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797: How to Find and Do Your Great Work with Amanda Crowell

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Amanda Crowell shares practical wisdom on how to make time and space for the work that matters most to you.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to get clarity on the work that fulfills you most 
  2. How to say no to the commitments eating up your time
  3. How to stop procrastination from sabotaging your goals

About Amanda

Dr. Amanda Crowell is a cognitive psychologist, speaker, author, and the creator of the Great Work Journals. Amanda’s TEDx talk: Three Reasons You Aren’t Doing What You Say You Will Do has received 1.5 million views and has been featured on TED’s Ideas blog and TED Shorts. Her ideas have also been featured on NPRAl JazeeraThe Wall Street JournalQuartz, and Thrive Global. 

Amanda lives in New Jersey with her husband, two adorable kids, and a remarkable Newfiepoo named Ruthie. 

Resources Mentioned

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Amanda Crowell Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Amanda, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Amanda Crowell
Thank you. I’m so excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m excited as well. I really want to dig into your book Great Work, but, first, I need to hear about clown school in Spain. What’s the story here?

Amanda Crowell
That’s funny. Well, I had finished my master’s degree, this was in between my master’s and my Ph.D., and I had had kind of a rough couple years, which I think probably everyone listening can relate to, and I felt like I wanted to go somewhere where I couldn’t talk to anyone and no one could really talk to me. So, I went to Spain, I went to an island off the coast of Spain. Tenerife, it’s actually off the coast of Africa but it’s a Spanish island, and I did language school for about, I don’t know, maybe it was three weeks of language school.

And then I planted myself in Santiago de Compostela, which is just a little part of Spain above Portugal, and was looking for things to do. So, I saw that one of the local theater companies was offering a clown school, and I thought that would be fun, not really realizing that my maybe minimal understanding of Spanish would sort of get in the way.

And I found that it both did and also didn’t because clowning is very…it can be very physical but there was one experience where I didn’t realize it but we were playing a game where the person who’s the focus of the game stands in front of the room, and everybody else in the class stands on the other side, and as long as you’re funny, they will stand still, but if you stop being funny, they will move forward, like rush you, like an army.

Like, somehow, my mind knew this because I started telling the story of Finding Nemo the movie, which had come out that summer. And they had this very perplexed look on their face the whole time, and then finally they got it together and started rushing me. And later, they told me in our conversational Spanish-English thing that we would do that I was repeating the same thing that the person who came before me had done but I had no idea he also told the Nemo story.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, what are the odds?

Amanda Crowell
Well, apparently my brain totally heard it, I was like, “Oh, we’re talking about Nemo, so I’ll just tell that story too,” which they did find funny for at least a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, did you have any clown performances afterwards?

Amanda Crowell
We had a clown performance at the end of the two weeks of clown school, and then the person who was running it invited a friend of mine, and I had to go to a clowning performance, like on the coast, which is like 45 minutes, I guess, west of Santiago de Compostela so we got on a car and went there. and I didn’t perform but I was part of the troupe that was like sort of hanging around backstage and stuff, so that was fun.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you put your clown skills to work in future times?

Amanda Crowell
Well, as a mother, my clown skills are required every day, and as a professor, I think my students do find me to be engaging and funny, and I’m quick on my feet. And the main rule of clowning, much like improv, is that you have to just do what you are invited to do. If you’ve been invited to walk around on your hands then, to the best of your ability, you have to. In improv, they call that “Yes, and.” It’s basically the same in clowning. It just tends to be a little bit more physical. And being forced to do something just because you’ve been asked to do it, because that’s the rule, is very freeing. It creates a different kind of habit of participation that I found very useful in all of life.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Never would’ve guessed. Okay, clown takeaways. Powerful. All right.

Amanda Crowell
Powerful clown takeaways, yes. I guess we’re done here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m curious to hear some powerful takeaways from your book Great Work: Do What Matters Most Without Sacrificing Everything Else. Can you start us off with any particularly surprising or fascinating or counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made along the way as you put this together?

Amanda Crowell
Well, I think that the cornerstone, like the piece of insight or the foundation of the book as a whole is a little bit in reaction to what I would call sort of high-performance productivity hacks, which I, like everyone sort of, love. Like, tell me exactly how Steve Jobs was able to do that. Tell me what Tim Ferriss does in his 4-Hour Workweek.

But there’s a way that that kind of high-performance productivity stuff keeps you always racing against the clock. You could be more productive, more productive, more productive. And that’s how I lived my life and had a couple of sort of full-body rebellions and sort of mental health concerns, feeling anxious. I wasn’t feeling satisfied.

And it wasn’t really until I realized that there’s another way to be powerfully productive that I took on. And then what surprised me, this is the big surprise, is that doing it that other way, that not high-powered doing more like really striving to be busy, striving for more accomplishments, that when you let that go and you do it this other way, then you actually gain access to what you want the most, which is your great work, which is the work you’re being called to do, the work that requires your full capacity in order to break through the human condition and put that work out there – the art, the scientific discoveries, the businesses you want to build. There’s a way to do those things much more quickly, much more powerfully, much more successfully for most people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, what is that way?

Amanda Crowell
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, that way is what’s outlined in the book. So, it’s got the different pieces of it. On the one hand, it’s about doing much, much less. The sort of high-performance productivity idea is you can do so much more and you won’t be super-stressed, sort of like the promise of it. And, actually, the number one step of this other way is to do tons less, to back out, say no, protect your time so that you are creating space for resilience, because you have to protect your resilience, which is your number one resource, and create a vacuum of space into which your great work can build, and bloom, and like take up space in your life.

People, I find, try to squeeze their great work into the margins of their life, but it’s their most important work. It’s the work that they want to be known for, it’s the work they want to create their legacy, and yet they’re like, “Well, I’m trying to do it on Saturday mornings, and if I had an hour after work, I’d try to do a little of it then,” and that’s very backwards. That’s prioritizing the expectations of others and not being strategic about your time so that you create actual time and actual resilience in yourself to do that work.

And then there’s just figuring out where your great work is, which is a certain amount of visioning, and believing what you hear, and trying to understand the voices in your head and differentiating them from each other. And, honestly, I already said it but I’m going to say it again, like really believing what you hear.

I find that a lot of very creative, innovative people will tell you that the thing they want the most is just not possible for them, “I’ve already got a family so I really can’t be an entrepreneur,” or, “I’m a lawyer, I can’t be an artist, I can’t write a book,” or whatever. And really learning to believe the voice that’s calling you from the inside is a big part of figuring out where your great work is. Often, people know what it is. They just refuse to believe it. They refuse to give it any credence.

Once you know where your great work is, then it’s the steps to turning it into reality. And that piece of it is about understanding the relationship of the ideas, like you feel like, “I want to change the face of medicine,” and you have an hour. How do you change the face of medicine in an hour? And so, there’s filling the space between those two so that you understand what a vision is, and then there’s other levels. Accessible aspiration that you can do in a year, what you can do in 90 days, what you can do this week, and what you can do today.

And then you know that your efforts are accumulating towards your great work, so there’s that practical kind of time management piece of it. And then the last piece is really developing self-expertise, which is also about allowing the productivity advice that you hear to be relevant or not, and putting together your own elixir of what really works for you. And that’s where a lot of the mindset stuff comes in as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. Well, starting with zeroing in on what is the great work and the calling and the vision and stuff, how do we arrive at that and get real clarity on, “This is the thing, and this is not the thing”?

Amanda Crowell
Yeah. And there will be multiple things. So, sometimes it’s like, “Well, I love all of these things,” and it’s not a matter of denying parts of yourself. It’s a matter of prioritizing and choosing, and giving one of those things enough time to actually grow into something. So, I think I mentioned, like, sometimes people don’t know what their great work is, and they are really uncertain that they have great work inside of them, “Some people have great work but I’m just not one of them. I’m all over the place, and I’m kind of lazy, this isn’t resonating with me.”

But I have found that in every conversation, truly with people who want to talk it through and figure it out, that great work is in all of us. So, sometimes it’s a matter of doing some sort of searching. So, you can do sort of auditing of your prior experiences, “What’s always true?” One really key indicator that something is part of your great work is when other people do it, you feel really jealous.

So, I remember there is this story of, this is really resonating with the whole clown thing, one of my bosses in the past was Little Mikey on Sesame Street. So, you know how they have kids on Sesame Street who talk to Kermit the Frog. So, my boss was Little Mikey talking about what is love with Kermit the Frog in the ‘70s, which means that the puppeteer doing Kermit the Frog was Jim Henson himself. And I literally could not handle that that had happened to him.

And that feeling of just waves of whatever you want to call it, envy or jealousy or just, “Why didn’t it happen to me?” or like yearning is a real indication that there’s something in that that you really want for yourself. So, looking at the things that you’ve been envious about over time, childhood dreams, like re-invigorating, “I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” or, “I’ve always wanted to be a musician,” or, “I’ve always wanted to cure cancer,” or, “I’ve just always wanted to be a businessman,” like the Warren Buffett of the future.

Those give you the clues. And sometimes you can’t nail it down before you get into action. It’s often the case that taking steps in the direction of what you think you might want quickly clarifies, “I do not want this,” or, “Wow, this is amazing. I light right up. I start to feel satisfied again. I feel excited. I want to find the time to do it. I’m not watching as much Netflix or playing as many video games because I’m called, I’m drawn to do this other thing.”

Once you know what it is, then you have to protect that time, and that’s where saying no and doing less starts to become the game because if you’re good at what you do, people want you to do it for them, and you should. There are lots of opportunities. If it’s a great opportunity that takes you in the direction that you want to go in, I’m all for it, but there’s lots of sort of random one-offs.

In the book, we talk about how to evaluate whether an idea is a good one, whether it moves you towards your great work. And it really just comes down to, like, “Can you see the connection between what you’re doing and your great work, like as you’ve defined it?” And the example we use is, like, building a pergola in your backyard, because this actually happened to us.

We just decided we wanted a pergola in our backyard, which is actually something you can buy off the internet and they send you all the wood, and they say, “Oh, you can do it in a weekend,” but, of course, that’s not true. It’s going to be many weekends of trying to put up this wooden grape arbor thing in your backyard.

And it’s like, whether or not building a pergola in your backyard is your great work depends on how it fits into this larger system of the things you spend your time doing. So, if you’re in the middle of flipping your house and you want to get big return on investment, you feel like you’re going to get more money for your house, then building a pergola is a great use of your time because you can see the connection.

But if it just feels interesting but, really, you don’t spend that much time in the backyard and you only thought it was cool once, then no matter how compelling it is in that moment, you can step in and say, “I need to protect my time so that I have the time to do what I’m really here to do.” It’s a skill. It’s a skill that’s developed over time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, could you share an example of a client or someone who found themselves overwhelmed with all the stuff and then trimmed it down and pursued great work to cool results?

Amanda Crowell
Yeah, so many. And I’d say that that’s one of the strengths of the book is that it’s just filled with case studies. So, people find themselves in all kinds of situations. Like, we come to our great work when, like today, it’s always just today, and every day is filled with things. So, sometimes people find themselves really stretched very thin around expectations that people have, like they’ve got children. I’m not saying expectations as though those things don’t matter, because they do. You do have to take care of your children.

If you’re in the sandwich generation, where you have both children and parents who need care, that’s a real thing. It takes a lot of time to do that. If you also have a business, and your husband has a business and he wants your help with it, so that’s the example that’s in the introduction of the book, actually. It’s a woman who was in that exact situation. She had heard me speak, and she stayed on the Zoom length until people had left, and then was just like, “I’m hearing everything you’re saying, and you’re absolutely right, but I can’t.”

I think she wanted me to convince her that she could but she was maxed out. She was taking care of her mom. She was helping her husband because he wasn’t very good with the books of his business. She had a coaching business of her own, and that’s what she wasn’t getting to. She wasn’t writing the books she wanted to write and she wasn’t creating the program that she wanted to create, which is like, “I just can’t get to it.” And I’m like, “Of course, you can’t get to it because you’re doing all of these things.”

So, she is an example of somebody who knew what they wanted but couldn’t get to it. That’s very common. And so, that, over the course of a couple of years, talking to her and encouraging her to piecemeal, bit by bit, release herself from all this overcommitment, so, like, she found someone at her church to take her mother a couple of days a week and that released her from it.

And then there was a really big conversation with her husband where she said, “You have to find someone else to do your books because I can’t get to what I need to get to,” and he was very disappointed and felt kind of betrayed, but that was her reality, that she was never going to get to what mattered to her until she was able to put some of his own burden back on him because she had accepted it all, and now she needed to give some of it back. And so, in bits and pieces like that.

A lot of what I do is very, like, as long as you’re doing something today that aligns to what you wanted to do this week, which aligns to what you wanted to do in 90 days, you’re doing it. Because the other thing that I think, for her in particular was really powerful, was knowing she was done because she never ever felt done, just this endless to-do list. And it was the feeling of, like just, “What am I striving for? Like, I’m exhausted. I never exercise. I don’t eat well.”

And so, once you’ve done the things aligned to your great work, and you’ve met the expectations that you’ve drastically pared back, your life changes even before you’re doing the great work. You feel so much better. And I talked a little bit about resilience being your number one resource, this is where that kicks in.

When you start feeling better, the things that are hard – innovation and creativity, problem-solving, collaboration – all the things that are the skills of the 21st century economy, you’re better able to do them when you’re not exhausted, hungry, in pain, and just maxed out and brain dead. So, for her, doing all of those things made it possible to start actually making progress, and she has gotten very far, I would say, in the time since we worked together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have any pro tips on how one goes about exiting burdens, and reducing the load, and saying no and these sorts of things?

Amanda Crowell
I do, yes. Some of it is making a list of the things you’ve agreed to do, the projects, is what David Allen would call them in Getting Things Done, like anything that requires more than one step is a project. So, what projects do you have ongoing? And if you’re, walking your sister’s dog, and you’re planning the school party for your kids, and you’re the person who does birthdays at work, and you sing in the choir, those are all commitments.

And then looking at that list of commitments, some of them will be the obvious elephants in the room, like, “I don’t want to do it. It doesn’t make me happy to do it. I’m just doing it out of obligation. And the person that I’m feeling obligated to is not that really important, it’s not my mother. It’s the woman at church who handed it off to me and refuses to take it back every time I try to give it to her.” Those are the sort of topline things that can create instant relief and make you feel tons better right away.

So, in that case, it’s about having the difficult conversations. And sometimes if you have a coach, going through that, and a roleplaying thing can be really helpful, but, really, it’s about the rubber hits the road. You open your mouth, and say, “I’m really sorry. I know I said I would do it but I can’t.” And what’s interesting about those kinds of conversations is that they cause a lot of edge ahead of time. But the minute they’re done, the relief and the joy and the happiness that you don’t have to do it anymore is so awesome, it sort of drives you forward into the other things. So, that’s one. That’s like literally saying no to things that you’ve committed to, backing out of them.

That’s the hardest and so that’s where we always start. But there are other things that don’t require so much overt acknowledging of what you’re doing. I like to call it doing B-minus work, which is where…like, I was in consulting for a number of years before I started back as a professor at a university, which is what I do now in addition to the coaching and consulting and speaking stuff that I do. But when I was in consulting, which is a very billable hours kind of environment, it was very overwhelming the number of tasks that you had to do, and you felt you had to do all of them really well.

And I noticed that there were a lot of those tasks that, if you look at them in smaller pieces, there were parts of them that you could do just good enough. Now, those particulars are very particular for the job. Every job has them. This is what I’ve learned in coaching all these people over all these years, is, for example, hospice nurses.

They travel around, they get out of their car, they go into the house, they meet with their client, they come back out, they have to write up notes in between…they’re supposed to do it in between the clients but they all do it at night at home because they need to get off to the next client. They’re probably driving their car.

So, the typical advice given to them is to, “Do your notes before you leave the house,” but if you go into that and think, “Which exact pieces of the notes do I need to do, because when I try to think of it later, I’d forgotten a lot of it?” you can figure out that, “There’s just three fields that I should fill in. And then when I come back to do it at night, it’s much faster.”

So, things like that, where you don’t have to do it in this full-trotted, full-throated way, “I’m going to do all my notes as fast as I can, and somehow be this superhuman.” “I’m just going to do just these three because those strategically are the ones that matter.” Every job has little pockets where these things matter and these things matter less.

In consulting, one of the things I noticed was these emails that we would send, we would have these big group meetings, and we would send agendas ahead of time, and we would send notes afterwards. The agendas mattered a lot. People came, we had better meetings when the agendas were good and they got them on time.

Nobody, not a single person, ever opened the notes documents that came afterwards. And so, I started writing those as B-minus work, where it was a description of who was there, because you need that for contract work, and how long it was, the location, and then three bullet points of the topics that were covered, and not a single person noticed it didn’t impact the workflow, “My boss didn’t care.”

And so, instead of 30 minutes, it was 5 minutes, and 25 minutes of my time is back. So, there’s bits and pieces of your workflow, when you look at it in smaller pieces, that can release you from this overwhelming feeling without actually changing anything, or nobody even notices that you’re doing something differently but you experience it really differently, and it can be very helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. All right. Well, you have a fun turn of a phrase, you mentioned three horsemen of the goalpocalypse. What’s the story here?

Amanda Crowell
Yeah. So, I think at one point in this interview, I said something about overcoming the human condition to do your great work. That’s really what I was talking about. We have these things that, when we get tired, we get exhausted, when we get nervous or fearful, they kick in and they’re protective. So, procrastination is one of those horsemen, like, “I want to do it but I don’t want to do it,” “I want to do it, I totally forgot I wanted to do it.”

Perfectionism is one of those, “I’m going to do it perfectly and I’m going to take forever, and I’m never really going to get it out the door because it’s never good enough.” And then overworking is one of those. So, overworking, procrastination, and perfectionism, so like, “I’m going to work myself until I’m a little nub of a person, a little pile of ashes,” and that keeps you from doing your great work, too, because, “I’m so busy. Now is not the time. I have to wait until all these things line up.” These are like sort of things we do to self-sabotage our goals. That’s why they’re the three horsemen of the goalpocalypse.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, is the thought then if we have trimmed out the other stuff and we have a good vacuum to work with, those just disappear? Or, are there particular prescriptions for them?

Amanda Crowell
A lot of it is mindset work, like reframing your thoughts about things. The ability to do that mindset work is much more possible when you’re not maxed out and totally out of resilience, and burned out, or overworking, that kind. So, for example, procrastination, I have this TED Talk, you can put a link to it in your show notes or whatever, and it’s very popular. It has like, I don’t know, maybe close to 2 million views now.

And I think the reason that it’s so powerful, it’s about procrastination, really, and it talks about what the source of procrastination is, which is this thing called defensive failure. And defensive failure is the idea of how, as humans, we defend ourselves against real failure by failing ahead of time, by procrastinating. So, like, why do we procrastinate? Is it just a strategy? It’s a defense mechanism, but what’s underneath it?

And that’s what the TED Talk is about, and it’s the three mindsets that stop you from doing what you say you will do. So, one is, “I don’t believe I can. Like, other people are athletic but I’m not, so no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I won’t be able to be a runner,” for example. And so, you set these exercise goals, you don’t do anything about them because in your own heart and mind, you think you cannot, that there was something granted at birth, you didn’t get it, and all you’re ever going to do is fail at this, and you’re just not up for that. So, that’s one, “I can’t. I cannot. Like, I literally cannot.”

Then there’s, “People like me don’t do things like this,” which is the belonging one, which is like, “If I do this thing, what does it mean about me? And if it’s in conflict with my identity in some way…” My favorite example of this one was when I was learning how to sell my coaching, I was like, “I’m a heart-centered helper type. I’m never going to be pushy.”

So, the thing I wanted to do and how I saw myself clashed. And when that happens, it triggers defensive failure because we never want to be in conflict with ourselves. Our brain really does not allow for it, so you need to resolve that, you need to say, “Oh, there’s room in my identity to be a heart-centered salesperson,” for example.

The solution for the first reason we procrastinate, “I think I can’t,” is to learn all about the brain and understand that everything through effort, over time, with help, anything is possible. Immediately people are like, “You can’t be Einstein.” Fine. Anything normal is possible with effort, over time, with help. Those are the three things. If you’re willing to do those three things, you’re good. So, that’s the resolution to the first.

And then the second is, like, make room in your identity, like resolve it, go meet people, talk to people, read the magazines. Like, learn more about the thing that feels so counter to who you are and find a place for yourself in it, and then procrastination, it does give way. And the final one is, “I don’t want to do it. I just think I should want to do it.”

And this is where everyone tells you, “Oh, you should just…” The world tells you, “You should want to lose weight,” but, actually, you’re like fine with how you look, so you make these goals, “I’m going to go keto,” but you don’t actually care about it. You don’t really want to do it. It just feels like you have to say it because the world says you have to. That’s never going to work because actual real change is very difficult, and if you really don’t want to do it, you’re not going to do it.

So, a lot of that is letting go, like, if you’re happy with how you look, like, let it go. Until the doctor tells you that you are not going to live if you don’t change your behavior, it’s like, follow your own body, whatever. But if you do want to do it but you don’t want to do it, but you do want to do it, like, if you’re stuck in that whole thing, then it’s about building intrinsic interest for it. Find something that interests you. Connect it to your long-term hopes and dreams. Find a way to have actual interests, curiosity, connection, build it up intentionally. Like, go do that work, and that will help the procrastination to go away.

So, those three things are why we procrastinate, so that’s like the resolution, depending on which one it is, for that horseman of the goalpocalypse. And there are similar thoughts and stuff all outlined in the book for the others as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, how does one intentionally build interest and curiosity? I think some folks think, “Hey, you got it or you don’t. Either this thing is interesting to you or it’s not.” If you want more interest and curiosity, how do you build that up?

Amanda Crowell
Yeah. Well, I think, as humans, we can kind of be interested in anything. Think about this. When was the last time you watched a movie that was totally outside of your interest but the story was so good and the characters were so real? And I’m experiencing that right now with the book Ready Player One which is about virtual reality video games, and I’m the last person to play a virtual reality video game. But the story is so compelling that I’m like, “Okay, teach me about this so that I can follow this story.”

When you find an angle on something, you can get excited about it. So, the TED Talk is all built around the fact that I was never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever going to exercise, and then I had these two kids and my body was all messed up, and so I decided I better put all my money where my mouth is and figure out how to exercise. And then I did, and I did triathlon and half marathon. That’s like the structure of the TED Talk.

And I remember having the exact same question that you just posed, which is like, “If I don’t like exercise, I just don’t like it.” But I found that thinking about exercise through a scientific lens was an angle in on it for me. And I found out by reading Runners Magazine, and seeing what kinds of interesting things do these people talk about, and I was like, “Oh, well, that’s interesting.”

I learned all kinds of things about the blood vessels in your fingers, like way out in your extremities, the only way to get them to grow is to do intense cardiovascular fitness stuff, and my fingers were always cold, so I was like, “Well, okay, let’s do a six-mile run. Because if that actually grows blood vessels out into the tips of my fingers, like, okay, I’m interested. Tell me more.”

So, it doesn’t always have to be the big doorway people walk through to be interested in something. I don’t have to watch sports, thank God, because I don’t like them. I didn’t have to watch sports, I didn’t have to be competitive, which I’m not, but, like, all the main things that sort of describe athletic people didn’t work for me. But the science of fitness, the physiology of it, the communities that build up around the little group of people I rode my bike with and the little group of people I learned swimming from, like those things, the sort of tangential parts really worked for me, and I developed quite a lot of interest in exercise.

And the same thing happened with nutrition. When I had an autoimmune flareup thing and I needed to discover how to manage my inflammation naturally, and I suddenly had tons of interests and curiosity and talking to people. So, I think believing that you can find something interesting is sort of step one, and then go talk to the people, read the magazines, see what they’re talking about. Something will catch your eye. If it doesn’t, you always have in your back pocket the connection to your long-term hopes and dreams.

So, my favorite example of this is taxes. There are very few people who are going to be super interested in the tax code, and all of them have already become CPAs. The rest of us are not going to be, like, “Ooh, tell me about this particular deduction and the changes between 2020 and 2021.” None of us feel that way. But we can draw a really clear kind of bright line, “Like, a bright line between doing my taxes and keeping my expenses updated and whatever to my long-term hopes and dreams.”

And really building that out can be enough to help with interest and curiosity, like, “I want to have a stable-enough financial system in place for my business, that if I grow quickly, it won’t overwhelm me, or I won’t find myself in a pickle, or I won’t get audited and freak out. Like, those kinds of bright lines, “Now, I’m going to sit down and do this even without the usual interest and curiosity,” because you can’t build it intrinsically.

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

Amanda Crowell
Only that there’s a journal, the Great Work Journals, there’s three of them. One is like The Great Work Journal, and sort of life-based, and then there’s one for entrepreneurs, and there’s one for students. And it can be a really good way to kind of coach yourself through the process of getting started, staying at it, not procrastinating, helps you build a good gratitude practice.

And those are really, I think, great ways to start once you’ve read the book, and you’re like, “How do I do this?” Get the journal and try to follow it because the people who love it, report that it can be very transformational. So, I just want to make sure I mention that.

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

Amanda Crowell
I like the quote, and I’m not entirely sure who said it, maybe Albert Einstein, that’s like in my brain somewhere, but it’s “Ninety percent of success is showing up.”

It’s like do find that if you just show up and then show up again, you don’t get nowhere. You get somewhere. And then that somewhere can hit the hockey puck or the hockey stick, I guess they call, the exponential curve, and there is no way to hit that if you’re not showing up. And I think it takes the drama out of like, “I need to show up and do big things.” No. Just show up.

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

Amanda Crowell
Yeah. So, the one I talk about the most that I think had the biggest impact on me, and my clients and the schools that I worked with when I was a consultant, is the notion of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. It’s so fundamental and it gets oversimplified, I think, in the media, into this like, “If you think you can, you can.” And it’s really not about that.

It’s really much more the opposite of that, is much truer, which is if you think you can’t, you won’t. Like, your literal brain will shut you down. If you’re like, “I’m never going to get this math homework done,” your brain is going to reduce all the activation. All the problem-solving centers are going to shut down, like, like you’re not going to do it.

But if you believe that you can, then you get into all the stuff we know about cognitive neuroscience. Like, what does it actually take to learn? What are the skills and strategies? And if you are willing to put in effort, over time, and get help, new strategies, new ideas, new ways, different ways to engage with it, you can learn almost anything.

And it’s incredibly freeing. It takes us all out of this prison of our own making, of like, “I need to do what I’m already good at,” and instead places us in a place of possibility that feels uniquely human, and I think helps us heed the call of our great work.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Amanda Crowell
Well, this has nothing to do with cognitive neuroscience, my favorite book is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

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

Amanda Crowell
Yeah, what I really like is the DONE app.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that’s a good one.

Amanda Crowell
It is a good one. I like it and it’s pretty and I feel like looking at it, and I’m so happy to see streaks. I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Amanda Crowell
I like time blocking but not in a super intense way, just like blocking the mornings for creative work, and then blocking time around meetings to return to the ideas. Like, that’s very helpful for me. I use my calendar, like I’m dogmatic about it. I can’t imagine not having a very seriously organized calendar for time blocking.

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

Amanda Crowell
Well, I think that the idea that there is another way. Like, you don’t have to hustle and grind to do great work. That’s what people seem to come back and say, “Okay, I need to know how to do that. I’ve tried the other way. It didn’t work for me.”

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

Amanda Crowell
I would point them to AmandaCrowell.com. I have a podcast called Unleashing Your Great Work, and you can find a link to that on the website, and also all the buy links to the book. I really think the book is probably the best place to start to really get a sense of who I am, and then listen to the podcast to hear other people talking about their great work so that you can build the courage to actually pursue your own, which is really what it’s all about.

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

Amanda Crowell
I would say it’s, believe what you’re hearing on the inside. If there’s a piece of your job that you’re sort of want to do more of, listen to that and ask for the opportunity to do more of it. if there’s a part of your job that is not really hitting on all cylinders for you, begin the conversation about offboarding that part of it or replacing it with something that’s more your jam, because the more closely aligned you are with your jam, or your great work, the better the work you’ll do and the more valuable you’ll be to the company as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Amanda, thank you. I’ve enjoyed this chat and wish you much luck with all your great work.

Amanda Crowell
Thank you so much.

787: How to Consistently Perform at Your Peak with Dr. Haley Perlus

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Dr. Haley Perlus shares everyday tactics to help you achieve consistent peak performance.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How just three words can transform your day
  2. How to increase your attention span
  3. The simple secret to feeling more energized

About Haley

Dr. Haley Perlus knows what it takes to overcome barriers and achieve peak performance. As an elite alpine ski racer, she competed and trained with the best in the world, pushing herself to the limits time and time again. Now, with a PhD in sport psychology, Haley continues to push boundaries and drive peak performance, helping athletes and Fortune 100 executives reach their goals.

Dr. Perlus is a highly sought-after keynote speaker, professor, author and consultant to Division I athletes. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado lecturing on applied sport and exercise psychology at the graduate level. She has authored several books including The Ultimate Achievement Journal and The Inside Drive and her articles have been featured in publications such as Thrive Magazine, Fitness Magazine, IDEA Fitness Journal, EpicTimes, Telluride Inside, MyVega and BeachBody®.

Resources Mentioned

Dr. Haley Perlus Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Haley, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Haley Perlus
Thank you, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. And I’m intrigued, you’ve got a number of impressive credentials: Ph.D. in Sports Psychology, Elite Alpine Ski racer, and also licensed bartender. What is the story? Do these all three fit together some way? Or, where does the bartending fit in?

Haley Perlus
Well, if the first two don’t succeed, then certainly it’s a shot, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Good mental health advice right off the bat.

Haley Perlus
If we’re doomed, there’s always tequila then we’ll get back at it tomorrow. I’m just joking. I’m just joking. But people find that interesting because it’s one thing that people don’t know about me. However, my mother, my proud mother, has my bartending certificate framed above the bar in her house. It’s an interesting conversation piece.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is sweet. Well, I’m curious, do you have any quick mixological tips for non-licensed bartenders? If we would just like our cocktails to be a little bit more impressive, what should we do?

Haley Perlus
The funny thing is I don’t even really drink, so I let everybody else go ahead and loosen up and I just observe. Clean. Everything can be clean. Remove all the sugar and just go for the good stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. We’ve got it. All right. Well, now let’s talk about peak performance stuff. Maybe, to kick it off, you could orient us. How do you think about peak performance, particularly in a professional context? Like, what does this phrase mean to you? Or, do you have like have a framework that you use to understand this stuff?

Haley Perlus
I do. And peak performance, sometimes, I think, actually veers us off track because when we’re looking for peak performance or peak experiences, we want to do it often. We don’t want to just peak and then come go back down. So, I really think about it as consistent, “How can I get the most consistent high performance?” which then is a peak performer. Often, we’re searching for that peak, our best performance but I want us to have our best performance as often as we possibly can, not just one time, consistent. Consistently being our best.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear because peak sort of implies it goes up and then it goes down, and then I have a little point at the top. It’s the peak. And so, consistent, I guess this chart might look like we have ever-rising peaks, if you will, and we’re getting better and better.

Haley Perlus
I love that. Let’s go with that, yes. We can’t always be perfect.  There will be ups and downs but we’re searching for more consistency.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so tell us, you’ve been studying this stuff for a long time, any particularly surprising or fascinating insights that you’ve discovered along the way?

Haley Perlus
Yeah, that’s interesting, Pete, when you did talk about to my bartending, when you asked me for one recipe, and I just said keep it clean, eliminate the sugar and just go for the good stuff. That’s really what I try to do in my practice. Remove all the fluff, all the extra thinking. We want to think less but more strategically.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I like that.

Haley Perlus
We want to really go for the meat. When we have direction, when we have focus, we are more inclined to take action and follow through.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And so then, let’s talk about getting that focus, that clarity, that strategy going. Do you have any key questions or prompts you use to really zero in on that good stuff?

Haley Perlus
I do. And just this morning, I was training about five people, all managers and leaders in their various professions, and we started with narrowing it down to three words that would best describe them as their best self, so when they’re the most energized, most focused, feeling all the good things, they know who and what matters most to them. What three words would they use to best describe them because that then becomes their daily purpose, or at least a daily representation of their purpose, but three gives them direction, gives them focus, and then they’re more inclined to take action.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, it’s three and not thirty, that’s certainly focusing. Well, can you give us some examples of three words, best self.

Haley Perlus
So, for me, I’ll tell you and then I can share with you why it’s the number three, and it’s not mine. It’s actually in The Psychology of Persuasion, where I learned it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Cialdini?

Haley Perlus
Yeah, absolutely. There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we had him as a guest. He’s awesome. He’s awesome.

Haley Perlus
And I love how he shares the number three. More is confusing, except with the tasting of gelato because then you want to have more experiences, the more flavors the better, and the color of our tennis shoes. But then he says everything else, we really want to narrow it down to three so that we can focus and have direction. Anything else, we get overwhelmed and confused.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Got it.

Haley Perlus
But my three, for myself, I use the word bright, like I have this big sunshine of my mind, body, and spirit. What the sun gives the earth is what my brightness gives me. I’m curious as opposed to judgmental. So, I’m curious, I want to learn, I want to understand, I ask questions even though I may not like the answers, and I actively listen to you and to also what my body and my mind are telling me.

And so, each and every day that is my purpose, that’s my goal, that’s my intention. I also want to be kind. I also want to be generous. I also want to be empathetic. But if I try to be everything, I’ll be nothing. So, if I focus on those three, that will allow me to take action and I also will be so much more than just those three, but those three gives me purpose, gives me focus.

Pete Mockaitis
And is the idea that these three are pretty persistent as opposed to a shifting daily intention, like, “This is the best self and it’s what I’m going for day after day”?

Haley Perlus
I believe so. I’ve been playing around with it for myself for years, and it is rather consistent for me. For people who are just starting to figure out their best three words, sometimes you can play around, trial and error, you let it marinate for a little bit before you find it. But I do believe that when we do enough trial and error and self-awareness, we do land on three.

And then there’s a cool factor in this. It’s not just having your direction every day you wake up and you want to be these three things so that you can be your best self, it’s also catching yourself when you start to lose one of those words. So, when I’m not energized, when I’m not resilient to the first stressor of my day, for example, I immediately lose my curiosity. Hands down, it is the first word that goes.

So, as soon as I can catch myself no longer being curious, which usually means I’m judging someone or something, I can stop and reset instead of letting my entire best self get lost or sinking further and further into what I call my own quicksand of misery. I can stop and do something.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s a turn of a phrase. Quicksand of misery. Yeah, I hear what you’re saying in terms of like that spiral or that inertia. I guess folks might say, colloquially, “Whoa, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” or, “I just noticed something that maybe I’m being judgmental. I see something that’s not right as it should be,” and then my brain starts thinking, “What’s wrong with people? Why are we doing it this way? Like, this doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. It’s so inconsiderate.”

And so then, it’s like I’m primed to notice other stuff that’s jacked up and messed up, and rail about that inside my head, so that’s no fun. So, when you do catch yourself, you notice, “Oh, I’m doing that thing,” but then what? What do you do about it?

Haley Perlus
There’s a couple of things but this is where we’re really talking now about a lot of recovery pauses. So, in life right now, and I say we, as in people in my field, we’re really trying to enforce the story of life is a sprint, no longer a marathon. What does that mean? Instead of just going, going, going, and if you start to not feel great, or start to be judgmental, “I don’t have time to reset. I just got to keep going.” No, it’s now a sprint. You stress and then you recover.

So, when I find myself losing my best self, I stop and I take a recovery pause. That might be one minute, it might be five minutes, ten minutes. And what do I do there? I reset, usually, my emotions because we are creatures of emotion. We’re emotional creatures. So, what does that mean? Maybe I listen to music, maybe I stick my head outside and get some fresh air, maybe I do some quick deep breathing, maybe I move my body, connect with a loved one, do gratitude. Anything that allows me just to reset my emotions, which then allows to come more into more of a neutral mindset, and then I can refocus and get back my curiosity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I like that lineup there. And so, we’ve got a variety of options on the menu to choose from, and they’re on the quick side – one, five, ten minutes. It’s funny, I’ve been finding cold water effective for resetting emotions because it’s hard to think about much else when your head is in a bucket of ice water or a cold shower.

Haley Perlus
I was just about to say, “What does that mean?” Are you literally pouring a bucket of cold water over your head?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I literally have a lovely piece of, I guess it’s Tupperware that I have in my office refrigerator that I will pull out and put my head into at times. So, that’s weird but I find it effective because it’s like, “Ooh.” If you’re in a funky mood, it’s hard to fixate on that, and it really does feel like a reset, it’s like, “Okay. Well, now we’re back to a neutral, chilly, energized place. Let’s reset.” I guess I got on a Wim Hof kick, which is how this all started.

Haley Perlus
Oh, there you go. Yeah, so you can do Wim Hof breathing if you don’t want to pour cold water over your head, you can follow it. But, funny enough, that’s actually…I was a ski racer and a ski coach, and even obviously sports psychologist for winter sport athletes, just one of the many sports. But we put ice cubes down our backs, our necks, and, again, just a wakeup call, just to get refreshed and renew some energy which it will allow us to then stop for a moment, rethink, reset to be our best self.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. And I want to go into some depth on some of these options. So, gratitude has come up a few times on the show. There’s a variety of ways to do it. How do you find is an effective means of gratitude that provides a reset?

Haley Perlus
Well, in moments where we need reset, in moments where we’ve lost our best self, usually we’re overwhelmed or frustrated, we’re feeling anxiety, and we don’t think we’re doing a good-enough job, or at least somebody else isn’t but we can only control ourselves. So, I like these two questions, “What have I already achieved today?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I like it.

Haley Perlus
And, “What do I get to do next?” So, for example, “What have I already achieved today?” is very different than what I haven’t yet achieved, which is where I think most of us go, “I still have to do this. I haven’t done this. I wasn’t good enough at this. I didn’t have enough time for this.” But when you think about what you have achieved, it automatically puts you more in a pleasant emotional space, and patting yourself on your back increases some concentration, some focus and motivation.

“What do I get to do next?” is very different than the normal “What do I have to do next?” We’re always thinking about, “What email I have to respond to” “What call I have to get on” “What do I have to do?” “Who do I have to answer to?” That creates maybe some negativity, “Who do I get to support? How do I get to be challenged? What do I get to learn? What email do I get to be included on even though there’s 500 today?” Just the word “get,” a simple word choice changes our emotional experience, allows us to be a little bit more engaged in that next activity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I like that so much and I’m reminded of I was listening to Bryan Cranston’s autobiography, and he said something really stuck with him. He’s on a set of a TV show and people are kind of grumbling about the early days, early mornings, late hours. And this guy on the set, who was like a much bigger star than him at the time, said simply, “Well, beats digging ditches,” in terms of like, “Yeah, this is a job and it’s hard sometimes but, relative to the alternatives, that’s something we get to do, which is pretty cool.”

Haley Perlus
Always could be worse. I guess you could go there, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s a really great question that focuses your brain into a positive direction. And I’m thinking something I’ve been wrestling with here with regard to, “Oh, emotions provide information and they’re useful, and we should, ideally,” so I’m told and I think I’ve reaped some value here, “be curious and explore them and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’” And, yet, at the same time, I find that when I do that, like if I’m in a funk, like, “Oh, what’s going on?” it’s like I’m very adept at coming up with a long list of things that are busted and I could be cranky about, and then I kind of feel worse.

And then one approach I’ve tried with some good results is I say, I ask myself, “Why might I feel amazing in five minutes?” because it’s not like I’m lying to myself, it’s like, “Why am I going to feel amazing in five minutes? You’re not. You’re still going to be tired and grumpy.” But it’s like, “Why might I?” Like, “Well, it’s quite possible that I could achieve this little thing and feel great that that’s no longer hanging over my head. It’s quite possible that, boy, I just needed a glass of water. It’s been a few hours. And that would hit the spot.”

So, I find that handy. Do you have any pro tips on engaging our emotions and/or positive refocusing questions that are super handy?

Haley Perlus
I do. I do agree that all emotions are okay. They all serve us. Being angry could drive us initially. Being angry or frustrated or fearful or worried or anxious or sad or depressed, all those unpleasant emotions, they do provide some self-awareness, they do provide polarity. I’m not a big believer in staying with them too long. I do like the non judgment. I do like the, “Hmm, okay, I’m angry.” But then I do need to get myself over to the pleasant side in order for me to do anything effectively with that anger.

If I need to communicate something to someone because that person created anger, I’m not going to be able to do that successfully staying angry, so I need to bring myself back over to one of more challenged, or something more positive, which will then allow me to be right, curious and listen. And then I can more effectively communicate why I was angry or the lesson learned. I feel like the lesson learned comes from the pleasant side.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that distinction in terms of the unpleasant emotion can highlight something that needs attention, and yet the attending to that something is often done more effectively in a more pleasant state of mind. That’s cool.

Haley Perlus
I agree. Yeah, that’s what I think. Now, when I think about, “Is okay that I bring back some sports?” I think people get really motivated by that anxiety. Sometimes, one popular athlete, that I’m sure we’ve all heard of, that used anger in the sense of rivalry even if there wasn’t a rival, he created one, was Michael Jordan.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Haley Perlus
However, when he stepped onto that court, it was strategy, it was tactics, it was the challenge of it. The anger definitely motivated him and got those chemicals and neurotransmitters and hormones running, and his enthusiasm. I don’t know personally but I’ve done enough research and I would like to say, and I hope he would agree with me, that when he got on the court, that anger turned much more into a challenge. And that is a pleasant emotion that allows us to focus.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, any other favorite refocusing questions that you pose to yourself?

Haley Perlus
Like, I said, I do like to think less but more strategically. But I actually find myself, when I’m trying to reset my emotions, is not necessarily always use my mind but to use tactics that immediately change my emotion, like music.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Haley Perlus
I have a theme song. It’s a cheesy one. I don’t care, I use it. But, for example, my favorite movie of all time as a kid and as an adult is Flashdance,” and there is a song in Flashdance called “What A Feeling.” I’m sure many of your listeners have heard of it or know it and they’re smiling right now or making fun, but that’s okay. But I will tell you that if I’m finding myself anxious or overwhelmed or exhausted or sad, if I turn “What A Feeling” on, if I need a little bit of an emotional reset to peace, I just remind myself of dancing around my parents’ house as innocent and free as I possibly can.

If I’m about to go climb a mountain, metaphorically, but I also do climb mountains, but whatever that mountain might be, the lyrics are, “Take your passion, make it happen, dance through life,” so my resetting is not necessarily asking myself a question. It’s directing myself to the words of another song, of a song, that allows me to direct my mind elsewhere.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s cool. And so, you’ve got your theme song. Do you have sort of a playlist or a lineup of different songs for different purposes or is it always this go-to?

Haley Perlus
This is usually my go-to, the theme song, but I do have a playlist, a Perlus playlist, and it’s quite long because in that moment, sometimes I want the genre, sometimes I want the harmony, sometimes I want the lyrics, the tempo, so it’s rather long but, yes, I do have a Perlus playlist that in that playlist, there’s always going to be some song that I can press play to navigate me to an emotion that I want to experience. It is my reset.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, this is bringing me back to a teenage Pete Mockaitis enchanted by Tony Robbins, sharing how to shift your emotional state immediately, talking about shifting physiology and imagery, what’s you’re imagining, and dialogue, what you’re saying to yourself. And then I guess the imagery or the music would fall into that. Do you dig that framework or do you have another way you think about it in terms of levers to pull for an emotional reset?

Haley Perlus
Do you mean the imagery piece? I love the imagery piece.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Or like holding your body in a certain way, or breathing, or your power moves or whatever.

Haley Perlus
Oh, absolutely. It’s so funny, I started teaching this and my brothers, I have two brothers and they make fun of me all the time because I always tell people to take their shoulders up, back and down, and smile. So, if you take your shoulders up, back and down, you’re opening up your chest, you’re letting room for air to come through, not just stop at your chest but go through your diaphragm, smiling even through all that anger and disappointment, releases certain chemicals, gets your body language set up.

In person, when I get people to stand up and take their shoulders up, back, down and smile, then they give me a standing ovation, so it’s always nice to set the room up. So, I do believe in definitely body to mind techniques, and that would be an example of one. Setting up your body to create a mental space, to create mental fitness, to create positive or pleasant emotions.

Movement, forget about standing still, moving your body is scientifically the best way to change your emotional state from an unpleasant to a pleasant, whether it’s small movements, like rolling your shoulders; whether it’s stretching, opening your front body after we’re all typing and hunched over at our computers all day; going for a walk, large movements, getting fresh air if you can, even adding to it. Blood circulates through your body, blood carries oxygen, glucose, energy. It energizes us and it makes us go from an unpleasant to pleasant.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. I dig it. And I’m also thinking about Dr. Andrew Huberman of the Huberman Lab’s podcast, which is fantastic, mentioned…and this is crazy. There’s good science to suggest, simply looking up can rally attention in terms of like what our eyeballs are doing and the signals that’s sending inside our brains. It is fascinating what is going on with the human body.

Haley Perlus
Straight up or to the right or to the left? Because I know we can read people depending on where they’re looking.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, as my understanding, and I might be mistaken, is you’re even tilting upward your chin and head, so it’s up. Like, you’re looking at a tall tree or a bird in the sky, and that can spark some attentiveness. And I think it’s true in my own experience. He’s got the scientific studies and papers and such underlying it. But I’ve even elevated my desk a bit more so that I’m not hunched over downward looking all day but rather there’s a little bit of a tilt up, and I think it’s made a difference, so at the very least, it’s given me a placebo benefit, which I appreciate.

Haley Perlus
Which we’ll take, too.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’ll take that.

Haley Perlus
Yeah, that hunched over, orthopedic surgeons are now talking about the pandemic posture.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. Yeah.

Haley Perlus
Yeah, that hunched over. So, yes, so stand up tall, get your chest lifted, smile, raise that emotional space. But you just reminded me of one more tip, if I can share, about resetting.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please.

Haley Perlus
Getting outside, especially now as we’re recording this, it’s summer. Getting outside and earthing. What does that mean? It means barefoot in the grass, hug a tree, lie down. And also, if you don’t want to hug a tree, although I do, while you’re just outside, just focus for a minute only on what you see. Then focus for a minute, or maybe 30 seconds, only on what you hear, then only on what you can smell, then only on what you feel underneath you.

And if you do feel something else in your hands or in your ears, the wind passing by, just focus on one sense at a time. And that allows you to also tune out your own stressors and tune in to the energy of the world. Nature.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Okay. Well, so nice rundown there in terms of breaks. I wanted to also get your take on our attention spans, how do we improve them and beat distraction? I guess one thing is just, hey, make sure you’re taking good breaks, and so we’ve checked that box. What else do you recommend here?

Haley Perlus
Well, I know that it’s a hard one but I am with everyone else who believes that multitasking is one of the biggest energy drainers. So, though I live in this world too, so it’s not about I believe eliminating multitasking completely, but I do think that we can probably reduce multitasking in our lives to further increase our engagement and our attention span.

So, we need to ask ourselves and really be truthful, where can we reduce multitasking to increase our ability to focus on one thing at a time. And often, people will say, “Well, wait a second. I’ve got to do this email and that message and this call.” Well, then I propose us working on being a better juggler as opposed to a multitasker.

So, what does that mean? I don’t juggle balls physically but professional jugglers, no matter how many balls they have that they’re juggling with, there’s only one ball in their hand at one time. As soon as they have more than two balls, they make mistakes and they drop all of them. So, we need to just go back and forth, from one to the next, one to the next, one to the next. That allows us to maintain sharp attention span.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s just sort of a mindset shift there in terms of, ideally, maybe we just to do one thing for a while, and then do the next thing for a while, but if not, juggling works but with the goal of, “I’m focused on you and I’m now focused on this thing. And now, I’m focused on you,” as opposed to, “I’m focused on you and this thing at the same time.”

Haley Perlus
Yeah. And one of those things, I know we brought it up before, but just to enforce it. One of those things is recovery, “I’m focused for these five minutes on recovery, and then I come back to this email, or this phone call, or this task.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then any tips when it comes to exercising our brains so that we are effectively able to engage and recover, and to engage and recover, and to keep on getting better and better?

Haley Perlus
Yeah, use it but be deliberate. So, right now, crossword puzzles or Wordle or Sudoku, those games, even video games, with my athletes, my sport athletes in my consulting practice, we actually train our brains using video games and games on the computer. In fact, some of us are so good that we tune out the rest of the world and we can go for hours. We don’t necessarily want that though. We need to have discipline and we don’t want to have the addiction but we need to use our brain and deliberately focus in, in order to increase our attention span.

Pete Mockaitis
So, then an exercise might mean like, “This is what I’m focused on for the next hour. Period.” Like, that kind of a thing, like, “This is what we’re doing here.”

Haley Perlus
Yeah, there’s something that you can just search it on the internet but I do it in my presentations. It’s called the concentration grid. And all it is, is 99 numbers scrambled up in a grid, it starts 00 and they’re all scrambled up to 99. And then you time yourself, not even an hour, I do a minute. And in a minute, you see, you start at 00, then 01, then 02, and you have to go and find these numbers in order as fast as you can and see how high you can get.

So, I’ll do this with the people that I’m consulting with, and then I will try to distract them. So, I will go and distract them with noise and with words, I tell them 30 seconds left, I tell them, and they have to literally focus on tuning me out. It’s the only time they can deem me irrelevant but if they hear me, I’m supposed to come into their presence and then leave, and they have to stay focused on their number.

So, that’s just an example of an exercise in concentration grit. You purposely engage in, again, Sudoku or Wordle or a crossword puzzle, or even a video game, or an app game, momentarily you tune in with the intention of deeming everything else irrelevant, and that’s going to increase your attention span. We just don’t want to become addicted because then we lose focus on everything else.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, when one is doing these exercises, you want to have some sort of distractor in the mix to practice the ignoring?

Haley Perlus
You can play around with it but I think that’s real life. Even though I’m trying to focus on this, on speaking with you, I have intentionally turned off everything so I will not get pinged, I will not get dinged. But in the real world, if we’re sending an email, we might get a text, we might get a message, someone might come into the room, so we have to practice real life. It’s simulation for real life, being able to focus in on this one exercise, knowing that you’re going to be distracted, but letting those distractions come and let them go. They’re irrelevant. What’s relevant is the exercise you’re focusing on.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And you’ve got some perspective on the connection between hydration and performance. Let’s hear it.

Haley Perlus
I sure do. Well, we are two-thirds…our brains are two-thirds water, so we need water to, yeah, there you go, have a sip, and I have my water here too. But water is so many things. But when I think about attention span and our brain, I look at water as a cleansing tool. It flushes out all the toxins, flushes out all the negative stuff, flushes out all the things that we no longer need. It’s a cleansing tool. It also is an energizing tool. It lubricates, it hydrates, it gives us energy.

So, as we’re consistently drinking water throughout the day, we’re actually giving our brains energy as well as cleansing. Plus, when we’re dehydrated, that in and of itself is a distraction. Our bodies react to that. Our brains react to that. We become exhausted. So, that’s an unnecessary distraction. We can fix that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, I guess how much is enough? I mean, I think some people will say, “You know, I drink water when I’m thirsty, and that’s fine, right?” What do you think?

Haley Perlus
Well, often the nutritionists and the experts will say if you’re thirsty, you’ve waited too long. And then, yes, the question is, “How much?” So, we’ve all heard eight glasses a day, or half your body weight in ounces. Just drink more. I don’t often come across anyone who is overhydrated. Most of us are dehydrated, so just drink more.

And here’s a thing. Get into the ritual of drinking first thing in the morning. There’s something that I used to do for myself before I became a regular water drinker. Every night before I go to bed, I pour myself a glass of water and lemon. To me, it was easier to drink water with lemon. And lemon is also very alkalizing so it does to provide energy. But I pour myself a glass of water and lemon, and I put it on my night table before I go to bed.

When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do before anything, especially before I brush my teeth, is drink that water and lemon. And it started off as just two ounces, then four ounces. And now I drink 32 ounces of water in the morning. Sometimes I have coffee, sometimes I don’t, sometimes I have green juice, like celery juice, but I’m always getting my water, and it’s now a habit because I’ve gotten used to that morning ritual.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious about bathroom trips. Sometimes I find myself reluctant to drink more water just because I don’t want to be hassled with more trips to the bathroom. How do you think about this?

Haley Perlus
Well, remember, I said pour the water and lemon the night before but don’t drink it.

Pete Mockaitis
Not the night before but the morning of.

Haley Perlus
Yeah, you drink it the morning of.

Pete Mockaitis
I mean, daytime trips to the bathroom.

Haley Perlus
Yeah. Well, I would rather have that problem than the problems that will come if I’m dehydrated.

Pete Mockaitis
So, are we talking like ten plus visits a day then?

Haley Perlus
Yeah, that’d be a lot. I’m not going to lie. I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s the quote of the show. We’ll put that on the graphic. That’s good. Thank you.

Haley Perlus
You’re welcome. I feel like you needed to get that out of me.

Pete Mockaitis
But it’s true, like there’s a genuine tradeoff. And it’s so funny, I think the same lazy brain, for me at least, that’s like, “Oh, I don’t want to get up and pour a glass of water,” is the same lazy brain who can rationalize or justify, it’s like, “Oh, I’ve already been to the bathroom like five times. I don’t want to go again.” And so, you’re going on record as saying that, yes, there is more time spent visiting the bathroom but you’re more than making up for that time with the improved benefits of hydration. Is that fair to say?

Haley Perlus
I believe that I am more efficient, I believe that I’m more focused, I believe that I’m a peak performer because I’m a peak peer. And I will tell you though, it also forces you to get up and move. It forces you to get out of your seat so there’s other benefits that come with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Haley, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about your favorite things?

Haley Perlus
I think with this life, this Groundhog Day, the wash, rinse, repeat, the wash, rinse, repeat, it’s not necessarily that we need to increase our attention span. Many of us actually have good focusing skills, but because we’re stagnant all day and we’re inactive all day and we’re just doing the same thing over and over again, the boredom kicks in, the complacency kicks in. So, I think it’s important that we look for variety wherever we can. If you’ve been staring at this wall for half a day, maybe turn around and stare at a different wall. Add variety to your life wherever you can because that variety will also create energy which will allow us to focus and be able to be more engaged.

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

Haley Perlus
I don’t know that it’s a favorite quote but I will tell you what I use for myself when I get distracted or overwhelmed, and it’s more of a mantra, “Right, left, right, left, right left,” and also something that my significant other is now forcing upon me because I’m learning something new, and I get a little bit fearful, “Get your eyes wide open.”

When we are consumed with all of our fears, when we’re consumed with all of our anxieties, or our shyness, or our overwhelm, or our confusion, or anything that’s creating that negative energy, open your eyes, look around you, take something in. So, I really like to put myself…make myself small, if I will, and really look at the bigger picture, eyes wide open.

And then the “Right, left, right left,” is something that I do for myself as well, because when it looks impossible, when a mountain looks impossible to climb, whatever that mountain is for you, I know that I can get my right foot forward, and then I know that I can get my left foot, so really break it down. So, I don’t know if it’s a quote but it certainly words that I live by to allow me to refocus or stay focused and just plan and determined and have my most consistent performances.

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

Haley Perlus
Well, interestingly enough, I was just sharing this with my 13-year-old nephew a couple week ago who had to do a simulated TED Talk for his school, and he wanted to do it on sports psychology. And so, I shared with him the first study, the first documented study, for sure, in sports psychology which was by Norman Triplett. And he researched cyclists and he wanted to compare cyclists’ performance alone compared to where cyclists are in the presence of other athletes.

And when you’re in the presence of other people, at least in this study, you perform better. And it’s an interesting topic of discussion right now because of the hybrid environments and working from home versus in an office environment and the social facilitation. And so, this is a study that I’m really highlighting back and bringing back to my world and others because I do believe that we perform better when we are amongst others, not necessarily competition. I do believe that competition allows for that, too, but I do believe in being connected and being in the presence of others to help us perform better and be happier.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And a favorite book?

Haley Perlus
Well, yes, Robert Cialdini, that’s actually, to this day, my favorite book. I think it’s great The Psychology of Persuasion, but specifically, yes, and really looking to see how we can persuade ourselves to take action, what messages we need to tell ourselves to take action. So, it’s an oldie but, still, it’s one of my favorites.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And a favorite habit?

Haley Perlus
I’ll be honest, I’m really proud of myself for sticking with this water thing. It was not easy for me because I didn’t like the taste of water, and I just wasn’t a good water drinker, and, really, every morning I wake up, I drink water and lemon. I often now drink some green juice, and that starts my day. In addition, I make my bed every single morning, and I believe that that is super important to start my day off organized and structured, even though I’m pretty flexible and I wouldn’t consider myself a structured human being. But making my bed in the morning allows me to feel fresh and clean when I do start the day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a key nugget you share that really connects and resonates with audiences; they quote it back to you often?

Haley Perlus
People say it’s hard, people say change is hard. When we talk about changing these, replacing negative habits with good ritual, people say it’s hard. And I say, “I know. So what?” And I think that just kind of puts…and I do to it myself as well. I think that kind stops us in our tracks, and we’re like, “Okay. So what? That’s going to be hard.” And I say it with all the love in my heart, “So what?”

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

Haley Perlus
My website is the best place to find me. You can opt in for communications. You can actually connect with me directly through there. So, it’s DrHaleyPerlus.com.

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

Haley Perlus
Well, I don’t know what time everyone is listening to this, so depending on the time, the very next morning you have, what do you get to do? You get to drink water first thing in the morning and hydrate your brain, focus in.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Haley, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much fun and peak performance.

Haley Perlus
Thank you, Pete. Thanks for having me.



REBROADCAST: 399: Maximizing Your Mental Energy with Isaiah Hankel

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Isaiah

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Isaiah Hankel Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah Hankel
Yes, shorn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh do, thank you.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh boy.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Like four?

Isaiah Hankel
Like four, exactly. Four or five.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah Hankel
Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah Hankel
….

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Zeigarnik.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Zeigarnik.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
More than any other salt?

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

Pete Mockaitis
Minerals?

Isaiah Hankel
Minerals. Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. How about a favorite study?

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Isaiah Hankel
Favorite book. Fiction or non-fiction?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ll take them both.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, the ICD-PX gem.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, how about a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

Isaiah Hankel
Yes, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So when do you go to bed?

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah Hankel
A particular nugget?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Isaiah Hankel
There you go. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I practiced that one.

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

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

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

757: How to Find the Career You Truly Love with Marcus Buckingham

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Marcus Buckingham reveals strategies for identifying the work that fills you up.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The secret to finding your “love” at work
  2. How you can be “irreplicable” at work
  3. Why you should see your job as a scavenger hunt, instead of a ladder 

About Marcus

Marcus Buckingham is a global researcher and New York Times bestselling author focused on unlocking strengths, increasing performance, and pioneering the future of how people work. He is the author of two of the bestselling business books of all time, has two of Harvard Business Review’s most circulated, industry-changing cover articles, and his strengths assessments have been taken by over 10 million people worldwide. He currently runs all ADP Research Institute’s studies on People and Performance. 

Resources Mentioned

Marcus Buckingham Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Marcus, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Marcus Buckingham
Thank you for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to get into your wisdom and talk about your book Love + Work: How to Find What You Love, Love What You Do, and Do It for the Rest of Your Life. But, first, could we hear what do you love most at work?

Marcus Buckingham
Actually, it’s love and work. I just put a plus in there because I thought it looked cool but I like love and work, I like war and peace, so I like the juxtaposition of those kinds of things. Look, I’m a psychometrician by training, which means I love trying to figure out ways to measure things about humans that you can’t count but that they’re really important anyway.

So, things like talent, strengths, engagement, resilience, that’s what I love to do is get to the heart of some of these really important psychological constructs and figure out, in a world where there’s so much opinion and so many, I think that, can we find a way, nonetheless, to cut through that, and say, “What do we know for sure about people’s strengths, or about engagement, or resilience?” That’s kind of what…it sounds a bit geeky but that’s what I love.

Pete Mockaitis
No, no, it’s beautiful and I understand and it’s exciting. And I’d love to hear, is there a particularly exciting, fascinating discovery that you’ve made recently when doing some of the research and pulled things together for the book Love + Work?

Marcus Buckingham
Well, what’s always fascinated me, when you look at the world through the lens of people who love it, if you look at the world of work through the lens of people who love it, you discover there’s way more variation than you would ever think. So, you look at some jobs and you think to yourself, “Well, those jobs, no one must want those jobs.” We would be able to do them for a short period of time and we want to get out of them as quickly as we could.

Take a role like hotel housekeeping. We kind of think, “Well, that’s not a good job,” and we, therefore, have to put rules and regulations in place to get people to do the job properly, and then we wonder why people find no love in the job. But I had a chance to interview the eight best housekeepers at Walt Disney World, and they didn’t know each other, but they’re all amazing housekeepers.

And you look at their job through their eyes, and the sheer amounts of variety and creativity and innovation that goes into their job from their perspective. One of them lies on the bed and turns on the ceiling fan, that’s the last thing she does before she leaves the room because that’s the first thing a guest does after a long day out at the theme park, and she just loves seeing…She’ll sit in the tub and sit on the toilet because that’s the way the guest would see the room.

Another one loves the fact that she can make a show for the kids. And so, every time they come back in, she’ll have arranged the fluffy toys in a little scene and Minnie’s arm on a remote control, Mickey’s arm on an empty French-fries container, and the kids can sit all day long, Mickey and Minnie just hang out in bed snacking and watching TV. And you suddenly see this world open up because you’re looking at a particular job in this case through the lens of people who love it, and it’s like, “Oh.”

Now, yeah, there are rules and regulations that say, “Don’t touch any more of the guests’ possessions than you need to, to clean the room and don’t lie on the bed.” So, weirdly, we’ve created rules that almost make it harder for the people who love their job, to love their job. But that’s one of the biggest takeaways from all the research that went into Love + Work is you look at the world of work through those people who love what they do and the detail that you get isn’t anything like you would expect.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, that’s really inspiring. And I remember when I was really loving work, and I was doing strategy consulting, and I was super excited, like that was sort of the dream I had from all through college, and I was, like, I got into Bain and I was so thrilled and pumped. And then somewhere, we were having a conversation with my fellow first years, and the conversation came up to whether or not we did good, like we contributed to good.

And so, for me, I thought that the answer was obvious, I was like, “But of course we do good otherwise we wouldn’t be here. And if you just think about it, we get an insane amount of responsibility for a 22-year-old, we’re working on projects that the clients pay half a million, a million dollars a month for a small team for. It’s expected that we’re going to generate a return on that that’s like 10X of what they invest in us. Their share prices are going to go up which will impact those who are saving for their college, for retirement, for nonprofits, for philanthropic grant-making foundations, that the wealth we’re creating is hugely leveraged at this point in time.”

And so, they were sort of like dumbfounded, like, “Huh? We just thought it’d be a good pathway to get to business school and you have cool careers.” But you’re right, people can have vastly different perspectives of their jobs, and that, in turn, fuels their emotions, engagement, motivation, and…well, I’m sure you know a whole lot more about what that fuels than I.

Marcus Buckingham
Yeah, sure. Biology loves variation and by the time we get to be 19 years old, we have a hundred trillion synaptic connections in our brain, and no one has the particular network or pattern that you do, or that I do, and the people that we grew up next to, our brother, our sister, people in the same house, same socio-economic upbringing, same race maybe, same gender maybe, we’re totally different from them in terms of what we love, and what we get a kick out of, and what we pay attention, and what we ignore, and what frustrates us.

We have more synaptic connections in our brain than there are stars in 5,000 Milky Ways. And from that uniqueness comes really differently specific things that we love and that we loathe, and that we lean into and that bore us. And, seemingly, nobody really…you get 10 years of geometry but you don’t get 10 years on trying to figure out how to demystify that beautifully unique massive filigreed network of loves and loathes in your brain. No one really helps us with that.

In fact, you could say school and work actually deliberately try to alienate you from yourself. You’re not really told how to figure out what that unique network is and turn it into work, and turn it into contribution, is how I define work. It’s not just your job; it’s any work where you add value to somebody else. But, yeah, you’ve got so much uniqueness, and your challenge in life, really, isn’t that you don’t have enough time. It’s that you don’t draw enough energy or nourishment from your life.

And so, part of the reason why I wrote the book is to go, “Wait a minute, the reason we’ve got so many kids on Adderall and so much Xanax prescribed to tone down the Adderall and so many frustrated and anxious and burnt-out workers is because we haven’t really understood, “How do you help people move through their life and draw nourishment and strength and love from what they’re doing?” We haven’t had anyone do that.

We’ve just created standardized tests at school, or list of competencies at work, and then 360 surveys to measure you on the competencies, and kind of successes based on how closely you match the model. It’s not related to how intelligently you’ve cultivated and expressed what you love. No one helps you with that. And so, really, the point of the book was to go, “Come on, we are all incredibly varied, and we need to own that variance, understand it, and then contribute it.”

Pete Mockaitis
What you said that really struck me is we draw nourishment. And what else? What else from work? That’s a heck of a sentence.

Marcus Buckingham
Well, we draw nourishment, we draw energy, we draw love, we draw joy from work. We can. The metaphor is you’re supposed to have work-life balance but then if you think about it, that’s a really bizarre aspiration to lay on anyone not just because if you ever managed to find that moment of balance for your life and your work and your family and your finances and your grandma and whatever we’re balanced. But if ever did manage to find that place, Pete, you’d want to say to everyone around you, “Don’t move. Nobody moves.”

Pete Mockaitis
“It’s perfect right now.”

Marcus Buckingham
“I’ve got it.” But you look out at nature, nothing healthy in nature is balanced. And let’s just say that really clearly – nothing healthy in nature is balanced. Everything healthy in nature is moving. And you have to move through the environment that you’re in and draw enough nourishment from it to keep moving. Well, that’s a good metaphor for our lives.

We are moving through our time and our jobs, our time and the other domains of our life, and our challenge, really, is “How do you move through your job, your family life, your community, maybe your political activism, your faith, whatever, your hobbies? How do you move through life and draw enough joy and nourishment and love from that movement in order to keep growing, keep contributing?”

That’s not easy. No one said that it was easy but no one tells us about any of that at all. And that’s a crying shame for many of us.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Marcus, lay it out for us, what are the key principles that we need to follow in order to be drawing nourishment, energy, joy, and love from our work and other things that we engage in?

Marcus Buckingham
Well, the first thing is to realize that you have a wyrd inside you. That’s the very first thing. Not that you are weird, but that you have a wyrd, which is a noun. W-Y-R-D. It’s actually a Norse idea that you’ve got inside you at birth, independent of what happened to you as you grow up, or independent of your parents, or whatever, you’ve got this unique diamond, this unique spirit, and for them it was they called it your wyrd, and you have to get in touch with your wyrd if you’re going to live a productive and happy life.

Today, we don’t need the spirituality necessarily, we just know from the clash of the chromosomes that you do have, from the get-go, an incredibly filigreed network of synaptic connections. We know that. So, the first thing for all of us to understand is the most important aspects of you, what you lean into, what repels you, what uplifts you, what drains you, and the specifics of that, the fact that you are drawn to, I don’t know, reading the back of a milk carton, or somebody else is drawn to make little dolls out of corn husks, and somebody else is drawn to make shapes under a kitchen table with tire. We’re all drawn to really different things.

Those things are really unique to you and super important to understand. So, first of all, everyone should know they’re not a blank slate, they weren’t created by how they grew up or by the traumas that they experienced. Those things might occlude you, occlude you from seeing you, but you have within you this biology, we can see it, an incredibly powerful combination of networks and synapses that lead you in certain directions and away from others. That’s the first thing.

The second thing, of course, is the world is telling you about it all the time. Rather than looking at the world as the enemies, something to withstand, if everybody could just wake up and look at the world as though it was trying to put on a show for you, as though every day it was trying to show you thousands of different situations and moments and contexts and people and activities, it’s trying to show you a lot of different things, and your response is to go, “Which of these are things that I love?” almost like your world is a fabric of many different threads.

Some lift you up a little, some down, they’re black, they’re white, they’re gray, they’re yellow, but some of them are red threads, and they’re threads that lift you up, that energize you, that you find love within. And the first way to spot these red threads, and we are all a genius when it comes to spotting our red threads, the first thing is “What do you find yourself, instinctively, paying attention to?” Your patterns of attention, what do you find that you instinctively are drawn to? You attend to what you value and we tend to think that everyone just pays attention to the same stuff that we do, but they don’t.

So, right from an early age, going back to thinking about “What did you find yourself paying attention to? Maybe, what did you find yourself paying attention to, that others missed and the detail of that?” Normally, as you know, Pete, when you think about patterns, we’re told the verb that goes with patterns is break. You’re supposed to break your patterns as though your patterns are pathological, they’re bad, they’re the source of your trauma or your pain.

Actually, your patterns of attention are the source of all contribution and meaning and joy for you. So, that’s the very…there are other signs which we can get into, if you want, but that’s the very first thing to start with. Your patterns of attention are utterly unique to you and they are totally worth paying attention to.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when we do that paying attention, I guess in some ways, I’d love it, Marcus, if we could get really practical, tactical here because I’m thinking I could sort of psychoanalyze for quite a while, like, “Why did I click this headline but none of the other headlines?” And so, I imagine there are some value into some self-reflection. But how do we do that prudently so that it’s not kind of just blindly unaware, just like sauntering through life and not cluing into the patterns, and not like sort of overkill navel-gazing?

Marcus Buckingham
So, it’s Love + Work. The point of love is, like any energy source, it’s got to flow. Love actually turns into a super caustic abrasive force that will destroy you if you don’t let it out. Love needs and demands expression. So, the reason we stop paying attention to what you’re paying attention to is because you need to express it and turn it into a contribution. That’s what work is in the Love + Work. It’s like an infinite loop where the detail of what you love leads to you making it something of value out of it.

That’s what contribution is, something of value to someone else. It could be learning, it could be a product that you make, it could be a poem that you write, but it’s something of value that you’re creating. So, your attention leads to love, and then it leads to work, and then the detail of what you made informs what you love, which then informs what you make, which then informs what you love. If you look at the most successful people, they’ve got this beautiful infinite loop where love is for work, and work is for love, and love is for work, and work is for love.

And so, if it’s just about navel-gazing, if it’s just about self-involvement or narcissism, then you stop the flow. The point of paying attention to what you pay attention to is so that you can then turn it into contribution. For me, very early on, I found myself paying attention to why. When we’re watching people do the high jump, when I was at school, I was nine or ten, you start watching people watch others do the high jump, and you find that the moment somebody tries to jump over the bar, everyone watching sticks their leg out, and then they deny that they’re doing it. They raise high on their tippy toes and they deny that they’re doing it.

And I was fascinated by the fact that all these people, because then you turn around, you’re, “Why did you do that when he jumped over the bar?” And the person goes, “I didn’t do that.” So, it’s like, instinctively but unknowingly, everyone is kind of weirdly willing the other person over the bar. And for me, I went around, no one else in my school seemed to pay attention to that, no one was even interested in that, and I didn’t know it would lead into a career as a researcher. I didn’t know that at nine, that’s for certain.

But I was so aware of being aware of something other people weren’t that I even remembered it 50 years on, you’re like, “Ooh.” And yet, 20 years later, some Italian scientist discovers the existence of mirror neurons, which is where we try to mimic the experiences and the emotions of others, which is why we do the leg kicking. I didn’t know any of that. But you’re starting off by going, “Is the stuff that you’re paying attention to useful in any way?”

And, for me, weirdly, it led me to learn differently. I didn’t like fiction. I liked nonfiction, particularly nonfiction about why the world works the way it does, why is white light made up of all the other colors, why can you sink a ship and when can you do that, why does every society ritualize death. Have you ever studied a ritual? Why? Like, I’m that guy.

And so, from a very early age, I was lucky enough that I paid attention to some stuff and then noticed that I was the only one paying attention to that stuff. And then it became a channel to which I could learn, and then through which I could contribute. All of us can do that. All of that that I just described for me could sound super boring to you but, for me, that’s a real experience.

So, for any one of us in our work right now, you start off by paying attention to what you’re paying attention to, and you know that no one else is, and that’s the place where you begin to start carving your job to fit yourself, which is what the most successful people do.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when we pay attention to what we’re paying attention to, are there any key practices, or questions, or reflections that help surface some of these patterns all the more clearly to us consciously?

Marcus Buckingham
Yeah, there are three clues you can watch out for. Actually, before that, just FYI. The most successful people don’t do what they love. I run a research institute. We have no data at all that the most successful people do what they love, that they do all that they love. In fact, the data show, instead, that the most successful people find love in what they do. And the threshold seems to be 20%. Like, 20% red threads.

The Mayo Clinic research on doctors and nurses who don’t struggle with burnout shows that they don’t do 60%, 70% red threads. You stay above 20% and 40 looks like 20, 60 looks like 20. Above 20% red threads is like that’s a really interesting psychological threshold. You go below that, 19, 18, 17, 16, and there’s almost a perfect linear one percentage point increase in burnout risk. It’s like below 20% and you start to get psychologically damaged.

So, what we’re all striving for is not a red quilt at work. We don’t need a red quilt. We need 20% red threads every day. Two most powerful questions to predict performance and engagement at work are, “Was I excited to work every day last week? Did I ever challenge my strengths every day in the work last week?” So, there’s something about the frequency of it, the everydayness of it that’s super important.

And the three best clues to spot these red threads would be, first, “What do you instinctively volunteer for? What do you instinctively find your psychological or physical hand going up for even when other people around you are like, ‘You suck at that.’?” If your hand just keeps going up, that’s nontrivial. That’s interesting. Positive anticipation.

Second is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the positive psychologist, called flow. So, when time seems to speed up when you’re doing something, when you vanish inside of it and you’re not doing the task but you are the task, the steps fall away and you just…almost you’re doing it unconsciously. So, that moment when you look up, you think it’s been five minutes, but you look up, it’s been an hour – that.

The third clue is when you’re doing something and when you’re done with it, you’re not drained. It’s like it conveys mastery, and that feeling of mastery when you’re done with it, you feel uplifted, you feel authentic, you feel as though something about the thing you just did was, not to be too spiritual, but of your essence, and you fill up. You don’t feel drained. You fill up. It’s not like, “Thank goodness that’s over,” which many of us feel about many things.

It’s more like, “What I was just doing was a manifestation of me.” So, there’s other clues, but three really obvious clues to what these red threads are for you. And, of course, within the book, we’ve got a whole red thread questionnaire which dives into the detail of that because God lies in the detail in terms of you. A red thread isn’t like, “I like helping people.” No, it’s, “Which people? What are you doing with the people? Why are you helping them? When are you helping them? How are you…?”

Let’s get to detail for you because love is super detailed. You start figuring out what those red threads are for you, it’s then the most beautiful raw material to start thinking about “How do you weave your job to fit your loves better?” And there’s all sorts of things you can start doing in order to make that happen.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s perfect. Let’s go there right next in terms of, okay, so we’ve identified some red threads. These are things that I love, that I naturally pay attention to, I’m uplifted by, I enter flow, I instinctively volunteer for it, and I think, “Okay, that’s cool. But, uh-oh, Marcus, I’m not getting 20% of that in my job. It’s more like 5%.” What do we do?

Marcus Buckingham
Yeah. Well, first of all, when you ask people that question, and you say, “Do you have the freedom to modify your job to fit yourself better?” Seventy-three percent of people in the US agree or strongly agree that they do.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Marcus Buckingham
That suggests that there’s 73% of us that aren’t utterly in the wrong neighborhood. Seventy-three percent of us at least think, anyway, that we’ve got room to maneuver. Now, that doesn’t mean that 27% of us are in the wrong spot, but 73% of us feel like we’ve got that room to maneuver.

So, the first thing is the data, we know that 73% of people agree or strongly agree that they have the freedom to modify their job to fit themselves better. So, that suggests there’s an awful lot of us have or think that we have that chance. Interestingly, only 18% of us say that we have a chance to play to our strengths every day, so there’s a big attitude behavior consistency problem, as we call it in social psychology, but there’s an awful lot of us have that freedom.

Twenty-seven percent of us are probably thinking, “I’m utterly in the wrong job,” but 73% think we have the chance to maneuver. So, the first thing that one should do is be intentional. When you wake up in the morning, what red threads are you going to weave today? Where will you find them? There are some clues to spot but where will you find them? Approach every day with intentionality about where you will find those red threads for you, first.

Second, Once you know what those red threads are, any way that you can cultivate those red threads with any particular competency or skill or expertise? You might have had a red thread around communicating with people, and then you had to figure out how to make a podcast, and then you had to figure out some technical expertise to turn this thing that probably began as a yearning or an appetite or something and actually turn it into performance, turn it into a contribution. So, is there any way that you can take that red thread and combine it with some sort of competency that enables you to turn it into contribution?

Third, is there any way, one day next week, all red threads, one day, just one day, where there’s a day that you pick where you’re like, “You know what, I’m going to load up on this day. Can I find a way to do that that ensures that there’s some particular day here where I’m just it is really a love-filled day for me?” Can you then figure out a way for your team to name it? Can you keep volunteering, whatever that is, so that your team starts going, “You know what, Pete is the guy who…” because these days, obviously, anyone’s headcount is replaceable. Anyone is replaceable. But, of course, you want to be…and no one is replicable.

You want to be, if there’s a word, irreplicable, where your love is so defined, what people turn to you for is so defined that they go, “I can’t really imagine this company without that person. I can’t imagine a world without that person. I can’t really imagine a team without that person.” So, can you name what it is you’re bringing to that team? If the team itself had a voice, what would it call you? If the team itself had a voice, how would it name what you do?

I, in the end, ask people to do two things. Just take a blank pad around with you, draw a line the middle of it, put “Loved it” at the top of one column, “Loathed it” at the top of the other. Take it around with you for a week, try to spot those three signs of love. Any time you find yourself doing any part of any those, scribble it down in the “Loved it” column. The inverse, you procrastinate, time slows down, blah, blah, blah, put it in the “Loathed it” column.

You’ll end that week with a really vivid sense from your own actual work of where the love comes from. So, start off with that if you can. And then for you, the challenge on the team will be to ensure that you can find the language to say to your team, “Turn to me for this. I love it when people rely on me for this. I love it when this…” not the braggadocio, “I’m the best at…” but, “I’m at my best when…”

This is, for me, one of those things I think, Pete, where we’re teaming, the verb teaming is one of those skills that we all have to cultivate in this new hybrid model of the way that we work. And part of teaming is being able to share, articulately, vividly, with detail what people can rely on you for, where you’re at your best, what you love the most because people can’t read your mind.

So, the more vivid you can be about that, the more likely it is that the team will start coalescing around the particular value that you bring. Until such point has happened with you, where somebody begins to define the entire role, maybe it’s not 100% red threads but those red threads become foundation for the very thing that people will want to pay you to do.

That whole journey I’ve just described, you don’t need anyone else for it. All you need to do is use the raw material of your regular week of your own life to be able to figure out how you scavenge your job into that which you love. And that’s eminently doable. For 73% of us, anyway, it’s eminently doable.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Marcus, I’d love it if you could share with us a couple stories of folks who did just that. They were paying attention to what they’re paying attention to, they identified some red threads, combined it with the competence and contribution, communicated that with their teams, and said, “Hey, I’m at my best when I do this. I really love it when you ask me to do that,” so we could see how it all comes together for folks.

Marcus Buckingham
Well, here’s three, and they’re different roles. One person who comes to mind is a person who was in HR. Her first 10 years of career were in HR, and would go to conference with the company that she was with, and would see how the company’s branding was falling down, wasn’t clear enough, wasn’t coherent enough, and kept writing emails, not critical emails but emails that called attention to the branding of the company, and all these darn conferences simply wasn’t vivid enough, wasn’t clear enough.

Customers didn’t really know what that company stood for. Kept writing them. Kept drawing people’s attention to it to the point it was annoying. But that’s a red thread, she couldn’t stop paying attention to it. Couldn’t shut it off. And so, in the end, they had a marketing turn to this person, and said, “Well, what would you do with it if we ran with it? What would you do differently? Let’s turn that into a PowerPoint presentation and come present to me what you would do differently because I can’t shut you up.”

To cut a long story short, that presentation goes really well, that person turns 15-20% of HR into branding at conferences, learns all about how that actually gets executed and activated, signage, logos, colors, brand palettes, etc. So, now, as a head of marketing for a very large human capital management company, head of marketing. Didn’t start off that way. Started off in HR. But because of whatever reason, couldn’t shut off the brand cacophony at these conferences, turns into a very, very different job.

A totally different example, a different end of the spectrum, those housekeepers I was telling you about, well, one of them, her loves were busy, busy, busy check-in, check-out days when the cart has to be…this is more detailed that you might want, but the cart has to be perfect. Everything about the cart that moves up and down those different floors has to work absolutely perfectly because everybody is getting in and out of those rooms with such a volume of people checking in and volume of people checking out. Everything has got to work unbelievably perfectly.

And for whatever reason, her geekiness, what she geeked out on was the precision and the authenticity of the materials on the cart, making the whole darn thing work so perfectly, initially, just for her floor. And the manager sort of figured out that she was getting, particularly, on busy days, she was getting it done with super quality whereas everyone else was struggling. They were behind, they couldn’t find the stuff that they needed for the rooms.

Anyway, she just kept showing what that red thread was for her, and then volunteered to help others when she was finished, get their carts sorted. And in the end, the manager went, “You know what, we can have you clean a few rooms, but what we really need you to do is you’re the person that’s responsible for the accuracy and the efficiency and the smooth-running of everybody’s cart.” And that might not sound engaging for many people. For that particular person, it was like, “That’s exactly what I want to be paid to do.”

Again, she’s not doing 100% of red threads but just kept sort of unconsciously paying attention to some particular aspect of her job, kept volunteering it, not asking to be praised for it necessarily, just kept volunteering it. And, lo and behold, the job came to be morphed so that it actually was a manifestation of her loves. A million of other examples if you look around, but those are two that come to mind.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, I love it, and I do, I want to hear one more if I can from your millions.

Marcus Buckingham
Well, the other one that I was just talking about the other day, my publisher is HBR, Harvard Business Review, and we put together like a leader series with them where they said, “We want to have learning around the everything in the book because there’s really no curriculum around how do you find out what you love and figure out a way to turn it into a contribution. There’s no language, there’s no ritual, there’s no discipline around that, certainly in the world of work.” So, they put together a whole kind of ongoing learning series.

The person that’s leading it is a person who initially came up through publishing. She’s a book publisher, and yet couldn’t help herself. As the world of publishing changed, and bookstores vanished, and everything became “How do you nurture a community, and, author after author after author, struggled with creating a community?” and publishers struggled to build relationships with readers because the intermediaries used to be the bookstores but now the bookstores are gone. So, more and more publishers and authors kept turning to each other going, “How the heck do we build community?”

Well, this person just kept finding herself going, “I love doing web series. I will host any web series…” This is what she’s saying to the authors, “I’ll host any web series you want, any content you want. I’ll be the face of the publisher. I’ll keep doing that for you.” Now, it wasn’t in her job title, it wasn’t anything to do with her job description actually, but she kept doing it, authors loved it because she’s now building through the author and through the publisher a relationship with a growing cadre of readers so much so that every book that she did it for was massively more successful than the others that didn’t have it.

So, of course, the editor-in-chief turns to her more and more and goes, “Could you do this one? Could you do this one? Could you do this one? Could you do this one?” At some point, she goes, “I would love to but, unfortunately, I’ve still got these other responsibilities hanging up over here. If you can get someone to help me with these, then I can continue to do this stuff that elevates our authors and builds community.”

Well, now, lo and behold, that’s her entire job because that’s so valuable. It happens to fit perfectly with the whole dynamics of the publishing business right now. If it hadn’t been fit perfectly, would it have worked out exactly the same way? I don’t know. Bottom line is she found some red thread, pulled and sort of saw where it led, and turned it into an entirely different job than the one that she had even three years ago.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. Well, Marcus, let’s say that listeners are fired up, like, “Yes, I want to identify these red threads. I want to do more of these red threads. I want to communicate and find the contribution therein,” do you have any sort of top do’s and don’ts for folks who are embarking on this path?

Marcus Buckingham
Well, in terms of career, yeah, first of all, the best place to start is where you’re at right now. You didn’t start wrong. You didn’t start right. For you, Pete, like joining Bain, was that good or bad? Who knows? For me, I left university and went to Lincoln, Nebraska. Why? I don’t really know. There was a sign of a red thread there somewhere. I’d done an internship with Gallup and I kind of liked one bit of it, and I was like, “Why not?” Goodness knows why you did what you did.

But for anyone who’s listening, you’ve got so much ahead of you. Start by thinking of your career as a scavenger hunt for love. It’s not a ladder. It’s not a lattice. You’re not climbing anywhere. You’re just scavenging. You’re looking for red threads right now where you are. First of all, do that. Second, don’t put too much of your faith in the why or the who. Put most of your faith in the what.

Normally, we think of a career as like finding your calling, which really means finding your purpose. But the two least engaged, least resilient professions, of all that we studied, are healthcare providers, so doctors and nurses, and teachers, people who educate in schools, in case you didn’t know what a teacher was. But they couldn’t be two professions where the purpose of their work was more vivid and more honorable, helping the sick and helping the youth, and yet they’re the most disengaged.

What that tells us clearly is that although you may believe in lots of different whys and purposes in your career, in the end, what nourishes you, what doesn’t, doesn’t happen at the 30,000-foot level. It happens at the two-foot level, the three-foot level. What activities are you filling your week with? What activities are you doing today at 9:00 o’clock or at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon? What are you actually doing? Because in the end, that what you’re actually doing, the specifics of these red threads trump your purpose.

If you believe in your purpose, and for whatever reason, the day-to-day reality of what you’re doing is loveless, then you will be psychologically damaged as damaged as nurses and doctors are today independent of the pandemic. So, watch out that you don’t try to use the who to compensate for you being in the wrong job, or the why rather. If you believe in the why but you’re in the wrong role on the team, it doesn’t matter how much you believe in the why, or like the people you work with. In the end, it’s the activities themselves that will nourish you or not.

I guess I’ll just give one more. As I mentioned, the idea that what’s really valuable in work right now is specificity. So, one of the things to think about is think about your career as an hourglass where it’s wide at the bottom. You’re scavenging, you’re seeing what all of those different threads are out there and you’re pulling on these different threads and seeing where they lead, and you’re honoring where your loves are and you’re taking them seriously.

But the middle of the hourglass is, at some point, you need mastery. Today, we seem to value follower fame or dilettantism, anyone is an expert today. But, actually, deep down, we do know, as Hippocrates said, “Life is short. The art is long,” or the craft is long, so at some point, you’re going to want to take those red threads of yours and honor them with your undivided attention.

And as an Erikson professor, and as Erickson said ten years, Malcolm Gladwell popularized that as 10,000 hours, but the takeaway from that isn’t that you invest 10,000 hours, you can be great at anything. That was a misunderstanding of the research and the data. All the data really shows is if you’ve got a love, if you’ve got a couple of red threads, at some point in your career, you’re going to want to give at least 10,000 hours to the mastery of that.

And out of that, the top part of the hourglass is out of that comes leadership. We follow people who turn our anxiety into confidence. That’s the job of a leader. And the best way to turn anxiety into confidence is to have deep mastery in something that we can all see and is important to us. Get deep into something. It doesn’t become narrowing. You don’t get narrowed. Your depth becomes the integrating point for your learning but it also becomes your justification for being able to lead others.

They now know who you are. They know that you’ve asked 17 questions, opened 17 more doors, can see around the corner more vividly. Your depth, that middle of the hourglass where you get narrow and focused becomes the authority that you need to lead others. So, those would be some of my do’s and don’ts.

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

Marcus Buckingham
A favorite quote of mine or a favorite quote of somebody else’s?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I was going to ask for a favorite quote that you’ve coined later, but I’ll take them both, right back-to-back if you’ve got them handy.

Marcus Buckingham
Mine that I hope people leave with is the power of human nature is that each human nature is unique. That’s its power. That’s not a bug to be fixed. That’s not a problem. Human uniqueness is the source of its power. Most forces of nature, their power comes from their uniformity – electricity, water, wind. The power of human nature is not that. The power of human nature is its uniqueness. And we need to build schools and teams and workplaces where we maximize that power. So, that’s a big one for me.

I think the quote that I always have in my head as I wander around, actually comes from Peter Drucker, and he was the eminent management theorist of the last century. But his quote was, “The best companies get their strengths together and make their weaknesses irrelevant.” A lot of my work has simply taken that on and applied it to the level of the individual. That’s what I learned from my mentor at Gallup, Don Clifton. But it began, really, with Peter Drucker going, “Everything is about differentiation – intelligent intentional differentiation.”

He looked at it at the level of the company, “Don’t try to be all things to all people no one believes in.” And, of course, what I’ve done is taken it through Don Clifton and all my strengths work there, and now here with what I’m doing at the ADP Research Institute, try to take it to the level of the individual and then back on up into the institutions, like school, college, work.

Pete Mockaitis
And this one will be hard for you, but could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Marcus Buckingham
Oh, gosh. Well, actually, it’s one that we’re just doing right now. My co-head at the research institute is an economist called Nela Richardson. She’s a black woman of a certain age, and she came to me the other day, and said, “Are we doing any better at D, E & I?” diversity, equity, and inclusion, “Are we doing better?”

And I said to her, “Well, we can tell you about the D and the E. I can tell you about diversity. We could actually count that. We can just count representation. I can tell you about the E. I can count equitable pay or promotion.” But I said, “I actually can’t tell you about the I. From the 1960 forward, you can write, like today, I actually can’t tell you if more people feel more included.” This was about a year and a half ago.

And shame on me, shame on us, that we’ve got no thermometer for measuring, reliably measuring people’s feeling of inclusion. Nothing. And so, for the last year and a half, we’ve been in the field trying to build a reliable thermometer to measure inclusiveness. And we’ve just come out of the field, it’s about 27,000 people, a thousand people in each country, stratified random sample of the workers in each country, trying to get at what is the right way, the most reliable way to measure inclusiveness so that we can see whether or not anything that we’re doing – programs, training, education – is it actually making people’s lives any better, at least according to them.

So, I’m not going to bore you with diving into exactly what we’re finding and where we’re finding it, but that research right now feels to me incredibly necessary because, let’s face it, what gets measured gets managed. If you can’t measure the I, you might move the D and the E, but if people aren’t feeling better about it, what a miss that is.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a favorite book?

Marcus Buckingham
I think my favorite book is The Discoverers by Daniel Boorstin, which I got when I was 16. It’s about 700 pages long, and it’s just a book about men and women as discoverers, people who ask why, and why this and why that. And it confirmed for me, because I was reading Lord of the Rings, I was trying to read Lord of the Rings at the same time, and I was bored to tears, I was bored of the rings. But I couldn’t care about Gollum, I couldn’t care about Frodo, I just couldn’t get excited about it.

But why does Marie Curie ask the questions that she does in her laboratory? Why does Isaac Newton put a thin shard of glass in the window of his Cambridge students digs, and then see a rainbow of light on the wall? That’s what that book was all about. And I loved it, and I read it like it was like Lord of the Rings. But it wasn’t Lord of the Rings, it was a book about people asking why.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Marcus Buckingham
I love walking really fast. I live in a place with lots of hills, and I love that pounding-heart energy. I don’t really like working out inside. I’m lucky enough to live in the country so I’ve got hills all over the place and trees everywhere, and pounding up a hill and down a hill, and stepping over rocks. And I saw a bobcat the other day. Like a bobcat. I’m British. There are no bobcats in Britain, and I saw a bobcat. Sorry to be so excited about bobcats, but that was amazing. So, I love pounding up hills and down dales and doing that every day, getting my heart racing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Marcus, I was doing the math when you talked about nine years old and 50, I’m like you’re a very handsome youthful-looking man.

Marcus Buckingham
Well, I appreciate that.

Pete Mockaitis
What is the secret? Is it the exercise? Is there a moisturizer I need to start using? How do you do it?

Marcus Buckingham
Well, I’m 57, I’m not 59 but it’s genes, man. My dad’s dead but my mom is 83 and looks like she’s 70. I don’t know what it is. She’s got youthful genes, and somehow, she passed something onto me where I don’t really have a regimen, a health regimen other than walking a lot, which, as I said, I love. But other than that, I think I got it, like most things, you get it from your mom.

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

Marcus Buckingham
I think two places. One is on the social media front, Instagram is my favorite for whatever reason, so Instagram. And then, together with Harvard, we built this learning series. So, if you want to see the learning around the book, for anything we talked about today, is really something you want to dive deeper into, go to LoveAndWork.org and you’ll see there’s like six hours of content all around the ideas and the practices of some of which we touched on in the podcast and then a whole lot more.

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

Marcus Buckingham
Take your love seriously because if you don’t, no one else will, and that’s the place to begin. The more filigreed and detailed and vivid you can be and understanding that which you love, the more likely you are to respect and be curious about loves of others. If you don’t start with yourself and really dive deep into the detail of you love it, when, what. Write three love notes. That’s what I would do. Write three love notes, which is simply a sentence that begins, “I love it when…” and then finish the darn sentence.

And you’ve got to have a verb in it, not, “I love it when people praise me.” No, “I love it when I do…” what, when, how, to who. Love lives in detail and most of us have forgotten the detail of that which we love, which is why the most common answer to the question, “What are your strengths?” in a job interview is, “I love working with people.” And it’s like, “Come on. What are you doing with the people? Which people?”

So, that’s the challenge I would give everyone of us. Can you honor yourself by describing vividly just three red threads? Write three love notes. Because if you don’t take yourself seriously in that way, don’t expect anyone else to. They can’t read your mind and they certainly can’t read your heart.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Marcus, this has been a treat. I wish you much love and great work in your years to come.

Marcus Buckingham
Thank you, sir. Appreciate you having me.

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. 

Resources Mentioned

 

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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.