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402: How Overachievers can Reclaim Their Joy with Christine Hassler

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Christine Hassler reveals how overachievers can lose and regain their joy.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The joylessness of overachieving
  2. How to stop the constant doing through exploring your why
  3. Four questions to re-evaluate your limiting beliefs

About Christine

Christine Hassler is the best-selling author of three books, most recently Expectation Hangover: Free Yourself From Your Past, Change your Present and Get What you Really Want. She left her successful job as a Hollywood agent to pursue a life she could be passionate about. For over a decade, as a keynote speaker, retreat facilitator, life coach, and host of the top-rated podcast “Over it and On With It”, she has been teaching and inspiring people around the world. She’s appeared on: The Today Show, CNN, ABC, CBS, FOX, E!, Style, and The New York Times. Christine believes once we get out of our own way, we can show up to make the meaningful impact we are here to make. Visit her online at www.christinehassler.com

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Christine Hassler Interview Transcript

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

Christine E. Hassler
Well, I’m happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly. Well, could you tell us the story about how you became a hand model?

Christine E. Hassler
I’m so glad you didn’t ask me, can you tell the story of how you’re doing what you’re doing because that’s what every podcast interviewer asks ….

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yes, I’m already distinctive.

Christine E. Hassler
You’re winning already. I’m just thrilled. I loved that you asked me that. You did your research. Yes, I was a hand model. Everybody’s probably thinking – well, everybody old enough is probably thinking of the Seinfeld episode when George was a hand model.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Christine E. Hassler
But how I became is because I would constantly get compliments on my hands. I was in a period of time where I had left my corporate job and was working on building my own business. I was in a lot of debt. People kept saying to me, “You have beautiful hands. You should be a hand model.” I heard it like five to seven times. I thought well, I live in Los Angeles. If there’s any place where one could do that, it would probably be Los Angeles.

This was a good 15 years ago before computers are what they are today. I went into – there was like a modeling agency – it wasn’t called this, but it was literally a body parts modeling agency.

Pete Mockaitis
Hands, toes, feet, knees.

Christine E. Hassler
Hands toes, and butt. Butts were a big one. They said, “All right, great. We’ll take your hands.” I didn’t have that many shoots, maybe like seven to ten of them. I’d go in and I’d either be a model’s hands if she bit her nails or didn’t have the best looking hands or I did Aveeno kind of things, where I was putting moisturizer on my hands. It was anything from print to commercials. But it was an interesting gig.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s funny. Now, Aveeno, that’s a pretty big name I’d imagine when it comes to hand modeling. Was that your star showing?

Christine E. Hassler
That was my biggest gig. Jennifer Anniston is the face of Aveeno. I guess for a brief period of time, I was the hands.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good company on the pecking order, I suppose, so well done.

Christine E. Hassler
Yeah, we never shot together.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. You’ve got some really cool perspectives when it comes to overachievers. We’ve got plenty of them listen to the show. I think it’s important to get into your wisdom. You say that overachievers often live secret lives. Can you paint a picture, what are some common fixtures or what are these secret lives often look like sort of underneath the surface?

Christine E. Hassler
We’re not born overachievers usually. The keyword in overachiever is ‘over.’ There’s something where it’s out of balance. I’ll tell my story about how I became an overachiever and then can discuss some other ways that people do.

Growing up I had a pretty good childhood and then in fourth grade things got a little harder for me when I started being bullied and teased. Some girls, four, passed around a note and told people not to talk to me. I became very isolated and felt like I didn’t belong.

Because of that, I formed a belief system that I wasn’t likeable and I wasn’t enough in some way and that I didn’t belong. Because in life, things happen and then there’s what we make those things mean. The meaning we give things creates our belief system. Then our behavior is motivated by our belief systems.

What happened, happened. Girls started a club, I wasn’t a member, said bad things about me. I made that mean I don’t belong, something must be wrong with me. That created a belief system that I’m separate, I’m different, I have to prove myself.

Whenever something happens to us that we make mean we’re less than in some way, we have to come up with some way where we feel “more than.” That’s something that I call a compensatory strategy. Overachieving is an example of a compensatory strategy. We feel less than in some way. We want to come up with a way to feel more than.

I thought, well, if I don’t belong, if people don’t like me, if something’s wrong with me, then I’m just going to become really good at school. If my social life is something that isn’t working, I better be the smartest girl in the class.

I put tons of pressure on myself to get straight A’s. My parents would beg me to get a B just so I could put less stress on myself, but I wouldn’t because my whole kind of identity was tied to overachieving. That’s where I thought I got my worth and where I thought I got my value.

I was rewarded for it. Teachers praised me. My parents were proud of me. I graduated at the top of my class. I went to a great college. Then I continued overachieving all the way out to Hollywood, where I had a job there.

The thing about overachieving is because it creates a cycle of constantly trying to prove oneself, enough is never enough. We become human doings rather than human beings.

Other things that can create overachievers is if your parents or a parent only gave you attention or validation when you did something. Or if you grew up in a household where everybody was doing, doing, doing, achieving, achieving, so you thought that was what you had to do. That’s how overachievers get created.

The secret life of overachievers that I have found in my own life in working with so many overachievers is that we’re very, very, very, very hard on ourselves. Although we’re checking all these things off a list, most overachievers struggle with feeling fulfilled. They have a hard time celebrating any kind of win because they check one thing off the list and then it’s on to the next. Enough never feels like enough.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then what are some of the implications then? If you’re hard on yourself, not only are you sort of enjoying your life less, but there’s some research that suggests that that is actually counterproductive even when it comes to getting the achievements.

Christine E. Hassler
Well, it’s productive and it’s effective. Let’s not say it’s productive. It’s effective in that it gets people to get things done, but it’s like putting bad gas in your car; it’s not sustainable. It ends up depleting you, so you’re more stressed out, you’re putting more pressure on yourself.

Whenever we’re in a state where we feel more pressure on our self, where we feel more self-conscious, where we feel really stressed out, we don’t perform at our best. We’re not coming from a place of really enjoying what we’re doing.

Research also shows that people that really enjoy what they do are better at it. I was successful as a Hollywood agent. I worked my way up the ladder and I was effective, but I wasn’t as successful as I could have been because I didn’t enjoy it. I think that’s a big stumbling block that overachievers find is they’re doing, doing, doing and they’re stressed out and they’re not enjoying it in the process.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Then in working with yourself and others, what are you seeing are some particular strategies that are really helpful in terms of getting things back in alignment?

Christine E. Hassler
Well, I don’t know if it’s necessarily so much strategies as it is remembering the truth of who we are and doing some what we would call personal growth/personal development work. My work as a life coach and a spiritual psychologist is to help people stop living according to the story and the limiting beliefs they’ve created about themselves and their life and start living more in alignment with who they really are and the truth of who they are.

The thing about overachieving is because one is so focused on doing, doing, doing their whole life, a lot of times overachievers don’t stop to ask, “Do I really like this? Am I really enjoying this? Is this really what I want to do with my life? Is this really the story I want to keep telling myself?”

The first – if we want to call it a strategy – the first thing to do is to really stop and take an honest look at is what you’re attempting to achieve at even what you want and why are you doing it.

I ask a lot of overachievers, “Why are you working so hard? Why are you doing, doing, doing?” Most of them don’t have that inspiring of an answer. It’s usually something like, “Well, I have to. I have to pay the bills,” or “This is what my job requires,” or “This is just what I do,” or “I don’t know what else I would do.”

Most people aren’t going, going, going, doing, doing, doing and saying, “Oh, because it brings me job and I feel like I’m making an impact and I’m so happy.” Usually the overachieving treadmill that so many people are on, like I said, is not leading to that kind of fulfillment.

The first thing is to get really honest about yourself of what is your why and are you really enjoying it? Then start to take a look back on your life, kind of like what I did when I told my story, of how this overachieving pattern ever began in the first place.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to get your take there in terms of you said you get some uninspired answers, not so much the “This is my purpose and I love it. It energizes me,” but rather it’s kind of like, “In order to,” this kind of something else, like, “I’ve got to pay the bills,” or “This is just kind of how I operate.”

How do you think about the—I don’t know if you want to call it a balance or a tango when it comes to doing the stuff that you love in the moment because you love it and then doing the stuff in order to achieve a result that’s meaningful to you even if the present experience of doing the stuff isn’t so fun?

Christine E. Hassler
Well, so what’s the question?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, how do you think about that game in terms of there’s stuff I love doing and there’s stuff I don’t love doing, but it produces a result that I value, so shall I continue doing that thing that I don’t enjoy doing?

Christine E. Hassler
Well, okay, I don’t think that’s a black and white kind of thing. I think you have to break that down. If it produces a value, is it truly a value or is it a value like it makes me money. What is the value that it produces?

Yes, there are things – I love my work. I really love it. It’s incredibly fulfilling. I’m not driven by an overachiever anymore. I’m more inspired by my vision. Are there some things in my job that I don’t love doing? Yes, but even in the process of them because I’m so committed to my why and I’m so committed to my vision, the process is never awful. The process is never something that “Oh my God, I just can’t wait to get to the finish line.”

Because usually when we exhaust ourselves so we don’t enjoy the process at all, by the time we get to the result, we’re so tired and depleted anyway that it kind of goes back to what I was saying before. You celebrate it for a second and then, it’s like, “Okay, what’s the next thing?”

I believe in hard work. I believe that sometimes we have to pace ourselves a little faster and there are seasons in life, but the process should still be somewhat enlivening. It should still bring some inspiration, some joy because you’re so connected to your why and you’re so connected to your vision. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, yeah. I really like the way you articulated that. I guess I’m thinking about getting everything together for taxes, which I’m not a real fan of, but sure enough because I am connected to the why and the purpose and what I’m about, even though it’s not my top favorite thing to do, I can find a morsel of satisfaction in terms of “Ah, all those figures are lined up just right and beautifully. How about that?”

Christine E. Hassler
Let me ask you this, why do you do your own taxes?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, I have an accountant. I’m getting my stuff ready for my accountant to do his magic in terms of all the financial statements.

Christine E. Hassler
Uh-huh. See, this is kind of another one of my personal viewpoints is anything that – it’s like I don’t know if you’re familiar with that book. It’s super popular. There’s a TV show. It’s a book about tidying up, like the Magic of Tidying Up or whatever.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, I saw an episode recently. Uh-huh.

Christine E. Hassler
Yeah. She’s like if an object doesn’t bring you joy, ditch it. It’s kind of extreme, but it really resonates with people.

I recently was living nomadically for nine months and had my stuff in storage and moved into a new place now with my fiancé and just got rid of so much stuff and used this process ‘does it bring me joy?’

I really have applied that to work as well. Even something like I have an accountant too, but I also have a bookkeeper, so I basically don’t have to do anything. They just do it because that drains me.

You don’t have to be a wealthy person to kind of do these sort of things. It’s more looking at your life and looking at the things you’re doing and looking what truly is an opportunity cost for you, like what drains you and zaps you of your energy? Because anything that we’re doing that drains us and zaps of our energy, I feel, is an opportunity cost.

One of the reasons that I was willing to work hard for a few years to really build my business, I knew I was in a season, is because I wanted to get to a point where if anything was draining, if anything was an opportunity cost, I had two choices. I could one choose to shift my energy and connect to the why. Or two, I could delegate or hire someone where it was there zone of genius, so I could really focus on my why, what lights me up, and eventually what is more profitable.

I think whether we’re an entrepreneur or we work for a company or any of those things, it’s looking at everything we do and go, “Does this bring me joy? Does this bring me fulfillment? Does this stress me out?”

It’s okay to feel neutral about things. It’s not like you’re going to jump for joy when you’re cleaning your toilet or something like that, but can you at least connect to the why of it and why you’re doing it and shift your energy around it. If you can’t, are you willing perhaps to hire someone else to help you out with it?

I think that’s an important part of living a more fulfilling, well-balanced life is not thinking we have to do everything on our own, because that’s another thing overachievers do. Overachievers are a little bit – we’re a little bit controlling. We take great pride in doing everything on our own. We even kind of take pride in doing something that’s hard or feels like there’s some self-sacrifice in it.

I just invite you if you kind of fall into that – not you personally, but just you, the listener – I invite you if you fall into that, like “I’ve got to do it on my own,” and “No one’s there to help me,” and “I have so much on my plate,” to really challenge that belief and ask yourself is this belief and this identity of doing it all on my own and having so much on my plate, is that really serving you?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so glad you went there next because I was going to ask, you mentioned these limiting beliefs. That’s a great question right there. Is this belief really serving me? When you catch yourself and you’re thinking, “Hm, I have a hunch that there’s a belief here that is not serving me, that is causing some trickiness, some trouble for me,” what’s the process by which you remove the power of that limiting belief upon you?

Christine E. Hassler
I’m going to actually reference someone else’s work because why reinvent the wheel when someone else has such a great system for it? Have you heard of Byron Katie?

Pete Mockaitis
That is ringing a bell.

Christine E. Hassler
Okay, Byron Katie has a website called The Work. I think it’s TheWork.com. Let me see. I’m here on the computer. Let’s just find this out right now. The great thing about our age is we get instant gratification. Yes, TheWork.com.

She has a worksheet where you can download it for free and it’s about busting your beliefs and forming new ones. She asks four questions. I can’t remember them off the top of my head, but you can find it easily on her site. The first question is something like – let me see if I can pull it up because this is really, really valuable.

Okay, this is from the work of Byron Katie. The first thing to ask the belief is, is it true? Pete, give me an example of a belief that you or maybe one of your listeners would like to shift.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I need to produce amazing results every day.

Christine E. Hassler
Okay, great. Is that true?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess answering from the perspective of my listeners like, “Well, yeah, I mean halfway. It’s like generally I should, but hey, everyone can have an off day and that’s fine. That’s normal. That’s okay.”

Christine E. Hassler
Okay. Do you 100% without a shadow of a doubt absolutely know it’s true?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Christine E. Hassler
Like you’d bet your life on it.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly not.

Christine E. Hassler
Great. How do you react, what happens when you believe that thought, when you believe it’s true?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I get stressed. It’s like I’m not doing enough and I’ve got to kick it into gear. It’s like the clock is ticking and I’m nervous about it.

Christine E. Hassler
Okay, who would you be without that thought or belief?

Pete Mockaitis
I’d be a lot more chill. I’d feel like I could breathe and could hang out a little bit.

Christine E. Hassler
Do you think – then now this is just me asking the questions – and do you think you would be more effective that way?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Christine E. Hassler
Yeah. Yeah. Can you see how we just turned that belief around?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah.

Christine E. Hassler
And found a more true belief that makes you feel better, like “When I’m relaxed, when I’m not so stressed out, when I don’t put so much pressure on myself, I’m actually-“ and I’m putting words in your mouth here – “I’m actually more in a flow state. I’m more peaceful and I can be even more effective.”

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Christine E. Hassler
Yeah, so simple. Four questions. People can take themselves through the process on their own.

When we connect, when we really – because a lot of times our beliefs are just programmed. We have these neural nets in our brain, these basically grooved paths in our brain the same way if you drove a car down the same path day after day after day, there’d be groves in the land the car would naturally go down. That’s how it is with belief systems and thoughts. They’re habitual.

How we change beliefs is we literally – like if you were driving that car down that path, you’d have to turn the steering wheel severely to start to go down a different path so it gets off those grooves that it naturally goes down. In breaking through belief systems, that’s what we have to do. We have to catch the belief, challenge it, and choose a different belief.

If we can attach the belief to feelings, like if we can become really aware of how that belief makes us feel, then we can connect to how important it is to shift it and how much better it would feel to have a different belief. It connects the thoughts and the feelings.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that because you’re getting both the logic and the emotional there because the first one is ‘is it true.’ I like it because there are some schools of thought that I guess don’t even care.

Christine E. Hassler
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
I think it’s important that it be true. You hit that as well as the emotional resonance so that it’s I guess forming deeply within yourself as a reality.

Christine E. Hassler
Right, right, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, I also want to make sure that we get to talk a bit about your book Expectation Hangover. What’s the main idea here?

Christine E. Hassler
Well, there’s several ideas. Basically it’s a book on how to leverage disappointment and heal things from your past.

First of all, define what an expectation hangover is because I made up the term. It’s when one of three things happen. Either life doesn’t go according to plan, which happens to us all. We work really hard toward something. We don’t achieve a result or a goal.

Or something does go according to plan. We achieve that goal. We achieve that result. We finally get the promotion that we’ve been working so hard for, but we don’t feel like we thought we would, like we thought that promotion was going to make us more competent or we thought it was going to make our boss nicer to us or we thought we were going to like our job better and it didn’t change the feeling.

Third kind of expectation hangover is life just throws us an unexpected curve ball like getting laid off or getting broken up with or something like that.

The thing about expectation hangovers is even though they’re hard to go through, they can create massive transformation in our life because most disappointment is recycled disappointment. What I mean by that is anything you’re disappointed about now or any kind of curveball that’s thrown at you that’s made you feel a certain way or a result didn’t turn out like you thought and you feel a certain way, it’s not the first time you felt that.

Let’s use the example of getting laid off. You get laid off. It’s not the first time you’ve felt rejected or unheard or like you were treated unfairly. The book teaches you how to look at these expectation hangovers, how to not just get over them, because a lot of times when people experience expectation hangovers, they just want to get over it. They just want to move on to the next thing. “All right, I got laid off from that job. I’m just going to get a new job.”

They cope with it poorly. They overeat, they over drink, they over work. They just try to positive talk their way out of it. They try to hard to control the situation. They try to just be strong and basically suppress all their feelings about it and just plow forward.

But when we use these kind of coping strategies that aren’t effective, we just keep experiencing the same kind of expectation hangovers over and over and over again. That’s why so many people face the same obstacles in their career or in their romantic life or with their health or with their money is because they’re kind of just repeating the same disappointment.

The book teaches you how to actually heal that disappointment to learn the lessons, to transform it so you don’t have to keep attracting the same expectation hangovers in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, could you walk us through an example of someone who experienced this kind of disappointment and then how they tackled it and how they ended up on the other side?

Christine E. Hassler
Me.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Christine E. Hassler
I’m most expert on myself. I worked my way up in Hollywood, like I said. I reached kind of the pinnacle at a very young age. I thought that the money and the title and all those things was going to finally make me like myself and like my job. I still was stressed out, full of anxiety, struggling with depression, and just wasn’t happy, didn’t like it.

I thought if I changed my external circumstances, I could change my internal circumstances, but it works the other way. I subsequently learned you have to change the inside. The outside doesn’t change the inside.

I ended up quitting my job and in a period of six months I also got dumped by my fiancé, I was estranged from my family, I went into tons of debt, and I dealt with other house challenges as well. I could have gone into a real victim story about that. That was a pretty severe expectation hangover.

I had the insight that perhaps since I was the common denominator in all these things that were quote/unquote bad, maybe I could be the common denominator in changing them. I stopped asking the question “Why is this happening to me?” and started asking instead, “Why is this happening for me and what am I learning?”

I was able to start to learn more about myself and learn that so much of my job had been created – so much of my career was created from a bad compensatory strategy of overachieving, of thinking a job is what gave me meaning, a job is what gave me value, a job is what gave me worth. That really illuminated my unhealthy relationship with myself. I was looking at how hard I was on myself, my inner critic was ferocious.

Having that massive expectation hangover and kind of losing everything that I identified with, was the inspiration for me finally kind of taking a look at me and going “Who am I? What do I truly, truly want and how do I get it in a way that doesn’t burn me out and deplete me?”

Using the tools that I share in the book, I was able to go back to those situations like in fourth grade and update that belief system and tell that little fourth-grade girl that it wasn’t her fault and nothing’s wrong with her, and she belongs, and she doesn’t have to prove herself. I started to create a new identity and a new story about myself. Our life changes the moment we start to see ourselves and our life differently.

I had so many clients and people that have come through to workshops and two people could be going through the exact same thing – like two people could have just gotten laid off and they have the exact same situation, but how they look at it, how they perceive it, what they make it mean really dictates how well they’ll navigate through it.

The person who is angry and sees themselves as a victim and sees themselves as being wronged or sees themselves as massively messing up and being a failure, is going to have a much harder time than the person who goes, “All right, I honor the fact that I’m a little sad right now. I feel a little rejected, but I’m going to look at what can I learn. What can I learn from this? I’m going to trust that even though I’m in uncertainty now, something even better is around the corner.”

Pete Mockaitis
I really like that question shift from ‘why is this happening to me’ to ‘why is this happening for me.’ I’m curious, once you ask yourself that question, what kind of answers bubble up?

Christine E. Hassler
That’s a beautiful time to get a coach or a book or a guide or a course, someone that can help you through that because a lot of times no answers may come up because you may be so in the disappointment and so in the ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ Because uncertainty is one of the scariest things for humans to experience. We don’t like uncertainty at all.

But if you’re really willing to lean into faith a little bit and lean into the fact that the universe really does have your back and ask that question from a place of curiosity and not from a place of urgency.

Because if you ask that question from a place of urgency, it’s going to be hard to get super clear answers because the part of your brain that’s going to attempt to answer it is the reptilian part of your brain, they amygdala part of your brain, the part of your brain that is attached to fight or flight and to fixing things, and to finding solutions right away.

But if you reassure yourself that you’re okay and you can ponder the question and you can be reflective, then you get in a state of curiosity. That opens up a different part of your brain, which is connected to your intuition, your emotions and your unconscious. Your unconscious is basically all the memories that you have filed away that aren’t in your conscious awareness.

Asking that question is important, but how we ask that question or come from that tone of curiosity is really what is going to guide you to the best answers.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that a lot because urgency, it totally feels different in your brain. “I want it now. Give it to me now.”

Christine E. Hassler
Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said, well said. Good contrast there and it even almost kind of rhymes. Curiosity not urgency.

Christine E. Hassler
I like that.

Pete Mockaitis
I appreciate that. Well, so could you maybe give us an example in your life, so you said you were estranged from your family for a bit, what did you come up with your guides and coaches, etcetera, with regard to why was that happening for you?

Christine E. Hassler
Well, kind of what I was sharing before. It was to help me finally look at and deal with a lot of the pain from my childhood that I hadn’t quite dealt with and a lot of the belief systems that I created from what I went through because there wasn’t just that. There was some abuse. There was being diagnosed with depression at 11 and being put on medication. There was some other physical problems that happened.

There was a lot, like most of us. We all have things in our childhood that aren’t necessarily easy. Some people have it way, way, way harder than I did. Most of us don’t have the kind of parents and teachers and guides, even if they love us and even if they’re great, around us to really teach us how to deal with the pain so that it doesn’t get stuck in us and so that we don’t create limiting beliefs that perpetuate the pain.

The biggest thing for me was to go back and start to look at some of those things, look at those painful points, give myself permission to finally feel those feelings that I kept suppressed for so long.

That’s another thing I teach in Expectation Hangover is actually how to feel and release your feelings, not from the place that you have to sit, relive them or talk about your childhood for like five years, but just give yourself – feelings basically get lodged in our body and in our nervous system because we didn’t feel safe to express them as children.

Really releasing feelings is as easy as giving yourself permission to feel with no judgment, giving yourself permission to have a good cry or to write a mean letter or to hit a pillow and scream and not feel like you have to justify it, explain it or psychoanalyze yourself, but just really give yourself that compassion.

That was a big piece for me, like finally feeling my feelings, starting to create a new story and a new belief system, looking at my relationship with myself and starting to be way kinder to myself, being more vulnerable. I was really good at being fine, feelings inside not expressed, and I was really good at presenting to the world and to others that I was fine, but inside I wasn’t fine.

I started to be more honest and more vulnerable with what I was really feeling and what I was really going through. I started to let people into my life in a more vulnerable, honest way.

It was not an overnight thing. It’s a process to go back and look at the pain from our past and rewire out belief systems. But it doesn’t have to be incredibly grueling. It doesn’t have to take years. It really just takes a willingness, a willingness to look and a willingness to break some patterns, and a willingness to change the way we perceive some things.

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

Christine E. Hassler
Let’s see here. I would say I think it’s important to mention to everybody listening that almost every human being – I’d love to say every, but I just don’t think I can say every single human being, I don’t think I’m qualified to say that – but almost every human being, and I have worked with thousands, tens of thousands of people at this point, has a deep fear that on some level they’re not enough or on some level they don’t fit in or on some level they’re not loveable or not deserving in some way. It’s kind of a human epidemic.

But I found it’s one of the things that we as humans are all here to evolve out of. We’re all here to understand that that belief that we’re not enough and we need to prove our self or we’re not deserving, we’re not lovable or something’s wrong with us or everybody fits in, but we don’t, is just a bunch of BS.

I want you to know if you feel that belief or have that fear in any way, know you’re not alone and also know it’s 100% not true. It is your birthright to be enough, to be loveable, to belong. There’s nothing you have to do to earn that.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Christine E. Hassler
My favorite quote is from Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. How about a favorite study or experiment or piece of research?

Christine E. Hassler
I love The Marshmallow Test. You know that test with the kids?

Pete Mockaitis
Walter Mischel, yeah.

Christine E. Hassler
Yes, yes, where, just in case your listeners don’t know, they put kids – I don’t know, how old would you say they are, Pete? Like four – five, something like that?

Pete Mockaitis
I think they’re in that zone, three, four, five, six-ish.

Christine E. Hassler
Yeah. It’s all about delaying gratification. They tell the kid, “All right.” They put a marshmallow in front of the kid. It’s a big, juicy marshmallow. They tell the kid, “All right, if you wait, if you don’t eat this marshmallow until I come back then you’ll get even a better treat,” or something like that.

The research basically showed is that those that had self-control and were able to delay gratification, that instant gratification, were more successful as adults.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Christine E. Hassler
I always go back to the first book that really opened my eyes to things that I read in my 20s, The Power of Now.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. How about a favorite tool, something that you use that helps you be awesome at your job?

Christine E. Hassler
My eyelash curler. No, that’s not PC. I would say one of my favorite tools is the one I shared of the busting the beliefs.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you. Is there a particular habit that is helpful for you being awesome at your job?

Christine E. Hassler
Yes, daily rituals and practices. During the work week, I give myself more flexibility on the weekend, but work week, TVs and phones and everything off by nine PM. We have an hour in bed to read and relax. We turn on salt lamps so that the blue lights is coming off.

We’re falling asleep between ten and ten-thirty and waking up between six and six-thirty, so we’re getting a nice eight hours of sleep. I don’t believe you can catch up on sleep. I think consistent sleep is incredibly important.

Then taking that time in the morning before one turns on your phone, even if it’s just a few minutes, to hydrate, number one, have a glass of water; breathe, which can be meditation or just breath work; and move, any kind of movement to get the body just going. Whether you spend an hour doing that or five minutes doing that, I think that’s a really, really important ritual.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely agreed. I am a big believer in that as Hal Elrod was on our show and as is he. I want to dig into a salt lamp. What’s this mean?

Christine E. Hassler
A salt lamp. Do you know those salt lamps? They’re basically – you can get them on Amazon. They look like kind of like a salmon-colored rock.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, okay.

Christine E. Hassler
And they glow. They create – have you noticed that like those kind of computer glasses are that orange tint, that kind of red-orange tint, a salt lamp lights a room with that same tint.

Those of you that work at a desk or work at a cubicle, I would highly suggest getting a little salt lamp. With other lights on, they wouldn’t be super noticeable, but it’s a great thing to put in your home space or your office space.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Thank you. Is there a particular nugget you share with clients or listeners that really seems to connect and resonate and they retweet it and they quote it back to you?

Christine E. Hassler
Well, I don’t know if it’s something about retweeting, but one thing that really resonates with people that I think is so powerful is really understanding – well, there’s two things I’d love to share if that’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Christine E. Hassler
The first is that forgiveness is not about condoning what happened; forgiveness is about removing the charge you’re holding so that you can be free.

A lot of people don’t forgive. They hold on to blame, anger, resentment, especially if something really awful happened. They don’t want to forgive because they think that means that the behavior was okay. That’s not what forgiveness means. Forgiveness means releasing the judgments you have, releasing the anger, releasing the blame, understanding that it happened to help you learn and grow. You don’t have to talk to the other person and say, “I forgive you,” to forgive someone. It’s an inside job.

If anyone out there listening is holding onto blame, resentment, all those kinds of things, I’d highly suggest you move into a process of forgiveness so that you don’t have to carry that around. We hold on to traumatic or hard or difficult events. Even though they’re in the past, we carry them around like extra weight, extra baggage by not forgiving. Forgiving really lightens us up.

I’d say that. Then the other thing that I’d say that is tweetable is that people-pleasing is selfish. People think that being a people pleaser is like this selfless thing and it makes you a quote/unquote good person, but really people pleasing is all because you want other people to like you. You don’t want to deal with conflict. You don’t want to have to say no because other people may be upset. It really is about protecting yourself.

I would make a more self-honoring choice and instead of being a people pleaser, speak your truth with love.

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

Christine E. Hassler
Well, I have a free gift I’d love to give your listeners if that’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Christine E. Hassler
If they just text the digits 444999 to – or no, they text my name, Christine, to the number 444999, so C-H-R-I-S-T-I-N-E to the number 444999, they get an e-book from me that’s just a daily thing you can read to uplift your mind and heart, kind of a good way to feel inspired and shift your perception on things. I tell lots of stories, I give lots of tools in that e-book.

Then they also get my six practical steps to making intuitive decision making, which sounds counterintuitive because why do you need practical steps to make an intuitive decision, but I found so many people are like, “How do I connect to my intuition?” so it’s a very practical, experiential way to learn how to really connect to your intuition. And that gift you get – I guide you through a process of how to actually do it. It’s very, very tangible.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Boy, texting to 444999, it sounds like Textiful.com. Is that your provider there?

Christine E. Hassler
Maybe. I didn’t set this up.

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve got your bookkeeper doing your books. You’ve got your tech people doing the texting. That’s awesome.

Christine E. Hassler
Well, this wasn’t always the way. I used to believe that I would save if I did everything on my own. Then I realized wait a second, actually it’s smarter to gradually build a team of people around so that you can stay in your zone of genius.

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

Christine E. Hassler
Yeah, I would say see if you can become more of a miracle worker at your job because a lot of times we can have a colleague or a boss or a situation that’s upsetting us or that we don’t like or we get the Sunday night blues of like, “Uh, got to go back to work.”

To be a miracle maker, the definition of a miracle from more the kind of a spiritual perspective is a change in perception. Just challenge yourself to see if you could look at something that’s bothering you about your job or work or somebody there, see if you can look at it through a different lens, see if you can change your perception of it such that you feel differently about something because the minute we change our perception, the second we change our perception and the way we look at something, we feel differently.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Christine, this has been a ton of fun. I wish you all the best of luck with your retreats and keynotes and coaching and podcast, Over it & On with it.

Christine E. Hassler
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
And all that you’re up to. It’s been a lot of fun.

Christine E. Hassler
Oh, thank you so much for having me.

401: Finding, Creating, and Maintaining a Great Work Culture with Brian Fielkow

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CEO Brian Fielkow walks through creating and maintaining a good work culture then reveals how prospective employees can find out if they fit a new workplace’s culture.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why customers pay for culture
  2. Brian’s definition of a healthy work culture
  3. How to discover if you are a cultural fit at the interview stage

About Brian

Brian Fielkow, J.D., is the CEO of Jetco Delivery, a multimillion-dollar Houston-based trucking and logistics company with 200+ employees that was named a “Top Workplace” by the Houston Chronicle, highlighted on the 2015 Inc. 5000 list, and given the Gold Safety Award by the DOW Chemical Company. Brian is also the author of “Driving to Perfection: Achieving Business Excellence by Creating a Vibrant Culture.”

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Brian Fielkow Interview Transcript

Brian Fielkow
She’s well known in Hawaii and she’s starting to make a good name on the mainland. But the song, Island Inside Me, I wrote for my wife for our anniversary.

I just have these lyrics going around in my head, but I’m not a songwriter, I can’t sing, I’m not a musician. I connected with Anuhea. We put this song together sort of as an anniversary gift. It took off. It was a pretty cool experience. I don’t think I’ll have that experience again, but to have that song. Every once in a while I’ll hear it on Sirius-type stations. It’s kind of neat.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well, could you sing perhaps the refrain or the chorus or a segment for us?

Brian Fielkow
Oh, you don’t want me to sing anything, but I know she’s got it posted. I know it’s available. It’s again, Island Inside Me, but if I sang it, I think we’d lose all of our listeners right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, fair enough. We’ll play it safe this time.

Brian Fielkow
Play it safe, yup.

Pete Mockaitis
You have a deep expertise when it comes to culture matters. You have some real hands-on experience instead of only doing research and writing books. Maybe could you orient us a little bit to where you’ve come from and why culture has become an issue that really matters to you so much?

Brian Fielkow
Yeah, I have kind of an interesting career. It’s not one that you could have ever planned coming out of school. I began my career practicing corporate law in Milwaukee. Maybe six or seven years in, I went to go work for my favorite client. They were in the recycling business. It was a wonderful opportunity.

We built that business while I was there for a good six – seven years. We sold it to Waste Management. I worked at Waste for a couple years. Then I bought my current company about 13 – 14 years ago, Trucking and Logistics. I’ve seen large Fortune 500 companies, I’ve seen entrepreneurial companies, everything in between.

It was interesting when I got into recycling coming out of the law business, I noticed that what we were selling were bales of cardboard. A bale of cardboard is a bale of cardboard, but we were commanding a premium. It took me a while to figure out why would anybody pay us more for what’s in the truest sense of the word a commodity.

It didn’t take me long to realize that other people would promise an order of a thousand tons and they’d ship 700. There was so much gamesmanship in the business, but we did what we said. People were paying us a premium for peace of mind. They weren’t really buying our cardboard; they were buying our peace of mind. That was a lesson I got very early on post law.

It kind of woke me up to the fact that every one of our businesses with rare exception to some degree is commoditized. I got really interested in de-commoditizing what we do, not having it to compete as much on price. Yes, the price is important, but if we can get to a situation where a customer appreciates our value proposition more than just the core product or service you’re offering, you can command a higher price.

Over the years I learned that what people are really paying for is your culture, kind of how you do things, what makes you different, that secret ingredient that nobody else can steal.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Your culture is what they’re paying for. It’s how you do things differently, your secret sauce. Is that how you define culture in those ways or do you have a particular definition that you run with?

Brian Fielkow
Yeah, let me give you how I define it. There are books and books on culture and the theory behind it. I’m not a fan of the theory because we’re practitioners and we need to know now. I’m going to keep it real simple and say that in simplest terms, you’ve got the beginning of a healthy culture when you’ve got the right people and the right processes working in harmony.

In a healthy culture, you’ve got the convergence of people and process, that’s what yields consistent and hopefully excellent results for the customer. You could have the right people and no process and every day is a new day. You could have the right process and the wrong people and forget about that. I’ve learned over the years that it’s getting the right people, the right process working in harmony.

It’s also rooting your company in a well-defined set of values. We have so many arrows coming at us in the business world, so many different priorities that sometimes we forget that there’s this adhesive that binds us together.

I can’t tell any business what their values should be, but once you’ve established your values, you’ve got to live by them. You don’t compromise your values. That’s something that your team needs to understand, your customers understand. It’s the adhesive that binds your company together through good times and bad, where priorities, on the other hand, they change by the day. We have customer issues. We’ve got service issues.

But those priorities never, ever compromise our core values, who we are and what’s important to us and what’s important to our team. Once you’ve done that, you’ve got to walk the walk. You’ve got to live and breathe your values. Whether you’re in the C-suite, whether it’s your first day on the job, you’ve got to agree that these are the rules that we’re going to play by.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting you said you cannot tell another company what their values should be. I guess I’m imagining there are some that would generally be a recipe for good things and some that would be a recipe for bad things and a whole lot that it’s sort of – it’s a matter of finding the right fit in terms of the people and the processes and the industry and kind of what is your focus as a business.

Could you give us an example of some values that are unique because I think a lot of organizations will say, hey, integrity of course is a big value. I think sometimes they live it and walk the talk and sometimes they don’t, but it doesn’t really seem so distinctive when you hear that integrity is a value.

But it seems like in your practice, integrity is defined as doing what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it really was a differentiator there. Could you give us some examples of different values and how they come to life?

Brian Fielkow
Sure. Let’s talk about integrity for a minute because you’re right. That can sound over used. What company in the world doesn’t say integrity is a core value?

But now look around and if you watch football as much as I do, you’ve seen the Wells Fargo ads, established in 1860-something, reestablished in 2018. Why? Because they had integrity issues that really hurt their reputation, opening up fictitious accounts. It was a pretty big deal. Wells Fargo had to do work to repair its brand because of integrity.

It’s something you take for granted, but then you realize that if you let it slip and don’t focus on it, it could slip intentionally or unintentionally. Something even as simple and common place as integrity, if you as the leader aren’t living it and are kind of looking the other way, one lie will breed a thousand lies.

If I’ve got a problem with a customer, I’m not going to make something up. I’m going to tell the customer what happened and how we’re going to fix it. Even though the customer may be upset, hopefully over time, the customer will respect me more because people can smell a lie a mile away.

If my team sees me behaving in that manner, they’re going to follow my lead. On the other hand, if my team sees me acting with integrity, they’re going to follow my lead. Especially as we’re starting to work with younger and younger employees, people just don’t want to work in a company where the values are adrift. Integrity.

Another great example is respect. Again, people use respect too loosely, in my opinion. When I say respect, what I’m talking about is treating people like human beings first and employees second. That’s the ultimate respect. The ultimate form of disrespect is anonymity, “Hey, you’re number 100. Go do your job. Punch in, punch out,” not knowing a thing about that employee personally.

As my company is growing, I can’t know a thing about all my employees but my managers better. There needs to be something in the culture that makes sure that my managers know their employees like I know my direct reports so that everyone is accounted for and that the ultimate form of respect, like I said, is making sure that people’s overall human needs are met and that nobody, no matter if it’s their first day on the job, feels like all they’re doing is punching a clock and if they didn’t show up, it wouldn’t matter. That’s just a horrible situation to be in.

Respect is a value. Those are some of the things that we do that promote respect regardless of what it is you do because you’re an important member of the team regardless.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, okay. I would love to dig in a little bit in terms of thinking about values when it comes to finding fit with regard to career planning. How do you think about that game—I’d say both in terms of zeroing in on what values matter to you and then assessing whether a company really has it? Because I think a number of cultural pieces in terms of how things are done in a given organization really can vary and vary fine and suit different people differently.

For example, I think that some folks would say, “Oh yeah, we’re all about collaboration and so we’ve got an open office floor plan and we’ve got bays with ten employees in each of them, so they’re always kind of seeing and interacting with folks. We’re always on Slack and doing that.” Then some folks would say, “That would drive me insane. I need my quiet time to really focus and go deep in creating stuff.”

That would be sort of a natural mismatch when it comes to sort of how you prefer to do your thing and how the organization is doing their thing. How do you think about navigating this whole fit and research game?

Brian Fielkow
Such a great question because whenever I see forced fun, I run away. I go in the opposite direction. For me, having a slide in the middle of the office and having all those amenities, that’s all well and good, but that’s not culture. People mistake that kind of stuff for culture. Culture is not campfire fun and games stuff. This is a hardcore business proposition.

If kind of the slide in the office fits your culture and it’s in the context of an overall healthy culture, it’s fine. But if you’re using those bells and whistles to get employees in and then once they come in, they realize you’re in a toxic environment, that doesn’t work.

To me, there’s some subjectivity to it. There’s definitely a component of individual taste. Maybe I prefer a company that’s more formal. Or maybe I prefer a company that’s more casual. Maybe having a social life with my coworkers is important. Maybe I don’t want it at all. Maybe the company is extremely hierarchical, has a well-defined org chart. Maybe the company is more loosely defined.

All that’s okay and none of that is indicative of whether the company has a healthy culture or a poor culture. It’s how the company chooses to operate. It’s its own personality. That’s where you’ve got to find the fit. Again, there’s no right or wrong answer there.

But when you want to talk about how do I find the right culture, regardless of whether it’s hierarchical or loose, whether we’re wearing suits or whether we’re wearing shorts, that’s the key is to dig beyond the surface, dig beyond the slide. It’s not one-size fits all.

I think the best advice I could give somebody is when you’re doing an interview, you definitely – you’re going to speak with the hiring manager. You might speak with human resources. But the real people you want to talk to are prospective peers, prospective coworkers.

We do that with pretty much all of our job interviews. Again, it doesn’t matter the level that we’re hiring for. We want to be sure that peers can talk unscripted and what it’s really like to work here. We want to make full disclosure. We want to make full disclosure about our company. We’re proud of it, but we know that just like any other company, we’re not a fit for everybody.  We’d rather know that before we make a hiring decision or before you would agree to join our company.

There’s nothing like a peer-to-peer interview where you can ask questions. “What’s it really like to work here?” The company’s recruiting brochure says X, Y, Z, but six months later is that really what’s happening? Do they have a good-looking recruiting brochure or are they really delivering the goods?

The absolutely best advice I can give is do your homework on the company. Understand what the company is all about. Understand its culture. But peer-to-peer man, that’s really where you’re going to learn what it’s like to work there.

By the way, if that peer-to-peer interview goes well, now you’re new coworkers, they know you before you start. They’ve got a vested interest in integration. They’ve got a vested interest in bringing you in and helping you succeed.

If they say to the hiring manager, “Wow, thumbs up. Let’s bring this person in,” that opens the door and creates a pathway for success in a way that just a traditional interview and “By the way everybody, here’s your new coworker who you’ve never met,” that doesn’t work quite as well.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious if that organization – if you’re interviewing an organization and they don’t have the wisdom to … process, do you have any pro tips in terms of how you’d go about proactively having those conversations and some of the key things you’d want to say when you’re in the midst of them to learn what you really need to learn?

Let’s say that I’m interviewing at an organization. They did not give me the benefit of engaging in these conversations peer-to-peer, so it’s a little bit more on me to be proactive in terms of finding these people, having these conversations. How shall I find them and engage them and what should we say when we’re talking?

Brian Fielkow
Well, a lot of companies may not offer the ability to interview a peer. First thing is you just ask. Say, “Hey, could I interview somebody in the department that I’m – can I meet with somebody in the department that I’m interviewing to work in?” A lot of times the companies may say yes, but if they say “No, that’s not our practice. We don’t do that,” okay, let’s respect that.

But I would still ask the hiring manager questions like “What are your company’s values? Give me a feeling for when those values were challenged. How did the company respond?” Just like they’re going to ask you those questions. They’re going to ask you, “Tell me a particularly difficult problem or difficult situation. How did you address it?” You better be prepared to answer that. Well, I think it’s a fair question for employers too is, “Tell me your story.”

If you look at an interview as a two-way street, not just the hiring manager interviewing you, look at it as a conversation. You’ll be able to develop the feel just almost organically in a conversation. If it’s that tight and that rigid and you don’t have that opportunity, the company is telling you something about its personality.

I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m just saying that’s probably not a place I’d want to work. That’s not kind of how we bring employees in. I want an open door, full disclosure. But if companies don’t do that, with social media you can still network and find people who work there and talk to them informally or former employees, talk to them. But you can also have that same conversation with your hiring manager.

I love it when people come in, they’ve done their homework on the company and they challenge me with questions. That tells me that I’m dealing with somebody exceptional, who understands that the interview is a conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that point on social media. LinkedIn is so cool with all the filters that you can dig in and search for folks that way.

Brian Fielkow
People used to call LinkedIn the boring version of Facebook or Instagram, but LinkedIn is the encyclopedia for how to network. I use it all the time. It’s such a valuable tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And I really love that question you asked in terms of “Tell me about a time a value was challenged,” because I think a lot of times you’re probably going to get total blank stare response, like “Uh, these are just the words we repeat. I can’t think of any real experiences to share with you right now.” That tells you something right there.

But now you’ve got me curious, Brian can you tell me about a time in your company that you had a core value that got challenged and how did you live it out?

Brian Fielkow
Sure. In 2015 – ’16, we’re in trucking and logistics in Houston. That was a rough time. The energy markets collapsed and business was really challenged. We had to make some very difficult decisions.

In doing so, it wasn’t like memos from the C-suite; we brought our employees into the process. When we had to make the company smaller and downsize, we met with our employees. We treated them with respect. We made sure that everybody knew what we were doing, why we were doing.

What it did is it created sort of a foxhole mentality that we’re not working around our employees. We’ve not sugar coating like, “Oh, everything’s okay. Don’t worry about it.” We brought them in and we fought the war together because we were so transparent and open with them. You’ve got to be prepared to share good news and bad news.

In doing that, for example, safety in our company is a core value. We don’t compromise it. Well, no matter how rough business got, no maintenance got deferred. Every single vehicle was maintained regardless of the company’s financial performance.

I’ve seen other organizations where “Oh, business is bad. Let’s figure out where to cut. Well, we can cut maintenance.” No, if safety is a core value, you don’t cut, you don’t defer maintenance. You keep running your business.

I can use that time when this company was really challenged and really stressed by a rough economy. People in other businesses were losing their jobs left and right in Houston during that time and we just took a very contrarian approach that we’re taking our employees with us. Even though we couldn’t take everybody with us, and we did have to let people go. It was done, like I said, with dignity, with respect and then with complete transparency to the rest of the team.

That’s created kind of I think an unparalleled level of camaraderie as the company has rebounded, recovered, and grown so well in the past couple years.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, could you share some other perspectives when it comes to zeroing in on determining if a culture is a fit for you?

Do you have some extra perspectives and tips when it comes to determining if an opportunity has a good cultural fit for you?

Brian Fielkow
Yeah, I think that you’ve got to be careful not to conform yourself to become somebody that you’re not. Don’t mold yourself to a culture that doesn’t fit. You’ve got to understand what fits.

In our situation, in a healthy culture, you’ve got to have employees who are technically excellent and who are in line with the company’s values. You get yourself in a lot of trouble when you look the other way.

I’ve got a technically excellent employee that’s walking all over everybody else, just a horrible team player. Well, I have to either coach that employee back in to working within our values or they can’t be part of the team no matter how technically good they are.

A lot of times we look the other way when it comes to technically good people even if they’re destroying the morale of the company. As an employer, you’ve got to stand up to that and be sure that you’ve got people who are value aligned and who know what they’re doing.

Well, similarly, for the employees, you can’t really fake it. I’m assuming you got the job because technically you met the criteria, but in a healthy culture, I hope that you’re yourself, that you don’t force anything. In a healthy culture you’ll be challenged.

Hopefully that culture will make you a better employee and a better person and hopefully you’ll do the same. You’ll make the company a better company and you’ll improve your coworkers. But if it doesn’t fit, you’ve got to know it.

I’ve seen too many times where people jump at the money. They jump at the money. “Oh, somebody wants me, I’m going to accept the job,” without asking these questions of “Am I going to be happy?” You may make money and you’ll be miserable. Life is too short.

That’s why interviewing for culture and being aware of culture is just so critically important because we’ve all had maybe in our careers, the Sunday night blues, kind of that horrible feeling that Monday is coming and I’ve got to a place that I really don’t want to go. I’ve had that in my career.

Because I’ve had that in my career and I understand it so well, part of my job is to make sure that we don’t have the Sunday night blues, that people are excited to come to work because they’re treated right, because it’s a place that they know they fit in. But if you don’t fit in the place and it’s not right for you, you’ve got to know when to get off the bus too.

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

Brian Fielkow
I like to always say that at the foundation of the culture is what I call the three T’s: treatment, transparency, and trust. If you’ve got that and if you work at a company – look I’m in the trucking business. I’ve got a lot of people who told me, “Well, geez, I never thought in my life I would get into the trucking business. How did you as a corporate lawyer decide to do it?”

First of all, I love the industry, but it’s an industry that a lot of people might not necessarily just automatically gravitate to. But it almost doesn’t matter what you do as long as you love the job, you love the people. I think treatment, transparency and trust, whether you’re in a medical office, trucking business, law office, doesn’t matter.

Treatment, like I said before, you’re a human being first, an employee second. The ultimate form of poor treatment is anonymity.

Transparency, is just making sure your team is engaged. The best way to engage your team is to explain the why. If you give me a memo and you say, “Brian, just do it,” my personality is going to be to rebel. I’m not going to do it because you told me to do it. But if you say, “Brian, look here’s why we’re doing it. Here’s the why. It’s not a democracy. I’m not asking for your vote. But here’s the why,” I’ll be a lot more inclined to participate. I’ll be a lot more inclined to support. Just make sure you take time to explain the why.

As an employee, if you don’t know why, ask why. If somebody says, “Well, never mind. It’s none of your business, never mind,” that’s a little tip, isn’t it? But the key to an engaged workforce is for everybody to know their mission, know the company’s mission, know their role. Why?

Then finally trust. If there’s no trust, let’s forget about all this. In a company where trust is lacking, where people say one thing and do another, you’re operating on quicksand. You’re never going to have employee satisfaction where there’s a lack of trust among coworkers, lack of trust where leadership doesn’t trust the employees, employees don’t trust leadership.

Treatment, transparency, and trust are the three critical elements that I would look for in any business. I don’t care what the business does, as a sign of a healthy culture.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something that you find inspiring?

Brian Fielkow
The problem with my favorite quote is it’s too long, but I’m going to just read a little bit of it. It’s Teddy Roosevelt’s quote that we’re all here in the game and there’s people on the sidelines. They’re always going to be throwing stones at you.

It says, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust, sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I love that quote. I just love it because you’ve got people throwing stones at you your whole life. Just forget about those people and go out there and be your best.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome, thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Brian Fielkow
I’d like to if possible move to a couple books that I’d like to kind of recommend.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Brian Fielkow
My favorite book, if you took all my books away, would be The Advantage by Pat Lencioni. I think that’s the one book that everybody needs to read in college, coming out of college. I go back to that book all the time. It really lays out the basis for healthy organization and your role in the healthy organization. Really, I like anything that Lencioni writes, but The Advantage is my favorite.

Another book that just came out last year that I’m really into is called The Motivation Myth. Because I’m not terribly into – as you probably can guess by now – I’m not into a lot of the motivational, feel-good speakers and those kinds of books.

What The Motivation Myth does is it takes the concept and turns it on its head and says it’s not like you have to have the motivation then you do the job, then you’re successful. The motivation comes from the journey itself.

The book argues that it’s those small steps. It’s the victories. It’s getting knocked down, getting back up. The motivation comes from those incremental successes. The more you have, the harder you work, the more motivation you have. Motivation isn’t like a prerequisite. Instead, motivation is one of the things that comes from doing something you love.

The book also argues that quit trying to be like some of the celebrity CEOs. They did what worked for them. You’ve got to figure out what works for you. Spend less time emulating and spend more time figuring out what your own formula is. I just love that as opposed to just, “Hey, do what I say. Follow my advice and you’ll be successful.” I just don’t buy that. I buy, you figure out your own formula and that’s the key to success.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Brian Fielkow
Trying to maintain a semblance of work/life balance. I’m not by any stretch nine to five, but I listen to my body rhythm. I listen to how I work. I’m up at crazy hours of the morning because that’s when I work the best, but unless something is really important, you’re not going to find me here – later in the day, you’re not going to find me here necessarily on a Friday afternoon.

What I’ve learned over the years is that we’ve all kind of grew up in this eight to five world or seven to five or whatever it is, but hopefully as technology evolves and as employers become more and more progressive – this isn’t true for every job obviously. If you’re a doctor or a nurse, you’ve got to be with your patients. But for a lot of jobs, the more you can listen to your body clock and know when you’re productive and kind of know when you’ve got that momentum, the more effective you’ll be.

I could do something in a half hour that would take me five hours if I picked the wrong time and the rhythm isn’t there. Listening to your body, kind of knowing how you work. Some people, as you know, are night owls. Some people, again, like me, are up before the sun. But being able to know that and capture it, I think, is the secret to optimum production and success.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your employees and folks who are reading your stuff?

Brian Fielkow
When I’m talking to audiences, I do a lot of keynoting, there’s a couple things. First of all, take your frontlines with you. I use that all the time and it resonates. I don’t like doing keynotes and just kind of closing and leaving. I like to do keynotes and then saying, “All right, what are the takeaways? We’re not here to talk about theory. What are the things that you’ll implement the minute you get back to the office?”

A lot of my keynotes, a lot of my presentation revolves around frontline engagement because I think that as a country, we’ve broken our contract with our frontlines. The more we engage our frontlines, the better. Take your frontlines with you. Bring them in.

In my company our drivers are – we have an elected driver committee that’s part of how we run the company. We’ve got our drivers in management and operational decisions. Take your frontlines with you is very – people use that a lot.

The three T’s. If imitation is the ultimate form of flattery, I’ve heard other speakers use the three T’s, but I think I may have invented that one.

Then there’s 20/60/20, which people quote a lot. This is a story when I was at Waste Management. I got to Waste Management at a time when there was a CEO, a brilliant CEO, Maury Myers, was brought in to turn the company around.

He brought his management team into the room. It was a large room. He had a large team. And was kind of rumored to say this, something like this, “20% of you know where we’re going and you’re with me. You know that we’ve got to make changes. I appreciate that. 60% of you, you’re scared. The ship is changing drastically its course. I’m going to work 24/7 to win you over.

The remaining 20% of you have made up your mind. You don’t like me and you don’t like the direction that we’re going. Here’s the commitment I’m going to make to you. This will be the smoothest transition you’ve ever had out of a company, but make no mistake, you’re out.”

20/60/20 means don’t find yourself in that bottom 20. Figure out how to continue to rise in your company. You’ve either got to align with the company’s direction and values or leave. From an employer’s standpoint, you’re not there to bat a thousand, simply not. Part of your job is to weed out the people who are kind of a drain on your culture, a drain on your performance.

I’ll tell you people in my company will use 20/60/20 a lot. We all know what they mean. The three T’s, 20/60/20, take your frontlines with you really are essential things that I talk about not just when I keynote, but when I run my own company.

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

Brian Fielkow
I would point them at my website, which is BrianFielkow, so B-R-I-A-N-F-I-E-L-K-O-W. com. They can also email me, just Brian—B-R-I-A-N @BrianFielkow.com. I’m easy to get in touch with and glad to kind of continue this conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, Brian, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you all the best in making your culture all the more vibrant and excellent and business growth and all that you’re up to.

Brian Fielkow
Thank you so much for the time. I really enjoyed this conversation.

400: Making Better Decisions through Multiple Mental Models with Shane Parrish

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Shane Parrish offers expert perspectives and tips for boosting your decision-making.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we often fail to improve at decision-making
  2. Three useful mental models to serve you well
  3. The role of emotions in decision-making

About Shane

Shane Parrish invests in wonderful companies as a Partner at Syrus Partners. He’s also the mastermind behind the Farnam Street blog and The Knowledge Project podcast. Farnam Street blog is devoted to helping people develop an understanding of how the world really works, make better decisions, and live a better life. It focuses on sharing the principles that help others become better versions of themselves and live consciously.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Shane Parrish Interview Transcript

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

Shane Parrish
Thanks Pete. Glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, I think there’s so much cool stuff that we can dig into together. I want to maybe just start, maybe this is a quick and easy question because the answer might be no comment, but are you at liberty to reveal anything cool you were working on for Canada’s Communications Security Establishment with the cyber defense initiative thingies?

Shane Parrish
Wouldn’t it be so awesome if I was allowed to say what I actually did or the impact that we had, but no, unfortunately, I can’t. I’m not at liberty to say that because I don’t want to end up in jail.

Pete Mockaitis
Fair enough.

Shane Parrish
I think is just the reality of the situation. Or we could pretend, like I could do a nice segue and then I’d just stop talking and you’d be like, “Oh, we had to cut that out for the safety of the listener. We didn’t want to put you in jeopardy.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. I’m just going to assume for your street cred and for my own fun imagination that it was like game-changing, life-saving, intense hacker excitement movie stuff.

Shane Parrish
Hey man, I cannot confirm or deny any excitement that happens inside the government.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, maybe one that’s more acceptable for public consumption is let’s hear a little bit about your enthusiasm for Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s partner there, and the story behind the name of your blog, Farnam Street.

Shane Parrish
Yeah. I went back and did my MBA in, I think it was 2008. I realized that we were learning just from the textbook. This is how sort of Farnam Street started. Bear with me here for a second.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Shane Parrish
As we go through this. I was sitting in strategy classes. About three weeks in we’re doing this case study, some Eastern European airline and what the owner should do and what they shouldn’t do. I just thought a) the audacity of us sitting in a classroom deciding what the owner should or shouldn’t do, but it was very clear to me that they wanted an answer and the answer corresponded to the chapter that we read in the textbook. They didn’t really want the outside thinking that was going on.

All these other groups got up and said, “Oh, become the low-cost provider,” because that was the strategy that we were reading about that week. Our group got up there and we’re like, “We didn’t think we could actually become the low-cost provider because of X, Y and Z.”

The teacher at the time, the professor I guess, just said, “You didn’t do the work.” Our group leader, who wasn’t me, stood up and was like, “We did the work. You can’t put it on a PowerPoint and all of the sudden you magically become the low-cost provider. You actually have to think through like how do you become the lost-cost provider. Are those reasonable options or are they not?”

He started working through all this thing. It was this really interesting back and forth. He ended up quitting, leaving the MBA program.

Pete Mockaitis
Is he a dot com billionaire now? Just got to know.

Shane Parrish
No. He was super successful to begin with. He went back to running his super successful business. But he quit on the spot in the middle of the argument with the professor.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Shane Parrish
He’s like, “If this is the education I’m getting, I might as well just go home,” and he left and never came back. You hear those stories and you’re like I actually know somebody who did that.

But as he was leaving, he packed up his bags and he was waiting in the cafeteria for a taxi and I ran into him. I was like, “You know what really struck me as odd? None of that seemed foreign to me. But how did we take such a different approach to this problem than everybody else seemed to take?” He mentioned Charlie Munger.

I had heard of Munger before I think probably back in ’97 or ’98 when I was in high school. But I hadn’t really thought about it. I went back to my dorm room that night and instead of doing my homework I looked up this Charlie Munger and started reading all about him and Warren Buffet.

I was like oh my God, this is way better, way more interesting than my textbook. It seems real in a way that my textbook couldn’t be because it wasn’t trying to distill the world into one simple thing. It was like it’s complex and you need to understand a whole bunch of basic concepts and latticework them together. Then you might have an idea or a better understanding of how the world worked.

That very night I created a blog, which was called 68131.blogger.com, which is-

Pete Mockaitis
Catchy.

Shane Parrish
-the zip code for Berkshire Hathaway.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Shane Parrish
68131, the US zip code for Berkshire Hathaway headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska on Farnam Street. We don’t own that domain anymore, but that was the original sort of incarnation of Farnam Street.

The reason I used 68131 was because I didn’t think anyone would type in 5 digits. At the time URLs were words or sayings or whatever, but nobody would type in this. I didn’t want to password protect it. It was completely anonymous because here I am working for an intelligence agency writing a blog that’s sort of public. It would be even more weird if it was private. I just five numbers, five digits.

Then started connecting what I was learning, so started just keeping a list of the things that I was learning and the things that I was connecting. I found I wasn’t doing homework anymore; I was just doing this. I was diving in head over heels into Berkshire Hathaway, reading annual letters.

There’s a saying sort of that goes around the internet and people who are in the know with Buffet and Munger sort of, which is if you read the annual letters to Berkshire Hathaway, it’s better than an MBA. I think in my personal experience, I learned a lot more reading those letters than I did sort of going through my MBA. I learned a lot more about business. I learned a lot more about technology. I learned a lot more about ethics.

I thought it was a really sort of valuable way to spend my time. My grades didn’t decline interestingly as I spent less time on school because the formula for what the teachers wanted was pretty clear.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Then that’s a really cool story. I think it’s funny that you were initially trying to be kind of discreet and blown up to have like a million pages a month.

Shane Parrish
This is so weird. Fast-forward five years and there’s like people trying to figure out who’s behind this anonymous blog. We have not that many readers at the time. I was like, oh my God, this is becoming a thing. If they uncover that it’s me or something, it’s going to look super weird, so I put my name on it in 2013. I think that was the year where we changed the domain to FarnamStreetBlog.com.

Now it’s FS.blog, so it’s super easy to type in. We realized that a lot of people over the world spell Farnam a lot differently, so it’s just FS.blog now.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s smart.

Shane Parrish
Now we have like 200,000 sort of weekly subscribers to our email.  I don’t know how it happened because we didn’t advertise anything at all. It’s all been word of mouth.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, you’ve got some really high-quality stuff there. It’s almost dangerous how engaging and interesting and just I want to be there for hours of time.

Shane Parrish
I appreciate it. We get a lot of emails going like, “I just killed a weekend on your website.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, better there than Netflix I guess.

Shane Parrish
It’s like a rabbit hole. It’s like, “Oh my God, why haven’t I found you ten years ago?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, it’s great stuff. How would you in short form articulate what are you all about over there at Farnam Street and the podcast, The Knowledge Project?

Shane Parrish
Just using timeless knowledge to sort of create better humans, like how do we improve our self in a non-self-helpy sort of way. We want to make better decisions, but we also want to live a more meaningful life. Why do we have to be bound into one of those categories? How do we create a better version of ourselves every day?

What do we need to learn to think about problems differently? How do we need to reflect on our life to live a more meaningful, deliberate and conscious life? And how do we develop better relationships with people, not only with others and our spouses and our family and our kids, but with ourselves? What do conversations with yourself look like? How do we be more positive in the way that we talk to our self? How do you put that under one umbrella? You can’t really, so we just call it Farnam Street.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. I’m resonating and vibing totally with what you’re saying, timeless knowledge, a better version of yourself. We totally have healthy overlap. We’ve had overlap with the guests too, Annie Duke, Chris Voss, etcetera. I’m digging it.

I really want to dig deep into decision making because that is a shared passion area for us. I think we can cover some goodies. I’d love if you could maybe start broad and general and get real precise and tactical. In your observation of the human condition, where do you find that most people, most often end up making mistakes when it comes to their decision making?

Shane Parrish
They’re subconsciously making mistakes. We just have this view of the world that we think is correct. If other people disagree with us, well, they must be wrong because if they’re right, then that means we’re incorrect. Our ego sort of kicks in at a subconscious level.

It doesn’t want us to be wrong; it wants to protect us because being wrong is labor intensive for your brain. You have to think through why you were wrong and what you were wrong about. You have to update your views. All of that sounds like a lot of work, so your brain, “Eh, we really don’t want to do that.”

I think how do we get to that point is a very interesting sort of way that we make incorrect decisions. If you think about it, we start school very young and we go through. We learn a wide variety of things from art and music and science and math to literature and humanities.

Increasingly as we get older, we narrow that. High school becomes a little bit more focused and then university or college becomes a lot more focused. Then you get out in the workforce and it’s increasingly narrowing, narrowing, narrowing.

Usually when you’re a junior person in an organization you don’t get to make too many decisions that are outside of your specialty. But you pass three or four years, you get a promotion or two and all of the sudden, you find yourself maybe your mid-20s, late 20s, early 30s, whatever range that is, you’re doing a job that you weren’t really hired for, that has less to do with your specialty than you ever sort of would have imagined when you were doing college or university.

You’re required to make decisions, but you view the world through this lens of your specialty because that’s all you’ve ever known. Life is busy. You have family. You have kids. It’s really hard to develop sort of a multi-disciplinary education yourself. You don’t even know that you’re missing it.

When you’re thinking about problems, when you’re seeing problems, you just frame it so narrowly. You think about it so myopically through your one lens that you can’t see the world through other people’s views. You’re only using one lens, so you’re not really getting a firm view of reality. You’re getting your view of reality through your eyes, but not necessarily through a more accurate view of what’s actually happening, which would require a whole bunch of different perspectives.

I think that that’s probably the leading cause of how we sort of trick ourselves because we’re only looking at it through our lens. We’re not looking at it through a more holistic lens or, if you want, a toolbox of lenses, where we can just pull them out, look at the problem this way and be like, “Oh, that applies. That doesn’t apply.” Then we start to see a lot better in terms of what’s happening.

The other sort of prime reason I think we make sort of suboptimal decisions is just timeline. We’re super busy. We’re super stressed. There’s a lot of anxiety in the world. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world. We sort of just want to solve something. We don’t want to think about it again. We sort of want to turn off our brain. Our brain wants to optimize for energy conservation.

We’re full of stress. We’re full of anxiety. The day is long. We’ve got a lot of stuff to do. Then we find something that just solves the immediate problem and we latch onto it. Oh, we can finally relax. Our brain is like, “Great. We solved the problem. Next.” We don’t think through like what other problems did that create? What’s that going to look like in ten months, ten weeks, ten years? What other problems is that going to create?

We know that when we’re inside an organization because that’s when somebody’s ramming a solution down your throat that’s going to solve the immediate problem, but create a host of other problems. Sometimes those problems are less than the problem we’re solving, but often the problems that that  comes with are even more.

Then you think about how the stories that we get promoted in organizations, like the stories that we tell not only ourselves, but we tell others. It’s like, “Oh, I solved this problem,” but you never talk about the problems that you avoided. You never talk about the problems that you created when you solved that problem. I think it’s just a very narrow sort of view of how we view ourselves and how we protect ourselves and sort of the timelines that we use when we make decisions.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s just a powerful question right there that I haven’t really chewed on much, which is “Okay, how does this solution creating other problems and am I okay with that? Are those better problems?”

I’m thinking, when you talk about the short-term solutions, it’s so funny. Recently I found myself like I just have a messy desk or drawer or surface. I’m just like, “I’m tired of this mess,” so I put a lot of the things in trash or in storage containers elsewhere that I just put them elsewhere. It’s just like, “Am I really better off?” Another day will come where I need that thing and I’m going to have to go and dig it out.

Shane Parrish
Yeah. Although, alternatively if you don’t use it for the next year, you know you could probably get rid of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Yeah.

Shane Parrish
But often, that’s what we’re doing, right? We’re solving – we call this second order thinking, which is sort of like you’re solving the first problem, but you’re creating a host of other problems at the second, third or fourth layer. I think you just want to start thinking at a deeper level where you can sort of see if I do this – there’s a ecologist called Garrett Hardin, who interestingly enough, his research was sponsored by Charlie Monger.

He wrote a book called Filters Against Folly. One of the things that he mentioned in that is the three laws of ecology was just to ask yourself “And then what?” You can never do merely one thing. Just remember that. You can’t do anything in and of itself. There’s always a consequence or a repercussion or an impact or however you want to think of that terminology.

He used to ask himself “And then what?” If you’re in a meeting and you’re thinking – that is the only question that you need to think about to change your timescales a little bit. It’s three words. It’s super powerful and it has the ability to change the conversation in the room.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that question. I’ve heard of it more so in the context of avoiding temptations. It’s like, “Oh my gosh, I want to eat that whole tub of ice cream.”  “And then what?” It’s like, “Yeah, you’re right. I’ll feel terrible and be fat. I’m not going to do that,” so problem avoided proactively.

Shane Parrish
Ice cream though is so good, so tempting.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love it if maybe you could sort of make this all the more real if you could share maybe an instance or a favorite example you have in terms of, “Hey, we solved a problem and then we created some bigger problems.” Do you have sort of a poster child example of this?

Shane Parrish
Well, here’s a business example that may seem a little bit esoteric, but everybody might resonate with.

We used to have a pop-up box on the website. We used to have a pop-up box for everybody who showed up and it would show up every time you showed up. The first sort of consequence of that is we had a ton more email subscribers to Farnam Street. We were getting exactly – first order we were getting the metrics we wanted. We were adding 4,000 people a day or something. It was crazy.

The second order consequence of that is it drove up our cost because we pay per person on the email list. Then we started looking at the numbers and the open rate, the click-through rate, the engagement of those people was way lower quality than if we added a little bit of friction to sign up for our email list.

Maximizing for one variable, create a host of other problems. Now we have a problem where we have low reader engagement. We’re having that because we didn’t think through sort of the second-order consequence.

Or an example that probably resonates more with people is “I’m hungry.” “Well, eat a chocolate bar.” But if I eat a chocolate bar over and over again every time I’m hungry, I’m going to end up fat, out of shape. It’s going to have a whole bunch of health consequences. It’s going to have relationship consequences. It’s going to have consequences about how I talk to myself. That’s just ways that we can sort of think through. And then what?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. I want to hit now the multi-disciplinary multiple lens view of things. I imagine there are an infinite potential number of ways you might segment the types or names of lenses out there. But I’d love it if you could maybe give us perhaps just a few different or contrasting or varied lenses that are very unlike each other and very useful when you start looking through things through each of these lenses successfully.

Shane Parrish
Right. We call lenses – the terminology that we sort of use on the website is mental models. They are sort of how we think and how we understand the world. They shape what we think is relevant in a given situation and what we think is irrelevant. We’re using them all the time, whether we’re conscious about them or not is a different story. These mental models or lenses are how you simplify complexity.

Mental models are really – or the lens – is just a representation of how something works or how something looks through somebody else’s eyes. You can think of this, if you want to think about a lens, we can think of the psychological term perspective taking.

If you’re sitting in a meeting and there’s five people around the table and they’re all from different parts of the organization, one way to look at the problem through a different lens is to mentally take the perspective of each person in that room and sit in their seat. What does the problem look like from their perspective? What do they care about? What are they optimizing for?

That gives you a different lens. That’s a very powerful lens if you think about it. It doesn’t come from any sort of discipline. It’s just putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes.

Some of the ideas that we use as mental models or lenses into seeing a problem or thinking better, so there’s different ways to see the problem and then there’s different ways to think through the problem or think about the problem or how you see the problem.

“The map is not the territory” is a great example of a lens that we can use that will add clarity to a situation or insight to a situation. The map is not the territory a map is not reality. Even the best map that we have, even the most detailed map that you can sort of find is imperfect. It’s a reduction of something else.

If it were to represent with sort of like perfect fidelity what it was trying to represent, it wouldn’t be a reduction. It wouldn’t be useful. We need to reduce these things to keep them in our head. They can also be sort of snapshots or points in time. They don’t tell the whole story. They could tell us something that existed before, but doesn’t necessarily exist today.

If you think of a business context, you can think of an income statement as a map, a balance sheet as a map, a strategic plan as a map. It’s useful and it helps us, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us what’s really going on. Do people believe in the strategic plan? Well, that’s part of the terrain. Are all parts of the organization working towards it in harmony, in lockstep? Well, that’s part of the terrain too. But if we just look at the map, we don’t see that.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love some additional examples of maps there. That was the first thing that came to mind for me was financial statements. What are some other maps that are sort of simplifications or representations of territory that we look at often?

Shane Parrish
Well, think of dashboards, how a lot of people run organizations. They run on this sort of green, yellow, red dashboard. That becomes a map. If everything’s green, you think everything is okay, but it doesn’t actually tell you how people are feeling. It doesn’t tell you sort of how engaged people are. It doesn’t tell you if you’re working towards the right goals. It just tells you that here’s what the map looks like. It doesn’t tell you if the environment has changed.

I think once you start to see things through a map territory problem, it becomes really interesting to think about. Where we’re reducing things to deal with them in our head, but it doesn’t tell us what’s really going on.

Email is another example. You might have 32, which is what I have right now in my inbox, 32 emails.

Pete Mockaitis
Not bad.

Shane Parrish
Like, oh my God, that’s not bad at all, but it doesn’t tell you what those emails are actually about or how much work they are. If we assume that each email – we naturally have this map of what an email sort of takes or looks like. Maybe it’s five minutes to respond to, so you’re like, “Oh, he could be done that in a day at most.”

But those 32 emails in my inbox are there because I’ve procrastinated on them or they might take hours and hours to respond to or they might be projects that have been ongoing that I owe something significant to. That number, that heuristic is just a map about how things are and how they look. We instantly infer that map through our own lens.

Another sort of example of a different type of mental model that we might think about for math is multiplying by zero. We all learn this in, I don’t know, grade three. Any reasonably educated person knows that if you multiply something by zero, no matter how large the number is, it goes to zero. But it’s true in human systems, too.

If you think about trust, you violate somebody’s trust, you go to zero. If you think about value proposition in a business, you can think about it as additive or multiplicative. You go to a restaurant and you have really good food. That’s really additive. If the food is terrible though, it becomes multiplied by zero. Or you go to the bathroom and it’s dirty, you’re never going to go back.

There’s certain things that can happen that you never want to happen if you’re a business owner. There’s certain propositions in your value chain that will just cause people to never come back. Those are multiplied by zero.

If you think about it, it’s a really interesting lens where you just go back to zero with that customer. If you think about the world today, people share that information with other people. It’s not even going to go back to zero, it’s like they’re going to tell other people, so it’s sort of like a really negative thing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m digging this. We got multiply by zero, the map is not the territory.

Shane Parrish
Sure. What about chaos dynamics, which is another one that we sort of talk about on the website, which is sensitivity to sort of initial conditions. In our world, small changes and initial conditions can have massive sort of downstream effects. This is the sort of proverbial sort of Butterfly Effect, where a butterfly in Brazil flapping its wings can cause a hurricane somewhere else.

We think about that as something that’s like, “Oh, that’s a great story,” but we don’t think of it in terms of how we live, which is how do we always have this baseline where we can accommodate multiple conditions?

One of the ways that small changes to initial conditions can cause catastrophic loss are mortgage rates increasing. If you’re tight on the finances or you’re over levered on your house, a small change in interest rates can cause you to go back to zero. That’s just an example of sort of how we can think about that. But it’s a way that people don’t necessarily think about problems.

These are lenses or tools that you put in your toolbox and then you walk through a problem and you sort of look at it through these lenses. If you look at it through all of these lenses, it’s sort of like layering tracing paper one on top of each other and each part has a different part of the end image, but when you layer them all on top of each other, you can see the whole thing.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a cool picture. As you visualize this in your mind’s eye, is there a particular picture that your layers of tracing paper are making?

Shane Parrish
Well, I was thinking actually like the way that I normally phrase it is, it’s walking around a problem in a three-dimensional way. You have a situation or a problem or a challenge or a struggle and to understand it, you sort of have to walk around it in a three-dimensional way. Another way to phrase that was tracing paper. I sort of got lost in this whole like oh, I’m explaining this in a different way than I’m normally explaining this.

Pete Mockaitis
I really liked it. I was visualizing an image of pandas, for the record, if anyone cares.

Shane Parrish
Well, you can think of – there’s the elephant story, right, where there’s these seven blind men. I think it’s seven. But they all each put their hand on a different part of the elephant. They don’t know it’s an elephant. They just, “Oh, this is like a stool leg,” and “This is,” whatever. They don’t actually put together that it’s an elephant. What you want to be able to do is step out of … and see the elephant.

That brings us to maybe the biggest sort of mental model of them all, which is Galilean Relativity. You can think of it as physics. We all learn this. I think at some point, we’ve all learned this. If I ask you “How fast are we moving right now?” You’d probably say zero, right? I’m sitting in my chair at my desk. I’m not moving at all.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Shane Parrish
But we’re moving at what? 20,000 miles an hour around the sun.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Shane Parrish
Right. You don’t feel it. The reason you don’t feel it is because you are in this system and you only see yourself in the system that you’re immediately around.

The way that I learned it in physics, the way that I assume everybody learned this in physics, but maybe that’s not the case, is you’re on a train with a ball. You’re holding it. You’re standing in the middle of the aisle. The train’s moving at 60 miles an hour. How fast is the ball moving? Well, relative to you, the ball’s not moving to you. But relative to somebody watching the train go by, it’s moving at 60 miles an hour.

How do we step outside of our system, almost like seeing yourself as an actor, how do we take ourselves out of the situation so that we can see the situation more accurately than what it actually is?

Pete Mockaitis
I actually like that notion of being an actor because I’ve found that if I actually really – I guess it’s just perspective taking – but I step into the roles of different folks, like “Okay, how would-“ you just fill in the blank. It doesn’t matter. How would Beyoncé, how would my uncle, how would my wife think about this, approach this? What would she be concerned about? Suddenly new ideas come to light, like, “Oh, that’s brilliant,” just because I decided to be someone else in my brain for a little bit.

Shane Parrish
Yeah. I think if you think about perspective taking, that’s stepping outside of your system, if you think about how do you improve your relationships with anybody else, just step outside of yourself and see the world through their eyes. It will change the vocabulary. It will change the questions you ask. It will change what you want to talk about.

It will have an exponential impact on not only your relationship with other people, but your problems will seemingly become a lot smaller. You’ll have more free time and you’ll have less anxiety.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m sold.

Shane Parrish
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good combo.

Shane Parrish
And it’s free. Wait, I’ve got to bottle this stuff and sell for it like 10,000 bucks or something.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ve got a decision journal and a thinking cap, which I thought were pretty cool products to offer on your blog. I’d like to hear a little bit about the decision journal and how one can go about improving their decision-making skills day after day in the course of living life.

Shane Parrish
Well, we all make a lot of decisions and those decisions have an impact over time. But we rarely sort of reflect in life. We rarely reflect on relationship decisions. We rarely sort of reflect on decisions we make at work, to invest money, to not invest money, to do a product line, to not. We convince ourselves that we’re right. By not reflecting, we limit the learning capacity that we have. We limit the learning opportunity that we have in those situations.

We have a thinking cap. We give it away to all of our Learning Community members for free. We just send them an email saying, “Hey, you won a free hat. Thank you for supporting us.” But it’s really symbolic. It’s symbolic of the approach that we want to take to not only living life, but to making better decisions and just being a really awesome person, which is how do we cue people to reflect more often.

I personally think the world would be a much better place if we reflect a little more. But reflection is really the key to learning. When you think about how organizations sort of go through the process of learning from mistakes or how we go through learning from the mistakes of others, it’s not normally about reflection. It’s normally about give me your lessons learned.

Lessons learned aren’t necessarily reflections. Lessons learned are the result of reflections, but we really want to know what questions people are asking themselves. How are they learning to think better? Are they beginning to see their weaknesses? Do they make the same mistakes over and over? What sort of feedback – this is where a decision journal comes in – what sort of feedback are they giving themselves?

A lot of people don’t want to talk through their decisions at a really raw and vulnerable level with other people for a variety of reasons and I get it, but you can do it with yourself. You don’t need other people. The way that you do it with yourself is you have a decision journal. If you Google decision journal, I think we’re the number one sort of hit. We’ve offered a template online. We’ve worked with Special Forces around the world.

We’re developing the second sort of version of our decision journal right now. We created this sort of alpha product, if you will, if you want to think in software terms about what does a basic decision journal look like. Will people use it? How do they use it, which is the most important feedback we can get.

Now we’re incorporating – we’ve had that out there for about seven – eight months and now we’re incorporating the feedback and we’re coming up with sort of like the next version of the decision journal.

But really, that’s what it is. You’re just thinking through problems at a different level and you’re trying to give yourself clear, unambiguous feedback. You don’t want to be able to convince yourself that you were right when you were wrong.

I think that so often we trick ourselves later or the data is not clear or we think we should have done something we didn’t do or we didn’t do something that we should have done. But unless we wrote it down at the time, we don’t remember what information we actually had, what information we considered relevant when we were making the decision.

How are we expected to get better when we know that our mind is going to trick us? What are we predicting is going to happen? What decision are we making? What …. That would be the very essence of the decision journal, but we want to get a little more specific than that. What variables do you consider relevant in this situation?

Then when you evaluate your decision six months later in the privacy of sort of protecting your ego, you can start to cue, “Oh man, you know what happened? I was right, but I was right for the wrong reasons.” That’s a very powerful realization because it allows you to learn.

Pete Mockaitis
I think one of the coolest things that I dug about the decision journal in perusing is the mental/physical state checkboxes. I’m energized. I’m relaxed. I’m angry. I’m anxious. Can you talk a little bit about the role of your emotional/physical states in thinking and decision making? Is there an optimal state for different kinds of decisions or how do you think through that?

Shane Parrish
Just think about it like when’s the last time you made a super amazing decision when you were angry?

Pete Mockaitis
I told them off and it was awesome.

Shane Parrish
Yeah. Well, you feel good in the moment, but then you’re like, “Oh my God, what am I – that’s not me. That’s not who I am.” That’s the common sort of – I don’t want to say excuse. That’s the wrong word. But that’s the common reaction people have to when they do something. They type up this nasty email and they send it and then they feel good for about 30 seconds and then the next day they’re like, “That’s not who I am. That’s what I thought in that moment because I was so emotional.”

When you’re emotional, you don’t think clearly. That’s part of being emotional that you don’t think clearly. That doesn’t mean emotions are bad; it just means that you have to account for the emotions or time of day that you’re making decisions.

It tends to be, the data that we’ve collected, unsurprisingly you don’t need advanced AI from Google to tell this, but people make worse decisions when they’re more emotional. But people also tend to make better decisions, more complicated sort of analysis in the morning than in the afternoon because your brain is tired in the afternoon.

Again, your brain is optimizing for laziness at all points in time. Thinking is hard work. Thinking through a problem at a second or third level is hard work. Trying to predict which variables matter and how they interact is hard work. Trying to pull out a mental toolbox of lenses and see the problem through other people’s eyes or step out of the system that you’re involved in so you can see yourself as an actor is hard work.

You’re more likely to make better decisions in the morning than you are in the afternoon. That doesn’t apply to everybody, but I think that’s a fair generalization.

When you’re making a decision, if you’re using a decision journal, it can just be a prompt that “Hey, I’m really upset right now. Maybe I’m going to make this decision tomorrow instead of today,” or “Maybe I’m not going to send this email right now. I’m just going to sit on it until the next morning,” which is usually good advice for emails after four that can – where you’re worked up and you just have to type something because you need to get it off your chest.

It’s fair to get it off your chest, but it’s probably not indicative of who you are or who you want to be or who you aspire to be. I think that we can become better versions of our selves by sort of tracking where we are emotionally and matching that to what we’re doing.

If we’re in a bad mood, we probably don’t want to be making business decisions about the direction of our company. We probably don’t want to be sort of making any rash emotional relationship decisions. We want to tone down. Maybe we’re just deciding what to watch on Netflix or we’re deciding what book to read or we’re deciding – we want to keep those decisions pretty minor and maybe closer to the vest and in ourselves, so we’re not affecting other people.

Pete Mockaitis
I like the tip about the email and holding off for a bit. I’m reminded of historians have talked about Abraham Lincoln and his letters that sometimes he’s really mad at a general during the Civil War and so he would be writing that up and then wait a moment or a day and say, “You know what? I’m not going to send that.” It’s pretty cool that historians found all these extra letters that had a lot of heat.

Shane Parrish
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Then he’s like, “You know what? Eh, this is one is going to be heated and it’s going to go out and this one’s going to be heated and it’s never going to see the light of day.”

Shane Parrish
Isn’t that like an example of timeless wisdom there?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Shane Parrish
What’s changed is the technology or the availability and the reach. We could always do emotional things. We’ve been able to do that since we were probably like cavemen.

But now instead of one person or maybe our small tribe, we can reach a whole organization or the whole world on the internet by sending a tweet we don’t want to send or sharing something on Facebook that won’t look so good in the morning or saying something that somebody else that we might feel in the moment because we’re blinded to the complexity of other people, but isn’t really indicative of who they are and says more about us than anything.

I think it’s reflecting on those, catching our self and reflecting on that is how we sort of change behavior and become a better version of our self.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Well, Shane, tell me, is there anything else that you’d like to share about decision making or anything you think folks who want to be awesome at their job just really need to know before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Shane Parrish
Yeah, I think it’s tough to get advice from other people because what works for other people doesn’t necessarily work for you. What we’re looking for usually when we consume information is we’re looking sort of for the silver bullet, the easy fix, the if I only do these four things, I’m going to get a promotion or – I would just encourage people to be cautious about that.

Anything that’s so easily acquired or so easily available is probably not going to be a source of real or lasting wisdom. You’re going to have to do some work. The work is sort of taking ideas and digesting them in yourself. How we do that is through reflection. Most people have a hard time with that.

I think that setting aside time to think, not only about you, but about the life that you’re living and the life that you want to live and how you can bridge that gap or how you can be a better version of yourself or even just sort of rubbing your nose just a little bit in the mistakes you make.

Not to the point where you’re telling yourself terrible things or your self-talk is negative, but to the point where you’re acknowledging that you could have done better and that you will do better in the future and accurately diagnosing what it is that you did that you want to do differently next.

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

Shane Parrish
My favorite quote comes to me from a friend of mine, Peter Hoffman, who sent me this quote a long time ago by Joseph Tussman, which is – I’m going to try to remember here – “What the people must learn if you learn anything at all is that the world will do most of the work for you provided you cooperate with it by identifying how it really works and aligning yourself with those realities. If we don’t let the world teach us, it teaches us a lesson.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you could chew on that for a while.

Shane Parrish
Isn’t that powerful?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Shane Parrish
It’s just like everything. There’s another really good one I got from Peter as well, which I think is super telling. It was actually about Peyton Manning, but it doesn’t matter who it’s about. It was “most geniuses, especially those who lead others, prosper not by deconstructing intricate complexities but by exploiting unrecognized simplicities.”

We all grab onto this esoteric knowledge as if it contains some sort of key, but really it’s going back to the basics and understanding the basics at a different level that gives us more meaningful, more timeless insight into the problems.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Do you have a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Shane Parrish
No. Common stuff is all great, but I’ve kind of gotten away from research a lot in the last decade or so, so I would say pass on that one.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Shane Parrish
My favorite book, the one that’s probably impacted me the most is Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Interestingly enough, the first time I picked it up, I almost chucked it out a window. I was in university I think and I was told to read it. I just found it impenetrable. I don’t know if it was the translation or what was going on.

But then I picked up the Hays translation I think when I was 25 – 26 and I started reading about it and contextualizing it, which is also super important when you’re reading. But for me it just hit me at the right place at the right time.

It’s a book that I’ve gone back to often and sent to people when they’re going through some things. I send it to friends who work in professional sports and get fired or send it to people struggling with something.

It’s not sort of like an advice book. It’s more how to conduct yourself. It’s a bit of stoicism in the sense that you only control some things. You don’t control everything. If something bad has happened, and you need to move on.

But it’s not done in a way that a book like that would be written today. It’s done in a way that you’re reading the leader of the free world effectively at the time, who’s on the frontline with the Gauls I think, putting his life on the line. The guy can literally do anything he wants with impunity and he’s trying to become a better person. I think that there’s something inspiring and there’s something that we all see parts of us in that. We feel like we can handle anything after reading that.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Shane Parrish
My iPhone. That is my favorite tool. It’s the only thing that I use relentlessly.

Pete Mockaitis
Are there any noteworthy apps or-

Shane Parrish
Probably not a good example, but-

Pete Mockaitis
It comes up often. Are there any special apps or things you do with the phone that’s super useful and maybe distinctive?

Shane Parrish
Oh no, it’s all basics for me. It’s mostly I just try to keep things super simple. I use Twitter on my phone. I’m just going through it now. The alarm. Yeah, I just – I don’t know. Fortnite is on there, so I can play with the kids.

Yeah, it’s sort of like the one thing that’s – I was thinking about this today. Apple has this really – maybe this is a sidetrack so cut me off if you don’t want to talk about this – but it’s not just Apple, it’s your phone. Technology is becoming closer to you as a person. You put things in your ear. You have your phone in your pocket. You wear a watch. It’s so close to you and it’s so important.

It’s really interesting how people view technology and what shapes what they use. I use my phone all day to talk on the phone, to interact with people, sometimes to email. I use it for tickets, use it for ordering food. The variety of sort of tasks that you can do with it is ever expanding. It’s the one thing where I think if I lost it, it would just instantly need to be replaced.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah and the closest of technology. The days of chips and things being inserted into us on a wide scale really don’t seem so crazy or faraway nowadays as they did a decade ago.

Shane Parrish
Oh yeah, it will be so interesting to see what’s happening. I think people are starting to try to put standards around this. There will always be – not always, but it will pay to defect if you are a nation that agrees to this. If you’re the sole defector and you can modify your genes or you can do something that gives you an advantage – it’s going to be a really interesting sort of game theory.

AI is going to be the same way, not only within a country, but sort of if you look at it as a global ecosystem, where the small countries that are reasonably uncompetitive on a natural resources basis can become super competitive when it comes to computer code, almost asymmetrically so.

If we put standards around what good and bad AI looks like, those are our standards. Is there a worldwide standard and what if you disagree from that? If you have 99 countries out of 100, so to speak, sign up for climate protection but one country defects and they defect in a meaningful way and they overcompensate for those other 99, it doesn’t really make a difference.

I think it’s going to be a really fascinating world to watch this play out. Are we going to have sort of wars over this stuff? I don’t know. It’s going to be interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. Do you have a favorite habit?

Shane Parrish
Sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Shane Parrish
That’s the only thing I’ve sort of focused on a lot more recently is just trying to get sleep. But really I started turning off my computer at nine at night now, which is super good. Then I do a lot of my reading in the morning instead of at night.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks? You get it retweeted or repeated back to you frequently?

Shane Parrish
No, I don’t think so. Pretty boring guy.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ll just say they’re all hits. It’s hard to single one out is how I would interpret that.

Shane Parrish
I like your generous interpretation much better than mine. Everybody who knows me would just be like, “No, you’re pretty boring.”

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

Shane Parrish
You can go to FS.blog, sign up for a weekly newsletter. It’s a full of the most interesting things that I read on the internet. You can go to @FarnamStreet on Twitter, that’s F-A-R-N-A-M Street. Then that’s the best way to get in touch. Hit reply to any of our emails if you have any questions.

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

Shane Parrish
Yeah, I think that the single biggest – two big changes. I’m going to give you two sort of calls to action. Two big changes make a meaningful impact in whatever you’re doing.

At every decision meeting, ask yourself, “And then what?” The second thing is before every big decision, go for a 15 minute walk and just you, just by yourself and just think about that problem. Don’t think about how you’re going to communicate it. Don’t think about anything other than that one problem and try to walk through it.

Focus on one thing for 15 minutes. That’s an eternity in this day and age. But work up to 30 minutes. That would be my goal. But just focus on the problem for 15 minutes. Try to think through it from different angles. Think through it from different vantage points. What does it look like? What does it look like from everybody else’s perspective? What does it look like if I’m an actor in this and I’m watching this play out?

I think that you’re going to make dramatically better decisions. The impact of those better decisions, it won’t be felt tomorrow, but if you do that for six months, you do it for a year, all of the sudden you’re going to have fewer problems, you’re going to have less stress at work, you’re going to have better results and you’re going to feel better. That’s a deadly combination.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Shane, this has been such a treat. Thanks for taking the time and good luck with Farnam Street and all your adventures.

Shane Parrish
Thanks Pete.

399: Maximizing Your Mental Energy with Isaiah Hankel

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Isaiah Hankel highlights the importance of your mental energy, the best time to use it, and how to protect it from the people and things that drain it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The little ways we waste our limited mental energy
  2. How to tactfully deal with people who drain your mental energy
  3. How to gain more energy by closing mental loops

About Donna

Isaiah Hankel received his doctorate in Anatomy & Cell Biology and is an expert on mental focus, behavioral psychology, and career development. His work has been featured in The Guardian, Fast Company,and Entrepreneur Magazine. Isaiah’s previous book, Black Hole Focus, was published by Wiley & Sons and was selected as Business Book of the Month in the UK and became a business bestseller internationally. Isaiah has delivered corporate presentations to over 20,000 people, including over 300 workshops and keynotes worldwide in the past 5 years.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Isaiah Hankel Interview Transcript

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

Isaiah Hankel
Great to be here, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into the goods, but first can you tell me a little bit about what it was like growing up on a sheep farm?

Isaiah Hankel
It was rewarding. Some days it didn’t seem like it, but the one day that always stands out in my memory when I’m asked that question is a day that came every year as a sheep farmer, which is when you would shear the sheep.

Pete Mockaitis
I thought you were going to say that. What made that day special?

Isaiah Hankel
It was just a good insight into sheep behavior and as I learned later, human behavior, because sheep were very responsive to two things, carrots and sticks. It’s one of the many places where we get that phrase, having people respond to carrots and sticks, because humans respond to those two things too.

Pete Mockaitis
You mean literally feeding them a carrot and using a stick?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, yeah, it’s literally with the sheep and usually not literally with the humans.

But with the sheep to shear them, it’s a painless process, but you have to get a large herd of sheep, in this case it was usually 80 to 100 head of sheep, into a funnel essentially with a very narrow opening where only one sheep could fit at a time.

You would think this would be very hard to do, but sheep operated through a herd mentality. What that means is that you could walk behind them with a couple of sticks, bang those sticks together, they’re also scared of everything, and they would go running in the opposite direction. If you just bang the sticks behind them and if ahead of them was the funnel with the large gate that they would be funneled into, they would run right into it for you.

Then just to get them to go that last few yards, to get them to go one-by-one through that gate, you would just tease them with carrots held out in front of them, they’d walk right into the sheep shearers arms. You’d have to wrestle some of the larger ones sometimes, but in most cases carrots and sheep, carrots and sticks would do the trick.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, generally speaking, when sheep are sheared or shorn—

Isaiah Hankel
Yes, shorn.

Pete Mockaitis
Is it enjoyable, like, “Oh man, that was really a weight off,” versus like, “No, this is my precious fur?”

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, in the reverse order though. They’re at first scared of the buzzing sound and they’re scared of everything, but then it doesn’t hurt, they’re relieved, it happens in the middle of the summer. They’re very happy afterwards.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I imagine that right after the shearing, the times are good on the sheep farm. You’ve got a bundle of cash coming in.

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, times were good. As a farmhand you don’t get paid too much, but you did get paid quite a bit more on that particular day. It was always a sense of reward after working hard with your hands. Looking back, it’s some of the most enjoyable work that I’ve done, somewhat ironically.

Pete Mockaitis
We’re not going hold that against you to any of your colleagues or collaborators, like, “I’d rather be with sheep than you guys.”

Isaiah Hankel
It just made you very present. I think in today’s world behind screens, it’s hard to get present like that in the same way. I think you have to do it much more deliberately now.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear you. Well, you talk a little bit about some of this in your book called The Science of Intelligent Achievement. What’s sort of the main thesis behind this one?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, this book is about how to protect your mental energy and then what to do with your energy after you have protected it, after you stop doing the things that are depleting you on a daily basis.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, that sounds important. Can you sort of lay out that importance, like why do we need to protect our mental energy? Isn’t it going to be fine? Or what’s the attacker that we are defending against?

Isaiah Hankel
It’s usually people, but it’s a lot of things. I think the best way to frame it, and it’s kind of how the book starts out, is mental energy is your most valuable asset.

We usually hear that time or money is your most valuable asset, but we can quickly disregard these as being your most valuable asset because most people, just as an example, certainly in the US, have both a phone and a watch or a Fitbit. These things can do the same thing in terms of telling time, but we buy extra things for little features that we don’t really need. If you’re not buying that argument, go see how many pairs of shoes you have.

When it comes to time, how much time have you spent watching or re-watching your favorite movie or your favorite TV show or watching a YouTube clip? It’s not so much time that’s valuable. Maybe you were exhausted at the end of the day. You just wanted a feeling of comfort. You watched your favorite movie over again. Again, these can be disregarded pretty quickly, especially when you start comparing them to mental energy.

The last one that’s very popular today because we hear quotes like, “Your network is your net worth,” and all these feel-good relationship quotes about your relationships. We think, “Okay, well, it’s just about how many people you know? How many people will give you value for the value that you give?”

What we do there is we eliminate yourself from the equation. We forget that “Oh, I have to have enough energy to stand on my own two feet and enough energy to produce and provide value or enough energy to be present and be the kind of person other people want to connect to.”

We’ve all bought things we didn’t need. We’ve all spent our time on things that were a waste of time. We’ve all wanted to add more to relationships, wanted to give more, but were spread too thin. The limiting factor is actually your mental energy. How much mental energy do you have? You can think about it a different way. How many attention units do you have?

I think a lot of people try to reduce it to something that’s physiological, “Did I get enough sleep? Did I eat?” That’s really what controls my attention. There’s a little bit more to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well so now I’d imagine that that might be sort of the starting point of the funnel, if you will, in terms of just how much mental energy you have to work with. But then it gets frittered away and unprotected. Could you lay out what are some of the biggest drains on our mental energy and how do we prevent those from being drains?

Isaiah Hankel
Great question. Let me tell you how much or how little you actually have to start every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh do, thank you.

Isaiah Hankel
If you get five or six rounds of rapid eye movement sleep, REM sleep, then your willpower levels, your attention units, whatever you want to call it, your mental energy is going to be restored if – of course a lot of people don’t sleep as much as they should today. But if you get that amount of REM sleep, you start out each day with about 90 to 120 minutes of peak mental energy.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh boy.

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, that’s it. That’s according to several studies. It’s been printed in the Harvard Business Review and of course a lot of primary peer-review publications. 90 to 120 minutes, so two hours tops and that usually strikes within an hour or three of waking up for most people, so right in the morning.

Then if you think of that as like your ten out of ten mental energy time. Then you have about an eight out of ten mental energy for maybe three to five hours during the day. Everything else is much lower. If you start thinking-

Pete Mockaitis
Like four?

Isaiah Hankel
Like four, exactly. Four or five.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Isaiah Hankel
If not lower. If you start thinking what you can actually get done in a month, gets reduced pretty quickly to okay, let’s say you’re just doing what you do during those two peak hours and you have okay, during a work week about ten hours. Think about it, most people that go to an office, what’s the first thing that you do during that time?

Pete Mockaitis
They’re going to get the coffee, check the email.

Isaiah Hankel
Exactly. Scan some email. Then you look at the news. Then by the time you’re done with the news and email and chatting with your colleagues, you are out of your peak mental energy state. It’s very easy when you’re feeling good, your mental energy is peaking, you have your first cup of coffee, you get kind of chatty, to just diffuse and spend all that mental energy.

Here’s the key. I didn’t even mention this yet, during that 90 to 120 minutes, you are four to five times as productive as you are out of that peak time.

Pete Mockaitis
Four to five times even as compared to the level eight energy time?

Isaiah Hankel
Four to five times overall compared to the rest of the time during that day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, wow.

Isaiah Hankel
So time is relative. You can produce four to five times as much work during those peak mental energy, but again, most people don’t protect it—or we didn’t mention meetings. You’re in some nonsensical meeting, listening, some meeting that can probably be done in seven minutes and you’re spending an hour there.

These are just some of the ways that people are diffusing their peak mental energy during the day and why it’s important to start scheduling your day around these peak hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’m wondering, you mentioned it hits during the morning, is that pretty universal regardless if you are a night owl or an early bird?

Isaiah Hankel
Good question. The night owl is a bit of a myth. I think it’s around one or two percent of the population actually is biochemically a night owl, where this peak mental energy is at night. A lot of people just like to think they’re a night owl because it lets them procrastinate during the day. But there are outliers of course in all sets of data.

One very easy way, and this would kind of be considered a meta-analysis, not really a peer-reviewed study, but it’s of yourself and you’re an n of one or a sample size of one, is to just take your phone and jot down every hour of the day from the time you wake up to when you’re asleep, so six AM, seven AM, eight AM, and just type down on top of every hour, and you can set an alarm on your phone or your Fitbit or whatever, how you are feeling in terms of your mental energy on a scale of one to ten.

What you’ll find over the course of even four to five days is you’ll start to see a trend. You’ll start to see – you’ll probably start maybe at a six, maybe a person starts at a four. Then pretty quickly you’re going to climb up to a ten. Then your tens are going to be in a row. You’ll have one or two in a row. Then it will go to about an eight.

Then you’ll have lunch. Then there will be the afternoon dip, which is a real thing. You’ll kind of drop to maybe a five or a four. This is what I’ve seen very, very commonly. Then maybe you’ll peak for one or two hours at six or seven after that. Then you’re right down to a four for the rest of the day. Something like that. That’s a typical curve. A lot of it has to do with your cortisol cycle in your body too.

Once you do this for a few days though, you can see, “Oh wow, these are the two hours of the day where I am peaking. What am I doing during those hours?” You start to rearrange your day in pretty simple ways, so you’re using those hours for the things that are most important to you, your career, your personal goals strategically.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that sounds wise. I am all about that. Then I’m curious, when it comes to those, if it’s two hours, do you recommend doing two hours straight through or like having sort of a power brief rejuvenation in the midst of it?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, exactly. One thing you can do is go for a walk. You can go to the gym in the middle of the day if you can get out, just some people walk around the office. But if you do get the blood flowing during that dip, then you can get your mental energies to start to climb again. That’s really the key here is you have control over this.

That question is exactly what you need to be asking yourself. Okay, I usually dip here. Maybe instead of going to the gym in the morning, I can try to go to the gym or get some activity or go for a short run or whatever might be possible in my work life to bypass that dip and at least maintain maybe a six or seven during that time.

The key is just kind of restructuring your day for your peak mental energy or to keep your mental energies peaking rather than just letting them fall wherever your activities in the day fall.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us some examples for you or those you work with in terms of what are some great things that you might really try to slide into the peak mental energy times?

Isaiah Hankel
It comes down to every person’s individual goals. One thing that I started doing once I realized that this – when I started seeing this data and I wanted to publish my first book, is that I started taking my lunch break very early.

I started peaking around ten AM. This was when I would get up around six or seven. I’d peak at ten AM. I would be on from about ten AM to about twelve noon. During that time I could write at least five times as much as I could during any other time of the day. What I did was I started taking my lunch from ten till eleven AM, some cases eleven to twelve, and I would go somewhere and I would write.

I got my second book done very, very quickly because of this. If I had not done that, it would have taken me at least four to five times longer. That’s one example.

A lot of people have a goal to start their own business, but they struggle to get a business proposal on paper. They struggle to take that first step. They struggle to do all kinds of strategic things for their life that if they were just using their peak mental energy like 15 minutes a day, they can make real progress on.

It doesn’t have to be right in your peak time. If that’s just an impossibility for you, can you get up 15 minutes before your kids get up? Can you get up an extra 15 minutes early even if that’s like your 7 time, when you’re at a 7 out of 10 and use that time to do something strategic for your life, where you’re really moving the needle on your long-term goals.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that idea in terms of those things that are important, but you’ve been having some trouble getting movement on. That seems like a perfect combo for, “Ah, a peak mental energy time is what needs to be allocated here.”

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, ideally I’m thinking of the four quadrants of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, not urgent but important. That would be the idea stuff that you’re using your peak mental energy time for. Every once in a while it might be important and urgent, but at least you’re always doing something that’s important during that time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. It’s key to do the scheduling and to be strategic about how we are deploying it. Then beyond that, what are some ways that our mental energy gets zapped over the course of the day?

Isaiah Hankel
Once you have your map there and you know when your mental energy is peaking, now start asking yourself what gets in the way of your mental energy or start tracking during the day. Maybe take a couple of notes underneath that list that you’re creating for four or five days and make a list of when you’re feeling the most drain. Who did you just interact with? What did you just do?

Everybody is different. One draining activity or one draining person for me might be different for you. What you’re going to find is that there are certain people that really drain your energy, certain interactions, certain types of interactions

Maybe sometimes with your boss it’s okay, but other times it’s not. If they had a conversation with you during this time right before lunch when they’re hungry, it’s not good, so you can start avoiding that.

Maybe every time you have a conversation with this person, they’re really dramatic and they suck you into their drama and you’re like, “Oh wow, this is usually happening during my peak mental energy, like I’m responding to some text. I’m going down this rabbit hole. If I just stop responding to this person, it goes away.”

Maybe it’s an activity that just completely drains you, you really dislike doing, not something that’s important, that’s hard to get started that you need to do, but something that’s lifeless and just pure busy work that’s not really moving you forward, something you can outsource to somebody else or delegate at work.

Start asking yourself, “What are the activities I can get rid of, the things that are really draining me?” What you’re going to find more often than not is it’s people and that you’ve done a really poor job of being selective and deliberate with the people that you’ve allowed in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, intriguing. So being mindful and aware of the different people and how that’s impacting us with the energy certainly. Then any pro tips for dealing with that, like, “Oh, it looks like these people are sucking the energy and I’d like to minimize my exposure?” How do you do that with tact or grace?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, I call it going on a relationship fast. An important caveat here, just like with food fasting, we used to think, oh, if you fast for two weeks, this is somehow good for you. It can be very bad for your body. You don’t drink anything, don’t eat anything for weeks, very hard on your organs.

But we do know that certain types of fasting can be very, very good for your body, intermittent fasting, fasting certain types of food like not eating grains for a period of time or not eating dairy for a certain period of time or limiting foods one by one to see what you might have a food allergy for. All kinds of fasting that once you get more strategic with it, can lead to big insights and big benefits.

Same thing is true for relationship fasting. The problem is that we’re all so connected to our networks and we all have been bombarded with especially in today’s over connected world, that connections are important. You need to have as many Facebook friends as you can. Not just Facebook though, you also have all your other social media connections.

Not just online, because those aren’t your real relationships, you have to go to a bunch of conferences and you have to listen to every single podcast out there and you have to read everything possible. This stuff is good, but are you being deliberate? Are you choosing to read and to consume and to connect with people that are making you better or do you really have no filter? How deliberate are you being?

One good way to answer that question is to step away temporarily, not forever, but for a few days. Step away from your relationships. Of course you have your kids, your wife, etcetera. It’s going to be individualized for everybody.

But there’s probably a group of friends or at least one friend that’s coming to your mind right now as you listen to this that you’re asking yourself, “Does this person really make me a better person or a worse person? How do I usually feel when I interact with them? Is it just competitive? Are they a friend who’s really kind of an enemy?” There’s only one way to find out. You have to gain distance. Emotional distance will provide clarity.

By going on a temporary fast and doing it in a tactful way, you don’t just say, “Ah, I’m not talking to you anymore,” or “I’m in a relationship fast. Can’t talk.” You instead say, “I’m going to be taking some time to work on an important project. If you don’t hear from me for the next couple of days, I’ll get back to you on this date.”

You step away. You implement some of the things we’ve been talking about here, spend some more time on your personal goals, what you’re doing and all of that will become more and more clear as you kind of de-clog your life here with this temporary fast. You’ll gain some real insights by doing this.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lovely. I also want to get into your take on being busy is a bad thing. What’s that about?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, busyness, and we hear this a lot. It’s almost overused. It’s a badge of honor and people think, “Oh I don’t want to be busy for busyness sake, but I still want to be busy. There’s so much to do today and things are so competitive in my career,” or if I’m an entrepreneur I’m trying to get ahead in whatever way. We can just start filling our calendars and what we’re doing with a lot of stuff without evaluating whether or not it’s impactful.

It’s actually very simple to figure out if something’s impactful, you just need to find a metric, some unit of measure where you can determine whether or not you’re moving closer to the overall goal, the reason that you’re doing that activity or further away.

Most people never do this because they never carve out time during their peak mental energy to have the mental energy to draw those conclusions. They’re so busy that they just keep going onto the next thing and the next thing and the next thing, hoping subconsciously that one of these things is somehow going to be the opportunity of a lifetime.

Some day one of these things is going to fall into place. They’re going to arrive. Somebody is going to discover them. The boss is going to say, “I see all the work that you’ve done. This is the one thing I’ve been waiting for you to do. Now I’m going to make you a millionaire.” They all have this kind of like hazy, fuzzy, “this is why I’m working so hard” lie going through our head at all times.

If you get honest with yourself, you’ll realize like I stay so busy because a) I don’t want to confront whether or not what I’m doing actually matters because maybe it doesn’t matter and maybe that means that I don’t matter right now, which is not true. It just means what you’re doing doesn’t matter. And b) because I think if I let go of something, if I stop doing it, what if that’s the key to my success? What if that’s the one thing or the one connection that’s going to make me successful?

That’s just never true. There’s always other opportunities, but if you’re not measuring what you’re doing, you have no idea if you’re getting closer or further away or if it’s impactful. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how intelligent you are, you can’t hit a target you don’t set.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. All right. You set the target and you are I guess mindful of the metrics and how different activities are moving that. Could you recommend what are some key metrics that folks have found open up a world of clarity about whether things are really worth doing?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, sometimes it’s easier than others. If you’re starting to write your own book or start a business, whatever, you can literally just count the words that you’ve made progress on in your book or count the chapters or in the business proposal, count the section.

If it’s at work, there’s likely some KPIs that are being measured for you by your manager. Maybe ask. Maybe evaluate and make a list of all the activities you’re doing at work and look at them to see what you are doing them for, like, “Why am I doing this? What does my manager want to see from this? Is this activity helping me gain any revenue for the company? Is this activity visible?” Optics matter. “Is it visible for my manager? Are they actually even seeing the result of this? Is it producing anything?”

Use that data too to go to your manager or your boss and say, “Hey, I’m doing this, but we’re not measuring anything. There’s no KPI. There’s no metric. Can we either set up a metric or can we cut this because it doesn’t seem like it’s impactful?” Just asking yourself why am I doing this, what is the result that it’s bringing? Once you get to the result, and you have it backed up with a why, you can determine the metric.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. You’ve got so much good stuff. I’m a little bit jumpy.

Isaiah Hankel
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
But I can’t resist. I want to know it all. You’ve mentioned that other people’s opinions, you liken them to an infection. What’s the story here and how do we I guess inoculate ourselves?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, I always think of the movie Inception, where once something is suggested to you, it’s very easy for it to get implanted in your mind and then to grow and then eventually you think it’s your own idea and you execute on it. Now you’re chasing a goal that was suggested to you by somebody else without even knowing it. In the book it’s called the power of suggestion. It’s a real psychological phenomenon.

For example, you come into work and somebody says to you, “Hey, how are you feeling? Are you okay?” Then a little bit later a second person comes to you, maybe it’s just you didn’t comb your hair that day or whatever it is, and they say, “Are you feeling all right? You look a little disheveled.” Now by noon you’re going to go home sick because you think you’re sick and you’re not even sick. Just a very simple example.

We’ve all had something like that happen to us where somebody says something and then now it’s in our mind usually in the form of a question. Maybe they didn’t realize to do it, but that’s how powerful the power of suggestion is.

There’s a lot of studies that have shown that opinions travel through social networks just like the flu virus. The same kind of epidemiological studies that are done for the flu virus, they’ve done for opinions and for moods, emotions and they travel through these networks so that one negative person can have a drastic effect on hundreds if not thousands of people. One person’s opinion can do the same thing through the power of suggestion, through a variety of other means.

You really have to be careful. Anytime somebody gives you an opinion, especially an unsolicited opinion, you have to save yourself. What I do is I say, “I reject that.” Even if you’re just saying it under your breath or in your mind, you reject it. That’s not true because of X, Y, Z. Otherwise you’ll notice that these opinions will start setting up a camp in your brain. They’ll start forming limiting beliefs, limiting stories because our brains are wired to do that.

We have a negativity bias. We hear an opinion, we look for the negative information in that opinion, we set up limitations, and we set up negative stories in our brain to protect us from negativity.

There’s a part of your brain called the amygdala where information flows through it at a rate 12 to 1 compared to positive information. It flows through it right to your long-term memory banks so that negative information is stored 12 times faster and more securely than positive information.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that’s striking. That’s quite a multiplier. When you say, “I reject that,” can you give me some examples of maybe things recently that you heard then you’ve decided to proactively state out loud or internally, “I reject that.”

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, it sounds a little bit silly, but it was as simple as the example that I gave you. Sometimes somebody said, “Do you feel okay?” or “You look a little tired,” “I reject that. I look wide awake.” Right? I will literally say that because otherwise it can start to stack on you. Or somebody says, “You don’t really seem like you’re making progress in this area.” “I reject that. I’m making progress here, here and here. Then here’s also where I’m going to work to make even more progress.”

It’s not about putting blinders on. It’s about framing things differently. I heard it said recently that no frame, no gain. You have to choose how you frame things in your own mind.

There’s something called defensive pessimism, which is really important. I’m not about, again, putting on rose-colored glasses, being overly optimistic. You have to look at the data and look at what’s going on. That’s what defensive pessimism is. You say, “What could go wrong here?” You figure it out and it actually makes you more successful. It’s not about that, but it’s about you choosing how to frame things that are best for you, not letting other people frame things for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Talking about I guess disproportionate mental weightings, how’s that for a segue?

Isaiah Hankel
….

Pete Mockaitis
You mention the Zeigarnik Effect. I may be butchering that pronunciation. But it’s pretty intriguing. Can you unpack that for us?

Isaiah Hankel
The Zeigarnik Effect is – now you have me saying it too. It’s an effect that-

Pete Mockaitis
Zeigarnik.

Isaiah Hankel
Zeigarnik. I think I’ve had to look up pronunciation of that about 15 times. This is an effect that makes an open loop in your brain very hard to let go of. It’s why open loops, things that are kept in our working memory can have a drastic impact over our performance. The psychologist who came up with it was obviously called Zeigarnik. Now I can’t say it ….

Pete Mockaitis
Zeigarnik.

Isaiah Hankel
Zeigarnik. Bluma, yeah. He was a psychologist who noticed that a waiter had better recollections of unpaid orders. I’ve been a waiter and I know this. When you have an open table, it’s very similar to having an open thought or an open loop or a cast that’s not done in your mind. That’s how this effect was discovered.

Imagine you’re a waiter or maybe you’ve been a waiter or a waitress before. I used to waiter at a restaurant called Dockside in …. Great job. We had about five to six tables in a section. If there was a certain number of tables full, let’s say all six tables are full. They’re all eating. All six tables are on my mind all the time. I want to keep them as happy as possible because I want a tip.

If I’m asked at that time anything about the people at those tables, I have an amazing memory of those people, what they ordered, what’s going on. However, as soon as a table gets their check, they pay, and they leave, as soon as that happens and I clear out the table on the computer, if I’m asked the same set of questions about that table, I can’t remember anything. Because now the table is closed, the loop is closed, the task is closed and my brain dumps it from my working memory.

That’s the effect. Most of us walk around with hundreds of open tables in our mind at all times. We wonder why our mental energy is so dissipated. One of the most important things you can do and this is from a book, a famous productivity book called Getting Things Done.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, David Allen episode 15. Woot, woot.

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, there you go. Just make a list of all the open loops in your mind. Spend an entire day or spend – what I did is I spent three or four days during my peak mental energy times making a list of every open loop, everything from ‘I want to paint the garage one day’ to ‘I want to pay off my house’ to ‘I have this entire list that I need to get through that’s on my desk.’

We talked about collecting every inbox, which can be virtual and physical now into one place, putting it in a giant to-do list and getting all of those loops down on paper. That’s the first step to getting them out of your working memory.

Once you get them down, you’re going to have at least 100 if you do it correctly. I would say if you’re over the age of 25, you’re going to have at least 100.  Once you get them down, you’re going to be like, “I can’t believe I was holding on to all of this in my working memory this entire time.” You’re going to feel this huge sense of relief.

Then when you go through the list, if you can start crossing stuff off, if you can do it in two minutes – this is going back to the getting things done rule – just do it. Or there might be a lot of things where you’re like, “This is not happening. This is off the list completely.” Then you can file other ones into like a someday maybe file on your computer.

Then the rest of the things that you actually need to get done, you can probably get it down to in my experience a list of 100 to maybe 30 items. That’s it. Again, all of that’s relieved from your working memory. All those loops get closed. Your energy will go through the roof after this process. But again, most people never do it. Why? Because they’re too busy doing stuff that’s not important.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, another fascinating implication of the Zeigarnik Effect in terms of our memory for these open loops is I think showing up in terms of storytelling. This is reminding me of another great author, Robert Cialdini.

In his later book Pre-suasion he figured out how he can really engage in his classroom if he posed a bit of a question or a mystery like, “How is it that this tiny organization was able to grow and overtake this huge organization in marketing or sales or whatever over four months. It wasn’t this. It wasn’t this. It wasn’t that.” Then they’re like, “Well, what was it?”

I think the same thing happens in a TV series or some of these true crime podcasts, where we’re doing an investigation over time. It’s like the brain wants that closure and you’re so intrigued and it’s so top of mind that sometimes you’re not even really enjoying watching the TV series or listening to the podcast, but you’ve just got to know what happens to these people.

Isaiah Hankel
Yes, you want to close that loop. Yeah, you’re right. Everything from marketers to entertainers have known this for a long time. I know one particular marketer that sends an email every day and at the end of it, it’s like, “And tomorrow I’m going to tell you about X, Y, Z.” Curiosity is a very powerful way to create an open loop and keep yourself or what you’re doing, or what you want to be on somebody’s minds on their mind.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, talking a little bit about these different factors in terms of protecting your energy and prioritizing and not being too busy and focusing on the right stuff and closing loops and getting it all out of there. I’d like to get your take on non-negotiables and how this can be a productive means of achieving some of these ends.

Isaiah Hankel
One of the best ways to not allow a loop – one of the best ways to close a loop is to not allow a loop to be opened in your brain. One of the best ways to do that is through non-negotiables.

People have a hard time saying no today. I struggle with this. I think a lot of us do, especially people who are – people that like to seize opportunities. You want to get stuff done. You’re a doer. You think the more yes’s I commit to, the more likely I’m going to be successful, the faster I’m going to be successful. But really it’s the opposite.

I read it in a book, I think it was by Tim Ferris that said you have to move from throwing spears to holding up a shield. This transition point comes at a various stages in your growth of your career, your personal growth, whatever it is.

But you have to be very cognizant that “Should I stop throwing spears at this time? Is it time to stop trying to throw everything against the wall to see what sticks? Has enough stuck that now I need to start holding up the shield and I’ve got to start saying no? I’ve got to say, ‘I just don’t do that.’ I’m not taking on any more projects until this date. I’m not staying online past eight PM anymore, non-negotiable. This is my morning routine that I’m going to execute every single day, non-negotiable.”

There’s real power in that. The power is that you don’t allow extra loops to get open. You don’t allow extra stuff to start stealing your attention and draining your mental energy. You’ve taken a stand to protect your mental energy in a formidable way.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. I’d love to hear what are some non-negotiables that have been really powerful for you and those you’ve chatted with about the concept?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, so a couple I just said have been really powerful. Bookending my day is really important. I have a non-negotiable that at this time I’m offline and I’m home with my family and I’m present with my kids. The end. No matter what I can get done at that time, that’s just the way that it is. It actually makes me work a lot faster and really makes me prioritize a lot more carefully.

Same thing in the morning. This is the morning routine that I’m doing every single day. I have one that’s like a ten-minute routine that can be done anywhere, if I’m traveling – no matter where I’m travelling, etcetera. That is what I do. Then I have certain key days too, like on this day, this is the day that I do calls on, client calls. Only on this day, non-negotiable, no other days. It’s got to be fitting on this day.

If you can set up a few of those – I call it bookending for a reason. But if you can add bookends and a couple of bookmarks to your days and weeks, it gives you a structure and it acts almost like a tripwire to make sure that you’re saving a certain amount of mental energy, otherwise things will just continue to swell and go towards disorder. It’s entropy. It’s just going to happen. This is again kind of a tripwire to prevent the entropy from getting out of control.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess, I’ll ask it later, but instead I’ll ask it now. These ten minutes, what are you doing with your ten minutes there?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, good question. What I try to do and what I’ve noticed is if I can do something physical, if I can take in some information, then if I can put out some information, I feel really good. What I do kind of changes, but one thing I’ve been doing recently, I’d say for the past six months, is I would get up and I’ll do a little bit of core work, stretching, core, just get a little bit of I guess mobility work in, very little. I can do that in a couple of minutes.

I’ll meditate, again, for a few minutes. I will pray for a few minutes. I will read a couple of books that are usually set up into either like a devotional or a book that has really short chapters. Then I’ll do an entry in a gratitude journal. I’ll write a little bit.

This is all really kind of in ten minutes. It’s about a minute or two a piece. It’ll swell if I have more time. It can swell up to like 30 minutes, but at least I’m getting each of those in in a minute. Then finally I’ll do something, I usually will row or could be something with like a kettle bell, just to get the heart rate up a little bit before having lemon water with Himalayan pink salt.

Pete Mockaitis
Himalayan pink salt. I’ve heard of this. Tell me. It’s supposed to be special somehow.

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, I got hooked on it. I did a podcast with Onnit and I started watching a lot of their content before to prepare just like I do with your stuff. Yeah, it came up. It’s supposed to be really good for cleaning out your adrenals among other things.

Pete Mockaitis
More than any other salt?

Isaiah Hankel
Not just the salt, but the lemon water with the salt. Maybe put a little bit of apple cider vinegar in it. The Himalayan pink salt has a lot of – not chemicals, but like phosphorus, sulfurous, really good – I’m forgetting the name right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Minerals?

Isaiah Hankel
Minerals. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Feels like a word that might apply to salt. I’m just guessing.

Isaiah Hankel
That you can’t get from your normal table salt.

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

Isaiah Hankel
I would say really take seriously figuring out when you are peaking and be greedy for that time. That is your time. That is your essence. What you do during that time is who you are and who you’re going to become.

I think happiness, if that’s your pursuit that we’re all going towards, you have to realize that happiness is doing. Happiness is not just who you are. We all have a being and that’s important, but it’s also doing. We live today doing so much that we don’t think enough about what we’re doing, those activities. If you can own one or two hours during your peak time, you’re going to own yourself.

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

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, this is one I have on my desk. I think for me it’s always been kind of a good mantra that’s kept me focused. It says, “I do not fear failure. I only fear the slowing up of the engine inside of me that’s pounding saying, ‘keep going.’ Someone must be on top. Why not you?”

It might sound too intense for some people. That’s a quote from Patton, but basically it means fear is not the problem here. Failure is not the problem. Apathy is the problem, not caring, not trying to be the best that you can be. That’s what you should be afraid of.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. How about a favorite study?

Isaiah Hankel
Favorite study. Man, I had like three or four and I didn’t decide on one. One that I really like going back to what we talked about today is the study showing people’s performance during those peak mental hours. If you think about it, it’s really showing that time is relative.

How can a being or person during these set times get so much more done than outside of those times. It’s like you’re a different person and your brain is a different brain during those times. It’s something that I don’t think enough people have thought about it. We’ve just scratched the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s possible when we start tapping into human performance through the protection of mental energy.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Isaiah Hankel
Favorite book. Fiction or non-fiction?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ll take them both.

Isaiah Hankel
Fiction, I really enjoyed Fountainhead. I read it when I was young. It’s one of the things that inspired me to start my own business to even write a book instead of just going and doing what I was told in academia.

Non-fiction, so many things. The one that I read recently that I think really spoke to me and I read like three times is Relentless by Tim Grover. What I like about it is there’s people who start their own businesses. They’re very driven. People always talk about the dark side of being driven and how it’s bad.

He kind of flipped it and said, “No, this is very good and some of the best things that have ever been created and the people’s top performance and just a variety of things are because of this.” I really enjoyed it.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Isaiah Hankel
Something that helps me be awesome, I really can’t get enough of these new Apple pods because I do so many calls and I dictate so much that it allows me – one of the things that I do when I have a little bit more time in the morning is I like to wear a 40 pound weight vest and just go for a walk and listen at like two times speed a podcast like yours or a book. Then I have a dictator that I’ll dictate into. The pods makes all that possible.

Pete Mockaitis
So it’s a separate device that you’re using for the dictation?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, exactly. Because that way I don’t have to stop listening to the book and I can just rant into this. A lot of is just pure nonsense. I’m like, “Oh that’s not really a good idea,” but sometimes there’s these gems that comes out of it. Once I started using two devices for that it was a lot different because otherwise I’d have to stop my phone, what I was listening to and dictate on my phone, etcetera.

Pete Mockaitis
What is the dictation device of choice that you’re using?

Isaiah Hankel
I can look it up real quick here. It is Sony ICD-PX370 mono-digital voice dictator.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, the ICD-PX gem.

Isaiah Hankel
I was going to say, you might know that.

Pete Mockaitis
I actually don’t. Do you just keep it via audio or does some transcribing get into the picture?

Isaiah Hankel
No, I would love to know if there’s a better transcription device out there. Well, I use Rev.com. I’m guessing you know what that is. But no. The transcription devices that I’ve seen are highly complex, where you’ve got to have CDs and you have to – no, I wish it transcribed. I don’t think it does.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, how about a favorite habit?

Isaiah Hankel
Favorite habit, getting up at five AM more than anything else. This is something that like a lot of habits, you have to gently move towards. I for the longest time, for years, I wanted to joining this quote/unquote five AM club back when I was waking up at like eight AM. I’d set my alarm for 5 AM. I’d do it for like a day, maybe two and then crash and burn and give it up for a week and then two weeks later try it again.

What I finally did was I just started like 10 – 15 minutes at a time over the course of a week. Every week I’d get up, I’m serious, like 15 minutes earlier and slowly over the course of that 18 months, I’ve been able to start getting up at 5 AM. It’s just a beautiful time because you can shift when your peak hours happen.

I get up now and then very early when nobody else is up and there’s no calls or meetings or anything, I have my strategic time where my mental energies are peaking. It’s empowering to feel like you’re ahead of other people, even though there’s all kinds of time zones and I’m on Pacific Time, so I’m actually behind. Yeah, that’s by far my favorite habit.

Pete Mockaitis
But you’re also into sleeping a lot it sounds like.

Isaiah Hankel
Yes, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So when do you go to bed?

Isaiah Hankel
I track that and I go to bed at eight PM. I have to because I track it on a Fitbit, which I know is not the most accurate, but I do know – as long as you’re using the same scale, it’s apples to apples. I know what I trend at and how much sleep I need a week. I stick to that.

On a Fitbit, I have to get – I’m actually a pretty light sleeper, so I’ll be awake about an hour every night, at least according to my Fitbit. I know I need about 7 hours and 45 minutes almost on the nose in terms of averages for the week. I make sure that I get that. One of the ways that I have to do it is by going to bed at eight, so I get it.

Pete Mockaitis
So that’s 7 hours 45 minutes of actual sleep time, so the 9 hours of in the bedtime.

Isaiah Hankel
Exactly, so 7-45 plus the one hour, yeah, so it’s right around 8 to 5 yeah. ….

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I hear you. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Isaiah Hankel
A particular nugget?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, just an articulation of your wisdom that folks say, “Yes Isaiah, that was so moving and brilliant when I heard that from you.”

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, I think it comes down to the relationship fast. Most people don’t give themselves permission to do this because they think they’re being a bad person or they’re going against – we hear words like anti-social. I know it’s probably easier for me because I’m an introvert, a non-shy introvert if you’ve ever read Susan Cain’s Quiet.

But you have to be okay with being alone. If you’re not, you’re never going to really know who you are and you’re never really going to know the power that you have in your own mind and what you can do with that power of being your mental energy and what you can produce with it that will make the world a better place. If you really care about other people, you’ll figure out who you are and you’ll spend some time on your own in a relationship fast, a temporary one doing that.

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

Isaiah Hankel
Go to IsaiahHankel.com. That’s probably the easiest. Or actually the easiest is probably HankelLeadership.com. They can read some extra articles there and get a couple free chapters of the book.

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

Isaiah Hankel
Yes, make your list of every hour that you’re awake for three days at least. Just record, scale it one to ten, what’s your mental energy. There’s going to be some great insights there. Then try to find one hour, one peak hour to protect. Do whatever it takes to protect that hour. It will change your life.

Pete Mockaitis
If I could just get a quick follow up there, when you say one to ten, could you orient us a little bit? How does a ten and a nine feel and how does a five feel and how does a one feel?

Isaiah Hankel
Great question. It’s going to be, of course, subjective, but the great news is it’s just you. You are the only subject, so it’s okay to be subjective in the sense – and you’re looking at a trend. If you do this in three days and your tens are all over the place, that’s a concern. You’re going to need to do it for a little bit longer.

But if you go for three – four days, like when I did it the first time in about, yeah, three – four days, I saw a very clear trend that a ten was at about the same time every day, right around that ten AM.

For you, you can always go back and say, “Oh, now that I’ve done this for a few days, this wasn’t really an eight. This was my ten.” You’ll gain clarity as you move forward. The key is just knowing, if you want to know in practice, what are those times when you seem really, really sharp, like people are asking you a question, you’re not really delaying in your responses, you’re flying through emails very, very fast. You feel like you’re in a flow state. If you haven’t read the book, it’s by Mihaly Csik-

Pete Mockaitis
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Isaiah Hankel
There you go. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I practiced that one.

Isaiah Hankel
A lot of word challenges today. Called Flow. Read that book. Anything that makes you present and sharp, that’s the feeling that you’re going for. When does that happen?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Isaiah, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks for taking the time and good luck with all you’re up to.

Isaiah Hankel
Thank you Pete. Great to meet you and great to be here.

398: The Hidden Root of Much Workplace Conflict…And What to Do About It with Dr. Donna Hicks

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Conflict resolution expert Dr. Donna Hicks outlines the ten elements of dignity to provide a master framework for human treatment and mistreatment. She also reveals how such treatment impacts performance.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How violating another’s dignity is at the root of many conflicts
  2. Four everyday indignities people suffer at work
  3. Business reasons to honor dignity in a work environment

About Donna

Dr. Donna Hicks is an Associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University.  She facilitated dialogues in numerous unofficial diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Colombia, Cuba, Libya and Syria. She was a consultant to the BBC in Northern Ireland where she co-facilitated a television series, Facing the Truth, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu.   She has taught courses in conflict resolution at Harvard, Clark, and Columbia Universities and conducts training seminars in the US and abroad on dignity leadership training and on the role dignity plays in resolving conflict.  She consults to corporations, schools, churches, and non-governmental organizations. Her book, Dignity:  It’s Essential Role in Resolving Conflict, was published by Yale University Press in 2011.  Her second book, Leading with Dignity:  How to Create a Culture That Brings Out the Best in People, was published by Yale University Press in August 2018.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dr. Donna Hicks Interview Transcript

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

Donna Hicks
Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. I understand that much of it comes from really the frontlines in terms of conflict resolution in work, where things can be kind of spooky. Can you maybe open us up by sharing a story of maybe when you were close to danger?

Donna Hicks
Well, there’s so many, but there’s a kind of funny one I’d like to share with you. That is that during the height of the conflict in Columbia in South America between the government and the rebel groups, I was asked to facilitate a workshop between – with members of the Columbian Army and different groups within the government.  I – “Yeah, sure. I’ll do this. This sounds really interesting.”

I’d been working in that conflict for quite a few years, but this was kind of special in the sense that it was in Cartagena. We were meeting at the Presidential Palace in Cartagena. I arrived a couple of days early just to kind of adjust and so on. I stayed in this lovely hotel right on the water right in the old city. Actually, it’s a beautiful old 15th century city, so it’s charming.

I’m a runner, so I decided gee, I’m going to get up really early the next day after I run. I’m going to go running along the wall of the old city. I did. I got up. I was really early – 6 o’clock. Out there right as the sun was rising.

All of the sudden, I turned around – I felt like somebody was following me. It sort of felt creepy. I turned around and there were two military guys with machine guns running with me because they didn’t think it was safe for me to be out there running on my own at 6 o’clock in the morning. But it never even occurred to me.

This is how naïve in some ways I was because I thought, “Oh, let’s just go out for a run.” Here I was in this conflict zone. Even though it was a very in some ways very safe city, but I didn’t even know they had assigned me bodyguards. That was the one of the funniest.

Another one I just have to share with you was when we were working – my partner and I were working in Sri Lanka during the time the war was really active there. We decided that we’re trying to bring the parties together for dialogues. We recognized that there was no way that we’re going to have a meaningful dialogue if we couldn’t get to the rebels and get the rebels.

These are people who are considered terrorists. They were on the terrorist list by the US government. My partner and I said, “We’ve just got to do this. We have to in order to do anything that’s going to contribute because if we don’t have the major parties at the table, who are you going to get to make decisions?”

Anyway, very long story short, we got this Catholic priest to take us up to where the rebels were staying in the rebel territory, which nobody could get into. But this Catholic priest got us in there. It was just one of those moments where I was – we were in a boat, in this tiny little boat, going across this lagoon at about 2 o’clock in the morning, so we wouldn’t be discovered.

I’m thinking, “Oh my God, my husband is going to kill me. What am I doing?” Here we had these machine guns surrounding us. But it all worked out in the end, Pete, because we really did – it did help our efforts to try to bring people because they gave their blessings to have certain people sitting at the table with us.

But, again, I don’t know – I guess when my number is up, my number is going to be up because I have been in so many perilous situations without even thinking about it. We were so determined to do the right thing and get the job done. We could spend the whole time talking about this, but I’m sure you want to talk about dignity.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. Well, that is exciting. Well, I think it just sort of lends credibility to everything you say in terms of “I’ve seen this work in situations where folks wanted to kill one another,” so I think that’s handy. Maybe you could I guess make the bridge for us in terms of how does your research on dignity in those kind of conflict environments really port over into the just normal workplace interactions?

Donna Hicks
Well, what happened was that I was working for all those years in different parts of the world on these intractable conflicts. It was really clear to me that there was a psychological dimension to these conflicts because these were people who we would bring together to try to come up with an agreement to have discussions about how to end the violence and end the conflict.

They were smart people. They weren’t people who didn’t understand how to actually sign an agreement. They knew exactly what they had to do, but for some reason something was stopping them. They couldn’t get to an agreement. I always said, “Look, there’s something else going on here. There’s some deep emotional aspects to this resistance to finding a way out of this.”

Again, to make a very long story short, what I finally realized was these people from both sides of the divide were feeling so angry and resentful for being treated the way they were being treated by the other side. If they could put words to it, they’d say something like, “How dare you treat us this way? Don’t you see we’re human beings?”

I thought this is what’s preventing them. They need to have a conversation about this, about how being treated as if they weren’t even human beings. Then I realized that at the end of the day, this was about their dignity. That was a big light bulb went off for me. It was a major insight that led to me thinking about how to have dignity discussions with these parties before we try to sign onto an agreement.

That’s basically what I did. Then I wrote about it. It was online. Somebody from the corporate world read this description of what I felt was really missing in our understanding of how to resolve conflicts and that is how to address these issues of dignity and these deep emotional resentments that they felt before they can go and resolve the conflict.

This one guy, consultant, called me up. He said, “I’ve been reading your stuff online and I think-“ he said, “I’ve been working for a major corporation for many years and we can’t figure out why we can’t come to an agreement with management and the employees.” He said, “Would you mind coming and talking to some of the senior VPs about your dignity approach to conflict resolution?”

Lo and behold, I did that. We discovered that of course some of the underlying root causes of the differences between management and employees that they couldn’t get past were dignity-related.

That’s when the floodgates opened, Pete, because once I stated in that organization – I worked with this organization for about five years – I got calls from health care, from education, from all these different arenas who said “We think you’ve nailed our problem. We think that our people are feeling really upset about the way they’re being treated in the workplace. We think we need you.”

They say, “We think we need you to come and help us try to create a culture where people feel that their dignity is being honored.”

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love it if you could just maybe paint a little bit of a picture in terms of – in the workplace what are some ways that dignity is dishonored. I guess I’m thinking – I have all these ISIS videos playing in my head right now. We’re not doing-

Donna Hicks
You have all the what?

Pete Mockaitis
-dramatic torture or killing-

Donna Hicks
Right, right, right.

Pete Mockaitis
-in the workplace. What are the ways in which folks are feeling dishonored?

Donna Hicks
These are everyday indignities we’re talking about. We’re not talking about things where people break the law or we’re not talking about people out there fist fighting or anything like that.

We’re talking about ways in which people, especially employees in management-employee relationships where the people in positions of power – just first of all, let me just say we’re not talking about bad people here committing these acts of indignities towards their workers. That’s not the case whatsoever.

It’s just that people who don’t understand the sensitivity and the volatility around the way people are being treated – if you don’t get that, if you don’t understand the effect that you have on people – and most people don’t, by the way – you’re going to end up violating people’s dignity.

What would that look like in the workplace? Well, what that looks like – for example, oftentimes people will sort of unconsciously discriminate against one group or the other. For example, some leaders may have favorites in their direct reports. They may not even realize how often they’re choosing these favorites over some other, let’s say minority groups or women.

It’s so easy to have your identity violated and feel like you’re treated as less than simply because you’re a member of some group. This is the first element of dignity around people wanting their identity accepted.

Or you can be left out of a meeting that you feel – let’s say you worked on a project for three months and you aren’t asked to be a part of that meeting. People want a sense of belonging and inclusion especially on projects that they’ve worked on.

Or simply feel like they’re being treated unfairly, where one person gets more time and attention or one person gets paid a little bit more or less. Fairness is a really common violation of dignity.

But the one that’s the most astonishing that you might be surprised to learn, Pete, is that people – when I did my interviews with people – it doesn’t matter which organization it was because it was all the same – I would ask people to tell me ways in which they felt their dignity is being violated the most. The one element of dignity that people reported 80% of the time was the element of safety.

Now you might think, “Safety. What?” Well, it’s not physical safety. I would ask them to explain it to me, “What do you mean by safety?” They said, “Well, we don’t feel safe to speak up when something bad happens to us, especially when something bad happens when our employer/our boss treats us badly because we’re terrified we won’t get a good performance review if we speak up and say something that he or she doesn’t want to hear or feels this is a violation of their dignity.”

This idea of safety, needing to feel that you can’t speak up to your boss when she or he harms you in some way – I don’t know about you, but that one surprised me that that was the most violated element of dignity in every organization that I went into.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. This has really come up again and again on the show. I think about Google’s work with psychological safety as well. It’s a big one. I’d love to spend some more time on it. Let’s hear it. They think it’s not safe to speak up because there may be a retaliation. One format of that retaliation is a bad performance review. Can you share-

Donna Hicks
That’s one.

Pete Mockaitis
What are some of the others? Because I think there may be many managers who have got their hands in the air like, “What? What’s not safe about speaking up? I need your ideas. What’s going on?”

Donna Hicks
Sure. Sure. Well, but you know speaking up requires an openness on the part of the person that you’re speaking up to.

One of the things that I’ve discovered also in my research is that people don’t like getting feedback. People interpret it as criticism. Look, we all know this. None of us likes to get feedback saying what we’ve done wrong. It’s just an unpleasant experience.

But because many of the managers and people in positions of authority and leadership with whom I’ve worked, they’ve never had any experience with asking for feedback in a way that isn’t criticism, but feedback that is helpful because the person has a blind spot.

All of us have blind spots. Everybody has blind spots. The people work the closest to us and who are in our environment most of the time, they know what our blind spots are. We might not know, but you ask any of them and they’ll tell you what your blind spots are.

Being able to speak up and to say “Gee,” to your boss, “In that staff meeting the other day when you were making jokes about me and I was the only one who wasn’t laughing, that was a really embarrassing experience for me. You probably didn’t mean it. You probably didn’t understand the impact that it had on me, but the fact is it was really hurtful.” Can you imagine giving your boss that kind of feedback? It would be wonderful to be able to do that.

The safety, and the resistance to feedback, and the lack of openness to understanding what our blind spots are, all these things are psychological skills that really do have to be developed. Because, again, we don’t want to use feedback as a weapon; we want to use it as a helpful way to show someone the unintended consequences of his or her behavior. That’s a growth experience.

But I’m telling you, every time I went into an organization, very few managers and leaders were open to having this face-to-face feedback with their direct reports.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. This Harvard Business Review study has come up a few times that the majority of managers are just uncomfortable interacting with their workers on anything, which is striking. I’d love to hear a little bit more detail in terms of painting a picture for how does one exhibit openness versus closeness.

Donna Hicks
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Resistance to feedback versus a welcoming-ness to feedback. Because in a way you said, indeed, people don’t like getting feedback in which they’re learning what they’ve done wrong, but nonetheless we need it and we want to convey an openness and a non-resistance to it. How do you play that game?

Donna Hicks
I say, “Look, here’s the research. It’s clear that dignity is something really important to people.” Then I have some neuroscience research to show that when people’s dignity is violated, it actually shows up in the brain in the same area as a physical wound.

This isn’t just some touchy feely of how we’ve got to be nice to people. No, this is something where the harm that’s done with the dignity violation is, in the brain anyway, equivalent to the harm that people experience when they have a physical wound. This is really serious stuff.

Once people get that, once people recognize, “Oh my gosh, this is serious stuff. You’re right, Donna, I have not been thinking about the effect that I have on other people.”

It’s not, as I said, because they’re bad people. It’s because they just simply have not been exposed to this kind of education. My first job is to educate, just give people what I know about dignity. Then once they have that awareness and they have that knowledge – then people say to me, “Oh Donna, this is common sense. Of course this is all true.” I say to them, “Yes, it’s common sense, but it’s not common knowledge.” We do have to learn this.

Once they develop that sensitivity about how people actually flourish when they’re treated well and they suffer when they’re treated badly. This is a real simple truth we’re talking about here. This isn’t something you have to get a PhD from Harvard in order to understand. Little kids understand this.

Once we get that and they understand, “Gee, maybe it is important for me to get feedback from my people.” It’s not important because I want to treat my people well. That is important. But the other personal – for personal development, it’s important because you don’t want to walk around the world violating people’s dignity unknowingly, because the fact is, you’re probably violating the dignity of people in your family and people who are close to you.

This just doesn’t begin and end in the workplace. This is a life skill that we’re trying to help people with. Just being open to some feedback to say, “Gee,” Again, it’s the way it’s delivered. We want people to also learn how to deliver that feedback in addition to how to accept it.

On the other hand, on the other side of this, I work with the employees and help them figure out how to give this feedback in a way where people don’t feel threatened, don’t feel criticized, and don’t feel that this is something that they want to avoid.

Pete Mockaitis
A few things there. When it comes to the particular behaviors associated with conveying the openness and nonresistance, what does that look like?

Donna Hicks
First of all, the hope is when you want to create a culture of dignity, the hope is that your people know. You announce to them when you hire  them and when you work with them that you really want to know if there are times when he – let’s say it’s a he in this case – that when your boss says something that’s hurtful, you have to tell them, “I want to know this. This is for my own growth and development. I certainly don’t want to be treating you badly.”

There are ways of saying this to your people. You have to be explicit about it. You have to say, “I want this feedback. I certainly don’t want you to be afraid of me or not feel safe in my environment.” It goes something like that.

Then you also have to be willing to actually carry through and do it. It’s all about making yourself vulnerable, Pete, as a leader. It’s about making yourself vulnerable so that you’re not trying to cover up your mistakes or you’re not trying to push people away when they are approaching you with some feedback. It looks like what vulnerability feels like. Let’s put it that way.

You have to create that sense of safety for them to say, “Yeah, I know this is going to be hard for you,” because you’re fighting resistance. Because one of the other things that we have that’s sort of a biological reality inside us is we resist confrontation. We don’t like going to somebody with feedback.

We’ve got a double resistance, a sort of double blind problem here because there’s blindness and there’s resistance on both sides. It’s hard.

It’s hard, but I’ll tell you what, with practice I have seen people do this in such a way that by the end of a session where, let’s just say there’s one employee and a manager having a problem, what I have seen many times once they become skilled in asking for feedback and they become skilled in giving feedback, that the people end up feeling really closer to each other than they did before, even before there was a problem.

When you make that vulnerable, the intimacy that gets created in that space is just lovely.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious then, when folks share the things and they’re not fun to hear and you think the other person is mistaken, shall we say, in what they’re sharing, kind of emotionally internally how do you kind of deal with your own resistance to vulnerability or tendency toward defensiveness? How do you manage yourself?

Donna Hicks
Well, this is where a good coach comes into the picture or what I call a dignity buddy. One of the things that I ask people to do is to get someone with them – to invite someone to become your dignity partner as it were. Let’s just say it’s somebody at work whom you really trust – say you and I are both managers and we have made a commitment to try to be more open and be more vulnerable with our people and ask for feedback.

If I feel that resistance coming up – because we all know what it feels like – and if I’m not being as open as I’m sort of aspiring to be with this dignity training, then I turn to my dignity partner and I say, “Help me with this. I’m fighting this. Is there any truth?” Because you can always check out what the feedback is with your trusted partner.

It takes some brave people to corroborate that evidence, but this is what we need. This is what we need to be doing for each other. It is hard to do this on our own and to walk away from that and feeling so embarrassed and feeling like, “Oh my gosh, did I really make that person feel that way? Did she really – was I that insulting?” All of that is really hard until you get used to it. It’s like developing a muscle really. You try to normalize this process.

These resistances, we have so many of these resistances. Resistance to feedback is just one. We have to fight these things if we want to lead with dignity. That’s just the way it is. This isn’t easy.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to zoom out a little bit. When you talk about the education in terms of there’s a lot of ignorance and we’ve got a lot of sensitivity to the ways that we are having our dignity violated, could you share a couple of those gems in terms of the research that is particularly striking and shocking for folks?

We heard that the neuroscience shows that when folks have their dignity violated, it’s experienced in the brain like a physical wound. That’s kind of wild. Do you have any other little gems like that as well as the proof points that point to, “Hey, folks really do flourish when treated well and suffer when treated badly?”

Donna Hicks
Yeah. There’s lot of research out there in terms of how people respond. One of the pretty amazing pieces of research that I came across was, you probably already know it, but when – this is largely done by business ethicists, this research. I’m connected with several different groups of business ethicists around these issues of dignity in the workplace.

What they discovered is that when people feel that their dignity is honored in the work environment, several things happen. Number one people are much more willing to give discretionary energy. Their loyalty increases, their productivity increases, employee engagement increases, all of these factors that are always so volatile within the workplace.

Lo and behold, at the end of the day – and I don’t even like to use this as the first bit of evidence, but profits actually increase when people feel treated well. To me this is the most cost-effective way of doing business.

Yes, you have to learn it. You have to make a commitment to how to lead with dignity, but if you’re in a work environment and that work environment is toxic and your people are breathing that toxic energy, they’re not going to give discretionary energy. They’re not going to be loyal. They’re going to be dreading coming into the workplace. It seems to me a no-brainer, just let’s figure this out as leaders of our organizations.

If we can figure out how to create these cultures where people are feeling like they’re being seen, they’re being heard, they’re being recognized, they’re being responded to, they’re feeling valued, why not? There’s just so much evidence that this works. I don’t know. I don’t know what the argument would be against it.

Pete Mockaitis
I think most of the arguments against it as I hear them, they seem not so rigorous like, “Oh come on, it’s called work for a reason. Toughen up.”

Donna Hicks
Right, right. Get a thick skin ….

Pete Mockaitis
“Life isn’t going to hand it to you on a silver platter, so get tougher.” I’m intrigued. You mentioned that there are many ways that we can unknowingly violate others’ dignity. I’d love it if you can give us kind of a checklist of what not to do.

Donna Hicks
Well, let me just share with you about what my research has uncovered about how people want to be treated. I’ve got something called the Ten Elements of Dignity because the flip side of them is what you don’t want to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Donna Hicks
Let me just run through this really quickly, the central elements of dignity. This research I did with people all over the world. I asked them questions about times when their dignity was violated, when their dignity was honored.

The interesting thing that happened in this research was that no matter where I was in the world, even though the context of the stories that they told were different, but at the end of the day, the emotional impact of what happened was exactly the same. I created these ten patterns that came out of this, these ten elements rather, that came out of these patterns of responses from all over, all over the world.

First of all, people want to have their identity accepted no matter who they are. No matter their race, their religion, their ethnicity, sexual orientation, people just want to be accepted.

The other thing is they want recognition. When they’ve done a really good job, when they’ve done something well, people want to be, I guess praised for that, is a good word to use, but they want recognition for what they’ve contributed.

Acknowledgement is another fundamental element of dignity. That simply is that people want to be acknowledged for the suffering that they’ve endured. People want to have somebody say to them, “Oh gosh, Pete, you went through that. That’s terrible. It’s just no human being should have had to go through that.” We all want that. We want acknowledgement of the suffering that we’ve endured.

We want a sense of belonging and inclusion. I mean there are programs all over the world around diversity and inclusion. Is it any wonder? Everybody wants to be included.

Safety, we talked about that element. Again, I’m not so much talking about physical safety, but it’s certainly a part of it, but more like psychological safety.

Fairness, we talked about that one.

Independence. What I found is that people don’t like to be micromanaged. They want to feel empowered to act on their own behalf. Especially in the workplace, they just don’t want somebody breathing down their necks. They want to be in control of their jobs and in a large sense in control of their lives.

People want to be understood. This element of understanding is really important because if you think about how quickly we rush to judgment about people with so little data. We do this automatically. People want to have an opportunity to talk about what’s going on with them from their perspective instead of being judged and stereotyped.

Benefit of the doubt, people want to be treated as if they were trustworthy. Finally, the last element of dignity is accountability. When something bad happens to somebody, they want an apology. They want the person who did the wrong to come to them and say, “Look, I’m really sorry. I’m really sorry.”

These ten things, those are the positive ways of doing it, but if you want to turn them over to the other side, well, if you want to violate somebody’s dignity, don’t apologize, don’t treat them as if they are – don’t treat them fairly or don’t include them in something or don’t give them recognition. You see how these you flip them over and this is what you want to avoid. You want to avoid all these things.

But I like to say them more in the positive because that really – it’s the way that we can actually put these into practice. Accept people’s identity. Don’t judge them because of their race, their religion. Treat them fairly, safely. Give them a sense of safety, all these things. Again, once you hear them, Pete, you say, “Oh, these are common sense,” but they are not common knowledge. We just have to put them to work for us.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to dig into just a couple of them. When it comes to accept identity, you mentioned judging for race or gender. It’s not like, “I do not accept that you are a woman,” or, “I do not accept that you’re Black,” but it’s rather I impute some characteristic upon you based upon your identity markers. Is that what you mean by not accepting an identity?

Donna Hicks
Well, I’m talking more about being discriminated against because of something to do with our identity. We never really talked yet about what dignity is. My very simple definition of dignity is that it’s our inherent value and our inherent worth and that we were born with this dignity. This is something that each and every one of us as we come into this world, we are born equal in dignity.

Now, I don’t think we’re born equal in status. That’s for sure. In the workplace, we’re certainly – there’s a hierarchical structure in the workplace. We may not have equal status in some – we have to look up to the people. They’re our bosses and we have to do what they say. But the fact is that we’re all equal in dignity.

When people feel like they’re not treated as if they’re equal in dignity because they’re this, that or the other thing or because of their religion, that’s when they feel violated, that they’re being singled out simply because they’re a man or a woman or Black or they’re from an ethnic group that is different from yours. It’s more that, Pete, that people just don’t want to be treated as less than because of something about their identity.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Donna Hicks
That they can do nothing about.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said, well said, not treated less than. I’m with you. When it comes to being understood, could you share a little bit more about some of the best practices for doing that well with regard to listening or whatever is there?

Donna Hicks
Yeah, well, being understood, it seems like it’s a simple thing, but the fact is especially when we get into a little tiff with somebody, a little conflict – because all these things I’ve discovered in that context – larger conflict context – and what happens is that the minute you start getting into an argument with someone or you don’t agree with them, whatever, what goes first is your curiosity about why that person feels the way she does.

Being understood means that if you want to practice this element of dignity, you want to seek deeper understanding, especially under those circumstances where you’re feeling riled up by this person. But, you see, it’s all going against our biology. It’s going against our instincts because our instincts want us to fight.

But when we feel those impulses coming up inside us, the most important thing is to try to push the pause button and try to figure out what’s going on with this person, develop some curiosity about why she’s so upset, and say, “Look, I don’t really understand what’s happening here. I have a feeling something more is going on with you. Can you explain to me what you’re experiencing right now,” or something like that.

But it’s not our first impulse to do that. Our first impulse is to just not listen and not care about what’s going on and to seek deeper understanding.

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

Donna Hicks
Well, I think what I really want to impart and I do this every time I give a talk is for people to just be open to learning about this because it’s something that each and every human being wants. We all want to be treated with dignity. In fact, I think it’s our highest common denominator as human beings.

If we can make a commitment to trying to understand what the dignity narrative is of this person I’m interacting with, find out a little bit more about how this person has been treated in the past. Especially if you’re in a leadership position, you want to know what some of their sensitivities are. This stuff is all so helpful.

Just learning about our own sensitivities, probably more important, Pete, because if we’re going to be in leadership positions and we’re going to get triggered every second by someone of our employees, that’s not good either. We want to understand our own dignity past and how we got where we are.

Like you said, there’s so many people that just say, “Oh, the heck with this. Just toughen up. You can – anybody can do this. You just have to get tough.” You know this mentality. But the fact is you get so much farther with people, you bring about the best in people when you treat them well. Learning how to do that, it doesn’t take that much. It really doesn’t. But it does take a commitment.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Donna Hicks
This one quote I found – I can’t even remember, it was so long ago – but I use it every single time I give a talk about dignity, every single time. It’s my opening slide. It says “The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st century will not occur because of technology but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.” This is John Naisbitt, by the way.

The reason why this struck me so is because dignity is at the core of what it means to be human. As I told you earlier, the ignorance around it is encyclopedic. The gap in our understanding of this part of our humanity is so enormous that I think he nailed this whole idea.

I connected it with dignity because if we don’t understand this basic fundamental aspect of our shared humanity, you’re going to continue to see all the conflicts that are raging around the world, not to mention in our own country and in our families, in our communities, in our workplace. This is a core component of what it means to be human.

I just think John Naisbitt just said it beautifully. Technology is not going to get us there, but a deeper understanding of what our own humanity is and the humanity that we share with others. Love that one.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Donna Hicks
Well, honestly, the best research that I came across was this neuroscience research, the social neuroscience by the people out in UCLA, Matt Lieberman and Naomi Eisenberger. They’re doing astonishing research on the emotions that we all share just by virtue of being human and how to be in connecting, loving connections with other people.

I think their neuroscience research is so important because it’s giving us some hard data to show – things in the past used to be just kind of psychological. People would call them, as I said earlier, touchy feely. But now we have this evidence that it really does matter how we connect with other people and it does matter how we treat people. This launched much of my whole development of my methodology was that research.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Donna Hicks
Well, actually I’m thinking of a novel. I’m thinking of Doctor Zhivago. I just loved that book.
Yeah, yeah. I just loved that story.
Most recently there’s a book by George Vaillant. It’s a book about spirituality and human development and how at the end of the day, we are deeply spiritual beings and we really need connections with other people.

Because he did this lifelong research. He’s a doctor here at the Harvard Medical School. He did this lifelong research to show what people need in order to feel fulfilled. He has a combination of a very deep spiritual sense and he has the science to back it up. Triumph of Experience I think was what that book was called, the recent one. He’s written several, but I think it’s called The Triumph of Experience.

My other favorite author of course is E O. Wilson. He’s written several books. The latest one that he wrote that I really love is called The Meaning of Life. He is an evolutionary biologist. Any book of his that you all can get your hands on, that stuff is great. It’s a great read, if you want to understand what it means to be human, by the way. That’s the core concern.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Donna Hicks
All right, I’ll tell you what my favorite tool is. Story telling because I realized that when I started writing about dignity, I realized I had to put my Harvard academic hat away and talk to people about how I discovered this issue and why I felt it was so important.

Just like you opened with a story asking me a question about my conflict resolution work, I always use examples, stories to illustrate the most important points that I want to impart to people because people respond to stories much more than boring research, the data and the graphs and the this and that. If I tell them a compelling story, that really gets my point across.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Donna Hicks
Habit. Well, I love to exercise. I’m a sort of fitness – well, I just love everything related to health and wellbeing. I’m really trying. I was sick for a while. I had a very serious illness of cancer. I got through that I think by just continuing all my exercise regime and eating well. I think it’s just my favorite habit is trying to live a good, fulfilled life.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, and we’re glad you’re still here, so congrats.

Donna Hicks
Thank you. Me too.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a particular nugget, something you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your audience or listeners or readers?

Donna Hicks
Yeah. I mentioned this in a different context earlier, but I always share what I call the most simple truth that I’ve discovered with my dignity research. The simple truth is that when we’re treated badly, we suffer and when we’re treated well, we flourish. That simple truth – that was Tweeted out the other day. You can’t imagine how many retweets and likes I got. I didn’t even do it. Someone was quoting me.

That just simply touches a nerve with people. Treat people well and they’ll flourish; treat people badly and they’ll suffer. What do you want to do? How do you want to live your life? You want to live your life treating people well or badly, making them suffer or making them flourish? I just think that’s pretty basic.

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

Donna Hicks
Yeah, my website is lowercase dr – D – R – DrDonnaHicks.com. I am on Twitter. What else? I think that’s about it.

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

Donna Hicks
Oh, just I think, again, it’s really try to understand how powerful this concept of dignity is. Try to make it work for you, try to make it work for your relationships because I have to say, it’s one of those things that once you get it into your head and you understand it and you use it as a lens to look through things that are complicated in your life and problems in your life, if you look at it through a dignity lens, I think you’re going to see the solution really quickly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Donna, thank you. This has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you all the best as you spread the good word about dignity and all that you’re up to.

Donna Hicks
Thank you. And you too, thank you for this opportunity.