trap, his follow-up, where he talks about the three advice monsters so you can understand kind of the mental aspects and then the simple techniques, absolutely, absolutely highly recommend that.

Additionally, when we look at it in a business context, coaching is one of the techniques that we all have in our quiver. So, when we talk about showing up with a coach mindset, there’s an aspect of discernment that we ask each of us to have. And we all do it naturally as humans in conversations. You’re trying to understand, “Does the other person understand the concepts that I want to talk about?” so you’ll do a little bit of inquiry and you’ll move through that. You might do a form of evaluation. And you might actually realize that what you need to talk with the individual about is something that’s new to them or the challenge is really steep so you might have to do a little teaching.

But you might also need to give someone some feedback, and you can do that in a way where you’re looking at some missed opportunities or maybe positive reinforcement for a colleague on the team, and you can still be more coach-like in doing that. So, we talk about the techniques of “What was most helpful or useful here for you?” We ask the questions that Michael puts forth of “How can I help?” where you put the onus on the other individual to ask for what they want rather than you telling them what you can give, and you’re still a choice. We also have this aspect of mentoring where folks can learn from your scars that somebody can tread down the path and go past that.

So, for an individual with a coach mindset, we really look at not only the strong empowering technique of coaching, which is that folks can learn the most from self-discovery. We also encourage our colleagues to really embrace teaching, mentoring, and feedback, and learn how to do that in an integrated fashion to have the most efficient conversation that you can have that also is the most caring and empathetic conversation that you can have.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing. The most efficient, also the most caring and empathetic. Can you say more about that?

Andrea Wanerstrand
Absolutely. So, in today’s world, more than ever in the current conditions, we are all stressed for time. We also are back-to-back to back-to-back, and I’ve heard over and over again, “I don’t have time to give them feedback,” or, “I don’t have time to coach.” But if we can show up curious with everyone we encounter, and, yes, I mean everyone, including your bank clerk or the grocery clerk that you’re giving your card to, to buy today’s groceries, the more you can show up curious in those micro moments, the more you’re showing up with empathy and connection to others versus overthinking or trying to solve the problems.

If you can really show up with curiosity, and let curiosity drive where you need to have your conversation go, and use the power of discernment, you will have a more efficient conversation, i.e., you can get more done in less time, and get to the heart of a challenge faster than when you jump in and try to give advice or try to solve it for someone else, that often becomes all about you rather than about them. And in empathy, it’s very similar. It’s all about them, it’s not about you. When we have sympathy, it’s about us. When it’s empathy, it’s about them. So, they really go hand in hand.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’d love it if we could do just maybe a couple minutes of demo here in terms of let’s say there’s a situation, and you can make one up, or I’d make one up, like, I’m a salesperson and I haven’t been hitting my figures lately. Or, if there’s another scenario you’d like to run with, we can do that. And so, can we see it sort of both ways in terms of the coach-like approach that you’d endorse and the not-so-coach-like approach that you’d recommend we try to steer away from?

Andrea Wanerstrand
Well, Pete, let’s do this. I’m happy to step in and show you what coaching looks like and what coaching doesn’t look like. Let’s do this. Pete, what’s a real challenge that you have right now?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, a real challenge I’m having is just our kids sleeping and me sleeping. They’re almost three and almost two, so we got two of them, right now. And, yeah, I guess I would love it if they did a better job of sleeping through the night or if I did a better job of falling back asleep when they holler for a minute and then fall back asleep themselves.

Andrea Wanerstrand
Oh, I could hear you. You know, having young ones, you don’t get sleep. I’ve got some great books that you could take a look at as far as like really some great ideas for sleep techniques. I don’t know if you’ve tried any sleep techniques. Have you tried some sleep techniques for the kids?

Pete Mockaitis
I have on my very desk Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Dr. Richard Ferber, so, yeah.

Andrea Wanerstrand
Oh, okay. Well, that’s a good one. I’ve tried a few of them but when my kid was younger but it really sometimes you just got to do that tough love and let them just get to sleep. Have you tried that one?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I think we’ve made some headway in terms of the screaming is rarer and shorter, so that’s improvement. But, yeah, I guess, in the here and now, it just feels like a lot.

Andrea Wanerstrand
I hear you. I hear you. And it’s hard to hear those little ones. All right. So, everything I just did right there was not coaching. All right. So, first and foremost, I did maybe ask you, “What have you tried?” but I went right into what are some of the solutions I’ve used or I could’ve used, or like, “There’s experts out there.” So, let’s take two on that. Let’s see if we can have a different conversation on that.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. And I’ll just chime in that it didn’t feel great in terms of, I mean, it wasn’t like horrible but I didn’t walk away…and the experience of it wasn’t like, “Oh, boy, Andrea really cares about me. She gets me. She’s connecting.” It was just kind of surface level, I guess, maybe in terms of any stranger might engage me at that level.

Andrea Wanerstrand
Yeah. And even then, it’s not like a great feeling stranger either, is it?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it’s not horrible, it’s just sort of like, “Yeah, okay. Well, hmm.” It’s like weather, it’s like, “All right, we could talk about the weather. It’s sort of what we’re doing here.”

Andrea Wanerstrand
Yup. And especially because I went in and I made it about myself, right? So, let’s try this a little bit differently. Hey, Pete, you shared with me that you’ve got some challenges going on with getting the little ones to sleep. What’s going on with that today?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s funny, today, my sweet wife did the hard work last night and I was in a different location doing some better sleep. But it’s funny, it’s sort of like it’s followed me a little bit in terms of it’s like my body almost thinks it’s normal to wake up in the middle of the night, or maybe like at 5:00 instead of a 7:00 that I was going for, it’s like, “Aargh,” and I wanted to fall back asleep but I couldn’t quite so I said, “I guess I’ll clean the bathroom.”

Andrea Wanerstrand
I hear you. It really can play with your body clock as far as what’s night versus day. What are some of the things that you and your wife are doing to try to get some normalcy or some type of pattern going?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we’ve gotten a lot more rigid in terms of, “This is the wakeup time and the nap time and the bedtime. And you may scream out for any number of comforts but those are no longer going to be provided to you, so learn to comfort yourself better.”

Andrea Wanerstrand
And how does that feel when you’re doing it?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s hard. It’s harder for my wife than for me. I think it can be a little better being heartless but, yeah, man, hearing your beloved child yell for five plus minutes is tricky even with the earplugs in.

Andrea Wanerstrand
What’s the plan to, you know, we talked about today? What’s the plan for tomorrow and the rest of the week?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we’re going to kind of just sort of keep at it and I guess that’s sort of the hope is that we have seen improvements. And if we keep on trucking, the hope is that we’ll enter the Promised Land here of everyone is sleeping adequately most nights. So, it’s not really innovative of a plan. It’s just kind of like stay the course and I guess tiny refinements, like, “Oh, maybe a night light would be good in terms of providing some comfort that doesn’t require any intervention from us later on,” or, “Maybe the time-release melatonin will give me what I need to fall back asleep if I wake up at 4:00.” And it kind of has so that seems to be the thing. Going the course and minute adjustments.

Andrea Wanerstrand
Well, it’s an ever-changing time when you have children and, especially, at that age so staying the course, trying little new things. How can I be of further help for you today in this discussion?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you can be forgiving if I say, “Huh? What?” and need to repeat yourself.

Andrea Wanerstrand
Well, I’m here anytime you want to chat or talk about it and just hum, “Yeah. What?” So, I appreciate our time together. I look forward to our next sync. And then off you go. And then how did that feel versus our first?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, it’s more pleasant and I think I don’t see you but I think I heard a smile coming through, which is appreciated. Thank you. And it’s interesting, like it’s true, you didn’t…well, in either conversation did you give me sort of an quote-unquote answer, like, “This has nothing to do…” But in the second conversation, I walked away with more hope in terms of, “You know what, yeah, it’s unpleasant at the moment but we are on the path and we’re just going to keep on rocking. And it’s not a crisis that I have to solve so much as just sort of breathe and keep calm and carry on.”

Andrea Wanerstrand
Yeah. And let’s acknowledge that we’re doing this in front of 20,000 plus people that might be listening to this and so it’s a bit more filtered but it was the aspect of what you’re doing and reflecting on what you’re doing, and that you’re staying the course. And if you’re feeling good about staying the course and there wasn’t anything detrimental to you or the child or whatever, it was my job to encourage you.

And every coaching conversation looks different but the main thing between our conversation A versus this conversation B is I didn’t offer up any specific suggestions. I didn’t, in the second one, tell you what I’ve done. I might’ve empathized and said, “Yeah, it’s tough to have young kids.” And that’s where we, as colleagues, can really show up for each other.

And if I was doing a professional coaching session with you, I probably would’ve been going deeper with you, and we would’ve traversed maybe some other challenges, like, with curiosity, I was like, “Okay, so why is your wife having a harder time than you with this there?” But, again, staying in curiosity, helping the other individual for self-discovery for them, “What’s going on?” to empower them, to have hope, to not be closing down and feeling hopeless, those are the attributes of powerful coaching that can, even with two people who’ve never really chatted before, because you and I haven’t really had in-depth conversations prior to today, you can still instill some hope in somebody else.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, you’re good at coaching, and I’d love to get your take on what are some of the top resources you’d recommend for folks looking to improve their coaching skills? Any frameworks, books, tools? You’d mentioned Michael Bungay Stanier’s couple of books as being excellent. Anything else you’d point us to?

Andrea Wanerstrand
I think, from a coaching technique, if you’re looking to be more coach-like, Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit and The Advice Trap are excellent. If you want to learn more about the powers of a growth mindset and how curiosity does that, Carol Dweck’s Mindset. And, also, there’s a couple other favorite books I have out there. Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo. It really talks about creativity, figuring things out. The Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani. I think I said that right. He’s the founder of Mindvalley, and he really challenges what he calls the brules. And I’ll let you guys go out and look out at what brules are, with a B.

Pete Mockaitis
He’s going to be on the show shortly so it’s going to be there.

Andrea Wanerstrand
And then I just finished reading Undaunted by Kara Goldin. She’s the founder and CEO of Hint. It’s a niche market beverage industry, and she really showed that grit and determination as an underdog for coming into a really established market and what you can do about it. So, coaching is a technique and it’s a powerful technique. And when you combine that with a growth mindset and coming in and being curious, you really open up the opportunities for yourself and those around you to really do some extraordinary things.

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

Andrea Wanerstrand
Well, I think I mentioned it earlier. It’s, “What got you here won’t get you there,” by our friend Marshall Goldsmith. And the reason I’m a big fan about it is when we keep going back and trying the old ways, it doesn’t allow us to adapt to today’s environment or tomorrow’s environment. And while there are some stated true methods in the world, the world we live in is constantly changing. So, what got you here won’t get you there.

Pete Mockaitis
And we talked about some favorite books, so how about some favorite tools, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Andrea Wanerstrand
Well, I work for Microsoft, my friend, so I have to say my Microsoft tools.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome.

Andrea Wanerstrand
Well, Teams, in particular. Teams has been lifesaving for my distributed teams, physical teams, that is, across the globe. And I have the privilege of working with people all across, about a hundred somewhat countries now, so my favorite tool these days is Microsoft Teams.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Andrea Wanerstrand
Oh, meditation. Every day. Queen’s University in Canada really did some interesting new research into the brain, and it’s something like we have more than 6,000 thoughts in a single day. And so, for me, I do transcendental meditation. And, for me, it’s a way to really kind of follow my thoughts and organize myself and kind of get to that deeper level of thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share with others that folks quote back to you frequently?

Andrea Wanerstrand
It’s “Lead before you manage.” It’s all about that extraordinary leaders whether you’re an individual contributor or a people manager. It’s not in the doing; it’s in the being that differentiates you. But if you’re going to do, do you.

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

Andrea Wanerstrand
LinkedIn for Andrea Wanerstrand or my website AndreaWanerstrand.com.

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

Andrea Wanerstrand
I would encourage folks to embrace the power of a growth mindset. And I, literally, challenge you to show up curious with everyone you encounter in the next 24 hours, and that includes anyone you run into, anyone you talk to on the phone, anyone you send an email to, that you just might learn something extraordinary about that other individual.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Andrea, this has been a treat. Thank you so much and we wish you all the best in your coaching adventures.

Andrea Wanerstrand
Thanks, Pete. I appreciate you having me.

630: How to Work with a Boss You Don’t Like with Katherine Crowley

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Katherine Crowley says: "If you're feeling hysterical, it's usually historical."

Katherine Crowley discusses what to do when your boss is holding you back.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What to do when your boss gets under your skin 
  2. The 20 bad boss behaviors that drive employees nuts 
  3. The most important thing you can do when managing up 

About Katherine

Katherine Crowley is a Harvard-trained psychotherapist and career consultant. She helps individuals identify and tackle psychological and interpersonal obstacles to success. She assists with career assessment, developing a personal vision, improving interpersonal skills, and creating work/life balance. 

Katherine is also the co-founder of K Squared Enterprises, a Management Consulting firm dedicated to helping individuals and companies accomplish their business objectives while navigating the psychological challenges of working with others. She is the co-host of the podcast, My Crazy Office, which is a weekly workplace podcast dedicated to helping listeners navigate their careers. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Katherine Crowley Interview Transcript

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

Katherine Crowley
Hi, it’s so fun to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And you also got your own podcast called My Crazy Office. Could you tell us perhaps one of the craziest office stories you ever heard.

Katherine Crowley
Oh, my gosh. Well, actually interesting, one of my most strange experiences was when I was working for a business owner, and she was running two businesses at the same time. And so, my entire workday consisted of finding notes passed under the door of the office that I work in, in her home, and fulfilling whatever the task was that was required, having no idea what the output was, you know, what the outcome of my work was actually creating, and rarely seeing her except once or twice every couple of weeks. So, that was a strange, that’s what we call an absentee boss situation but it was just so strange because I was living in this world where I don’t fully understand what went on.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you have logged a whole host of such boss behaviors, and you’ve got a great title in your book Working for You Isn’t Working for Me: How to Get Ahead When Your Boss Holds You Back. So, tell us, what’s the big idea behind the book?

Katherine Crowley
Well, actually, what’s interesting is that book, Working for You Isn’t Working for Me, came out of the first book we wrote Working for You is Killing Me, which was actually more about peer-to-peer managing up, managing down. And when that book came out, it was a national/international bestseller because it spoke to the pain of so many people. But the one thing that everyone told us, because Kathi Elster and I traveled all over the country giving talks and workshops about how to handle difficult people at work, and every lecture someone would come up and say, “You don’t understand. It’s my boss. That’s different. This person can fire me or demote me.”

And so, we realized that we needed to write a book specifically about dealing with the boss because what we learned was that people don’t quit jobs, they actually quit bosses. So, Working for You Isn’t Working for Me was about coming to terms with, “If you have a difficult boss, how do you manage them rather than waiting for them to manage you?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, there’s much to dig into here. So, let’s start with your four-step program for dealing with difficult bosses. Can you lay out those four steps and give us some examples of them in action?

Katherine Crowley
Absolutely. And the interesting thing is from the Working for You is Killing Me there’s a four-step of unhooking, and we apply the similar thing to the Working for You Isn’t Working for Me. So, I want to talk about the unhooking process because I think it’s very effective if you can do it. So, the four steps are that you unhook physically, you unhook mentally, you unhook verbally, and you unhook with a business tool. And that means nothing except that the first thing you have to realize is that you’re hooked. So, you know that a boss is getting under your skin if you find that you’re having physical, emotional, mental reactions every time you interact with this person.

And so, if you notice that you get a headache, that your stomach feels tight, that your shoulders hurt, that you have a hard time breathing, that you feel exacerbated after every meeting, you then can establish that you are hooked. Once you established that, then you can start to unhook. And the unhooking physically part, so let’s imagine the favorite tough boss, which is the micromanager, the super controlling, oversees everything you do, and doesn’t let you make any decisions on your own. If you had that kind of a boss, what you could do to unhook physically would be that you might, at the day’s end, work out, or go for a run, or go for a walk. You could splash water on your face, you could go for a drive, you could do something physically that helps you release the toxic energy that you may generate by having to deal with this person day in and day out. So, that’s unhooking physically.

Then, unhooking mentally has to do with kind of talking yourself off the ledge. So, let’s say your – this is very common – micromanaging boss insists that you report on every single thing that you do and everything your team does, and you find that to be just offensive. Unhooking mentally, after you’ve cooled your system down by physically unhooking, would be to ask yourself some important questions, like, “What’s happening here? What are the facts of the situation? What’s their part? What’s my part? And what are my options?”

So, going back to the micromanager, what’s happening? “This person is insisting that I give reports on a daily basis about what everyone is doing and it’s ridiculous.” What are the facts? “My boss is requiring this of me and it’s part of my job.” What’s their part? “So, maybe they’re super controlling. They don’t trust anything we do. It drives me crazy.” That’s the fun question to answer. But then what’s my part? And in this case, it could be that, “My part is that I’m taking their behavior personally, that I’m assuming that this person only doesn’t trust me, and that it’s all about not respecting my work ethic.”

So, then your options are, with a micromanaging boss, you could continue to resent them. That’s always…you’re allowed to do that. You could quit. You could badmouth this person and tell everyone how horrible they are and hope that they quit. Or you could say, “Okay, I’m working with someone who needs control. And so, what would happen if I just followed their requests and see if I can establish trust with this person?” So, that’s where you could get to by mentally unhooking.

Next, unhooking verbally is saying something to move the situation forward. So, with this boss, there’s a high-road and low-road verbal communication. Low-road would be, “I can’t believe we have to write these stupid reports. Don’t you think we can do our jobs?” High-road could be, “I understand that you’re concerned that we’re all on the same page, so let’s try this out and meet in a month and see if it really works as a system.”

And then, unhooking with a business tool is to pick from some kind of thing, whether it’s a procedure, a policy, a document, to complete the transaction. And so, in this case, you could say, you could send a follow-up email and say, “I understand that we’re going to be doing this reporting system for a period of time. I look forward to tracking it and seeing if it really works for you and open to feedback along the way.”

And so, now you’re taking yourself from the hooked part where you’re furious, you can’t stand the person, and you are in a powerful struggle with them, which is usually what happens with bosses that we don’t like, we get in power struggles, to calming your system down, finding viable solutions, and moving the situation forward.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the business tool piece there, that was just sort of an email or are there different business tools? Tell us what you mean by that.

Katherine Crowley
It in this case it’s an email. So, business tools, what we’d say about those is those are…they’re actually, they’re always with you. They take the emotion out of a situation, because, so often, what happens with bosses and coworkers who drive us crazy is we take them personally, right? So, business tools, anything that clarifies the parameters of your work situation. It could be a job description. It could be company policies. It could be documentation. If someone does something over and over that drives you nuts, usually we just store the instance in our mind and feed a big ball of resentment. What you could do instead is document. That’s a business tool, to write down what happened, to describe the effects that it’s having on your job, to be clear about the costs that may come, that it may cause the company.

So, it’s taking whatever the situation is and looking, “What’s the business tool I can apply here?” whether it’s, let’s say, if someone’s a chronically late person, well, there may be time policies at your workplace that you could apply to the situation rather than feeling insulted by their tardiness.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, so those are the four steps of unhooking there. And you’ve zeroed in on 20 of these behaviors that drive you bonkers. And so, I’d love to get a quick rundown of those if you can give us the cool 30-second version list of all 20. But I’d also, first, actually, I want to hear, you say that often these can even escape detection in the first place. So, can you tell us a little bit about the detect side of things?

Katherine Crowley
Yeah. So, detecting, that’s a very good question. What usually happens is we start to feel irritated. We start to get angry if someone starts to really bother us, and then we get into a whole tailspin, emotional tailspin, about what’s happening. Detecting requires that I look up from my situation, try to figure out “What is going on here?”

So, for example, if there’s a kind of boss that we would call a calculating confidant. And this is a kind of boss that would pull you in and ask you a lot of personal questions and look like they want to get to know all about you, and then use that information against you later on down the road. Of course, when that happens, it feels horrible and like betrayal, and, “How could this person do that?”

But if you actually detect or figure out that, “I’m working with someone for whom this is their style, this is how they operate,” then it gives you just a little distance so that you aren’t just feeling manipulated and poorly treated by this individual. So, does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. So, detected, in so doing you would sort of give a label and some distance, and you say, “Okay, this is not personal. They’re not sticking it to me in particular. This is just sort of how they operate and I hate it.”

Katherine Crowley
Right. Exactly. And if it’s something, like there are bosses who are chronically late. So, if they’re chronically late, to detect and understand that this is, again, this is what they do. It’s probably what they’ve done with every employee that they’ve ever worked with. Then it just gives you a little modicum, I think, of control that, “This is what I’m dealing with, not I’m doing something wrong and it’s driving me crazy.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, can you give us the listing of these 20 bad boss behaviors because I’m sure we could talk for hours about them? But I wanna hear just the quick rundown like, “Okay, we got this and this and this,” so folks can recognize it in your telling.

Katherine Crowley
All right. So, I’ll just give you the list and then you can see what you think. First of all, we have categories. So, the first category is called the game players, head game players. And the top of that list is what we call the chronic critic. Then we have the rule changer, the yeller, and the underminer. Next category are the bigshots and the mother superiors. Under that we have “I’m always right,” “You threaten me,” grandiose, and control freak.

Next category is called the line crossers. These are the people who have bad boundaries. So, the first of those is lovestruck, next is the calculating confidant that I mentioned before, the tell-all, the first person who tells you more than you ever wanted to know about their life, and then the liar-liar. Next category is ambivalent leaders, and this is always interesting, I think. The first is the sacred cow, which I’d be happy to describe at greater lengths; the checked-out boss also known as the absentee; the spineless; and the artful bosses, the person you can never find in your hour of need.

Then, finally, we have what we call delicate circumstances. And that is the junior boss, someone who is younger than you, significantly younger than you; the former colleague, a colleague who gets promoted above you; the unconscious discriminator which is, these days, a very hot topic; and the persecutor. That’s the cast of characters.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. I think it’s handy just to have a sort of typology in terms of, “Okay. I recognize that.” So, we could talk about these 20 in depth. But, maybe, you could zero in on maybe one, two, or three of these that are both particularly demoralizing for people as well as super prevalent? So, there’s both a high frequency and a high intensity of damage, so let’s talk about those three in terms of how we deal with them.

Katherine Crowley
Yeah, I would be happy to. I actually want to start with the sacred cow, Pete, because this is one…what’s interesting is this is a boss who will feel so frustrating but they’re often like nice people. You know what I mean? So, a sacred cow is someone who’s been in their position for a long time, they’ve climbed up the ladder of the office, whatever it is, the company, whatever it is. They usually are…the people at the top are loyal to this person because they were loyal to them, and they’re now in a position where they probably don’t have the competence really to do anything significant. So, what they want to do is just toe the line, not make any ruffles, and just do a basic job but not cause any problems.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, in this instance, the boss is the sacred cow that a lot of people say, “Ooh, maybe I don’t want to cross them because they’ve historically been really good to me and…”

Katherine Crowley
That’s right. The sacred cow has friends, usually, at the top. They’re protected in some way. And so, what could happen is, let’s say you’re a very inventive or creative person and you get hired by this person, and as you’re getting higher, they’re saying to you, “We really need innovation in this department,” which may be true. But then once you get into the position, you experience that you are blocked at every step of the way. Any new ideas, they’ll say, “We’ve done that already. It won’t work.” They’ll ignore your best thoughts about how to solve a problem. They will tell you that upper management doesn’t want that kind of thing. So, they’ll do whatever they need to do to sort of put a road stop onto anything you’re trying to accomplish.

And for people who are real performers and who like to achieve and contribute, this kind of boss is deadly. Yeah, and so the thing with the sacred cow is that, going back to detect, the four Ds: detect, detach, de-personalize, deal. With the sacred cow, the first is to detect, like, okay, if you find out that someone has been there for many years, and they’re not going anywhere, and you keep pushing up against this person, which is usually what happens when you’re working for a sacred cow, you get in power struggles of constantly trying to push your ideas forward. Then you detect, you’ve got, “I’m working for a sacred cow. They’re not going to become comfortable with change. They’re not going to want to do anything innovative.”

Then the detaching would be, “Okay, this is not about me. This is about them.” And de-personalizing would be to say, “All right. So, this person is afraid of change, but maybe they need to look good.” Sacred cows still want to look good in whatever position they’re in. And so then, the deal, what can you do, would be to find out, and this is very hard if you’ve already pushed hard and been rejected and feel resentment, but the deal part would be to find out if there are any projects that the sacred cow is interested in, like things that they would love to accomplish if they had the ability, and get behind those ideas or try to make your ideas their ideas. So, if you’re willing to make the sacred cow look good, you may actually be able to make progress.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. All right. So, that’s a handy one then. Can we hear another boss here and how we’d approach it?

Katherine Crowley
Yeah. So, a commonly occurring and destructive, I would go to the very top of the list, which is the chronic critic. And it’s funny because we have another version of the chronic critic in Working With You is Killing Me called the pedestal smasher. And these are the bosses who have very high standards for everything, and often when they first bring you onboard, they tell you that you’re wonderful and that you’re finally going to solve their problems and that they really admire your work capacity.

Once you start working for this kind of boss, the chronic critic, they then begin to find fault with everything that you do. And so, they slowly start to erode your confidence because they can always find the wrong thing. One client we had who worked for a chronic critic used red highlighter, under-liner, even online with documents to show where the mistakes were. And, literally, it got to the point where the client was like, you know, they’d go to meetings with their neck in a brace because it was so hard to deal with this person.

So, they slowly can erode your confidence and, therefore, detecting as soon as possible becomes a really important thing when you find out, and you can always ask around to see, “Is this person, have they always been so critical of everyone or is it just me?” You detect but nothing. They don’t ever find things good enough because part of what they’re doing is trying to keep you below them so that you don’t threaten them, right? So, you detect that.

Then, again, detaching, realizing this is not about you. And chances are you’re never going to have the experience where they say, “You did an amazing job.” De-personalizing is, “Okay, so if that’s how this person operates, then my job is to continue along and try to create, try to do a good job but not take their statements personally.”

And then dealing would be to do your job, to go to other places to get recognition. So, you may want to join a taskforce, or go work with another department on a special project, or go outside and join a professional association. Nowadays, those are all happening in online and meetups and things. But you do something like that to pump up your confidence again so that you can figure out what your next best move will be.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now, could you tell us an inspiring story of someone who did just that, they figured out, “Okay, we got a troubling thing in this behavior,” what they did, and then the cool outcomes that unfolded from that?

Katherine Crowley
Yes. So, actually, I can tell you about someone who worked for a sacred cow and it was actually for a very prestigious institution, he was very excited about the job, got there, and then had pushback for every single thing that he did. He was able to befriend that sacred cow after much frustration, a lot of hitting walls. He was able to befriend that sacred cow and found out that that individual, the boss, had a very specific project that she’d always wanted done but had never had the resources to do. He made it happen and, as a result, their department won an award, and he went on to be offered another job at another institution.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Katherine Crowley
So, there’s a good story.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And I’d also love to zoom in and hear sort of navigating these tricky situations, are there any particularly powerful scripts, phrases, questions, that you recommend and see are helpful over and over again?

Katherine Crowley
Yeah. Well, I think that’s such a good question. When we wrote, in both of our books, when we talk about talking to whoever the individual involved is, we always talk about how important it is to prepare yourself. Like, one thing that’s valuable, I think, actually in knowing, like, let’s say you know that you work for a boss who always has to be right, for example. And there are those bosses, so you don’t want to go into the conversation looking to convince them that you’re right. You would prepare for that kind of a conversation by thinking, “Okay, how can I join with this person and their approach?”

So, you could say to this individual, “I know your opinion is very important to me, and I know that you usually understand things in a way that I don’t, but here are my thoughts about doing X, Y, and Z.” So, you confirm the individual’s capabilities, you try to talk to them in a way that makes sense based on how they hear and reason with things, and then you make a concrete suggestion about how you can move forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Well, now, can you tell us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Katherine Crowley
My favorite quote may seem odd but it is by Hoagy Carmichael, a jazz musician, and it is, “Slow motion gets you there faster.” And I like it especially because in the digital age we’re all constantly running – I certainly am, I’m sure you are as well – and constantly on the go, and wanting things to happen quickly. And so, I find that quote “Slow motion gets you there faster” really helpful because it helps me slow down, focus on what needs to happen in the moment, and have patience with the process. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges in any situation, and certainly in a difficult work situation is to be patient with the process.

Pete Mockaitis
And now could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Katherine Crowley
Yes. So, one of the studies that we did actually was for our third book, which was Mean Girls at Work. And there, we put out a request for any stories that women had about other women who they found difficult to work with. And what we were able to glean was that, I would say, 40% of the studies, or 40% of the stories rather, what was interesting was they were not about blatantly mean cruel individuals. They were what we call passively-mean situations where people were excluded, where they were taken out of an email link, where they were not asked to join an event, a work event, or even a social event, where they were contradicted at a meeting but in a nice way, it’s that sort of passive-aggressive looks like.

And so, we found that really interesting that 40% of the women who had difficult relationships with other women, it was more of a passive-aggressive experience, and it really informed a lot of what we wrote about in the book because women do a thing called tending and befriending. We believe we need to be nice to each other and yet what happens in the workplace, because we’re not that comfortable with direct confrontation, is that people end up tending, acting friendly, and then doing subversive things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Katherine Crowley
So, my favorite book is Eckhart Tolle, Towards a New Earth.

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

Katherine Crowley
So, I practice what we preach, so I will say that I do, on a daily basis, every morning I exercise and I write a list of what are my top three priorities. And at the end of every day, I also exercise again, and I practice gratitude. And I know that those things don’t sound like business tools per se, but those set the tone for the rest of my day.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect or resonate with folks, readers, listeners, they quote it back over and over again?

Katherine Crowley
Yes, there are two. And one is…

Pete Mockaitis
Nice job.

Katherine Crowley
So, I’m a psychotherapist by training, so one of the things that I will tell people is that, “If you’re feeling hysterical, it’s usually historical.” Now, I did not make that up but it is such a truism that whenever I say it, people are like, “Oh, my God, that’s so true,” because it’s not the person showing up late for a meeting. It’s probably the 35 times they showed up late, and the time they were late on a deadline, and the time, you know, whatever. And that’s a valuable statement just in the sense that, again, going back to the things we were talking about, unhooking, detaching, you have to calm yourself down so that you respond in a right-sized way to whatever the situation may be.

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

Katherine Crowley
I would point them to our website KSquaredEnterprises.com and also to our podcast which is My Crazy Office.

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

Katherine Crowley
Yes. My final challenge, actually my call to action is to whatever your situation, if there’s someone who is really bothering you, there are two things that you can do. One is that you need to stop and see whether you are in a power struggle with this person, because power struggles you will not win. The second thing is you need to consider whether you’re expecting this person to behave exactly the same way you do. So, it’s always important to examine your expectations. We often get furious of people who do things that you say, “I would never do that,” and yet the most important thing for figuring out how to work with people is to understand that each person is operating from a different set of expectations and behaviors.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Katherine, this has been a real treat. I wish you luck and success, and hope that working with people is working for you.

Katherine Crowley
Thank you, and talking with you has been lovely for me.

629: How to Find and Use Your Strengths with Lea Waters

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Lea Waters says: "When you feel good, you function well."

Psychologist Lea Waters talks about tools you need to tap into your strengths.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The best way to tap into your strengths
  2. Why our strengths are often hiding–and how to find them
  3. The hack that halts anxiety 

About Lea

Lea Waters AM, PhD is a psychologist, researcher, professor, published author, internationally-celebrated keynote speaker and one of the world’s leading experts on Positive Education, Positive Organizations and Strength-Based Parenting and Teaching. 

Professor Waters is the Founding Director and Inaugural Gerry Higgins Chair in Positive Psychology at the Centre for Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne where she has held an academic position for more than 23 years. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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  • Canva. Design like a pro–for less time and money at canva.me/awesome
  • Rise.com. Build your team’s learning library–the fast and fun way–with Rise.com/awesome. 

Lea Waters Interview Transcript

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

Lea Waters
Hey, Pete, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m so glad to dig into your goodness here. But, first, I need to hear about the time you won a rap dancing competition.

Lea Waters
Okay, that was a long time ago. Well, firstly, you can probably tell from my accent, I am Australian, and I grew up in a very small little country town in Australia. The town had 800 people, now has 8,000, which is still a very small town, but 40 years ago we’re talking now. So, when I was 14, I went along to the local townhall on a Friday night, it was a sort of disco back then in the early to mid ‘80s, and they had a tap dancing competition, which I won, because I did the worm and I did the robot rap dancing thing, and I had just learnt the Michael Jackson moonwalk, and it was only just Michael Jackson that just sort of perfected his moonwalking.

So, I was able to do the moonwalk and the worm and some little computer robot dancing, and, somehow, I won this little local rap dancing competition for teenagers. I think I won a can of Coke, I know, and I won a…because back then we’re talking records, we weren’t even at CDs, let alone what we’re at now, so I won a little like 6-inch record of a local band in Australia who had done a remake of “Oh, won’t you take me to funky town.” So, yes, that was my prized possession.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, congratulations.

Lea Waters
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember I won a karaoke contest when I was a teenager at a Relay for Life, a cancer fundraising event, and that were just good memories of just being ridiculous and cutting loose. So, hopefully, we’ll bring some of that fun and energy into this exchange.

Lea Waters
I hope so. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Even though we can’t see the dance moves.

Lea Waters
No, no, no. Well, you just got a little sort of you through the Zoom but, yeah, your listeners are probably better off not having seen me attempting to do that now as a 49-year old when I did it as a 14-year old.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, it seems like you’ve taken some of that positive goodness into your current career. You are an expert in positive psychology. Can you orient listeners who are not familiar with that term? What’s that all about?

Lea Waters
Hmm, sure. A great place to start too, Pete. Thanks. So, I’m a psychologist, been a psychologist for 27 years, and I’m also a university researcher in the field of positive psychology. And so, positive psychology is a subfield of psychology, and it distinguishes itself because it’s the science and practice of studying the positive end of the human experience.

So, we’re looking at, “How do we scientifically study and understand and, therefore, amplify joy, wonder, curiosity, or love, compassion, empathy, altruism?” It’s a strength-based science so it’s really focusing on, “Who are we at our best? What are the inherent strengths that we bring to work, bring to our life outside of work, bring into our teams? And then how do we use those strengths to sort of be at our best to be pro social and help other people, and to help ourselves and our team reach our full potential?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, amplifying some of those things sounds certainly pleasant. I would enjoy that and really the course of experience in life. Can you also share with us a bit of the case associated for how that helps folks be all the more awesome at their jobs?

Lea Waters
Okay. So, what the science tells us, and, look, honestly, even as I’m saying this, people just know this intuitively. When you feel good, you function well. When you are able to bring the best of yourself to work, when you’re in a position where you can utilize your unique strengths, the things that give you energy, the things that sort of come easily to you, the things that you are sort of self-motivated to do, that’s going to flip into higher levels of performance, productivity. And it’s really sort of challenging this assumption about, “How do we create improvement in ourselves or in our work team or in an organization?” because most of us, Pete, were sort of raised on this assumption that improvement is a process of fixing what is wrong with us.

So, let me give you a scenario. Let’s just say that you and I did work in the same workplace, and I happen to be your boss, and we’re passing each other in the hallway, and I stopped for a minute, and I say, “Hey, Pete, can you make an appointment with my assistant? I want to catch up on Friday afternoon because I’ve got some areas of improvement that I’d really love to talk to you about.” What do you think would be the first sort of response inside your head when your boss says, “Come and have a meeting with me to talk about some areas of improvement”?

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, I’m screwing some things up, and so I’m kind of on high alert now.”

Lea Waters
Exactly, yeah. So, we’ve all been conditioned to think that improvement is this process of fixing what is wrong with us. And so, we have that scenario and you immediately think, “Oh, goodness. What have I done wrong? What do I need to fix? What’s not going so well?” And yet improvement can also be a process of building up and amplifying what is right about us.

So, unbeknownst to you, I actually want to meet with you on Friday because your sales figures are through the roof, and I’m like, “All right, if he’s already at this level, and this is clearly a skillset of his, if we can figure out what and why he’s doing so well, and we can improve that, he’s going to sell even more. If we can then figure out his sort of secret sauce and get him to help his fellow teammates, then we’re doing better.”

And so, our natural inclination is to sort of engaging improvement by fixing what is wrong with us. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t do that. We still need to look at areas of weakness and faults and flaws, and try and sort of shore those up. But what does science shows us is that you can spend a lot of time working on a weakness, and you can improve it, but it’s never going to turn into a strength. A weakness is never going to turn into a strength. You can improve it up to a point of a level of proficiency, but beyond that you’re better off just spending your time actually working on what are the strengths, what are the things that come naturally to you, what are the things that you enjoy doing, you get energy from, you perform well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so understood. Well, then I’m curious, when it comes to these strengths, well, first, let’s zero in on how does one identify them?

Lea Waters
Yeah. There’s a number of different ways you can identify your strengths, and the most obvious way is surveys. There’s quite a lot of surveys out there that allow you to identify what your unique strengths are in a workplace but also outside of work. So, many of the listeners here are probably familiar and they may have done these kinds of surveys at work that help you to identify where are those areas of self-energy and self-motivation. And I do have a free survey on my website, if people want to go to that, and sort of get a start on using a survey to identify.

More deeply than a survey, it really is about tuning into yourself and looking at where are those moments where you get into flow, you have high levels of energy. There’s a quick learning curve, so it’s a skill or a process that you’re able to learn with relative ease and more quickly than someone else. Where are the areas where you seem to learn quickly, do it a little bit better than anyone else? And also, as I mentioned just, you’ll know a strength because this is energizing.

When we use our strengths, using your strengths gives you more energy. When you’re using a weakness, it’s exhausting, it’s depleting. Often, when I run my workshops, for example, I ask people or invite people, “Pick up your pen with your non-dominant hand, and for the next few minutes, when we do this exercise, use your non-dominant hand.” It’s always quite amusing, Pete, because you see people with their tongue out and their brows are really kind of furrowed, really concentrating on, “How do I write with my non-dominant hand?” And it’s a slower process, it’s frustrating, it’s messy, you don’t perform as well.

And then I say, “Okay, now swap back to your dominant hand.” And it’s a good example of the energy and effort that’s required to build up a weakness in contrast to leaning towards using our strengths more often. So, we can identify our strengths through surveys, we can identify our strengths just by tuning in and saying, “Where are the areas where I feel energy, where I have passion, where I perform well with relative ease, where I’ve got a fast learning curve?”

But another key way of identifying our strengths is through social mirror. And what I mean by that is other people are a mirror to us for our strengths. So, tuning into or deliberately asking, intentionally asking other people, “Where do you see my strengths?” having those conversations at work where you’re engaging in this technique called strengths spotting.

So, strengths spotting, as the name would suggest, is just a technique of looking at where you see the strengths in other people and acknowledging those, “You know, I really love your curiosity, Pete, and the way that you’ve come to this, and you thought about the questions beforehand, and you’ve done a little bit of research. So, that says to me that you’ve got these strengths of sort of curiosity, and love of learning, and being organized, and wanting to share things with other people.”

So, using, allowing other people to be that social mirror, because the research shows us that, for many of us, we have this phenomenon called strength blindness. And strength blindness, as the name would suggest, is that we can become a little bit blind to our own strengths, sort of an interesting and cruel irony because our strengths are partly nature and partly nurture. And what the developmental psychologists have shown us is that we’re all born with our own unique kind of inherent strengths potential.

Some of you were born with the gift of the gab. You’re really, really good communicators. Others of you were just born with the natural ability, for example, around math. Some people are really, really good at problem-solving. Some people just have those really natural kind of social intelligence skills. And so, because we’re born with our strengths, and then the environment helps us to cultivate them, we can end up having this experience of strength blindness.

Because if you were born as a person who could do math fairly easily, or have very good organization skills, or great people skills, when you’re utilizing those skills and utilizing those strengths, they’ve come so easily to you and they’ve been with you your whole life, so you don’t think of them as an asset. You don’t realize that, “This is actually a strength. This is something that I’ve got that other people don’t necessarily have.” So, we become blind to our own strengths. And that’s why using your work colleagues, your friends outside of work, as that social mirror is a sort of third key way of finding out what our strengths are.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And now when you talked about the surveys, I know about StrengthsFinder, which I think is great, and so you’ve got yours. You talked about the left hand, right hand assignment, I thought about Myers-Briggs. I’ve done the exercise in many workshops. I’ve facilitated as well. But what are some of your other just total favorite tools in the survey realm that really elucidate this for people?

Lea Waters
There’s a fantastic survey called the VIA survey, V-I-A, and it stands for values in action. And what I like about that survey is it’s based on our strength of character. So, strengths are kind of coming to broad back. So, we’ve got our strengths of talent and then we’ve got our strengths of character. So, strengths of talent are performance-based, they’re observable. You can see if someone is a fast runner, you can hear if they’re a gifted debater, you can see if they’re a gifted artist, you can taste if they’re a gifted chef.

The VIA strength survey identifies that second bucket which is our strength of character. So, where our strengths of talent are observable and performance-based, our strengths of character are personality-based rather than performance-based. And, in a way, they’re less observable because they sit inside us. So, strengths of character include things like courage, perspective, wisdom, kindness, humility. So, these are not necessarily observable. They’re positive strengths, positive aspects of our personality that sit inside of us, and come out through our choices, through our decisions, through the way we relate to other people.

And so, that VIA Character Strengths, that survey that I’m talking about focuses on those inner assets, the character strengths. And I also like because it’s free, and it’s been around for about two decades, and it’s been validated, and it’s got population norms, it’s been validated and translated into 20 plus different languages, so it’s a really, really useful survey for our listeners to go in and have a look at. And you can do it as a team within your workplace and sort of identify, “Well, what are the unique constellation of this team? Who’s got humor?” which we really kind of need right now during COVID times, “Who’s got perspective? Who’s got grit? Who’s got those fantastic sort of curiosity, love of learning, problem-solving type skills?”

And I also love it because, for any of the parents who are listening, there’s a youth version. So, if you have younger kids, they can also do the equivalent survey so you can have that conversation at home, of like, “Well, these are my strengths, as mom or dad, and these are my children’s strengths.” So, that’s a lovely family bonding thing to do.

And there’s another survey that I’ll mention, too, which comes from the UK called Cappify, C-A-P-P-I-F-Y. What I really like about that particular survey is that it also identifies your weaknesses. So, a lot of the strength surveys are really nice because we have this strength blindness where we’re not so good at identifying our own strengths, we’re all pretty articulate when it comes to identifying our weaknesses. When it comes to identifying our strengths, we don’t have that same level of knowledge. So, strengths surveys are really useful for that. But what I like about Cappify is that it gives you your strengths and your weaknesses so you sort of got that balanced profile. And it also identifies this third category called learned behaviors.

And, for me, that was something…that was a real sort of epiphany moment because our strengths, in order for something to be a true strength, so normally if you ask someone, “How would you define a strength?” And most people would say, “Strengths are the things I’m good at,” and, yes, that’s absolutely true, but it’s only part of the answer. So, psychology research tells us that a strength is something you are good at, but it’s also something that gives you energy and you’re self-motivated to do.

And why it’s important to have those sort of three elements of a true strength is because there’s lots of things that we grew up to be good at. We grew up to be good at them because it’s expected of us, because it’s part of our role at work, because we were praised by parents, teachers, our boss, so we have that performance element, and we mistake it as a strength. And in the Cappify research, what they would say is it’s not actually a strength. It’s a learned behavior. You’ve learned to be good at it. You’ve got the performance element of it but it’s not giving you energy, and it’s not something that you would choose to do. You’re not self-motivated to do it.

And, for me, that was a real eye-opener because, in my role at the university, I was being asked to chair a lot of projects and a lot of sort of committee meetings, and so, over time, I’ve learnt to become good at that. A quick meeting is always a good meeting as far as I’m concerned. We set an agenda, I’m a trained psychologist so I’m reasonably good at sort of group dynamics, and people would leave those meetings and say, “Oh, that’s such a strength of yours, Lea.” But I would leave those meetings feeling quite depleted, quite de-energized, and thinking, “Oh, God, all right. Well, I got through that. Now let’s get back to the things that actually give me energy at work.”

And so, I learnt through the Cappify that, yes, I was good at chairing meetings, I had the performance element of it, but I do not have the energy or the self-motivation piece behind it, so it wasn’t a true strength. It was perceived as a strength by others. But when I started, “That’s not actually a strength of mine,” it was helpful for me to say, “Okay, I need to know that when, if I can, when I’m structuring my week, if I’m chairing a meeting that the hour after that is time-tabled for something that is going to re-energize me, something that using my natural strengths. And, for me, that’ll be research and writing, or working with my students, or going out and doing some corporate work because that’s what gives me my energy back.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. All right. So, we’ve got some good views for strengths, what they are, how to find them, why we’re better off trying to improve those than work on a weakness forever. So, let’s shift gears a little bit over to some of the other tools in the positive psychology toolkit. If folks are feeling an extra dose of stress and anxiety and blah in the midst of pandemic, or even, hey, months, years after the pandemic, what are some positive psychology tools that are ideal for this challenge?

Lea Waters
I love that question, Pete. We’re all, I think, so many of us have got just this classic case of mental fatigue because we’re way too many months into a global pandemic, and we’re tired, and we’re working from home and we’re stressed, and it’s playing out in our body. So, I guess, one of the questions is, “To what degree do we engage in stress management? And then to what degree do we say, ‘Okay, I can only do so much to manage my levels of stress. I’m going to turn my attention more towards boosting my positive emotions.’”

And so, there’s lots of things that we can do in positive psychology. Savoring, ecotherapy, the use of laughter, capitalizing on these sorts of micro moments of positivity. These are all about amplifying the positive moments that are still in our day despite everything that’s going on. And I can go into the detail of some of those for us in a moment. But then, also, one of the things that positive psychology does is recognizes that we can gain from adversity, that positivity can come out of negativity. And, in fact, you can’t really appreciate the feeling of warmth until you understand the sting of the cold. The two things kind of go hand in hand.

So, we can definitely talk about amplifying those positive moments but I think one of the other things that positive psychology science really lends to us right now in the moment of this sort of global crisis is techniques on how to better handle those negative emotions. So, mindfulness, how to grow from adversity, this notion of post-traumatic growth, or adversarial growth, and how to practice self-compassion. So, take your pick, Pete, because we really got a whole list of things in the field of positive psychology that we can do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we’ve talked about savoring a couple of times in the show. So, ecotherapy, what is this?

Lea Waters
Yeah, lovely. Okay. So, ecotherapy is basically having an intentional relationship with nature. So, that can be things like using urban spaces, going for a walk around your neighborhood, going to the local park. It can be getting out into nature reserves if you have some that are close to you. It can be as simple as going out and looking at the skyline at the end of the evening. Plant therapy, so saying if I have a garden outside, I’m going to do a little bit more gardening at the moment, or I’m going to setup a little plant wall or an indoor area for plants. Even using wood, wooden materials.

And so, this kind of broad idea of, “Let’s connect back with nature,” is really, really helpful to us all right now during COVID. In fact, some of the research is now coming out to say that we must have this in-built wisdom because there’s a lot more people now who are going out, exploring their local neighborhood, connecting back with nature in various ways. And what’s important about that is that when we do connect with nature, whether it’s real nature, as in sort of a wildlife park or whether it’s using our urban spaces or plant therapy or just looking up at the sky and looking at the clouds, when we do that, it changes our physiology.

And what the research shows is that even within five minutes of intentionally connecting back with an outside space, intentionally taking your shoes off if you go to your local park, take your shoes off and feel what it’s like to have grass and earth on your feet, that when we do that, it triggers our relaxation response in our nervous system. Your heartrate decreases, your parasympathetic nervous system starts to kind of get activated. And so, the parasympathetic nervous system is the nervous system that helps to calm us down, have good digestion, clear our mind of cortisol. So, ecotherapy is such an important thing for us all to be doing during this time.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get your take on, let’s say I’m in Chicago, winter, cold, a lot of parks, etc., shut down, what are some…I like the notion of using wooden things because it’s sort of like, “Okay, I can do that anywhere no matter what their restrictions are.” Any other goodies like that?

Lea Waters
Yeah, okay. So, using wood plant therapy, I can see a plant right behind you, Pete. So, bringing some plants into…getting some indoor plants, and saying, “Okay, over these really chilly winter months, my focus is going to be on taking care of this plant.” Skylines, like I said, anything to do with skylines. So, even though it’s very ridiculously cold where you are, sort of getting out onto your balcony, ragging yourself up so you pretty much just got your eyes that are showing, but spending that five minutes at the end of the day watching the sunset, feeling the…

Anything to do with water as well, even though it’s water inside. Water is a part of nature so connecting ourselves with water intentionally, doing that through showers, footbaths, hand baths. We have to wash our hands a lot at the moment because of biosafety and hygiene measures with COVID. So, instead of just washing your hands, do it intentionally, really experience the flow of water, use it as a kind of mindfulness hack in that moment. So, tuning into, “How am I feeling? What does it feel like to have water sprinkling on my hands? What does it feel like as I’m sort of patting my hands dry with a towel?” So, giving myself a little kind of emotional vacation for that minute as we’re washing our hands.

And then even short of that is nature apps. So, there are quite a lot of apps out there now where you can listen to the sound of water, you can listen to the sound of clouds, you can listen to the sound of rain, birds, etc. So, obviously, it’s not quite the same as being out in a nature reserve but it still has that physiological healing benefit for us.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Okay, thank you.

Lea Waters
A pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
So, now let’s talk about dealing with stuff that isn’t so pleasant. What’s the post-traumatic growth concept and how can we do more of that?

Lea Waters
Post-traumatic growth is, I mean, we all know about PTSD and the fact that if we go through adversity or a trauma, it can compromise our ability to cope, and it can lead to sort of more permanent stress. So, post-traumatic growth is sort of the positive opposite of that, and it was borne initially out of psychology research that was looking at PTSD and how it is that we can help people who have experienced a trauma or adversity or grief or loss, how it is that we can help them to go from a weakened state and adapt back to their sort of level of happiness and functioning that was there prior to the trauma or the adversity.

And as psychology research was studying, “How do we help people diminish and manage PTSD?” what they identified was that there was a certain percentage of people who had been through that same experience, that same loss, that same trauma, and were not only…this is going to please…I’m going to apologize in advance for some bad grammar here, but they were not only not experiencing stress, they were actually saying, “Look, I wouldn’t wish this experience on my worst enemy, but I’ve actually grown. I’ve grown as a result of this experience. I have a different perspective on life. I’ve got different priorities now. I’ve learnt that I can handle more than I thought I could. I found out really who my true friendships were and what it is that I want to move forward, spending my time on.”

So, this was a curiosity for these psychologists because they hadn’t really considered their role about, “How do we help people deal with the negatives of trauma or adversity or stress?” And, it turns out, that there are some people who not only didn’t have the negatives but have this positive. And so, that was kind of the origins of post-traumatic growth. It’s been studied a lot since then, and it’s really relevant for us all right now because so many of us are going through trauma and stress and adversity.

And just to know that this doesn’t have to permanently affect us in a negative way, that if we approach this adversity by asking ourselves, “What can I learn from this? How can I grow from this? What strengths do I have to bring to this situation? How can I learn that, in the midst of a lot of darkness, there are still these small little pockets of light? How can I help myself develop those skills to look at those things?” then we come out of that with a different skill set.

And we also come out of this experience knowing, “Okay, that was not a great experience. There was a lot of adversity, there was a lot of distress but I learnt about myself, I learnt that I’m stronger than I thought I was. I learnt to let go of some of those small issues that I used to put a lot of energy into and stress about. It’s not important to me anymore. I’ve changed my priorities.” And we’re seeing that already, Pete.

There’s a psychology research that’s coming out now through the pandemic is showing that people are saying, “This is a distressing experience but I’m enjoying more downtime, I’m enjoying time with my family. I’ve made more of an effort to stay connected with my friends even though it’s a virtual connection. I’ve learnt something new about my colleagues that I didn’t know.” So, we’re coming out with some positives through this. And, individually, a big factor that influences whether you come out of adversity, having grown, is the questions you ask yourself, is the way you frame that adversity in the moment.
It’s not about denying the adversity by any means but it is about saying, “Okay, this is really hard. I’m tired today. I can’t understand why I’ve got brain fog. I can’t think clearly. I’m feeling overwhelmed. What am I going to do about this?” It’s not about ignoring it. It’s about acknowledging, and saying, “Oh, okay, what meaning can I make from this? How can I grow from this? And what can I learn about myself? Maybe what I can learn is my limits, and I need to know. So, pushing myself as hard as I used to,” for example.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then it sounds like these are all productive questions, “What can I learn from this? How can I grow from this? What meaning can I make from this?” Maybe the hard part is just sort of shutting down the alternative voice that can crowd out those questions before they start, like, “Oh, I was stupid. What was I thinking? Aargh, this sucks. I hate this. I want it to end right now.” So, any pro tips for, right in the heat of battle, how do we kind of head that off with a pass and shift gears into the more helpful questions?

Lea Waters
I think there’s two ways to go with that one, Pete, and one is mindfulness and the other is self-compassion. So, let’s start with mindfulness, and I think mindfulness helps you to slow your brain down, have that moment of perspective and pause where you can hear what the inner voice is saying, and so you’re able to catch that inner voice more quickly, and then make a decision, “Do I head off that inner voice or do I just show compassion because it does suck?”

What we’re going through does suck, Pete, and we do have our own overlay on top of that of, “I’m not good enough. I’m not getting enough work done. I’m not managing my time well enough. I’m not being a good colleague. I’m not being a good parent. I’m tired all the time.” And so, sometimes it’s about heading off those thoughts and then going on to those more constructive questions, and other times it’s actually more about that moment of self-compassion, which is a big area of study in positive psychology. And it’s about sort of reversing the Golden Rule and turning it back onto yourself, “Do to yourself,” and be kind to yourself and have that moment of mindfulness where you’re recognizing, “I’m struggling right now. I’m not feeling so good right now.”

And giving yourself that same compassion you would give to your colleagues or your friends when you see that they are struggling. So, just witnessing that struggle, embracing the suffering, “I’m tired. I’m distressed. I’m fearful. I’m fat, ugly,” whatever comes to you in that moment, and just being with it, and saying, “I’m sorry that you feel that way. Like, I recognize that you feel that way right now.” So, being in that moment, having that mindfulness, showing that sort of self-kindness, that self-compassion. And a big part of compassion is embracing the suffering but not feeling lonely in the suffering.

And so, recognizing that we’re all…everyone struggles, everyone suffers in their own way. Right now, that’s easier to see because it’s a global pandemic, and so we’re having this kind of shared struggle. But recognizing that, “I’m not alone and there are other people who are going through this,” and engaging in self-soothing techniques. Those self-soothing techniques can be just as simple as, like I said, that inner voice that says, “Oh, you know what? Yeah, you’re really tired. Maybe we can go to bed early tonight.” Or, self-soothing through ecotherapy that we talked about before. Self-soothing by reaching out to a friend.

One of the really basic parts of self-soothing is actually holding yourself. You can emotionally hold yourself but physically holding yourself, it seems like a funny or silly or embarrassing thing to do, but, literally, like wrapping your arms around your shoulders and giving yourself a hug in that moment, or patting yourself on the back. Or, a big one, and people tend to do this quite naturally, and you’ll often watch, our little kids will do this too, they do it quite naturally. So, getting your hand and just gently rubbing from your ear down to your shoulder blades, so rubbing that kind of right side of your neck, because what’s sitting underneath that right side of your neck, if you rub from your ear sort of down the right side of your neck and across your shoulder, is the vagus nerve, and that’s a major nerve that helps communicates between our brain and our digestive system, but also helps to calm us down.

Pete Mockaitis
So, this would be the right side and not the left?

Lea Waters
Right side, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Our right. It’s like I’m looking forward, I got my right eyeball, and it’s…and I’m on it, all right.

Lea Waters
Yeah. So, just gentle self-touch that’s why going back to that hand massage, when you’re washing your hands and having that moment of mindfulness. And another key self-soothing technique is helping yourself to laugh. And laughter doesn’t mean that you’re ignoring that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic, or whatever it happens to be. I had the very sad loss of, I lost my sister a couple of years ago, and she has a son, and we had that sort of moment a couple of weeks after she had died, and we’re deep in grief and just missing her so, so, so desperately.

And my nephew, who was 20 at that time, said a joke, and, honestly, it was dark humor but it was this funny little moment of like “How mom would’ve felt about this particular thing,” and we both cracked up laughing. But then he looked at me, and I could see he had this like feeling of this flash of like guilt, like, “Oh, was I allowed to do that? Was I allowed to have this moment of laughter?” in his really intense deep grief, and I was able to sort of look at him, and say, “It’s okay, mate. You’re allowed to. We’re still allowed to laugh even in the dark times.”

And so, for me, at the moment, I’m very intentionally looking at funny YouTube clips, funny memes. I’m asking my friends, “Anything you see funny? Like, pass it my way,” because in that moment of laughter, that changes our brain chemistry. Laughter triggers endorphins and it triggers dopamine. Laughter also resets our nervous system and, particularly, if you’re having that big belly laugh. When we laugh, our ribcage expands so our diaphragm expands as we’re sort of engaging in that laughter. And the reason that it does that is because, when we laugh, we exhale more forcefully, so we, “Ha, ha, ha.”

Because we’re exhaling more forcefully, we’re actually releasing more air, and so our lungs take back in, they have to kind of counterbalance by taking back in more. And because we inhale more deeply, it expands our thoracic region and it expands our ribcage. And why that’s important is because when we’re expanding our ribcage through laughter, the body’s intuitive system means that the expansion of the ribcage and its thoracic system, we’ve got a whole lot of nerves that run through that area. And so, it’s like the ribcage talks to the nerves, and says, “Hey, we’re expanding and we’re laughing and we’re happy.” And what that does is it triggers a relaxation response in our nervous system.

So, laughter changes our brain chemistry and it gives us endorphins and dopamine. It helps our brain but it helps our body because it talks to our nervous system. That’s why when you have that laugh, you have that really big belly laugh, and then you kind of sigh and kind of sit back in your chair, and like your shoulders kind of drop. And so, I’ve listed a whole bunch of self-soothing techniques there, Pete. I don’t know if there’s anything you want to sort of go into in more depth or…?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, that’s lovely. Thank you. And I’m just sort of imagining in my own mind’s eye how to enhance that all the more, like, “And do it in a bathtub or do it with a great blanket and space heater,” kind of whatever, just make the most of it.

Lea Waters
Yeah, absolutely. And the bathtub gets us back to the ecotherapy, and the blankets get us back to self-soothing and touch, particularly for those listeners who are experiencing heightened anxiety at the moment, and that’s really common for a lot of us. In fact, the sort of global research is coming back to show that, on average, people across the globe are experiencing sort of double the amount of anxiety than they were pre-pandemic. And I’m a person who struggles a lot with anxiety and always have all throughout my childhood and adult life, so my anxiety has really, really spiked at the moment. And touch is a really, really important part of helping to reduce our anxiety.

So, it can be that self-touch that we talked about before, washing our hands, massaging your vagal nerve, giving yourself a hug. But if you have a pet, hugging your pet as much as possible because that also releases oxytocin. And oxytocin is a neuropeptide. It’s a hormone that’s known as the love hormone or the bonding hormone. But when we have oxytocin, through touching ourselves, through touching another person, so hugging family, friend, obviously at the moment we’ve got physical distancing so you can only kind of hug those people that you live with or you know are safe, like pets. But you mentioned blankets.

So, blankets and pillows also create touch, and they calm our nervous system, and particularly weighted blankets. There’s some really interesting research now on weighted blankets. And weighted blankets, being helpful, if you are struggling with anxiety. Sleeping under a weighted blanket helps you feel safe, and it puts an extra level of just sort of weight onto you, which, again, sort of talks to your nervous system and helps to calm you down.

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

Lea Waters
No, I think we’ve covered a lot. I would probably just circle back to there’s lots of techniques to use. What has to underpin that, I think, are these sorts of three more enduring approaches. The first approach is the strength-based approach. So, identifying what our strengths are and how we can bring them into…how we can use our strengths to amplify our life when things are going well, and how we can bring them into times of challenge, in times of adversity. I think it was Winston Churchill who said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” So, how can we come out of this, utilizing and knowing our strengths? So, that’s kind of the first approach.

Then the second one is just this idea that, “I can grow from this actually. That recent past that make me feel bad, I’ll have moments of distress, I’ll have days where I’m tired and I’m struggling, but I can come out of this with new priorities. I can come out of this with closer relationships. I can come out of this recognizing that I’m stronger than I thought I was.”

So, coming out with going in, and being in this experience, knowing that I can grow from it using our strengths, and then that third kind of underlying approach, which I think, at the moment, is just being compassionate to ourselves and others.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Lea Waters
A quote?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Lea Waters
Yeah. I’ve really been living on quotes this last seven months during the pandemic. So, I started with Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. The quote was, “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” I was like, “Yeah.”

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

Lea Waters
Whoa, I’ve so many favorite books, I don’t know which one to say. What would be a favorite book of mine at the moment? I am re-reading Charles Dickens.

Lea Waters
I do have A Tale of Two Cities.

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

Lea Waters
I have a website which is LeaWaters.com. And remembering that my name is spelt L-E-A so LeaWaters.com. And please follow me on socials, Insta, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. I’m putting a lot out at the moment on just these basic little small micro-techniques that we can use to help ourselves cope with stress and amplify the best of us, our strengths and positive emotions, during this difficult time.

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

Lea Waters
I think our final challenge right now is know your strengths, use your strengths, and go to work tomorrow and be that strength mirror for someone else. If you see someone using a strength, call it out, acknowledge it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lea, this has been fun. I wish you lots of luck and positivity in your adventures.

Lea Waters
Thanks, Pete. It’s been a pleasure to be on the show.