This Podcast Will Help You Flourish At Work

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

659: How to Get More by Saying Less in Negotiations with Fotini Iconomopoulos

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Fotini Iconomopoulos says: "No is not the end of the negotiation. It truly is the start of the negotiation."

Fotini Iconomopoulos shares the unconventional negotiation approaches to help you get what you want out of work and life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The four magic words of negotiation
  2. The surprising power of the pause in a negotiation
  3. The script to use when you hear “no”

About Fotini

Fotini is a speaker, trainer, advisor, and author. Fotini helps people get what they want,  by channeling her energy into her passion for the power of forward thinking. Today business executives partner with her to achieve their business goals, increase profitability and create a competitive advantage. She empowers their teams through her expertise in negotiation, communication and persuasion. 

To share her strengths with more business leaders, Fotini occasionally returns to the classroom as an instructor of MBA Negotiations at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. For the last 5 years, she’s been invited to share her messages with audiences from all industries in keynote addresses across the globe. Fotini’s first book from Harper Collins is Say Less, Get More: Unconventional Negotiation Techniques to Get What You Want.

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Canva. Look more professional with Canva Pro. Free 45-day extended trial at canva.me/awesome

Fotini Iconomopoulos Interview Transcript

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

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Thank you for having me. I’m excited to have this conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. And I’m excited to hear a little bit about your time on Canadian Idol.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
You had to start there, huh?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
That came up because I was dating somebody who has kind of dared me to do it. His family was really big on karaoke at Thanksgiving and stuff like that, and he’s like, “Oh, you have to do this.” I’m like, “Oh, what for? It’s just going to be ridiculous.” And I said, “If you wake up at 4:00 in the morning to drive down,” because I didn’t live in Toronto at the time, “…to drive down to Toronto, then I will happily go do it.” And I didn’t think it would ever happen because he woke up at 2:00 in the afternoon usually, so. We were students.

And when he did it, I was like, “Damn, I guess I have to follow through with it.” So, it was a very interesting day. We went from 9,000 people wrapped around what was, at the time, called the SkyDome where the Blue Jays played their home games, and the second day we were 900 people. And I can tell you that all of those folks who you see on television you go, “No, they don’t really think they’re good. They’re doing this just to get on television.” I can assure you they really think they’re great.

And so, there’s a lot of people in that 900 who were chosen because it made good television and there was a lot of really talented people who never made the finals. So, ever since then, I just can’t watch reality television.

Pete Mockaitis
Because you just sort of feel the cringe and emotional connection to those who are being embarrassed or is that the driver there?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Yeah, it’s like you can see how they’re curating it for television, and I’m like, “Oh, that’s not reflective of like…” The people who won were fine but the people I’ve met in the lineups and who I made friends with there, they were amazing, and I was like, “How are you not making it through?” and they didn’t have that ugly-duckling kind of story that the television producers were looking for. So, ever since then I think reality TV just isn’t for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is disillusioning. So, you’re not actually seeing the greatest singers there are. You’re seeing good singers who have a compelling story.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Yeah, I think the Kelly Clarkson’s, because American Idol happened way before Canadian Idol did, I think that was likely compelling, a very talented person without needing to scrub the story. But what we saw in Canada wasn’t really reflective of what our talent pool is like.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you for peeling back the curtain there. I auditioned for The Real World once but it was not much of an audition. I just waited in line for a really long time and sat in the room, and then introduced myself. That was it. It didn’t come to pass. Probably for the best, I think.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
I was actually on The Real World once, kind of accidentally.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no kidding?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Yeah, I was in Cancun on vacation and we met a bunch of people out and about, and they’re like, “Come back to the hotel with us.” Like, “What? Are you crazy? I’m not coming back to a hotel with a bunch of strangers.” They said, “Look around you. We have a zillion and one camera people. Nothing can happen to you.” And I was like, “That’s kind of fair.” It was actually quite boring because I was like, “I’m not going to do anything stupid that’s going to appear on television. I’m out.” So, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, it sounds like you said less and you got more when it comes to your life results.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
The poor segues is not my favorite part of the show, I think. And so, that’s the name of your book Say Less, Get More: Unconventional Negotiation Techniques to Get What You Want, and that’s pretty cool. And I think negotiation is one of those topics which sounds just kind of sexy and fun. We got Chris Voss, an FBI hostage negotiator, on the show some time ago. And so, I think some of those skills just can make you feel like a cool Jedi with powers if you know these negotiation moves. But I’d love to hear the practical considerations for your everyday professional who maybe doesn’t make deals on a regular basis, they’re not in sales or an agent. What is the case for why most professionals could benefit from sharpening their negotiation skills?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
I think most people don’t realize that they are, in fact, negotiating a lot of the time because what we hear on TV and pop culture, it’s all about people asking all the time, “Ooh, your life must be like the show ‘Suits,” right?” And I’m like, “Actually, it’s quite boring. If it gets to that point, it means they’re in deep trouble and they should’ve called me a long time before that.”

So, it’s not about the slickest salesperson who does the negotiating, we’re actually negotiating constantly. Every conversation you are having where you’re trying to get somebody on board with your idea, so, in essence, leadership is a negotiation. Every time you are dealing with a toddler who’s having a temper tantrum, you are, in fact, having a negotiation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, what’s up with that?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
And it happens with our peers. It’s not always about money exchanging hands. It’s often qualitative things that we’re talking about as well. So, I think people don’t recognize that they are, in fact, negotiating more than they think they are, but there’s also opportunities to improve your life and reduce your stress if you can spot them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, tell us about spotting those opportunities. Like, what might be an opportunity that just passes us by and didn’t even occur to us, like, “Oh, maybe I should speak up or speak less, I don’t know, and negotiate that”?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Well, I would say, pre-COVID, one of the big questions I was often getting was, “How to negotiate more flexibility?” People are so stressed out and burnt out at work, so time is our most important component of negotiation, it seems, these days. And so, when it comes to that time factor, it’s, “How do I get some of my time back? How do I create some boundaries? If my colleague or manager at work is constantly asking me for additional things, ‘Can you do this extra thing for me? Can you work late on this?’ how do I spot the opportunity to go, ‘You know what, I can say no and I’d actually get both of us quite happy about it because I can do it in a way that’s going to be cooperative and come up with an alternative solution for us”?
So, those are the most obvious ones to me that are most often overlooked for most people. And, especially, those folks who find themselves constantly burnt out and going, “Why am I getting all this stuff piled on me?” Well, it’s because you need to have a more appropriate conversation to manage the flow of work and to help people understand how to create that empathy and make sure that they are thinking about some of those things that perhaps you haven’t raised and vice versa.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Fotini, please tell us this magic in which we can say no and the other person will be pleased. Can you maybe give us a demo of how it can unfold in practice?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Well, there’s a couple things that come to mind. One is what I call the four magic words of negotiation. And it is very simple, and it is, “If you, then I.” And by using those four magic words, you are introducing conditional training. So, when someone says, “Hey, can you help me with this project?” you could go, “Absolutely. If you can help me with this other project or if you can take something else off my desk, then I’d be happy to help you with your current project.”

Or, “If you can give me flex days next week then I’d be happy to stay late today.” But it seems like it’s a gift, it’s a more collaborative conversation when you finish with the “then I” piece, I think, that you’re going to get out of it. But if you start with the “If you…” the thing that I need to get out of this, this is where I tell people you can be a little bit selfish because you want to take something first and then you want to finish with the gift, and it sounds like a gift.

But if you do the reverse of it, if you go, “Yeah, I’ll do that but only if you do this thing for me,” now it feels like a punishment even though it’s the same proposal. So, those four magic words are going to be really important in terms of helping people move forward and create some trades whether it’s trades for time or trade for effort or reduce stress levels and so on.

And then the other thing that comes up frequently is this comes straight out of the Persuasion textbooks.

Pete Mockaitis
We got Bob Cialdini coming up on the show. Woohoo!

Fotini Iconomopoulos
He’s one of my favorite people in the whole wide world and I cite him in my book and I talk about so many of his lectures all the time. And I guess this is a bit of a spoiler in case he does come on, but one of the things that comes up frequently when I’m speaking, in women’s groups especially, is people are wondering, they’re like, “Why am I always getting all of this extra work piled on me?” And I ask them, “How are you responding when people thank you in that moment? When you’ve done something nice for someone and they say, ‘Thank you,’ what’s your natural response?”

So many people say their response is, “No problem.” Well, if you’ve just told me, “It’s no problem,” then it’s not going to be a problem for me to come back and dip into the well all over again. But if you were to pause for a moment and think about all this whole say less, get more concept, take a second to think about it, you have a moment of power where you could say, “I’m sure you’d do the same for me.” And, now, suddenly, one of two things are going to happen.

They’re going to go, “Yeah, I would do the same thing for that person,” and then we log this into my subconscious brain and, when the opportunity comes up, I will do something for that person. Or, they’re going to go, “Oh, no, I wouldn’t do that thing for her. I’m definitely not going to go back to this person because I don’t want to feel guilty about it.” So, you’re preventing them from burning you out and continuously dipping into this well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Fotini, I want to talk about that specific phrase actually because I’ve said it before and I felt a little weird when I did. It’s almost like I feel like I’m saying and they know I’m saying, “Yeah, well, you owe me, buster.” And so, I don’t know if that’s how it comes across, and maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t. But are there any alternative ways you like to express that? Sometimes I say, “Hey, of course, we’re all on the same team,” which is a little bit, it’s not as direct in either way in terms of me feeling weird or the reciprocity power I’m trying to extract from it. But how else could we say that phrase?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Yeah, there’s definitely other ways to say it. And one of the things that you tapped into is it’s got to be authentic no matter what is coming out of your mouth. If I’m giving you advice, or the FBI guy is giving you advice, or Mr. Cialdini is giving you advice, whomever is going to be telling you these things, if it doesn’t feel authentic, it’s not going to work because you’re going to stumble all over your words and it’s going to just come out like verbal diarrhea, so it’s got to be authentic for you, but the principle is the key.

So, what you did there is you didn’t do the “No problem” and threw away your power or gave them power. You neutralized it. And so, the issue I have, more than anything, is the “No problem” moment. So, what you said works perfectly, and other things are. When people thank me at the end of a session when I’m doing a keynote or Q&A or something like that, one of the things I like to tell them is, “I appreciate that.” It’s not a “No problem.” I made the effort to show up here today but I appreciate that. It’s neutralizing it as opposed to just throwing it away.

Pete Mockaitis
And I like that because I think I even said to my wife a few times, “Thank you for thanking me,” and that just feels a little cheesy and almost like…but “I appreciate that” sometimes the specific words make all the difference, and I love that because you are acknowledging that you appreciate the thanks, which some people just don’t give. That’s a free tip, thank people. And it’s true. So, I do, I do really appreciate it. Words of affirmation, I like them, one of my love languages. So, game on. I appreciate that. That’s good.

So, boy, we’re already getting so much good stuff here. So, sometimes though it’s not about saying a particular phrase. The title of the book is Say Less, Get More. What do you mean by say less?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
So, it’s two-fold. One is you really actually have to stop talking because people will think and talk at the same time and talk themselves out of a deal. I see this happening all the time whether you’re a junior account manager or you’re a C-suite executive, people will constantly be talking, assuming again, that we’ve absorbed this messages that the one who speaks the fastest, and the one who’s the quick-witted one is going to get the best deal. That’s usually not true.

And so, I tell introverts, “You can rejoice. This is your moment. This is your opportunity to actually pause.” And the reason I say “Say less” so much is I talk about our mental pause button, and I ask people to channel that mental pause button. Because when we’re faced with stress, and negotiation is one of those moments that most people find very stressful, we have this primitive way of handling things where our cave person, our ancestors, we have the same brain as they did. When they were faced with a saber-toothed tiger, all rational thought would leave their brains and that’s what allowed them to run like hell, that super human strength to run from their threat.

Today, we don’t have physical threats. We have psychological threats. So, whether it’s a threat to our ego, or a threat to our security and so on, our brains still respond the same way. And that’s what has those moments that make you go, “Oh, God, why did I do that?” and your palms were sweaty, and your heart was beating faster, and your breath was more shallow, and all of that rational energy left your brain.

But instead of having those moments of “Why did I do that?” instead, you could just pause and give yourself a moment for maybe it’s a meditative breath, maybe it’s a positive mantra, maybe it’s a visualization of some kind, just that chance for your brain to catch up to what it needs to do. And so, you will be far more capable. You can actually change your brain in that moment by reframing things.

There was a really interesting study that was done. Back in 2013, Harvard did a study where they had participants sing in front of a group which, for most people, can create a lot of fear. I don’t get it. If you put me in a karaoke bar, I’m then good to go. But they made them sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” but before they did, they put them in three separate groups. And they told the first group, “Tell yourself that you are anxious,” and they told the second group, “Describe yourself as excited,” and then they told the last group to say nothing at all.

And what they found was when there was a computer that measured their volume and pitch, the group that described themselves as excited outperformed the other two groups. And they not only outperformed them when they were singing, they also outperformed them on a math test and a speech test. They were perceived as more persuasive, more confident, and more persistent.

So, what that tells us is when you can take yourself out of a fear mindset and into an opportunity mindset, you can change your cognitive abilities. You can actually change your brain. So, if you’re going in for that negotiation or that stressful moment or that toddler who was having a temper tantrum, if you can just press your mental pause button and go, “I can handle this,” or, “I’m excited about this,” “I’m excited for the resolution,” “I’m excited to show them what I’m made up,” “I’m excited to finally put all of this preparation to good use,” you can actually change your brain in that moment and get better results. So, that’s one element of saying less.

The other element of saying less is actually using fewer words or being more measured in your words because you don’t want to be doing that whole talking yourself out of the deal thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, well, one, that’s a fascinating study. Do you remember who did it or where it was published because we totally got to link to it?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
I know I cited it in the book. It was 2013, it was Harvard, that’s what I recall off the top of my head.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Okay. So, then when are taking that pause, that breath, that mantra moment, that reinterpretation “I’m excited,” I think I’m a little reluctant sometimes to do that because I assume the other person on the other end that I’m talking to expects words to come from me pretty shortly after they stop saying words. So, do you have any go-to, like pause phrases, scripts, like moment-takers, like, “That’s a really interesting point. I’d like to think about that for a moment”? Or, I don’t know, like what do you say?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
That’s one of them. You can call it a crutch if you want to, you can call it a tool, whatever you need. One of the biggest things though is you need to own that moment. And so, you could do it in the form of your body language if you’re face to face or you’re doing something virtually on the camera. Of course, you can have a look of pensive, deep thought on your face, and they’ll go, “All right, she’s contemplating it. I’m going to give her a second to do this.” You can frame it and say, “I need a moment to think that through,” or, “I need a moment to make sure that I’m providing an option that’s going to work for the both of us.”

And so, by owning it, and saying, “I need a moment,” versus asking for permission, it’s not about saying, “Can I have a moment?” because I don’t think you need to ask somebody for that time. But saying, “I need a moment,” or, “I’m going to take a moment to make sure that I think this through. I want to give you a thoughtful answer to this.”

And then if you say something to the effect of collaboration, of course, they’ll think, “Oh, wow, she’s considering my needs and she’s taking the time to think about this. She’s not just coming with something off the cuff. Well, now, I feel like she’s somebody that I can trust.” So, it’s thinking through, framing it up to go, “I am owning this time,” as opposed to, “Oh, no, I don’t know what to say.”

So, you also want to make sure that your body language is consistent with that. You don’t want to look like the deer-in-the-headlights when you’re taking that moment of pause. You want to look like it is intentional and you own it, and they’re the ones who are going to be hanging on your every word when you can do that because there’s a very different message that you’re sending with one set of body language versus the other.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like it. And there’s so many ways you can convey that and just see what works for you. And part of me is just thinking, just like a noise, like, “Hmm,” like that kind of means I’m thinking, and I didn’t have to use any syllables at all, “Hmm,” and then stroking your chin or whatever. There are so many ways that even looks like I’m thinking and that’s great.

And I’ve actually appreciated it on the receiving end. When I say something and someone else just pauses to think for a while, I like it. I kind of feel valued, it’s like, “You’re actually chewing on that as opposed to just feeling the need to fill the space.” And it does make me more curious, like it’s a bit of suspense, like, “Well, what’s he going to say? It sounds like it might be pretty good because he’s cooking it up for a little while here.” So, that’s fun.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
That’s the beauty of psychology, right? So, that you’re creating what is hard to obtain. People value things that are hard to obtain. So, even if you know the answer in the back of your mind, and you can say it quickly, taking your time and showing that little bit of reluctance means that you’re in charge of the schedule here. And I think that can also speak volumes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about taking charge. And I think when it comes to negotiations, I think sometimes there can be a tension in that you really do, let’s just say everyone is coming at it and from a good place, they have good faith, they want to work something out and find a win-win.

And so then, I wonder, sometimes when it comes to disclosing information, on the one hand you could say, “Hey, information, knowledge is power and the more you have an advantage in that department, relative to your other person, you have strength and the advantage.” And then the other side of it though is like disclosing is sometimes absolutely just necessary, like, “What are we even talking about here? We gotta get on the same page to like move forward.”

So there’s that tension, if this makes any sense, in terms of if you have information and disclosing it would be a helpful collaborative thing that you’d like to do, but it’s also something that is in and of itself can shift a bit of the power dynamic, how do you think about these things?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Yeah, so there’s two things to think about. One is, “What type of negotiation is it?” And so, I talk about negotiation as a spectrum, so I came up with a model to help my MBA students and my clients think it through. So, there’s kind of like a spectrum of light. If you can imagine that there’s a more competitive side of the spectrum, that is when you are talking one dimensional, it’s really just about price and nothing and else. Those are the toughest, coldest, there’s no relationship, there’s no real trust to speak of.

So, if you can imagine you’re on a beach in Mexico, buying a souvenir, or in Thailand buying a pair of elephant pants, it’s a done-and-done really quick negotiation. And when you’re talking about those types of negotiations, again, say less, get more comes in here because you don’t want to give away any information, you don’t trust this person, and anything you do say will likely be used against you. So, you’re never going to go in there and say, “Yeah, I’m trying to propose to give you $10 for this item but, really, I have $50 in my pocket. Feel free to take advantage of me.” That’s just not what we do.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. “This is my daughter’s favorite stuffed animal in the world and in her favorite color. She’s absolutely going to love it. Hey, how much?”

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Yeah, “She’s going to have a temper tantrum if I don’t get it. What are you going to charge me?” So, those are the scenarios where you’re not going to share very much information. And as you move along the spectrum, you build more trust, the consequences to the relationship are greater. It is a more complex and creative negotiation so it’s not just about cash.

So, if you think of in the middle of a spectrum, I would call like a job offer negotiation would fall in there, where, yeah, salary is still going to be likely the most important thing, but there’s other things in the mix that we’re going to throw in there, and maybe it’s bonuses, and maybe it’s a car, or maybe it’s flexibility and other things that I can attach a tangible value to. And if you don’t share with them what would be important to you, well, then it’s going to be very difficult for them to come up with a solution that’s going to be tasteful to you.

Pete Mockaitis
“If I don’t know what you want, how can I give it to you?”

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Exactly. And then, of course, when you have the closest of collaborative negotiations, those are the ones where there’s a merger perhaps happening, or you’re talking about the negotiations at home with your spouse or your child or somebody with whom you have the greatest amount of trust, you’re going to be a lot more transparent there.

So, it depends on where you are in the spectrum and the amount that you’re going to share with them but you also still have to pause and say less in those moments, to go, “What information is going to be helpful to moving forward and what information is going to be harmful that they can use against me?”

So, even in that job offer thing, there’s a balance. And so, with most of my clients, when I’m working through high-stakes negotiations with a lot of these corporate folks who hire me, we actually come up with a list of, “What information are we going to share now to build a little bit of trust? What information are we going to hold back until later to make sure that, well, I need to know that I can trust them and they’re not going to take advantage of me? And what information is completely off limits altogether? Never going to tell them what the secret family recipe is, or raw material costs and that kind of thing.” And we’re very clear on those things before we go into any type of negotiation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. The raw material cost, well said. Well, so then let’s hear are there any particularly unique, novel, unconventional approaches or recommendations that you put forward that we should know about while we’ve got you here?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
I would say one of the easiest ones is that there’s too often this assumption that negotiation has to be this tough and nasty, banging-my-fist-on-the-table kind of conversation, and that is rarely the type of approach that is going to get you the best results. I’d say the one that gets you the most results is going in and asking questions in a curious mindset. If you can go in there and be curious about somebody instead of defensive or instead of tough and arrogant and so on, that is likely going to get you much further.

And I would say when you can make them be curious about you, then they’re going to want to find a way to deal with you. And I will tell you from personal experience that when I used to work for a consulting firm, and I worked for large corporations before that, and when I left and I quit my job and I went into self-employment, it was actually unintentional. I just quit my job because I knew I needed a change of some kind in my life.

And when I quit, I had all of these clients who called me up and said, “Fotini, when are you going to come back and work with us?” And I’d say, “I don’t work for that company anymore.” They said, “We didn’t hire the company. We hired Fotini. We liked dealing with you. We want to deal with you.” And the reason they were doing that is not because I was giving them these massive discounts, and not because I was puffing up my chest and being demanding, like, “You must do things my way.” It was because I was taking the time to get to know them a little bit. I was curious about them and I was understanding a lot more and acknowledging some of the challenges that they were facing.

They were learning a little something about me as well and they got to know the person behind the negotiation title, if you will, and that made them want to deal with me. So, my entire business exists today because I thought of the person and not the Excel spreadsheet. We don’t conduct negotiations on spreadsheets. We are dealing with humans, and humans are crazy and psycho at many times so we need to think of the psychology more than anything.

Pete Mockaitis
Humans are crazy and psycho. That’d have to be our pulled quote for the interview.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
I’ve been known to say people are psycho in my MBA classes, and my students loved that one. I don’t live that down.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you bring this to life for us with a story in terms of, “Okay, we’re putting into play some of these principles and we saw a cool outcome”? Like, “Oh, it was more than about just price. There was some emotional elements. Saying less was helpful.” Can you tie it together with a bit of a finale story? No pressure, Fotini.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
So, for example, a couple of years ago, I renovated a house and it was one of the most awful experiences of my life. I don’t recommend going through, living through renovations and leaving your house.

But there was a lot of negotiations that had to be done in that moment. And I was pulling out carpets and I needed to match the exact same hardwood in the rest of the house to the bedrooms that I was removing the carpets from, and it’s hard to get a perfect match when you’re doing this type of stuff and you’re trying to avoid having to redo the entire house.

[27:05]

So, I go in, there are two retailers in the entire Toronto area that had this very specific brand of hardwood floors and this very specific color that I needed to match. And when I went to the first one, I said, “Here are the specs? How much do you think it’s going to cost me?” And the guy went, “Hmm, it’ll be about 1500 bucks.” I said, “Okay. Thank you very much.”

I went to the other one, and I said, “Here are the specs. How much do you think it’s going to cost me?” And he spent some time and he’s looking at his calculator and he’s punching things in, he said, “It’ll be 1725.”

Pete Mockaitis
$17.25?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
I wish. So, $1,725.00. Which one sounded more credible? The reality is that unround number and that time that he took to make sure that he was thinking through that analysis, if in fact he was, sounds far more credible to most of us versus that cheaper one that goes, “It’ll be about 1500 bucks.” When he came up with that answer really quickly, I went up, “Huh, that doesn’t sound accurate. I bet you I’m going to have some surprise fees and things like that in the mix.”

So, by using things like, these are tactics, like unround numbers, and by using that hesitation, that saying less, and taking your time to build up that anticipation, you can change the credibility factor. If I was looking at it just on a spreadsheet, I probably would’ve made a very different decision. But when I’m looking at it from a holistic, “Okay, this one sounds more credible than this one. The rounded number sounds like it has more risks attached to it. It’s probably going to cost me a lot more. Will it be the same quality that I wanted, and so on?”

We can provoke people and make them think and change their perceptions in many different ways. So, it’s all about considering all of the entire holistic picture rather than just that cell on an Excel spreadsheet.

Pete Mockaitis
And I also want to add, when you talked about renovations, that reminded of the time that I was getting a new garage door put into the garage. And so, I don’t know what the heck that’s supposed to cost but I got a number from my contractor who’s working with a garage door person, and I said, “Well, I mean, I don’t know anything about garage doors, but that number is higher than what HomeAdvisor.com says it should cost, so I’m going to call somebody else.” They said, “Wait, wait, wait, let me go back.”

And so, this happened like three times, I was like, “Well, I really appreciate that you’ve reduced the price and we’re getting closer, but again that’s higher than the HomeAdvisor range, so, yeah, just to check, I’m going to check some others.” They’re like, “Well, let me get back…” It was comical to me in terms of like because I had no idea, had I not spent like two minutes pulling up that page on HomeAdvisor.com, I’d probably say, “Okay.”

But because I did, I was able to save a few hundred bucks. And I think that’s just wild how, in my experience, I’d love to get your hot take on this, it rarely boils down to a genius psychological maneuver or charismatic Jedi mind persuasion trick for me and more so boils down to, “Hey, I’ve done my research and this is sort of like the alternatives and I’m just going to do that if you can’t work with that,” and then that’s that.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
You’re demonstrating your credibility by saying just very few words, you’re going, “Oh, well, when I checked such and such website…” and they’re like, “Oh, crap. Now he knows the jig is up. Now I have to make sure that I appease this person,” and all you said was very few words. You mentioned one website and, all of a sudden, the whole thing changes.

I actually have a really funny story that, again, when I moved into house living, I lived in a condo for many years, and, in fact, I hate house living and I moved back into a condo last year. But when I moved into this house, I forgot how much I hated shoveling snow, and I live in Toronto where we have a ton of snow, and you have to have your sidewalk shoveled within 12 hours of snowfall or you get ticketed by the city, and so I was like, “Screw this. I’m going to find somebody else to do this for me.” And so, I’m very good at outsourcing, and I did some research, and I asked around, and people said, “To get the driveway the size of yours done for the entire winter, you should spend no more than $400 for the next four months.” I was like, “Great.”

So, I put a post up in a local Facebook group with the specs so everybody knew how small the driveway was and that’s when things got really interesting. And one gentleman replied and said, this is all over text, this is Facebook Messenger, and he said, “I would take care of your property for $800 for the season,” and I was pissed. I was so angry, I was like, “You think I’m a woman and you’re going to be able to take advantage of me and treat me like a statistic and get all aggressive? I don’t think so.”

But I pressed my mental pause button and, instead of saying all those things, I said, “Wow, that’s a lot more expensive than other quotes. Thanks for reaching out but that’s too much for me.” And then he came back, and he said, “So, how much are you looking at spending?” And I said, “Well, I’ve got students in the neighborhood willing to do it for $200. I’d be willing to pay for someone more reliable but you’re just way too far outside my price range.” And that was true, I had a neighbor kid who was willing to do it for 200 bucks.

And he said, “So, what do you want to spend? I live at Woodbine and Gerard. The lowest I can do for you is 500.” And that was all in one text box. So, he asked me a question, and before I could even see that question, he answered that question, which means he’s now negotiating against himself. And he gave me his location that if I needed to, I could use to my advantage to go, “Great, then you can work into the very beginning or the very end of your route. No problem.”

And then he said, “The lowest I can do for you is 500,” and it’s almost like cue the dramatic music, it’s “Dun, dun, dah,” because I know the highest I would spend is 400, and if the lowest he would go is 500, that means that we can’t get to a deal. So, I said, “Thanks but that’s still way too much. I’ll have to settle for one of the kids.” And then I put my phone away because this happened first thing in the morning, and I was running a workshop that day with a client, and I never look at my phone when I’m with clients.

And so, what I found was, later on that day, when I checked my phone, the negotiation wasn’t, in fact, over. And many hours later, I saw a message that was waiting for me and it said, “400.” And then, because I hadn’t seen that message, at 5:18 p.m. that day, there was one more message waiting for me, “300.” And that is the beauty, that is the power of saying less and getting more. The less I was saying, the more I was getting rewarded, right?

And so, that’s just that little extra hesitation that you can put in there, and I didn’t have to yell at him or shout the obscenities that were running through my mind earlier. It was diplomatic, it was polite, and it was still fruitful. It didn’t have to be that banging-fist-on-the-table stuff in order to get the best possible deal.

I will tell you, however, I didn’t go with that guy. I just didn’t trust him and I ended up negotiating with someone else to get my driveway and my neighbor’s driveway done for 240 bucks each for the season. Yeah, so she was pretty psyched to have a professional negotiator living next door.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, congratulations. And that is a lovely story in terms of tying those things together nicely. And it all started because you had some idea, okay, 400. Like, had you not inquired, even like, “Huh, 800.” If I had to, you’d probably part with 800 bucks to have the snow handled but you didn’t have to. And the reason you knew you didn’t have to is because you’ve got that upfront info and then you just let some silence bring it on down.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Yeah. I mean, that’s one of my favorites just to show you the value of saying less, and the power of just taking your time for things whether it was intentional or not. That is what people need to learn is that you can talk yourself out of a deal or you can say less and you can get a lot more out of it.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have any other recommended scripts, or phrases, or key gems of things you find yourself saying often in negotiations?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Well, I have kind of an automatic reflexive response to the word “No” or the words “I can’t.” And so, my automatic response is, “How could you?” “Under what circumstances?” “If I could wave a magic wand and make everything happen, what would it take in order to make that happen for you?” So, for me, no is not the end of the negotiation. It truly is the start of the negotiation.

And I think that’s something that I learned when I was negotiating with my dad as a kid because, quite frankly, I grew up with the strictest of dads and that was just the only way to get out of the house, “Well, what would it take? Does it mean my sister has to come? Does it mean so and so has to be there? Does it mean my big cousin is going to pick me up? Any of those things. What other scenarios can we come up with?” But by asking really great questions like that and having them in the back of your mind, kind of like as my mental rolodex of, “What could we do to make that happen? How close can we get to my proposal?” Those are all some of the things that are my response to a “No” or “I can’t.”

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

Fotini Iconomopoulos
I think the one that sticks out to me most when it comes to negotiations, specifically, is the kind of infamous JFK one, “Let us not negotiate out of fear.” It’s about “Not negotiating out of fear but let us not fear to negotiate.” Because if you negotiate out of fear, it’s a Harvard study that I mentioned to you earlier, you’re not going to get great results. And if you avoid negotiating altogether, you’re going to get even less results. So, what can we do to psyche ourselves up instead of psyching ourselves out?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
One of my favorites is probably a lot of the stuff that Cialdini talks about. He is definitely one of my favorites. He talks about a study on MBA students and likability of negotiation where they put them into two separate groups, and they told one of the groups, “Start negotiating right away,” and they told the other group to, “Spend a few minutes getting to know each other.”

And the group that started negotiating right away, 55% of them managed to close a deal, and that’s not too shabby. But the group who started negotiating after they got to know each other for a few minutes, 90% of them managed to close deals. And I know most people will go, “Oh, sure, you get to know each other, you like each other, you give them a better deal, and that’s how you close it,” but that’s not true.

What ended up happening is not only that 90% of them closed deals, they also closed better deals. They closed deals that were 12% greater in value, which is pretty remarkable when you think about just spending a few minutes before the negotiation even starts, getting to know the other person, being curious about them, sharing something in common with them. Those are the things that are going to help you move further ahead versus that being very aggressive and trying to be super demanding. It’s likability before the negotiation starts that’s going to get you much further ahead than getting straight down to business right away.

And in our temptation to do things over email and try to be efficient, we kind of skip over that stuff in a virtual world now. And so, we have an opportunity to use that study to our advantage and go, “What can I do to just warm things up a little bit at the beginning of the email or the beginning of our conversation and so on just to get to know this person a little bit more?” That, for me, is the sweet spot of being able to maximize negotiations. And so, Cialdini is one my favorites to lean on over and over again.

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

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Surprisingly, right now, I’m reading one called Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey, and I never expected to enjoy it as much as I did. So, that’s been my most surprising book this year.

One of my favorites though that I feel that I recommend a lot to my audiences is Presence by Dr. Amy Cuddy, which I think is a phenomenal one for loads of great tips to build your confidence and show up and be really credible.

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

Fotini Iconomopoulos
I use my mental pause button. Really, that’s it. It’s taking my time to take that meditative breath and think through what I need to say next.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Fotini Iconomopoulos
My favorite habit is reading. Absolutely, 100% it is reading. I read audiobooks now to get even more books when I’m going out for a walk, for sure.

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

Fotini Iconomopoulos
It really is the pause button that people seem to resonate with most, and that’s where the whole “Say less, get more” mantra came from. So, when I talk to my MBA students, or my audiences in keynotes, or even my corporate folks, when I’m seeing people live, I actually give them a little card that has a pause button on it. And so, some of my students even tell me, they’re like, “I have your card on my bathroom mirror,” and, “I have it on my night table,” and, “I have it on my bulletin board.” I’m like, “Why is it on your night table?” They’re like, “It prevents me from getting into arguments with my spouse.” So, that one, I think, is the favorite from everybody in my audiences.

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

Fotini Iconomopoulos
They can go to my website FotiniIcon.com or they can find me on Instagram where I’m sharing loads of stuff all the time @fotiniicon there, and LinkedIn is also one of my favorite social media sites where I share loads of information.

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

Fotini Iconomopoulos
I do. So, I always leave my keynotes and I give my audience as a challenge to put saying less and getting more into practice right away, and there are two very easy ways to do that. The first is ask yourself, “What kind of a question can I ask to learn a little bit more about this person and get more out of this conversation?” And the other is, “Is there a moment where I can be quiet and say less and maybe let my body language do the talking to get more out of a situation?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Fotini, this has been a pleasure. Thank you. And I wish you all the best and much luck in all the ways you say less and get more.

Fotini Iconomopoulos
Thank you very much. I hope it comes in handy for you with your kids as well.

658: How to Fix Burnout and Beat Exhaustion, Stress, and Overwhelm with Dr. Jacinta Jimenez

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Dr. Jacinta Jimenez says: "When you stress, you must rest."

Dr. Jacinta Jimenez breaks down what causes burnout and what we can do to prevent and fix it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What most get wrong about burnout 
  2. How to recover using the PULSE framework
  3. The tiny recovery habits that build tremendous resilience 

About Jacinta

Jacinta M. Jiménez, PsyD, BCC (also known as “Dr. J”) is an award-winning Psychologist and Board-Certified Leadership Coach with a 15+ year career dedicated to the betterment of leaders. An in-demand speaker, consultant, and coach, she has worked with individuals in top organizations in Silicon Valley and throughout the world. A graduate of Stanford University and the PGSP-Stanford PsyD Consortium, Dr. J is a sought-after expert in  bridging the fields of psychology and leadership. She contributes to national news and TV outlets, including CNN/HLN, Business Insider, Forbes, and Fast Company. 

As the former Global Head of Coaching at BetterUp, she developed groundbreaking  science-backed coaching approaches for helping today’s top organizations foster resilience,  while also leading a global community of 1500+ international Leadership Coaches in over  58 countries. She holds a certificate in Diversity & Inclusion from Cornell University and  provides consultation on topics related to this important area as well. 

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

  • Blinkist. Read or listen to summarized wisdom from thousands of nonfiction books! Free trial available at blinkist.com/awesome

Dr. Jacinta Jimenez Interview Transcript

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

Jacinta Jimenez
Hi, thank you for having me. I’m delighted to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I am, too. And the first question I had to ask, and apologies if you’re getting a lot of this, but have you met Prince Harry with your work?

Jacinta Jimenez
Yeah, I just can’t get into too many details but I am on the executive team and we are delighted to have him. He has shown up to our all hands recently for the company meeting that we had when we announced it. So, that was a delight to see him virtually.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Lovely. Well, tell us, so we’re talking about burnout here today. What is the state of burnout these days amongst professionals? Like, do we know what proportion of us are feeling burnt out? Is it getting better or worse? What’s the scoop?

Jacinta Jimenez
Yeah, it is. So, burnout prior, it was already a problem prior to COVID-19, it was already becoming an epidemic in itself so much so that, in 2019, the World Health Organization recognized burnout as an occupational phenomenon and conceptualized it as a syndrome that’s resulted from chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been successfully managed.

And, again, these are stats prior to COVID but, in 2015, Stanford researchers estimated that job burnout, costs the US economy about $190 billion due to absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, medical, legal and insurance costs.

And then now, throw in COVID-19 in the mix, and we have changed our lives substantially, our psychological resources are being taxed over long periods of time, and that’s taking a very large toll on people’s mental wellbeing and also is setting up conditions right for burnout. So, I think folks are feeling it even more, and the stats are showing that burnout is on the rise.

So, it’s a growing phenomenon that, hopefully, folks are…I think the silver lining could be that folks are actually paying attention to it and wanting to address it and wanting to find solutions for it.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a sense for in the United States, what percentage of people, in general, or professionals in particular, have burnout? And is there a specific precise, like scientific definition of burnout we use when we make such claims?

Jacinta Jimenez
Yes. Yeah, thank you for asking the second part, but both parts of the question, but the second part especially. I feel like the word burnout has been thrown around so much lately, it’s been sensationalized, so I’d love to get into the specific definition, but, yeah, there’s a lot of good stats. So, Deloitte’s workplace survey has found that 77% of respondents have experienced burnout in their current job at one point or another, which is a pretty incredible number when you think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
And your current job is, statistically, likely less than five years old. It’s like how quickly we turn over, maybe two, three, four years. And maybe it happened the whole time or right now or maybe just half a year or a year ago. Okay, so that puts it into perspective. Thank you. And then how do we define burnout?

Jacinta Jimenez
Yes, thank you for asking that question. So, a lot of people think burnout is just a consequence of overwork, like, “I overworked myself to the point of exhaustion so I burned out.” And exhaustion and overwork are part of burnout but it’s not the whole picture. It’s a very complex issue so there’s actually three core components at research, especially research led by Christina Maslach, who is one of the pioneering researchers in this field, that make up burnout.

So, the first one is exhaustion. So, that’s the obvious one. That’s when you feel like you go on a vacation and you don’t feel replenished after the vacation. You take time off work; you don’t feel better. You’ll hear people say, like, “I feel used up by the end of the workday. I feel tired when I have to get up in the morning and face another day on the job. I feel emotionally drained by my work.” So, it’s that really deep, deep level of exhaustion.

But then the other components are cynicism and inefficacy. And so, cynicism is a really interesting one because a lot of times people who are most engaged in their work are the ones who are actually more prone to burnout because we’re passionate or care about it, want to give our all to it, and that can be kind of a slippery slope. And, ironically, a lot of times, these folks end up cynical even though they were the most engaged.

And so, cynicism shows up by becoming less interested in their work, wanting to be “Just leave me alone. Don’t bother me. I just want to get my work done. I’m not enthusiastic about my work.” So, it’s really questioning their company’s mission, the technical term can also be called de-personalization, where you just don’t feel connected to what you do anymore.

And then the final one is inefficacy. And this is another heartbreaking piece because these are people who are competent and able to do their job but they’ve gotten to this point with burnout where they don’t feel confident at getting things done, they don’t feel like they’re making an effective contribution, they feel like they’re kind of drowning or they can’t catch up, and they can’t effectively solve problems.

And so, when these three components come together, think of like a Venn diagram almost, where these pieces come together, that’s when burnout happens. But the interesting thing, is people have different burnout profiles. So, one person may be really feeling the inefficacy but not so much the exhaustion and maybe a moderate level of cynicism, or someone else could be heavy cynicism and not much exhaustion. So, it’s important to know if you’ve had burnout in the past, how it shows up for you so you can kind of monitor yourself on those three.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we don’t necessarily have to be experiencing all three of these to be classified as burnt out? Is that accurate?

Jacinta Jimenez
You need all three but they can be in different dosages.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I hear you. So, I got a whole lot of exhaustion, just a little bit of cynicism and inefficacy.

Jacinta Jimenez
Yeah, there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’m with you. I don’t know why I laugh. I think I’m laughing just in like smiling recognition, like, “Oh, yes, I had that before,” as opposed to, “That’s hilarious,” because it’s not hilarious. It’s very troubling.

Jacinta Jimenez
It’s very troubling.

Pete Mockaitis
And so widespread. Okay. So, there we have it. We framed it up. So, that’s the definition, that’s how widespread it is. Well, so you got a book here, The Burnout Fix. Do enlighten us, what is the burnout fix or maybe any surprising discoveries you’ve made about burnout?

Jacinta Jimenez
Yeah, I think the interesting thing about burnout or a misnomer that kind of surprises people about people is that a lot of people think burnout is just an individual problem, like, “I’m not strong enough to deal with crazy life. And if I was just more gritty, I could’ve not burned out.” But burnout isn’t just an individual problem in any way. Individuals exist in systems and environments, so we cannot look at the individual’s burnout without looking up the environment that they exist in.

So, it’s co-created by our work, too, and there’s actually…it’s really interesting, there are six specific mismatches between the nature of a person and the nature of their work that leads to burnout. And if you can figure out which of those six mismatches align with kind of what’s going on for you, you’re going to be a lot better off addressing it. So, I think it’s really important for people to understand that it’s not just you, it’s not because you’re weak or poor coping strategies. A lot of it has to do with your job environment as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, lay it on us, so what are the six ways we can be mismatched?

Jacinta Jimenez
Yeah. So, the first one is fairness. So, if you have been working really hard at your job, and there’s not clear job promotion kind of processes outlined, and someone else gets a promotion, this is just one example, that could feel very unfair. That can take a toll.

Christina Maslach, again who I mentioned earlier, she describes burnout as an erosion of dignity, spirit, and will; an erosion of the human soul, which is so heavy. But if you’ve ever experienced burnout, I have, it’s a really good description of it. It takes away the pieces that made you feel meaning and purpose at work. And so, when you have a lack of fairness, that’s going to erode on the human soul.

A second one is workload. So, if you have a huge workload and you don’t have the resources, time resources, executive sponsor resources, or just general resources to do it, that’s going to erode on your soul as well. The third one is communities. So, we are human beings, first and foremost, we are wired to connect. That’s how we’ve survived for centuries is existing in tribes. We could not have survived without one another. And when we feel a breakdown in community at work, we feel lonely, we don’t feel like we belong, that can also erode on someone’s soul.

And then the other one is values. So, if your boss is telling you to do something that feels out of alignment with what you stand for, or you joined the company’s mission because it aligns with your values but the company is doing something that does not feel legitimate or good to you, that’s going to take a toll.

And then reward. We like reward, we want progress. I always say, those shiny stars we got as kids, they just feel good when we did something well, that doesn’t go away. We want to feel rewarded for our efforts. And so, if we’re not being rewarded fairly or being acknowledged, and this can be intrinsic, social, economic reward. It’s not just economic, that can take a toll.

And then the sixth one is control. So, if we don’t have control over our environment, it’s a recipe for learned helplessness where you’re just like, “Why even try if I have no way to influence my environment? I’m just going to give up.” And that can lead to inefficacy. So, it’s not just from overworking. It’s more due to this mismatch between just our capacities as humans and the nature of our work.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it sounds like the second one, resources, it may be is the only one that really seems to check that box specifically associated with overwork, it’s like, “I got more tasks that are being demanded of me than I have hours to do and also sleep,” for example.

Jacinta Jimenez
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that makes sense in terms of checking yourself. And I find that really, really handy in terms of it is bigger than overwork, and that distinction can be transformational in and of itself just having that awareness because I guess I’m thinking that I have felt some burnout in times, and I’ve been sort of scratching my head, like, “Well, I mean, I’m not working that many hours. I’ve worked longer hours before.”

And then the conclusions you can leap to from there, it’s like, “Why? Am I getting weak? Am I out of shape? Am I sick? Am I old already?” Like, what’s real here, “I’m not as vital despite having fewer hours of work.” And it’s like, oh, well, we can zero in on one of these other five dimensions and see, “Well, aha. Well, here’s the thing. I don’t actually care at all about this thing that we’re doing. It’s like I wouldn’t call it evil per se but I don’t think it really matters and the world wouldn’t really be changed significantly whether we did this or did not do this, so I don’t really care.”

Jacinta Jimenez
Yeah. Whereas, maybe we’re working longer hours but we have so much meaning and values and reward and community that it doesn’t take a toll. So, it’s really powerful to know. I think it’s very empowering for folks to know, “Oh, I can look at this in a much more granular and nuanced way, and then figure out what I want to do about it based on that, versus just going I overwork to the point of exhaustion. Now I have to work less.” But sometimes work less and it doesn’t solve it if it’s a values mismatch or something else.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then, can you tell me, so we’ve got a PULSE framework that we can check through as well.

Jacinta Jimenez
Yeah, the PULSE framework really is kind of my hope to help build out resilience so that they don’t have to get to the point where they’re looking at these six mismatches, where they can boost their resilience as much as possible. Yeah, so, on a side note, I like to think of resilience as kind of like a seesaw. So, on one side of the seesaw is adversity or tough things that happen to us, and on the other side is protective factors.

And that fulcrum, that thing in the middle where it rests on, that’s our genetic setpoint because, let’s face it, genetics does play a role but, good news, it doesn’t play like a massive role. We have a lot of influence, so that’s the good news. But we have to be very proactive in putting more and more proactive resilience tools and mindsets and strategies on that other side of the seesaw so that when adversity hits, the seesaw doesn’t flip us out of equilibrium.

So, the more and more we can build out our resilience, which is my PULSE framework for building out resilience, the more we can be protected in our ever-changing world of work where things are just going at such fast, rapid pace, that there’s going to be constant changes and new adversity, and it will allow us to navigate it more easily and successfully. So, that’s my hope in writing this, Pete, writing out the book and the PULSE framework.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. So, then how do we make that happen?

Jacinta Jimenez
Yeah. So, the acronym is PULSE because if you think back to Christina Maslach’s erosion of the human soul, just like we have to take care of our heart and physical pulse, we also have a personal pulse. That’s our spirit, it’s our vitality, it’s our overall wellbeing. And so, it’s an integrated framework because you can’t just address burnout by doing one thing, as we talked about. You need an integrated approach.

So, it looks at your behavior, how you think, how you relate to others, how you take care of yourself, and how you manage your emotions, and so it’s a very holistic framework. So, the P is called pace for performance, and that’s about how to boost your personal and professional growth in a way that doesn’t drain you.

So, how do you actually stay in your stretch somewhere, you’re actually optimizing for productivity without going over the edge into the stress zone? So, knowing where is that really great point where you’re doing your best work but you’re not going over and stretching yourself so far that, over time, it’s going to take a toll.

The U is cognitive, it’s undo untidy thinking. It’s really about how to train your mind to be very aware of your thoughts to stave off unhelpful thinking patterns. And, again, this is all evidenced. I’m a science geek so this is all evidence-based about how to do it most efficiently. The L is really cool, I think. It’s about the not-so obvious ways we can replenish ourselves physically. So, it’s stands for leveraged leisure.

Leisure has changed alongside the nature of work. Leisure used to be long meals, like old-world culture, the Sabbath, people would take off. I mean, people do still practice it but there were lots of different cultures that used to really integrate leisure into practices. But, as we’ve evolved, leisure has become kind of like compensatory leisure where you go drink or you drive fast cars, you go clubbing to blow off steam, or spill over leisure where you go lay on the couch after work and you scroll through your Instagram feed or your social media feeds and just kind of zone out. That’s not true leisure and replenishment. So, the leveraged leisure is about really, “How do you optimize for actual replenishment?”

The S is social, so how to secure support, how to have a really robust community that allows for you to have cognitive flexibility, but also adaptability while also protecting yourself, so how to set boundaries., and those important things that actually are very good for building more relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
And what is cognitive flexibility?

Jacinta Jimenez
So, cognitive flexibility is kind of the art and science of being able to look at two seemingly disparate things and hold them in your mind at the same time. So, instead of thinking of things as black or white, sitting with the shades of grey, being able to flex your mind to look at things from different perspectives, which is a huge benefit in our new world of work as well to be able to flex our thinking as much as possible versus getting really rigid. It helps with creativity and innovation, empathy, connection with others.

And then the final one is the E, and that’s evaluate efforts. So, that’s about how to regain control of your time and priorities by really tuning into what aligns with your enduring principles, and what are your emotions telling you as data points, and really making sure you’re putting your effort into the right things so that you’re aligned with your values, so you don’t have that values mismatch. So, altogether, it makes PULSE.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, great.
So, the PULSE framework gives us a set of five categories of actions to take that can make a world of impact. And so, I’d love to hear perhaps your favorite tactical to-do inside each of them. So, in terms of pacing for performance, we want to get a sense for what’s too much, what’s too little. And how do you recommend we excellently arrive at that understanding?

Jacinta Jimenez
Yeah, this is where I really tried to make this framework very practical and realistic and feasible.

So, let’s say I am feeling a breakdown in community, let’s go back to the six mismatches. I probably would go to secure support and pick belonging, and figure out, “Oh, read about the science of belonging,” and then I have steps on how to create more feelings of belonging in yourself and with others to build deeper connections.

If I was feeling overwhelmed by my tech use, I may go to leveraged leisure, and I have one on silence and the power of silence, and the power of solitude as well. There’s a really interesting study that I mentioned in the book where you ask people to sit alone with their thoughts or to shock themselves. A significant amount of individuals will choose to shock themselves over sitting alone with their thoughts.

And one outlier in the study actually shocked themselves 190 times, which is incredible but it speaks to how, in our fast-pace constantly hustling society, slowing down to stop and to still has become an afterthought or seen as lazy or non-adaptive. But the more we have space, and this doesn’t have to be massive amounts of alone time but to sit in really, you know, have more introspection, have more self-awareness, we can then ensure that we’re picking things in our life and channeling our energy and emotions and time, these really finite resources, especially our time, the ultimate finite resource, towards things that matter.

But if we’re not sitting down and reflecting on, “Hey, how do I build in a solitude practice once a week, small, micro moments of just solitude events to reflect on this? How do I know I’m even going in the right direction?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, the action step there is to, in fact, have silence built-in. And so, you said a short silence is still great, like a minute, and just put it in the calendar or lock it in after a particular activity in a day. Or how do you think about that?

Jacinta Jimenez
Yeah, exactly. So, a big thing when you’re building new habits is it’s always important to start really small. These don’t have to be big overhauls in behavior. That’s why, with behavior change, if we think about New Year, most New Year’s resolutions do not work out because they’re just too big. It’s too big of an ask. So, I’m a believer in doing these little micro moments throughout the day on a more consistent basis, and pairing them, we call it piggybacking for habit formation. You pair with a habit that you’ve already established.

So, let’s say I want to start one of introspection or just silence just for a moment, every time you can come home and put your keys in the entry way table, you could just pause for a second, maybe it’s for two minutes and just breathe or just think about your thoughts for the day. You can also tie it to brushing your teeth at night. So, tie it to something that’s already existing in your habit, in your routines, can go such a long way.

And then you can think of all of these things but, especially like leisure, dosing it so you can have little micro doses where you have, “Okay, I know my 30-second to one-minute doses,” and then you can do moderate doses, and then you can do even mega doses where you’re like, “Every three weekends, I go away on a vacation into nature because nature can relax me.”

So, it really can be you can get pretty strategic about it to integrate it into your lifestyle because that’s what matters. It’s the little tiny…I liken it to like a piggybank. You got to put little tiny deposits into your resilience piggybank so when adversity happens, you take it out and you don’t break the bank. And it’s just little things down on a consistent and persistent basis over time that are going to make the most impact. It does not have to be huge massive changes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then, tell us, what a micro dose of leisure might look, sound, feel like in practice in terms of like what’s a one-minute thing that really helps?

Jacinta Jimenez
Yeah. So, I have one scheduled in after you and I talk. So, I know from, and this is mentioned in my book, our nervous system gets activated whether we are excited or angry or scared. It doesn’t matter. It just knows your heightened levels. So, I’m excited to be here. This isn’t a negative moment for me, but my nervous system is still getting activated. And that’s okay to have a nervous system activation or stress. Stress is not bad. The problem is stress without recovery. So, chronic stress without recovery.

So, whenever I have something that is going to get me excited, like I love this stuff, I love to geek out on it, so talking to you is exciting for me, but I know I’m activating my nervous system, I will set aside, so I have five minutes, just five minutes, to go outside. Like, I live here in San Francisco where it’s sunny out, and go outside right by the bay and watch some seagulls fly around, breathe, get my nervous system back calm, and then continue in on my day.

So, it’s not a massive thing but it’s allowing, it’s hacking my nervous system just enough so that I’m not in a chronic stress state. Chronic stress without recovery is where it can lead to really, really unhealthy ailments mentally and physically.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And when it comes to the securing of support, you say there’s particular things that really bring on the belonging feelings. What are those things?

Jacinta Jimenez
A big one is compassion. So, people, I think, we hear a lot about empathy, and empathy is important but compassion is different from empathy because compassion is empathy but in action. So, it’s, “I feel for you, but also I want to do something for you.” And so, again, this doesn’t have to be a massive thing where you’re like driving across town to help a friend or something. It can be something as small as just acknowledging someone, or saying thank you to someone, or just checking in with someone. But those moments where you’re engaging in compassionate action creates this, what researchers call, positivity resonance. And it can give us a helper’s high actually, which is very, very good for us and for our relationships.

And so, when we help others, we actually feel more belonging in us so we’re setting up conditions where other people will want to help us. So, it’s this kind of self-reinforcing process but it’s about actively looking. It’s not random acts of kindness. It’s actively looking for maybe three compassionate actions you can take each week to help someone else, to be there for someone else. There’s also a really cool meditation, a loving kindness meditation, where they’ve done a lot of brain MRIs to look at feelings of loneliness before and after this meditation. And just practicing it up to, in total, one hour a week can have significant impacts on how we feel whether we feel connected, and, basically, gets us out of our self-focus so we start.

What it’s doing is you sit and think about people that you care about or in your life, and you say, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you live with ease,” and just focusing on other people, getting out of our self-focus can drive a deeper sense of belonging because we just go, “Oh, I’m not alone. We all have a shared common humanity here.” And that’s really powerful because the self-focus with our social media and the pull to just think about ourselves and curate our lives and how we present is a pretty strong pull and it’s not necessarily good for us.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And when it comes to undoing untidy thinking, what is some of the most frequent and problematic thinking that pops up for professionals, and how do we go about undoing that untidiness?

Jacinta Jimenez
Yes, our mind can get quite untidy. I liken it to Marie Kondo for the mind. Got to know what’s in there and straighten it out. Well, I think a big one is with COVID has created tremendous amounts of uncertainty, and our minds are absolutely programmed to hate uncertainty because it is not evolutionarily viable for us to live in uncertain conditions. Like, we’re on the prairie as hunter and gatherers, and we’re like, “We don’t know what the weather patterns are or if something is going to eat us.” That’s going to set us up to be highly anxious, nervous system activation, lots of stress.

This is something, another study is that they’ve done with people is ask them, “Do you want to shock now or you may not get a shock but you may get a shock later today? Which one would you pick?” And people always pick, not always, I should say, but often, more than not, option one. They’d rather just get it over with. And so, that creates this kind of negativity bias in us where we’re looking, trying to make things certain and so our minds will paint stories for us to try to make things feel certain even though we don’t know the real story.

So, let’s say you’re in a hallway and you usually say hi to your manager, and then your manager weirdly walks past you, kind of with a not-so nice face, and you’re like, “Oh, no, I sent my manager that email yesterday. I shouldn’t have sent it to her.” We make this whole story to make sure we feel we know what’s going on. In reality, the manager could’ve just had to go to the bathroom before a meeting.

And so, we paint these pictures, these stories to create a false sense of certainty, and our mind doesn’t always get it wrong, but oftentimes we can do what we call thinking traps, where we mind-read it like, “Oh, I know what person is thinking.” Or we personalize everything, “Oh, they’re looking at me weird. I know it’s something about me,” and it may not be about you at all. Or mental filtering, like, you do a talk and you get great reviews, and then that one person didn’t give you a great review, like, “Is it awful talk?” you don’t even see the good stuff.

So, being able to be aware of how our brains are serving us sometimes, and also not serving us, can keep us from feeling a lot of stress. It’s pretty powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. So, we get some awareness. And how do we get it and what do we do with it?

Jacinta Jimenez
Yes, so you get the awareness by asking yourself, I say, pick curiosity over concern. So, curiosity over concern is the mantra for undo untidy thinking. So, the more curious you can get, like, “Is that true? Do I have evidence for this thought? What’s another way I could be thinking about this?” can go such a long way at just checking out your thoughts versus just automatically going down the rabbit hole with your mind and going on a whole tangent, making up stories or explanations. And that can help so much to have some space between your thought and what you do.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. It goes, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. And in that space lies your freedom.” And I’m like, “That’s it. You have the space to go, ‘Oh, wait, let me check it out.’” And it’s not that hard. It just takes a little bit of a pause, this space.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you share any other key things professionals should know to reduce or address burnout?

Jacinta Jimenez
Yeah, I think the biggest thing is that hard work and leisure and rest and recovery and vitality are not at odds with one another. If anything, the two go hand in hand. I think there’s a lot of misnomers about, “Oh, I need to keep working harder. If I don’t work harder, I’m not worthy or valuable,” or, “More work actually equals more output,” which isn’t true. Or, success, “Part of being successful is you just have to be chronically stressed.” And I’m like, “No,” the research shows us, beyond a certain threshold, our efforts to work harder actually don’t serve us. We are less productive, we are less creative, we make more mistakes, we are less empathic.

And so, the more we can actually prioritize this and think of these things as part of work, leaning into these resilience capabilities, the more we show up. We do better work. We show up to our communities, our families, our customers, our teammates, more productive, vital, present, and innovative and empathic.

So, yeah, I love to communicate to folks that this isn’t something, like I don’t see it anymore for a new world of work as a nice-to-have. It’s a necessity. It’s really a necessity for doing great work and making an impact in whatever way you want.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, you shared a favorite quote, could you share with us a favorite study or experiment or piece of research?

Jacinta Jimenez
Yeah, I think one of my favorite pieces of research in writing this book is just the power of nature. I think we all kind of know nature is pretty special. But just to think about, like from a time-spent perspective, like human evolution, like we’ve spent 99.9% of our time as a species in nature so we’ve evolved to find restoration in nature.

So, this is part of my leveraged leisure section is nature and finding sanctuary in nature. And just even 20 minutes in nature, or listening to nature sounds even, or looking at nature scenes can reduce our cortisol levels, which is our stress hormones, substantially, and it’s powerful. It’s almost…it is like a form of medicine physiologically for us and then mentally as well. So, nature is a powerful, powerful thing to think about when thinking about how to buffer against chronic workplace stress.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jacinta Jimenez
I think a favorite book is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, and just the power of meaning, and how important it is for us as humans, that we can’t be happy all the time. Emotions are inherently impermanent but we can always have meaning. And meaning can help us persevere and be more resilient in the face of adversity.

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

Jacinta Jimenez
I think it’s support. I am a biggest believer in being a good people picker is what I call it. So, aligning yourself with people that you care about, that also up-level you, that challenge you, that support you. So, I have this support group of professionals that I go to. We’re very close, six of us, and we counsel each other on matters tied to work or career moves or new things that we’re thinking about tied to our work. And it’s just allowed me to, again, have that cognitive flexibility to look at things from all sides of the spectrum. It is a super power to have. Multiple perspectives help you out along your journey. But it’s the right people.

In the past, you can pick not-so great people, and it does take a toll, those are energy vampires. Whether they mean to or not, they can just take a lot of energy from us and leave us less vital, and we want people to fill us not drain us.

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?

Jacinta Jimenez
Yeah. The main one, this is kind of my mantra to hide to, that stress isn’t bad, and I say, “When you stress, you must rest.” So, if you have a stressful thing in your schedule, just counterbalance it with a rest, and so you can have what peak performance researchers call oscillations. So, stress and rest. It’s okay to have stress, we’re going to have it, but just make sure to rest. Micro rests. It does not have to be a big one.

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

Jacinta Jimenez
TheBurnoutFix.com.

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

Jacinta Jimenez
Yeah, I would challenge folks to really consider how building out your resilience and your wellbeing is kind of the fundamental piece, a baseline I would say, for doing being awesome at your job. I adamantly believe a new world of work necessitates new ways to approach work. So, the more you can lean into these things that allow you to feel more vibrant, and full, and have a full soul, the better you’re going to be at all the other efforts of working hard and all these productivity hats and working smart. So, I would say this is a non-negotiable and I challenge you to really consider it a core component to how you approach work and life.

Pete Mockaitis
Jacinta, thanks so much for sharing the goods and I wish you all the best and many burnout-free workdays.

Jacinta Jimenez
Thank you so much for having me and letting me geek out on this stuff with you.

657: How to Stop Drifting and Start Directing Your Career & Life with Andy Storch

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Andy Storch says: "Nobody cares more about your career than you do."

Andy Storch discusses why professionals often feel lost in their careers—and how you can find your direction.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three mental shifts that turn challenges into opportunities 
  2. The ultimate tool for resolving your hardest decisions 
  3.  The subtle ways we waste time—and how to stop 

 

About Andy

Andy Storch is an executive coach, consultant and facilitator specializing in helping clients turn strategy into action and results. He helps leaders accelerate and grow their success through measurable improvements in their business and careers. Just as important, he helps them become the happiest, healthiest, most fulfilled versions of themselves. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Andy Storch Interview Transcript

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

Andy Storch
Pete, thank you so much for having me back on. I am flattered, I’m honored, I’m a big fan of yours and everything you do, and I’m excited to be back on here to talk with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Thank you. Well, I’m excited to be talking with you. Now, boy, a lot has changed in the last two and a half years since we recorded an episode. And for you, in particular, you’ve dealt with an extra dose of changes and you seem to be holding up masterfully. So, could you give us a bit of the life update and sort of a little bit about how your mindset and how you’re thinking about things?

Andy Storch
Sure, yeah. Over the last year, I faced many challenges like many of your listeners and people you network with. At the time, early in 2020, my whole business was selling and running in-person training programs, I was flying all over the country and the world. And, of course, that got completely shut down by COVID, and I made some pivots in my business last year. I wrote and published a book which we’ll be talking about.

And around the time that I published my book in November of 2020, I was also diagnosed with testicular cancer, which was a complete surprise, not something I was planning on at all. I ended up having surgery two days after I published my book, and then spent December and January trying some different treatments, and basically on the couch, unable to work, and then started chemotherapy in January.

And you and I are recording this in March, it’s been a couple of months of treatments. There had been some really hard days, some ups and downs. I’m feeling pretty good now as I’ve gotten through a lot of it. And, yeah, mindset is something I was already big on going into this. In fact, I have a chapter in my book about the importance of having the right mindset, and it’s something that’s helped me get through this.

And I would say, to take it a step further, taking responsibility for everything that’s going on, accepting what I can’t control, focusing on the best path forward, and spending a lot of time focusing on gratitude, which is hard to do sometimes when you feel like everything is horrible. You feel horrible, you can’t walk, and you just feel nauseous and terrible, but I remind myself and I remind others that no matter how bad things seem, no matter what the challenges you’re going through, and we all have challenges, we always have things to be grateful for, reasons to be grateful, and that gratitude has helped me a lot. I write down in my journal my gratitude every single day.

The other thing that helped me, from mindset perspective, was remembering the nature of impermanence. So, that’s something I learned about through my time of meditation and mindfulness over the last few years. And a certain phrase that I learned from a friend of mine, that I kept in mind, when I was going through the worst of the treatment on those days where I just felt absolutely horrible, that hating life feeling, I can’t believe it’s this bad.

And I remember this phrase, I recite it often, which is, “This is how it is right now.” And that just kind of reminded me that, “I am going through this right now but it’s not going to be like this forever, and I’m going to accept the situation for what it is right now. I’m going to get through this. Tomorrow will be a better day.” And, sure enough, it almost always was. There were some days that were absolutely horrible, but then things would get better. Like today, I feel pretty good and a lot of that stuff is in the rear view, and we just keep moving forward day by day knowing that there are going to be challenges but we will get through them, possibly come out stronger. That’s my plan.

And I don’t know why this happened for me but I know it does create opportunities for me to share more of my story to inspire people and help people who may be going through similar challenges. And I know there will be plenty of those who come after me, and so I’m always happy to share my story. I’ve been sharing a lot on social media and on my podcast so people know what’s going on, and also to know that, hey, if I can get through this stuff, you can get through whatever challenge you’re dealing with right now, especially with that focus on gratitude.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you for sharing that. And, yes, that is inspiring, just how you’re handling things. And I heard you even say, “I don’t know why this happened for me,” and then your Chapter 13 is called “Mindset Is Everything.” And that’s one of the distinctions you talk about there. So, I’d actually like to start with mindset and then rock and roll throughout the book. So, tells us about that phrase, “something happens for you,” as opposed to “to you.”

Andy Storch
Yeah, it’s a simple but a very big flip and switch in your mindset. It’s this idea of going from everything in life happens to you, to everything in life happens for you. And the “to you,” I see that as more of the victim mindset. In other words, “I’m waiting for things in life to happen to me,” “My boss did this to me,” “That person cut me off in traffic,” “Someone said something not nice to me,” “You made me angry,” or, “You made me happy,” instead of taking full responsibility and seeing everything in life as an opportunity.

So, from going from “everything in life happens to me,” to “everything in life happens for me.” When you believe everything in life happens for you, then you start to see the silver linings, you start to see the opportunities that come up. And so, I started even a couple years ago using that language and trying not to say that anything is happening to me or that this happened to me. Instead, I get to do this and this happened for me.

By the way, that’s another great switch you can make in your language. Stop using the phrase “I have to.” Like, “Oh, I have to do this podcast interview with Pete today.” No, “I get to do this podcast interview with Pete,” just like I get to go through cancer and I get to go through chemo instead of “I have to.” And that is simple, it’s a small switch but it flips in your mind, and you start to see everything in life as an opportunity as almost something that you’re choosing to do.

And most of what we do, we do choose to do, and I think a lot of people don’t realize it. They say things like, “Well, I have to go to work,” “I have this commute because I have to go to that place,” or, “I have to go to this meeting.” And the truth is if you live in most countries in the world, you have free will, you have the opportunity, you are making choices every day. You are choosing to go to work at that company that you work for. You are choosing to do the job that you’re doing. You could walk away and do something else if you wanted to. I’m not saying it’ll be the best option if you don’t like your job but you are making a choice.

And when you’re honest about that, then you start to realize that you have more control and ownership in your life than maybe you thought. And the whole idea behind this is I want people to take more ownership, to take more initiative, and be more intentional with what you’re doing and what you’re saying.

And when you’re honest with yourself about what you get to do and you’re able to make the switch and take that ownership mindset, it’s a lot easier to then turn challenges into opportunities by saying things like, “I get to go to this job,” “I get to deal with cancer right now.” Well, why? I don’t know. It’s not what I would’ve chosen but I get to do it and it gives me the opportunity to share my story and, hopefully, inspire and help more people when I’m done.

Pete Mockaitis
And I really like that notion about the “have to” because usually that’s not true. And I’m thinking about the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, which is awesome. And it says, “Most often behind the ‘have to’ is a ‘because.’” Like, “I choose to do this because I don’t want to get fired.”

Andy Storch
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And, in a way, that’s still pretty coercive. It’s like if it’s all or nothing like that, and most things aren’t. If it’s all or nothing like that, it’s still your choice. It’s like, “Well, I could choose to not comply with these things and not have this job anymore or I could continue doing this.” So, your “have to” is still a choice even if it’s kind of a narrow coerced choice.

Andy Storch
Yeah. Another one that people do all the time that I think is a big switch, when you’re willing to be honest with yourself and others, is when people say, “I don’t have time to do that,” or, “I wish I could work on that project but I don’t have time,” or, “I would’ve stopped by your happy hour but I didn’t have time.” And the truth is you always have time to do anything you want. It’s just that you chose to do something else. And that choice may have been because you had a project that you felt you needed to get done, otherwise you’d get fired, or it may be just that you chose to go do something else.

Let’s say you invited me on this podcast and I said, “Oh, Pete, I’m sorry, I don’t have time,” or I asked to come on and you said, “Sorry, we don’t have time,” you really do have time. What you’re saying is, “I don’t see the value in having you on or coming on the show because I’m choosing to do something…”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, relative to my alternatives, it’s not valuable.

Andy Storch
Exactly, “I’m choosing to do something else during that time,” when you’re honest with yourself. Now, the hard thing is to be honest with other people because, when they invite you to something and you say, “I can’t come,” which is not true. What you really mean is, “I’m sorry, I’m not going to come because I’m choosing to go somewhere else,” that can sound kind of bad so you go to pick your battles but it really is about being honest, at least with yourself. And I think that also changes a lot because it brings a lot of awareness to how you are prioritizing your time, which allows you to think more about how you could be spending your time to maybe achieve more of your goals.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s get right to the heart of that issue then in terms of you mentioned defining your unique purpose is, in fact, the ultimate productivity tool. So, I love productivity tools. Tell us, how do we get to that unique purpose?

Andy Storch
I know you do, Pete, and I know you’re all about helping people be awesome at their jobs. In the book, I talk about the importance of setting a vision and getting clarity on where you are going with your career and with your life. No one’s going to hold you to that. Things always change. You never know exactly what’s going to happen down the line, but the more clarity you have on where you’re going, the easier it is to make decisions when they come up, whether you get laid off or someone offers you a new job or a business opportunity or something like that. These decisions become easier when you have clarity on where you’re going, and then you use that to set the goals for accomplishing and achieving that vision.

But when we set big goals, if you are an ambitious person, like you and I, you know that challenges are almost always going to come up, some things are going to try to get in your way. And that’s where I think being connected to your purpose, understanding your why behind that goal and behind why you’re doing anything and everything can be that really motivating factor to help you get through things.

And the way you find that purpose and you connect to that purpose is through a lot of self-reflection. At least for me, it’s asking that question why over and over again, “Why do I want to achieve this goal?” “Why do I want to get that promotion?” “Why do I want to move into finance?” “Why do I want to achieve financial freedom?” or, “Why do I want to travel with my family?” Any goals, “Why do I want to lose weight?” or “Why do I want to pay off my debt?”

Whatever goals you have, asking yourself why and really getting honest and deep with it because, what I’ve noticed over time, and this is part of I talk about people drifting and operating in reaction mode, in the book, is that a lot of people are setting goals based on other people, based on things that they see out there on social media, or what their friends are doing. And when you truly set goals based on your own values and your own priorities, and connect with your own purpose for what’s driving you to do those things, you become a lot more motivated to go out and achieve those things and to overcome those challenges.

When you’re trying to lose weight and you set a goal to go to the gym three or four times a week, you need a good purpose behind that because challenges are going to come up, somebody is going to invite you to happy hour, work is going to run long, you’re going to feel tired one day and not feel like going to the gym. But when you have that purpose, “I want to have more energy to play with my kids, and I want to be around for a long time,” that’s the driving why behind your goals that’s going to give you more motivation to go out and overcome challenges to achieve those things.

You can also get ideas from other people as far as purpose is concerned, and then get feedback from people around you as well. So, in the book, I mentioned an interview I did with my friend Travis Jomer who used to run purpose programs in the organization where he worked where people would go to a workshop to discover their personal purpose, and then they’d go around and spend several days running that by other people, their colleagues in the company, and get feedback on that.

So, I might say, “Pete, my purpose,” and this is my life purpose that I recite every day, by the way. My life purpose is to love and support my family to continue to grow and improve, to model a healthy and intentional lifestyle and add value to the world. You could give me feedback on that, and say, “Well, I know you, Andy, and I don’t really see you doing those things,” or, “Could you give me a little bit more clarity on this one thing?” or, “Tell me more about this. Maybe you could hone it down a little bit more,” or you could say, “I love it.” But either way, if I get feedback from you, I might be able to hone it down and improve it a little bit more.

And then come back to that purpose on a regular basis. Write it down. Recite it as an affirmation, as I do mine every day, and it can be a really motivating factor in everything you do, just like mine has been for me, both with achieving big goals like publishing a book, and getting through cancer and making sure that I’m still there for my family and I’m still doing the things that I know are going to help me be happier and more successful in the long term.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, part of arriving at that, you need purposes, is bringing in feedback from other people. And then, I’m curious, prior to that, how did you land upon yours as you’ve articulated it?

Andy Storch
Well, to be honest, the initial spark of the idea came from hearing a couple other people talk about theirs, one of whom was Hal Elrod who wrote the book The Miracle Morning. I borrowed some of my affirmations from his when I started developing those. And hearing him, I think on a podcast once, even talk about his purpose, and then thinking through, “Okay, what do I want mine to be? I see what he’s doing, I see what other people are doing with theirs.”

And a lot of it also came from, going back to that self-reflection, what really motivates me. And what I realized in really reflecting on my life, especially throughout my 20s when I really felt like, looking back, was really drifting, I was having fun but I wasn’t really progressing, I was happy but I wasn’t truly happy.

And what I realized is, after college, I stopped learning, I stopped growing. And then when I got into my 30s later, and I got into personal development and I started investing in myself and reading more and learning and taking courses and going to workshops, I felt so much happier and more fulfilled. And I realized that growth has to be a big part of my purpose because it’s a driving factor for me. So, that’s something I built in that I must always be learning and growing.

And I’ve realized, through my own self-awareness and through reflection, that that’s something that’s a driving factor for me – growth and contribution. And it may be for other people, it might be something different for other people, but that reflection is so critical, I think, to really developing that purpose and understanding why you live the way you live, what truly makes you happy and fulfilled, and what’s driving you and going to help you go forward and achieve your goals.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. Well, so we’ve already got into a number of the key ideas inside your book Own Your Career, Own Your Life: Stop Drifting and Take Control of Your Future. Let’s talk about this. This title almost feels like it’s two topics, two podcast interviews – owning one’s career and owning one’s life. Tell us, what’s the same versus different when we’re going about owning each of these domains?

Andy Storch
Yeah, it’s a good point. And I often describe the book as a personal development book disguised as a career development book. So, for those listening, if you’re looking for straight career development with interview help and things like that, it’s not all in there. This is a lot more personal development.

Where the overlap is this idea of being really intentional with how you’re spending your time with the goals you set, with how you go and achieve those things, getting help along the way, and going after and achieving the goals that you want in your career, and not operating in reaction mode, waiting for other people to tell you what to do, doing the things just because you think society deems it, “I should be watching sports or Netflix,” or, “I should spend my time doing these things,” when you might really want to be doing something else.

And then, for your career, that’s where I really dive into how do you set yourself up for future success. The middle section of the book that kind of bridges the two is about planning for the future or owning your future, controlling your future, whatever you want to call it, by doing things like investing in continuous learning, building a network and building a personal brand. All those things are going to help you in your career but they’re going to help you in your life as well.

And then, on the life side, of course, talking about the importance of things like investing in your health, getting enough sleep, getting exercise, eating right, things like that, that are going to serve you well in your life, but I think they will also serve you well in your career as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And I’m intrigued, when it says, the subtitle, “Stop Drifting and Take Control,” I think that word drifting is resonant, that many people feel they’re adrift or they’re currently drifting or they’ve had seasons in which they’re drifting. What’s behind the drift? Where does it come from and what do we do about it?

Andy Storch
Yeah, I was worried, to be honest, that would offend people or people wouldn’t realize they are.

Pete Mockaitis
“How dare you?”

Andy Storch
I know. Hey, I’m a friendly guy. I shy away from conflict but I do want to wake people up. And I’ve been there myself. As I mentioned, I was drifting through much of my 20s. I had a lot of friends, I had a decent job, but I was going up partying every night, I was watching a ton of sports, and there’s nothing wrong with those things, but I realized, after the fact, that they weren’t moving me forward, they weren’t helping me in my career, they weren’t helping me achieve my goals, and they weren’t contributing towards my growth or my fulfillment.

And I’d rather, now that I realized those things, I’d much rather be having a conversation with someone like you, investing in a course or a mastermind group or reading a book and learning than watching football and baseball all day. And, again, nothing wrong with those things if that’s how you choose to spend your time, but I want people to realize that how they’re spending their time can have a big impact on their life. And a lot of things we do are not really moving us forward. They’re just kind of static exercises that we’re often doing because we think, “Well, that’s what we need to do. That’s what society tells us to do.”

And this originally came from a book by Napoleon Hill that was all about drift. It was written some 80 years ago and it’s still resonant today as it was back then, the idea that the devil gets hold of us through drifting, through people just spending too much time drinking or smoking or watching TV or doing things that really don’t move them forward versus being really intentional with their lives and being intentional with how you’re spending your time and where you’re going and what you’re doing.

And I think this comes also down to you being honest. And I’m sure you’ve come across this all the time, Pete. You work with a lot of people in the professional world, successful and not successful, whatever, people who say things like, “Well, family is the most important thing to me,” but they’re working 60, 80 hours a week and then spending all day Sunday watching football. Again, nothing wrong with those things. It’s just about being honest with who you are, what’s important to you, and how you’re spending your time.

And does that time, how you’re spending your time, actually match up with what you say or your values and your priorities and what the most important things are to you? Or, are you spending your time doing other things? And do you need to maybe make some adjustments, kind of wake up, stop drifting, like I said, and take control of your future by being a lot more intentional with your actions and how you’re spending your time?

Pete Mockaitis
What’s interesting to me is some of those drifting examples you shared in terms of watching sports, watching Netflix, drinking, smoking, in some ways, I guess the theme I see there is it may be sort of societal messaging that these things are cool or fun or what to do. I think it also can be that those are some of the easiest ways to just sort of push the pleasure button. I might add video games into that mix as well.

Andy Storch
There’s lots of things you can add in there. Even like reading romance novels all days. Some people might say reading is superior to watching TV but you’re still just kind of spending your time doing something that doesn’t really advance you in any way. And society, we as men, especially, Pete, and I always hate to generalize, but men are supposed to be into sports and watch every tournament and championship game. The commercials tell us that. But we don’t have to live that way, we don’t have to do that.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with those things. And I spent all my 20s watching sports like 24/7. I was a huge, huge fan. And now, looking back, I realize that I gained almost nothing from that. And the funny thing is, what I always joke about now is that you could spend six hours or four hours on a night watching a basketball game or a football game and I can skip it and check the score and spend 30 seconds reading the recap the next day, and you and I have the same exact amount of information. So, you can save yourself a lot of time just by scanning the headlines.

You could be spending that time learning something or making progress in your career, working on a goal, working on a new project, spending time with your kids, with your spouse, with friends. There are so many things you could be doing that I think would contribute so much more happiness and fulfillment to your life than watching sports.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, there’s a theme there associated with it’s the easy thing, it’s the messaging you’ve heard elsewhere. It’s just sort of the rut that you’ve been into. It might give you a bit of a dopamine hit here and there but it seems like you’re really saying, “Well, let’s elevate the perspective and evaluate how we’re spending time in these ways,” in terms of the better criteria are not so much those but rather, “Is it advancing me into where I want to go and who I want to become?”

And what are some of the other key questions or criteria you use to evaluate whether something is a great or okay or bad use of time?

Andy Storch
Yeah. So, does it connect with your values? And this would require you to probably go do a values exercise. I’m not an expert on this but you can go Google values exercise. There are tons of them available out there and, usually, it involves looking at a lot of different words, and then eliminating and narrowing it down to the top five, and saying, “Hey, what are the most important things to me?” And that helps guide you in making decisions and how you spend your time.

The easy example is if you say health is one of the most important things to you. When 5:00 o’clock rolls around, you’re planning on going to the gym and your friends invite you to happy hour, what do you do? Do you go to happy hour or you go to the gym? There’s no right or wrong answer but if your value is that health is one of your most important things, you’d probably go to the gym. Whereas, if socializing or connection is one of your most important values, you’d probably go to happy hour and hang out with your friends, or get on that Zoom happy hour during a pandemic.

So, think about understanding your values and your purpose, which we talked about earlier, and then figuring out what are those goals, what are those things you want to achieve both professionally and personally. Is it a promotion? Is it moving from finance into marketing, or doing something different with your career? Is it starting or running a side business, maybe starting a podcast, you want to be cool like Pete, or maybe it’s losing weight, or getting a second degree, or learning another language?

And it’s easy to put those things off because you get sidetracked with some of those drifting activities we talked about, whether it’s watching TV or sports or whatever it is. And thinking about how you’re spending your time and being honest with how you spend your time.

And then, going back to the mindset piece, the mental bandwidth, we talked about that ownership mindset. The other thing I would say is when you focus your energy on things that are within your control and you try not to spend too much time worrying or thinking about things outside of your control, you can also get a lot more done.

We just came off of a very long and contentious election cycle here in the United States, and so many people spend all this time thinking about the election and who’s going to win, and the other people that don’t believe the thing that I believe, and yet there’s really almost nothing you could do about it other than casting your vote on that one day, which, honestly, takes like an hour or less.

The rest of the time, we’re spending all this time worrying about something that is outside of our control and there’s really nothing we can do about it so we’re much better served focusing on things in our control, like our job, our career, our business, our family, connecting with friends, working on that goal, learning that new language, whatever it may be that’s going to make you happier than focusing your time watching CNN all day wondering what’s going to happen with the election.

And I’m not saying I don’t get sucked into those things from time to time, especially in an election cycle, but I try to avoid it as much as possible because I know I have a very limited amount of time and I want to spend that doing important things that are going to move me forward in my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s an interesting perspective and it sounds very simple and maybe almost obvious but it rings true, and I think it’s easy to forget or ignore. What you said there is that the more time we spend on things within our control, the better. And that sounds right. And I wonder if you have a good study on it, I love those, because I think it’s true, that the more we spend time on the here and now, the happier we feel. And I think, likewise, it adds up that the more you spend time on what you can control, maybe the more meaning or fulfillment or excitement is in your life. What do you think here?

Andy Storch
I think it leads to a lot more happiness and fulfillment because when you’re spending your time thinking about things outside your control, that’s when people get really anxious, they experience a lot of anxiety, worry. People spend a lot of time worrying about either things that happened in the past or things that might happen in the future, when you have no control over those things. You could be spending your time focused on the present, as you mentioned, which is the only thing that we can control, as how we act in the present, what we think and how we react to things in the present moment.

We can’t control the things that might happen in the future, and we certainly can’t change anything that happened in the past, but we can do things today to help set us up for success in the future. We can do things today to help influence our future, but we can’t do anything about a thing in the future. I heard a quote a long time ago that I loved, that, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It gives us something to do but it doesn’t take us anywhere.” And we really are not getting anywhere by worrying about those other things that are outside of our control. And this is not easy, by the way.

I’m not saying you can just flip a switch and stop worrying about stuff that might be coming that are outside of your control. Like, if your company announces that, “Hey, we might be downsizing in a couple of months or something,” of course, you’re going to worry that your job might be eliminated, but I’m saying that the more that you can limit the time that you spend worrying about that and focus on what you can do today, which that might include making sure that your boss understand the value that you contribute in your role in your organization.

It might be starting to build your network or honing up your resume, calling a recruiter, going and talking to some people, and looking at future job opportunities, not sitting around waiting and worrying, “What happens if I get laid off?” Start taking action today, things you can do in the present moment that will help set you up for future success.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lovely. Well, we’ve talked about big picture things. Andy, could we zoom in, before we shift gears and hear about your favorite things, about just a few tactics like, “Oh, boy, here’s a quick trick or script or key question that makes a load of difference when it comes to owning your career and owning your life”?

Andy Storch
Yeah. One of those is investing in continuous learning. The days of relying on getting that college degree and then working for the next 40 years are gone. I think we can all agree easily on that. The future of work, work is changing all the time. Jobs that exist today, there are a lot of jobs that exist today that didn’t exist 20 years.

Pete, you probably have a podcast producer and editor. That job didn’t exist 20 years ago. There are tons of social media managers out there, that job didn’t exist 20 years ago. And that means jobs are going to change again in the next 10, 20 years, and the job you do today might not exist. You’ve got to be learning all the time to help you get better at your job and prepared for things that come up.

If you’re listening to this podcast, I’m not preaching to the choir, you are listening because you want to learn and better yourself, that’s why you follow Pete and listen to this podcast, of course. And, hopefully, you listen to others, you read books, you take courses, you hire coaches, things like that, because all of those things can be really helpful, as well as formal education.

The next thing is building your network. Nothing has been more critical to my success over the years than having a strong network, having relationships with lots of different people. Every opportunity I’ve gotten in my career has come through my network and through relationships. And you can be doing that whether we’re in a pandemic, in a virtual world, or in-person world, there are plenty of opportunities to do that by attending virtual summits, getting active on LinkedIn, reaching out to people inside and outside your organization on a regular basis to have virtual coffees, get to know each other sessions, and just chatting with people and find out what they’re working on.

Look for opportunities to give value and contribute and help other people around you because I believe karma is real. It does come back to you when you do that. And so, you can get really practical and tactical with that by saying, “Hey, I’m going to reach out to three new people a week,” especially if you have a specific goal, like, “I want to move from finance into marketing.”

Start reaching out to people who work in marketing. Build your network in that space. Make those connections. Ask them questions. Learn about how they get to where they did, learn about the mistakes they made, the things they made, they did, what helped them become more successful. And that’s going to lead to you being more successful. It might lead to job offers. You have no idea what might come from that.

And then the third piece that I mentioned there is building your personal brand. And a lot of people believe a myth that if you just do a good job of your job then you’ll be rewarded and promoted, when the truth is people often are rewarded based on their reputation, not on the job, the quality of the job that they do, or they did. And you’ve probably seen this a lot, Pete, as well. Reputation is huge. It’s everything.

And a personal brand, I talk about a personal brand or professional brand, it’s nothing more than your reputation amongst your colleagues, your peers, out in the marketplace. And the interesting thing about the personal brand and the reputation is that, whether you do anything about it or not, you have a reputation. So, I always say you might as well be intentional about building that. And I always recommend being authentic. I never want anybody to be inauthentic in their personal brand or the reputation they’re building.

But think about how you’re showing up at work, the types of projects you take on, the way you collaborate with others, the way you work with others. Are you easy to work with? Do you easily get along with? Are you difficult to work with? And then, do you put any content on social media? Do you post anything on LinkedIn? Do you go interact with other people’s posts, comment on things, send messages, connect with others? All of those things can contribute to your reputation and your personal brand and can help you get that next job that you might want, or that promotion. A lot of it comes down to the brand and the reputation that you’re building. And so, there’s a lot of things you can do on a regular basis to help set you up for success in that area.

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

Andy Storch
No, I think that’s it. We’ve covered so much great ground. It’s really about being intentional with your actions, being honest about how you’re spending your time, and remembering that nobody cares more about your career than you do so you’ve got to be the one to kind of take the reins to set your vision, set your goals, connect with purpose, and start doing the things that I talked about to set you up for future success and take control of your future.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Andy, when you say that line “no one cares more about your career than you do,” I chuckle a little bit because, well, it’s so true kind of on the inside about how you feel about your own career. But I see it on the outside because, hey, I’ve got the show, I love talking about this kind of stuff. Nonetheless, when I’m in a meeting and people start introducing themselves, and they give me like a three-minute kind of a career story, “Well, I did a stint in marketing and then I went and came back to operations.” I don’t know about you but I’m just so bored.

Andy Storch
Like, “Why should I care? Why is this relevant to me?”

Pete Mockaitis
They just give me a theme, just like, “Hey, man, I’m the guy who always has the wild ideas, whether I was in marketing when I did this, or manufacturing when I did, or finance when I did that.” I was like, “Okay, got you.” But you see, I don’t know, I kind of understand what your thing is as opposed to just a chronology of things. Maybe I’m just…

Andy Storch
No, but it’s true. And you’re not going to care as much as they do about that career that they did. By the way, if you’re lucky, you might have a manager who cares a lot about your career, and a lot of people have…your mom probably cares a lot about you and your career, but nobody really cares as much about your career as you do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. And I think that the “what you can control” side of that is, “Therefore, go ahead and take some big action to rock and roll because most other folks won’t.” Maybe friends, family, love ones, manager can nudge, but maybe not. So, seize the reins. All right. Now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Andy Storch
One that resonated with me recently was from Albert Einstein, which is “Try not to be a person of success but try to be a person of value.” And the reason that resonated with me recently because I feel like, especially as you’re building a career and we’re in this tumultuous world, you see a lot of people out there that are kind of showcasing or talking about how successful they are on social media or wherever it may be.

But if you want to get far, if you want to build a network, or you want to build relationships, if you want to get promoted or find success in a job or career that you’re in, the more you prove to be valuable to the people around you, the more successful you’re going to be in the end because they’re going to want to work with you more, they’re going to want to promote you, they’re going to want to do business with you, they’re going to want to help you. So, when you seek to be more of a person of value than just trying to show that you are successful, not only are you going to be more valuable but you’re going to be rewarded, I think, across the board.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Andy Storch
One of the ones I mentioned in my book is the book The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. It’s kind of changed my life and set me on this trajectory when I got into personal development in 2016. But another book that I love that I probably give as a gift more often than any other book is The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday.

And so, that is kind of like my Bible. It’s a book of 366 quotes from the stoics, each with kind of an explanation for modern times, and I read it every day often with my kids. And, just, it’s always thought-provoking, always gives me things to think about, and helps me reflect in how I want to live my life, and has been really influential for me.

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

Andy Storch
I’m a big fan of the Google Suite. So, I use Docs and Sheets a lot. And I have an assistant who helps me integrate everything in my business to be able to easily share and have everything in the cloud for us to work together on. I’m a big fan of Zoom like anybody else. It became even more important during the pandemic to get on video calls with each other.

The reason I mentioned that, too, is I mentioned the importance of networking. And I think it becomes more important that we become intentional with how we build our network when we’re in a remote and virtual world, especially within your company. You’ve got to reach out to people intentionally. And it’s great to have a video tool like Zoom where you can still get on video with people, you can connect, and it becomes more intimate than just being on the phone. You could build those connections to help you build that network which becomes critical for you later on down the road.

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

Andy Storch
Well, I already talked about the idea that nobody cares more about your career than you do. Lately, what we talked about at the very beginning of this podcast is about gratitude. And I’ve been sharing a lot of that lately as I’ve been going through my journey, that gratitude really is everything. And when you think about it, and I learned this from going to a Tony Robbins workshop years ago, that when you are fully immersed in gratitude, you really cannot experience anxiety or anger or any negative emotions.

And that’s why I think gratitude is so important, so powerful, that no matter what challenge we are going through, we can always find reasons to be grateful. And it’s also important when you’re an ambitious person. We talked about being awesome at your job, you set big goals, you want to get promoted, you want to do well, whatever it is you want to experience or accomplish. It’s great to have big goals but we never want to tie our happiness to the goal because there are always going to be more goals and it’s almost always going to elude us.

We also want to make sure that we’re enjoying the journey that we’re on, that we are grateful for the things that we have today. We always have things to be grateful for whether it’s family, friends, great weather, a great podcast to listen to like this, anything. You can be grateful for anything, a good cup of coffee, but make sure that you spend time thinking about reflecting on and immersing yourself in gratitude on a regular basis. And I think that tends to lead to a lot more happiness and fulfillment in life.

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

Andy Storch
Well, I’m pretty active on social media. LinkedIn and Instagram, I’m there all the time. I’ve got a couple podcasts, as you mentioned, including the Own Your Career Own Your Life podcast and the book “Own Your Career Own Your Life” which is available on Amazon and everywhere else. And I’ve got some free resources, including the five steps to owning your career, which is available at OwnYourCareerOwnYourLife.com/bonus. So, if you just go to OwnYourCareerOwnYourLife.com/bonus you can pick up all the bonus resources from the book, including five steps to how to own your career.

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

Andy Storch
So, the challenge, the final challenge is, and I have this challenge in the book, it’s the no complaining challenge. If you want to take on an ownership mindset of your life, and you believe that everything happens in life for you and not to you, and you take full responsibility in life, then I challenge you to stop complaining for a day or a week or a month. Some people may not do this already very much. Some people complain all the time and it’s going to be difficult to get away from that.

But I challenge you to stop complaining because complaining, while it feels good in the moment, and it passes the buck or responsibility to somebody else, it doesn’t ever really get you anywhere. So, if you want to take full responsibility, you take responsibility and ownership for everything going on in your life, and you try to eliminate all complaining, if possible, to try to do it for a day or a week, see if that works. And if it does, see if you can last longer. I try to never complain about anything and I find that I’m a lot happier as a result.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Andy, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck with the book and your work and your recovery, and keep on inspiring.

Andy Storch
Pete, thank you so much for having me on. I love all the work that you’re doing. It’s been an honor to come on and talk with you and share, and I just really appreciate you having me on.

656: The Five Things that Leaders Do with Jim Kouzes

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Jim Kouzes says: "The best leaders are the best learners."

Jim Kouzes discusses how everyday professionals can make an impact regardless of their title, role, or setting.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The definitive answer to the question, “Are leaders born or made?”
  2. The four components to building a compelling vision
  3. Easy ways to sustain your team’s motivation

About Jim

Jim Kouzes is the coauthor of the award-winning and best-selling book, The Leadership Challenge, and over a dozen other books on leadership, including the 2021 book, Everyday People, Extraordinary Leadership. He is also a Fellow of the Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University. The Wall Street Journal named Jim one of the ten best executive educators in the U.S., and he has received the Distinguished Contribution to Workplace Learning and Performance Award from the Association for Talent Development, among many other professional honors.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Jim Kouzes Interview Transcript

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

Jim Kouzes
Hey, Pete, thank you for the opportunity to chat with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your goods. But, first, I want to hear about your experience as JFK’s honor guard. What is the story here?

Jim Kouzes
Well, I was an Eagle Scout at 15 years of age and I guess back then that was a rare occurrence.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s pretty young, 15 versus 18.

Jim Kouzes
Yeah, 15 years old. And so, they asked a few of us, I think it was about a dozen, two groups of six, who were stationed at the base of the reviewing stand where President Kennedy and his family and some of his Cabinet and the spouses stood, and watched as the parade went by. This was when he was right in front of the White House years and years ago. And I stood there in the very, very below freezing cold. When I talk about it, to feel the frigid cold in my feet, it was so cold.

And it was one of those experiences in life that you can vividly remember, and as Kennedy unveiled his various initiatives, the Peace Corps was one of those, and I think it was that event that really inspired me both to join the Peace Corps but dedicate my life to service and education. And so, I joined the Peace Corps after university and that began this career that I’ve been in since, really, 1967.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. That’s cool. Did you get to shake hands or were you just sort of standing there with the honor guard duties?

Jim Kouzes
No, we later were invited to the White House.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Jim Kouzes
So, yes, we did meet the President and the First Lady much later after the inauguration.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, your career is storied. We were chatting, before I pushed record, that I read your book The Student Leadership Challenge when I was a student 15 plus years ago, and you’re still cranking out the hits. So, I’m excited to dig into your latest Everyday People, Extraordinary Leadership. But maybe, first, could you share what have you discovered that is perhaps the most surprising and fascinating thing about leadership from all your decades of research? Like, is there something the average professional doesn’t quite seem to grasp about leadership?

Jim Kouzes
Well, there are a couple of things that come to mind immediately, Pete. The first of those is the most frequently-asked question we get, “Is leadership born or made?” And we’ve been asked that question since the very first edition and we still get asked that every time we speak or do a seminar or workshop or a class. And so, Barry and I have done the research on this, my co-author Barry Posner and I, and we have determined, based on our extensive research, that every leader we have ever met is born.

Pete Mockaitis
They emerge from the womb. Okay.

Jim Kouzes
Never known one not to be born unless it’s a fictional character that was made up in somebody’s mind. And so, that’s really not the question to be asked. The question to be asked is, “Can leadership be learned regardless of what you might be born with?” And the answer to that question is definitively yes. I wouldn’t have stayed in this career this long if it wasn’t.

And I think that reveals an assumption that people tend to make, that leadership is something special that only a few people have and you’re either born with it or you’re not, it’s a gift from the gods, it’s in your DNA, and it’s only a few people, a few charismatic individuals that might have the ability, or people who have lucky circumstances early on in their lives.

And we’ve found that that’s just not the case. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why we wrote this book directed at everyday leaders. Everyday People, Extraordinary Leadership is really about the fact that, and I say fact and I’ll give you some data in a minute, that supports the notion that we all have some capability to lead regardless of our circumstances. And I think that’s probably one of the most significant things we found in our research.

Just to give you some data, we looked, Pete, at the data from our leadership practices inventory which, as you may know from your reading of The Student Leadership Challenge is the assessment we use to determine whether people are engaged with these practices or not. And what we found was that the number of people who exhibit zero leadership capability, that is they actually scored the lowest score on our inventory, from observer standpoint the number is 0.00013%.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Jim Kouzes
So, that means 99.99987% of people have some leadership capability. Now, that doesn’t mean that everyone is at the 10 level of leadership, which is the highest number you can get on our scale. That is not the majority of the people, or the majority, or somewhere in the middle but it does indicate that most people, only one in one million people do not have leadership capability, and most people, 99.99987%, or 999,999 people have some leadership capability. And the issue really is then, “Can you increase the frequency with which you use leadership behaviors?” And, again, the answer to that is definitively yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to dig into some of the particulars of how that’s done. But maybe could you kick us off with an inspiring example of an everyday professional who, indeed, went ahead and exercised some extraordinary leadership?

Jim Kouzes
Absolutely. One of the people that I’ve had the opportunity to follow not only in writing the book but subsequently, in fact, this person, Erin Bern McKelroy…

Pete Mockaitis
Fine name.

Jim Kouzes
…and I would be doing a session together tomorrow, a virtual session together tomorrow, because we’ve stayed in touch. And Erin, during the pandemic, like all of us, was sitting at home on her couch feeling very anxious. Not anxious about the pandemic but anxious about what she was going to do to help her community during this difficult time.

And, given her background with the community, she was very service-minded, she had been involved in a lot of activities in her community in the Midwest, she decided that she had to do something about it as someone who is deeply involved in her community. And what she told us is that, she said, “I turned to my core values and took an internal audit of my heart and my mind.” And what came up for her was that service to others was the most important thing to her.

And so, she asked herself, “What can I do to be of service to others during this time?” And she came up with an initiative that would enable local restaurants, which were currently not open, to serve frontline workers and first responders by preparing meals for that group with funding that would be raised with the community.

And so, as a result of that effort, they raised $50,000. It doesn’t sound like a lot but given this small community that she lived in, it was considerable from 542 residents and 40 local establishments participated in preparing meals and delivering meals, and 8,130 frontline workers and first responders benefitted from that service. That’s just one example of many.

And she had no title, she had no position, people knew her in the community because she was involved but she wasn’t the manager, she wasn’t the boss. She was just someone who felt the need to take initiative during a challenging time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Yeah, perfect in terms of example right there, someone who didn’t have that authority and, yet, made some big things happen very cleverly, helping multiple people in need of help in some great way. So, very cool. Well, then can you walk us through, how is that done? You’ve got your five practices of leadership model. Should we start there or how would you think about discussing the how?

Jim Kouzes
Yeah, I think that is the organizing framework for the book. And what we did was we took a look at data to validate this premise that we all have some leadership capability regardless of title, regardless of position, regardless of authority. We took the data from peer leaders only. So, these were people who had direct reports, these were individuals who were part of a team, part of a community, were not the boss of anyone, and, yet, were observed by others as leaders.

We took that data and we looked at the extent to which they engaged in these five practices and whether or not those individuals had a positive impact. And what we discovered, and we report out in the book with several graphs to illustrate this in data and story, is that individuals who are peers, who lead other peers, who exhibit these five practices more frequently are viewed by others as effective leaders and have an impact on their sense of whether they’re making a difference, the extent to which they understand the purpose and the vision, to the extent to which they are willing to work hard when necessary, those kinds of outcome measures, or engagement measures as some people call them.

And so, what we did in this book was to tell stories, like the one about Erin Bern plus the data around these five practices, which are model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and encourage the heart.

Pete Mockaitis
They’re bringing back fond memories, Jim. Bring this back in the days, like, “Yeah, that holds up. Those do sound like the five things that make up leadership,” which is huge in and of itself because leadership is such a big amorphous fuzzy word, like, “How does one do that?” “Well, this is how you do it, these five practices.”

Jim Kouzes
Yes, absolutely. Like in Erin’s example, for example, I mentioned how she said she did an audit of her values. One of the things that exemplary leaders do, we call it model the way, is, first, clarify what’s important to them, their values and beliefs, and then they set an example for others by living them out. She came up with a vision of what could be, she saw this picture in her mind of these people working together to provide service to frontline workers and to first responders, engaging people in the local community who were providing food through their restaurants or the kitchens.

And she had this picture in her head, she was able to then envision it, and then inspire others to share it. And then, because it was a challenging time, they searched for innovative ways to do this because people were all locked down, and they experimented and took some risks, we call it challenge the process, and she involved a team of people to make this happen, we call that enable others to act. And along the way, they celebrated their little small wins as they went through this process, they encouraged each other’s hearts.

And as a consequence of that, Erin recently was awarded, in her local community through their leadership program in their local community, leader of the year as a result of that experience. So, that’s how individual peers live out these five practices.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s lovely in terms of that one story, we kind of walked through all five of those. So, then maybe we could spend a couple minutes on each of them. In terms of model the way, it starts with getting clear on values, beliefs, what’s important to you, and then living it. Any pro tips on how we can get a boatload of clarity on those dimensions without taking decades?

Jim Kouzes
Yeah, without taking decades. We’ve written a few books about this. Well, let me just give you a couple of those. Let’s take clarify values. And one of them is a little technique we can try on our own is imagine the following scenario, imagine you’re going to be away from your team that you’re wanting to lead or currently leading. You’re going to be away from your team for, let’s say, three months, and you’re going to be not able to communicate with that team while they’re doing their work in any way whatsoever but you can leave them a one-page memo, we call it credo memo, prior to being incommunicado.

What would you tell people are the principles by which they should conduct themselves in their work during your absence? What are the values and beliefs that should guide their decisions and actions? Write that one-page memo to your team.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. And it’s probably not going to have much to do with the specific software tools they should be using.

Jim Kouzes
Exactly. What are the principles that should guide their decisions and actions? And do it in one page. That forces people to have to think in short memorable ways in which they can communicate to others what they should use as guidelines for doing their work and making their decisions. That’s very effective. I’ll use other techniques like values cards. We have people do card sorts. But any way in which you can explore your head and your heart, as Erin talked about, and your soul, and think about, “What do I really believe in and what do I hope other people will believe in as we conduct our work?”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, could you give us a couple examples of that verbiage? I mean, when you say values, it could just be a word like integrity, or humility, courage, innovation. Or, how are you thinking about values and how they’re expressed here?

Jim Kouzes
Well, I’ll offer a couple of examples. Because there are about 150 values words in the English language and not all of them are understood similarly so you can’t hold 150 values simultaneously and have people follow those guidelines. It’s just too many. So, five to seven that will help people to understand. And integrity might be one of them but go the next step and ask yourself, “What does integrity look like to you? What does it look like in practice?”

So, integrity might look like to you in practice that, “When we’re with each other and we’re doing our work, we’re always straightforward and honest about what’s going on. We give each other honest feedback even when it’s tough, even when it’s challenging, but we do it in a way that’s empathetic and not critical of other person but really ways in which they can take that feedback and act on it.” So, we have to go the next step from the one-word integrity to give an illustration of what that might look like in practice.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. So, that’s modeling the way. And how does one inspire a shared vision?

Jim Kouzes
Well, let’s take another technique that we like to use, and I call it the life technique, L-I-F-E. Think about the following scenario. At the end of the year, you’re going to be awarded leader of the year, and people who are your friends, your peers, your colleagues, your team members, your family are going to be there celebrating with you this award, and they’re going to be telling stories about you, and they’re going to tell about the lessons they learned from you, the ideals you stood for, the feelings that you have, that they have when around you, and the evidence that you’ve made a difference, you’ve had an impact.

L for lessons, I is for ideals, F is for feelings, and E is for evidence, L-I-F-E. If you’re hearing other people talk about you, what do you hope they would be saying about the lessons they learned, the ideals you stood for, the feelings they had when around you, and the evidence that you made a difference? Apply that to yourself, write that down, and then apply that to your team.

If your team is going to get team of the year, what would you hope others would say would be the lessons people learned from you, the ideals your team stood for, the feelings that people had when they were around your team, and the evidence that you made a difference? That kind of exercise helps people to think more deeply about how they hope to have an impact on others, how they hope to be seen by others. It helps them to see more clearly how they would envision themselves in the future.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that so much and this is also kind of making me think of Stephen Covey, begin with the end in mind, and like a eulogy, like what you want people to say even at your funeral, like if you win the leader of the year award, but you can even zoom out into other context to make it spark things.

And that reminds me, well, I did a brief stint of nonprofit consulting at The Bridgespan Group, and when we did our sort of farewells, someone said about me, I was very touched, and she said, with regard to me, and working and leading, collaborating, that I never made her feel dumb. And I thought, “Well, thank you. That’s a really kind thing to say about somebody that you work with,” because I don’t know about you, Jim, but I felt dumb a lot of times working with a lot of people. And that is, that’s something that you remember and it sticks with you as does the lessons, the ideals, and the evidence of the impact. And I think that’s a really nice tidy summation there.

Jim Kouzes
Pete, one of the things that’s most challenging for people to do, we have found from our research, is be forward-looking, and inspire a shared vision is the lowest-scoring practice of all the five practices. So, inspire a shared vision is extremely challenging for people to do. And, in fact, we found this find that this is probably the only practice which is correlated somewhat with age, meaning younger people are not as forward-looking as those with more experience.

Part of that is you’ve had more experience in the workplace and you do understand that you don’t get instant results in an organization. It takes a while to complete a project and so you need to be thinking ahead, particularly when you’re managing or supervising or leading other people. You need to think potential years down the road.

And so, it is a skill that’s developed over time but we can build that skill the more we begin to imagine scenarios out into the future and what we hope things will look like at the end. And so, we can draw on our past about things that we’ve accomplished in the past and kind of go back and review them to see how they went for us and what the end results were, reminding us that we can start at year one, and in year three, something gets realized, and imagine what went on during that time.

And then, coming to the present and reflect on what’s going on right now that is in need of some action, what are the trends, what’s happening, that can inform our vision today. And then let’s look into the future and project ahead and say, “Well, what’s going to be the impact of what’s happening right now down the road?” People do that all the time. Who would’ve known that you and I would be communicating this way 10 years ago, or 15 years ago, or 20 years ago? And, yet, here we are, using this technology that someone invented a while back.

One short little example of this, Barry Posner and I wrote the first edition of The Leadership Challenge starting in 1983 up through 1985 and did some editing and got published in 1987. We wrote the first edition of The Leadership Challenge using a software program called Kermit. It was available only to people at universities, it was only available to people in research institutions. It wasn’t publicly available. It was an internet program that allowed us to share files over the internet.

Today, people just assume that’s the way it’s been all along because we’re doing it all the time. But when we first started writing, there was no such thing as the internet publicly available. But somebody imagined that we could be doing this kind of thing now. What do you, as you’re working in your community and you’re thinking about what you can do, what is it that you imagine could happen if members of your community took an initiative to deal with a particular challenge?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Well, now, let’s talk about the third step there, challenge the process. How do we do that well?

Jim Kouzes
Well, challenge the process is essentially about searching for opportunities by kind of seizing the initiative. Again, going back to Erin Bern McKelroy’s personal best leadership experience that she told us about during the pandemic. She was sitting there on her couch just feeling anxious about wanting to do something because she’s always been involved with the community. So, she seized the initiative to do something and, also, by looking outward for ways to improve.

So, looking out in the community and ask yourself, “Well, how could we make this happen? We can get people from food service organizations, or restaurants and kitchens and commercial kitchens, and ask them to be involved. And then who could we be serving? Well, who’s the most important population in need?”

So, she looked outside, not just in her own head, but she looked outside in the community for ideas about what could be done to improve, then she ran that by some people who were close to her to test these ideas, and then they set up little experiments to try it out, then things began to work and come together. So, it’s about searching for opportunities by seizing the initiative and looking outward for innovative ways to improve. And then, by experimenting and taking risks, by constantly generating little ideas that can help them to take action on that vision that they had.

Pete Mockaitis
Any pro tips for sparking more ideas when you’re in the heat of things?

Jim Kouzes
So, here’s one idea that I think anyone can use that will help them be more curious and more innovative and creative. The idea, actually, talking about looking outward for ideas, came to us from a participant in a workshop. We had this idea of sitting down and asking your team at least once a week, “What have you done over the last week to improve so that you’re better this week than you were a week ago?”

And so, we offered that suggestion, and one of the participants in the workshop followed through and implemented that idea and came back to us four weeks later, and said, “You know what happened? The first time I asked my team to think about this question, ‘What have you learned in the last week to improve? What have you done in the last week to improve so that you’re better this week than you were a week ago?’ The first time that I asked that question,” he said, “…no one had an answer. They kind of looked at me silly, and said, ‘He’s been to a workshop. This will pass.’”

He said, “The second week, about 25%, 30% of the people had a response. Those conscientious folks who thought maybe I’d ask this question again, 75% had it the third week. You know what happened on the fourth week? They asked me what I had done in the last week to improve so I was better than I was a week ago.” So, we knew that that worked. It stuck.

So, you need to come up with some way in which you ask a question or you set up a situation in which people have to think about what they’ve done to improve, to learn, to innovate, to create. You can take people shopping for ideas. Think about organizations that do things not identical to yours but if you’re in the service business, other people in the service business that you might go and observe, who seem to be very creative and innovative. Go shopping for ideas from other people. Anything that we can do to get people to exercise curiosity about themselves and about others will be helpful to improving.

So, I like that technique of asking people, “What have you learned in the last week, or what have you done in the last week to improve so you’re better this week than you were a week ago?”

Pete Mockaitis
But it’s also, in and of itself, illustrative about how change can unfold. At first, it’s like, “Okay, blowing this guy off.” And then the second time, a couple people get on board. And then, with that consistency, there it goes, you’re off to the races.

Jim Kouzes
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you tell us now about the fourth practice there, enable others to act?

Jim Kouzes
Absolutely. So, enable others to act is about two things. It’s about fostering collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships, and then about strengthening individuals by increasing their self-determination and developing their confidence. So, here’s another technique or method that can be helpful, again, one of those things that you can do almost instantaneously.

Whenever you are engaged in an interaction with another person or a group of people, whether it’s one people, ten people, or a hundred people, ask yourself the following question prior to the interaction, “What can I do in this interaction with this person or a group of people that will make them feel more powerful, efficacious, strong, and capable after we’re through with this interaction than when we started? What’s one thing I can do to make other people feel stronger, more capable, better and more capable than maybe even they thought they were?”

It might be simply to listen to that person or that group of people. It might be to offer a suggestion. It might be to say, “Well, I know somebody who might be able to help you with this.” It might be, “You know, I think there’s a development experience that would be useful to you here. Let me see if I can get you connected with someone who can help you with that.”

Anything that you can do to make other people feel more powerful, whether it’s in a one-minute interaction, or a one-hour interaction, or longer, is something that will help other people feel stronger and more trusting of you because you’re paying attention to them and their needs.

Pete Mockaitis
And let’s talk about the opposite of that. How might a well-intentioned everyday leader accidentally or unintentionally disable others from acting?

Jim Kouzes
Let me give you a specific example to frame this because I think it’s really important that we talk about this. This is probably one of the most important topics we can discuss, “How do we make other people feel enabled or how do we make them feel disabled?”

So, in response to that question, here’s a study, one of my favorite studies that I think will help to frame this. So, researchers were doing an experiment on collaboration and trust using what’s called the prisoner’s dilemma. It’s a zero-sum game that’s often used in experiments on cooperation and collaboration.

And they set up the experiment in a very unique way. They told people that one group of people, half the participants in this experiment, that they were playing the Wall Street Game. And they told others, the other half, that they were playing the Community Game. What they were really looking at was the extent to which people would cooperate. The rules of the game were the same, were identical, and the only difference was the name of the game – Wall Street Game, Community Game.

Who would you guess was more cooperative, those playing the Wall Street Game or the Community Game?

Pete Mockaitis
I would guess the Community Game.

Jim Kouzes
Exactly. And that’s the point. The only difference was the name of the game not the game itself. But those who played the Wall Street Game, only about 37% were cooperative on their initial move and subsequent moves. Those playing the Community Game were 70% cooperative, and that continued throughout the game.

We, as leaders, have impact in just one or two words so when we speak as leaders, we, essentially, are like viruses, to use a current example. We spread things and we can either spread positive behaviors or negative behaviors in just a couple of words. And, as leaders, we need to really reflect on the language we’re using in order to have a positive impact in people because we know that that positive impact will produce better results.

So, do you want to be playing the Wall Street Game? If you want to be playing the Wall Street Game where people are uncooperative with each other and try to compete and beat the other person and never have a win-win solution, then call it the Wall Street Game. But if you want people to be cooperative, you need to play the Community Game.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

Jim Kouzes
So, again, I think that helps to frame our understanding of this concept. It is a lot about language and behavior. As leaders, you have to be the first to trust. You have to be the person who creates a climate of trust for others, makes it possible for people to cooperate in a trusting manner. So, take a cue from that research that you are having an impact, either positive or negative, you’re either being transformational or toxic. Which do you choose to be?

Pete Mockaitis
And, finally, how do we go about encouraging the heart?

Jim Kouzes
Encouraging the heart is, again, about a couple of things. One is about recognizing contribution from individuals. What have people done that you can show your appreciation for? And, secondly, celebrating the values and the victories as a group of people. So, we need both to recognize individuals for what they do as well as we have to celebrate, as teams, the milestones we’ve reached and the values we’ve been consistent with.

One of my favorite examples comes from Tom Malone, he wasn’t an everyday leader in this particular case but he was a great example to all everyday leaders, to all leaders. He had a small…a medium-sized factory. And, as the owner of the company, he would often walk the floor. It was a relatively small organization and so he had the chance regularly to walk the floor. And one day, he saw one of his manufacturing employees put a part in a refrigerator, in the freezer of a refrigerator, and he was really curious about that.

So, he went up to this individual, he said, “Lala, excuse me, I’m really confused. Why did you put that part in the freezer?” And he said, “Well, I put it in the freezer because it was a little too large to fit in the hole,” this was a rod that went into a component. “The rod was a little too big and I knew if I put it in the freezer, it would shrink a little bit and be able to fit into the part. I wouldn’t be wasting either part.”

And then Tom realized that Lala, is what his name was, put this part in the freezer because he was committed to the value of zero rejects called the total quality control. And later, at a celebration, which they had weekly on the floor, Tom called this out, told this story and said, “He is an example of the kind of person we’re looking for who stays dedicated both to his job, to our value of zero reject quality, and to the productivity of this organization.”

So, as a leader, be out there and about looking for individuals who are doing things that you can then tell stories about. And when you tell that story, you’re communicating to others who are part of that team that they are individually making a contribution, and “Here’s one of your colleagues, one of your peers, who’s done that. This is an example to you of the kind of behavior that we’re looking for throughout this organization.”

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

Jim Kouzes
I would only say that you’ve done a great job, Pete, with your questions, but I think the thing that I want to emphasize and I want to say most, Pete, is that every person has a capability to improve their leadership skills and abilities. And using the five practices of exemplary leadership as a guide, find ways in which you can more frequently engage in modeling, inspiring, challenging, enabling and encouraging.

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

Jim Kouzes
Quote from one of the people we interviewed early on, Don Bennett, who, in response to a question of “How did you do that, Don? How did you climb 14,410 feet on one leg and two crutches to the top of Mount Rainier?” and He looked down at his one leg, the first amputee to climb Mount Rainier, and said, “One hop at a time.”

I think of that quote every day when I’m stuck somewhere, and if I may add a second quote from Don. When I said to Don, “You were the first amputee ever to climb Mount Rainier, the first to do it. What was the most important lesson you learned from climbing that mountain?” And he said, “You can’t do it alone.”

People often think about leadership as an individual solo act that is just unique to the person, but Don made me recognize very early on in our research that it really is not about what one person does. It is about what a team of people does together. Any leader who claims credit personally for accomplishments is not going to have the kind of impact that a leader like Don who attributes his success to the team.

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

Jim Kouzes
My current favorite, Pete, is the newest book from Adam Grant.

Pete Mockaitis
Think Again.

Jim Kouzes
You got it. You knew that book.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s a great Kindle as well.

Jim Kouzes
Yeah. I’m sure you have the same stack or a similar stack. Yeah, but Think Again is a wonderful new book. Highly recommend it to anyone. And I think, particularly around this notion of challenging the process, it’ll help us all to recognize that we all have blind spots, we all are always in need of thinking again about the way in which we think.

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

Jim Kouzes
You know, one of my favorite tools is Grammarly.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Jim Kouzes
As a write, I use it all the time. Again, I work alone writing, and there’s often not an editor nearby, but I just run my texts through Grammarly, and say, “Oh, yeah, I see how I could do that better here.” So, that probably is my favorite tool that I use in my day-to-day work.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a favorite nugget, something you share that people quote back to you again and again?

Jim Kouzes
I would say that there are a couple of them. One is “Credibility is the foundation of leadership.” “If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message,” is often something that people recall from our work. People also frequently say, “The best leaders are the best learners,” another line which we wrote. But I think my favorite is, “Leadership is not an affair of the head. Leadership is an affair of the heart.”

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

Jim Kouzes
I think the best way to find out the scope of everything that we are up to these days is the LeadershipChallenge.com. So, LeadershipChallenge.com website, which is where we have programs and books and activities. And then follow me at Twitter @Jim_Kouzes.

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

Jim Kouzes
I would say that my challenge is the following to all of us as leaders, whether with a title or as peers, that our wish, ours, mine and Barry’s, is that you make the most of every opportunity to lead, that you stretch yourself, and be willing to learn continually from the challenges in front of you, and that you step out to the edge of your capabilities, and then ask a little bit more of yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Jim, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and adventure in your extraordinary leadership.

Jim Kouzes
Pete, thank you very much. I really appreciate this opportunity to talk with you. So, we’ll sign off and I hope that we get to do this again. Love them and lead them.

655: Building Better Habits via Better Systems with Most Days’ Brent Franson

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Brent Franson shares tactics and tools for building powerful habits based on his experiences of being surrounded by addiction.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How Brent leveraged technology to break his bad habits
  2. The keystone habit of behavioral change
  3. How to stay motivated even when you fail

 

About Brent

Brent Franson is the Founder and CEO of Most Days, an app backed by science, built to help you understand what you need to do to improve your life and achieve change.

Previously, he was on the founding team of Reputation.com, the worldwide leader in online reputation management. Reputation.com was named a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum.

Brent was also the CEO of Euclid Analytics, a leader in retail data and analytics. Under his leadership, Euclid was acquired by WeWork in 2019.

Brent has been named a LinkedIn Top Voice, and has regularly contributed to Forbes, LinkedIn, Inc, Entrepreneur, and other publications. Brent is a father, and an athlete who enjoys his routine, reading, running, skiing, skydiving, and anything that involves pushing his own boundaries.

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

Brent Franson Interview Transcript

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

Brent Franson
Yeah, thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am eager to dig into your wisdom. And you have an interesting backstory that kind of informs, inspires, motivates the work you’re currently doing with your app Most Days. Can you share it with us?

Brent Franson
Yeah, certainly. So, I’m from Boulder, Colorado. I’m the oldest of four, we’re all within five years. And Boulder was this very fertile ground for me when I was young. I was most likely to succeed in eighth grade and I was the Winter Ball King, it’s kind of lame suburban accolades. And then my sophomore year in high school, my parents got divorced, and they were both very distracted with that.

And so, they’re going to be multiple versions of a story like this but, basically, what happened was I started rebelling and a lot of the parental supervision just changed pretty dramatically. And what happened was all of the kids in our friend group and in the neighborhood, who had similar issues, had things going on at home, had parents who weren’t around as much, they ended up spending a lot of time in the home. Some of them actually moved into the home full time.

And so, it turned into a little bit a Lord of the Flies situation where everybody was fending for themselves. And I wish I could say it turned out well; it didn’t. It, ultimately, has a good story but I rebelled in a very, very aggressive way. I ended up being kicked out of the public high school that I was going to in Boulder. I was sent on court mandate, basically, to a boarding school in New Hampshire. My parents had said, “Hey, if he gets sent away somewhere where he can kind of get better in dealing with the things, dealing with the acting up.”

So, I went to this tiny boarding school in central New Hampshire. I was kicked out of that boarding school during my, what was effectively my second senior year, so I was forced to repeat it. And in that group and in my family and kind of as for many of us, what happened around us was there was a lot of coping with the situation and coping with the changing environment.

And so, I’ve seen a lot of addiction, an addiction of all kinds. I’ve dealt with, I don’t identify as an addict, but I’ve dealt with a lot of kind of unhealthy habits that have hurt my life at various points. And then, also, in being surrounded in a bunch of different ways by addiction, I’ve seen the flip side of it. I have a lot of people around me who have many years or a decade or more of sobriety.

And what this whole story, and what this whole set of experiences has really taught me was the power of behavior change. I really became familiar with the behavior change, frameworks and addiction. Addiction is really interesting because the negative consequences of addiction are caused by repeating an unhealthy behavior over and over again. And then the cure, and cure is the wrong word, but the way out of addiction is to change that behavior. So, there are some pills but it’s largely not…you don’t take a prescription for it. It’s not a surgery. You’ve got to change the way that you’re living your life. You got to change the way that you’re coping. You’ve got stop repeating that behavior over and over again.

And so, this set of experiences has led me to the business that I’m running today. But, more importantly, I think, being really focused on understanding how can behavior, or how can the things that we do most days, there are a lot of things that it’s hard to do every day, how are the things that we’re doing most days, how can those improve the quality of our lives, the length of our lives. And then coming off of the background experience in which you see how much it can, you know, doing the wrong things every day can really hurt your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s an interesting sort of backdrop starting point. And I want to zoom in a bit on, so, in between then and now, you’ve had some pretty stellar successes in terms of software business leadership and exits and all that sort of thing. You’re really making it happen in the business world in terms of you were most likely to succeed. The prophecy proved true in terms of you’ve had a great deal of success.

So, can you share where and when and how did you get yourself into a behavioral groove that was really supporting you in such that you were starting to see some really great results in terms of your behaviors and the results that flowed from them?

Brent Franson
I think it took me a long time. Really, the reality of what happened was I was a very heavy pot smoker in high school and early in my 20s. I’m 38 now. And in 2004, I went to rehab. I spent 30 days in a rehab for just trying to stop smoking marijuana.

And the 30 days in rehab was really good for me because I just struggled to stop on my own, and I completely stopped, I learned a bunch of skills at this rehab in Arizona, and then I completely changed my scenery. So, I had actually started a company when I was in high school and it’s still operating today, but I was back in Colorado after I’d dropped out of college and I was running this business and my environment really wasn’t working for me.

And so, I moved to Palo Alto in 2004-2005, which was a very good time to move. At that time, the epicenter of Silicon Valley, really, was Palo Alto, and so things really turned me for me then. This habit that was really plaguing me, I shed that. I still dealt with some substance dependencies after that so that wasn’t completely the end of it.

And then I just pulled myself out of an environment that wasn’t working for me and I plugged myself right into the middle of, basically, the best place you could be as a young aspiring entrepreneur in technology, which was Palo Alto in 2005. So, that was the turning point for my dark period for maybe 15 to 23. It’s been quite a different story since I made that move.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, tell us about the Google Sheets and the behaviors and the habits that you were cultivating. And how did that take root?

Brent Franson
Yeah, so what ended up happening was I picked up a bunch of habits for coping with things, for figuring out how to sleep, for just dealing, generally, with emotions during this tough period of my adolescence. And it became very clear to me that if I did a certain set of things, most days that I was in a good place, I was in a good headspace. When I didn’t do those things, I wasn’t.

And the tipping point for me and really building a system around this was I was the CEO of this venture-backed company I didn’t found called Euclid, and it was a stressful role and I was having trouble sleeping. And so, I started taking Klonopin which is for anxiety. It’s a benzo, it’s very addictive, but I was taking it just for a short period of time. It’s often prescribed similar to Xanax for short periods of time for anxiety.

And I realized it was hard for me to get off of it. It became very difficult to sleep without taking this Klonopin. And so, I went cold turkey. And it was very difficult to do. I lost a bunch of weight. I was really anxious, I couldn’t sleep, and my doctor didn’t really have any good advice for me.

And so, I spent a lot of time researching and figuring it out. Hey, I’ve seen this in my family. I dealt with it early in my 20s, I thought, “Hey, I don’t want to be dependent on a benzo like Klonopin.” And so, I found this thing called the Ashton Manual which is Dr. Heather Ashton is a pharmacologist in the UK who ran these benzo withdrawal clinics in the mid ‘90s. And to get off of benzos, what you need to do is you taper off as you do many of these. So, you reduce the amount that you’re taking very slowly.

But this one, particularly in the Ashton Manual says, “Okay, now, start. As you dial down on the Klonopin, increase something called Valium,” and then you’ll be off the Klonopin but you’re on a higher dose of Valium, and then you come off of the Valium and then you drop off of Valium and you’re off of both of them. And that is the smoothest way, basically, to get off of something that is hard to quit.

And that required this very strict daily regiment of, “Okay, here’s the amount I’m taking of the Klonopin and then the Valium,” and it’s all over a six-week period so I built this spreadsheet and started tracking what I was doing there. And, in addition to that, I started tracking meditating, working out, sleeping, and eventually the system got really crazy. I mean, today I track 45 different things that I do each day and have been for six years now.

Pete Mockaitis
Forty-five, that’s wild. And so then, can you share what are maybe just a few of the behaviors that make a world of difference and that are extra leverage?

Brent Franson
Well, I think getting the basics right. So, basically, the primary categories are going to be, well, we all know these categories: sleep, diet, exercise, community, and mindfulness. I think one thing that’s been key for me, and I don’t know how true this is in other circles, in the technology community for a long time, like bragging about how little you sleep was some rite of passage.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, man. Hustle.

Brent Franson
It’s like, “Yeah, I sleep five hours.” “Oh, I only sleep four hours.” And Bezos is very famous where he credits, hey, he sleeps eight hours every night, and that’s a big part of his ability to be productive. And so, I think over time you realize, “Okay, there are these five categories of things that I need to be focusing on and investing my time in,” and you realize which ones are more foundational.

If I sleep well, basically, I have more willpower. I’m more likely to exercise, I’m more likely to meditate, I’m more likely to engage in productive relationships with my family. I’m less likely to create friction in my relationships, which eats up time and creates frustration. If I have even a small amount of alcohol, it’s likely to impact my sleep which impacts the willpower, and the cycle continues.

And so, I think there’s all of the basics in terms of those five categories. And then there are some things I think that are less obvious. Every day, I have a voice memo that I’ve record, so I record a new one every four to six weeks or something, and it’s four or five affirmations that I say to myself. So, things that I’m trying to work on, things that are getting at me. So, I tend to be somebody who wants to please people, and so one of the affirmations is, “You don’t need to rescue people. You don’t always need to say yes.”

And so, I record myself saying these things, and then there’s a pause in between each statement that allows me to say the statement out loud after I hear it, and I do that four times in a row, and that’s remarkably effective at stomping out those patterns. I end up refreshing those voice memos every four to six weeks because you’re realizing, “Oh, I’m not engaging in the rescuing thing that I didn’t need to be doing or whatever it might be.” So, a lot of them are really standard and there are some random ones like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s beautiful in terms of like sometimes that’s how progress feels in terms of it’s not like, “Sweet victory,” but it’s like, “Oh, I guess this isn’t really necessary anymore. Cool.” And it’s just sort of like a quiet victory that happens just like that but something worthy of celebration nonetheless.

Brent Franson
Yeah, I think, generally, for me, one of the key insights, and this is something they talk a lot about in addiction, in addiction they say, “Progress not perfection, one day at a time.” And so, if you’re trying to change something about your life, if you’re trying to adapt a new behavior, you’re trying to lose weight, you’re trying to drink less, whatever it might be, trying to get up early and work out, self-compassion is really important. And the real change comes just a little bit at a time, and that compounds day over day.

And so, one of the things that was helpful for me, in the pot habit or I was a cigarette smoker in my early 20s, is this notion of, “Don’t quit quitting.” And so, you’re going to fail. If you’re trying to get up early and work out, and you’re not normally somebody who works out early, or you’re trying to quit smoking cigarettes or whatever it is, you’re not going to succeed right away. And, often, we fail at the thing, we don’t get up in the morning, we’d beat ourselves up, there’s a bad feeling associated with that, and then we dismiss it and we don’t continue.

And I think actually the skill you want to cultivate is this, “Hey, it’s okay. Tomorrow is a new day. I didn’t get up early this morning.” That’s fine. Don’t beat yourself up for it and see if you get there tomorrow. And if you go from not doing it at all to doing it once a week and then you’re doing it twice a week, and if in a year or two years, you’re now workout in the morning four days a week, who cares that the ramp was slow.

And so, I think don’t quit quitting, and so it’s more about getting back on the horse than it is how many times you fall off. Get good at just getting back on and not beating yourself up. And then the second, which I think is related, is focus on consistency over intensity. So, if you are somebody who doesn’t run and you want to start running, if you walk out the door with your running shoes on, count it. If you go around the block, count it.

And what’s going to happen is if you’re able to go around the block and you weren’t doing this at all before and, now, you’re doing it two times a week, three time a week, you’re going to start going two blocks, you’re going to start going three blocks. The length is going to come over time. The consistency is the hardest piece. And this is what we know about habits.

Really, a habit is kind of defined as something that you do subconsciously, that’s just automatic and you’re not thinking about it when you do it. So, when we try to adapt new habits, they’re hard because you’re going to proactively think about them. And so, if you build it in and you’re doing it consistently, even at a low intensity, the intensity will grow over time, they’ll become more and more automatic.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. And we talked about the self-compassion, I think that’s one thing. As soon as I saw your email, and your app is called Most Days, I was like, “That’s the perfect name.” So, what is the big idea behind Most Days?

Brent Franson
We’re building a platform where we’re trying to take everything that we know about behavior change and put it into one place. And so, there’s two primary pieces. So, no matter what you’re struggling with, and something like 97% of people have at least one health ailment. We all kind of have something.

And so, no matter what it is, there’s a set of things that you can be doing most days to improve the quality or length of your life.

And so, in Most Days, you can either create a routine or you can subscribe to an existing routine. So, we have routines for anxiety, depression, OCD, relationship, loneliness, stress and a whole bunch of different categories that are written by psychologists and neuroscientists primarily from schools here in California, from Berkeley and UCLA and Stanford. So, it’s a set of things you can do most days that are rooted in science to improve the quality of your life.

Or, you can just create your own. Like, my routine is I’ve got four or five routines on Most Days. I’m a father, I’ve got a parenting routine. I’ve just created them from scratch. I’ve been hacking on myself, trying to improve myself for the last 20 years. That’s then nested within a social network. And so, each day you mark “Yes” or “Not today.” We got feedback from our members that they didn’t feel good about saying “No,” and so we say “Not today,” which I think is great.

And then your yes responses are posted to a feed of people who follow you so you can be in single-player mode, you can follow other members of our community, you can invite a sibling or whatever, but it’s creating this peer-to-peer accountability, and we’re trying to drive the shame out of the product. So, celebrate the wins, let’s not shame anybody for the things that they’re not doing, and then tomorrow is a new day. And if you have a down day, you can improve the next day.

And then the final piece of the platform is just analytics to understand progress over time. So, one of the things we ask you each day is kind of “One to 10, how are you feeling?” And so, that gives us the ability to understand “What are the habits? What are the inputs? What are the things where you are investing in your own happiness and quality of life?” And then the output is like, “Oh, is it working?”

And so, the analytics allow you, “Okay, how are you doing on your habits? What percentage of time are you completing these?” And then we can start to connect the dots and show you, “Okay, here are the habits that are most tightly correlated with high quality of life, etc.” so you can start to get an understanding from the data of how those things are working.

And this is all modeled, I mean, loosely, off of what we see in addiction. And so, if you walk into an AA meeting, there’s going to be a plan, so there’s 12 steps in AA, you’re going to have a sponsor who’s telling you to do a certain set of things. That’s then nested within an environment that creates, that’s safe, and where you’ve got a lot of people who are on the same journey, who can share their experiences on the same journey, who can hold one another accountable, and that would be the meetings.

And then you’ve got an understanding of progress over time. Ask anybody who is kind of really active in their sobriety, and they’ll tell you down to the day how many days they’ve been sober. Even if they’ve been sober for 10 years, they’ll often be able to tell you down the day. And then they get little chips after 24 hours or 30 days or 30 years.

And so, we’re really trying to take everything that we know about behavior change and put it into one place. We’re early in our journey but that’s the basic thought behind what we’re trying to build.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And it’s cool. I use it, I dig it, and so, it’s a beautiful thing so thank you for putting that into the world. Well, so then let’s zoom in then in terms of when it comes to behavior change, we have a couple principles in terms of self-compassion and having some support and accountability, having a clear plan and tracking it. Can you maybe bring this to life with perhaps a couple case studies, stories, examples in terms of, “All right, hey, someone is looking to do something, and here’s what they did and how it worked”?

Brent Franson
One of the common things that we talk about and we’re hearing, if we’re talking about New Year’s Resolution. New Year’s Resolutions are interesting because they’re an interesting example of this because we’re starting with a goal and we’re not thinking about the system. So, I think the first key to think about in behavior change is, like, “What’s the system? How are you going to change the system of your life, the system of your behavior to support whatever the change is?”

And so, I’ll give you some simple examples. Like, for me, I had always heard this stat that you’re supposed to brush your teeth two minutes twice day, you’re supposed to be brushing your teeth for two minutes straight. And with a traditional toothbrush, for me, personally, that was hard. I just get bored. I have a short attention span and I just get bored after 30 or 40 seconds, if that.

And so, for me, and I’ve been doing this for a decade now, go buy a toothbrush with a timer and just walk around the house until the thing turns off. And so, I’ve got a Sonic here, the thing, it just buzzes for two minutes and then it turns off. And you almost immediately go, if you’re tracking the data of this brushing your teeth for 30 seconds to brushing your teeth for two minutes consistently.

Another example of this is addiction to the phone. One of the things that I spend as much time as I can is thinking about, “How am I a present partner? How am I a present father? How am I a present sibling?” etc. And the phones are just so crazy addictive, and so there’s a product called the kSafe which you can put your phone in a little like Tupperware container that has a lock with a timer that you can’t disable.

And so, for me, really the hardcore family time is 5:30 to 7:30. My daughter is four and a half, she kind of starts going to bed around 7:30. I put the phone in the safe, I can’t access the phone, so I’m not sitting around drawing on willpower at the end of the day to not grab the thing. I can’t unconsciously just pick it up and start looking at it. The thing is locked away. And I’m telling you, there’s something. As soon as it goes into that safe, that desire to look at it or the phantom buzzing that you can hear, all of that goes away because there’s just not a choice. The phone is locked away.

And so, I think another one that people talk about is if you want to get up and workout in the morning, put all of the clothes out and put your shoes right outside of the bed. Like, lower all of the friction to walking out of the door. And this is going to be different for everybody. There’s no one-size-fits-all. But I think it’s about thinking, “Okay, what system can I put in place that’s going to either make it easier for me not to do whatever behavior I’m trying to stop or it’s just going to make it easier for me to do the things I’m trying to do more of or to start doing?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that a lot in terms of having a resolution alone isn’t very actionable, like, “I’m going to run a marathon this year.” Oh, that’s great, but you’ve got to break that down into the particular behaviors of running, and then think about your particular resistance or friction that’s making it tough, and do what you can to eliminate it. And so, it’s really fun when there’s a technology like a phone safe or like an automated toothbrush.

And so, what are some additional ways we can make it easier beyond buying things? And, hey, buying things is fun, so we can talk about buying things too. But I’d love to hear a few more in terms of like, “Well, there’s, indeed, there’s not a technology that will just zap me with motivation juice.” So, what are some other ways to make things easier?

Brent Franson
So, I’ll give you a couple examples. So, if you read any book on behavior change or how-to tracking, you’ll see common techniques like habit stacking. And so, okay, what is something that you know you’re automatically going to be doing? And then attach something that you don’t automatically do to that.

So, there’s a great book on this by a professor at Stanford named Dr. BJ Fogg who, the example he cites for him personally is he does a couple of pushups after he goes to the bathroom. So, he knows he’s going to go to the bathroom regularly, that’s not going to stop. He’s trying to adapt the habit of strengthening his upper body, and so he stacks those habits together.

And I’ll give you, from my own personal life, is, like, if I really go through the core parts of my routine, primarily my mindfulness and journaling routine, so that routine includes, most days, I’m trying to meditate, I listen to the voice memos, I try to spend 10 minutes learning something new. I journal. As part of the journal, I do a little gratitude practice. I read a little nonfiction. I try to read nonfiction and fiction each day, and that’s it.

So, if I just sat down and do all of those things, it’s 30 or 40 minutes. And the key for me that’s related to habit stacking is if I just get started, so sometimes I drag my feet and I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t want to do it.” I pick up the phone and I’m looking at Reddit or something or whatever we do when we distract ourselves and we procrastinate. But if I just get into that meditation, everything else is actually pretty automatic. It’s very easy for me to roll out of the meditation into the next activity. It’s rare that I would start that set of things and not finish it. The hardest part is getting myself started.

And so, I think either stacking a habit on top of something you automatically know you’re going to do, or finding a little bit of time and stacking those habits together. And then on the days when I just do the meditation, I just do one or two of the pieces, fine. That’s okay. I don’t beat myself up. I’ve got the next day. So, that’s number two, kind of grouping the habits together.

The third thing I’d say is physically a mental framework. So, I think often we perceive something being harder or worse than it actually is, and I think exercising is a very good example of this. The person you are, for me it’s I’m running in the pandemic because there’s nothing else to do, is the person I am when I walk out of the house is very different than the person I am a mile into a run, for me about a mile up – running stops just being just torture and just terrible – and it’s very different from the person that comes back. When I come back from a run, I am on top of the world. I’m not really fast on a run, crazy distances.

And so, I get into a mental state of really trying to focus on how I’m going to feel after I do something as opposed to before you do it, because there’s so much dread sometimes getting into something like a workout and you kind of play it back and forth in your head. You never regret it. You never come back and say, “Why did I do that?”

And so, I think reminding yourself of where you’re going to be, and one of the tricks I use for myself is, “I’m just going to run a mile. Like, from here I can run to Stanyan Street and it’s not that far. It’s mostly flat and I’ll turn around when I get there.” I never turn around. I’m just a different person. I’m in the zone. There’s a little bit of that runner’s high. And so, focusing on kind of how you’re going to feel afterwards as opposed to before can be helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, let’s think about a professional who has some challenges associated with entertaining distractions on the computer, be it Twitter, be it Reddit, the news, shopping, checking emails more than is optimal, that’s come up a few times. What will be some of your top tips for someone looking to make that kind of a behavioral shift?

Brent Franson
It’s similar to what I would say with the kSafe, with the putting the phone away. So, I use something on my computer called BlockSite and it blocks the websites. So, I block Twitter and Reddit and Instagram, I block all of those. So, if I go to them, there’s an additional step I can say, “Hey, unblock,” and you can block them. Put your phone in a different room while you’re working. Close the tabs that are not relevant to the work that you’re doing.

And so, a lot of this, at least for me personally, it comes down to, like, “Hey, I’m my own worst enemy. And so, how do I build little fences around myself to keep me focused?” Right now, we’re recording this, we’re having this conversation, and I took a moment before this call to just close out everything, or else I’ll look at my Slack, I’ll be looking at an email that pops up. And the neuroscience behind that is very straightforward. There’s a powerful little dopamine hit.

And so, I think as soon as you’re like, “Oh, I’m going to have the willpower. I’m just going to be really focused because it’s a really important thing,” I think a lot of that is fantasy. You’re going to fall back into the same habits, and so you’ve got put some guardrails. So, if the phone is distracting you, put the phone out of arm’s reach. Use something like BlockSite. Block out the time on the calendar for the head’s down work.

So, I think one of the things that we do, that a lot of people, and I’ve done a lot of this, fail to do from a time management perspective is you’re only scheduling… there’s only the things on your calendar that involve, “Okay, I’m talking to Pete at 3:00 o’clock, and then I’ve got a Zoom with my boss or with an investor,” whoever it might be. Block out the time you need to catch up on email first thing in the morning and block it out again later in the afternoon, and then focus during the day. You’re not going to be more than a few hours behind.

Close Slack, spend some time getting some work done. Open Slack back up. So, being very intentional in the work that we do. If you’re somebody who’s got a hundred different tabs open and you’ve got every app open all day long, of course, those things are going to distract you.

Pete Mockaitis
And to the point about self-compassion, can we like zoom way into, “All right, these are not helpful things to say to yourself after you’ve not performed what you wanted to perform, and this is what a more compassionate response is”? I think some folks might think, “Well, if I’m too easy on myself, I’m just not going to go through it. Like, if ‘It’s fine’ is my response to a failure, well, then, will I ever kick it into high gear?” So, can I hear some internal dialogue samples of helpful, self-compassion responses to failure, and not so helpful responses to failure?

Brent Franson
Yeah, I think there’s a difference between beating yourself up and being honest with yourself. And so, one of the tips that I heard that’s been helpful for me that I think is interesting is when you’re going through your email, start at the bottom of your email. Start at the email that it’s been the longest time since you’ve responded to. I’m not a total email-to-zero person but, okay, start on the most important thing. That email has been sitting there the longest, if it’s something you need to respond to, it’s probably more important than the one that just came in, even if the content of the one that just came in is more important. You have more time on that.

And I think the same thing is true for important projects. Like, work on the project that’s the hardest if you have a little time that you’re putting off the most first. And so, if there’s a really important project that you’re procrastinating, you got to be honest with yourself about the fact that, “Hey, I have to get that done. And if I don’t get it done, there’s going to be some consequence.”

But I think the, “I’m always this. I’m never that. I should be doing this. Somebody who’s good at their job wouldn’t procrastinate this in the way that I do,” so and so, you’re actually manifesting a particular person. Those kind of feedback loops are going to be actively negative. For me, personally, I got to a place of, like, “Screw it, I’m going to give up. If I can’t win the game, I’m not going to play at all.”

So, honest dialogue about yourself, with like, “Okay, if I keep procrastinating with this, here are the consequences of that. Like, the world is not going to end, but there will be consequences and I’d rather not have to deal with those consequences.” But I think the “shoulds,” and the “comparing,” and the “always” and “nevers,” I think that’s when you know you’re getting to a place where you’re probably not making progress. An honest and empathetic dialogue with yourself and really looking like, “Okay, why am I procrastinating this? What is it about it?” that’s actually going to increase the odds that you complete it.

Pete Mockaitis
So, then if you aspire to, yeah, the New Year’s Resolution, run a marathon, and you didn’t get up for the run, “It’s not like I always do this. I’m never going to be a runner. I should really be better about getting up early. Brent runs amazingly well with consistency. Why can’t I be a winner like him?” So, that’s in your not-so-great column.

But then your honest conversation about consequences might sound like, “You know, well, Pete, this marathon is something that you’ve been looking forward to. You’ve got some buddies who are signed up and jazzed for it and it’s going to be a really cool experience. If this keeps happening, you’re just not going to be ready for it and you won’t be able to do it and it’d be pretty disappointing to have to cancel it.” Okay, so what next? That’s like the honest consequence conversation.

Brent Franson
Yeah. Well, then what next is have an honest conversation with yourself about what to do, “So, okay, I didn’t run today. When is the next running group? If I make that, if I make it to that running group, am I on track? Am I falling too far behind? Do I need to be in a different running group? Am I trying to run early in the morning and I’ve never been a morning person and I should actually be doing these runs in the afternoon or the evening or whatever it is?”

So, I think there’s an honest assessment of, “Okay, I might not be in shape to run this marathon if I keep missing these. Is there a way that I can make this easier for myself? Hey, I want Pete to give me a call in the morning,” or whatever it might be. So, I think it’s the honest assessment of consequences. The beating yourself up is not going to help.

And then the second piece is how do you change the system? What about the system needs to change? You need to go to bed earlier. Do you need somebody to give you a ring? Do you need to run at a different time of day, whatever it might be?

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

Brent Franson
No, no. As somebody who has a lot of personal experience with this, I think there’s a lot of people who will say, “Behavior change is hard. You can’t change. You’re not going to change.” And I would just say that’s just not true. You can. It is hard but it is possible. And so, whatever those things are you want to change about your life, as hard as that can seem to see in the moment, it is possible. It takes time and you got to focus on it but it’s very possible. I actually defy people the opposite. I defy you not to change. It’s just a question of how you’re going to change.
Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Well, now can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Brent Franson
Oh, I like “The Man in the Arena” quote, so I think that’s the Teddy Roosevelt quote and it’s too long of a quote for me to remember off the top of my head. But it’s basically the substance of the quote is I’d rather be among the cold, tired, and bloody among us who are in the arena and who are trying and who are striving for something, and maybe I’m defeated, than among the cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat. So, I think putting yourself out there and kind of striving for whatever you want, that’s where the glory and the greatness is, and victory or defeat is secondary.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Brent Franson
The things that are top of mind for me right now, it’s just been so shocking to me as I dig in. I’ve seen this in my own life and then looking at attribution, basically, of behavior change and health outcomes.

And so, like 15% or 20% of health outcomes can be attributed to medical care and it’s 50% plus to behavior, and that’s been so striking to me because I think, in a perfect world in the future, you get a prescription for a drug that’s going to help you, and then next to that you’re getting a prescription for things you need to change that you can change in your behavior, that can help you improve. And so, a lot of the stats and kind of the impact of behavior change has just been, they’re top of mind for me right now, obviously, as I’m spending so much time thinking about this.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Brent Franson
This changes for me a lot. My favorite book are adventure books. And so, The Spirit of St. Louis is a book about Lindbergh and his flight across the Atlantic. It’s just really well-written.

But if you like the adventure stories, there’s a story of called Endurance which is about Shackleton and this crazy survival story down in Antarctica. And so, I love those adventure survival stories.

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

Brent Franson
Currently, my favorite tool is I have two phones and I have one phone that’s just totally dialed down and doesn’t have any apps on it and I’ve grey-scaled the background. And the more I’m carrying that, because you can just swap the SIMs. I have on my keychain, basically, a little kind of needle, it’s a SIM swapper, it’ll pull your SIM out. And that’s been remarkably helpful for me having a phone that’s just very basic. I’m a dad so I’ve got to be reachable but it just doesn’t really have much. It allows me to focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And a favorite habit, you’ve got so many?

Brent Franson
Heat therapy. It’s sitting in a sauna, it’s sweating. And so, that, in my own personal dataset has the highest correlation with me feeling good. And so, there’s a whole bunch of interesting science around the health benefits of sitting in a sauna, in a hot dry room basically, and sweating, and so I think that’s my favorite. I also think just top of mind for me now because I haven’t been able to do it, I don’t have a sauna in my home.

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

Brent Franson
I think one of the things I spend a lot of time talking about is that there aren’t that many real rules in life. And so, I think there are a set of ethics that we all want to live by. I want to be honest. I want to be ethical. But a lot of the rules, “You got to take XYZ path if you want to do this or you want to do that.”

Like, there are a bunch of different ways to skin a cat, and so I think a lot of the “rules” are self-imposed. And so, I think thinking creatively about multiple paths to the same place has been really helpful for me, and I encourage others to do the same. I haven’t had the most amazing career, I haven’t had the worst career ever, but I took a different path. I can’t tell you whether or not I graduated from high school, and here I am in Silicon Valley running technology companies. And so, don’t impose unnecessary rules on yourself.

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

Brent Franson
Oh, look, you can email me on brent@mostdays, you can come join us in the Most Days community if you’re trying to change your behavior. We’ve got a supportive community of people who are trying to do this. But, yeah, reach out.

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

Brent Franson
Yeah, the challenge I would give anybody is change something about the structure of the way that you work, change something about the structure of the way that you live your life, and see what happens.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Brent, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you and great luck with Most Days and your adventures.

Brent Franson
Yeah. Thanks, Pete.