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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

 

About Brent

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

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

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

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

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

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Brent Franson Interview Transcript

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

Brent Franson
Yeah, thanks for having me, Pete.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, man. Hustle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brent Franson
Yeah. Thanks, Pete.

654: How to Tap Into Your Genius Zone with 34 Strong’s Darren Virassammy

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Darren says: "Be confident in where you sine and where you're blind."

Darren Virassammy shares his expert tips on how to make the strengths work best for you and your team.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How strengths can both be an asset and a liability
  2. The surprising sign of genius
  3. The trick to turn your blind spots into strengths

About Darren

Darren Virassammy is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of 34 Strong, comprised of a team that believes everyone deserves a great place to work and that any workplace can be great. A leading expert in the global employee engagement community, the 34 Strong team leverages the Strengths-Based approach to human development to create massive shifts within organizations, both culturally and on the bottom line. He and his team have created sustainable change in small microbusinesses, all the way up to large organizational teams at the FDA, Bank of America, and The California Department of Public Health. Darren is the co-host of the Leading Strong podcast and the host of The Nature Advantage podcast.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Darren Virassammy Interview Transcript

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

Darren Virassammy
Thanks so much for having me, Pete. What an honor to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear about so much of your wisdom. And, first, I want to hear, I understand you recently moved to Barbados. From where? What’s the story?

Darren Virassammy
Okay. So, yes, I am talking to you right now from Barbados. I moved from California, from Sacramento. I am a business owner. I’m the co-founder of a company called 34 Strong. That didn’t dissipate. We’re in a virtual world now so I have relocated here to Barbados. A big part of that story, Pete, was the fact that we wanted to give our kids a chance to live abroad. My family is originally from the Caribbean, from British Guiana, my parents and whatnot.

Barbados had a program called the Welcome Home Stamp, the Welcome Home visa, and that opened up over the course of 2020. Now, the interesting part, Pete, was we made the decision to make a move to the Caribbean in the summer of 2019 before COVID or any of that hit. So, 2020 was going to be the year that we planned on making that move to give the kids a chance to get a different experience, living overseas, looking into the United States, and really appreciating some of the things that we had there, and then getting a different appreciation from a global perspective.

One final piece I will say about that is a big part of that impetus as well was, for me, personally, outside for my family, was I really wanted to step into just leveling up into my strengths as a dad, and stepping into that place. I was personally ready to just shift into an environment like here that was going to force some of that because of some of the connections I had seen with my kids when we had been together on past trips to the West Indies, different islands.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like a cool adventure, and so, kudos. You did it and you’re living it and you’re loving it. So, that’s cool. We’re going to talk a lot about strengths here. Can you orient us quickly, your company, 34 Strong, what is it?

Darren Virassammy
Yeah, we actually do a lot of work in the space of organizational development and wellbeing. One of the tools that we’ve become very known for is our work with the CliftonStrengths Assessment. We’re helping to define what’s right with team members instead of fixating on what’s wrong with them. And then we really focused on focusing on moving the needle on employee engagement and wellbeing. There’s a loop connection between people’s overall wellbeing in their life, and employee engagement and their engagement in their work. So, we actually work in both those spaces, and we use strengths as a foundational. Foundation is kind of an anchor to build from.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, so we’ve talked about strengths a couple of times on the show and the difference it can make. Maybe, could you paint a picture perhaps by telling a story of just one professional who they were living their career life pre-strengths awareness, and then they came to getting an understanding of their strengths in a profound way, and then saw things take off as a result?

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. So, when we think of playing to our strengths, let me start by giving this caveat. There’s this great question that Dr. Donald Clifton asked. He’s known as the father of the whole strengths-based movement and that perspective and this type of thinking. And he asked this question that ended up guiding his life, Pete, and it was simply, “What happens when we focus on what’s right with people instead of fixating on what’s wrong with them?” And that guided his whole life’s work.

So, getting to your specific question about how did that create a shift, I’ll never forget early on in 34 Strong’s life cycle, in our career as a company, when we were building it, there was a scenario where there was somebody that was in kind of a managerial role. And they were managing a team, and what started happening, there was these two managers. There was a manager effectively and an assistant manager, and they had to work together. But here’s what had happened.

They got to the place where they were not speaking and hadn’t actually spoken for 18 months. They’d be in meetings together and they literally wouldn’t speak to each other. Talk about toxicity, right? What ended up happening was they both went through the StrengthsFinder process, and the manager went through it. And the reason I started with the question of “What happens when we focus on what’s right with people instead of fixating on what’s wrong with them?” when you talk about strengths, it’s easy to think of, “Oh, let’s just focus on our strengths and ignore our weaknesses.” That actually couldn’t be further from the truth.

We actually become highly aware of where we are strong so we own those elements, and we have to own where our weaknesses show up. And here’s the key caveat. Our strengths can be our greatest assets and our greatest liabilities. This particular manager, Pete, had an awakening. She came to understand that there were things that she was doing that were contributing to how her counterpart was showing up, that was triggering her strengths.

So, it went from this lens of self-awareness to team awareness in terms of how they worked through. She came to an understanding of her own strengths and realized how that might be completely out of alignment with somebody else’s strengths on the team. And then that rippled well beyond just this assistant manager but to other team members as to how she was showing up.

So, a big piece of the puzzle that came here was this awakening of self-awareness in understanding, “How do I show up as I want to so I can be confident in where I shine? And how can I be confident around the areas where I’m blind where I might be stepping into it and not even understanding that?”

Long story short, that relationship synced up and that whole division synced up in the time that took place after that. And there was moving in the direction where it could’ve ended up very, very ugly from an HR perspective. All of that went down by the wayside and actually completely improved the overall performance of that whole division as a result of those two’s relationship falling out.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that is really cool. And so, I remember I’ve got Dodie Gomer, she was a guest on the podcast, and she told a story about she went through some strengths work and one of her top strengths was Positivity. And then she was working with someone who had another strength, I don’t even remember what it was, it might’ve something that was like Skepticism but that’s not one of them. I don’t know.

Darren Virassammy
Maybe Deliberative or Restorative where there’s a natural tendency to ask a lot of questions, like, “We need to prove first,” and going through looking at things from a very risk perspective, or seeing very, very solutions-focused but to get to solutions, have to identify the problem first. But go on.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the facilitator said, “Oh, so you see the problem with this?” And Dodie said, “Not at all,” which is like, “Your manager thinks you’re full of it. He just doesn’t believe you with that Positivity that’s not kind of vibing or natural for them.” And, sure enough, that was on the money. So, that’s what I think is kind of interesting here is that I think many of us have taken CliftonStrengths or a tool that goes after it. And, listeners, if you haven’t, I just recommend every human do it. It’s great and fun and quick and you learn some things. But so, then once we’ve got sort of our report, “Okay, these are my top five strengths or…”

I went with the whole enchilada, one to 34 all ranked, so I’ve got all of mine. It’s kind of like, “Now what?” I think a lot of people say, “Okay, so my top strengths are Ideation, Strategic, Learner, Activator, Input. Okay, cool, cool, cool.” And then I read a bit about what those words mean and I feel good and I say, “Yeah, I guess that’s kind of right. Okay, that kind of rings true.” So, I’m wondering, how do I go from, “Okay, I’ve got my report,” to, “I am going to build an exceptional career with this as my rock and foundation”?

Darren Virassammy
So, I think that’s a great question. That’s often the question that we come against here, and it’s, “So, what? Now, what?” and that’s a really important question to ask here because we have to switch the lens towards looking at it from, “How do I apply this?” So, some very practical techniques to go through.

There’s an exercise that we utilize at 34 Strong, it’s part of our series that we actually train our managers on, but we actually train staff on it. In fact, as a company, we’re going through this right now for Q1. So, this is how much we believe in it, and that’s everybody in the company. Myself as one of the founders and part of the leadership team, all the way through to every single member of our staff, and it’s a very simple exercise. We call it the triple G. And it’s called grind, greatness, and genius.

So, when we think of our grind, our greatness, and our genius, we have to think these in terms of the respective zones that we show up in here. So, grind, greatness, genius, when we’re thinking about our grind zones, Pete, these are the things that when you think of in your work, in your career just the thought of thinking about these things causes your stomach to go in knots. You get pits in your stomach just thinking about these things, “Oh, my gosh, I have to do these elements,” right?

Now, here’s an important caveat as you’re going through this. Everybody is going to have grind in your work. It’s called work. There’s going to be grind. The goal here is evaluating where your grind zone is, where your greatness, and your genius zones are, and then thinking of ways that we can shift towards spending more time in our greatness and our genius zone. And I speak of this a little bit more wider. If you’ve taken the CliftonStrengths Assessment, your knowledge from that will further deepen by going through this exercise. If you haven’t taken it, this is still a very applicable exercise. And this can, again, for all levels of your career.

The greatness zone, Pete, this is things that you do well. You enjoy doing them. There are some level of enjoyment and you feel pretty strong in it. You can do them really, really well. Now, here’s an important part to understand, and this is, again, whether you’re a leader or whether you’re an employee. You might have strengths that will allow you to get into the greatness zone to where you’re actually really good at doing something that’s actually in your grind zone. So, you’re grinding to do it but when others are looking in, they’ll say, “Pete, but you do such a good job at this,” but you do not love doing it. So, make sure you actually segment those things out. It’s really important for us to do that.

I’ll give you an example of this. For me, personally, in my old job that I had before I started 34 Strong, Pete, I was a senior project manager at a commercial construction company, and I would often get pulled into the fire drill projects where a project had gone sideways. And my thought process was constantly, to the owners of the company, “Hey, instead of having me parachute in and be the firefighter on these jobs to repair client relations and going through, why don’t we spend a little more time training the other project managers on this? I can spend the time doing that.”

And that never became an area of focus. It was constant firefighting that didn’t need to happen. So, I got really good at doing something that I didn’t love. I felt like I would’ve been much better in training and developing people. And then, lo and behold, I started the company that focuses on training and developing people. So, that’s an important distinction to make.

And then, finally, we get to the genius zone. So, when we step into the genius zone, these are the things that you do so well, Pete, and that people can do so well. Oftentimes, you personally might overlook them or be frustrated. This is a very important “or.” Or, be frustrated if somebody can’t do these things. Maybe you’re a person that very naturally, like you were talking about with your strengths, with Strategic, Ideation, you can very rapidly see where things are going.

Oftentimes, for those strengths, they’re sitting in a meeting, they’re sitting in a program, and they’re like, “Okay, I see where this going. Let’s move. Let’s get onto that place.” And many others need to actually catch up in going through. That’s a sign of genius and sometimes our frustrations can be a sign of our genius and the brilliance that we bring.

So, that can be something that we do so well that others come to us, and these are things that we often overlook and say, “Yeah, it’s no big deal. Anybody could do that.” If you ever catch yourself making that statement in any point in your career, I encourage you to pause because you’re overlooking a key area of value that comes to you so naturally that others see it as a huge gift that you’re providing and you’re just overlooking at it as no big deal. That’s a sign of your genius that you have to give.

So, again, grind, greatness, genius, spend some time over the course of a month, make a list of three columns. I think we have a resource on our website as well, 34Strong.com, where you can actually grab one of those, or message us for those and we can send you one of those links to be able to get that. And it’s an exercise that you can actually go through to take some inventory of that and think of that. And that can serve as a framework to start moving and asking yourself, “How can I spend more time in my greatness and my genius zones?” And we can think of ways that we can partner with others who might be in their greatness or genius zone when we’re in our grind zone.

Pete Mockaitis
And can you share some other telltale signs for our genius zone? I think the frustration is great in terms of that can tell you something. What are some other indicators that are like, “Aha, this is genius territory”?

Darren Virassammy
So, genius territory is when you feel very energized by doing these things. And, again, it feels like second nature. You’re stepping into doing something, it felt like you have known how to do this your whole life. That’s one of the clues to talent. And there’s a level of not only energy but enthusiasm. After you’ve gotten through it, you want to do it again. You might be tired. At the end of the day, you might be exhausted, and you see this surge that can be rising to do it. You find yourself in positions where there’s third-party validation of excellence. This is not me saying, “Hey, I’m a great singer,” when I’m singing in the shower. It’s like I’m actually singing out where other people are validating that for you when you’re getting that validation.

Here’s another piece, Pete, that I will share. Think of the reasons that people seek you out as a complementary partner. And if you haven’t thought of, “Why is it that people come to you?” ask that question, “What is the value that I do bring?” because oftentimes, again, it’s staring us right in the face. We’re looking at each other right now through a camera, but if we were in person, I wouldn’t be able to see my face, so if I had a big giant mark on my face, I’d hope, Pete, that you’d say, “Hey, you might want to remove that blemish. You’ve got a leaf or something sitting on your face.”

Pete, my point here is, oftentimes, our talent, similarly that genius zone, lies so close to us we cannot see it. So, it’s when we actually seek that out and find out, “What is it that we bring? What is unique about the perspective that we bring?” You talk about your strength of Ideation. Oftentimes, people will come to somebody with the strength of Ideation, and really enjoy digging into things with them because they’re constantly and quickly able to see many, many different ideas, and bring out very, very fresh perspective, and not get stuck in the, “Well, we’ve always done this the same way, so we need to keep doing it that way.” That can be a huge tell for us to really grow in our career and in our job. Again, wherever you’re at in that cycle.

Pete Mockaitis
And let’s talk about, I don’t know if you want to call them weaknesses or lesser strengths or what’s number 33 and 34 on the CliftonStrengths report. For me, it’s consistency and adaptability.

Darren Virassammy
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Fun fact. So, what should we do with those?

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. So, our bottom five, we like to look at, if you do go through the CliftonStrengths process and you take a look at your full 34 report, you really want to get to a place where you own your top ten and spend the time to understand not how they only exist individually but how they exist collectively. The reason for that is the likelihood of somebody having their top ten in the same order as you is one in six billion.

So, even though, Pete, you and I share Activator, you have Activator, you have Input, you have Ideation much higher. We share Activator and Learner in our top ten, you have those as your top five. But that Ideation that you share, that you have there, that’s a little bit lower for me. That’s not quite as high. I appreciate Ideation but what I’m getting at is the way that Activator and Ideation will pair versus the way that Activator and Self-Assurance might pair, the way that I have those. That’s going to be a slightly different brand of the way that that Activator goes.

So, we want to start in that top ten and understanding that. And that pivots right down to the next phase of understanding, getting into exactly what you talked about, the bottom five. So, we want to explore our bottom five, and here’s the reason why. It’s not to step into the place of deficit thinking. A lot of times, and when I say deficit thinking, we think that our greatest opportunity for growth and excellence lies in focusing in our areas of weakness. That’s not true.

What we’re getting at here is our greatest opportunities for growth and human excellence lie in those top ten. But when we look at the bottom five, what are we inevitably going to have? People that have those in their top ten, those are our blind spots. So, getting to a place where we can understand those strengths, we can also come up with an awareness of, “How do those strengths provide benefit? How can they give rise to the best ideas? How will they balance out my very own gaps of where I’m at to actually create a much stronger outcome overall for the team, for the organization and going through?”

And understanding them is not, again, to the lens to become them but spending the time to dig into that so we can figure out what those needs are, so we can figure out how those can play into a greater good, and, really, bring out the fact that, on teams, our differences can be our greatest advantage that we have.

The analogy I like to give with this is the Golden Gate Bridge. I mentioned to you at the top of our time together is the Golden Gate Bridge, we’ve all seen it, it’s absolutely beautiful, but the cables that keep those two towers standing are pulling in different directions. There’s a little bit of tension that’s there. And the healthy amount of tension is actually what gives rise to the strength of the bridge in and of itself. Much the same way, Pete, that’s what gives rise to the strength of teams where we go from self-awareness, and, “How do I grow in my career?” to, “How I then ripple that to my coworkers that we need to flow, work together, and give the rise to the best ideas?”

And we come to that understanding as opposed to just saying, “This person is difficult.” We start to understand where they’re coming from, what they bring that’s very unique, and that can be an advantage to getting to exactly where we’re collectively trying to go as our outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you share some of those tactical specific adjustments you’d make in your environment and with others to pull that off so more of us are spending more time in the genius zone?

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. So, I love what you said with your bottom one, your 34 is Consistency. Let’s just use that. So, somebody that’s really strong in the strength of Consistency, they’re going to thrive oftentimes in creating and establishing systems and routines that we can rinse and repeat and then going through, and they’re naturally going to think in that sort of capacity.

So, for you, for instance, if you were working with somebody that was very strong in the Consistency strength, and your Ideation, your Strategic, your Activator might move in very different directions, but I might understand, if I’m in your shoes, you might understand, if I’m working with somebody that’s very strong in Consistency and then understanding that, they might have needs that are different than mine.

So, I’ll give you an example of this. Your Ideation might naturally go to a place where it’s going to communicate different ideas. And what we’re searching for is to give rise to the best ideas. We might throw six, seven, eight, ten different ideas on the board, and somebody with Consistency might be listening and saying, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, which one of these are we doing?” because their brain is not naturally thinking in the context of, “We’re throwing seven, eight ideas on the board to kind of wrestle with them and then see if we could push together and come up with a best idea out of that and maybe it’s not one of those ten. Maybe it’s one that merges together.”

So, when we’re communicating with somebody that might have Consistency high, when we’re looking at potentially disrupting that pattern, we give acknowledgement to the fact that, “Hey, consistency is going to bring the system.” I want a message to you so if I’m you, Pete, I might tell somebody with Consistency, just letting them know, “Right now, I’m in the process of ideating.” I might be very intentional in communicating that up front. So, “We have not landed a consistent place. In fact, the work that we’re doing now is to come up with the idea of what that could look like,” and leading the conversation with that.

Because if not, the way that they’re receiving that information might be through the lens of, “Let’s establish the system right now,” and where you might be at is working through defining what even the relevant ideas might be for the system. In a nutshell, you’re both working towards the same goal but you’re in different places as to where you might show up.

So, in spending the time to be curious not only about just reading the report but if you have somebody on your team that’s strong with that, get curious about them. Ask them, “Tell me more about Consistency. That’s one of my bottom ones. That’s in my bottom five. How does that show up for you? What does that mean to you?”

And learning about that and asking them if they have any specific needs that they feel like they have to be successful. What are the needs that they have to be successful? That might be very different than your need, and that will help you to grow your connection with direct teammates, with people that you manage, or if you’re managing up the chain with understanding what success looks like for them. And that will help you to nurture and strengthen those relationships, and, again, advance in your career as you’re continuing to grow in those techniques.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know, Shane Metcalf, a recent guest, brought up those perspectives associated with the strengthen and the associated need. Can you say more about that and give us some examples? So, Ideation, Strategic, Learner, Activator, those are some strengths. You say there are some particular needs that are often tied to them. And what might be some examples of those?

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. Shane is a great guy. I’ve worked extensively with 15Five and with Shane since 15Five was like a nine-person company, so outstanding human being. Great friends with him. When we think of some of the needs, so you mentioned Activator, I’m going to talk about that particular strength and how it kind of falls into place here.

A need that some strengths might have, and some of these are known as our influencing strengths here, Pete, they might need to verbally process. They might need to, when I say verbally process, for verbal processors, some of our strengths, like Activator, like Communication, like Command, Self-Assurance, Maximizer, those are some of them, they might need to verbally process where they think by talking. So, the talking process is thinking.

Now, here’s the thing that’s fascinating. When we’re listening to somebody that has these strengths, when they’re thinking out loud and going through that process, because those strengths bring with them a certain level of presence to be able to influence others, one of the things that we have to be mindful of, if we have those strengths or if we’re working with somebody with those strengths, is when they’re verbally processing, they might be influencing us. We might be feeling like an Activator creates some urgency, “Gosh, we got to get going. We got to get started on this.” And an Activator might unintentionally be getting things started and getting people going on things when they’re still in the verbal processing phase.

So, if you understand the needs of somebody that might be a verbal processor, my business partner, Brandon Miller, for instance, he is very much a verbal processor. And when we first started 34 Strong, I was very much an Executor so I would hear a story that made sense, I would say, “Hey, we could get this done, we could get this done, we could get that done.”

So, I’d hear what he might’ve been verbal processing, and what did I do, Pete? I went right forward to the task and three days later we’d have a chat, I’d say, “Hey, I got this done, I got this started. We’re moving forward with this,” and he might say, “Why did you get all that started? Why did you do that?” And I’m thinking, “Well, we talked about it,” because in my brain the only reason you talk about something is if you’re going to do it, and that’s where we were missing. And, thankfully, that didn’t cause us to disconnect. We weren’t eating our own cooking and it came to the place of understanding, for him, he’d signal to me, “Hey, Darren, I’m just verbally processing.” So, that was my signal to just allow that to go, allow that process to flow.

And then, for me, if I wasn’t sure if, “Hey, do we need to be moving to task on this?” I could easily ask, and say, “Are you just verbally processing right now or are we getting ready to land the plane right now? Do we want to move to task on this?” That’s just one example there, but those little nuances in understanding those of different team members can be the difference between frustration and acceleration as opposed to having to do things one, two, three, four times and we’re just missing how we actually connect and how people best learn and go forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And that’s one huge win right there in terms of, “Is this a commitment or is this just sort of kind of thinking about some things?” And, folks, their feelings can be hurt, “Hey, I planned my whole day around this thing that we talked about.” It’s like, “Oh, sorry. It was just sort of one option among many.” So, great to zero in on that.

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

Darren Virassammy
Yeah, I think these are really powerful tools to be able to take advantage of in thinking through in framing our thinking. And I want to let everybody know as well, you can go beyond this in just your work environments. You can take this sort of thinking home. Think of if you do have children or if you have a spouse.

What was really revealing for me, Pete, early on was when my wife and I both got our 34 reports unlocked, and I realized that three of her top five alone were in my bottom five. Everything that I’m talking about of understanding where people are coming from, that made our relationship make so much more sense.

And we’ve even applied this into the vein of parenting with our kids, and there’s a whole platform and push forward for going through that as well and digging into that great book called Incredible Parent. It was released earlier in January, and there’s actually a parenting assessment on strengths as well. And that was written by my business partner Brandon and Analyn Miller. And our whole Barbados story is actually featured in that book as well.

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

Darren Virassammy
So, a favorite quote of mine that I have lived by for a long time, I have so many, but the one that really stands out that’s at the core of the life that we live within 34 Strong is this African proverb, Pete, “If you want to fast, go alone. And if you want to go far, go with others.”

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

Darren Virassammy
So, my good friend, Joseph McClendon, III…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’ve seen him speak with Tony Robbins.

Darren Virassammy
He’s Tony Robbins’ business partner.

Pete Mockaitis
We did some power moves together.

Darren Virassammy
You did some power moves.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know if he’d remember me. I was one of thousands.

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. So, Joseph is actually a dear friend of mine.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great.

Darren Virassammy
We share the space of bass playing, and we facilitated some workshops together on future-vision thinking and whatnot with the iconic bass player Victor Wooten, so him and I share that. But the story that he has shared, a study that he talked about was simply this. When he was doing his doctorate of neural science. When he was going through his doctorate in that, there was this stretch of highway in this two-lane road in southern California. And on one side of the road, Pete, there was light poles, telephone poles every hundred yards or 200 yards, whatever it was.

So, what was fascinating to Joseph was accidents would happen on that highway, and frequently over 50% of those accidents would end up with at least one vehicle hitting a telephone pole, which made no sense to Joseph because it didn’t just divot off and there was like these divots that went down. It was flat open dirt and fields.

So, what ended up happening for Joseph was he started doing studies, and he interviewed everybody that survived these, and there was a common theme that emerged, Pete, and it was simply this. Everybody said, “You know, Joseph, the last thing I saw coming at me was a light pole,” and that was it for him.

What happened for him, as he realized, people are what they focus on. They were so focused on not hitting the light pole, they never saw the wide-open fields that were there for them to go through. And that is at the core of a lot of what Joseph has gotten into his teaching as an ultimate performance specialist, and I love that story because you cannot hit what you’re not focusing on. How can you become strengths-based if you’re focusing on your weaknesses?

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a favorite book?

Darren Virassammy
Favorite book of mine, there’s many to mention. I love Think and Grow Rich, the classic version by Napoleon Hill. I read it at least once a year and it seems to constantly teach me something new on a personal level, on a life level, and on a business work level each time as well.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Darren Virassammy
I love the CliftonStrengths Assessment.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Darren Virassammy
It’s pretty powerful. That’s an obvious one.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Darren Virassammy
One of my favorite habits right now is collaborating with nature. So, I believe that as we become more technologically connected, we become more nature disconnected. And nature has always been a catalyst for human excellence, human innovation, and so much of what we do is tied up in that place. So, I actually talk about that as I explore people just like Joseph McClendon. He was one of my first guests and I interviewed him on my show The Nature Advantage and he shared a lot of his takeaways of how he’s actually used nature to step into his own genius.

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

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. So, one of the ones that comes back to me a lot is “Be confidently vulnerable.” And by that, I mean be confident in where you shine and where you’re blind. When we step into the place of being confidently vulnerable, we own who we are and we own who we’re not, and that allows for our self-awareness to grow and our team awareness to grow. That’s at the core of being strengths-based.

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

Darren Virassammy
I would tell them to check out 34Strong.com. You can find me as well on LinkedIn and you can find me at NatureAdvantageShow.com as well, and check out the Leading Strong podcast as well through 34 Strong.

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

Darren Virassammy
Yeah. I say go visit 34Strong.com and there’s a free download that’s right there on the power of setting clear expectations. This can be a valuable tool if you’re in a managerial role. I know with Shane, you talked about the importance of identifying recognition, what are the forms of recognition that people like. It’s just ten simple questions that you can ask of somebody that you’re managing or of a partner that you’re working with to understand their learning styles better, understand how they liked to be recognized, and what success will look like for them. That’s something that you can use immediately and put into work, so take advantage of that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Darren, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you and 34Strong lots of luck.

Darren Virassammy
Thanks a lot, Pete. Really appreciate being on here today. Thanks for the work you’re doing.

653: Training Your Mind to Conquer Stress, Pressure, and Underperformance with Dr. Ellen Reed

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Ellen Reed says: "That which you focus on expands."

Dr. Ellen Reed reveals how to build mental toughness by training your brain to be more solution-focused.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biological reason why we underperform 
  2. Three simple questions to your build mental toughness 
  3. How to beat out stress in 60 seconds 

 

About Ellen

Dr. Ellen Reed has been a top performance coach for more than ten years, working with Dr. Jason Selk. In addition to helping others reach high-levels of success, she has a well-established career as a professional dancer. With her background in academia and the performing arts, she helps athletes, students, and business leaders reach their peak performance by developing mental toughness. 

Dr. Reed received her PhD. in experimental psychology, with a focus on memory and cognition, from St. Louis University. 

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Dr. Ellen Reed Interview Transcript

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

Ellen Reed
My pleasure. I’m so excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Me, too. Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom, talking about Relentless Solution Focus: Train Your Mind to Conquer Stress, Pressure, and Underperformance. I love so many of those words so I think you’re right up our alley. So, maybe, first, could you tee us off with a cool story? So, you and your colleague have been using relentless solution focus to help athletes win Super Bowls, gold medals, national championships. Like, can you tell a cool story with a particular athlete and how this stuff made the difference for them?

Ellen Reed
Yeah. Well, a big part of what I do is helping people perform at their best. Athletes have really kind of this opportunity to kind of show us how these mental tools can play out kind of in their arena.

But, really, what we do on a daily basis, and what the listeners do on a daily basis, is probably so much more important than what the athletes are doing, and these fundamentals were developed by my colleague Dr. Jason Selk. And you’re absolutely right that they were developed originally for athletes and teaching athletes how to focus on the right things, especially when the wrong things want to be swirling through their minds.

So, when a basketball player, is at the free-throw line with one second left, and they’re down by two, all those thoughts that want to swirl through your mind and all that pressure, how do you deal with that?

So, Jason Selk, who is the co-author on our book Relentless Solution Focus, his first book was called 10-Minute Toughness, and it was geared towards athletes. And in this book, he detailed a mental workout for athletes to do to really help train their minds be prepared for high-pressure situations. And people started picking up this book and applying these fundamentals to their own lives, in business, in their relationships, whether it be a business person, a doctor, a stay-at-home mom, and really started to find that these fundamentals, that really helped athletes play to their peak potential, really had almost better results with us regular people.

So, Jason, he started as the director of sports psychology for the St. Louis Cardinals in, I think it was 2006 where they had not won a World Series. I might need to fact-check this but they had not won a World Series in, I think, over 20 years. And the year he started with them, they won the World Series and they won the World Series again, I think, six years later. Again, I may need to fact-check this. I may be a couple years off on this.

And Jason spent, gosh, 20 plus years really studying highly successful people, and studying and paying attention to kind of the common threads that these people that have accomplished great things and people who are happiest in life, “What about them stands out? What about them kind of sets them apart?”

And what he noticed is that it’s really their ability to stay focused on solutions especially in the face of adversity, whether that be an athlete standing at that free-throw line with two seconds left, down by two, being able to keep their mind focused on, “What I need to be doing in this moment to improve or to succeed…” versus, “The pressure is on and we’re down by this much, and all of those thoughts. And I’ve got to make this shot.” All of those thoughts that are really normal that swirl through our minds on a daily basis.

So, relentless solution focus is essentially a method of training our brains to be able to stay focused on solutions and improvements when it’s really normal for us to want to focus on problems.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And so, that sounds very useful and powerful for professionals who… their brains can go, myself included, our brains can go in all kinds of places that might not be super helpful. So, I think, for me, it’s like, “Uh-oh, I feel tired. I feel stressed. I feel overwhelmed. I am annoyed at…” fill in the blank.

So, yeah, there’s all kinds of thoughts going on up in there, and I imagine some are helpful, some are not. So, walk us through it, how do we get our brains to do what we want them to do? And, maybe first, what do we want them to be doing?

Ellen Reed
Right. Right. And I love that example, and I think that those thoughts that you’re kind of talking about that are normal for you, I think we can all really relate to. How many times do you wake up and think, “Oh, I’m so tired”? And then it’s easy to carry that into the next hour, and, “Gosh, I’m so tired today. I’m so tired today. I’m so tired today.” Right? And the more we focus on things, the bigger they get in our minds.

There’s a theory called expectancy theory that states that that which we focus on expands. And those examples that you just gave are such a great testament to that. When you focus on the fact that you’re tired, and when you focus on the fact that you’re annoyed by something that your spouse has done, those things get bigger in our minds.

And when you pair that with this what’s called problem-centric thought, where it’s normal for our brains to focus on problems first and foremost. We’re built this way. This is part of our DNA. And if you think about it from an evolutionary perspective, it was really important that we were very quickly able to pinpoint and recognize the problems and threats and shortcomings in our environments and so that problem-centric thought was really essential to our survival.

But, now, statistically, this is the safest time to be alive. Even with everything going on in the world right now with COVID, it’s still the safest time to be alive. And so, this problem-centric thought that really set us up well years and years and years and years and years ago, now really just causes us to underperform, it causes us undue stress, it’s unhealthy for us. And so, how do we get around that? That’s your question. What do we do? Because we know that we’re wired to focus on problems, and we also know that the more we focus on problems, the bigger they get.

And so, relentless solution focus is essentially a concrete method of training your brain to become abnormal. Mental toughness really is abnormal because it’s normal to be driving home from work, and having done 99 things right that day and one thing less than perfect, but then on that drive home from work, you’re focused on that one imperfection. That’s normal.

What’s abnormal is to be driving home from work and thinking, “Hey, what’s one thing I want to do that’s a little bit better tomorrow?” or, “What three things did I do well today?” Can you imagine how great life would be if that was what you were thinking on your way home from work instead of hampering on that one imperfection?

And so, the point is that this requires training because it’s not going to happen for most of us naturally. Everyone once in a while I think there’s somebody that’s kind of born with this amazing mental toughness and this amazing kind of uncanny ability to stay focused on solutions. I certainly was not one of those few that was born with it. For the rest of us, we can learn to be solution-focused. And RSF, relentless solution focus, is the polar opposite of that PCT.

So, the training aspect of this is critical. And we have a couple of tools outlined in the book, and I’d love to be able to teach everybody at least one of the tools today. And this tool that I’d love to teach everybody is called “the success log.” The success log is composed of, for our purposes, three questions. In the book, it’s a little bit extended because we talk about some goal-setting in there, but for our purposes, if you can get a start on these three questions, you’re going to experience some really dramatic results.

And that first question, just ask you, “What three things did I do well today? What three things did I do well in the last 24 hours?” So, it’s forcing your brain to think about and focus on some of the little things you’ve done well when, remember, your brain wants to be focused on what you feel like you screwed up that day. So, that’s the first question.

And the second question is, “What’s one thing I want to improve tomorrow? What’s one thing I want to improve in the next 24 hours?” So, keeping your focus on making small incremental improvements instead of, “Hey, what did I screw up today?” Again, that’s where our brain wants to go.

And then the third question is, “What’s one thing I can do that could help make that improvement? What’s one thing I can do that can help make that improvement?” So, let’s say that today you got really behind on emails, and so the one thing you want to improve tomorrow is you want to catch up, you want to clean out your inbox, you want to catch up on emails. That’s where most people stop. And most people are pretty good at identifying, “Hey, what do I want to do better or what do I want to improve the next day?” but most people won’t take this critical next step to identify something concrete you can do to bring about that improvement.

So, then you might say, if the improvement you want to make is to clean out your inbox, “What’s one thing I can do that could help make that improvement?” Maybe you say, “Okay, I’m going to block out from 10:00 to 10:30 on my calendar to go through emails,” or, “I’m going to set my alarm for five minutes earlier so I can get into the office five minutes earlier and work through emails.” It doesn’t matter so much what you come up with to make these improvements. What matters and what’s important is that you’re training your brain to be searching for improvements.

And you’re really taking advantage of the brain’s ability to change and mold itself through training. It’s called neuroplasticity. You probably learned about it in school, and it’s really important. And I think anyone that thinks, “I’m just not motivated,” or, “I’m just not a morning person,” or, “I’m just not good at math,” or, “I’m just not…” you fill in the blank. We’re really good at labeling ourselves as lacking certain things. But you’re failing to recognize that you have the ability to change your brain through training. What fires together, wires together.

So, using the success log and filling out that success log on a daily basis, starts to cause those positive thoughts and those productive courses of thoughts to wire together. So, it’s a really, really useful tool that I would encourage everybody listening to this, just try to answer those three questions three, four times a week, and you don’t need to spend more than a minute or two on it.

Pete Mockaitis
And for three things I’ve done well, I guess that’s interesting. As we talk about being positive and journaling, I’m thinking about gratitude. Three things I’ve done well is a different prompt than three things I’m grateful for. Can you maybe give us some examples? Because I guess there could be a Venn diagram overlap there, like some things are both.

Ellen Reed
Yes, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
But others are uniquely…So, I’ll just put you on the spot, Ellen, can we hear your success log from today or yesterday?

Ellen Reed
So, how about I’ll do my success log for today right now?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Ellen Reed
Because usually I would do it about the end of the day and it’s about that time. So, three things I did well today. I snuggled with my boys this morning for a little bit of extra time before we all got ready and went off to school and work. I sent out an email to someone that I wanted to follow up with about getting their thoughts on the book. And, number three, I got my headphones ready for this podcast today.

And one thing I want to improve tomorrow, let’s see, I want to make sure that I get my mental workout done before I go to rehearsals. So, today, I was a little bit late getting out the door and so I had to do my mental workout kind of lunch break but I want to make sure I can get it done before rehearsal. And the one thing I can do to make that improvement is I’m going to write myself a Post-It note and I’m going to stick it on my dashboard to say, “Don’t leave before doing your mental workout.” And I’m going to get it done in the car on my way to rehearsal.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you.

Ellen Reed
So, that took what? About 45 seconds?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s quick.

Ellen Reed
And let me go back to your point and your question about kind of the three things I’m grateful for versus three things I’ve done well. I think if you’re in the habit of, every day, identifying three things you’re grateful for, I think that’s awesome, and I would absolutely keep doing that. I think that’s awesome. I think that really promotes that positive thinking and I think that’s really important for our soul.

Now, there’s an added element to the success log that I think is really important that I want to talk about, and that is developing self-confidence. Now, self-confidence, scientifically-speaking, is the number one variable for performance. It’s the number one variable for performance. So, empirically-speaking, there is nothing you can do that’s more important for affecting your performance than developing your self-confidence.

Now, remember, PCT, problem-centric thought, we’re really good at honing in on our imperfections or where we feel like we fall short, which is a disaster for our self-confidence. And so, if you can get in the habit every day of identifying just three things you did well, three little things you did well, search for the small. I spent like five or ten minutes, snuggling with my boys this morning, when it’s really easy for me to be kind of rushing around in the morning to get out the door. They don’t have to be huge. But identifying the little things you’re doing well on a consistent basis really promotes that self-confidence.

And I think it’s easy to blow this off and it’s easy to kind of shrug it off as being kind of soft. It doesn’t necessarily sound very tough to take that time to develop your self-confidence but I want to be really clear that there’s really nothing more mentally tough than being able to identify some things you’ve done well when you’ve just lost a game, or when you’ve just lost a deal, or when you’ve had a bad day at work. That is mental toughness. It’s being able to get your mind focused on what you’re doing well and what you want to improve because that’s going to make you perform better in the future. Being hard on ourselves and really beating ourselves up for mistakes is a big, big factor in people underperforming to their potential.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious then, when we talk about three things I’ve done well, should we kind of keep it broad, like in any and all domains of life?

Ellen Reed
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Or, is it preferable to focus it in terms of one thing or another?

Ellen Reed
Right, that’s a good question. And the best option is to just get it done instead of trying to get it done perfectly. And I think it’s a really important thing to point out is that you don’t have to do these success logs perfectly. Getting them done is so much more important than getting them done perfectly.

If, one day, you’re sitting there for two minutes trying to come up with something you want to improve for the next day, just stop and put it away and then come back and start a new success log the next day. It’s the consistency of forcing your thoughts onto what you’re doing well, and forcing your thoughts on searching for improvements that really works to rewire the brain. Remember, that’s the key here. That’s the key is working on re-training, rewiring the way our neurons are firing together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s one approach. Boy, there’s so much I want to ask about. Okay, maybe we’ll hit this. You say it’s key to remember 60 seconds. What do you mean by that?

Ellen Reed
Yes. Yes. Okay, great question. So, what we talk about is you want to really recognize that you’re focused on a problem and be able to come up with a potential solution within 60 seconds. And why this is so crucial, it’s so important to understand the biology behind it. I won’t bore you guys with a ton of the details of the biology behind it but I think it’s important to understand a little bit of it so you really understand why this is so important and why this is so effective.

So, when you are faced with a problem, or when you’re faced with kind of thinking about something that you messed up or something that you feel like you’re lacking in life, that sends a message to your body to feel a certain way, to experience negative emotion. And I want you to think of negative emotion as really a wonderful gift, a gift that tells you what you’re focused on because you don’t feel anything without your brain telling you to. Your body does not feel any emotion without your brain telling you how to feel.

So, if I’m focused on a problem in my life, I’m going to feel like garbage, right? I’m going to feel stress, I’m going to feel frustrated, I’m going to feel nervous, I’m going to feel worried. Whatever it is, whatever that feeling is, you’re going to feel like garbage, and that is your signal that your brain is focused on a problem.

Now, what happens when we’re focused on a problem and when we’re feeling these negative emotions is that our brain sends a message to our body to release cortisol, the stress hormone. And we’re all probably a little bit familiar with the effects of cortisol. Now, in small doses, cortisol is actually helpful for performance, it kind of gets us going.

But, now, people are walking around with really elevated levels of cortisol because of this problem-centric thought. And even at moderate doses, cortisol really wreaks havoc on our health and on our happiness. It causes us to feel like garbage but it really increases our propensity for a lot of diseases, it limits our creativity, it significantly limits our intelligence.

And, again, because of this problem-centric thought that, evolutionarily-speaking, doesn’t really do much for us anymore. Our cortisol levels, for most normal people, are really elevated to the point where it’s creating a lot of unhealthy people and a lot of miserable people. And so, being able to recognize that you’re focused on a problem, within 60 seconds gets you ahead of that cortisol release.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Ellen Reed
And so, this is why that 60 seconds is so important. Now, let me tell you though what you do within that 60 seconds because I think it’s easy to say, “Oh, just recognize you’re focused on a problem and start thinking about solutions,” right? We all probably know that it’s good to think about solutions and that it’s good to be positive and it’s good to be optimistic, but I think people have a harder time with understanding how to do that because we haven’t really been taught how to do that.

And so, I challenge everybody out there to write this down. Write down this question, it’s called the RSF tool, the relentless solution focus tool, and the RSF tool is a question. The question is, “What is one thing I can do that could make this better?” So, when you catch yourself focused on a problem, when you catch yourself feeling any negative emotion whatsoever, you’re feeling stressed, that’s your cue that you’re focused on a problem, and that’s your signal to ask yourself, “What’s one thing I can do that could make this better?” You ask and answer that question within 60 seconds and you’ve just beat that cortisol release.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s cool. And so then, I’m curious, Ellen, not to be a downer or super difficult, but what happens when there’s just not a solution?

Ellen Reed
Great question.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, your parents are dying of a degenerative illness, etc. Like, it just sucks and there’s not much you can do, but you feel lousy because your environment sucks. What do you recommend we do there?

Ellen Reed
Yeah, that’s a great question. And we’ve got to redefine the way we think of solutions. Okay? So, I think kind of the traditional definition of solution is complete resolution to the problem, right? But it’s really important that we’re really clear about how we define solution. And the way we define solution is any improvement whatsoever to the current situation even if that means improving the way you deal with the situation.

So, I think that’s a great example that a lot of people are going through. I work with, in my other life, I’m a professional dancer so I spend the first half of my day in dance class and rehearsals, and then the second half of my day coaching others. Our outreach for the dance company is in senior living facilities.

We do a little performance, we’re not doing them now, obviously, because of COVID, which has been really sad, but we go into a lot of memory care units with older adults who have dementia or Alzheimer’s, and we do like a little 45-minute show, and we use music that’s from their era, and it’s just amazing to see a lot of these residents who their caregivers will tell us, “Gosh, this person hasn’t spoken in a week, and after the performance we couldn’t get them to stop talking.”

Or, we’ll go up to the residents afterwards and try to talk to them for a little bit, and they’ll tell us about, “Oh, that reminds me of my grandchildren who I used to go to their dance recitals. And my husband and I used to go dancing all the time.” It conjures up all these emotions and these memories, and it’s really amazing to see.

Now, I completely got off on a tangent there, but I think the point that I want to make with this is that we’ve got to search for anything we can do to improve our situation. And maybe, in your specific example, maybe there is nothing we can do with a parent who is, let’s say, suffering from Alzheimer’s. But what’s one thing you can do to make their day a little bit better? Or, what’s one thing you can do to help yourself emotionally deal with watching them and caring for them?

And this isn’t a one-time question that you answer. This is something that you have to be relentless about. You may ask yourself this question 50,000 times a day. Just because you come up with one answer to the question doesn’t mean that that’s going to solve your problem, right? We’re searching for the small, we’re searching for anything we can do that will improve our current situation or improve the way we’re able to deal with the situation by one, because remember expectancy theory. That which you focus on expands.

And when you’re focused on all the sadness, that’s a really, really hard thing to watch someone that you love go through dementia or Alzheimer’s, and that can really consume a person to watch that. But when you search for the small, kind of going back to what you said, you search for what you’re grateful for, those moments of seeing that spark, or thinking about the memories, or whatever it is that turns your focus onto something positive.

Again, go back to the biology of it. You can get ahead of that cortisol release and you can prevent yourself from going down what we call the PCT tornado where you get going on a negative train of thought in a problem-centric thinking and it becomes really hard to climb out of. But as soon as you can turn that around, and the one thing you can do that can make this minute a little bit better, or make this minute a little bit better for someone else, you’ve stopped that tornado from going down and you can start that momentum going in the other direction.

Pete Mockaitis
And I want to get your take, Ellen, if there’s any skeptics in the house. We had a couple guests just very fond of the poem by Rumi about “The Guest House,” I don’t think I can recite it, but about the notion that each of our emotions is a guest which has something valuable to offer, and we should allow them to enter and remain until they exit. Or, others have said, you said that which we focus on expands.

Ellen Reed
Expands.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve also heard it said, “That which we resist persists.” So, how do we reconcile or work with the idea of avoidance or running away from negative feelings and how does that square with what we talk about here?

Ellen Reed
Okay. I love that you asked because I think probably a lot of other people are thinking the same thing. And one thing that’s important to understand is that this isn’t about running from your emotions, or resisting your emotions, or turning a blind eye to the problems in your life. It’s about being able to get to solutions faster. And, really, it’s about being able to look at your problems with much more accurately focused lenses.

It’s important to recognize our emotions, and I think people have become so afraid of negative emotion. We do everything to try to avoid negative emotion. We run from it. We take medicine to not have to feel negative emotion when, really, again, negative emotion is given to us as a gift and we need to be able to recognize why we’re experiencing these emotions so that we can start to get to work on it, start to move in the direction of, “What can I do to make this better?”

Because what happens is that we get so consumed with the problem that, oftentimes, we don’t even get to the solution. pick up any newspaper, or watch any news show, and you just see how focused the world is on problems, and it is so important to be able to recognize the problem. And, in fact, we have, in the Relentless Solution Focus book, we have this broken up into three steps. Three steps to developing this relentless solution focus.

And the first step is to recognize. You’ve got to recognize when you’re focused on a problem because, a lot of times, people will feel a negative emotion and then they’ll try to put a Band-Aid over it, or try to, like you said, kind of resist it, and, meanwhile, this problem is still swirling around in their minds but they haven’t done anything to be able to move forward with it or figure out what to do about it.

And so, that first step is to recognize that negative emotion because, remember, negative emotion is there to tell us that we’re focused on something that we can’t control or we’re focused on a problem. And so, it’s so much more efficient to focus on what you can control or to focus on the solution by asking yourself, “What’s one thing I can do to make this better?”

If everybody in our world right now was asking themselves, “What’s one thing I can do that can make this a little bit better?” just imagine what kind of a world that would be, and we can do it. We can train ourselves to think like that even though it’s normal to want to really get consumed with the problems and spend so much time focused on the problem that we never take that step towards a solution. We can learn to do that. We can learn to become more solution-focused.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, you mentioned the mental workout a couple times. Have we covered that or is that something else we should talk about?

Ellen Reed
So, that’s something else, that’s something else. That’s another tool that we outlined in the book. So, the first tool, again, was that success log that I told you as three questions. And then the mental workout is a tool that’s designed to help you visualize and keep your focus on what you want out of life, and then to practice in your mind what you need to do on a daily basis in order to get there.

So, in the book, we talk about something called the framework of achievement where we walk the readers through how to develop, basically, a vision for what they want out of life in the long term, what they want out of life in the short term, so within the next year. And that’s really important because you’ve got to know where you want to go or you really have zero percent chance of getting there. And I think so many people kind of avoid this question because it seems like such a big question that they’re afraid to get it wrong, like, “Where do I want to see myself? What do I want out of life?”

But we really challenge people to just get a start on it. Just spend a little bit of time, and we walk you through it really specifically, really concretely, it’s not scary, and just get a start on it. You don’t have to get it perfect but you want to avoid holding pattern at all costs. Get a start on that vision and then modify it along the way. But it’s important that you know where you want to go so that you’re motivated to do the things on a daily basis that are going to get you there.

So, we establish that vision, but then the really important piece of this is establishing what we call the integrity piece of the framework. By the integrity piece of the framework, we mean what it takes on a daily basis in order to achieve that vision. What are the most important daily activities for you to be doing that are going to get you to that vision in the short term and then in the long term?

So, for example, let’s say you’re in sales and your goal is to increase your sales from a million to 1.1 million in the next fiscal year. And you’ve identified that the most important thing for you to do on a daily basis that’s going to put you in the best possible position to achieve that is to make ten prospect phone calls every day.

So, what you’re going to do in your mental workout is you’re going to visualize who you want to be and what you want your life to be in the long term, so three to five years down the road, but then you’re going to visualize yourself doing those things that you need to be doing in the upcoming day in order to get there. So, you’re going to practice and rehearse and visualize making those prospect phone calls, or putting in the effort and with the intensity that you want and that you need to achieve what you want to achieve.

So, it’s really a targeted mental tool that helps you practice what you want out of life and prepares you for what you need to be doing in order to get there.

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

Ellen Reed
One of my favorite quotes is by Coach John Wooden. And John Wooden is one of the winningest coaches of all time, one of the quotes that really sticks with us, and we talk a lot about in our coaching, is that, “It’s the little things done well on a consistent basis that cause greatness.”

I think most of us know what we should be doing on a daily basis that’s going to put us in a great position to get to where we want to go, but we have a hard time executing those most important things.

And let me give you one more quote because I think this is a good one in conjunction with Coach Wooden’s quote. And this is a quote from Jason Selk’s, one of his books, I think it’s Executive Toughness, where he says that, “Highly successful people never get everything done in a day but they always get the most important things done each and every day.” So, you don’t have to get everything done in a day but you’ve got to get the most important things done.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And could you share with us a favorite book?

Ellen Reed
This is probably not what you would expect me to say but I love interior design and organizing and all of this stuff, and there’s a book called The Home Edit, and they’re actually a company and they do organizing, and they’re kind of taking the world by storm right now, The Home Edit, and they basically teach you how to organize. They teach you how to organize your drawers, your closet, your garage.

But when I go through this book and I look at all of their amazing, beautiful, inspiring pictures of these beautifully organized drawers and closets, it just reminds me in kind of a strange way of what we try to do for our clients. And they basically teach you how to get rid of all the stuff that doesn’t serve you, get rid of all the noise, get rid of all the extra stuff that we don’t need and that holds us back, and really prioritize what’s important, and make sure you have it prioritized and organized in a way that you can execute it and that it’s functional for you.

And so, I know it’s kind of a weird response.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, that’s beautiful. I think it’s a great book.

Ellen Reed
But I love that book and I love kind of what it represents for people’s lives, and I think it’s like a different way of packaging kind of exactly what we do for our clients.

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

Ellen Reed
I think it’s probably, I would say, the importance of self-confidence. I think that’s where everybody that we worked with, one of the first things that we are going to teach them is a success log.

And the beauty of it, and this is what, again, really kind of drew me to Jason’s fundamentals and Jason’s perspective is that it’s so simple.

And one of the simplest things you can do is to really start working on your self-confidence through the success log. And so, I think the nugget that probably comes back the most is, “Gosh, the success log is really making a difference and it really affects the way I go throughout the rest of my day.” And just taking that one or two minutes to identify what I’m doing well and what do I want to improve, really fuels so much performance and success and happiness in people.

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

Ellen Reed
Well, you can go to RelentlessSolutionFocus.com and that’ll take you to some really great resources. There’s also more information about Jason and myself at JasonSelk.com.

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

Ellen Reed
My challenge would be to pick one thing from this that maybe stuck with you. Maybe it was the success log or maybe it was that RSF tool, “What’s one thing I can do that could make this better?” and pick one thing and work on starting to implement that one thing. Don’t try to do it all. Pick one thing, whether it be the success log, or that RSF tool, or something else that you heard that maybe resonated with you. But try to just start implementing that one thing with consistency.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Ellen, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in your dancing and your coaching adventures.

Ellen Reed
Thank you. It was so fun to be here.

652: The Nine Mindset Shifts for Your Best Preparation and Performance with Brian Levenson

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Brian Levenson says: "We all need to stay curious so that we earn the right to be convicted."

Brian Levenson shares the key mental shifts that elite athletes use to prepare and perform at the highest levels–and work for professionals too!

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to get into the elite performer mindsets
  2. When it pays to be arrogant
  3. The visualization hack used by elite athletes

 

About Brian

Brian Levenson is the founder of Strong Skills, which provides executive coaching and mental performance coaching, speaking and consulting to elite organizations, performers and leaders. He has been fortunate to work with CEO’s, professional athletes and with teams in the NBA, NHL, and MLS, Division 1 athletic departments, the Federal Reserve, the Department of Homeland Security, Hilton, Disney, Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and many other organizations. 

Brian has a weekly podcast, Intentional Performers, where he interviews a diverse group of elite high performers. Brian has a weekly newsletter called Brian’s Message of the Week, which shares articles, videos, podcasts, and information to subscribers. Brian also created an assessment tool called the Self Belief Inventory which is used by elite athletes, executives, and organizations. His book, Shift Your Mind, was released in October of 2020.

Brian currently lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with his wife and two kids.

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Brian Levenson Interview Transcript

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

Brian Levenson
Thanks for having me, Pete. Excited to chat with you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited too, and so, we’re going to be talking about your book Shift Your Mind: 9 Mental Shifts to Thrive in Preparation and Performance. And so, I think you’ve got such a great idea that you’ve captured here. Maybe, why don’t we kick it off by hearing a little bit about the behind-the-scenes research in terms of is there a particularly surprising or fascinating discovery you made while researching this stuff?

Brian Levenson
For sure. So, I work as a mental performance coach and an executive coach but most of my career, before what I’m doing today, has been with athletes and working with athletes so I really cut my teeth in coaching people with mental performance for athletes. And as I started to work with these athletes, some are golfers, some are basketball players, baseball, you name it, I would notice that their mindset for preparation was very different than their mindset for performance. And there were many times where they were bringing their mindset for preparation into their mindset for performance.

So, we just started putting a line down a piece of paper and saying, “Hey, what do you need in preparation and what do you need in performance?” What we started to realize was that they were very different mindsets and often they were actually opposites. So, the preparation mind and performance mind, they weren’t just different. They were often like very, very polar and sort of had polarity in them.

And then as I started to study more and more elite performers and I’d watched documentaries and I’d study the great performers in music or in comedy or in sports, I would notice this trend that many of them, not even consciously, but they would actually set their mind for preparation and set their mind for performance. And then I did a deep, deep dive and took about four years to write the book formally but spent much more time thinking about this framework and using it with my clients as well. So, that’s sort of the background of the book.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s a cool big idea there. So, the preparation mindset is different than the performance mindset, and we’ve got some nine particular distinctions we’re going to dig into shortly. But when you said you noticed some of your clients, they were in performance but some of the preparation stuff was getting in there, is that a bad thing? How do we think about that? Is it fine or do we want there to be a really crisp line between them? And what difference does that make?

Brian Levenson
I think what I started to notice, even with the pro athletes that I worked with, that many of them would bring their preparation mind into their performance and it would get in the way. So, for example, perfectionism. It would really help them to drill down on what they needed to do, how they needed to do it, as they were training their body, or they were training their technique, or they’re training their mind, yet when they got between the lines and they needed to execute and compete, they actually needed to be adaptable.

So, we’ve seen performers and, for your audience, I’m sure a lot of them have been in meetings or have been in sales calls, and what they need to do to prepare for that meeting, it might be perfectionistic, but when they get into that meeting, it might be completely different than how they imagined or how they planned, and they have to be adaptable. And if they try to perfect it, it will really get in the way of their performance.

And if we just go from a macro level and zoom out a little bit, we’re recording this in the middle of a pandemic, like there’s no perfecting a pandemic. Some people might try to perfect it but you have to be agile, you have to be adaptable. So, really, the ethos and the thesis behind the book is that what we think dictates when and how far we’re going to go and what we’re capable of when it’s time to deliver. And a lot of times we just tell people to be humble or be selfless and we don’t really think about the when.

And so, I saw with my clients in sports, and then, as I said, I do a lot of executive coaching now, my clients in business, whether they’re directors or VPs or at the C-suite level, they often need to shift their mind in preparation and performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, you’re saying, “Hey, be humble, be selfless,” you’re saying, “Well, no, there’s a time you want to be humble and there’s a time where you just want to be the opposite of humble, and there’s a time when you want to be selfless and then there’s a time just want to be just the opposite of selfless, and match it up right,” is what you’re saying.

Brian Levenson
Pete, have you ever taken the Myers-Briggs or any those personality assessments?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Brian Levenson
Like, on one hand, I love them and on the other hand, I hate them. And it’s a love-hate relationship because I love data and learning more about myself, and that part I love, but I hate being put into this box, and I read it and I’m like, “Well, sometimes I’m like that and sometimes I’m not.” Like, let’s take introversion and extroversion, for example. I’m like, “Well, sometimes I’m very extroverted and sometimes I’m very introverted.”

Now, I don’t go into introvert and extrovert in the book, but I just really believe in the power of polarity, and I think when is so important when you’re talking about performance, and how you’re going to prepare, and when you need to bring out a part of you that might be more humble, and when do you need to bring out a part of you that might be more arrogant. And I think that when really dictates how far we’re going to go.

Pete Mockaitis
As you speak, I’m thinking about times I’ve been particularly humble and particularly arrogant, and I hope I matched it up appropriately.

Brian Levenson
Yeah, because if you don’t, it’s a disaster, right? It’s a disaster. If you’re arrogant at the wrong time, first of all, you seem like a jerk, and then, second of all, like that’s probably a time when you needed to learn and grow and develop, and I think about young people, for example. I know a lot of your listeners might be in their 30s, I’m in my 30s. I felt throughout my career that I’m often the youngest person in the room.

This morning I was on a board call for a nonprofit, and I was like the youngest person in the room. And I think sometimes when we’re the youngest person in the room, we feel like we have to overshare, add value, like bring something bigger to the room to compensate, perhaps, for our inexperience, or, perhaps we feel like an impostor. And I found actually it’s the exact opposite, like we need to be aware of what room we’re in, how we can add value to that room, while also understanding there’s a time to learn and grow and develop, and then there’s another time to share with conviction. And figuring out when you do those is essential.

Look, I have a podcast. My job as a podcast host is to ask questions and be very curious and learn, learn, learn. And then when I put on this hat, and you’re asking me questions, I need to share and I need to be willing to share everything that I’ve learned.

Pete Mockaitis
And you nailed that, and I’ve noticed that when I’ve been a guest on other podcasts. I just sort of didn’t make the same shift, it’s like, hey, I’m comfy, I’m behind the mic, and so I’m just sort of curious, like, “I don’t know. Well, you know, I think I would say…” And it’s like that’s not what people want when you’re the guest, like, “No, I’d actually like for you to be confident and have the answers that you’ve thought through and establish your best thinking on as opposed to just kind of, ‘Huh, I’m just thinking out loud.’” I mean, some shows you might want to do that but I noticed that was a pause I had, is that, “Oh, I would say…” it’s like, “No, Pete, you’ve actually thought about this for many hours and you’re not just making it up on the spot, and you don’t want to convey that as a guest.” So, hey, I guess humble and arrogant right there.

Brian Levenson
Yeah, Pete, let’s use curiosity because I know you are a very curious person. You’ve done hundreds of these episodes, a lot of episodes. You don’t get to, where are you at, like 800, how many episodes have you done?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, 650-ish.

Brian Levenson
Six hundred fifty, right? Like, you don’t record that many episodes without curiosity. You’re trying to learn, you’re trying to grow, you’re trying to develop, and there’s a time to have conviction in them, there’s a time to share your ideas and whatever you’ve learned along your way. Actually, I think about humble and arrogant because we’re often told just to be humble, and we’ve all been around that guy or gal who was just trying to be modest, and they’re saying, “Oh, I’m just humble,” and we’re saying, “You’re actually really not but you say you are.”

And, actually, what we need right now from our leader is not someone who is going to be humble. Right now, we need you to give us direction. Right now, we need you to give us some answers and some solutions. There was actually an interesting study that was in the Harvard Business Review that talked about when being a humble leader backfires, and it can backfire. And I’m not saying I don’t want people to be humble. Trust me, I love humility as a value and as a trait, but I just don’t think you need it all the time. And so, understanding when we tap into these different sides of ourselves is really key.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, actually, I have not read that article. When does being a humble leader backfire?

Brian Levenson
When people are looking for answers.

Pete Mockaitis
And when answers are like, “Well, hey, you know what? We’re going to explore, we’ve going to engage, we’re going to listen, we’re going to do our research, we’re going to see where the science leads.” Like, “Give me the answers.”

Brian Levenson
For sure. There are times when team members are expecting leaders to be powerful and expecting them to say, “You know what, let’s go forth. Let’s do this. Let’s maybe be a little fearless.” And in those moments, if you’re being fearful, or you’re being humble, or you’re being too careful, or you’re being too cautious, or you’re asking too many questions in the room, there does come a time where leadership requires us to step into something and take a risk.

And if you’re just going to be humble and look for a meritocracy or look for everybody to have a say, you might actually not be leading. And so, I think there are absolutely times where leaders need to step away from humility and, trust me, there are plenty of times we need to step away from arrogance. I’ve worked for arrogant bosses before and that’s not a fun experience either.

So, the book is really about the power of and, the power of when, the power of polarity. And beyond the book, I use this just like a framework for how I operate with most of the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so lay it on us. We talk about humble versus arrogant, so we got nine shifts or continua or polarities. Tell us, how should I be thinking about these in terms of like an axis, or a continuum, or a polarity, or a shift? And what are the nine specific shifts?

Brian Levenson
So, I think there are nine shifts and I don’t think they are the nine. And when we were thinking about the book cover and the title, I pushed back on the publisher, I was like, “I don’t want there to be the nine.” So, we settled on nine, I sort of met them halfway. And the reason for that is I don’t believe that these are nine shifts that everybody should use. They might have different jobs and different requirements, and these are the nine that were the most compelling, they were the most backed by research and backed by anecdotal evidence, and that I saw also with my clients.

So, we have humble and arrogant, we have work and play, we have analysis and instinct, perfectionistic and adaptable, experiment and trust in process, and comfortable and uncomfortable, future and present, fear and fearless, and selfish and selfless. But there are many other shifts that we cut out of the book. I’m just big on truth telling and these are the nine that we settled on that would be most impactful for the reader. But I hope that people finish reading the book and think, “Wow, there’s actually a different shift that I need to make that’s actually not listed in the book.” That, to me, would be a sign of success.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, with those nine pairs, the first word is generally associated with the vibe we’re going for within preparation, like, “I want to be humble. I want to have some fear. I want to be perfectionistic, etc. while I’m prepping.” And so, that might be with, “I’m writing the speech,” “I’m rehearsing the speech,” “I am practicing basketball,” “I’m rehearsing the instrument,” “I’m thinking through the plan.” That’s what preparation feels like versus performances. It’s like, “All eyes are on you and it’s time to dazzle.” Is that a fair encapsulation there?

Brian Levenson
Yeah, there’s three distinctions that I would make just so we all have clarity and we’re all speaking the same language. So, for me, preparation is the action or process of making ourselves ready and competent. It involves learning, growing, developing, improving. It’s about being ready and, hopefully, working on our competence. Performance is much more about execution. It’s about the execution of actions that will be evaluated in some way, so I do think there is judgment, there is evaluation involved when we are performing. But, at the end of the day, a performance is about execution.

And then there’s a third distinction that I do think is important to point out which is practice. So, practice, to me, is actually a combination of both the preparation mind and the performance mind. Because a great practice will be an action of working at something repeatedly so that we become more proficient. So, the argument is the book is that you need to become proficient at both the preparation mind and the performance mind so you need to practice both of these.

You mentioned getting ready for a speech. Yes, we need to practice what it’s like to be in front of an audience whether that’s our family, or our dog, or our friends, like, let’s actually practice. Dogs are probably a little harder to be judged because they’re probably just going to bark at you and run out. But try to find ways to practice your performance so that you can feel what it’s like to be evaluated and to be judged.

And then there’s also that time where you’re away on your own, working on your material, really making sure you’re perfecting your craft, and you’re taking care of everything you need to take care of so that you’re learning, you’re growing, you’re developing. And so, we need both the execution and the learning and growing if we want to be effective.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then can we say a few more words about each of the nine shifts? Not the nine, but nine. And so, we talked about humble versus arrogant. In terms of humble, hey, we’re learning, we’re growing, we’re curious during preparation. And we’re arrogant, like, “Confidently, this is the point of view that I’ve settled on and that could be compelling.” So, lay it on us some of the others here.

Brian Levenson
Sure. And before we move on from arrogant, I know arrogant triggers people and it gets them up in a roar often. And there’s a reason we used arrogant instead of confident, and it’s because we believe that it takes confidence to be humble. If you’re truly humble, it actually is an act of confidence. It’s a belief in yourself that you can learn and you can grow. For us, arrogance is this exaggerated sense of your own abilities.

And I think anybody who’s done great things in this world has to exaggerate what they believe in, and a lot of times our society will say that they can’t do what they think that they can do. So, I think there does need to be arrogance. And I, also, would argue that our society prefers humility. It prefers the person that says, “No, I can’t do that,” or, “Let me take a step back.” And it’s often the people that are willing to dare greatly and to go for it, and say, “You know what, I think I can do this,” and it’s way safer to just stay humble. It’s way safer to stay humble than to go into this space to say, “No, I believe I can do it even if society is saying we can’t.”

So, I’d like to make sure that people understand how I think about arrogance because, once again, I think we’ve all seen arrogance run amuck and it can really backfire when it does.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s very well said in terms of when maybe naysayers, like I guess I’m thinking there’s a point early on in the podcast, it’s like, “Wow, this is a lot of work and I need help, yet I don’t have much revenue or budget. What can I do? Surely, there must be exceptionally talented English-speaking people in developing nations I can hire to help out with this.” And some say, “That’s a really bad idea, Pete.” Like, “Hey, maybe data entry is something they can handle.” First of all, I thought that was a little bit, I think, maybe conceited. I thought that was a little bit of an attitude.

And, secondly, I thought, “You know what, I’m looking at English newspapers in other countries that are excellent, have excellent writing so I think this can be done.” And so, in a way, I was arrogant in that I defied the conventional wisdom of the podcast Facebook groups and such, but it totally worked out. They’ve been amazing. I love you, guys. So, yeah, that’s a better spin on arrogant. I like that.

Brian Levenson
We talk about curiosity because I think we both really value curiosity. And I love curiosity for preparation and I need to be curious. And it sounds like, “Okay, I’m curious. What is possible out there?” And then there needs to be a time to be convicted. And that conviction is often greeted or birthed from your curiosity. So, I think the arrogance in performance, if done right, will be birthed from humility and preparation.

So, done right, a lot of these shifts will actually serve the other shifts because if you’re just arrogant all the time, you’re going to miss the opportunity, you probably are thinking, “I’ll just do it all myself. I don’t even need help. Like, I’m good.” But the humility to say, “Hey, I need help if I want to get this to where I want to get it to.” You needed that and it allows you to be convicted when it’s time to execute and pull the trigger on something.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. And there’s humility in terms of, “Hey, you know what, I’ve tried it. So far, it hasn’t quite worked. Is this even possible?” I guess one way we all learn is by asking some opinions. Another way I’ll learn is to see, “Is it being done anywhere on this Earth?” Like, “Does that thing exist?” And so then, in that humility, this is why I like this idea, Brian, humility does lead to arrogance in terms of I had a period in which I was wide open to learning and exploring and seeing what was what, and being willing to be wrong. And then after having accumulated a lot of research, I’m like, “Well, holy crap, this is totally possible. I’m going for it even if people say I’m nuts.”

Brian Levenson
Like, we all have these things that are holding us back in some regard, and we’re very quick to share with others why they shouldn’t do something perhaps because we haven’t gone and done that thing as well. And so, I’m an idea guy, and I can tell you when you’re an idea guy and you share your ideas with others, the first thing they’re going to go to, most people, is why it won’t work. And I think it’s often their own stuff coming up as to why it won’t work. Sometimes it’s really good feedback and I know you care a lot about feedback, and, trust me, I do.

This will actually dovetail nicely into some of your shifts, which was your original question. Analysis and experimenting are two preparation mindsets that you’re even talking about. Like, “I ran the analysis. I tried to figure out, all right, what else is out there. I experimented. I tinkered.” And when you do the analysis, that’s when you can trust your gut. That’s when you can rely on instinct. I almost think of analysis as a mind experience. It is, “Hey, what am I thinking? How am I thinking it?” And then instinct is more of a body experience. And so, there is a time where we do need to go to the gut instead of the head.

And then I think experimenting is no different. We need to test. We need to try things. We need to try to discover. You said, “I need to see the possibilities. What’s out there? I need to experiment,” so that you can then trust your process and have an unquestioning belief and resolve in your process and the systems in which you set it up. And, for me, this is always a back-and-forth so we don’t always just stay in trust and process. We want to evolve, we want to get better, we want to experiment, we want to tinker, and keep improving.

And when the lights are on and you’re interviewing me, now is not the time for you to tinker with your process. Now is not the time to try to find a new way to do it. It’s about trusting that you’re ready, that you’re competent, and that you can do it. So, those are two other shifts that I’m hearing from you as I hear you talk.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s well said. It’s not the time to experiment. I remember I used to do a fair bit of keynoting on college campuses, and I don’t do much of that anymore, but I remember there is a big conference for fraternity and sorority people. And so, the idea is that if you’re a speaker and you’re keynoting at that conference, you’d just be exposed to like tons of different schools and groups with budget, and so you might be able to book a dozen or two keynotes off of one speech as sort of a promotional thing.

And then I remember someone from the agency said, “You know, I didn’t think it needed to be said but I guess it does that this huge keynote that sells all the gigs for a year is not the time to be experimenting with new material. It’s the time to bring your greatest hits that you know are absolute gold so people will say, ‘Wow, that person was great. Let’s book him on our campus, or let’s book him at our fraternity/sorority convention.” there is a time and a place for the experimenting and then for delivering the goods.

And I think comedians is another great example there because, well, you started the comedians. I’ll let you take it. What’s the story there?

Brian Levenson
Yeah. So, I was actually, as you were telling the story, I was thinking of Chris Rock. And what Chris Rock does is he goes and experiments at a small little club in New Jersey and tests over and over and bombs, and just tries ridiculous stuff so that when he gets to the HBO Special, he can trust his process and let go. And so, I think comedians are great at working on their craft and constantly bombing and experimenting with new material. So, I would bring that back to your situation.

The other story that I share in the book is my own. So, when I was a senior in high school, I was running for vice president of the student body, and I looked over and there were all these people running. And even the advisor, when I turned in my application, she goes, “Why are you running?” I’m like, “What do you mean why am I running?” She said, “You’re never going to win,” which, of course, fueled me to try to do it. And she didn’t know I was the eighth-grade president of my middle school. She didn’t know I had the experience to be in this role.

However, the difference between me and eighth grade when I ran as president was, I wasn’t expected at all. I came in there, I went over my speech over and over and over again, I perfected it, I got feedback. I did all this work and then I delivered a killer speech. And in eighth grade, you do an eighth grade, then you do seventh grade, sixth grade, and I was like standing ovation-type stuff, which is like maybe it’s when I peaked in life was eighth grade, but it was a moment and still people remember my speech, which is crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man, I want to hear it right here.

Brian Levenson
Brian “is the bomb” Levenson for president. I may be small but I have tall ideas. Like, I did amazing. And for that senior year, it’s four years later, or five years later, I didn’t prepare at all. And I got on that stage, and I looked over, and I was like, “Shoot, I don’t have this at all.” And so, I just winged it, completely experimented and it was awful. I was terrible and I had no shot.

And I think, similar to the comedian, or similar to anyone who has to give a speech, and we all have to do some form of speaking in our life whether it’s a wedding or a funeral or a board meeting or whatever it might, I really believe that when you prepare and you experiment and you play with all the stuff, that allows you to earn the right to then trust your process and let go of it.

So, Chris Rock is a really good example of somebody who constantly does that. Jerry Seinfeld has an experiment calendar where he marks an X every single day that he creates, and he really just believes that a lot of comedy or writing is constantly experimenting and creating. So, I think Seinfeld and Chris Rock are both good examples.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, there’s a lot of good stuff there in terms of like it is back and forth, so you had a victory. And this is, I don’t know if I made this up, but I’ve experienced it a couple of times and I’ve seen it with others what I call the second-time syndrome, which was you do something great the first time because you’re kind of worried. You’re not quite sure you got it so you put a lot of time and effort, you learn, you grow, you prep, you figure it out, and then you nail it. You’re like, “Okay, I’m awesome at this.”

And then the second time, you don’t do those preparation things because you think, “Well, hey, I was great the first time, so naturally I’m just going to be great the second time.” And the second time is actually way worse than the first time because you sort of overestimated what’s innate versus what’s the hard work and prep that needs to happen.

So, I have suffered from that myself a couple of times as well as others. And your student government example really resonates in that way. It’s that we do need to keep going back and forth here from preparation to performance, and then back to preparation, and then back to performance.

Brian Levenson
Yeah. And, by the way, I lost. I didn’t win.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I just assumed.

Brian Levenson
It did not end well. My friend, Michael Burns, won. Good for you, Michael. But, look, I think this is fear and fearlessness. And we often say, “Oh, just be fearless. Just go for it. Just live fearlessly.” And I don’t really believe in that, and I think your story is a good example of that. If you don’t have a healthy dose of fear and you don’t have a concern or any apprehension for the potential consequences or losses, you’re not going to give it the attention that it deserves, so fear is actually really helpful in preparation.

And we all know that it can be crippling when we’re in performance, and that’s when we need to shift into fearlessness. So, for me, fearlessness is a boldness. It’s being brave or courageous and not really caring about, “If I lose…” And that is healthy in performance if we’ve done the work and been fearful in preparation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, as we’ve been chatting through this, I think we’ve hit the majority of these shifts. We’ve talked about humble to arrogant, perfectionism to adaptable, analysis to instinct, experimenting and trust in the process, fear to fearlessness. How about selfish to selfless?

Brian Levenson
Yeah, selfish gets a bad rap. We tell people, “Stop being selfish.” And, for me, we have to take care of ourselves first if we want to pour into anyone else. Like, I work with a lot of executives who they’re never taking care of themselves. They’re always focused on their people.

I work with head coaches of sports teams, and they’re always focused on, “What are our players doing?” The executives are often thinking of, “What do my team need?” And they get burned out and they’re unhealthy, and then they can’t serve and be selfless. And so, for me, we really need to be selfish in preparation, which is a concern, primarily, with our own interests, benefits, and welfare. And if we do that, if we take care of ourselves, then we can serve other people.

But a lot of people, and I even think about, like, I know a lot of women who have left their career, and their whole lives is to serve their kids. And, look, I’ve got two small kids at home. Being a full-time mom, it’s tough. And I think anyone who questions that, during the pandemic, is now learning how hard that job is. It is really, really difficult.

And a lot of the women that I know, I often have these conversations with them about, “Hey, what are you doing for yourself?” because they’re living so much for their kids and they don’t always take care of themselves, and then it can backfire. So, we can see it in business, we can see it in our personal life, we need to take care of ourselves and then be outward-focused and think about how we can serve others.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I totally buy that in terms of when your needs are being met very well, you have a lot of energy, creativity, sort of loving generosity, better ability to listen and be present as opposed to be distracted by the fact that you’re hungry or exhausted or need to be doing all kinds of things you’re super behind on. Like, you’re totally better-equipped to be selfless and help others when you’ve invested there.

Brian Levenson
Pete, you even sent along this document that had all this great information about what makes this conversation great. And one of the elements of the document was, “Hey, make sure you’re good before we hit the record button.” So, I’ve got this, people aren’t going to be able to see, but I’ve got this big jug of water to make sure I’m hydrated, I went to the bathroom before, I got on here a few minutes early even though we had some tech issues. Like, I wanted to make sure that I was taking care of myself.

I’ve got two small kids at home. I told my wife, “Hey, I’m recording a podcast.” I locked the door to make sure they don’t barge in here and interrupt it. Like, there are things we have to take care of. And I’ll tell you, as a parent, I have had those experiences. My wife turned to me at one point when we had our second kid, and said, “Brian, are you okay?” And I was like, “Man, I’m tired.” And she’s like, “Yeah. When was the last time you did something for yourself?” Like, what an awesome wife, first of all. And, second of all, she was right, and I needed to start focusing on what I was doing to take care of me so that I can be there for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, it’s perfect. Well, so then theoretically that’s cool. We got nine or more shifts and a very different vibe when you are preparing versus when you’re performing. So, how does one just make that shift on command, like, “Oh, I’m now going to be selfish. Oh, now I’m going to be selfless. Oh, now I’m in analysis mode, and, oh, now I’m on instinct mode”? How do you pull that off?

Brian Levenson
Yeah, it’s hard. It takes work. I think everything worth doing, typically, takes work. And so, in the book, I’ve got a bunch of exercises. If you’re an exercise-type person, I have a workbook. I live in the how with my clients, like, “All right, how do we actually put these into place?” But I’ll just go to that selfish and selfless one. First, I had to be aware of it, I had to notice it. And then, from the notice and the awareness, I had to be intentional with what I was doing and how I was setting up my days and how I was showing up for myself. And so, I think it starts with awareness.

Then there are processes that you can integrate into your day. I even talk about winning the week instead of winning the day. I think a lot of people talk about winning the morning, and, “What are you doing every day to be successful?” I don’t know about you, but my days can change and I need to be adaptable. So, I often think about winning the week and what that looks like for myself, and where are these shifts playing for me throughout the week. But there’s a ton of exercises that you can get into.

Like, for me, self-talk is a big one. How am I talking to myself? Let’s talk about arrogance. Third person self-talk has been studied and researched, as in like literally saying, “Hey, Brian, you’re good, you’ve got this. You know how to handle this situation,” is a really good example for arrogance. Visualization is really good. We didn’t talk about future and present, but visualization is a how-to for future focus. Breathing and meditation is great for being in the present.

There are all these exercises that I talk about in the book that are how-to’s. Those are three. I’m happy to go into more of them but I think a lot of it, it takes work. So, one of the other shifts is work and play. Like, you need to put in the work and preparation if you want to earn the right to play and to play with joy. But, yeah, there’s a lot in there. I live in the how world for a long time and there are exercises that you can practice. But it always starts with, “Hey, what do I need to work on?”

So, if someone is listening to this, I would say pick three. Pick three of these shifts that you think are essential for you and then go to work on them and start bringing in tension to them, and then you can shift them and you can change them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, maybe let’s hit visualization real quick. Well, I think, in many ways, just knowing, “Hey, there’s a difference between preparation and performance. This is more of the prep vibe, this is more of the performance vibe, and so I’m going to, now, deliberately choose to move away from analysis and adapt some instincts.” So, I think that’s huge just right there. Like, conscientiously deciding, “Hey, this is how I’m looking to be right now.” So, that’ll take you far right away.

Then, let’s talk about, so we got the visualization, the mindfulness, the self-talk, how do we do visualization well? I have a feeling, working with so many athletes, you might have some pro tips that we need. Lay it on us.

Brian Levenson
I’ll just share what I do. I warm them up by doing a lemon exercise to just show them the mind-body connection. So, we go through a whole experience where they have to visualize a lemon, and how it smells, what it tastes like, what it looks like, and we’re trying to activate the senses. So, great visualization often involves activating the senses because our mind doesn’t really know the difference between whether we’re imagining it and we’re visualizing it, or if we’re actually experiencing it. So, it’s one of the powers that does exist with visualization.

And, as you mentioned, athletes, Olympians, are really big on visualization because, for many of them, it’s very hard to simulate what it’s going to be like from an environment standpoint, let’s just use the Olympics as an example. They train four years for this event that lasts, for some of them, it can be one event, and that’s going to determine how successful they are so the have to put themselves in that situation as often as possible.

The Blue Angels, who fly fighter jets 350 to 700 miles an hour and are within feet of each other, doing flips and turns and all kinds of wild stuff, they use visualization because they know they have limited amount of time actually practicing in the plane because of expenses and because of a lot of other reasons, weather, etc. So, first of all, I just try to acknowledge and get them to understand the power of the mind-body connection.

Second, how I do it with my athletes that I work with is I’ll have them tell me an experience that was a great experience. Let’s use a basketball player as an example. So, they’ll explain to me the experience. What was it like before the game? What was it like in warmup? What were they feeling? Once again, we’re going to try to activate those senses.

And then we’ll go into the game and actually record an audio clip. And with the power of phones now, it’s really easy to record and send an audio, we’re even recording this, I can use my podcast equipment, but you don’t need that. You can do it on your phone. So, I’ll type it up for them, I’ll basically try to capture their emotions and their feelings and their senses, and then we’ll try to paint the picture of what a great performance looks like, and then we’ll record it. And mine typically run about five, seven minutes and they can listen to that before a performance, and they can close their eyes and see themselves performing, and use that future focus to visualize how they’re going to perform.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we get a real good description of a great performance memory, and then you’re trying to use the senses to make it all the more powerful and come alive there?

Brian Levenson
That’s correct.

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

Brian Levenson
It’s interesting because when I was thinking about this, I was really thinking about curiosity. And I do just value curiosity tremendously, so I love, “I have no secret talent. I’m only passionately curious” from Einstein. I just think that is, when in doubt, I try to go into my curious mind and it often serves me.

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

Brian Levenson
Yeah, I mentioned that humility study earlier, but I’ll give you something else around self-determination theory, which is what makes people motivated, what allows people to thrive, especially in organizations. And self-determination theory, typically, looks at people are most satisfied when they’re competent, when they have relatedness, and when they have autonomy.

So, competence, I think people have a good sense of what that means. It’s you know how to do your job, like you’re a competent podcaster. Okay, cool. Now, relatedness, “Are you building relationships? Are you part of something bigger than yourself?” I think all of us, as human beings, crave to be part of something bigger than ourselves. And then there’s autonomy, and just, “Do I have the freedom to go toward the things that I want to?” And so, that’s something that has been really helpful for my clients and helpful for myself as well.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Brian Levenson
So, for fiction, I always say I love The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I just find it to be a great read and something that really stuck with me as far as what leads to successful teams and businesses, and I think your audience may be familiar with that book.

Then there’s a book called The Master Plan by a guy named Chris Wilson. That book is fascinating. It’s about a guy who was arrested for murder and committed the crime and was in jail, life sentence, and got out. A little spoiler alert. But it’s all about his journey. And I think it’s really valuable to hear his perspective and how he got to where he’s at. And I just couldn’t put it down.
Range by David Epstein, I think, is an awesome book. And then I go to like what is a biography-type book that I love, and I love Open by Andre Agassi. So, they’re different types of books, and I like them all for different reasons.

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

Brian Levenson
There’s an app called Pocket which I love. I send out a newsletter so whenever I read a great article or watch a great video or get a piece of content online that I really like, I throw it into Pocket and it saves the content for me. And there are sometimes where I’ll see a headline for an article and I’ll be really intrigued and curious, but I won’t be able to read it right away, so I’ll throw that into Pocket. So, I was actually telling a client about it today, so that’s a tool that I use often.

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

Brian Levenson
Twitter and LinkedIn are probably the places I play most, so it’s @BrianLevenson at both of those places. And then my website for my company is called StrongSkills.co. You can learn more about the book, my podcast, the newsletter, and the business that I’m involved with and that I founded. So, StrongSkills.co it’s dot co not dot com. I always joke that the dot com was too expensive and it wasn’t worth paying for so we went with that co.

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

Brian Levenson
When I think about that idea of curiosity and conviction, and I think we all need to stay curious so that we earn the right to be convicted. And I think about the world where we are right now, and we’re in this pandemic, it’s hard to be convicted. It feels like things change every day. And so, if we can continue to be curious, especially as it relates to what’s going on socially in our society today as well, like let’s just stay curious and then be convicted. And I find that that usually works out for me, and I find when I usually am convicted before my curiosity, that’s where I tend to regret some of the things that I say. So, I’ll just leave people with the power of curiosity so that they can step into their own convictions.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Brian, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all of your preparations and performances.

Brian Levenson
Thanks for having me, Pete.

651: How to Defuse Verbal Conflict and Prevent Toxicity from Ruining Your Day with Sam Horn

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Sam Horn says: "No one can make us angry without our consent."

Sam Horn explains how to deal with difficult people more effectively by shifting the language we use.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Words to lose and words to use in a conflict
  2. The mindset shift that makes us feel like less like a victim
  3. Two strategies for dealing with workplace bullies 

About Sam

Sam Horn, is the CEO of the Intrigue Agency and the Tongue Fu! Training Institute. Her 3 TEDx talks and 9 books – including Tongue Fu!POP!Got Your Attention? and SOMEDAY is Not a Day in the Week – have been featured in NY Times, on NPR, and presented to hundreds of organizations worldwide including Intel, Cisco, Boeing, U.S. Navy, Nationwide, and Fidelity.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Sam Horn Interview Transcript

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

Sam Horn
You’re welcome, Pete. I’m looking forward to sharing some ideas with your listeners.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to hear your wisdom. You’ve written a couple books which are helping resolve an issue that our listeners have been asking with regard to difficult bosses and coworkers, how to deal with them well. And you’ve got a wealth of expertise. Maybe you can start us off by telling any particularly noteworthy stories about a bad boss or bad collaborators that might make our jaws drop and captivate us? No pressure, Sam.

Sam Horn
Aha. Well, you know what, the origin story for Tongue Fu, actually does that, is that Dr. Ray Oshiro out of University of Hawaii had asked me to do a program on dealing with difficult people without becoming one ourselves. And in our first break, there was a gentleman, he didn’t even get up to get a cup of coffee, some fresh air. He just sat there gazing off into space.

And I was curious, I went over, I said, “What are you thinking?” And he said, “Sam, I’m a realtor.” He said, “I would deal with some really demanding people, and they seem to think they can treat me any way they want to. I’m tired of it.” He said, “I thought you were going to teach us some zingers to fire back at people and put them in their place.” I said, “That’s not what this is about.”

And he was the one who said, “I’m a student of martial arts.” He said, “I’ve studied karate, taekwondo, judo.” He said, “What you’re talking about is not about putting people in their place, right? It’s about putting ourselves in their place so we can respond with compassion instead of contempt.” And he said, “It’s kind of like a verbal form of kung fu, isn’t it?” Eureka! The perfect title, that’s what it is – Tongue Fu; martial arts for the mind and mouth.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s a great summary right there. Like, it’s not about zingers, it’s not about sticking it to them, but you put yourself in their place and are able to respond with compassion. Can you give us an example of how that could play out conversationally?

Sam Horn
Oh, boy, can I give you an example. Now, Pete, unless people are driving and listening to this, I hope they grab a paper, and I hope they put a vertical line right down the center, and put words to lose on the left and words to use on the right because we’re going to go right into what we face every day on the job.

So, on the left, put complain, because we hear complaints. Customers complain, coworkers complain, so put complain over on the left. Guess what we don’t do when people complain? Explain. Put explain on the left because explanations come across as excuses. If someone says, “Hey, the Zoom call was supposed to start at 9:00 o’clock,” “Oh, I know, it’s just some people are late.” Nope, explanations make people angry because they feel we’re not being accountable.

Over on the right, put A train. When people complain, don’t explain, take the A train. A for agree, “You’re right, the Zoom call was supposed to start at 9:00 o’clock.” Apologize, “And I’m sorry we’re running a few minutes late.” Act, “And I’ve got that information you requested. Let’s jump right into it. Rock and roll.” Do you see how the A train expedites complaints and explanations aggravate them?

Pete Mockaitis
I do. And, Sam, it is just a joy to hear the way you explain things, that your keynote background is just shining through, words to lose, words to use, the A train, and it’s memorable so I appreciate it. Keep it coming. So, agree, apologize, and act, and not to get too into the weeds here, but when something is late, you suggest the act there is just “And we’re going to just get started now.” Any alternatives coming to mind?

Sam Horn
Absolutely. Here’s another one. Say, people are arguing, right? Say, something has gone wrong, and people are finger pointing, blaming, shaming. Over on the left, put find fault, “Well, hey, it wasn’t my fault. So-and-so was in charge of it. Well, I never saw that memo.” Back and forth we go. Finding fault serves no good purpose. Over on the right, put find solutions.

And when people are arguing and it is this blaming, shaming, interrupt them and then say these magic words, “Hey, we could argue for the rest of the day, and that’s not, again, get this done. Instead, let’s figure how we’re going to prevent this from happening again. Or, instead, let’s put a system in place.” And you see how when we switch the attention to finding solutions instead of fault, now that conversation is serving a good purpose instead of a waste of everyone’s time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s good. Do we have some more?

Sam Horn
Do you want more?

Pete Mockaitis
I do. I do.

Sam Horn
Oh, do I have more.

Pete Mockaitis
Lose some words, words to use. Let’s hear them.

Sam Horn
All right. Now, over on the left, put negative accusation. Say, somebody says, “You women are so emotional.” If we deny a negative accusation, if we say, “We’re not emotional,” uh-oh, we just proved their point. If someone says, “You don’t care about your customers,” and we say, “We do, too, care about our customers.” Now, we’re proving their point, right? So, on the left, instead of denying an accusation, over on the right, redirect an accusation. I’ll give you two quick examples.

I was speaking at a conference, and a woman put her hand up in the Q&A, and she said, “Sam, why are women so catty to each other?” I decided to Don Draper that, Pete. Don Draper, in Mad Men, said, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” So, I said, “Ladies, let’s agree to never ask or answer that question again because every time we do, we perpetuate that stereotype. Instead, don’t repeat a negative accusation because it reinforces it. Instead, redirect it, say, ‘You know what I found, women are real champions of each other. In fact, I wouldn’t have this job if someone hadn’t stepped up and recommended me.’”

Or, here’s another thing you can do on the right, instead of repeating it, which reinforces it, say, “What do you mean?” or, “Why do you say that?” Because if someone says, “You don’t care about your customers,” and we say, “We do, too,” we’re in a debate. If you say, “Well, why do you say that?” they may say, “Well, I left three messages and no one’s called back.” “Oh.” “What do you mean?” or “Why do you say that?” gets to the root of the accusation, and we can solve that instead of reacting to the attack.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. Okay. Well, so, hey, if you’ve got some more, I’ll take them.

Sam Horn
I do. Okay, let’s talk about when something goes wrong, shall we?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Sam Horn
Okay. Someone has made a mistake, someone has dropped the ball, right? Isn’t it true that that word should is right there on the tip of our tongue, “You should’ve been more careful,” “You should’ve brought that up in the staff meeting,” “You should’ve asked George; he’s handled that before,” and yet the word should comes across as a critique. People will resent us even if what we’re saying is right. So, over on the left, put mistake. The word should punishes the past. No one can undo the past. They will resent us even if what we’re saying is right.

Over on the right, we’re going to shape behavior instead of should it. And with these words, “Next time…” “From now on…” “In the future…” Because if we say “From now on, if you have questions, please bring them up in the staff meeting because other people are probably wondering the same thing.” “In the future, if that happens, if you could…” Do you see how we’re being a coach instead of a critic? We’re shaping behavior instead of shaming it, and people are learning from their mistakes instead of losing face over their mistakes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. Okay.

Sam Horn
Want more? Want more?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s good. Well, so I guess I’m thinking about, so these are great best practices in terms of when you’re just engaging, you’re collaborating, you’re talking to folks, and you’ve got your communication flowing, so great choices in terms of words to lose and words to use. I’m thinking now, let’s say the listener finds themselves in the victim seat, or they are the ones being blamed, they are the ones people are finding fault with, they’re getting some criticism that might even seem undue bully-esque, just some meanies. How do you recommend we deal with the emotional stuff there and just sort of find our way forward effectively?

Sam Horn
Well, a lot of people find themselves in this situation these days, Pete, with COVID, there’s a lot of things happening. We have to enforce policies we don’t agree with, or we need to tell someone there’s nothing we can do, or we’re thinking, “Hey, it’s not my fault.” Guess what? Over on the left, put the words “There’s nothing…” or “It’s not my fault.” Because if something goes wrong, and people are blaming us and we’re saying, “Hey, not my fault. Nothing I can do. No way I can change it,” do you feel that people are concluding we don’t care?

So, over on the right, put “There’s something…” instead of “There’s nothing…” and I’m really going to give you one of my favorite examples of this. My Aunt Kaye is 80 years old and she still volunteers five days a week to go to our local hospital and to work from the 4:00 to 8:00 shift. So, I’ve said, “What has it been like these last few months with COVID?” And she said, “Sam, it’s so stressful because we have a policy with only one visitor per patient, and you can imagine these people, I’m the point of contact, they’re taking all their anger out on me.” And I said, “Well, what’s a specific example?” And she said, “Last week, a woman came rushing in. She held up her phone and she said, ‘My daughter just texted. She’s in ER. I need to see her.’”

And so, Aunt Kaye called the ER and the nurse said somebody’s already with the daughter. The mom could not get in to see her. So, the mother, understandably, goes ballistic and is taking all that anger out at Aunt Kaye. Now, she could’ve said, “Hey, I’m not the one who did the policy. Don’t blame me.” Instead, she said, “Let me see if there’s something…” instead of “There’s nothing…” “…that we can do.” She called and she asked the ER nurse, “Who is with the daughter?” It was the Uber driver who had brought her in from the accident. Well, they explained the situation to the Uber driver, thanked him, he left, the mom got in to see the daughter, and that is a shift in mentality.

You use that word victim, and if we’re being blamed for something that’s not our fault, the more we think, “Hey, this isn’t fair. Don’t blame me,” the angrier we get at them and we perpetuate that. Instead, if we say, “This won’t help. Let’s focus on what we can do. There’s something we can figure out,” it shifts the whole situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And that’s a great point in terms of like even if it is you are absolutely the victim, no joke, an injustice has occurred, you are suffering unjustly due to the hostile aggression of another, like a full-blown victim-work situation in which someone has said something wildly inappropriate at you, it’s true that if you continue to reflect on the fact that you have suffered an injustice, it’s going to make you angrier.

And by shifting your attention elsewhere, you can make some things happen. And, I guess, of course, there’s traumas and there’s crimes and there’s gradations here that kind of require some different responses but, yeah, that’s a good thought in terms of I felt that as well. If I fixate on the fact that I am experiencing injustice, I just get really mad and it usually doesn’t propel me into a helpful place, in my own experience.

Sam Horn
You know, Pete, what you’re referring to is “Why should we? Why should we take responsibility to try and be the one to solve this, or to try and make this better?” And let’s use another real-life example. I was interviewing a principal recently who…and you can imagine, a principal these days, faculties are upset, students are upset, parents are upset, the school board is on them, right? It’s a really hard job these days.

And I asked her a situation where she was able, when someone was piling on her unfairly, how she had the presence of mind, in pressure like that, to be resourceful instead of resentful? And so, she has a situation where there is a young man with a spinal injury, and his grandmother is taking care of him, and yet they had a classroom on the third floor for third grade, and this young man, and she had to tell the grandmother that he could not come to school because the elevator wasn’t working and there wasn’t an escape plan for him.

She spent three months dealing with the fire department, trying to figure out how to hack this. The grandmother is calling her almost on a daily basis, saying, “I’m exhausted. I can’t take care of this young man 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” Now, her heart is going out to this grandmother. Her heart is going out to this young man. She’s trying everything she can to resolve this and, finally, she had this epiphany. Do you know what she did, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me.

Sam Horn
She moved the third-grade classroom on the third floor down to the bottom floor, and fixed the whole situation. Now, by the way, I’m not being a Pollyanna because I’m not saying, “Everything was perfect. Everything went well.” The teacher of that third-grade class said, “Now, I’m not going to be with my peers,” and that is true. It was not a perfect solution. And she asked the teacher, “Who do we serve? We serve the students, right?”

And it served the students to be able to have their third-grade classroom on the first floor so that this young man could attend, so that they also served the parent, and it was something that was, in the circumstances, the best decision. And, once again, it came from this mentality of “If I put my mind to it, if I keep being proactive instead of reactive, I will come up with a rising-tide solution, and it doesn’t just serve me. It’s going to serve the people I’m serving. And it may not be perfect, it’s better than what we’ve got.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. And those sorts of creative ideas, I’ve discovered and I think there’s some good neuroscience behind this as well, don’t tend to come when you’re angry and riled up and ready to fight. They more so tend to come when I feel kind of relaxed, I’ve got some space to chew on things, to let my brain kind of dance and play around and land somewhere because it’s natural to say, “Well, hey, the third-grade classroom, this is just where it is. That’s how it’s always been. That’s how the school is set up,” and then it does take a little bit of a shift to say, “Oh, but I suppose we could swap it because why not?” I think that’s a great example right there.

Sam Horn
So, let’s go to something you’re talking about, this anger we have. And, by the way, Pete, this is why I juxtapose things, that’s why we put a column on the left of something has gone wrong, and Elvis Presly, of all people, has a great quote about this. Do you know what he said?

Pete Mockaitis
“I’m all shook up.”

Sam Horn
He said that, too. He said, “When things go wrong, don’t go with them.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sam Horn
Just see, on the left, when things go wrong, we can find fault, we can tell them it’s not our fault, and it will not help. So, we shift over to the right, to these responses instead of reactions. Here’s one of my favorite examples. You were talking about angry. I often close my Tongue Fu programs with this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt. She said, “No one can make us feel inferior without our consent.” And I’ve adapted that, with credit to her, to say no one can make us angry without our consent.

And there was a gruff construction boss, and he stood up, and he said, “Sam, you’re pulling a Pollyanna with this one.” He said, “You have no idea of the kind of people I deal with.” He said, “Do you mean if someone’s yelling in my face, that’s not supposed to make me mad?” And there was a woman who stood up and she said, “I’m a surgical nurse.” She said, “I agree with this because I’ve lived through it.” She said, “I deal with a neurosurgeon who’s the most abrasive individual I have ever met.” She said, “He is a brilliant physician, he has zip people skills.” She said, “Last year, I was a fraction of a second late handing him an instrument in surgery, he berated me in front of my peers. He humiliated me in front of that team.” She said, “It took all my professionalism just to continue with the operation and not walk out.”

She said, “When I was driving home, I got so mad at him. I sat down at the dinner table, I told my husband what happened, I said, ‘Oh, that doctor makes me mad.’” She said, “My husband had heard this before. He said, ‘Judy, what time is it?’” She said, “It’s 7:00 o’clock.” He said, “What time did this happen?” And she said, “9:00 o’clock this morning.” He said, “Judy, is it the doctor who’s making you mad?” And he got up and left the table. And she said, “I sat there and I thought about it, and I realized it wasn’t the doctor who was making me mad. The doctor wasn’t even in the room.”

She said, “I was the one who had given him a ride home in my car.” She said, “I was the one who set him a place at my dinner table.” She said, “I decided right there and then that never again was that doctor welcome in my home or in my head. And when I left the hospital, I was leaving him there, and never again was I giving him the power to poison my personal life.”

And so, I’m asking all our listeners, Pete, who do we take home with us? Who do we give a ride to in our car? Who do set a place for at our dinner table? And can we promise ourselves that we will leave that person at work? We will no longer give them the power to poison that precious personal time with our loved ones at home.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Sam, that is inspiring and wise, and you’re really like, “Well, heck, yeah, I should not allow that person to co-op my brain for that length of time. That’s just silliness.” So, I think that that really installs some conviction in our hearts, like, “Yeah, I’m not going to let that happen anymore.” That being said, when the rubber meets the road and you’re in the heat of battle, it can be sometimes easier said than done when ruminations start to crop up. How do you recommend we put the kibosh on them?

Sam Horn
Oh, Pete, I love that question. That’s the perfect follow-up question, as I agree with you in theory, “How do I do it in practice?” I wrote a book called ConZentrate. Stephen Covey said it was the best book he ever saw on focus. And what you just brought up, we cannot not think about something, right? If we tell our kids, “Don’t run around the pool,” what are they going to do? If I say I’m not going to get mad, what are we going to do? If we’re an athlete, and we say don’t double-fault or don’t drop the ball, what are we going to do?

You are right. Instead of saying, “I’m not going to let that person make me mad. I’m not going to take that person home with me.” Over on the left is what we don’t want. Over on the right is what we do want, so it’s called catch and correct. As soon as we become aware, whether we are telling ourselves what we don’t want, “You better not be late again,” “Don’t forget,” “Stop hitting your sister,” “Don’t get angry,” that’s over on the left.

No, switch over to the right. What do you want? Well, you want to stay calm. You want to focus on what’s right in your world. You want to look at this person across the table as if, for the first or last time, so that you see them and you are present to them instead of preoccupied with what happened ten years before.

We want to tell our kids, “Give your sister space, a hula hoop of space,” which is something to do instead of stop hitting your sister. We want to say, “Be five minutes early,” instead of, “Don’t be late.” It’s, “Remember to tell your boss this when you walk in in the morning,” instead of, “Don’t forget.” So, you are right, is that we fill our mind with words and language and images of what we do want instead of telling ourselves what we don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s handy. And so then, I imagine in the nasty surgeon example, you have an intentionality associated with, “This is how I’m going to be, do, feel, conduct myself.”

And by visualizing that and prepping it in advance, you’re more likely to remember, “Oh, that jerk, I want to kill him. Oh, wait a sec, okay, okay. I’m going to be like calm or joyful or curious,” fill in the blank, and that’s how we’re going to roll as opposed to fixating on, “Oh, don’t imagine stabbing him with a scalpel. Don’t imagine cutting his finger off,” whatever. Getting really violent here in the surgery room.

Sam Horn
And, Pete, see, I’m a pragmatist as well. So, if people are thinking, “Oh, this is just woo-woo Pollyanna stuff. What if this person is really egregious? What if what they’re doing, I’m just supposed to ignore it?” So, here is the bottom-line action we can take as well. There’s the mindset and there’s also then the mechanics of a pragmatic action.

When we’re not happy with a situation, there’s three things we can do. We change the other person, we can change the situation, we can change ourselves. So, we jump to number three – changing ourselves. Let’s look at the first two.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, how do you do that?

Sam Horn
Okay. Here is the good news. There is strength in numbers. And so, changing the other person, in many industries these days, it used to be that if this neurosurgeon was a rainmaker, even if the nurses were complaining, administrators didn’t care because this neurosurgeon was famous and a rainmaker. Now, there’s strength in numbers. And if you document the behavior, if you have witnesses to the behavior, if you report objectively with the Ws: what was said, when was this said, what was the impact of what was said; and is reported to HR, they are required to act on documented reports of egregious behavior that is not subjective, “I didn’t like what this person said.”

Pete Mockaitis
“He was rude. I was bullied.” That’s a little bit subject to interpretation as oppose to, “He said, ‘You are a moron and I hate you.’” Okay, that’s a direct quote.

Sam Horn
Remember action is it. And that’s why what you just said, Pete, about it needs to be the dialogue. Not like, “He was really offensive.” HR can’t do anything with that or a business owner can’t do anything with that. When you quote what someone has said, when you put the time that it happened, not yesterday, “No, it happened at 9:17 right in the middle of this,” the more objective evidence of this unacceptable behavior, the more actionable it is.

So, we can maybe change the other person, we can change a situation. Now, you maybe think, “Well, I don’t want to switch to another department,” or, “I’ve got three more years in this government job. I’m not going to retire or something like that.” So, sometimes though we can change the situation and the good news is, even if we can’t change the person or can’t change a situation, even if you decide, “That person is a jerk. I’ve done everything I can. No one’s taking responsibility and I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to leave. I need this,” then that third act is always an option and we change ourselves.

We could almost put like a plastic bubble around this. And whatever that person says just bounces harmlessly off us. It just bounces off it. It never gets under our skin. It never invades us so that we’re still thinking about it a day or a week or a month later.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And we talked about changing the other person, and one pathway is the, okay, documentation, building a case, HR, a business owner, senior executive, kind of direct challenge in that way. Do you have any suggestions in terms of how one might do this delicate, diplomatic dance associated with, “Hey, boss, you know, when you did this, I didn’t like that”? Any thoughts for how to have that conversation like when and how and if?

Sam Horn
Okay. See, now, we’re going to move into bully territory here because I believe 95% of people care what’s fair. I believe 95% of people have a conscience. They actually want to cooperate. They want a win-win. Guess what? Five percenters, they don’t want a win-win; they want to win. They don’t want to cooperate; they want to control. They don’t follow the rules; they break the rules because they know that it’s going to get them what they want.

So, if we are dealing with someone at work and this person is a five percenter, and that means they have a pattern of violating people’s rights, of not playing by the rules, it’s not a one-time they’re now having a bad day. It’s like they do it all the time on purpose. I’m going to say something that flies in the face of everything you’ve heard. Ready?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m ready.

Sam Horn
Do not use the word “I” because haven’t we been taught, Pete, that we’re supposed to say, “I don’t think that’s fair,” “I don’t like to be spoken to in that tone of voice”? Guess what? Bullies don’t care what’s fair. They don’t have a conscience. They’re actually going to think, “Good. I’m glad it’s bothering you. It was supposed to bother you.”

I am going to suggest we use the word “you,” “You back off,” “You! Enough!” “You, speak to me with respect.” So, here are just a variety of ways to do that. Say, there’s somebody that’s handsy on the job, and this person is in your space. And now, Pete, this isn’t an abstract concept. We have a hula hoop of space. Right now, people, put your hand out, stretch out in front of you, stretch out the side of you, stretch out behind you. That’s three feet.

We have our physical space, and animals know, “You don’t get in my space,” right? It’s like you get in my face or in my space, we have the right to back someone off, which is why if someone has a habit of getting in your face or in your space, number one, stand up. Because, often, they do that when we’re sitting down because they’re in the dominant position, we’re in the submissive position, right?

When we stand up, what we are letting them know is not only are we leveling the playing ground, we are saying, “I won’t take this sitting down. I will stand up for myself.” We haven’t said a word. We’ve changed the power dynamic of, “I am dominating you. I am towering over you. You are sitting and cowering and submissive.”

So, you stand up, number one. Like, someone puts their hand on you or something like that. You look at their hand, you look at them. You look at your hand, you look at them. Often you don’t have to say a word. Do you see how though you are calling them on their behavior? You are keeping the attention where it deserves, which is what they’re doing that is out of line. They have crossed the line and you are drawing the line.

And another part of that, once again, is the word “you.” It’s just to say, “You. Keep that to yourself,” “You. That’s enough. That’s the last time you say that to me.” And when we say it standing tall with our shoulders up and back, instead of our shoulders crunched up like this, which is the weak submissive position, then essentially what we’re saying is that we are letting that person know, “That doesn’t work here anymore.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right, intriguing. So, if we diagnose that we’ve got a 5% straight up bully without a conscience, and I guess we’d assessed that, as you mentioned, by seeing a track record of violating people’s rights and just not giving a hoot about it repeatedly, then we completely flip the script and change the rulebook that we’re following instead of that sharing how it made you feel and your concerns and why that’s important because they don’t care about any of that, but rather, just straight up, establishing, “This is the boundary.”

Sam Horn
And if you would like, Pete, I’ve got a quiz, it’s a bully quiz, and there are ten behaviors. And many people, they don’t even use the word bully, and they don’t understand that an 8-year old can be a bully, an 80-year old can be a bully. And the lights that go on when you say, “Yes, this person, I talk on eggshells around this person because they’re so volatile, I never know what he’s going to say,” “Yes, they’re Jekyll and Hyde. They’re charming one moment, they’re cruel the next,” “Yes, they have to control every decision and anyone who dares to say something else, they’re going to railroad that person.”

So, if you would like, I’ll send that to you, you can make it available to your listeners, and if you take that quiz, and this person you’re dealing with does many of these behaviors most of the time, then it requires a whole different set of skills because, once again, appealing to their sense of fair play, appealing to their good nature or their conscience, they will never think, “Oh, that wasn’t fair. That wasn’t right. I am so sorry.” They will never self-reflect or self-correct. It will always be someone else’s fault, and that’s how we need to set up and keep the attention on what they’re doing instead of our reaction to it.

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

Sam Horn
How about ask another question? I love your get-real, “If I’m in this situation, say something that I actually can do. It’s just not sounding good.” So, one more question from you and I’ll give you a response.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. Is there ever a time in which we should consider just exiting that situation entirely? Like, the bubble isn’t going to cut it. How do we know that that’s just where we are in terms of the hopeless situation?

Sam Horn
I’m just so glad you brought that up. Tennessee Williams said, “Sometimes it is time to leave even when there is no particular place to go.” And in the bully book, toward the end, after all of these pragmatic things that you can do to improve the situation, to stand up and speak up for yourself, etc., if none of that works, then it’s time for us to remove ourselves from the situation and to make sure to not see it as a failure.

One of the reasons I wrote the bully book is because, here I was, the queen of Tongue Fu, which, of course, is based on what Gandhi said about, “Be the change you wish to see,” it doesn’t work with bullies, Pete, because, once again, they’re not trying to act in good conscience. They’re trying to control. So, a good friend said, “You know, Sam, William Blake said that we are all born innocent, and at some point, we will encounter evil. And at that point, we either become embittered and we see the world as a dark place, and it defines and it defeats us, or we become…” Are you ready for two really fantastic words, Pete? “…informed innocence.”

And informed innocence are no longer naïve or idealistic. We understand that evil exists. We understand that there are people out there who will wreak havoc and they will not be responsible for the consequences. And that removing ourselves from the sphere of that individual is not defeat; it is us stepping up on behalf of what we believe, and that is that people treat each other with respect, people act with integrity. And if we have tried everything and this person is not going to change, and the situation isn’t going to change, then I’m going to remove myself from it, and align myself with people who do act in integrity and do behave responsibly because that’s how I believe life is supposed to be.

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

Sam Horn
One is from Arthur Rubinstein, he said, “I have found, if you love life, life will love you back.” Ain’t that wonderful though? And the other is from Katharine Graham of The Washington Post, and she said, “To do what you love and feel that it matters, how could anything be more fun?”

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

Sam Horn
I love podcasts. I believe angels whisper to a woman when she walks, and so I walk and I listen to podcasts, and that’s my favorite research. And a quick example of that is…do you ever listen to Jonathan Fields, Good Life Project, by any chance?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I have, yeah.

Sam Horn
Sure. He had Adam Grant on yesterday, a Wharton organization development guy, just came out with a brand-new book called Think Again. And he said something counterintuitive and contrarian which is one of the reasons I try to listen to podcasts, to challenge my thinking. And he said, “We all talk about impostor syndrome and how doubts take us down.” And he said that he believes that impostor syndrome can actually serve us by instead of assuming that we know what is best or that this is the right action, that that questioning process of looking at it again and getting different input actually produces a better result. And I love the contrarian nature of taking something that we all think is bad and twisting and turning it and seeing that it actually can add value.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a favorite book?

Sam Horn
I grew up in a small town in southern California, more horses than people, so I read The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley. And I will always be grateful to Walter Farley because he gave me a window on the world, and we had a thousand people on our entire mountain valley, and reading about these international adventures and these exciting horse races, and this young boy who was adventurous and independent really helped me see beyond where I was. And so, The Black Stallion was really pivotal in my life.

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

Sam Horn
I juxtapose everything. People say, “Sam, how does your brain work?” And I believe the quickest way to make a complex idea crystal clear is to put a vertical line down the center of a piece of paper, and on the left is what doesn’t work, and on the right is what does. It’s what sabotages our success, what supports it, what compromises our effectiveness, what contributes, what hurts, what helps.

And if we want support for an idea, if we juxtapose problem and solution, issue and answer, and we make those words alliterative, then we are going to be able to get people on the same page because we will be able to show the shift with this crystal clear, clean, compelling language. And by the time people get to the end of the page, you’re going to say yes.

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

Sam Horn
You know, I gave a TEDx Talk, and I understood that if we want to make a difference over time, it’s got to rhyme. And so, I said if you want to succeed, you must intrigue. And I really believe that our career success depends on our communication skills, and it depends on saying something that is so memorable that people can repeat it and act on it, weeks or months even years after they first heard it.

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

Sam Horn
Well, they’re welcome to go to our website which is real easy to remember, it’s SamHorn.com. And we’ve got three TEDx Talks there. We really try and make it so that if you go there, it’s not just about my products and services, it’s about, “Boy, here’s a post on how I can be repeatable and re-tweetable. Here’s a post on that quiz on how I can deal with bullies. Boy, here’s those words to lose, words to use so that I can think on my feet and handle challenging people in the moment instead of thinking of the perfect response on the way home.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this has been a hoot. Sam, thank you for bringing the goods and best of luck in your continued communication adventures.

Sam Horn
Thanks so much. I enjoyed it. I hope people found this inspiring and insightful and useful, Pete.