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727: How to Start Something New and See it Through with Michael Bungay Stanier

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Michael Bungay Stanier shares his three-step process for starting and achieving your most ambitious goals.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The secret to crafting more motivating goals 
  2. Why we often falter—and how to strengthen your resolve
  3. The four people you’ll want on your journey 

About Michael

Michael Bungay Stanier is the author of six books which between them have sold more than a million copies. He’s best known for The Coaching Habit, the best-selling coaching book of the century and already recognized as a classic. His new book, How to Begin, helps people be more ambitious for themselves and for the world. Michael was a Rhodes Scholar and plays the ukulele badly. He’s Australian, and lives in Toronto, Canada. Learn more at www.MBS.works. 

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Michael Bungay Stanier Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Michael, welcome back to Home to be Awesome at Your Job.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I’m so happy to be back. Thanks, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your latest upcoming work How to Begin. Tell me, what’s something interesting you’ve began lately?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Oh, that’s aa very fine question. Well, I have begun, not exactly begun, but I’ve began to finally get better at ukulele. So, I have a ukulele and I have spent 10 years being absolutely and consistently mediocre at it. I pick it up every now and then and I play it, and I’m exactly the same as I always am. And then in the last three months or so, my wife got interested in ukulele, and I’ve actually been practicing sort of the next step up, and that’s hard because you suck more before you get better but I feel like I’ve come through the suck stage and I’m actually getting slightly better at ukulele. So, that’s what I’m celebrating now, anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. Well, I wish you much luck and hope to hear some ditties.

Michael Bungay Stanier
No, you don’t want to go there.

Pete Mockaitis
In due time.

Michael Bungay Stanier
In due time, yeah. Call me in 20 years’ time when I’m back on the podcast then we can maybe have a conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, looking forward to it. Well, let’s talk about your book here How to Begin. When I think of Michael Bungay Stanier, or MBS, or just simply Michael, I think, “Coaching, coaching, coaching. Like, don’t give advice. Where’s the coaching habit? Be a little bit more coach-like. Be curious a little longer.” And so, “How to Begin,” this feels like there’s an overlap there but it has a whole lot more, I don’t know, as I look through it, a little bit more like kind of juice in terms of inspiration, like a Don Quixote music is playing in my ear. What’s the story here?

Michael Bungay Stanier
That’s cool. I like the Don Quixote shoutout. Look, one of the questions that’s at the heart of The Coaching Habit and The Advice Trap, is, “So, what’s the real challenge here for you?” And it just has as an insight that often, if we don’t interrogate the problem, we end up trying to solve the wrong problem. And this book is similar but different because it’s fundamentally asking a question, “What’s the real goal here for you? What’s a worthy goal? What’s something that is worth doing, worth your time, worth your life, worth your focus, worth your resources, worth your energy? Where are you going to spend your time?”

So, 12 years ago or so, I wrote a book called Do More Great Work and it said, “Look, everything you do is forced into one of three different buckets – either bad work, or good work, or great work.” Bad work, mind-numbing, soul-sucking, life-crushing work. Most people have some idea of what I’m talking about. Good work is like your good job description. Even if you don’t have a job but it’s like being productive, efficient, what your boss wants, what your bosses wants. But great work is the work that has more impact and the work that has more meaning, so stuff that lights you up and it’s the stuff that makes the difference.

And this book How to Begin is kind of deeper dive into that idea, to say, look, most of what we hear about goal-setting, particularly in the work context, is actually a bit underwhelming. It’s like, “Okay, this is what’s cascaded down from the bosses. Here’s how you do a smart goal,” and I’m like, “I don’t want a smart goal. I want a worthy goal. I want something that’s thrilling and important and daunting that will grow me, that will make a difference, that will light me up.” And that’s what this book is getting into.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thrilling, important, daunting, we’re going to dig into these components. I’d, maybe, first, love to hear an inspiring story of how this approach really made an impact for somebody.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, there’s been a community of people working at MBS.works using this kind of process to make traction on work. And what’s been great about it is the diversity of the different worthy goals that people have taken on, everything from writing a book, launching a training program in their organization, but one of the ones that I think is most moving is Michelle, who I have known for a number of years.

She lost her son to homelessness and a drug overdose some 20 years ago, and it’s meant that every year, when the anniversary of his…well, twice, birth and his death, have rolled around, it’s been a hard time for her, and she sat with that and sat with just the weight of being a mother who’s had that happen to a child. And coming up with this idea of How to Begin and the worthy goal process, Michelle has actually started a nonprofit to raise money to begin to create a shelter for other people who are struggling with homelessness like her son, Michael, was.

And she wrote to me on the anniversary of his death this year, just going, “This is the first time, in 20 years, that I felt I can be celebratory about this moment rather than carry some sadness and maybe some shame with it.” So, that’s a pretty good story to hear for me.

Pete Mockaitis
That is, yes. That’s beautiful. Well, so tell us then, we’ve got a three-step process: setting a worthy goal, committing, and crossing the threshold. Can you give us just the quick overview of what do you mean by these things and what do we get wrong? You said smart goals are not as exciting.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, smart goals, when you think about it, it’s like it’s not actually about the goal itself. It’s about, “Have you got it right so we can measure it, we can crack it, you can do it?” And you’re like, “Well, what if it’s the wrong goal?” And I just think that we don’t spend enough time kind of testing and interrogating and really making sure, “Is this the thing you want to commit to?” Because no matter what your context is, you’re going to give sweat, blood, tears, money, time to this, make sure it’s a good goal.

So, the first section of the book is three steps to kind of figure out, “How do you draft and re-draft and re-draft a worthy goal so you get to a point where you can be pretty certain that this is worth it?” The second step is where you actually pause for a moment and you actually weigh up, “Look, you got a good goal, but are you really up to committing to this because there’s a price to be paid for commitment?” You’re going to say yes to something and it means you have to say no to some other things, and you’re not always clear what you’re actually committing to and what you’re actually walking away from.

So, this is for all of us who’ve had those moments where we’re like, “I started a goal. I thought it was pretty good but then it all got too complicated and for some reason I just ran out of gas.” This allows you to kind of examine that a little more closely to make sure that you’re really clear about the choice that you’re making.

And then if you’ve made that choice, and you’re like, “You know what, this feels right. I know the prizes and punishments of starting this worthy goal,” the third step is to get you going. And there’s no promise to get you to the end point because a worthy goal is tricky and there’s no guaranteed outcome. But how do you get across the threshold? How do you get moving? Because, certainly, I’ve had moments where I’ve set a worthy goal and then being paralyzed, unable to act around it, I’m like, “Okay.”

Years ago, I read a book by David Allen, who’s kind one of the original productivity guys. He wrote a book called Getting Things Done. And one of his insights that stuck with me still is that you can’t do a project, you can only do the next step. And too often we get paralyzed by the weight and the size of a project, and I’m kind of building on some of his works, to say, “How do you figure out what the small steps are? How do you figure out the support you need? Who do you travel with? How do you figure out how to make progress in a safe way so you don’t blow yourself up along the way?”

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, I’m excited to dig into each of these bits. So, let’s talk about identifying if a goal is worthy. So, you say it’s thrilling, it’s important, it’s daunting. How do we arrive at such a thing? And I guess if a goal is not one of these three things, does that make it unworthy? I guess it’s sort of like, “Well, my boss asked me to do this.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, well, exactly. Well, we’ve got reality to contend with, so for all us within work, we’re working within the context of, look, some of our goals are going to come down and be handed to us. And I still want you to be an active participant in actually how you think about this goal. So, once you get that goal, once you have that starting point, the question is to say, “Can I make this thrilling and important and daunting? And how do I make it as thrilling and as important and as daunting as I can because I know if I can do thrilling…?” And thrilling is all about, “Does this light me up? Do I care about it? Do I get some internal motivation around this goal?”

Is it important? Meaning, “Does this actually contribute to the bigger game? Does it serve the bigger play? Does it give more to the world than it takes?” And then daunting is to go, “Well, where’s the learning edge around this? How will I grow? How will I expand as I do this?” And, look, it’s true that some of stuff that we do at work, for sure, isn’t going to tick those boxes, but I want you to see if you can find that goal that will give you the most of that as best you can.

So, once you get a goal, and this might be something that you come up with yourself, or that you’ve done it in collaboration with your boss, or maybe it’s just been handed to you by your boss, you then can go, “Well, how do I turn up the volume against thrilling and important and daunting?” And I think you can start by holding it up against three different tests.

So, test number one is the spouse-ish test. So, imagine this, Pete, you go back to your partner, your spouse, or a person who just knows you, who gets you. It doesn’t have to be your actual spouse because some of us don’t have spouses and some of us don’t want to think of our spouses—our key person. But think of a person who really knows you, who gets you, and you go, “This goal, what do you reckon?” You’re going to get a reaction from them because they know you.

They’re either going to go, “Look, Pete, awesome. Yes, that is perfect for you. That’s going to light you up. Amazing.” Or they’re going to say, “No, that’s a terrible decision. Don’t do that. That’s an awful goal for you. You definitely don’t want to do that.” Or maybe there’s a middleman, and they’ll go, “Look, Pete, you’ve been talking about this for months now, or years, quite frankly. Stop yapping about it and get on with it. Sure, it’s the right thing but I’m a bit tired of hearing it.”

But what you’re getting is some triangulation from somebody who knows you around, “Is this a goal that’s actually thrilling for you?” And the power of thrilling is it’s a counteract against obligation because you’re this on, and “Do I care about this? Does this light me up?”

Then the second test is to hold it up against the FOSO test. So, FOSO stands for “For the sake of,” and this is where you go, “How does this goal, this worthy goal, this project, how does this contribute to the bigger game? For the sake of what am I taking this on?” And this allows you to make a connection to the strategy, or the business outcome, or some other outcome that you care about.

And then the daunting one is, basically, you weighing up and going, “Look…” I call it the Goldilocks zone test. The Goldilocks zone is that place and space where a planet is in the right relationship to the sun so that water is liquid. It’s not too hot, it doesn’t burn off. It’s not too cold and the water freezes. So, now you’re asking, “Does this goal have the right half?” Not too big that it’s just impossible, it’s not too small that it’s just tactical, but it’s actually the right type of goal that we’ll actually go, “You know what, I know how to start this and I totally know how to finish this. This feels like it’s going to be an adventure.”

So, I think that’s one of the ways you can start interrogating your goal, to go, “Does it have these three attributes?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. Now, I like what you had to say about turning up the volume. And, I guess, I’m thinking right now about…I’m thinking about how do I make something more thrilling because I’ve definitely encountered some things where it’s like, “Okay, yeah, that could impact a lot of people, make a lot of money, challenge me to learn and grow, but I don’t really care.” What do I do with that? Part of me is like, “Is there something wrong with me? Like, I like impact, I like income, I like learning, and yet I don’t really care. What’s going on?”

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, you got a couple of choices. One is to go, “Look, if it’s not thrilling, it’s hard to sustain this worthy goal,” as you get going on it because after a while, you’re like, “I’m just running out of puff here. I’m running of things that I’d rather do instead of this because it just doesn’t light me up.” But another way of putting it is to go, “Look, the fact that this worthy goal has impact, it makes money for me, it drives my business forward, it propels me in a way that I want, that’s interesting. The fact that it’s daunting, like, this will be hard, this will stretch me and grow me, well, that’s interesting.”

So, then the question I would ask is, “Well, what needs to be true for this to be thrilling or, at least, more thrilling for you?” And what that does is it takes you to a place where you’re like, “Okay, you mentioned that this would be thrilling, is there anything there? Can you get there?” And it might ask you to kind of rethink and re-draft what this worthy goal is so that you can actually go, “You know what, this would be interesting for me.”

A parallel, Pete, is like I was thinking around, “How do I start a new podcast?” because I’m like, “You know what, I can see how I can frame my podcast to be important, and I can also see how I can frame a podcast to be daunting. I want to set some goals for myself around a podcast that would really challenge me and push me,” because I’ve done podcasts before, so I need a challenge around that. Then there’s, “How do I make it thrilling?” because I’ve done five podcasts where I’ve done basically a straight interview process. And you know what? That is not thrilling for me anymore. Even if I get interesting people on, I’m like, I can feel myself going through the motions.

So, with the podcast that I have at the moment, 2 Pages with MBS, I’m like, “You know what, they’re going to read two pages of a book, and I don’t know what the two pages are, and it means that I’ll have to be really present to hear what they read, and then react in the moment to what’s being read.” And, suddenly, that makes a podcast thrilling for me, I’m like, “Oh, I have to be on my toes, I have to be smart, I have to bring forward what I know so I can be in a good conversation with this person.” And that twist on it was what upped the ante around the thrilling for me.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. I guess what I’m thinking right now about some like procrastination-y things, in terms of, like, “Oh, I should probably call my accountant and get some things figured out associated with taxes.” And, in a way, it could result in a lot of tax savings, which is that’s cool, “Hey, money.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
Important, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And I just feel kind of, as a husband, father, provider, that’s sort of like important and responsible thing, and this isn’t really my zone of strength in terms of compliance-y accounting stuff, so there’s some daunting-ness there. But, so, yeah, if I want to get some thrill but I’m having a hard time finding it, what do you recommend? Because just not doing it isn’t much an option here.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, I agree. And I’m not sure I would call that a worthy goal. I would call that a tactic that needs to be done as part of this.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s an obligation, sure.

Michael Bungay Stanier
It’s an obligation, yeah. So, I’d be going, I mean, you can play around with this. And I’m just making stuff up at this stage, Pete, but I’d be going, “All right.” So, part of what your worthy goal might be to go, “How do I build an extraordinary business that keeps me out of the minutiae that sucks my soul?” Because that’s how I feel about it with some of this kind of the operational side of running a business, I’m like, “I know I should send this thing through to my accountant,” but, honestly, I’ll find anything to avoid that for some reason or not. So, I totally empathize with what you’re saying.

Now, if you’re like, “How do I double the size of my business without being sucked into the minutiae?” I don’t know. There’s a possibility that I’ll start opening the door towards thrilling and important and daunting, and then you go, “Well, what needs to be true around that?” Well, you’re like, “Okay, I’ve got to build some systems or I got to find an online business manager, I’ve got to find a solution to say, ‘You’re now following up with the accountant around this sort of stuff. You’re now doing this work for me.’” I’m just making it up but that’s one thing that comes to mind for me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re right, that does start to get more thrilling in terms of it’s like, “Okay, so this year, sure, we’re going to have to make it happen.” But if I approach it in a way in terms of, “What if I sort of like document and make this the prototype or template or pattern for this is the last time I ever have to do this again because it will be systematized and outsourced and automated so that I don’t even need to think about sending a check to the United States Treasury.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, or anybody.

Pete Mockaitis
It just happens.

Michael Bungay Stanier
You’re like, “You know what…” And I get you on this because next year, I’m thinking of trying to write not just one book but maybe two or even three books in a year, and that’s really hard for that thrilling and important and daunting for me. And I’m asking myself the question, “What needs to be true for me to be able to write three books in a year?” which feels impossible at the moment.

And one of them is like I spend zero time talking to an accountant and trying to write checks and trying to figure out chasing down invoices or whatever it might be. I’m like, “Okay. Well, if that’s what needs to be true, how do I solve for that?” and things start happening.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. All right. Well, so there we go. So, we’re choosing a goal and it has those three components – it’s thrilling, it’s important, it’s daunting. It’s worthy, and there are some juice to it. Let’s talk about the committing stage.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Right. So, this is where we often get stuck, we’re like, “I don’t know why…” Somebody once gave me a metaphor, it’s like, for some reason, it feels like you’ve got your foot on the accelerator but at the same time, you’ve got your foot on the brake. And I’m like, “Why is it so hard for me to make progress on a goal that actually ticks the boxes for me?”

And here’s the kind of the deepest insight around this. You’re actually more committed to the status quo than you realize. Even though there’s a part of you that’s got a hunger for what’s there in the future, there’s a part of you that goes, “Look, however is the status quo is for me at the moment, I’m getting something from that, and there’s a part of me that is reluctant to leave it.” So, here, you’re doing one thing but you’re doing it twice. And the one thing is you’re weighing up the prizes and punishments of the choice. So, this is how I explain it in the book.

The first thing you want to do is, you’re like, hey, you’ve come up with a worthy goal. You’re super excited about it. You, then – thought experiment – you, then, go, “Imagine I didn’t take this on. I walk up to the edge and then I walk away from the worthy goal. What are the prizes and punishments? What are the pros and cons of that decision?”

Well, the prizes are often pretty obvious. It’s like you’re not putting anything at risk, you’re not trying out something new, you’re not moving into a danger zone, you’re not disrupting relationships, you’re not disrupting the status quo. There’s a way that the short-term prizes are often about the non-disruption and the comfort and the familiarity.

But then you go, “But the punishment of me not taking this on is I don’t get any of that thing that I’ve imagined as my worthy goal.” And then you try to weigh it up, and you go, “Well, what weighs more here? What’s got the greatest weight?” What you hope is punishments outweigh the prizes. The reward of…or rather the cost of you not taking this on is more significant than the prize of embracing the status quo.

Then you’ve got to do it again, this time imagining you are fully committed to the worthy goal, like you just go all in on it, and you’re like, “Okay, imagine I was really going for it.” Step number one, what are the prizes of that?” And here, you get to really kind of taste what are the outcomes you’d get from taking on this worthy goal.

Let’s imagine that you’re doing something, like, “I’m trying to double my business without being sucked into any of the minutiae.” You’re like, “I’m richer, I’m starting to dress better, I’m surrounded by beautiful women, my net worth is 3X or 5X or 10X. I’ve upgraded everything in my life. It’s fantastic.” Okay, so you’ve got all of that.

But then against that, you’ve also got to weigh the risks of taking on a worthy goal. What’s the punishment?

Pete Mockaitis
Paparazzi always dogging me.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Paparazzi, exactly. The divorce, that’s ugly. But, also, it’s the disruption that you cause because you’ve got to say yes to some people and no to some people. You’ve got to change things. People are expecting you to do something and you’re not doing that anymore, so stuff happens. But, again, you’ve got to weigh this up, and go, “Well, are the prizes outweighing the punishments?” And too often, we just don’t really look at, “What would it mean for me to really commit to this? And is the benefit I get from doing this worth the disruption that this will cause?” because stuff is going to change. You can’t add a worthy goal without stuff around you changing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. You know, what’s interesting, and sometimes one of the bits in there that we don’t really surface and acknowledge, as I’m thinking about some bits of my resistance, is just sort of like almost embarrassment, in terms of maybe one of the reasons I don’t call the accountant is because he’s going to ask me some questions, like, “Oh, did you do this?” It’s like, “I don’t remember. I don’t know.” “Yes, what do you think this number is going to look like this year?” It’s like, “I don’t know. I haven’t been tracking.” So, it’s like there’s a lot of embarrassment or humility.

Or talking to a financial planner is like, “So, what are your goals?” It’s like, “I don’t know.” It’s just like, “What’s your deal? Are you a grownup? What’s wrong with you? Give some thought to this. This is irresponsible.” So, now, of course, professionals probably won’t speak to you that way, but sometimes that is what’s in the mix but it’s not surfaced. It’s like this emotional stuff.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I agree. No, I think it’s a really great insight. If we’re playing with this idea, there’s the perhaps embarrassment of the conversation with the accountant but it’s also like, “Okay. Well, I’m trying to describe my process for talking to my accountant. I don’t have a process. I have a sham-bolic, rambling around, collecting random bits of paper off the floor that I then give to the accountant, and go, “Maybe some of the receipts are in here.”

So, it’s like, “Oh, this is embarrassing to explain to the accountant. It’s also embarrassing to explain to my online business manager. You know what, it’s better if I just keep it under the rug and I just kind of manage this in my own barely adequate way rather than hand it over and have that moment of, ‘I’m not very good at this.’”
So, so often, we don’t take on the worthy goal because we want to protect our ego and our status and that kind of façade that we’re putting up, that, and I’ll just speak for myself, the façade that I’ve actually got it together and I know what I’m doing. Whereas, I know with some of this stuff, if I’m trying to delegate it, what it reveals is that I just wasn’t very good at it in the first place.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. This is powerful stuff. You know, it’s funny, when it comes to the commit stage, I think most of us underthink about this and either jump in…what comes to mind is I remember I was dating this girl, and someone suggested, it’s like, “Hey, do you want to do this half marathon?” And I was like, “Oh, wow, interesting. That sounds fun.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
“How far?”

Pete Mockaitis
“It sounds fun. It might be a good challenge. I like you. It’d be fun to run with you. It’d be a cool victory. And I have gained some pounds. This might be a nice structured goal challenge.” So, I’m really kind of like weighing it, and so I asked my girlfriend at the time, it’s like, “Yeah, so Dave suggested maybe do a half marathon. He’s asking folks to join in. So, what do you think? Would you want to do that?” She’s like, “Sure.” It was so funny, I was appalled. “Sure? Sure? Just like that. Sure? Are you serious? Like, do you know what you’re talking about?”

Michael Bungay Stanier
“It’s 13.1 miles.”

Pete Mockaitis
“You know what you’re talking about here? The training schedule, the sacrifice, and the things.” And it’s funny, she ended up dumping me, and we stayed in touch for a while, but it was kind of fun to say, “So, did you ever up doing that half marathon? Oh, no? Oh, yeah, well, we did. So, anyway, no big deal.” Whatever consolation prize you can get, I’ll take. So, yeah, it’s sort of like we can underthink the commit stage and either do it and then whoopsies, then we’re stuck in the middle, or we don’t do it, and it’s like, “Oh, we’re really missing out.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
As we’re kind of talking about this, it’s kind of moving into the New Year’s Resolution season, people are thinking about next year, they’re thinking about what they want to do differently next year, and from lots of people, it’s pretty similar to what they were going to try and do last year, they’re like, “You know what, this year, really, I’m going to run a half marathon and we’re going to get fit,” “I’m going to write a book,” “I’m going to be more present with my family,” “I’m going to watch less TV,” “I’m going to go for a promotion,” “I’m going to get better at whatever it might be.”

And there’s a frustration and a sadness, really, that comes on every year where you’re like, “Why didn’t I make progress on that because this wasn’t a trivial thing? This is actually something that matters to me and that I want to make some progress on. But, for some reason, I just don’t seem to be able to make traction with it, kind of make any kind of real gains on it.” And, often, what happens is we end up beating ourselves up, going, “What’s wrong with me? Am I weak-willed? Do I have no spine? What’s going on here?”

And my take on it is it’s really not that you’re weak-willed, it’s just that you haven’t got clear yet on what you need to say no to in the status quo so that you can say yes to in terms of this new goal. So, if you’re trying to go, “I’m training for a half marathon,” well, what you imagine, of course, is that moment when you cross the finish line, and you get the medal, and the crowd goes wild, and you break the tape, and you’re, like, just ran 20 kilometers, 13 miles. That’s amazing.

But it’s like, “What’s the punishment of taking this on?” Well, it means getting up regularly and getting out there, and running in the rain, and running in the snow, and this, and this, and this. And then you might go, “Well, what’s the prizes and punishments if I didn’t do this? I see this marathon, or half marathon, well, what are the prizes of not doing that?”

Well, prizes are obvious, “I get to eat whatever I want, drink whatever I want, sleep in, wear elasticated trousers, all of that stuff.” But what’s the punishment of not taking this on? “Putting on weight, getting a little soft, getting aerobically compromised, not having an adventure, being dumped by my girlfriend because I’m not training for the marathon like she is.” So, it’s exploring that level of commitment where you actually go, you can answer the question, “Am I really up for this or am I kidding myself?”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And then, I guess, how do we make that determination? So, you’re looking at the prizes and punishments in both scenarios? And then how do you render that verdict?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, I think that’s it. You weigh up the prizes and punishments. You weigh up the prizes and punishments of “If I didn’t do it,” this is a bit of I’ve got a tricky mind thing, but you’re kind of like, you want the punishments of not doing it. It’s like a double negative, the punishments of not doing it to win out. And then you weigh up doing it and you want the prizes of doing it to win. And if the things balance like that, you’re like, “You know what, I think I’m up for this.” And then you can move into that next piece, which is around, “Okay, you’ve got the worthy goal, you’ve figured out that you’re willing to commit to it, how do you now cross the threshold? How do you get now get going on this?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell us, how do we?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Crossing the threshold is language that comes from…and more people may have heard of the hero’s journey. And the hero’s journey is like you know the basic story. The hero hears the call, heads down, fights the monster, defeats the monster, takes the prize, and brings the prize back, and the hero is changed and the villain is changed. It’s the basis for Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and all these classic fables.

But one of the steps of the hero’s journey that often gets overlooked is that the first time the hero hears the call, a call to adventure, he resists the call. He goes, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I don’t think so. Yeah, maybe not. I’ll do something else instead.” And then the call persists and the hero crosses the threshold. So, I think, to cross the threshold, you need to think about how you’re going to make progress, because if you take on a worthy goal, something that’s thrilling and important and daunting, it’s not a straightforward journey. It’s not like you type in the address into Google Maps and it says like 60-minute journey, 17 minutes if you detour via the coffee shop.

It’s actually more like you’re standing on a hilltop, there’s a misty valley in front of you, there’s a mountaintop in the distance, which you think maybe the mountaintop that you’re heading for, but you don’t entirely know how you’re going to travel. So, I think you want to be thinking about three things. The first is you want to be traveling in small steps. So, it’s not striding confidently forward in this single direction, it’s feeling your way forward but taking small steps as you go.

So, what I recommend is one of the ways of doing that is you conduct experiments, which is like, “How do you do a little thing that doesn’t risk too much where you can figure it out?” So, if you’re running a half marathon, you’re like, “Rather than me commit to a half marathon, what if I spend, what if I commit to a week of seeing what it’s like going for a run for five minutes every day because that’s going to tell me a lot? It’s going to tell me, like, ‘This is ridiculous. There’s no way I can run a half marathon. I’d skip four of my five-minute runs.’” Or, you may go, “You know what, I did that and I feel okay, and I reckon I’m up for this adventure.” So, testing experiments is one part of crossing the threshold.

The second thing you want to be thinking about is, “Who do you travel with?” because I think if you’re doing a worthy goal, it’s tricky to do it by yourself. So, again, this half marathon is a great example because you’re like, you know what, you could try it by yourself, or you could say, “All right, who do I need by my side to help me run with this?” And in the book, I talk about four key archetypes that you can think about.

A warrior archetype. This is fierceness, willing to put your hand at your back and push you forward, create boundaries, kind of take on the enemy. So, sometimes it’s really helpful for that. You can imagine half marathon, you’re like, that person who’s like, “I’m showing up at your door every day at 5:30 a.m., Pete, and we’re going for a run. I’m that person.”

Then there’s the healer, or sometimes the lover, they’re called. This is like, “How do I get comfort? How do I get familiarity? How do I get a hug? How do I get softness? How do I get healing?” So, maybe there’s something there who’s like maybe this is your massage therapist, like, “I’m going to make you feel better after doing this.”

Then there’s the teacher or the magician. So, this is maybe going, “Okay, how do you actually run a half marathon? How do you train for a half marathon? I need to learn that.” So, you might go online or you might find a running coach to kind of go, “Okay, this is where I’m getting that information from.” And then the final archetypal role is that of the ruler or the visionary. This is where you are kind of like hold your ambition.

So, maybe this is someone who’s going, “Hold up, dude, we’re not just running a half marathon. This is the start of something. This is you getting into endurance racing. In two-years’ time, we’re going to do the hundred-mile Death Valley race together,” and maybe he’s holding that space for you. Now, I’m just making all this stuff up but the key takeaway is you want people around you because if you’re taking a worthy goal by yourself, sometimes it’s just hard. And if you’re all by yourself, it’s too easy to collude with yourself and opt out.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful. And I’m all about accountability and the power that wields it. And I dig it how, so you talked about the hero’s journey, I think it’s always like, “Oh, Yoda or Gandalf.” It’s like, “Well, there’s more than one shape of that just like the wise mentor.” So, I like those archetypes kind of different roles there.

Michael Bungay Stanier
The wise, the Gandalf, or the Yoda, they’re the teacher or the magician archetype, and they can play their role for sure, but that’s not the only person in the band. It’s like when Harry Potter was taking on Voldemort, he doesn’t just have Dumbledore. He has a band of people around him who helped conquer the baddie. I’m sorry if that’s a spoiler for anybody. Harry Potter kills Voldemort in the end. Spoiler alert.

Pete Mockaitis
Or, when people spoil things for me, I say, “Or was he just messing with me?”

Michael Bungay Stanier
“Oh, was he just messing?” There you go. Yeah, maybe.

Pete Mockaitis
He’s a jokester, Michael.

Michael Bungay Stanier
I’m a trickster. Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. So, then let’s hear about let’s say we’re in the middle of things and, yeah, motivation just sort of dips along the journey, what do you do?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, I’m thinking there are three things that you might look to that could help because motivation will dip. It’s not if, it’s when. Motivation will dip. So, if you’re lucky, you’ve got people around where you can go, “Man, this sucks,” and they go, “It does suck. How do we help you get back on the path?” So, that’s part of why you want to have your people with you.

Secondly, you might be going, “You know what, this sucks. Motivation has dipped. But you know what, it was only an experiment. So, now, I’m like, how do I design the next thing that might be get my motivation up and get me running around that?” But the third thing you want to be thinking about is, “How do you get back to the best version of yourself?” And this is a powerful piece of kind of reorientation to the best version of who you are.

And in the book, I talk about this exercise called “This, not that.” And I love writing about this because I’ve frustrated about this 12 years ago in this book Do More Great Work, and I feel like I’m kind of doing a Disney thing. I’m taking it out of the vault and reintroducing this exercise because it’s a powerful one, and it says this. Look, imagine a time, or times, when you are at your best where you were really kind of rocking it, you felt on top of the world, you felt like, “This is one of the best versions of who I can be.” And you want to start thinking about words or phrases that are associated with that so you can remember what that looks like.

But against each one of those words or phrases, you want to have a corresponding word, a pairing word or phrase, that is you when you’re slightly off your game, when you’re 15% down, when you’re kind of lost some of the essential motivation. And this is the “This, not that” pairing. And what I found is that when you go do this work and you develop this tool for yourself, it’s your chance to get back to the very best version of who you are.

Here’s an example. One of my pairs is stepping forward, not stepping back. And what I noticed is that when I lose motivation, or I get a bit disheartened, or I get just battered around a little bit by the process of taking on a worthy goal, I start being on back and forth. I start being less courageous. I start stepping back. And I can notice that in me, I can then go, “Whoa, what’s it like when I’m at my best? Oh, when I’m in my best, I have a fearlessness where I step forward and I’m kind of undaunted by setbacks. How do I get back to that version of myself?”

And just remembering that I can be that person, that I’ve been that person in the past, and I can be that person again, is one of the ways to kind of regenerate motivation for the worthy goal that you’ve set yourself.

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
I think at the heart of this book is a couple of things. We talked a lot about the goal process and kind of how do you set it, but what I hope is a deeper resonance, which is I want people to be ambitious for themselves and for the world. And I think sometimes with the grind of the everyday work, we lose some of that sense of ambition.

And what I hope is this is not just about setting better goals but it’s about unlocking the greatness that you have by taking on hard things, and also making your world and all of our world a little bit better by doing a goal that is thrilling and important and daunting.

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, my favorite quote is one that resonates with me at the moment and it’s part of the driving of the book. It comes from a Rilke poem called “The Man Watching,” and it’s the last two lines of the poem, and it says…look, his goal is not to win. His goal is to be, and this is the quote, “Be defeated by ever greater things.”

And I love that because it says, “Look, stop trying to win because if you’re only playing games that you can win, that’s going to keep you playing small. Play games that give you a chance to be defeated by ever greater things because that’s when you unlock your greatness.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And how about a favorite study or experiment or piece of research?

Michael Bungay Stanier
So, one of the favorite studies that I’ve got is a way of reminding us how malleable we are. It’s a wine-tasting study, so that’s already a good start because it involves wine. And, basically, they had people tasting four glasses of wine, and music playing in the background as they’re tasting this wine, and they moved through these red wines, and asking them what they tasted.

And the first glass of wine, people were like, “Ah, it’s kind of light and playful and summery and joyful.” They moved through them, and then the final glass of wine, it’s like, “This is kind of dark and serious and tempestuous and solid.” And what they found in the study was that, actually, glass one and glass four were the same wine, but they were playing different music in the background. In the first glass of wine, they were playing Vivaldi’s Spring so it’s kind of light playful music. And by the final glass of wine, they were playing some Wagner, so kind of deep operatic serious music.

And why I love that study is it just reminds me that I’m constantly influenced by my context, by the environment around me. So, whilst we think of ourselves as kind of rational contained individual creatures, what I realize is, like, if I want myself to be at my best, and if I want people around me to be at my best, constantly thinking about the context and the setting and the environment can make all the difference.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. And these were full-blown master sommeliers, right?

Michael Bungay Stanier
I’m not sure about that. I think it might’ve been just…my memory is they’re just kind of ordinary wine-tasters but the fact that the tasting was so radically different just because of the music being different behind them, that, to me, was magical.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m amazed at how…I’m thinking about audio files, looking at assessing different microphones, for example, because I’ve been through this podcast mic. And so, it’s like, hmm, so my moderately priced setup sounds just as good as your five times as expensive setup when it’s a blind test. But when it’s not, it’s like, “Oh, boy, you could really hear. This is so much richer, so much richer with that deep, deep preamp.”

Michael Bungay Stanier
That’s right. Well, it comes into that kind of sunk costing which is like, “I need to believe this.” And in some ways, it all connects to this kind of the placebo effect, which is like if you believe it, it likely is. And then I love Seth Godin’s take on the placebo because part of it is like, “How do you get conned by the placebo?” He’s like, “No, no, the placebo is magic because if you can go, ‘Look, I’m going to believe this, even though I know I’m believing that this is a placebo, so even though you’re in on the trick, it can still have exactly the same impact on your body.’” And that, to me, is sheer magic because it just goes to show that there is this truth to it. Like, if you believe it, then you’ll see it.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And how about a favorite book?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, I’ve just read a book, it’s called Virgil Wander. It’s a fiction book. It’s by an American author whose name is…Googling desperately. His name is Leif Enger. Now, I read a lot of nonfiction because I’m a nonfiction writer so I read a lot of business and science and psychology and all of that, but I have a master’s degree in literature, and my wife has a PhD in English studies as well, so we read a lot of fiction as well.

And she introduced me to this book, and it is the most beautifully written book that I have read in ages. He has such a turn of phrase. So, Virgil Wander is the lead character. He’s living in a mid-Western town, by a lake, and he has a car crash in the very first chapter, so there’s no spoiler alert. And it’s a story of him coming back to himself as he figures out who he is, and it’s just beautiful. It is written with such grace and with such style. That would be my recommendation of my favorite book I’ve read in the last month or two.

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
I’m writer so often my favorite tools are around, “What do I write with?” And I’ve had phases in my life where I’ve had a thousand pens scattered across the universe.

So, I have two desks in my office, this one where I’m sitting at with you, and then a writing desk just over there. And on each of my desks, I have two pens from Baron Fig. So, Baron Fig create these beautiful ballpoint pens that just feel beautifully weighted and they sit in a beautiful little penholder. So, the one that I’m holding up to the screen showing you, Pete, is made out of copper. I’ve got another one that’s in pale blue over on my other desk.

And you know what? A beautiful pen brings me joy. And that is the tool I would nominate.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Well, my favorite habit, I’m not sure if it’s not a particularly good habit, or, maybe it is. But it’s like making an espresso for me and a latte for my wife in the morning. Because I grew up in Australia, and one of the things that’s magical about Australia is, in the ‘50s and ‘60s, we had a lot of Italian and Greek immigrants come to Australia.

And what that means is Australia is a coffee culture. It’s just built on a place where every coffee is espresso-based and delicious. So, when I moved to America, I’ve lived in America for a while, and I came across the light-brown bilge water that Americans drink as coffee, I was like, “What? This is a disgrace. What is this?”

So, we have a not a particularly fancy espresso machine, but we have an espresso machine, we have a place around the corner that roast coffee beans, and that moment of getting up in the morning and making your coffee and seeing crème on the top, and then making a coffee for my wife and bringing that to her in bed, that is a ritual, maybe more than a habit, that feels an important way to start the day for me.

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 often?

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah. In the pre-days when I used to run workshops and training and the like, I get people to practice, coaching skills, in particular, in pairs. At the end of every round of practice, I got people to look the other person in the eye, and say, “You’re awesome and you’re doing great.” And I do these four or five times in a session.

The first time that people did that, it’s really awkward, was embarrassed, and like, “Ah, I don’t know how to do it. But by the end of it, they were, like, there’s this kind of expression of appreciation within this pair of people that was pretty cool. And I added it as my standard signature on my emails. So, every email you get from me, it says, “You’re awesome and you’re doing great.”

And I would say, two or three times a week, I get somebody writing back to me, going, “Thank you for that. I really needed to hear that right now.” So, it’s a very simple phrase. My mom hates it because it’s not grammatically correct, and she’s like, “Michael, you’re a Rhode scholar. What are you doing? Why can’t you even say this properly?” I’m like, “Because it has a resonance with people.” So, I think the phrase “You’re awesome and you’re doing great” seems to have people feel like they are heard and seen.

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
I would point them to the website MBS.works. And if you’re kind of particularly keen on learning more about the new book, HowtoBegin.com.

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

Michael Bungay Stanier
Yeah, I would look at the work you’re doing right now and be going…well, the obvious one is to say, “How do I find a worthy goal?” but that feels too glib. So, I think what I’d really ask people to do is say, “What do you need to stop doing so that you might create some space for something like a worthy goal to appear?”

Pete Mockaitis
Michael, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you much luck and success in pursuing your worthy goals.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Thank you. Pete, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me back.

662: How to Build Resilient Teams to Beat Burnout with Paula Davis

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Paula Davis says: "Stay in the now and stick to the facts."

Paula Davis discusses how teams can support each other to beat burnout and create a culture of resilience.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How an engaged workforce can still burnout 
  2. The tiny noticeable things (TnTs) that make us more resilient 
  3. How to keep your mind from catastrophizing 

About Paula

Paula Davis JD, MAPP, is the Founder and CEO of the Stress & Resilience Institute, a training and consulting firm that helps organizations reduce burnout and build resilience at the team, leader, and organizational level. 

Paula left her law practice after seven years and earned a master’s degree in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. 

Paula is also the author of Beating Burnout at Work: Why Teams Hold the Secret to Well-Being & Resilience. 

Her expertise has been featured in numerous media outlets including The New York Times, and Psychology Today. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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

Paula Davis Interview Transcript

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

Paula Davis
Thank you, Pete. It’s so great to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to get into your wisdom, we’re talking burnout. And I understand you have a personal bit of experience with burnout. Could you share your story?

Paula Davis
Absolutely. I practiced law for seven years and burnout is really what cut my law practice short. I spent the last year of my law practice going through burnout. I didn’t know what it was at the time. I just knew I was off in terms of how I was managing my stress, how I was feeling, how I was really processing the challenges associated with my work, and it took me quite a bit of time to really understand what that was, and I didn’t know there was a word burnout. I was thinking just purely in terms of stress.

And so, I didn’t start in kind of a severe place but I ended in a severe place. I was getting panic attacks quite regularly, almost daily. I was in the emergency room twice because I had really bad stomach aches from the stress. And so, it really prompted me to start to think about, “Do I want to stay in the profession? Should I go back to the firm that I was at? Should I do something completely different?” And, obviously, I decided the latter.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Wow, those are some strong signals there. So, we’re going to talk about that. I also want to hear you’ve got a great turn of a phrase acronym. You have a list of TNTs or tiny noticeable things. Can you share what are some of those? How do we think about them? And how do we manage them? Because panic attacks, I mean, wow, that’s powerful and thank you for sharing. And I think that, to the extent that there could be some early warnings that would be great, and it sounds like you’ve cataloged a few of those. What are they?

Paula Davis
So, I had three kind of early warnings that something was amiss, that was off, compared to how I had been processing and just dealing with stress being in a stressful profession for the years prior to this happening. So, I was, first and foremost, chronically, physically, and emotionally exhausted. So, sometimes people will ask me, “What do you mean by chronic?” and there is no hardcore definition. It’s not like three months, or two months, or four weeks, or eight months, or what have you. It’s just that for more often than not, over a period of time, feeling that nothing that I did really was able to replenish my energy.

So, on the weekends when I wasn’t working, typically I would play coed softball, or hang out with my friends, or just spend time doing activities that I enjoy, playing sports and things like that, and those were always very meaningful and connective and energy-giving pursuits for me, and they stopped being so after a point in time during this process. And it kind of boiled down to at some point I just wanted the couch and some bad reality television, and I wanted everybody to leave me alone. There was this sense of like, “Just get out of my space. I’m trying to rejuvenate. Leave me alone,” kind of a mentality, and that’s not my normal personality.

And so, that was something that was really eye-opening for me, and even more so was the second big warning sign that I missed is that I was chronically cynical. So, everyone just started to annoy me and bug me, and that was my friends, my family, my colleagues, my clients, which is horrible. Here I am, charged to help people, deal with their sophisticated legal challenges, and outwardly I was always very professional but inwardly I’m doing a lot of eye-rolling and thinking to myself, like, “Do we really have to have this conversation? Can you handle this on your own?” and, clearly, the answer was no.

And then that led to a sense of lost impact. It’s just, “Am I really doing what I want to do in my career? Like, why bother? Who cares?” was starting to come up in my phrasing a lot and in my thought process. And so, it’s really when we talk about burnout and use that word, that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the combination and the constellation of those three things: chronic exhaustion, chronic cynicism, and the sense of lost impact.

And so, that’s really where I think we need to sort of punctuate that, these days, I think we’re using the word burnout really loosely as a synonym for just feeling frustrated, or overwhelmed, or stressed out. That’s not necessarily a suitable synonym for those things. It’s really that constellation of three things is what we mean when we’re talking about burnout.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a helpful distinction. Thank you. I was going to ask that next. So, well maybe let’s zoom out a bit and share that’s one key discovery that may surprise people or they find counterintuitive. Any other big surprises or fascinating discoveries you’ve made along the way as you’ve researched and worked in this area?

Paula Davis
Yeah, there’s a couple. So, first and foremost, when I was sort of coming out of my burnout experience and recovering and going to get my Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and kind of moving on with my career, so I started to think back about the experience that I had burning out. I really thought about it very much in terms of an individual-type thing, an experience, “What did I do wrong? What did I miss? What could I have done better?”

And I realized, as I continued to study, to research, as I continued to coach people and talk to people and interview people about their burnout experiences, that we were really missing a big piece of the puzzle in that we really have to start thinking about burnout less in terms of it being an individual issue or problem. We still have to have those conversations. But the bigger piece of the puzzle and the picture is really kind of drawing in the rest of the system.

So, burnout is very much a systemic issue that requires holistic strategy. So, we need to look at the leader level, we need to look at the team level, we need to look still at the individual contributor level, to examine how all of these pieces need to start to kind of fit together or the conversations that need to be had so that we can actually do something about burnout. So, that’s part of the big thesis of my book. So, that was a big moment.

The other aha that I had, and I knew this intuitively but I wasn’t finding anything empirically kind of talking about this, until I stumbled across a study from a couple of years ago actually showing that high levels of engagement can also travel with high levels of burnout. So, there’s a lot of burnout research positioning engagement as the opposite of burnout for a whole host of reasons. And it just didn’t make sense to me, and I knew a lot of people who felt the sense of burnout but were still really kind of wanting to do good work, and they weren’t unplugged like I was.

And so, the study really drove that home and found that, of the group of people that they were looking at, about 20% or so of people, met this highly engaged, highly-burned out classification where people still felt that they wanted to do good work, in some instances, would say they like their work, but they were in very high-demand jobs and not getting enough resources to really help them manage and deal with all of the stress they were experiencing from their demands. And, really importantly, they found that this group, this 20% group, actually experienced the highest turnover intentions, so even more so than the people like me who were flat out burned out saying, “I’m gone. I’m done.”

And so, that’s something that I really like to punctuate for leaders. Don’t assume that somebody classifies as engaged that they aren’t also or could potentially turn out to be burned out. And so, I see that now play out in a few ways with the work that I’ve done. So, a team that I worked with in a healthcare organization had about a 28% or so rate of burnout within their team, yet they were in the top tier for engagement scores within the organization. So, that was one instance.

I’ve had a couple of coaching clients who have identified exactly this way, who printed out some of my material and took it in to their boss, and said, “Look, I don’t have any of these resources that we know are important to preventing burnout. I need some help here because I still want to do good work but I’m like worn out because I’m not getting enough of this.” So, I’m seeing that theme come up more.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a powerful tip right there in terms of, “Hey, I’m not just a whiner. These are psychologically validated things that people need. Here’s a list from a third party with a reputable authoritative source and I need some of that.” And I think most leaders who give a hoot will say, “Hey, fair enough. You’re right. Let’s see what we can do here.”

And, also, that point about engagement, that really resonates because sometimes I think, you know, I don’t want to misuse the word burnout as we’ve precisely defined it, but when I felt some burnout-esque feelings, that’s part of it. It’s just like, “I care so much that it’s exhausting.” And sometimes I think, “Man, if I just didn’t care then this wouldn’t be a big deal to me. I wouldn’t feel so stressed or overwhelmed by this because I’d be like, ‘Well, hey, whether that outcome goes in direction A or B, whatever, right?’ But, no, I care very much. I want it to go absolutely in direction A and I don’t see it going that way, and that’s frustrating. Ahh!”

Paula Davis
Yes. And I think that Adam Grant has a phenomenal…he’s got a phenomenal lot of stuff, but he mentions this term in an article that I believe he co-wrote, I think, with a classmate of mine actually at UPenn, and they call it generosity burnout. So, this notion of caring so much that we prioritize everybody else’s needs above our own, and that causes us to wear out and burn out essentially.

So, he talks about how we have to figure out how we can still exercise our giver tendencies which are really important especially if you orient that way, but also taking into account, “What do you have to do to deal with and manage your stress in a way that kind of puts those boundaries in place so that you’re not just purely giving a 100% of your time?”

And I think he cites a study or talks about a study where they actually looked at a group of teachers, or teachers, and found that teaches, who were these pure givers, who you would think are constantly devoting their time to helping their students with any issue that came up, actually their students had lower test scores compared to teachers who were also givers but implementing more of a boundaried approach to how they gave to other people. So, I thought that that was fascinating. So, we have to figure out how to give with limits, care with limits.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. And you’ve got a nifty model when it comes to thinking about burnout and teams and being successful – the PRIMED model. Can you give us a bit of the overview there and some top tips that make a big impact?

Paula Davis
Yeah. So, when I was kind of taking a step back and thinking about how I wanted to position this topic and understanding that if framing burnout as purely an individual issue with individual strategies isn’t enough to really move the needle. And the research suggests, and a lot of my own interviews and things suggest, that there’s such a strong organizational culture element associated with burnout.

I also can’t go into organizations and be realistic and say, “Hey, let’s just change your culture and everything will be fine.” That’s not realistic for a whole host of reasons. And so, I was thinking to myself, “Where within the system is going to be the best entry point? Where can we really start to think about moving the needle in the right direction?”

And so, for me, that answer became teams, just simply because so many people, not all people, of course, but so many people work in teams. There’s a lot of research about what creates a resilient and high-performing and thriving teams, and so I started to dig into all of that and realized that there were similar themes that kept coming up in the research, and that became the model that I started to use and started to work by.

And so, very importantly, one of the pieces in the PRIMED model is psychological safety, so building trust within the team, and prioritizing relationships is the R, and talking about the impact and the meaning that teams have within their organization, and just having those conversations is important. Energy, mental strength, so a lot of times we don’t think about how our own thinking or the collective thinking of the team can really be exhausting if we’re thinking in a counterproductive way, and how it can undercut our efforts to create the cohesion and the trust and the high performance that we want within our teams.

And then design is the last piece. So, really, understanding and recognizing if we realize there are tweaks that we need to make. How do we go about doing that? How do we kind of design the environment that we want to be in for ourselves? So, that’s the model in a big overview.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, sure. So, we got the psychological safety and needs, the relationship, the impact, the mental strength, the mindset, the energy, and the design, forming the word PRIMED. And so, then in terms of quick wins, what are some of the top things that we can do to get a nice boost on some of these dimensions?

Paula Davis
Sure. So, I call them tiny noticeable things, as we talked about, so a little acronym, suggesting that it’s not necessarily these big shifts. Sometimes I think when we start to have this conversation, we think that we have to make these wild shifts in our behavior or we got to do these big things to kind of change what we’re doing. And, in essence, it’s really smaller things done more consistently over time that really matter.

And so, it’s simple things like attentiveness, like when someone joins a Zoom call, say, “Hey, Joe, it’s really nice to see you. How is it going?” It’s seeking out other people and making sure you’re hearing from opinions from everybody. It’s limiting side conversations, cliques and gossips, which is a huge aspect of psychological safety. It’s a leader saying, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen this before. What do you all think?” It’s sharing and capitalizing on good news and wins, really, really small ones especially, not just the big moments that we oftentimes think about.

And it could be as simple as being more transparent. So, as a leader, cluing people in more on what they need to know; asking them to participate in decisions that impact their work; being more clear, which could be adding a sentence or two in an email; giving more of a rationale or an explanation around a task instead of, having come from the legal profession, I heard this so many times, “Well, too bad, this is what I had to do on my way to partner, so you’re going to have to work on Thanksgiving as well. And who cares?”

But explaining why that’s important and framing it in a little bit of a different way leads to more of a perception of flexibility and autonomy. So, it’s these little kinds of tweaks and hacks that leaders and individual contributor in teams can start to prioritize essentially.

Pete Mockaitis
And what are some of those hacks when it comes to mental strength and mindset?

Paula Davis
So, one of my favorite skills is, and this is probably a little bit more in the what I would classify in the individual side of the house in terms of the skill, but it comes up all the time in my work across the board with professionals. So, it’s limiting catastrophizing or worst-case scenario thinking, so it’s our tendency when something stressful has happened and it can be a really small stressor.

It could be as simple as like getting an email from your boss that says, “Call me back,” or, “Come see me now,” and it doesn’t have any other details, and your brain is going to jump to some conclusion, and it’s never, “I did a great job.” It’s almost always, “I did something wrong and I’m going to get fired.” That’s where we go.

And so, it’s a process just to help you think through, gaining some perspective and clarity when you’re in those moments. And so, I call it your horror movie, Disney movie, documentary. So, horror movie is just getting out of your head all of those likely unrealistic thoughts and story that you’re telling yourself. The Disney movie is kind of creating the opposite version even if it’s unrealistic because you’re just looking for a smile or jolts of positive emotion.

And then the documentary is just being very factual, being very fact-based, “Okay, I’ve got a little bit more perspective. What am I really dealing with here? And what do I actually have to do about it? Do I have to email my boss back? Do I have to go look at the file? Like, what is it that I have to do so I’m not just sitting here not purposely acting in some way?” So, that’s one of my favorites.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is handy. So, we got those three perspectives: the horror, the Disney, and the documentary. And I think that’s also a good team tip in terms of, “Hey, maybe don’t send emails like that to your teammates.”

Paula Davis
I tell leaders all the time, “Add one more sentence.”

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, that’s handy. Yeah, because one sentence will probably do it. And, occasionally, even if it is negative, like you do want to have a hard conversation where you deliver some difficult feedback, you could just even give a little bit more context is handy, it’s like, “Hey, I’d like to catch up on this piece of work,” or whatever. It’s like, “Okay, so that’s what we’re talking about,” it’s not, “I’m going to be fired because we’re going to talk about this piece of work. And maybe I’ve got a hunch that, oops, I think I wasn’t my best there, so there might be a couple things that are hard to hear,” but it’s less room to catastrophize when you’ve got that extra context.

Paula Davis
Yes. And we also have to realize, and I put in there, too, is being aware and mindful of our triggers. What in our environment triggers counterproductive thinking in the first place? So, for me, it’s vague and ambiguous information. I absolutely hate those emails and those types of situations where I don’t know all of the information or details because my brain is just, especially as a former lawyer, we’re trained to issue spot, we’re trained to analyze a situation from every single angle, and so it can be very a very easy thinking style to do.

And another trigger that can promote counterproductive thinking is anytime it’s the first time that we’re doing something. And so, thinking about a colleague who might be new to your team or new to the organization. Even if they’re a seasoned professional, they’re oftentimes kind of trying to orient, and most of the conversations they’re having with people are people who they don’t know and so it’s their first time leading a meeting, or turning in a project, or getting feedback or things like that.

And so, when we can kind of build collectively that awareness of what might be causing or what could cause counterproductive thinking in our team members, I think that can help us, again, leverage some of that clarity, just leverage some kindness and say, “Hey, let’s go have a chat. I remember when I started. Here are some perspectives from my end so we can, I think, just think about situations a little bit differently.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you mentioned, hey, lawyer training, issue spotting, and it’s interesting, I was going through a process recently. So, we’re planning a move and that’s a whole lot. And so, I was thinking, I was like, “Okay, what are all the things that could go horribly wrong and how can I mitigate that?” And that was pretty productive in a sense of, “Okay. Well, I should get some help in these key areas,” and then like the probability of things going horribly wrong is way lower. So, that was productive but, at the same time, spending too much time in that thought zone was getting me a little freaked out.

So, do you have any pro tips on that that could be necessary to do the issue spotting, the anticipating? I don’t want to use the word worrying, but planning for the worst and prepping. So, if we’re in that zone, and maybe rightfully so, how do we return to a happy place?

Paula Davis
So, what you’re talking about, so that’s a really important distinction for us to make. And what you’re talking about a little bit there is contingency planning. So, contingency planning is good. It’s not a bad thing to think about worst-case scenarios. Oftentimes, it’s necessary. If I am in an airplane and it’s foggy outside, I want my pilot thinking about what could go wrong and, “Should we take off?” So, contingency planning is purposeful action. We’re purposely doing something to get closer to an outcome, a goal, a relationship, what have you.

Catastrophizing is a little bit different. It is really spinning our wheels. We stop taking purposeful action. It pulls us farther away from some of the goals and things that we want. And so, that’s why it’s more of a counterproductive piece. That’s how you can distinguish between whether you’re just contingency planning, which is purposeful and moving forward, “I’m not stuck. My wheels aren’t spinning,” versus the other side of the coin, which is the catastrophizing piece.

I remember, to give you an example, I catastrophize a bunch. And so, I can remember when I was a lawyer, I think I was a second-year associate, and I had just finished this huge project for a very important partner, and I hadn’t heard anything back from him in a couple of weeks. And he came down from the different floor he was on, and he walked right by my office with the file under his arm into the office next door to mine, which is my mentor’s who was a good friend of his, and shut the door.

So, right away, vague and ambiguous information, and, “Oh, no, there he goes. He didn’t even think to stop and talk to me. It’s that bad.” And so, when I say not taking purposeful action, I really kind of froze a little bit and I wasn’t thinking clearly about the actual document I was working on. I was now focused on trying to hear what was going on in the office next to mine. And another partner came into my office and gave me a new assignment that was actually fairly complex. And I realized that when he left my office, I had taken like a sentence of notes because my brain was so consumed with what was happening in the office next to mine, I wasn’t present in even a remote way.

And so, that’s what I mean when I say stops taking purposeful action. I really wasn’t present or thoughtful or thinking through any sort of issue or project that I should’ve done.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah. And that’s a great example which shows sort of the negative consequences and implications of going down that rabbit hole. And so, let’s sort of play it back in time. If you’ve got that other partner entering the office, and your brain is elsewhere, how do you quickly get your brain where you need it to be?

Paula Davis
Well, and that’s part of the reason why this thinking style is so powerful, and it’s powerfully counterproductive because it’s hard to do. And so, practicing those steps of horror movie, Disney movie, documentary become important because you want to be able to sort of recall those quickly so that, even if it’s just, tell the partner, “Give me a minute here,” and you can jot down some notes about what you’re thinking. It might give you a little bit more perspective or clarity in the moment but it can be really hard to do on the spot if you haven’t had some practice with how that thinking style goes.

Pete Mockaitis
That makes great sense. So, we go back to the movie approach, which is great. Any other techniques or tactics right in the heat of things?

Paula Davis
So, one of my colleagues, I love the little phrase or mantra that she came up with for this. She says, “Stay in the now and stick to the facts.” So, it can be a very centering thing to say to yourself because what we oftentimes do when we’re catastrophizing is we go to a future story. We’re generating a what-if scenario. We’re saying, “If this something happens down the road, here’s what’s going to be the result.” So, we’re in a future-oriented space, and we’re oftentimes there without a lot of evidence to support it.

So, I might’ve been thinking to myself, “He’s never going to give me any more work. No other partner is going to give any work. I’m not going to make my hours. I’m going to get fired. I’m going to have to move back in with my parents.” All that has happened is a person has entered the next room over. And if I’ve got myself, a joke, living in a van down by the river or having to move back home with my parents because of it, that’s highly unlikely and unrealistic to happen, and there’s not really much evidence or data I have to support thinking that way, though we convince ourselves that it’s very real and it feels very real because it’s a powerful thinking style.

And so, just kind of snapping yourself out of that by saying, “Stay in the now and stick to the facts” reminds you that if you don’t have any facts to support it, if you can dial it back or let it go a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. And if we don’t have that positive team support, we mentioned one thing is just ask for it, “Hey, here are some things that people need, and I need some of those,” and we’ve got some of the mental strength and mindset pieces. Any other pro tips for if you find yourself in an unsupportive world? How do you stay strong?

Paula Davis
So, this tends to come up too. Sometimes I’ll get the question, “What if I don’t have a team?” So, you can look at it in a couple of ways, like, “I don’t have a supportive team,” or, “I don’t even have a team.” Like, maybe, “I own a business on my own,” or, “I’m a creative and I spend most of my days writing or painting, and I don’t have a team to kind of lean on or rely on.”

One equation that I give people, if you could think about a formula, or if you could think about what causes burnout is you have too many demands and too few resources. So, you have too many things that take consistent effort and energy about your work and too few things that are motivational and energy-giving about your work. Whether you’re in a midst of a big team or you’re on your own, the formula applies.

So, taking a step back and thinking to yourself really consciously, “What are the things that take consistent effort and energy about my work? Is there anything I can modify? Is there anything I can delegate? Or is there anything I can change or offload and start to examine some of those pieces?” Sometimes the answer is no but sometimes, especially in a coaching relationship, things maybe you hadn’t seen can be identified.

But, really, importantly is leveraging or identifying, “What are the resources? What are the motivational energy-giving aspects of my work? What am I not leaning on? Am I not bring my strengths to the table enough? Are there partnerships that I have formed that I’m not leveraging perhaps?” Things like that to help people start to recognize, “Gosh, maybe I really do need a better support system. What can I start to do to put that in place?” becomes really the right conversation for folks to start to have.

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

Paula Davis
One of the questions I’m most frequently asked and one of the things that I think is really important, and one of the things that I wished I would’ve done sooner, is that I think it’s important to start talking about stress, generally, within our teams, not shying away from the topic so it doesn’t feel like a weird thing for us to be talking about. But if you are feeling like more exhausted or frustrated or trending toward burnout or actually there, is to say something.

And whether that’s to a leader, whether that’s to a colleague who you trust, a friend that you have at work, a friend outside of work, really being specific about what you’re feeling and then what is it that you need going forward. Is it just a day off? Is it an extended period of time off? Do you need to switch teams for a period of time, if that’s even possible? Being intentional and thoughtful about what it is that you want and need from the situation is also important.

So, I would say that. Very consistently I hear from people who I’ve interviewed and talked to, either, “I’m so glad somebody said something to me,” or, “I wished somebody had said something to me. If I’m operating in a world of cynicism, I think I’m hiding it pretty well, but those eyerolls start to get noticed by other people. And if you’re noticing it, pull me aside and say something so that I can realize that the behavior is going in a not-so-great direction.”

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

Paula Davis
“Life hinges on a couple of seconds you never see coming,” and it’s a quote by Marisha Pessl.

And I think you can sort of think about moments in your life, and it can be like downside moments, things you didn’t see coming, times you’ve fallen in love. So, translate that into a positive moment or a positive situation when you meet somebody whom you fall in love with, and you didn’t see it coming. I just thought it was really interesting and it made me think.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Paula Davis
Anything by Brene Brown.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Paula Davis
Anything having to do with cooking. I’m a huge baker and I love cooking, so any tools that help me do those things better in the kitchen.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular one that is just the coolest?

Paula Davis
A really good knife. I feel that there are so many gadgets on the market that really don’t do much that a really great knife can get you a long way when it comes to cooking.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Paula Davis
Exercising. I run almost every morning.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really connects, resonates with folks; they quote it back to you a lot?

Paula Davis
I would say probably the small TNT-type strategies and that acronym. I tend to hear that a lot from folks.

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

Paula Davis
I would point them to BeatBurnoutNow.com, which will take you to my website where you can learn more about my book and everything that I’m doing in my institute.

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

Paula Davis
Do what you love. Even if you can’t know, manifest, or create the big job, dream job that you want, really pay attention to the small moments of meaning, and the small moments of things that you do during the day that you feel like you’re in the zone and really light you up. And start to just sprinkle those in a little bit more intentionally during your day and your week.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Paula, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you all the best.

Paula Davis
Thank you so much, Pete.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Jacinta

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

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

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

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Dr. Jacinta Jimenez Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacinta Jimenez
Yeah, there you go.

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

Jacinta Jimenez
It’s very troubling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacinta Jimenez
Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And what is cognitive flexibility?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacinta Jimenez
TheBurnoutFix.com.

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

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

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

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

650: Boosting Happiness at Work: Ten Tips from Chris Croft

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Chris Croft says: "Try to evolve the job, evolve it towards what you like."

The Happiness Tips author himself, Chris Croft, distills and shares his top ten tips for more happiness at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The myths about happiness at work 
  2. How to rewire your brain to choose happiness 
  3. The affirmation to add to your morning routine 

About Chris

Chris is one of the top authors on Linkedin Learning, with 34 video courses recorded during 11 visits to Los Angeles, on subjects including Project Management, Time Management, Process Improvement, Assertiveness, Surviving Organisational Change, and Happiness, with 25,000 views a day and over eleven million views in total. His Happiness course is one of the most viewed happiness courses in the world, with nearly a million views on lynda.com and linkedin – its 52 practical things you can do to increase your happiness. 

He has published 15 books including The Big Book of Happiness, and he has produced a number of free apps including JobsToDo and Daily Happiness Tips. His free monthly email tips are sent to 20,000 people (www.free-management-tips.co.uk). 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors! 

  • Monday.comExperience a 14-day free trial of the Work OS that boosts the ownership, joy, and efficiency of work.
  • Blinkist. Read or listen to summarized wisdom from thousands of nonfiction books! Free trial available at blinkist.com/awesome 

Chris Croft Interview Transcript

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

Chris Croft
Yeah, thanks for having me back. I, obviously, got away with it the last time. So, that’s great to know, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Well, I’m excited to dig in again. And to kick it off, I want to hear about you are a saxophone lover. I’ve played the saxophone back in the day. What’s the story?

Chris Croft
Yeah, somebody said to me once, “The definition of a gentleman is someone who knows how to play the saxophone but doesn’t.” And I think that’s probably pretty good. I do, I like listening to it, to people like John Coltrane and Bruce Springsteen’s fantastic sax player who died recently, Clarence Clemons. So, I love listening to it but I do play it as well in rock and jazz bands. But I don’t claim to be very good.

But I find it very therapeutic. It makes me happy to play very loudly, just to blast away. I tell people I’m the Jimi Hendrix of the sax but, of course, I’m no way near as good as him. But playing any instrument, I think, is a source of happiness. It’s creative and you get to show off. So, yeah, what’s not to like?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, happiness that’s exactly what we’re talking about. Well done. Happiness at work, you know a thing or two about it. Can you maybe, first, give us the lay of the land? To what extent are professionals, in general, happy at work? Can you illustrate the state of affairs there?

Chris Croft
Yeah, most people are not very happy at work. When they’re asked the biggest source of unhappiness, it’s usually their boss or their job. And happiness at work is not really treated very seriously by most organizations. They think it’s a bit of luxury. They understand motivation which is sort of linked a bit to happiness. And, in fact, when Maslow was creating his hierarchy of needs, he was actually studying happiness, not motivation.

So, he found that happiness required things like security and social links and being valued and all those sorts of things. And that was sort of twisted into motivation, just how to get people to work harder. But there is a link between happiness and how people work. And I saw some research that said that unhappy people tend to be about 50% engaged with their jobs, whereas happy people are 80% engaged. So, they spend more time working and they work harder if they’re happy.

But it’s hard to untangle cause and effect because it could be if you loved your job, then you’re happier, and then you work harder. But it could be if you work harder, that makes you happier, and it’s hard to un-pick the whole thing. But, certainly, if there are things you can do to make your employees happier, you’ll get more out of them and you’ll make more profit. So, why don’t organizations think more about happiness at work?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so happiness at work, I think we’d like some more of it just in and of itself and for the performance and productivity boost that it generates. Are there any sort of misconceptions associated with people think this makes them happy or unhappy at work but, really, that’s not the case?

Chris Croft
Well, the big one is money.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Chris Croft
The huge one is money, and there’s been a lot of research done into happiness related to money. And, certainly, below a certain point, money is related to happiness. If you’re so short of money that you’re worrying about where your next meal is going to come from or whatever, then clearly happiness is reduced by not enough money.

But when you get to a certain point, it really starts to level out and eventually you get to a point where more money doesn’t make you any happier. And it’s interesting because we put so much effort into earning more money. We do jobs that we don’t like because they’re better paid and we sort of sacrifice lots of time, personal life, even relationships and marriages and things get sacrificed in order to make more money. And all the research says more money isn’t going to make you happy.

And I know everyone’s listening to this thinking, “Yeah. Well, it would make me happy.” But, actually, if you look back over the jobs you’ve done in the past, if you’ve had a steadily increasing income as your career has gone on, then it’s hard to know whether it’s made you happier. But if you’ve had a career like mine where the money has gone up and down, you’ve done all kinds of different things, looking back, so times I’ve been happiest when I was earning very little money. And some of the jobs where I’ve earned quite a lot were really stressful and I wasn’t that happy.

And my theory about why this is true is I do think money makes you a little bit happier. If you earned twice as much, and you spent twice as much on your car and the wine you drink and things, I think you would be 10% happier. But the problem is that you pay a 20% price to earn that money, to earn more money. Why will somebody pay you more money? And there’s got to be something wrong with the job that they’re paying you to do. They have to pay you more in order to get you to do it, and it’s usually stress, or working longer hours, or a lot of travel.

And so, yes, the money makes you slightly happier, but the price you pay to earn that money outweighs the gain that you get.

But there’s good news because it means we don’t have to search after money at work. We can think about doing a job that we’re going to enjoy. You could start thinking about work that’s going to be satisfying and make a difference, and all of those things. And that’s good news, I think, in the end.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious, you mentioned that after a point, the incremental happiness for extra money levels off. I’ve seen some studies on that. Do you have a sense for what that point is, like, dollar terms?

Chris Croft
Yeah, I saw one and it said $60,000. And I remember being a bit disappointed because it hoped it would level off at like 20 or 30 because then I could say to pretty much everybody, “Don’t look for more money,” but, of course, a lot of people don’t earn 60,000 and, of course, it’s personal, so for some people it may level off at $40,000 or $50,000, and a lot of people are at that kind of point there.

And even at 30,000 or 40,000, it’s levelling off fast. So, if you can earn a whole load more, it won’t make much difference to your happiness. It’s completely leveled above 60, that’s the numbers I saw. But I think it varies depending on the country and your personality, and there’s a lot of factors going on in there.

Pete Mockaitis
And maybe your zip code and size of family and such.

Chris Croft
Yeah, but certainly it’s not millions. It’s not your second million doesn’t make you happier, although I’m sure that’s true. It levels off a lot sooner than that so don’t chase after the money. That’s not going to make you happy. But lots of things can, and that’s what I’ve got some tips for you in this podcast. I’ve got some practical things people really can do to get more happiness at work.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, lay it on us. What do you think are sort of really the big levers, the things that make all the difference?

Chris Croft
Yeah, so I’ve got a list of ten here and I’m planning we can zoom through them. They’re not really in any particular order and I think different ones will work for different people. My first one is a really quick one which is projects. And all the people who know me will laugh when I say projects because I am quite obsessed with Gantt charts and project management and things.

But it’s not project management that makes you happy but it’s having a project. It’s a feeling of moving towards a worthwhile objective.

And any project that you’re working towards gives you a nice feeling of progress and that your life isn’t being wasted. And we probably all had the feeling of driving home at the end of a day and thinking, “Where has that day gone? I’ve achieved nothing today.” But if you’re working on a project, you have that feeling of moving forward and you have that feeling of a worthwhile objective.

So, the first thing you can do at work is make sure you’re involved in a project, not just processes which is the same every day but a project, something that’s going to take a few months or a year where you’re working on something big. And I think it probably has an extra spinoff because you’re in a team, you’re working with people on a team, and that’s always good as well. That’s sort of a secondary benefit.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, it sounds like when you say projects, some will say, “Hey, I’ve got too many projects and it isn’t doing it for me.” It sounds like it’s something you can own and observe your efforts are creating improvement, advancement, like a house you can see or, maybe, I don’t know if sales numbers…

Chris Croft
It could be a website. It could be an exhibition that’s going to happen. Yeah, it could be a piece of software. It could be an app that you’re working on but something where you’re going to get closure in the end and you’re going to think, “I did that,” or, “I was involved in that, and there it is.” That’s the thing.

And, yeah, you don’t want to have too many projects. Stress is bad. But a lot of people are really stressed out by the processes. For example, I used to run factories for a living before I escaped. That’s quite a tough job to do. We were just churning out stuff and we were trying to churn out 1% more stuff every month. And it was just stressful and you just felt like you were running to stand still.

But every now and then there’d be a project and we would get a new machine installed or extend the factory or start making a new product. And that was great because we could get our teeth into something new. And then after possibly a few months, there it would be working, done. And it was the projects that I used to enjoy. And the projects were a little bit stressful because there was often a deadline but it felt good when you finished them.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a great distinction with the manufacturing world because it’s sort of like, in a way, at the end of each day, like, “Hey, there’s a warehouse full of stuff that I contributed to,” but it’s sort of like, “But that was happening before I got here and will happen after I got here and I see it every day, so it’s not distinctive in terms of that’s mine.”

Chris Croft
That’s right. Yeah, I really think ownership is important. And that’s actually part of my second one I’ve got here actually, but to have ownership of something, even ownership of part of a process would be fine, even if you were just sweeping the streets, let’s say. If it was your street and you always swept the same street and you could take pride in it, then that would increase your happiness.

So, I think ownership of anything is good but, you’re right, ownership of projects is the best thing to have because you don’t have that futile feeling of doing it over and over again, Groundhog Day.

But my second tip, with ownership as part of it, is to work hard. And I know this sounds like an old thing and people may think I’ve been put up to saying this by some sinister boss behind the scene somewhere. But, actually, if you work hard, you’ll be happier. And I know people whose job it is all day just to skive and do the minimum. They’ve set themselves the challenge of doing the minimum amount of work. And I can still remember I’ve got my daughter a work placement at a garden center when she was about 18, and at lunchtime she said, everyone at the garden center, when they had their half-hour for lunch, they went into the mirror room and they just sat there and either fell asleep, which is sort of stared at the wall and just did nothing for half an hour. And she said, “I was totally bored so I went out and volunteered where I could help on the till, and was there anything, some plants that needed repotting or something.”

And they all thought she was mad to volunteer to work. But she said, “What’s the point of just sitting there? It’s not going to make you happy in the end because you’re just not achieving anything. And deep down, part of you knows you’re wasting your life.” So, I actually think having decided to do a particular job for a particular wage, having decided to do that job, you might as well work as hard as you can and absolutely do the best you can.

And people have said to me, “Oh, it’s different for you, Chris, because you’re self-employed. You’re working for yourself.” But everybody is self-employed in a way, and you’ve decided to turn up to work today and sell your time for money, and you might as well do a job that you can be proud of. And I think that that, then, means you’ve got to find a job that you believe in because it’s much easier to work hard at something you do believe is making a difference.

Pete Mockaitis
And before we dig into that one, in terms of hard work, it sounds like part of it is that it’s, I don’t know, you do honest work in terms of like you’re really doing some stuff as opposed to just showing out or trying to dodge or staring at a wall. So, it sounds like it’s a matter of focus or kind of really plugging into it as opposed to sheer number of hours. Like, it’s hard work.

Chris Croft
Yeah. It’s not the hours at all, no. In fact, don’t work long hours because that’ll make you less happy. And, in fact, there’s been research that shows that every half hour that you commute takes 10% off your happiness. So, half an hour each way that is.

And if you take an hour to get to work, an hour to get home, that’s two half an hours, that’s 20% off your happiness your whole life. So, working longer hours is a really bad idea. But when you’re at work, you should absolutely do the best you can, best quality, but also put maximum effort in. And the time will go quicker, you’ll feel happier, the customers will be happier, and they’ll give you a better response back to you.

And a sort of little subset of that is to try to evolve the job, evolve it towards what you like. So, if there’s 10% of your job you really love and 10% that you just don’t like at all, say to your boss when you get your appraisal, or if you don’t have appraisals, just say anyway to your boss, “I’d like to do more of this. I’d like to spend more time directly with customers,” or, “I’d like to spend more time coding,” or whatever. And they’ll go, “Yeah. Well, that’s great. I was looking for somebody who wanted to do that.” And you can move your job towards the stuff you like and away from the stuff you don’t like.

And even if you only move a 10%, after three or four years, you’d kind of really transformed what your job is like, and you can actively influence what your job consists of. And most managers are delighted when their employees say, “I’d like to do more of this and less of this.” Sometimes there’s unpleasant work that has to be done by somebody, and they say, “Well, look, sorry, you’ve got to do that.” But quite often, there’s some other crazy person who wants to do the bit you don’t like. So, you say, “I don’t want to do the filing.” There’s somebody else who’d probably love to do filings, so win-win.

So, it’s to think about what your ideal job would be like and influence your boss, to just slowly edge it towards that, and then it’ll be easier to work with your heart and soul into whatever it is you’re doing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, just as simple as asking. Just like that.

Chris Croft
I think so. If your boss isn’t interested in your happiness, then you can start to think about whether you want to do something else and vote with your feet, but it’s definitely worth a try. And I think most bosses are pretty amenable to being asked about that kind of thing. We’re not asking for everything to be totally different. We just want to do a bit more of that instead of a bit of this, and just evolve it towards in that direction.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Chris Croft
So, that’s my second of my, gosh, ten sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Although some of these are shorter. Shall I go on to number three?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Chris Croft
Creativity. So, we get happiness from creativity. And we were talking about the saxophone earlier, and one of the great things about music is it’s a challenge to be creative. And actually, funny enough, in the band I’m in, sometimes they give me a fixed line they want me to play, “Can you play this rift all the way through the chorus?” And I’m thinking, “Well, yes, I can play that but it’s boring. And even if it’s a really good rift and it’s better than anything I could think of, I still want to play my own. I like my own better and I want to vary it.”

And so, there’s something in us that makes us want to be creative. And I would say even if you’re not very good at something, do it anyway. Even if you’re not very good at playing an instrument, play it. Or if you write poetry, even if it’s not very good poetry, or art, just do some paintings.

But once you get into management, then creativity becomes really important. I think it’s probably the most important thing a manager can do actually is to be creative. Because if you’ve got a process you follow as a manager, then what’s the point of you because anybody could follow that process? You could just get anybody, any old person in, and they could just, you know, “If this problem happens, do that. If a customer is unhappy, give them a refund, or whatever.” So, the purpose of management is to think about how to improve things, and that’s creative.

So, you need to find a job that’s creative and find creative parts within your job, and do as much of that as you can because creativity is a big source of happiness. And we talked about projects earlier, and I think projects have a creative element always, don’t they, because they’re always to do with doing something new. So, creativity, that’s the next thing to think about.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. And I hear you that it’s not purely about sort of art and music. Creativity, I guess, the core of it is you are inventing or putting something into existence out of you.

Chris Croft
Yeah. And where does creativity come from? I mean, there’s a question.
And, by the way, never say, “Oh, I’m not creative. I can’t do it,” because everybody is. Everybody can be. So, you must never just give up and think, “I’m not a creative person. I’m just not,” because you can do it. And with practice and with nurturing and a good boss, because you don’t want a boss who just tramples on your ideas, “Oh, that will never work.”

Look at kids. Kids are always really creative, aren’t they? So, we’re all born with creativity, and you can see it in kids. Kids are always inventing stuff, aren’t they, and imagining, “This stick is actually an airplane,” and all that. So, we’ve all got creativity within us and you can rekindle it, and it’ll make you happier if you can use it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. What’s next?

Chris Croft
What’s next is learning. And I like asking people, “How long could you do a job for if you weren’t learning anything new? If it was quite easy and it was quite well-paid and you were good at it, how long could you do that for?” And answers vary from a couple of weeks to a year or whatever. I worked, part of my apprenticeship when I was an engineer, I had to make washers on a lathe.

And you would make 10,000 in a day. And I had to work there for six weeks which is part of my apprenticeship, and it just drove me absolutely mad. I couldn’t stand it. Within a week, I had become quite good at making washers, and I’d made, I don’t know, 50,000 by then. And after two weeks, I was just climbing the walls. It was so boring. And I tried stacking them in pyramids and trying to calculate how many were in the pyramid, and how many seconds till I can have a cup of tea at 10:00 o’clock, just to keep your brain going.

And I think we all have a built-in need to keep learning because that’s going to be a survival quality, isn’t it? Suppose you were making podcasts, for example, but if you get bored with making podcasts, if that day ever came, then you’ve got to do something else. And it won’t be as obvious as the washers but there will be a point where you just think, “I’m just not feeling it anymore, you know. It’s just yet another guest, and I just go, ‘Oh, how interesting’ after each thing he says.” I know you’re not there, Pete, but you know what I mean.

And, funny enough, I’d been doing training courses for years and I wondered at what point would I get bored with training, teaching people project management or something. And I notice I never got bored because the groups are different every time, and, also, I learn stuff every time from the audience. And so, you have to keep learning. And if you get to a point where you’re not learning, then you’ve got to go off a level or go sideways, volunteer to do something different. Just find something else where you’re going to keep on learning.

And I think it’s easy to avoid the effort of learning, and, “Oh, I can’t be bothered to learn something new.” And I have found if you move somebody to a new job, they’d go, “Oh, I don’t want to do that. I’d have to learn new stuff.” But once they start learning it, they love it. And, of course, learning allows you to be creative as well because it just gives you more ideas you can use so there’s a link there, isn’t there, I’m sure between learning new skills and being creative.

So, learning is something that anyone can do. You can volunteer to go on training courses. Your company is bound to have training going on so just volunteer to go on the next course and learn something that you just don’t even think you’d need, like project management or assertiveness or anything, Excel, and just volunteer and go and learn something. And I’ll bet you, you’d feel good when you’re doing it. So, learning is number four on my list of easy ways to increase your happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I’m convinced. And number five?

Chris Croft
Number five is to come out of your comfort zone. And this follows on a bit from learning. But to come out of your comfort zone and push yourself, volunteer for some things that are a bit scary. Maybe they want someone to give a talk at a conference, or maybe they want somebody to open a new office in Cincinnati or something. Just put your hand up and say, “I’ll do that.” And afterwards, you’re thinking, “Oh, why have I volunteered for that?” but just push yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit.

Now, ideally, you’d have a boss who would do that, who would encourage you to gradually move on up and not give you huge scary things but just things that are a little bit beyond what you normally do. So, you just keep expanding your comfort zone. And the reason this increases our happiness, of course, is because we get achievement, because we get a bit of an adrenaline rush at the time, “Oh, I’ve got to give a talk to a conference.” And afterwards, it’s like, “Yeah, I did it. I feel good,” and you’ve increased your skills, you’ve learned some things as well.

So, volunteer. It’s a bit counterintuitive because we don’t think it’s going to make us happy but actually it does. And there’s that great sort of quote which says, “We only regret the things that we didn’t do.” So, if you do come out of your comfort zone, you won’t regret it. It’ll lead to something or other, and even if it ends up being a bit different to how you thought and it turns out to being tougher, you’ll look back and think, “I’m glad I did that.”

So, I don’t think you should do things that are really stupid at work but things that are just a little bit beyond what you would normally do. And, obviously, you can do that conference talk. Of course, you can.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m with you. And so, I guess I wonder, do you have any pro tips with regard to what is a risk worth taking versus it’s too risky?

Chris Croft
I don’t know. I don’t think there’s a rule for that because I think everyone is going to be different. I think you want it to be kind of 10% more difficult than what you normally do and not twice as difficult. I guess you can look at the, “How big will the downside be?” When you do risk analysis, you look at the probability of it going wrong and how bad it will be, don’t you? And you can weigh up the upside and how likely that is, and the downside and how likely that is.

But I think I would mainly focus on, “Will you die if it goes wrong?” So, if you’re thinking of giving a talk at a conference, what’s the worst that’s going to happen is your talk is going to be really boring and some people are going to go to sleep because they’re not going to throw things at you, or you’re not going to get fired. So, that absolutely is the risk worth taking.

And so, I think assess how likely it is to go really badly and how bad would it be. And, quite often, when you start thinking about what’s the worst that could happen, it’s actually not that bad. We mostly have fear of looking bad in front of other people, and that’s just not a problem, really. So, I think that’s what I would do. I think that’s probably how I would assess risk.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And what’s next?

Chris Croft
Well, number six, we’re onto the second half now. I’m really interested by this one because this one says that when you’re thinking about what makes you happy, your brain doesn’t know what’s good for you. This is based on some research by somebody called Sonja Lyubomirsky who I’m a big fan of. I think her research is fascinating. I think she’s great.

And they found that our brain doesn’t know what will make us happy. And we’ve already said that we think money will make us happy, and it doesn’t. And how can your brain be wrong? And the reason is because we’re really still stone age people, our brains are stone age.

So, for example, we have certain rules programmed in. Like, for example, eat the maximum amount of food while it’s there because we think that will make us happy because, in the stone age, if there was a dead dinosaur, you had to eat it as quickly as you could or whatever.

And then we have other simpler rules, like laziness is more efficient. And, yet, in real life, laziness doesn’t make you happy. You just underachieve and feel bad. And, yet, we think that if we do nothing all weekend and just read the paper and drink some alcohol at lunchtime and fall asleep in the afternoon in front of the TV, that that will somehow make us happy. But, actually, you look back and you think, “That wasn’t a great weekend really.”

And then our brain tends to focus on problems because if you’re trying to survive in the jungle, you’re always thinking, “Is that a tiger over there? Why is that there? I haven’t seen that before.” So, we tend to be quite negative, and that makes us unhappy in the modern world where in the modern world there aren’t that many things to be frightened of, and, yet, we still focus on the negative things. We watch the news, we want all the bad news that’s happening around the country, and we focus on the bad news. And that is a survival thing that is now out of date.

And the final thing that our brain does that’s bad is that it drifts away from the present. So, it frets about the future, it worries about the future, what’s coming up even though it can’t do anything about it. And it goes back to the past and it sort of thinks, “Oh, if only that hadn’t happened and I wish that wasn’t like that.” And sometimes it thinks the past was great, “If only I could go back to the past.” But, of course, you can’t change the past. So, our brain is obsessed with the past and the future even though that isn’t where happiness lies, because happiness is only in the present. And you can only be happy when you’re living in the present.

And that’s why we’re happiest when we do things that absorb us completely in the present. So, if you’re doing something, it’s called being in the flow. If you’re doing something where you’re really concentrating on doing it, and it might be, say, paddling a canoe or something, and you’re really concentrating on the canoe and the balance and the water, and you do it. And you just forget everything else.

And so, our brain is not our friend. And so, number six, really, is to say don’t trust your brain. Don’t think, “Well, I’m sure I must know best for myself,” but to actively take actions that go against what your inner nature is telling you. And don’t be lazy, don’t think that money will make you happy, don’t think that eating loads of food will make you happy. Don’t take the easiest path.

One of my favorite books is The Road Less Traveled. And the road that’s less traveled is the high road, the hard road. And he says in there that laziness is the biggest problem. He says that’s the root of everything, actually, is laziness. And why would we be lazy? And the answer is, in the stone age when we were short of energy, short of food and warmth, we had to be really economical. But, now, if we’re not careful, we can just lounge around all day, and we mustn’t. So, don’t trust your brain is number six.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think that hard work piece, that’s sort of why that helps is because you’re not able to be thinking about other things at the same time when you’re working hard and, thusly, you are engaged in the thing.

Chris Croft
You’re in the flow.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I dig that. Well, just to accelerate a smidge, could you give us seven, eight, nine, and ten in a sentence or two each, and then maybe we’ll dig into one of them?

Chris Croft
Okay. Well, number seven, it is a biggie but we can dig into it, is you can be happier by getting rid of your negative emotions because your negative emotions, and whether it’s sort of frustration and anger, or sorrow, regret, guilt, worry, you’re actually choosing all of those negative emotions. Your brain is choosing those for you, and you’re choosing it because you think you’ll get a payoff. You think that worry will make you perform better but, actually, it’s a substitute for planning. And you think that getting frustrated will make things go quicker but, actually, you just do things worse and you end up taking longer.

And so, negative emotions are always unhelpful, and you’re choosing them, and you can, therefore, not choose them. And you may think, “Well, I can’t choose my emotions. They just well up from within,” and they do well up, but you can choose whether to give them house room or not. You can choose whether to fan the flames, and think, “Yeah, God, that guy did it, is annoying at that meeting.” Or, you can think, “I’m not going to get annoyed with him. He means well. It doesn’t matter. There’s no point.” So, number seven is you choose your emotions, and you can choose not to have negative emotions.

Number eight is to not be focused completely on achievement but don’t forget enjoyment at work. A lot of people think that enjoyment is for outside work and then achievement is for work, and that’s the split. But, actually, you should enjoy your work as well.

And so, it’s worth thinking about, “What would enjoyable work look like?” Have goals for that. If you think that you would enjoy going out to visit customers, have that as a goal at work, “I want to find a way to get into doing that somehow.” And it might be the 10% evolving of your job but it might be to just go to a whole different department, and say, “I’d like to work here.” I mean, I don’t know. So, think about what you would enjoy at work, and have some goals for enjoyment at work. And linked to that is self-talk, to say to yourself, “I love my work.”

So, as you drive to work, don’t be thinking or even saying out loud, “Oh, not work again. I hate my work. Oh, I bet it’s going to be awful today. It’s the sales meeting, that’s always awful.” But, instead, say, “I love my work. It’s great.” And the first few times you’ll say that you’ll think you’ve gone mad and don’t let anybody else hear you because they’ll think you’ve gone mad. But it becomes true surprisingly quickly because your brain is really quite malleable. And if you say, “I love my work. I really do, I love it.” And, by the way, you have to say it like you mean it. You mustn’t just go, “I love my work.” That won’t work. You have to say, “I really do love my work,” and it will become true.

Number nine is to help other people. And this, again, this is a quick one to explain. But take every chance you get to help other people at work and outside work, of course. Because not only does that make them happier, but it makes you happier as well. For some reason, we are wired to help other people. And you’ll know this if you’ve traveled abroad, if your car is broken down, anywhere people will help. People help, they love helping.

So, if you help other people, you get kind of a triple win because you feel good and they feel good. And then later, they’re more likely to help you as well. So, helping other people is one of those things which a lot of people don’t do but you absolutely should take every chance.

My last one, number ten, is you can choose to set the temperature in every encounter you have with people. You can consciously be nice or not nice. And why would you not be nice with everyone that you deal with? Just be the nicest person.

A very quick story about this. I was doing a customer care call a while ago and there’s a guy, he was actually the carpenter, he’s to fix people’s desks and doors and things. And he said, “Well, I’m only nice if they give me tea. When I’m working on a job in someone’s office and they give me a cup of tea, I’ll be nice, but otherwise, they can get stuffed.” And I said to him, “How often do you get tea?” And he said, “Oh, about one time in ten.”

So, I said, “Okay, so nine times out of ten you’re not nice.” And he said, “Well, no, but they don’t deserve it.” And I said, “But what if you set the temperature and went in really nice every time? You’d be more likely to get tea. You’d probably get tea half the time. You’d probably get five times as much tea, which clearly is your objective in life.”

And he said, “Well, yeah, but if I was nice ten times, and I got tea five times, that means I would’ve wasted half of the times. I’d have wasted being nice half of the time.” And I was like, “Yeah, but it doesn’t cost you anything to be nice, and you’re going to get five times…” He’s going, “Yeah, no, no, I’m not going to do it, not unless I know they’re going to be nice; I’m not going to do it.”

And I’m just thinking, “What can you do with a guy like that?” So, put it out there and be the first one to put it out there. And there’s a little circle called do-get-feel. So, what you do affects what you get, and what you get affects how you feel, and then how you feel affects what you do. So, if you’re a bit lazy and you sort of do the minimum, then what you’ll get is sort of hassle from your boss and hassle from your customers. And then you’ll feel unhappy about your work. And then what you’ll do is even less work.

And you can break that circle by thinking, “No, even if my boss is maybe not treating me that well, I’m going to do the best job I can,” because then you’ll get better results and you’ll feel better about it, and you’ll be in the good circle, and you might even win over your boss. But, in a way, who cares what your boss says? Do it for yourself and do it for your customers to an extent too. But mainly do it for yourself because you’ll enjoy the work more.

If you’re nice to people, you’ll win in the end. So, that’s number ten, set the temperature in every interaction that you have.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I appreciate this rundown, and I guess I’m thinking, you mentioned get rid of negative emotions. Is there anything else that you think we should stop doing? Like, there’s a number of things here that we should make an effort to do and to pursue. What are some things we should just cut out?

Chris Croft
The first thing that springs to mind, actually, for me is comparison and competition which are related because comparing yourself with other people is a road to nowhere. There’s always somebody who’s going to be more successful or richer or a higher achiever than you are. And if you compare yourself with people like that, it’s just going to make you unhappy. And if you try to compete with colleagues it’s the complete opposite of helping them.

So, I really like the idea of the abundance mentality. If you help somebody else, they’ll help you and you’ll both gain. And, funny enough, I visited a friend of mine a while ago, and he’s got this great big house and it’s on the edge of London. It’s beautiful. And I said to him, “So, you’ve done really well in life, haven’t you? You’ve achieved.” And he said, “No, I don’t feel like I’ve proved myself at all.” And I said, “But you’ve got a house that’s worth five strokes six million pounds.” And he said, “Yeah, but my brother has got a house that’s worth 20 million.” His brother is the chief executive at Accenture.

And I said, “Yeah, but why compare yourself with him? Of all the people you could pick, why don’t you compare yourself with me because my house is only worth about half a million?” And he said, “You?” He looked at me and he went, “You? Why would I compare myself with you?” And I said, “To make yourself feel better.” But it was really interesting that he felt it was productive to compare himself with somebody on the level above. And, yeah, that might pull him up, but will it? Or will it just make him feel bad about himself?

So, I think comparing and competing are really unhealthy. And just do it for yourself. If you’re a salesperson, you don’t have to be the number one salesperson. Just feel good about every deal that you get and feel good about the fact you helped a customer and feel good that you’re getting better at selling, and you’ve learned some new techniques. But don’t start thinking, “Oh, that person sold more than me. And, oh, that person earned more bonus than me.” Just feel good about the amount of bonus that you’ve got.

So, I think that’s definitely something to stop doing, is comparing and competing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now, let’s hear some of your favorite things. Can you tell us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Chris Croft
Yeah, I’ve got two happiness-related quotes I really like. The first one is from Albert Schweitzer, and he said, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.” And so, if you love what you’re doing, you will be successful.

The other quote I like is totally different. And it just says that, “Allowing yourself to feel hate is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Chris Croft
Well, if I was a real egotist, I would say my Big Book of Happiness isn’t a bad place to start.

But there is a book that’s better than mine, and it is The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky. I really think she’s nailed it.

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

Chris Croft
I think it’s probably that you choose your negative emotions. People are always fascinated by that.

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

Chris Croft
ChrisCroft.com. Just go to my website. I’m always putting stuff on my blog. And from my blog, you can get my tip of the month, which is a free email I send out every month. I’m on YouTube as well and things, but ChrisCroft.com would be the starting place.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Not to be confused with Chris Cross.

Chris Croft
Yes, that bass player. I do get address, caught up letters addressed to Mr. Cross, but it doesn’t make me angry because anger is a negative emotion and you don’t think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re not cross about it. Ha ha ha.

Chris Croft
Yeah, it’s not worth it, is it?

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

Chris Croft
I think the easiest call to action is probably start a project. Yeah, what are you going to do? What projects have you got on the go? But if you’ve already got a project, then my sort of fallback call to action would be learning. What have you learned recently? How are you going to improve? Because all you’ve got is what’s between your ears really. What’s in your head is that’s your main tool nowadays, isn’t it, for earning a living, and you’ve got to keep improving your ticket.
They’re easy things you can do and they will lead to other things. So, make a start with a bit of learning and some sort of reasonably ambitious project that give you a sense of achievement.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Chris, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and happiness in your adventures.

Chris Croft
Yeah. Well, thank you for having me again. And I really hope it makes a difference to people listening.

637: How to Have a Happier Work Week with Nic Marks

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Nic Marks says: "Feelings are data. What I'm feeling is data."

Nic Marks shares the research and best practices for more happiness at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The five elements of a happy work life 
  2. How to draw the boundary between work and life 
  3. How to boost motivation and engagement in 5 minutes 

About Nic

Nic Marks was once described as a “statistician with a soul” due to his unusual combination of ‘hard’ statistical skills and ‘soft’ people skills.

He has been working in the field of happiness, wellbeing and quality of life over 25 years with a particular emphasis on measurement and how to create positive change. He is the founder of Friday Pulse and has worked with over a 1,000 organizations and teams measuring and improving their happiness at work.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Nic Marks Interview Transcript

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

Nic Marks
Thank you, Pete. Good to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. You have been called a statistician with a soul, which is a nice little moniker. Maybe could you start us off with a statistic or two that stirs your soul? Is there a number you find yourself coming back to again and again and you’re like, “You know what, I find that hopeful or I find that troubling, but I think of this number a lot”?

Nic Marks
Well, I think there’s a really nice number, well, it’s two numbers, 5 and 15, about 350. They’re called Dunbar numbers and they are basically our circle of friends and that most of us tend to have an intimate circle of five friends who we are really close to, roughly, I’m talking. And then a next circle of 15, and then sort of a 150 is our tribe.

And, particularly during COVID, I think, and the fact that we’ve all got sort of restricted lives, I think it’s quite good to identify the 5 and the 15 and to make sure you’re really maintaining those relationships, and kind of let the 150 go for the moment, and you can pick it up when this is all over. So, I think those are really nice numbers I like at the moment, 5 and 15 and 150.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, could you give us an overview orientation before we dig into… What is Friday Pulse and your work there?

Nic Marks
So, yeah, I’m a statistician and I’ve been very interested in measuring people’s experience of life for quite some time now. I’ve sort of started doing quality of life statistics and then moved into more wellbeing and happiness lately. And Friday Pulse is sort of a merger between two different strands of my life, and that kind of is the statistician and the soul bit in that it’s about how people enjoy their jobs.

And so, every week we ask people, “How have you felt at work this week?” and we’re basically looking to try and support organizations to create more good weeks for people. Yeah, that’s basically what Friday Pulse is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so happiness, hey, that’s great. We all like some more of it and it’s a good in and of itself. Nonetheless, on How to be Awesome at Your Job, I’m going to need to hear a bit about the connection associated between happiness and performance, at being awesome at your job, be it for individuals or teams or organizations. Can you draw that linkage there for us?

Nic Marks
Yeah, very explicitly in some ways. So, when we are enjoying our jobs…So, firstly, happiness is a sort of multifaceted sort of idea in that we can think about being happy at a music concert or festival or something, and I’m not talking about that type of happiness at work. I’m talking about happiness that comes from enjoying your work or liking the people that you work with, being curious, being inspired. And in that sense, we know very well that people who enjoy their work are much more productive, and that’s both in terms of the quantity of work they do if it’s more sort of piecemeal work and also the quality of the work that they do particularly links into innovation and creativity.

We’re not creative when we’re feeling…when we’re unhappy, we’re not creative when we’re not getting on with the people we’re working with, we’re not creative if we don’t care about our work. So, creativity and innovation is hugely, hugely linked to enjoying our work and enjoying collaborating with the people we’re working with. So, it’s very, very linked to productivity and creativity, and then, also, to other good things for organizations, like staff retention, reductions in conflicts, things like that are much better as well.

I can give you very specific stats if you want me to.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, actually I was going to go there, and we don’t have to go with every one of them, but maybe some of them that are the most eye-popping, like, “Holy smokes, happy folks stay at their jobs five times longer,” or kind of whatever is really striking.

Nic Marks
So, on the staying in their jobs longer, so we measure people’s experience every week. So, we can look at in quarter one how happy people were and did they leave in quarter two. And we know that people, who were unhappy in quarter one, are twice as likely to leave the very next quarter as other people. I mean, it’s not the only reason leave people leave, unhappiness. They leave for other reasons too, but it’s a major reason and it’s one that’s actually really deal-able with for organizations, so that’s very precisely, so.

And I think the fact that sometimes we think of it not in terms of just, it’s called as ratios. We can also think of it in terms of scales. So, we have a one to five scale, a five-point scale, and if a team moves half a point up, then that’s associated with 18% lower staff turnover next quarter. It’s also associated with a 7.5% increase in productivity, so they’re very tangible and very quick, some of these indicators in how much they translate into real bottom line stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then let’s talk about it in terms of the measurement. I understand there are five ways to happiness at work. Or, how would you begin chunking this up in terms of us being able to get our arms around happiness?

Nic Marks
Well, there are certain things. There’s the outcome that we’re thinking about which is we define very clearly as, “Have you had a good week?” basically. And we do it as a week because work experience ebbs and flows, it goes up and down very quickly. Weeks are really convenient length of time to do it over, so that’s our outcome. And then it’s like, “What drives increases in that?” and we know that there are particularly five main factors that increase that. We call them the five ways to happiness at work.

And they are connect, which is relationships are really critical; be fair, which is if a system isn’t fair, people, they get angry pretty quick; to empower people, so basically it’s about autonomy, delegating, using their strengths; to challenge people. It’s a total misnomer to think people are going to be happy if they’re not working. You’re bored, you’re not happy then. And, actually, we like a bit of stretch in learning. And then the fifth one is to inspire them. It’s about meaning, purpose, accomplishment. So, those are the five big things: connect, be fair, empower, challenge, inspire.

And if teams and organizations get those right, then people are much more likely to be happy at those workplaces.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that sounds right. I’m sure, yeah, I know, we’ve been finetuning it for a long time with many, many people.

Nic Marks
But it’s not exactly new science. You can see Maslow in there. You can see any theory you know. I mean, if you happen to follow something like Daniel Pink’s Drive, then his trio there, autonomy, mastery, and purpose, or Seligman in Positive Psychology his PERMA, they’re not dissimilar. The think that we do a bit different is we frame them in terms of positive actions to make them easy to act on, so we change it around a bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then in terms of the “Have you had a good week?” you’ve got a number of tools you work through from like 110 questions and 15 questions. And so, with that Friday check-in, kind of what are we asking? Is it just the one, “Have you had a good week?”

Nic Marks
So, the Friday check-in, so we do two main sort of pulse surveys, if you like. We do the weekly one, and the weekly one has to be really short. You’ve got maybe two minutes of people’s time on a Friday to capture a bit of data. So, we ask them how they felt at work this week, from unhappy to very happy. And then we ask them, actually, sort of text-based data which are things like, “What is a success for you this week?” “Do you want to thank anybody in your team?” “Have you got any frustrations?” And basically we’re trying to capture things that can be acted on, on a local team level, to improve their work in a weekly flow way.

And then once a quarter, we do what we call a culture profile which is 15 questions based on those five ways to happiness at work. And that’s a more in-depth, more like an orthodox style survey, shorter quarterly instead of annually or bi-annually, more actionable but it’s still a similar thing in the asking 15 questions. And then you’re basically trying to get into more of a planning cycle there or three months sprint about an organization doing some changes. Whereas, the weekly one is more like a sort of tech retrospective conversation about “How was last week? How can this week be better?”

Pete Mockaitis
And with the five ways and the 15 questions, I guess I’m curious, is there a particular question or two or three that seems to have a disproportionate amount of explanatory power or a correlation to the happiness? Like, “Hey, all 15 are important, all five ways are key. But, by golly, these one or two things sure do go a long way.”

Nic Marks
Well, as you briefly said earlier, I know I started off with 100 questions and I went down to 80 to 40 to 15, and you’re always choosing those on the power of their ability, not only to individually predict good outcomes but when you have the 15 together, that collectively, they create a good broad breadth as well.

So, you’re trying to do two things which are slightly contradictory in some ways, which is the sort of the biggest impact then have the widest impact, so they’re sort of carefully selected for that. Well, it depends what you mean. The fastest-acting is probably when relationships go wrong. So, if your team relationships go wrong, you become unhappy very quickly, but other ones are more slow-burning. So, if you haven’t got a sense of sort of your work is worthwhile, that’s more of a slow-burner.

We see differences between different sectors but, generally speaking, if you’re proud to work for the organization that you work for, if you’re using your strengths at work, and you’ve got good work-life balance, that’s a good start. Yeah, good start.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. You know, I’m thinking about my team right now. Hi, guys. They’ll be working on this episode. And sometimes, I think, man, I am probably too hands-off in terms of I’d love to do more of the regular check-in and coaching and feedback and guidance and motivating and inspiring, and then I don’t for any number of reasons but that’s not the topic for this episode.

Nic Marks
In some ways, it is. I think it’s an interesting point in that I think we can sometimes…I’m a very hands-off leader, I think, as well, and I think sometimes people want a bit from me than I realize that they do. And one of the things you try to do is really encourage team leaders to have a conversation each week but just a short one, 15 minutes. So, our data is all fed back to the team, and the team leader on a Monday, and they talk about what was a success, who they want to thank, or any frustrations. And, actually, it’s doing enough.

Your coach, when I was young, I trained as a therapist, and you’d learn from that process, that actual regular sort of ritual really helps.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, well, I guess what I was driving at then is that’s encouraging, is that I think that my team seems very happy and I think we are probably nailing it on this. I’m going to chat with them afterwards to make sure I’m not assuming things in terms of being proud of what we’re doing and the impact we’re making from the show, using their strengths and having the flexibility and the work-life balance associated with which hours they work and how many hours they choose to work in a given week just to kind of scale up or down. In most weeks, we’ve got some good flexibility there. So, that’s encouraging and food for thought in terms of, hey, where to start.

And that’s really what I want to zoom in now. I think we’ve built a great why here and really established that we have a rich, rich set of evidence underneath this. So, Nic, lay it on us, what are the top actions we can take to make a world of difference in our happiness at work and start seeing some of these benefits?

Nic Marks
Well, particularly now, in this really weird time of all of us having lived under restrictions for a very long period of time now, a lot of us are working from home, I think that work-life balance is one of the critical ones. As people got rid of the commute by working from home, and not everybody has but a lot of people have, structure of work, I think, has really got disrupted.

We used to use that commute or going to the office as a way of separating our parts of ourselves. So, we got our home self and we got our work self, and we have a sort of way of moving between that. And I think that a lot of people, absolutely myself included, have slightly struggled with the lack of separation between work and life that, we now, a lot of us are living with.

And so, I think that one of the top tips really for 2021 is to introduce a bit of structure to our lives that actually helps us demarcate work and work in the rest of our lives so we got a boundary there again. And I think that’s certainly one of the ways to be happy at work and in life.

Pete Mockaitis
So, yeah, let’s hear it. When it comes to the structure and the boundary, what are some of the great practices and things that you’ve seen is really handy for folks right now?

Nic Marks
So, rituals, I think, are good, and the commute, in some ways, was a ritual. And I think it’s about how you recreate those rituals. So, some of that might be that when you finish work, you turn off your computer. I know lots they’re going to watch Netflix again on the same machine. But, basically, “How do you separate that?” So, do you turn it off? Do you then go for a walk for 10 minutes around your neighborhood? Do you do something which really, before you go back into the family situation or the domestic situation that you’re in, that actually allows you to leave that behind? And, also, really strive to leave it behind.

There’s so much stuff about not taking your phone to bed, not checking emails late in the evening, and I’m as guilty as anybody else of doing that. But I do think those things are exceptionally healthy and introducing just some light rituals that work for you. It can be changing your shoes. It can be as simple as that. Just doing something, like changing your shirt. Doing something that actually says, “Right, I’m now not working.” And organizations need to respect that.

Actually, I moved my organization to a four-day week during last summer because I think everybody was struggling so much and everything was bleeding into every other day. I said, “Look, give me four good days, and then have another day off.” And, actually, it’s worked really well. We haven’t seen any dip in productivity, people have done really interesting things with their extra day, volunteering, or some of my coders are doing sort of open-source work. Obviously, some are doing child care and things like that.

But I think it’s about organizations and the employee having a new contract around that, and a new understanding about it that we’re all human beings and we’ve all got things to juggle. But boundaries, I think about finding rituals to mark the boundaries is a really good way.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that. And I’d like it if we could hang out there for a little bit longer in terms of, are there ideas coming to mind or you’ve heard from folks in terms of changing the shirt, changing the shoes? I was talking to my buddy Brad about how it’s been weird for him shifting to working from home, even pre-pandemic, in his role, and he’s like, “I’ve tried things like should I just hop in the car and drive around the block a couple of times since I don’t have a commute anymore?” So, yeah, think some people really are struggling with this to the extent that you’ve heard of more rituals that are working for people. Lay it on us.

Nic Marks
Well, I know some people, they’ve marked the boundary with their run of the day. I’ve never ran. I’m not a creature of speed but a walk is good, a run, a mediate, a yoga, a mindfulness, whatever, so you can break it with something else but it’s really leaving it behind. And, of course, for leaving behind at the end of the day, a list is very good, isn’t it?

Your write out the things that are still on your mind. Take five minutes at the end of the day, don’t just stop at the last task. You actually then just take five minutes, “Okay, this is what I’ve done today. This is what’s still open I must pick up in the morning. This is just another random thought.” Put them down, shut the notebook, and then it’s out of your head. I mean, it’s getting stuff out of your head. Because what happens, our minds, they don’t just sort of stop. They’re still processing lots of stuff so just set them in the book and do that, and leave them behind.

Bizarrely, the thing with creativity is that sleep works so well for creativity. So, actually leaving yourself an open question, which is a nice open question, you might dream about it, you might wake up in the morning with a new idea. There are all sorts of weird ways the mind works.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s an interesting little distinction there in terms of, on the one hand, writing it down, having it out of your brain, is a relief, and it lets you kind of be at peace and move on. On the other hand, having something in the background to noodle on does unleash some creative goodies. I guess maybe to have the best of both worlds, you want it to be sort of a fun, happy, positive thing to noodle on as opposed to, “What is his deal?”

Nic Marks
I guess so and I’m sure I’m contradicting myself there, and also because I’m slightly obsessed with my work, I never quite totally want to leave it behind, but I think it depends what type of work you do. Like, often one of the books I’ve got on the go, I tend to have two or three on the go at one time, is a sort of business-y book or book I’m trying to read for that. So, sometimes I’m doing that in the evening anyway. But it’s really the thing, it’s leaving behind the things particularly that are stressing you and getting them down or task or stuff.

People will find their own way. There’s not one way. It’s just a multitude of ways of doing but it is about how does it help you feel good in the evening? How does it help you be a good husband, father, wife, mother, lover, friend, whatever it is? Because relationships outside of work are more important than work, dare I say, but they probably are. Not many people go to their graves thinking they worked harder. There’s lots and lots of people who go there who wished they’d loved their family more or whatever. So, you do need to give time and attention to these people that are the cornerstones of your life. And if you’re always thinking about your work, you’re not going to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s hear some other key practices, things that make a world of difference in boosting our happiness at work.

Nic Marks
So, I’m very interested in the team. We’re very social creatures. In fact, it would be my criticism of Daniel Pink when you look at his Drive. He’s very individualistic and he doesn’t think about the social environment very much. There’s a little bit about meaning and purpose which can connect to the contribution but I think our relationships are really, really important for our happiness at work. And I think that teams, the reason that we work together in teams is because one plus one equals more than two.

We have two minds and we get something more synergetic that comes out of it. And I think that teams are a really good way of us resolving any tensions that are around and building better collaboration. So, always, all of our interventions I try and build are around conversations. I am a statistician and I even like decimal places which I know makes me weird, but it isn’t the numbers that changes organizations. It’s the relationships, it’s the conversations, it’s the reflection process.

And so, encouraging teams to talk more about how their experience at work is going is one of the key things, and it’s sort of a problem shared, it’s a problem halved. And, actually, you’ll find unexpected sources of support or people with skills you didn’t know about if you ask people about stuff. And even if it’s something that only you can work on, just knowing other people have got your back and they’re asking you how you’re doing, if you’re in a particularly stressful part of work, you’re the only person that seems who can do that job, others might take other tasks off you.

I used to run a team in a think tank about 10, 15 years ago. If someone was working on a particularly time-deadline project, others will take other tasks off them so they could have more time for that. That’s teamwork. And I think that teamwork is really where awesome work happens. It’s unusual, it’s not impossible but it’s unusual if it’s all down to one person. It’s normally relationships between people and collaboration that makes work awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, those team conversations, I think I’m hearing one point is just that you’re having them as opposed to, “No, it’s all on me. I’m just going to do it. I’m not going to whine about it. They don’t want to be brought down and hear my complaining.” But rather, being able to, and engaging, and, “Oh, boy, this is tricky. I don’t quite know. It’s so confusing. It’s ambiguous,” just to be able to share and to have some listening ear and some validation as well maybe some ideas, solutions, taking work off your plate. So, it sounds like just having those conversations is the thing to do as opposed to saying anything in particular in those team conversations. Or are there some key specific conversations you really recommend folks be having?

Nic Marks
So, there are some key specific things I think to be having, and there is also the general effect. I think the two things are there. And the key things, I think, are In the modern workplace which is so fast moving, we’re really poor at celebrating successes and we tend to move straight on to the next challenge, “Done that. Moving to the next challenge.” And I think we should take a little bit more time.

And I’m not talking much. About 5 to 10 minutes a week to just go through about, “This went well, this went well. This person did a good job,” and actually appreciating some people call it catching people doing things right, recognizing that. That’s micro recognition. It’s not employee of the month sort of recognition. It’s just like, “Thanks, that’s good.” That humanness about it. That makes a huge difference and it gives people confidence in a sense that there’s this basic thing that if we get positive feedback, we feel good with positive emotions and actually we build resources for the future, we build our confidence, our ability to take risks. So, that’s all important.

And, in fact, our ability to take risks is really important. People call it psychological safety or dare to fail, or whatever they want to call it. But if you’re going to be an innovative team, not every time it’s going to work, and you’ve got to try them out. But that support to try and to pick each other up when something doesn’t quite work is very, very important too. So, there are some specific things like that.

And I think one of the things we can do, particularly about people’s experiences, is that we too often just accept people’s first answer. And if you go, “Are you alright?” “Yeah,” and if you ask them, “Are you really alright?” you might get a different answer. And I think, particularly, during these difficult times, we have to ask a little bit deeper. And it’s about asking, as a leader, people leaders asking a deepening question. You’re a coach, and you lead like a coach, it’s about noticing that a little door is open and just opening a little bit more, and just say, “Oh, what do you mean by that?” or “Give me an example of that.”

Just ask those deepening questions rather than come and charging in with advice or try to fix it for them. Open it out a little bit and let them explain the context of their challenge more or whatever it is because they’d have information you just don’t have. So, helping them to solve it with you rather than you doing it for them is a much better way of doing it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that rings true. Can we hear maybe one more practice that makes a boatload of difference in terms of being happy at work?

Nic Marks
Yes, I’m sure we can do. I think of happiness, and I’m going to find one that science talks about it, as a two-way street. There is about what we receive, that’s what’s nourishing and satisfying to us and supports us, and it’s also about what we contribute. And so, I think that a happy awesome employee is someone that gives as well as receives, so they’re not looking for what they need for them. It’s actually them reaching out to other people and supporting them.

And that can be your clients, it can be your supply chain, it can be people in your team, people in other teams, you can be a mentor to somebody, you can be a reverse mentor to someone higher up in the organization, but those conversations that you can have with people about their work and what you can offer to them. So, I think thinking about what you can give is a really good way to feel happy at work and in life actually. So, yeah, what you can contribute.

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

Nic Marks
I think that when I was designing Friday Pulse, I’m a statistician but I wanted to have a measurement tool and so you had to define a rhythm to that measurement. But what actually makes the changes are the rituals you build around that rhythm. So, if you’re doing something quarterly, make sure you do a quarterly ritual. If you’re doing it daily, make sure you have a daily ritual that can discuss it and process it. And if we go for weekly, ask people weekly, and we suggest you have a weekly start of the week team meeting.

So, you have the rhythm and the measurement and the ritual, and I think that’s the biggest design thing that we do with the tool and the statistics is all there that’s all fancy and there’s a bit of algorithms that processes them for you. But, actually, it’s the team meeting. If you do the team meeting every week, that’s when people really thrive and actually start creating better teams and experience for people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we should probably give that a moment of time. So, the weekly team meetings, what are some of the most critical things that need to get covered there?

Nic Marks
Yeah, I think what we tried to help with the weekly team meeting is, I don’t know if you’ve ever used something like HelloFresh where they deliver a box of food to you each week, and it’s got the menus, it’s the got recipes, and all the ingredients. You don’t have to go shopping.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, they’re sponsoring us today. They’ve sponsored us before but sponsors eat it up when they come up naturally in the interview.

Nic Marks
Oh, well. Okay. Anyway, I think of what we do for team meetings is the same, is that often team meetings are a little bit, “Oh, we should have a team meeting,” and nothing very much happens, and it sort of feels good because you see other people. Now it’s obviously on Zoom, but whatever, but it’s like I think sometimes there’s not enough structure to them.

And so, basically, we present and we sort of give a PowerPoint thing is actually online but you go through and it says, “This is how people felt last week. These are their successes. These are the people that are being thanked. These are people’s frustrations,” and you go through them in order. And so, in a team meeting I think it’s very good to just, firstly, start with something fun. And people often think that we should have, “We’ll have a team meeting and we’ll have cookies at the end or we’ll have fruit or whatever,” depending on how healthy you are. Have it at the beginning because if people are in a positive mood, they have a better meeting.

So, if you’re going to do something fun in the meeting, do it to begin with as an icebreaker. Don’t do it as a reward at the end. Give it to them at the beginning, then you’ll get a better meeting. So, that’s one thing. And the next thing is making sure that everyone speaks. That’s a really obvious thing to say. But if someone is an extrovert, like I am, I can dominate a meeting quite easily. And it’s like, actually, extroverts like me need to learn to be quieter, and we need to learn to draw things out with the people that are more introverted. They very often hold a truth that you don’t know about, and if you don’t try and help them contribute, you wouldn’t understand that bit of critical data to you as a team.

So, that sort of facilitative style of making sure that, sure, the experts can be heard, but they should have their proportionate time, and the introverts, try and draw them out more. Try and get people to, without bullying people, but encourage them all the time and, also, being sensitive. We’re exquisitely sensitive at picking up signals. Maybe less so through Zoom but when we’re in a room with people, we pick up tensions, we feel them in our bodies that there’s something going on well before we understand what it is. Don’t ignore those signals.

I often say that feelings are data. What I’m feeling is data. It doesn’t mean it’s the truth. It could be a bit of data from 10 years ago from a fear I had. That’s when we get into problems and we probably should go put ourselves in therapy to sort things out. But it could be a bit of data that’s right here in the room. And so, how do you work with that? And how do you draw that out? And how do you find out more about it?

And I think being curious and sensitive and compassionate as a team leader, as a group leader, is a good way to get a lot out of your team whilst also needing to hold boundaries sometimes. You can’t let people run over you. You can’t. You’ve obviously got deliverables as a team that has to be met. This is work. This is not a support group. But it’s how you move towards together there.

A work team, a good work team, is a brilliant experience. It can be one of the top experiences of your life. A good marriage is good, a good family is good, a good sports team is good, but a good team at work is right out there because you spend so much time with them. And so, it’s worth investing in because it’s just a hell of a lot better when you enjoy working with your colleagues. It’s so much better.

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

Nic Marks
Victor Frankl, “The space between stimulus and response is where our growth is.” That’s not quite an exact quote but it’s something like that. I love the idea that we’ve got this ability that if something happens, we have a choice how we respond. It’s how I think about emotions and cognition interacting. Emotion, the feeling comes. We can apply our intelligence to actually decide how we act. And it’s that space which is the maturation process.

A signal comes into us, how do we choose to respond? So, something might make us angry but we don’t have to hit the person, particularly if they’re your boss, but we can respond perhaps in a different way. And that’s how we learn and we grow. In a sense, emotional intelligence for me is about having access to your emotional signals but using your intelligence in order to how to actually react to them. So, I think that’s a really nice one.

There’s an Aristotle one, which I’m not going to get exactly right, but it’s something about how we learn by repeatedly doing. We don’t suddenly learn from a book or whatever. It is actually by the doing that we really learn. Excellence is acquired by repeatedly doing things. And I think that if you want to be a good team leader, if you want to be a good colleague, it’s about what we do in the world. It’s a show-not-tell world. What we do, the piece we do, how well we do it is actually how we learn. And that’s probably why we should risk because if you don’t try, you don’t learn.

Pete Mockaitis
Those are good. Those are good. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Nic Marks
Well, probably the study that most changed my way of thinking about how to measure experience was a 2004 study by the stellarly brilliant Daniel Kahneman. So, Kahneman was starting to work on wellbeing in the early 2000s, actually about the same time that I was. I started about 2001. So, I was really interested when he entered the field because he already had a reputation in economics. And he produced something which came to be called The Day Reconstruction Methodology where he asked a thousand women, was the first study, about what they did yesterday.

And there’s a strong tradition in social science to do diary so they just asked people how they spent their time. The difference was he said, “How much did you enjoy the activity?” And by putting an emotional tone into the research, he made the data come alive in a way I just hadn’t seen. Most people are doing happiness research, wellbeing, quality of life research, we’re asking questions like, “How satisfied are you with your family life? How satisfied are you with your overall life?” And they’re perfectly good questions but they’re a bit dull.

And he suddenly asked, “What did you do? How much did you enjoy it?” And so, what he found out was that the activity they did most on the last day they were working, it was work, it was 6.9 hours or something, the activity that they enjoyed most was what he very delicately called intimate relationships but it was only 12 minutes.

And what he found was that if he asked people how much they enjoyed their work, he came second bottom. The bottom was the commute. And so, you had the activities that they did the most were people enjoying the least. And in that moment, I thought, “Sometime I want to work on work.” And it was another eight years before I did do. But in that moment, I thought, “It’s interesting. That’s where adults spend a lot of time. So, if I’m genuinely interested,” which I say I am, “in making the world a happier place, work is a really good intervention to think about, about how to do that because people spend so much time there.” So, that’s probably my favorite study, yeah.

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

Nic Marks
Oh, I’ve just read a beautiful book. I’m always into the last book I just read. I don’t know about you. And it’s called The Reality of Time, and it’s by Carlo Rovelli, and he’s a physicist. And it’s about how time doesn’t really exist, and it really blew my mind. I did physics at school. I loved science books. They take me out of my comfort zone. But I thought what probably the most amazing thing was that he had this whole sort of treatise of what time is, what constant time is, what thermal time is, and all this stuff.

I didn’t know that apparently time goes slower if you’re on top of a mountain than if you’re at the bottom of a valley because time is affected by gravity. I didn’t know that. I did know that black holes, you couldn’t get in them and out of them so time didn’t move through them. And I knew time was relative in the universe but I didn’t know that. And then but what I really loved is when he started talking about death, which is, I think, should be, is a favorite topic of mine and should be a topic of all us. And he goes, he summarizes Epicurus, and he goes, “When I am here, death is not here. When death is here, I am not here, so there’s nothing to be frightened of death.” He basically said, “Death is the end of the experience of time for us. And as there will be no time in death, there’s nothing to worry about after death.” That was lovely.

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

Nic Marks
Well, I really do like Slack actually. I think being in that instant messaging into the workplace has been really brilliant. We used another one called HipChat for a while and then we moved over to Slack. I think they’re really good tools. And I have come to love my CRM system as well because it just saves so much time. We use HubSpot. So, those are tools that I use at work for productivity. Of course, my favorite tool is Friday Pulse, but I’m not going to say that really.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Nic Marks
Oh, for me, walking. Walking serves a lot of purposes for me. I’m an overweight middle-aged man. I’m not ever going to be very fast. It’s my one exercise I really enjoy. Swimming I do as well but it has to be warm. I’m not very good at cold-water swimming. But walking because it’s my meditation as well, it’s my thinking time, my creative time. It’s my exercise. It’s time on your own. I do like walking with my wife but every other walk, not every walk, yeah.

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

Nic Marks
One of my mantras is I really encourage people to take their happiness seriously and the happiness of other people seriously. It’s something to teach. It’s not a light frivolous topic. It’s a serious topic. I don’t know if that’s what you mean.

Pete Mockaitis
No, it’s good. Yeah. Thank you.

Nic Marks
But, certainly, sometimes people go to me, “Oh, yeah, I don’t about that.” I think people don’t think about their happiness enough, in my opinion.

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

Nic Marks
Yes. So, FridayPulse.com is our website. I have a personal website which is NicMarks.org. LinkedIn, if you like what I’m saying, then connect with me on LinkedIn. I love connections on LinkedIn. And we’ve also just created a sort of free personal reflection tool for people to think about their happiness at work and it’s a bit like one of those sort 16 personalities questionnaires but I would say it’s more actionable because it’s basically talking about the work you do now and what you can do to improve your work.

And you can just get to that, it’s just FridayOne.com, so it’s one because it’s one person. It’s one snapshot in time. But it’s FridayOne.com and you take the test and it will give you what I think is a rather cute report back with insights and reflection pieces in it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sounds also like a call to action so we’ll take it. Nic, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you much happiness.

Nic Marks
Thank you. And you, Pete, keep awesome.