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541: Increasing Your Contribution and Fulfillment at Work with Tom Rath

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Tom Rath says: "You can't be anything you want to be... but you can be a lot more of who you already are."

Tom Rath discusses how to find greater meaning in your job.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to find your unique style of contribution
  2. Two easy ways to recharge your energy
  3. A powerful way to make any job feel more meaningful

About Tom:

Tom Rath is an author and researcher who has spent the past two decades studying how work can improve human health and well-being. His 10 books have sold more than 10 million copies and made hundreds of appearances on global bestseller lists.

During his 13 years at Gallup, Tom was the Program Leader for the development of Clifton StrengthsFinder, which has helped over 20 million people to uncover their talents, and went on to lead the organization’s employee engagement, wellbeing, and leadership practices worldwide.

Most recently, Tom co-founded a publishing company and he is also an advisor, investor, and partner in several startups. Tom holds degrees from the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife, Ashley, and their two children.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Tom Rath Interview Transcript

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

Tom Rath
Thanks so much. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be chatting with you. I have enjoyed reading your books for years and have taken the StrengthsFinder multiple times, so I was excited to dig into your latest work. But, maybe, let’s go back in time if we can, because I understand that some health news you got as a teenager really played a prominent role in how you think about your work, and life, and this particular new development.

Tom Rath
Yeah, a lot of my early experiences shaped especially this most recent book Life’s Great Question just to give you a short summary of it for your listeners, when I was 16 years old, I was having trouble seeing out of one of my eyes, and I was eventually diagnosed with several large tumors on the back of that left eye, and lost sight soon thereafter permanently in that side. And the doctors told me that that was likely indicative that I had a very rare genetic disorder that it essentially shuts off the body’s most powerful tumor-suppressing gene, and they said, “There’s more than a 50% chance you’ll have kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, cancer in your spine,” and a host of other areas over whatever lifespan I might hope for. And I kind of did some research back then and realized that the over-ender was probably between 35 and 40 years.

So, what that did in retrospect, as I’ve kind of looked back on, as a part of this recent project is it certainly helped to get me focused on two things. And one of those things was just reading as much as I could every morning about what I could do to keep myself alive a little bit longer and help people to live longer in good health. That was part of it. And the second part was it really did help to get me focused even at a young age and early on in my career on, “What are all the things that I can work on each day on kind of an hourly or daily basis that contribute to growth in other people that I care about or serve, that can continue to live on whether I’m actively involved with that or not, a week, a month, or a decade down the road?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is some great guidance there. And it seems like you’re statistically probabilistically you’re doing great, huh?

Tom Rath
Yeah, I’m doing really good. I have battled kidney cancer. Still, I have cancer in my spine and in pancreas recently, and I’m continuing to kind of fight through that on a bunch of different trials of drugs and trying to do everything I can to stay as healthy overall as I possibly can.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m glad to hear that there’s reason and room for hope and that you’re still here contributing, and we’re very grateful for your contributions. I know I am. And I want to give a shoutout to my buddy, Lawrence, who brings up strengths just about every week. And so, yes, it’s been quite a contribution. We appreciate you. So, yeah, let’s talk about this Life’s Great Question. What is it?

Tom Rath
Life’s great question, which a lot of this was inspired by one of my favorite challenges and quotes of all time from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who, I think, he put it so eloquently when he said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’” And when I first thought about that question, it kind of haunted me for a few years. Then I realized what a powerful rallying call that can be on a daily basis. So, every morning for the last few years, I’ve tried asked myself, “What am I working on today that will contribute to others in their growth, in their wellbeing over time?”

And what I’ve realized is the more time in a given day that I can spend on things that just directly in a way that I can see serve others instead of worrying about my own priorities, or focusing inward, or trying to get through a bunch of busy work, the more time I can spend on that, the less stress I have, the better I feel about my days.

And I think all of us want to be able to do that on a daily basis and to do some work that matters for other people. We just don’t have a very clear way to talk about it and think about it, especially in teams and groups when we’re working on things, and as a result, we spend maybe too much of our time focused inward on ourselves and our own development instead of outward on, essentially what the world needs.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve got a number of ways that you recommend that we go about gaining some clarity on that. Can you share with us, you’ve got a phrase eulogy purposes? What are these?

Tom Rath
Yeah, you know, one of the things I realized quickly when I was talking with some organizational leaders and CEOs about this is that right now the main way that we have or the main method for summarizing a person’s life and work is a resume. And if I were to go back and try and create the most detached, clinical, sterile, lifeless thing I could, it would be the form of a resume of today.

So, the more I got into that and had some of these discussions, I realized that we need to help people put together a profile of who they are and why they do what they do, and what motivates them, and how they want to contribute, and to have that be as kind of robust from a detail standpoint as a resume is so that we can make the focus on contribution just as practical and tangible as we have when we assemble resumes and profiles today.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve taken this profile, and it was fun to dig into and think about. You’ve got a number. I believe it’s about a dozen different flavors or modes of contribution. My top were scaling, visioning, and adapting. So, can you maybe help us think through a little bit about what’s the goal here, so we’re going to understand those things and knowing them, what do we do?

Tom Rath
What I was trying to do to help readers, give readers something practical to do as a part of this book, and I have a code in the back where they can login and build this profile. But the profile also asks about, “What are the big roles you play in life?” So, as a spouse, for me, as a researcher, as a writer, as a dad. What are those big roles that are really the, as you mentioned earlier, the kind of eulogy values, the things you want to be remembered by?

So, to start there and then also bring in, “What are the most important life experiences, or miles, throughout your life that have shaped who you are and it could help other people understand why you do what you do?” And then we also ask readers to add their best descriptors of their strengths. As you’ve talked about, I think strengths are maybe the most important starting point for aiming a lot of your efforts in life.

And then, the fourth element, that you were just getting into is, “How can we help people to prioritize how they want to contribute to a team?” What happens so often right now is we get teams of people together to accomplish something because we’re all wound up and energized about a given task or priority and we all just hit the ground running and start moving forward and working, and we don’t take the time to, A, get to know one another, and, B, most importantly, sit down and say how each one of us wants to contribute to the effort in a complementary way.

So, if you’re helping our team, if we have four or five people on the team with scaling, for example, and that’s a big part of operating and making something great and helping it to grow over time, how do we also have people who are helping us to make sure we’re energizing the team and building closer relationships over time, and taking care of some of those fundamentals? And how do we help people to ensure that we’re teaching others about what we’re doing and challenging us to make sure that we’re focusing on the right priorities as we go along?

So, I started, instead of starting with who the person is, with this project I started with, “What are the things that the world needs?” And I went back and looked at thousands of job descriptions from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and try to kind of build those into big buckets and categories about what our society values and needs from people who are doing work. And then I think the challenge is for each of us as individuals to kind of go through a series of prioritization questions like you did and decide we’d like to contribute given who we are and who else is on a given team.

Pete Mockaitis
And is the concept there that certain modes of contribution will be more life-giving, energizing, enriching for us as compared to others?

Tom Rath
Yes. One of the things that gets ignored often when we go through inventories and prioritization exercises is there’s not a lot of work on what motivates us to do our best on a daily basis. So, I did tie in some questions in there about what motivates you to do your best work, and then how you want to contribute.

We all have very unique and different talents, and the way I contribute to one team may be different from how I’ll contribute to another one 6 or 12 months down the road. So, we really built this to be a team activity that a person can go through in unlimited number of times if they’re thinking about a new job, a new project, or a new team, because there is a balancing act, for lack of a better term, that needs to occur if you get three, five, seven, ten people around a team so that you’re all working as seamlessly as possible based on what you’d want to do and what you’re good at with as little overlap as possible essentially.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, you’ve, in fact, I understand, defined five amplifiers that help us see our jobs as more than just a paycheck and are bringing some of those cool vibes and enthusiasms for folks. Can you walk us through these bits?

Tom Rath
Yeah, you know, the first one that I think is important for people in the work world, in particular, is to, as much as I’ve talked to a little bit today about making sure that you’re focusing your work on others, the one place where I’ve learned where we really do need to put our own needs first is when it comes to our health and wellbeing and energy. It’s really the energy. We need to prioritize things like sleeping enough, eating the right foods, moving around throughout the day, in order to have the energy we need to be our best. Even if our sole intent is just to help other people, we need that energy to be our best. So, that’s one of the big elements.

Another thing in the workplace is that we need the freedom to do work in the way that matches our style. And so, one thing that’s been refreshing as I’ve learned about how people can uniquely contribute is most managers and leaders are very open to a conversation about, “How can you do your job in a way that fits who you are even though you may have the same goals and outcomes and expectations as ten other people?” You don’t have to do it the same way. So, a piece that I think has been underestimated and measured in more places is we need the freedom to be our best every day, and a lot of that is about finding the right work environment, the right manager or leader and so forth.

Another really important element that in all of the wellbeing research I’ve been a part of is probably the most common core that cuts across wellbeing and work experiences, we need strong relationships to not only get things done but to add more fun while we’re doing it. I have a good friend I have worked with for almost 20 years now, and I can call him up, in 15 seconds, I can get more done than I could in a 15-minute conversation with a stranger. And so, those relationships create a lot of the speed and trust and wellbeing, it keeps us going.

Another central element is that we’re working each day to ensure that we have kind of the sense of financial security and stability that we need to keep moving through the day. There’s a lot of talk about money shouldn’t be the only outcome and the sole basis of a contract between a person and an employer. I think those days are past us and we’d evolved from that, but we do need to make sure that early on in our career we’ve got enough money to pay for basic needs and food and shelter and the like. And until we get to that point where we’re not stressed about money on a daily basis, a lot of these other things are secondary. So, those are a few of the kind of basic needs in there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m intrigued and I know wellbeing is a big theme and an area of passion for you. And I‘m right with you in terms of, boy, your energy levels make all the difference, and you did tons of research in your work. So, I got to know, do you have any secret strategies, tactics, tips in terms of having and bringing more energy to each work day? I mean, I think sleeping and eating well are critical and, at the same time, I think people, and maybe I’m guilty of this too, we want the cool new thing. So, is there a cool new thing and/or what should we be thinking about with regard to sleeping and eating well to maximize energy?

Tom Rath
Well, I learned a lot about this when I worked on the book Eat, Move, Sleep that kind of tied in some of those healthy experiences we’re talking about. The good news is one good night of sleep, even if you’re on a bad streak, one good night’s sleep is kind of like the reset button on a video game or a smartphone where it gives you almost a clean slate the next day. You’re more likely to be active throughout the day, eat better food, and so on. So, I think we really undervalue sleep at a family level and at a workplace level. It needs to be a part of the conversation because if people are half-asleep and nowhere near as creative or sharp as they need to be at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon in a meeting, that’s not good for anyone.

And someone I’ve worked with, former Army Surgeon General Patty Hororo, she talks about how in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan that she knew the troops needed ammunition for their brain, and that’s how she prioritized sleep. So, I think we need to make sleep a critical ammunition for our brain-level priority, that’s one thing.

The second big one, I think everyone should be able to do their work without being chained to a chair for eight hours a day. The more I’ve studied this topic, and I started working sitting and standing 10 years ago, and I’ve been working 80% of my time on a treadmill desk for five years running now, and there are bolts falling out of the bottom of the thing now, but it still gives me so much more energy, it’s not even comparable to days when I’m stuck in planes and meeting rooms. I think we need to re-engineer our immediate environment it’s really about variance, or up and down and moving around every 20, 30 minutes throughout the day.

The good news is I think it’s more important to just build a little burst of walking activity throughout the day, and that’s more important for human health than the intimidating goals of 30 or 60 minutes of extreme cardiovascular activity, for example. We just need to find ways to have conversations with people and get work done while we’re up and down and moving around quite a bit more.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so I think that might transition into something. You had a very intriguing book bullet point about how we can turn the job we have into the job we want. It sounds like one way is to re-engineer so you can move a little bit. What are some of the other main ways that we can see an upgrade in that department?

Tom Rath
Yeah, one of the things that I think we all need to dedicate more time to in that regard is to bring the source of our contributions or the people that our work is affecting, lives it’s improving, back into the daily conversation. So, when people in food service roles were preparing food, chefs and cooks, if they can see the person they’re preparing the food for, they make better-quality meals, they make more nutritious meals, and they feel better about their work.

If radiologists who are reading scans of MRIs and CTs all day, if someone is a part of an experiment, when they append a photo of the patient to the record, they write longer reports and it increases their diagnostic accuracy. And I’ve seen this across every professional, it’s been studied. The closer we can get to the source and see the people we’re influencing, even if they’re just internal customers and clients, for example, the better work we do and the better we feel about it when we get home each evening. So, I think that’s one of the most practical places to start. And if you struggle to do that yourself in a workplace, my best advice would be help someone else to see why their efforts are making a difference tomorrow. And just in doing that, you’ll set something in motion.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that is powerful. And so, certainly, and so there’s many ways you can accomplish that goal. You can actually sort of rearrange the office so that you are getting a visual, or you can just have photos of those folks that you’re serving right there. So, you mentioned in the medical example, just having photos of the patient there made the impact. And so, that’s inspiring. It’s, like, I got to get some listener photos in my work environment.

Tom Rath
Photos and stories, I mean, there’s kind of the stories and legends we tell ourselves. The other is I talk about this a little bit in the book, but because I don’t have vision on my left side, I have a prosthetics so people think I can see out of both eyes. But I accidentally bump into people all the time because I don’t see them coming on my left. And it’s always an interesting experiment for me psychologically because I’m always the same but that person, sometimes they’re in a really bad mood, sometimes they’re frustrated and didn’t have the time, sometimes they’re very kind and apologetic. It varies so much.

But I get to see, even when I’m in a coffee shop or a grocery store like that, I can kind of see how if I react as good as I possibly can, and I’m really apologetic and tell them I’m sorry and everything else, in some cases I can take someone who’s kind of in a bad mood and diffuse it and turn it around where it’s a little bit better. And I think we all have, I don’t know if it’s 10, 15, 20 moments like that with strangers and people we know throughout the day. And, in any case, if you leave that person in a little bit better state than when you first engaged in the interaction, that is a victory that we probably need to do a better job of acknowledging in the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I love it. Well, that’s the, “How full is your bucket stuff?” in action.

Tom Rath
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in the realm of those small but sort of uplifting, bucket-filling things we can do in the workplace, could you give us just several examples of things that really make a difference and we can do all the time?

Tom Rath
Yeah, like we just talked about, I think it starts with those very brief exchanges and saying you don’t get to control the emotional tone that someone else brings into a room or into an office that you’re in at the moment, but we always do have control of our response. And I think if you start to view those little responses as an opportunity to turn things around, that’s one good starting place.

The other thing that I’ve learned a lot from over the years since some of the work on that How Full Is Your Bucket? concept is that if you can make it a goal to spot somebody else doing something really well that they might not have even noticed, ideally try to do that once a day, that’s one of the more powerful things that can have a real lasting influence on people over time.

I think we talked briefly about some of the strengths work, and because of my involvement with that, people often ask me, “What’s the most valuable strength? What’s the best one? What’s the most productive, and so on?” What I’ve learned and my real quick answer is the most valuable talent is spotting a strength in someone else that they had not been able to notice and encouraging them to build on that because, boy, when I’ve seen people do that, it’s so powerful it can kind of last a lifetime and change the trajectory of a career.

So, I think to look for those two things in a given day and then at least three, four times a week to look for moments to just recognize in an audible, in a written, or an electronic form great work, and to recognize and appreciate someone for specific efforts. And when you’re doing that, to try and connect your recognition with the contribution made to another person gives it a little bit more amplification.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes, I love that. Boy, Tom, there’s so much good stuff here. Maybe you could just regale us now with a couple of stories in terms of folks who had some career transformations in terms of before they did not quite have that clarity on how they want to contribute and what they’re going to do with life’s greatest question, and then they got it and it changed everything? Could you give us a couple of fun examples there?

Tom Rath
Yeah, you know, the one that’s most top of mind for me when you talk about kind of figuring out contributions as they went along it, a friend of mine I talk about in the book, I’ve started working with him maybe 20 years ago. His name is Mark. And he was really involved in Young Life, which is a student kind of a faith-based group and efforts to help kids get involved in communities and give back and do more. When I started working on some of the very early strengths work, Mark was passionate about college freshmen, and said, “I think maybe we could put something together that helps them figure out how to use their strengths to pick better classes and have better relationships.”

He was a pragmatic guy, and said, “I think if we can just get plug into these freshmen experience classes, maybe it could make a difference. We’ve just got to get a handful of professors to assign it as a textbook.” And that’s now helped, I think it’s two or three million kids in their freshmen year or two, essentially get a better handle on what they’re doing, and navigate, and hopefully end up in a little bit better careers as a product of that. It started with someone who had a real passion for doing things in kind of a pocket like that, and said, “How could we scale this out and have a huge outsize influence on the world?”

I had about a 20-year friendship with Mark and he’d battled a heart transplant and cancer a few years ago, and he passed away just a little bit over a year and a couple of months ago. I write about this in the book, but when I went to his memorial service, you know, usually you think of it as one of the sadder moments, but it was one of the most inspiring things I’d ever seen in my life because student after student after former student got up and talked about how they were doing things so differently in their relationships and their careers and their education because of the specific influence that Mark had had in his mentoring. As we talk about contribution here as a topic, it was just kind of a summary of an entire lifetime of enormous contribution to other people.

I know, for me personally, it was deeply inspiring and kind of what I hope to be able to continue to do over the remainder of my life is to make those kind of both broad directional contributions and the real specific deep individual mentoring contributions like Mark both did. So, that’s kind of the top of my radar right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that is powerful. Thank you. Tell me, Tom, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Tom Rath
No, I think we’ve covered the main topic here.

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

Tom Rath
Ben Horowitz was giving a commencement address at Columbia two, three years ago now. And he talked really eloquently, if listeners have a chance to check it out, about real growth is the product of not following your passions but following where your contributions lead you.

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

Tom Rath
You know, I think what’s influenced me most in the last few years is some of the very important distinctions between daily wellbeing versus how we look at our life satisfaction and wellbeing over many, many years in a lifetime. For so long, scientists have just been saying, “If you look at your life as a ladder with steps numbered one through ten, where do you stand essentially?” and they ask people to look back retrospectively.

And when you ask people that question, it’s usually a very highly-correlated income. The more you make you buy more points on that ladder essentially. And countries like Sweden and Denmark and Norway are at the very highest of the wellbeing rankings when you look at rankings based on that broad evaluation. But, in contrast, when you ask people, “Are you having a lot of fun today? Have you smiled or laughed a lot today? Did you have a lot of negative emotions? Do you have a lot of stress?” And you really look at that daily experience to where you or I had a good day today, it looks very, very different.

And the happiest countries on a daily basis are Costa Rica and Panama and Uruguay and Paraguay, these Central American countries that are at the very bottom of the wealth rankings of gross domestic product per capita. So, I think that daily experience can be a great equalizer where even in the United States you don’t need to make a great deal of money to have really good consistent days. And once you do make enough money to stop worrying about your finances every day, the more you make an income doesn’t really make that much of a difference. In some cases, it might even lead to more stress and issues.

So, I’ve really been intrigued by a lot of emerging research, the body of it, on the influence and importance of just daily positive affect, as what researchers call it, versus negative affect, and how that can…I think the accumulation of those days may be a lot more important than how we evaluate our lives once at the very end.

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

Tom Rath
If I can, I’m going to do a paired trade of two books I read back-to-back, one being now getting a lot of press with a movie out Just Mercy. And the second one being Hillbilly Elegy which they are two night and day different books about two completely different experiences on different ends of social geographic and demographic continuums in the United States, but I’m really inspired by true stories that help me to understand experiences that are very different than my own. So, those have been well-written moving books I’ve studied recently.

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

Tom Rath
Over the last 10 years, everything I’ve read both in print and online, and conversations I’ve had, I’ve stored everything in Evernote, the app. And I was just joking with my mother-in-law over the weekend that when I’m her age, that’s going to be my memory because my memory won’t be that good. So, that’s been a great repository for all of the research and studies and things that I’ve been collecting over the last decade.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to dig into that a little more. So, in terms of you just sort of drag and drop a PDF of the thing you read into a given note then make your notes on top of it? Or how does that work if you have the actual documents in there?

Tom Rath
Yeah, online I can drag and drop PDFs or just clip any webpage directly from a browser with one button. And when I’m reading things in print, I still get some newspapers and magazines in print, I tear pages and shoot them through a scanner that goes directly into the cloud in Evernote just based on some tags and so forth. Even everything I get in the mail goes right through that scanner unless it’s just junk mail ad, for example. But it’s been a great way to kind of have my own kind of a separate Google for my own experience and everything that’s gone through my head but, by no means, will I be able to locate and process and search for without a lot of electronic help.

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

Tom Rath
My favorite habit is I think I spend 80% to 90% of my time in a given day working while I’m moving around. And so, whether that’s having a conversation on the phone and walking around, ideally, outdoors. I try to get, all the time, outdoors every day. Walking. I try to walk my kids to school any day that we can just so that we all get a little head start on our mental energy let alone the physical exercise that helps. So, my favorite habit is just minimizing the time I spend completely sedentary in a chair in a day.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget that you’ve shared in your books, in speaking, that really seems to get highlighted a lot, or retweeted, or quoted back to you frequently, a Tom Rath nugget that you’re known for?

Tom Rath
Yeah, I think the one that I see most commonly highlighted out there, kind of posters and internet stuff, is the quote about “You can’t be anything you want to be but you can be a lot more of who you already are.” And I talk about that a little bit in this most recent book that I’m really confident, and I first wrote that maybe 10, 15 years ago, but I’m really confident that people, counter to some conventional wisdom, you really can’t be anything you want to be, if you think about it.

But I do worry a little bit about when people just try and be more of who they already are. I’ve seen that in some cases pull people too much towards looking inward. And that’s why in a lot of the recent work I’ve been focusing on trying to help people to say how can they take who they are and quickly focus that as point A outward to point B which is what the world around them needs, because I think the more they focus and hone their energy towards what their family, their organization, their community needs, it leads to even more productive application of their strengths.

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

Tom Rath
I’d point them to TomRath.org for any of the books that we’ve talked about and then Contribify.com for the new Life’s Great Question book and the companion website that goes with that.

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

Tom Rath
I would challenge people to spend even a little bit of time today determining how they can get even closer to the source of the contribution they’re making to the world, because the closer you get to that source, the more you can do for others over the years.

Pete Mockaitis
Tom, this has been a pleasure. Thank you. I wish you the best in health and all the ways you’re contributing in the world.

Tom Rath
Thank you so much. It’s been an honor and fun talking to you.

533: How to Identify and Eliminate Friction with Roger Dooley

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Roger Dooley says: "Ask: 'How can I make your job easier?'"

Roger Dooley talks about how eliminating friction at work can lead to better productivity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The cardinal rule of friction
  2. How to reduce the friction of meetings
  3. How mistrust creates friction

About Roger:

Roger Dooley is an author and international keynote speaker. His books include Friction: The Untapped Force That Can Be Your Most Powerful Advantage and Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing. He is behind the popular blog, Neuromarketing, as well as a column at Forbes.com. 

He is the founder of Dooley Direct, a consultancy, and co-founded College Confidential, the leading college-bound website. He has an engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon University and an MBA from the University of Tennessee.  

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Roger Dooley Interview Transcript

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

Roger Dooley
Well, happy to be here, Pete. Thanks for the invite.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your stuff. And I understand that you currently operate as a behavioral scientist but that was not always your path. You started as a chemical engineer. Can you tell us how did you cross over and do you see some natural crossover ideas between the two?

Roger Dooley
Sure. And to clarify, I only play behavioral scientist on the internet. I am not actually a behavioral scientist. Although, I do write a lot about behavioral science and certainly try and convey some of the ideas from great scientists to business people in ways they can understand. But, yeah, I did start off life as an engineer, a chemical engineer, and only did that for a few years. But, Pete, I think that being an engineer and training as one kind of gives you a worldview, a way of looking at things, that serves you well regardless of your profession. You really sort of have to deal with reality.

Engineers can’t do stuff based on faith, or based on, “Well, this seems like a good idea,” or even sort of argue their way through it. If they’re going to build something, it’s got to stand up and not fall down. I was a chemical engineer and, if you’re designing plants or reactions or whatever, they simply have to work. So, if you can bring that same kind of thinking to the pursuit of business and other topics, I think it’s still valuable.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you. And so, one such concept is friction and we’re going to go all over the place with this. But why don’t we kick it off by sharing how do you define friction and why do you say it’s the enemy of business?

Roger Dooley
Well, the simple definition is any unnecessary effort to perform a task. And the reasons it’s the enemy of business is because it is everywhere, even where we don’t see it. If we saw it and recognize it, there’ll be a lot less of it, and it’s funny, because people think they see it.

A couple of years ago, I was getting ready to speak at a conference, there was a mastermind, a group of very smart people, and the organizer wanted me to record a promo, he said, “Okay, I want you to share your best idea in advance.” I said, “Okay, I’ll do friction.” He said, “No, no, no, everybody knows about friction. You got to do something else.” So, I humored them and I did something else, but there is that attitude that we know all about it, that, yes, okay, you have Silicon Valley trying to make things frictionless and so on, but the reality is, in our daily life and daily interactions with businesses, there is a lot of friction both as a customer and as an employee.

Think of all the bad processes you encounter on websites and mobile apps where you can’t figure out what to do, or you try and do something and it doesn’t work. And within companies, there is perhaps even more internal friction in the vast majority of companies, according to Gallup, something like 85% of employees are disengaged with their employer, they aren’t actively engaged, which means they’re not going to be loyal, they’re not really going to deliver that great customer experience, and a big reason is so much of their time and, more importantly, effort is wasted.

It’s wasted by meetings that don’t get anything done. It’s wasted by dealing with emails that they really don’t accomplish anything, bad processes internally that waste their time, rules, ways of getting things done that don’t make sense. It’s just amazing how much time is not really productive. And people realize that, and if the company is not working to cure that, then it’s no wonder employees become disengaged.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I think you’ve done a fine job outlining some of the key examples of friction that we all encounter and what can be at stake with regard to engagement. Could you maybe make this come alive for us with a compelling story in which you saw the power of friction in great force?

Roger Dooley
Well, I think maybe the best examples are ones that our audience is familiar with, and I’ll give you two from business examples dealing with customer experience and friction and also with the invisibility of friction.

One is Uber. Nobody thought about all the friction there was in the taxi process. Taxis were pretty much unchanged for, I don’t know, 50 years or so, and people just accepted that they were the way they were and occasionally you might get aggravated if you couldn’t find a taxi at all on a rainy afternoon in Manhattan or something. But most of the time, we just figured, “Okay. Well, this is the process. This is the way it is. There’s not a better way.”

It wasn’t until Uber came along with such a smooth experience, even from hailing the ride in the first place, to paying them at the end where there is no payment process at all. That’s the easiest process when there is no process. You just get out and say goodbye. Suddenly, people’s eyes were opened, and they said, “Whoa, wow, those taxis really weren’t that great, were they?” And that accounts for Uber’s tremendous popularity and also of their somewhat smaller competitors. They just changed this where people had not even seen it to begin with.

And I think the other sort of mega example is Amazon where they have put so much effort into minimizing customer effort. There’s many reasons why they’re successful, but that is one of the biggest ones. When you ask people what drives loyalty, they may give you, say things like, “Well, boy, a really outstanding experience, having my expectations exceeded.” Research shows that what drives customer loyalty are low-friction experiences, minimum customer effort.

Gartner, the big research company, did some phenomenal research that showed when people had a high-effort customer service interaction versus a low-effort, the high-effort customers were 96% of customers who had a high-effort experience were likely to be disloyal compared to just about a tenth of that for low-effort customers. When it comes to repeat customers, 94% of low-effort customers were likely to repurchase compared to just 4% of high-effort customers.

And we can see that at Amazon. They have gone out of their way to minimize effort starting with one-click ordering. Way back in 1998, they patented one-click ordering that I know I thought at the time that’s kind of goofy. He can’t really patent that, can you? Well, it turned out they could. And when Barnes & Noble implemented it on their site, Amazon and Barnes & Noble got in a huge legal battle. Ultimately, Amazon prevailed after spending millions of dollars to defend that patent. And what did they accomplish with that time and trouble and expense? All they accomplished was forcing their competitors to add one tiny little click to their process.

Now, if you talk to the average IT person and say, “Well, gee, I have to click that, it’s only three keystrokes,” they’d say, “Oh, hey, three keystrokes, who cares? It’s nothing.” For Amazon, it was worth that huge legal battle to defend disadvantaging their competitors by a single click. And beyond Jeff Bezos and other smart guys, Steve Jobs saw that at the same time he was launching his music store, and he didn’t try and fight the patent, he didn’t try and come up with some kind of workaround. He went to Amazon and paid them a million dollars so that he could implement one-click ordering in iTunes. And we know how that worked out.

So, to me, Amazon does it in so many different ways. They came up years ago with frustration-free packaging. They saw that people were really frustrated by these plastic clamshells that you can’t open with your bare hands. They’re great for retail, I guess, because they’re sort of hard to steal and they show the product off. But when you get the thing home and you’ve got to use some kind of sharp instrument to get them open…

Pete Mockaitis
And their plastic is sharp. I cut myself with the plastic I’ve cut.

Roger Dooley
…and they’re terrible for the environment. Yeah, if you don’t stab yourself with the knife you’re using, you stab yourself with the plastic shard. And Amazon said, “Well, we don’t need that.” They came up with frustration-free packaging. Just simple cardboard packages that you can open with your bare hands, they’re better for the environment, very minimal risk of injury. And the amazing thing is this, not only did people liked the packaging better, Pete, but there was a 73% reduction in negative feedback on products that were packaged that way. So, people actually liked the products better that were packaged that way.

They have focused on this since day one. Way back in 1997, Bezos was talking about frictionless shopping, and one of my favorite quotes is from Jeff, he said, “When you reduce friction, when you make something easy, people do more of it.” And that is pretty much the theme of the book, and it’s a lesson that not everybody has learned.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I appreciate you sharing all these examples, and it really does resonate in terms of in many, many different implications and applications of when you reduce friction, you make it easier. Like, podcasts have been around for, I guess I should know this, but more than 15 years and, yet, it’s only the last few years that they’ve “exploded, taken off” like all these things. And, in many ways, that’s just because it’s become easier. Like, there’s a podcast app natively on iPhones.

There is plentiful bandwidth available from your cellular towers as opposed to Wi-Fi so that you can just listen anywhere, no problem, without really stressing so much like your data limits. It’s like a tiny fraction. You don’t need to worry about it. Whereas, several years ago, you might say, “Ooh, I’ve only got one or two Gigabytes a month.” Well, now more people are having more. So, it totally adds up that there’s less friction, the more people will do that thing.

So, let’s talk about, now zooming in on the workplace, how can we apply some of these principles so that we get more great stuff done, so that our teams are more effective? What do you see are some of the top sources of friction at work and the best solutions for lubricating it?

Roger Dooley
Well, I think, often, organizations that start off lean and mean and very effective where people are totally engaged and working really hard, they tend to grow if they’re successful, and the bigger companies get, often be more bound by rules and procedures and processes they become. And to some degree that’s necessary. If you’re going to have a large organization, often you do have to have some standardization and processes. You do have to have guidelines for new people and so on. It’s sort of goes with the territory, and that’s okay. But often people, managers in particular, don’t even know why they are doing things.

There was one, I’m thinking it was by Bain, but I’m not sure if they ask people about which rules they were following that were either pointless or wasted their time. And so, a bunch of employees said in this survey, they nominated various rules. And what they found was that half the things that people mentioned weren’t even rules at all. They were simply the way things had been done, and they’ve been done that way for so long that they had somehow become codified into a rule. And people didn’t think it was a good way to do it but they just kept on doing it because they thought that that was what the company wanted.
I think meetings are a horrendous waste of time. Fortunately, I’ve been an entrepreneur for probably, I don’t know, 35 years or something, and I had a brief stint of a few years where I’ve built a business and ended up joining a very large company that purchased that business as part of the deal, and, by and large, it was a pretty good experience. They’re good people and certainly not as dysfunctional as many businesses but they had some of the typical big-company problems, including meetings. And I had a person working for me who’s a product manager, and she was a smart person, but she was not really succeeding in innovating new ideas, and we talked about it, and she said, “I don’t have time.” I said, “Well, why?”

We looked at her schedule and she had as many as 32 hours of meetings in a typical week, which is insane because how much time after that do you have left for productive work or, as Cal Newport would say, deep work, which is what you have to do if you want to be creative. You’ve got to have that time set aside. And, instead, it was difficult to keep up just with the flow of paperwork and stuff, and email, and everything else, and the meetings. That is not an atypical situation. Stats vary on that but many, many people spend half, or two-thirds of their time, in meetings. And you simply can’t be doing deep work when that’s happening.

Now, meetings can be very useful. If you can bring a team of people together and discuss something quickly, reach a conclusion, establish a course of action, that’s really valuable. But so often, they become just sort of institutionalized and people come and they really don’t accomplish much. All the people that attend really don’t have to attend. They’re there because, well, something might come up that would affect them and so on. And you can even go down the list.

But, to me, the one question that can help people uncover where the sort of least-productive highest-friction aspects of a job are to ask a simple question of one’s people, and that is “How can I make your job easier?” Now, a lot of people have never heard that question or have never had a boss ask them that question because they’re basically used to a boss saying, “Well, how can you get more done? How can I help you work harder?” And that is what people expect but that is not really the question.

When you ask people that question, it does two things. First of all, it can help you identify bottlenecks or bad processes that are wasting time that you can’t see but your people can see. No manager can really understand what everybody that works for them is doing or having to cope with, at least in most cases, unless they’ve done that particular job. But when you ask the person who’s doing it, they know where the problems are. And not only that, when you ask them that, you are showing them that you are on their side. You are not the boss saying, “How can you work harder and get more done?” Instead, you’re asking how you can make their job and, by extension, their life easier.

So, to me, it’s a double win. You find those friction points and you also help increase the engagement of that employee because once they believe that the company cares about them and is trying to make their job easier, not just make them work harder or be more productive, then they can feel that bond and be more engaged.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I dig that. And so, that’s a powerful question right there in terms of, “How can I make your job or your life easier?” And so, I think in the realm of meetings, what sorts of solutions have emerged when people approach that problem with that question?

Roger Dooley
I think that there are any number of approaches. First of all is to, I mean, there have been some sort of mechanical approaches, like saying, “Okay, no-meeting Mondays,” for example, or in one extreme case, “Meetings only on Wednesdays” where they really wanted to cut down on the number of meetings. And those things can work and they can help. I think that really expecting each leader to manage the meetings they are responsible for and to view them from a standpoint of having a big impact on the people that they invite.

Another sort of interesting little technique is to limit the number of people that can be invited to a meeting. Yet another one would be to show the cost, sort of have a cost factor for each person. It wouldn’t necessarily have to be down to their salary level, but show, “Okay, if you’re going to invite a senior engineer to the meeting, that is worth 123 bucks an hour or something,” so that people could see the cost of the meeting that they’re calling.

And scheduling software is great, things like Outlook and some of the other tools that are available that let you easily connect. If you recall the old days where if you wanted to set up a meeting, you, or somebody working for you, would have to call around and try and find a common time, and you get a couple people lined up, and another third person can’t do it then, so you have to kind of change the time. With a scheduling software, it makes that easy. The problem is it treats any time that you are not in a meeting already as available for scheduling, so blocking out time and that schedule for deep work, saying, “Okay, I’m not going to be available during these times.” Now, assuming that you have the ability to control your life that much, that’s another great technique for ensuring that you’ve got the bandwidth to do good work not just go to meetings.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s great when it comes to meetings. Can you share what are some other common causes of friction at work and common solutions for them?

Roger Dooley
Well, okay, one thing to clarify, Pete, in my book, I do not deal with interpersonal friction. That’s sort of either a boss or the passive-aggressive coworker, that sort of thing. Those are real issues but those are not the kind of friction that I deal with. That would be a whole another book, and that book has been written too, I think. But the idea of finding rules that people are following, that they find unproductive, is a good one. Asking people, if they can eliminate one rule, what would that be, that’s wasting most of their time or is most annoying to them?

I’ll give you an example from my own experience. Again, this is with that big company that I worked for for a bit. They had an expense reporting process like every large company, and I would travel on business occasionally, and even though I was a VP-level person, as they brought me in, I had to report even the tiniest expense if I want it reimbursed. So, if I bought a $2 coffee at the airport, then if I want to be reimbursed for that, I would have to not only put that on my expense report, but I would have to furnish a receipt for that. And this is way beyond IRS guidelines. IRS guidelines do not require that. They set some limits on which expenses required documentation and which don’t.

This really was super annoying. It added a lot of time to the expense-submission process. I know I lost a bunch because either I just didn’t get a receipt, or I lost the receipt, or something, and I always wondered if anybody looked at that. And, one time, I found out that they did actually looked at that when I stapled a quarter-inch of little papers to my expense report, somebody did look at it because accounting came back and said, “Oh, hey, you do not have a receipt for this $3 item here.” I don’t know where it went. I had it when I was doing the report, but it got lost somewhere. So, not only was it wasting my time but it’s wasting somebody else’s time who was reviewing all those.

And then, to cap it off, they came up with a solution to make it more efficient, where there was an electronic process that you could scan these receipts, take photos of them, you could then attach these JPEGs or PDFs to your electronic document, and it would go into an electronic workflow, and it was all wonderful except that was very efficient for the accounting people because you were documenting it in a very clean electronic way, you were assigning account numbers that were really cryptic to the average person, like, “What kind of expense is this?” You’ve got all these accounts that have accounting names, and you can’t really figure out where it goes.

So, basically, what they did was created a process that was efficient for them, but for the employee made it even more onerous and inefficient. And the point is, there was not a reason for this. Ultimately, I ended up asking the financial guy after he had left the company and I had left the company, I said, “Why did you guys do that? That seems crazy.” “Well, they did not trust the employees not to cheat on their expenses or put stuff down that they didn’t actually spend.” And, Pete, that brings us to the issue of trust, which I find underlies a lot of friction inside companies.

Roger Dooley
Now, I know you’ve had Paul Zak on the show, and his book “Trust Factor” is really amazing. And, as you know, he found that high-performing organizations have high levels of trust. And the converse is true too, and obviously if you’re asking your employees to submit $2 expense receipts and then denying expense reports because they forgot a $2 receipt, there is not much of a trust factor there, and this is limiting the performance of these organizations.

So, looking for those things, there is a great story in my book from GE way back in the Jack Welch days before the turn of the last century, and they asked that question that I mentioned, “How can I make your job easier?” to a group of union workers in manufacturing, not the most cooperative folks in dealing with management. And one guy spoke up and said, “Yeah, I handle sharp metal all day at my machine and I wear out a pair of work gloves every week or so. To get a new pair, I’ve got to shut my machine down, leave the building, go to another building, go to the tool crib, fill out a requisition form, find a supervisor to sign the requisition form, take it back to the tool crib, where then they will issue me the gloves, and I go back to my building and my machine, and that can take an hour or two depending on how hard it is to find a supervisor where there’s a line at the tool crib.”

And it turned out that the reason they had this rule was because they were afraid that people were going to steal gloves. So, the solution was put a box of damn gloves by the guys’ machine. And it turned out, he did not steal all the gloves every day, and they saved hours of time per week, plus they established that, “Okay, we trust you. We’re not making you go through this horrible procedure because we don’t think you’re going to steal a $2 pair of gloves.” It’s crazy.

So, I think that when you look at those procedures and see how many are based on lack of trust, when you fix those, not only are you saving time, but you are indicating that you trust your people.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s really resonating, that many rules come about from lack of trust. And so, underneath it all, if you have the trust in place, then you may not need those rules. That’s great. So, I love your question there on, “How can I make your life and job easier?” I’d love to get your view on what are some other ways that we can spot friction and common means of reducing it?

Roger Dooley
Well, I think that spotting it in the customer experience is both easy and potentially a trouble point. We have so many metrics now from our digital tools we can see where customers are slowing down, whether they are clicking on stuff that shouldn’t be clicked at because it can’t be clicked on.

Roger Dooley
If they are bailing out of a process, there are so many tools we can use that can give us some of this friction information. We can also ask them. But one thing that I’ve seen is even as we try and improve customer experience, and I call this the Heisenberg effect because Heisenberg says, “You can’t measure something without changing it.” He’s referring to subatomic particles, and I apologize in advance to any actual physicists who would say that’s an oversimplification of his Uncertainty Principle. But, basically, what I see happening is people try to measure their customer experience and end up affecting it.

Net Promoter Score is a decent metric, that’s where you ask if somebody is likely to recommend your company to someone else. And it’s, certainly, better than doing nothing, but sometimes the way people try and capture that is you go to a website with the intention of getting something done, you want to place an order, you want to get some information, what’s the first thing you see? A damn pop-up that is asking you if you want to do a survey when you’re done. Nobody clicks yes.

I’ve got that on slides that I do in my speeches, and I’ve shown that pop-up, or an example of that pop-up, to thousands and thousands of people, and I always ask, “Who actually clicks, ‘Yes, I’ll do the survey’?” And in all of those, I probably have like two or three people raise their hands and everybody else doesn’t. Nobody does that. So, you are annoying 100% of your customers to get a return of a fraction of a percent of them, and the fraction of a percent that answers is probably not representative.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, exactly.

Roger Dooley
They’re probably already pissed off at you for something and they’re looking for any opportunity to tell you that. And even worse, these things like hotels, or airlines, or cruise lines send you after your experience, I mean, normally I delete those things. I stay in hotels a lot when I’m traveling for speaking and such, and every time I get them, “A brief survey about your stay.” And I found these surveys are never brief, there’s always a million questions.

But I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express which enabled me to be on your show today. I’m significantly more intelligent because of that. And I found that the lighting in the hotel that I stayed in was kind of strange. It was cold lighting temperature, felt very industrial, and not warm and cozy, so I said, “Okay, I’m going to tell them about that. Maybe they don’t know that.” So, I actually opened the thing when they said, “Tell us about your stay,” and there were a few questions. Everything is on a scale of one to ten. Can you really rate whether your front-desk experience was a 7 versus an 8? You’re forcing people to really think about this, which is cognitive friction or cognitive effort that’s wasted with those fine gradations.

But, again, I get into it and I answered the first few questions. Then I get to this thing. It’s like a 10×10 matrix, asking me to rate all these different things and one big thing, again, from a scale of one to ten, and things like the pillows, the electrical outlets. And I didn’t even notice these things. I didn’t want to talk about them. I tried to skip over that so I could get to a form field that I could just type in my comment but it wouldn’t let me. I had to answer every single question to proceed with their stupid survey. And so, I just bailed out of the whole thing. It was just too much effort.

And when you make customers work like that, you are actually affecting their customer experience negatively when maybe they did want to tell you something but you just made it too difficult for them. United Airlines, I’ve been a 1K for five years and I have a special customer service line I like to dial into. It’s answered immediately every time, always with a competent US-based representative, so it’s a great service. But, amazingly, even though they recognize me when I call in, a little robot voice says, “Hello, Roger,” because they recognize my mobile phone.

And then before they connect me with a representative, I have to listen to a 15-second recording asking me if, at the conclusion of the conversation, I would like to answer a survey about the experience. And in order to say no, even though I’m on my mobile phone I’ve got up to my ear, I cannot use a voice command. Up to that point I could use voice commands to ask for a representative, but I have to take the phone away from my ear, open the dial pad, and click 2 to decline to do the survey.

And the crime in this is that these are their best customers, their most loyal customers, their highest-revenue customers, and they are slowing down every customer service interaction by about 15 seconds, at least, because of their desire to ask about the experience. I was tempted to say, “Yes, I’ll answer the experience,” and then say how annoying their little message was, but I suspect if I did that, that would not be an option. They would want me to rate the representative on whether he or she was helpful and so on. So, we see this just all the time, and companies are not aware that, even as they’re trying to make their service better, they’re making it worse.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, there’s so much in there, and I appreciate sort of like the broad span of examples. It’s sort of like, “Who are you making things easy for? Are you making it easy for the employee who processes that data?” “Yeah, we sure are. They’re able to say, ‘Cool, I’ve got my 10×10 matrix, I could see that pillows are really our problem here so effortlessly because of how that survey was formatted so I can just get right to it.” But you’re making it very not easy for the end party.

And so, it’s sort of like if we were to flip it around, the easiest possible thing they could do would be to say, “Hey, what do we need to know about your experience at our hotel?” And you can say, “The lighting was ghostly weird and I didn’t like it.”

Roger Dooley
Yeah, you’re exactly right, Pete. What I advocate is maybe a very simple checkbox. If you’ve seen those things at airports or other kinds of facilities where…

Pete Mockaitis
The happy face?

Roger Dooley
…they have like three or four emojis ranging from happy to sad with neutral in the middle, “How’s your experience?” People can relate to that. They don’t have to think about it. They can choose the happy one or the neutral one almost on autopilot because they know what kind of experience they had. And then give them a big empty blank space where they can say whatever they want. The problem is this doesn’t fit neatly in spreadsheets. It’s hard to take those answers. It takes extra effort, so that’s why I think companies don’t do that. They like to have that granular information of, “Hey, our pillows are up 10% from last year.” But that isn’t really helping the customer.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And, in a way, I guess I always come back to it doesn’t really take that much financial investment to turn that into something more usable because, you know, a temporary employee, an intern, could go ahead and say, pull themes out of these data, and then tell you, “Hey, out of 200 responses, 14 of them were about the pillows, and 70 of them were about the lighting.” It’s like, “Okay. Noted.” That took you some effort but not a lot of costs for that time to get there. And, boy, I, too, love those emojis. I love them so much I took a photo. And so, that can give you your quantitative stuff real quick. And then you really do need to get out of the way to provide an opportunity for that feedback.

And you got me thinking right now, I ask people to email me, “What do you think about the show?” pete@awesomeatyourjob.com. It’s like, “Can I make it even faster and easier? Like, tap a button or a link in the show notes description in your app player, and then write two words.” You got my wheels turning, Roger.

Roger Dooley
Right. You said you took a photo, I did, too, and I posted it on Facebook and said, “This is what survey should be like,” because it was like a three-button, three-emoji set of buttons. And a bunch of people immediately replied and said, “Boy, I never touch those because they’re outside the restroom, and I see all the people don’t wash their hands.” But if it’s a digital thing, you probably don’t have to worry about contamination.

Pete Mockaitis
We’re really covering our bases here. I love the thoroughness. Well, you tell me, do you have any further tips on when it comes to identifying and eliminating friction? Any top suggestions you want to make sure to cover before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Roger Dooley
Well, sure. I think there is something. We talked about Net Promoter Score, and I don’t have a problem with Net Promoter Score. I don’t think it’s the sole answer to whether you’re doing a great job or not, but it’s better than doing nothing for sure. There’s also something called Customer Effort Score that is designed in the same way that NPS does, measure how customers perceive their effort. And it is the perception of effort that counts.

You can say, “Well, boy, we’ve got best-in-class processes for our digital customers. We’ve looked at the competition.” They are not measuring you against your competition. They’re measuring you against Amazon and Uber and others. So, if somebody thinks they had a high-effort experience, that’s what counts. Even if yours is best of your breed, it doesn’t matter. If they thought it was high-effort, it was high-effort. And that happens to be a product, like Net Promoter Score is a product. You don’t have to use that particular product. But measuring customer effort in some way, I think, is good, or customer perception. Google does that.

I had a support session, I need some help with Tag Manager, which I would say is a pretty high-friction product if you’re not highly technical. And after it, they did not ask me a lot of questions about the person that helped me. They asked me whether I found the experience to be effortful or not effortful. I don’t recall the exact terms they used. But I thought, “Wow, this is really brilliant.” I see so many companies, after you complete an experience, they’ll ask you about it. And they won’t ask the right questions because I don’t think they want the answers.

I had a really awful interaction with my internet service provider where I could not find online what speed I was paying for, and it turns out that that information is not available online. You have to get it from a representative, which is bizarre to begin with. But I went through this conversation. The representative was fine. She’s very helpful and it was just their bad process. I had to come up with a four-digit code from an invoice and all this ridiculous stuff just to get the information, the bandwidth I was paying for. It wasn’t like I was trying to hack into the account. I just want to know what my speed was because I wasn’t getting it. And it turned out I was not getting it.

But, at the end of the process, they say, “Would you like to comment on this?” I was ready to comment at that point, having wasted 20 minutest just to find out my internet speed. So, instead, they did not ask me about what I thought about their company, whether I’d recommend them or anything like that. They asked me about the rep, whether the rep was courteous and helpful. And then they gave me like a thousand characters to talk about the representative. This is not the problem. I think that they did not want the answers to the real questions. They don’t want to ask people would they recommend them because they know that, typically, not just my particular one, but, in general, internet service providers and cable TV companies are at the very bottom of customer satisfaction scores, and so they don’t want that data. They ask about the rep.

And if you’re mad and you ding the rep, “Well, hey, okay, that was the rep’s problem.” It’s crazy but I think that asking simple questions and honest questions is the way to go. And ask about effort, then give people a chance to explain why. If they thought it was high-effort, it doesn’t seem like it’s high-effort, give them a chance to explain. You may find out that there is a reason for that customer it did seem like a lot of effort.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Roger, that’s so much good stuff. Now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Roger Dooley
Well, I will go to Richard Thaler, our Nobel Prize winner in behavioral economics, and he sort of echoes Jeff Bezos, but he actually won a Nobel Prize for this. He said, “If you want to encourage some activity, make it easy.” And that, I think, is a very powerful quote. It is repeated by behavioral scientists in various ways, but he is the voice of authority on that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, could you share with us a favorite book?

Roger Dooley
Yeah, there are so many. I would have to go with “Influence” by Robert Cialdini just because it’s the basis for so much. And if you read just that book, you will understand a lot about human behavior and, in particular, about how to change that behavior, about how to be persuasive and be influential.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share with us as well a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Roger Dooley
Probably a Pocket would be my number one. Pocket app, which is a reader app that when you see an interesting article someplace, you can save it to Pocket for later consumption. And this really increases your productivity in two ways. First of all, instead of being sidelined when you’re in the middle of something, and you see an interesting article, and pausing to click through and read it, which will interrupt your flow, you can just save it. So, you are staying in the moment, but not necessarily losing track of that article.

And then when you read it, Pocket strips out all of the unnecessary stuff, all the ads, the sidebar stuff, the links and everything else so you just see a very simple article. You can switch to a web view if you prefer, but they give it to you in a bare bones view as a standard. So, again, you aren’t distracted, you can consume it pretty quickly. And then you can consume it at your leisure. So, to me, that is a huge timesaver. And if somebody is looking to be a little bit less distracted in 2020, that would be a good place to start.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Roger Dooley
Well, building on the Pocket habit, every day after breakfast, I will sit with my dog on the couch and he will typically snuggle up. And I don’t know if you discussed that with Paul Zak, but when you snuggle with your pet, you both see a boost in oxytocin, so that’s one part of the good habit. And I read articles that I’ve dumped into Pocket over the last day and so I get some little productive time while I am snuggling with my dog. So, it’s a win-win.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Roger Dooley
Yeah, I think the theme of my book “FRICTION” can be expressed in a simple sentence, and that is, “Friction changes behavior.” And to build on that, even a little friction makes a difference. Going back to Jeff Bezos and one-click ordering, it was worth so much to protect that one tiny little bit of effort for Amazon, but people just don’t realize that. If you realize that by eliminating tiny, tiny bits of effort, you can be more successful. That’s really important.

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

Roger Dooley
The easiest place to start would be RogerDooley.com, and there I’ve got links to my other content, my blog at Forbes, my neuromarketing blog, my podcast is there, and my social profiles are linked, so a pretty good place to start.

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

Roger Dooley
Yeah, I would try and find at least one element of sort of pointless friction in what you’re doing, something that you can control or perhaps bring to the attention of somebody who can fix it. It can be something small. Maybe it’s a rule that doesn’t make sense. Maybe it’s a process that you can see a way to improve, it’s just that nobody has improved it. And even if it is not in your own organization, maybe you’ve had a bad user experience or a customer experience someplace else, don’t be afraid to call it out.

If it’s not within your company, call somebody out on social media and say, “Hey, look at this on your website, or in your mobile app,” or whatever the problem was, and there’s some chance that it will get fixed eventually. I found that I’ve done that a lot, and oftentimes it does not happen very quickly, but a couple of months later, I go back and, hey, they’ve fixed that. Now, was it my input? I don’t know. But, to me, I think it’s always worth trying.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Roger, this has been so much fun. I wish you much joy and little friction in your years to come.

Roger Dooley
Well, thank you, Pete, and I wish you, too, the same. And I really appreciate you having me on the show. It’s been a blast.

532: Achieving More through Smart Energy Management with Molly Fletcher

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Molly Fletcher explains how to expertly manage your energy to accomplish your best work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The key to better energy management
  2. Smart ways to beat burn out
  3. Why self-care shouldn’t make you feel guilty

About Molly:

Molly Fletcher is a trailblazer in every sense of the word—now a CEO, she shares unconventional techniques that made her one of the first female sports agents in the high stakes world of sports.

Too many leaders, teams, and organizations are stuck. Instead of achieving greatness, they remain stagnant, failing to reach their potential. That’s where Molly Fletcher comes in.

Items mentioned in the show

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Molly Fletcher Interview Transcript

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

Molly Fletcher
Well, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into so much of your wisdom associated with energy. But maybe, first, if we could go back in time, could you give us an exciting story from your adventures as one of the first female sports agents?

Molly Fletcher
Well, gosh, how much time do you have, man, because there are a ton?

Pete Mockaitis
I want a one-minute anecdote that will amuse and delight.

Molly Fletcher
Well, knowing your audience, I think probably some of them are moments when I found myself often as the only woman in the room, and whether it was the room being my office which was often the range at PGA Tour events or behind the plate at big league baseball games during batting practice, there were so many moments like that, that I found myself in walking practice rounds and I’d be mistaken as the wife, right?

I remember once, somebody looked at Matt Kuchar and said, “Are you kidding? I thought Sybi, his wife, I thought she had brown hair. Where’s Sybi?” thinking I was the wife, not the agent. So, there was lots of moments like that and I always try to tell people those were moments that I always try to reframe as gifts that were positive because I was different and I was being sort of noticed, if you will, as somebody that was a resource to my athletes in that way. And being different can be wonderful and it can be a gift, and so it was reframing those moments and also having great relationships.

My guys were often, probably 85% of my athletes were men, and I always try to ensure that my relationships with them were so strong that they always had my back. And I remember once being at a minor league ballpark, and about three or four of my athletes had run over during batting practice and we were talking about business stuff and all kinds of different things, and all of a sudden the manager started yelling at one of the guys, “What are you guys doing? Let’s go, man. Let’s quit hitting on that lady behind the plate, right?”

Pete Mockaitis
“Quit hitting on that lady.”

Molly Fletcher
Yeah, actually, I think the guys said, “That chick.” And my guys always had my back and I’m super grateful for that, they said, “Look, no, man, that’s my agent. We’re talking about stuff.” But there’s a ton of stories, Pete. I’d probably bore your listeners with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I think that’s just enough to set the stage, so thank you. And we’re going to dig into some insights associated with energy management, which I think is so, so important. I feel it every day. But maybe to kick us off, could you share with us a story that really shows why this stuff matters and can make a world of difference?

Molly Fletcher
Well, I wrote a book called The Energy Clock, which you’re referring to, and it’s just released January 1, 2020, and I wrote it because when I was an agent for almost 20 years, I watched athletes and coaches, the best of the best, do what they did. And what the best did was they were really intentional about the way they managed their energy because their level of sort of energy, their level of energy was integral to their ability to perform, and those two things went hand-in-hand, and the best athletes recognize that. They recognize that those two were tightly knit together.

And I remember I had a minor league ballplayer who was a first-round pick, he came out a complete stud, and early in his career he comes out and there’s a lot of opportunities for appearances, autograph signings, endorsements, commercials, all kinds of stuff. And I remember that he was young, and he was sort of beyond his years, in my opinion, and he looked at me, and he said, “I know this, right? If I go out and do what I know I can do as an athlete this season, everything else will work out. Everything else will work out. Like, if I go out and hit and do what I need to do in the field, and I stay healthy physically and mentally, and I’m rested, then everything else, all these opportunities will exist and maybe tenfold in a couple of years, so I’m going to lock in on doing what I need to do to perform at my best.” And he did.

And I think when I got into the business world, more specifically now, we run negotiation trainings, and I speak and write and we consult with businesses, what I saw was there’s such a connection between the way that I saw the best athletes and coaches perform and the way in which they managed their energy, and the way we, as business people, can be equally as intentional about the way we manage our energy so we, too, can perform in the work that we do at the highest level for us as individuals.

And so, that’s the premise of the book and the reason that I think it’s incredibly important for all of us so that we can show up and lead, we can serve our customers and our clients better, we can solve problems better, but we can’t do any of those things if we’re fried.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, completely agree, and I love that story because it shows right there and there, “Hey, I’ve made a decision, there’s a lot of opportunities,” and you might call them distractions, “a lot of places I could put my attention. But if I put the attention toward the thing that truly matters, being energized, alive, uninjured, performing well on the field, then that sort of unlocks everything.” So, I’m big into the 80/20 principle here, and definitely energy management falls neatly into the vital few vastly important 20% of things.

So, let’s dig into it. You’ve got your own experience working with athletes and folks. Can you tell us, as you’re doing your research and putting this material together, did you make any surprising or striking discoveries along the path?

Molly Fletcher
Well, I think the biggest one would be we see people that wake up every day and they’re busy, they’re going and going and going, but it’s like, a friend of mine told me the other day, velocity without a target means nothing, right? And so, I have seen, over and over again, people get to maybe the end of their lives where they have maybe chased the wrong stuff, and they’ve been busy, and they’ve been doing what they do but maybe they’re not fulfilled. And, to me, there’s a really big difference between achievement and fulfillment. And what I hope this book does is it helps people find fulfillment, which to me is what many of us are really after. We’re not really after external things.

And so, the intent of the book is to try to help people get really clear on the things that give them energy, and then how to be intentional about being systematic and intentional about walking those things and the way that you live your life every day so that you can show up and perform as your best because there’s nothing that breaks my heart more than folks that wake up and they’re not delivering the kind of value to the people that matter most in their lives. And part of it bubbled up in lots of conversations with friends and after keynotes from the stage or businesses that we work with.

And I remember distinctly, I was with a client and we were up at her, I guess, sort of her cottage, and we were sitting there. We were out on a boat and we’re having a great time, and she sort of started to share, and a little bit break down, that she was just exhausted, she said, “Look, my relationship with my daughter isn’t where it needs to be. My husband, we’re not as connected as we typically have been.” And she’s like, “And this new boss I have is just difficult, and I’m working all the time, and I’m travelling too much,” and she’s just venting, right?

And I’m listening, and I said, “Well, gosh, man, tell me this, what are you chasing?” And she looks at me and goes, “What are you talking about?” And I go, like, “What is this all for? Like, what are you chasing?” She goes, “What do you mean?” And I go, “Is it a promotion? Is it money? Is it another opportunity? Like, is it a car? I mean, what is this all for?” And she kind of got tears in her eyes, and she said, “I have no idea. I don’t know. I’m just going.”

And that was when I said, “Gosh.” And so, I sort of invented this energy audit thing that’s in the book, and it helps people get really clear on, “What are the things that give you energy? What are the things that are neutral? What are the things that drain your energy? And then, how can you be intentional about ensuring that the things that give you energy are a part of your daily life?” Because I believe if we aren’t intentional about giving ourselves the opportunity to live in a space that allows us to do the things that lift us up, then we can’t really serve the people that we lead and our customers, etc.

So, there’s lots of moments like that that caused me to want to take this thinking and what I saw worked with great athletes and coaches, and bottle it up in a way that connected to business people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is powerful and I’m just going. I mean, that’s, whew, that is a powerful sentiment, and I think I caught myself in there certainly from time to time.

Molly Fletcher
We all have. We sure all have, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s really great to say. And velocity without the direction is just you’re just going, as opposed to hitting a particular target. So, that seems like that’s one huge takeaway right there, is to have some clarity there on what are you, in fact, chasing and why does that matter to you.

Molly Fletcher
Absolutely. To me, having a really clear purpose that you filter things through is important, and there was a lot of moments in my life. Part of it for me is my parents really were my energy clock. They always helped me keep it set, and for that I’m so grateful, and my husband too. And so, what I hope this book helps people do is set their clock in a way that is sustainable, that it drives performance for them, whatever that might look like for them. It’s different for everybody, and that’s okay. I’m certainly not suggesting that I know how people can show up as their best selves.

But when we can create a system that’s sustainable, we hopefully get to our 90th birthday party, and we turn around in the room and everybody is there that we’ve nurtured in our lives. What always breaks my heart is people that go hard and they’re not quite clear on what they’re chasing, and then they get to the end of the days even, or the weeks, and they don’t have the energy for the people that matter most in their lives, and then potentially those sort of things unravel. And that’s that gap between achievement and fulfillment that I think is important to delineate that I think this book helps people solve for.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, let’s talk about when you say clock. Is there sort of an overarching metaphor or framework you’d like to orient us to here?

Molly Fletcher
Well, there’s things in all of our lives that give us energy. They are the things that when we’re doing them, time sort of stands still, or that after we feel better about who we are and how we feel, how we show up. And whatever those things are for people is different, but what I think is incredibly important is to be intentional about protecting that time. And that’s the correlation. I think there’s a really tight correlation between energy and time, but time is finite, right?

We have so many hours and minutes in a day, and I think if we’re not intentional, and what I’ve seen so much about protecting the things that give us energy, then we find ourselves, we don’t do them. And, over time, that leads to burnout, it leads to chasing the wrong stuff, it leads to disheveled, you know, folks that maybe aren’t their best selves. And so, what the book helps people do is get intentional and clear about the things that lift them up, and then protect that time in their calendars, and they color code those in green.

And then the things that are neutral in your life, and we take people through, it’s called the audit, and then the things that are neutral in their life, they’re not the things that necessarily lift you up but they don’t necessarily drain you either, right? But they’re a necessary part of the way that we show up and live our lives. And so, those things that are neutral, those are orange.

And then there’s the things that drain us, that are really exhausting, and those things are red. And I believe leaders, great leaders, will find that most, 80% of their calendar, we want to make sure is green. And leaders often have a little bit more control of their calendar and so they can be a little bit more intentional about protecting that time traditionally, because if we don’t protect it, if we don’t identify where we want to put our time, trust me, somebody else will.

It’s a little bit of what Nick Saban and Bill Belichick, and some of the best coaches the book talks about, which is control the controllables, right? Control what you can control. And controlling our energy, to me, is something that we, if we’re intentional and disciplined about, we can control it, and it helps us show up as our best.

Pete Mockaitis
So, there you have it in terms of thinking about the activities in your calendar. Is it filling you with energy? Green. Is it neutral? Orange. Is it a drain? Red. And shooting for 80% plus, green. So, now, let’s zero in on you mentioned something that fills you with energy. You said that time stands still and there’s an audit. I guess, so what are sort of the key guiding questions or indicators you look to in categorizing these things? Because I imagine that for some people it’s just obvious, like, “Oh, my gosh, when I go for a morning run with the dog, it just fills me with energy and it’s a delight.” But I think that there are also probably some surprises, like, “You know what, that meeting really sucks every time.” So, how do you kind of raise this more into your consciousness and get the clarity on the categorization there?

Molly Fletcher
Well, I would tell people, like, if you’re sort of listening to this, and you’re thinking, “I wonder how this applies to me,” I guess I would tell people, who maybe their energy clock isn’t set, to me, they don’t  have the time for the things that matter most in their lives. So, that would be a question I would ask them, “Do you have the time for the things that matter most?” And that’s obviously incredibly important because this thing called life is not a dress rehearsal, right?

And people who maybe don’t have their energy clock set, they feel distracted maybe, they’re disconnected, they’re probably exhausted, they find themselves maybe reacting and blaming and behaving defensively. So, I would say that, at a high level, if somebody that’s listening feels that way, what setting your energy clock allows you to do is to have the energy for the things that matter most, to feel energized and fulfilled and focused and connected, to anticipate more, to be curious, and to be comfortable being accountable in your own life.

So, I would say to anybody that’s listening that says, “Hi, I want to feel more like…” what I just said, then you ask yourself, “What are the things that give you energy? What are the things that lift you up?” And so, we could do it, Pete, with you right now. So, what are the things that give you energy? What are the things that lift you up in your life?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing.

Molly Fletcher
Are you open to that? I don’t want to put you on the spot.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that’s good. That’s good. Well, family time, good connecting with my wife and kids, prayer, spiritual time is swell. I’d say discovering stuff. I think that will often get really lit up in work in terms of it’s like I’ve discovered an opportunity, and I am excited about the implications of it, I’ve got several creative ideas for how to make it happen, and I’m just exploring and running after it. And I find that’s just…it gets me fired up. I’ve got some friends who tease me, like when I’m explaining one of these things to them, my hands are…

Molly Fletcher
Going?

Pete Mockaitis
…jumping, and they say, “I’ve got some things up here and I’m going to put them down here,” is what my hands are doing. Yeah, those are some of things.

Molly Fletcher
Okay, cool. And so, like family time, get me inside of that. What does that look like?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. Well, so we’ve got a two-year old, and almost a one-year old, their current ages.

Molly Fletcher
Wow, you’re busy.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure, yeah. It can be really anything. I mean, reading stories is fun. I think it’s fun when all four of us are kind of on the same bed at the same time.

Molly Fletcher
Yeah, totally. Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s nice. I don’t have to move too much, to sort of chase, “No, no, don’t put that in your mouth.” You’re more relaxed.

Molly Fletcher
Right, sure. What about discovering new stuff, like curiosity? So, that means you’ve got to make the space to have time to read and to have the head space to do that. That takes time.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s true. And as we talk about it, I really do. I think if I look at my day and I see it’s full of meetings, and I guess I would not count a podcast interview. In a podcast interview we’re discovering things so that kind of fits the difference. It’s meetings in terms of kind of administrative matters. It’s like, “We’re going to cover this, we’re going to ensure we’re all…the status of that.” I’d say when I look at a calendar and it’s full of that, I go, “Aargh, where do I get to play and explore and discover? I don’t see that time on this day.”

Molly Fletcher
Right. So, prayer, family time, discovering new stuff. And then what are the things that are kind of neutral for you, right? They don’t necessarily get you excited but they don’t really drain you either. I mean, they’re just sort of there, they just exist.

Pete Mockaitis
The first thing that comes to mind is sort of tidying my desk and email. They don’t fire me up but it really does feel good when they’re done. It’s like, “Oh, I’ve got a clear space. Oh, I’ve got a clear inbox.” I don’t have to worry that I’m leaving someone hanging somewhere.

Molly Fletcher
Sure. Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I guess those are neutral.

Molly Fletcher
Got it. And what about what are the things that really drain you, that are just exhausting? Like, you just talked about, just to clear stuff on your calendar, it sounds like that might be something that’s in the red, that’s a drainer for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I think that when it comes to things that resemble, I don’t know, this whole world of, like, this resemble accounting, bookkeeping, compliance, regulatory, insurance, those things. I understand these are necessary for the law and for taxes and for fairness.

Molly Fletcher
Sure. Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
But, boy, just sometimes it feels like the opposite of the new, creative, discovery, innovation. It’s just like making sure you’re not breaking any laws.

Molly Fletcher
Right. Right. And so, accounting book, operational kind of things is what I’m hearing you say, right? Some of those ops tight things that you have to do when you run a business.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, but at the same time I really do get a kick out of sort of identifying a great process and clearly documenting and explaining and training and disseminating that in terms of, it’s like, “Okay, now this is handled by somebody else forever.” That feels great. And, “Oh, that feels good that I have gotten to the bottom of this kind of puzzle.” So, when it comes to operations in like a process formulation and training sense, I kind of can get into it, but in terms of the, “Oh, let’s read the ins and outs of the exclusions on this insurance policy to make sure this is the right thing that I’m buying,” I go, “Ugh.”

Molly Fletcher
Yeah. And what you just said is awesome, and that’s what’s important is to say, “How can I maybe create a system to make this more efficient, these drainers? How can I create a process? Or, maybe, is there a way maybe in which I could delegate that to someone else, that that’s something that gets them excited, that that’s a gift for them? And that’s maybe something that I can hand to them.”

And so, inside of that audit, we identify, “How do we make sure that for Pete, that every day he’s got some prayer in his life, that every day he’s ensured that he’s got enough family time that fills him up, or every week?” Some days, I’m sure, you travel and you’re out, and there may be days when you’re not getting that time with the one- and two-year old, right? But how do you get that back so that maybe by the end of the week you feel whole that you got those things that lift you up in your life? And then what are those things, that discovering stuff, that curiosity, that lifts you up?

And so, what I think is important is to say, “How do you ensure that you take the prayer and the family time and the discovering stuff, and you’re intentional about blocking those off on your calendar in green, and you really protect that time so that it doesn’t get taken with an advent scheduling, a podcast interview with somebody over maybe a moment in which you needed some time to discover stuff?” Or there’s always time that you find yourself works well after the kids wake up from a nap if you can have that little 15 minutes of those things that lift you up with the kids.

So, it’s saying, “Well, how can you be intentional about putting those in your calendar in green, the desk and the email?” You know, one of the things that we know is that we can go from things that are neutral to things that lift us up, and we can go right to things that drain us. This is a fluid system in our lives. We can go right from a red, things that drain us, to a green immediately. We can shift right from one to another. So, what I try to encourage people to do is, “If we know that we’ve got things in our lives that we need to do that are in the red zone, how can we bake a green in front of it so that when we do drain ourselves a smidge when we’re sitting inside of that red zone, that we haven’t taken ourselves to an E where we’re empty, or maybe just half-full because we’ve given ourselves, we’ve lifted ourselves up a little bit in advance of those moments?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting. When you talk about empty and filling, it kind of is crystallizing it a bit more for me in my brain in that it’s a little bit more than just, “Hey, try to have more things that fill you up and fewer things that drain you.” But, also, kind of strategically considering the timing, the sequencing, the balancing over a day and a week. And so, do you have any pointers there with regard to, I think that was a nice one, in terms of, “Don’t go red, red, red, red, red or you will enter E”? You got me going now, Molly. Just paint a picture, what is E look, sound, feel like for people when you hit empty just so we can trigger some recognition, like, “Oh, yeah, that’s probably what’s going on here.”

Molly Fletcher
You know, I think you’re feeling really drained, you’re maybe really scattered, you’re disconnected, and just, generally, you’re frustrated. Those are the feelings that often go with when we find ourselves in that red space. And in the book, I have a sample calendar, and what I recommend people do is they literally, part of this comes down into anticipating the controllables in your life, and saying, “How can I go out…?” If you look at my calendar, I go way out, 30 days out, and I protect those things that give me energy. So, I would protect, if I was you, that prayer time, that family time, that discovering stuff time, I would actually block that out so that nobody can grab that from me.

And then I’m going to look really hard at the reds, and say, “Can I give these away to somebody else? Or can I be more efficient with them?” And then I’m going to look at the oranges too, and say, “How can I potentially be more efficient in this, in these areas of my life so that I can move through them more efficiently, more quickly, to get myself to a green?” But it’s about being intentional, and it’s about anticipating, and then looking back at the end of a month or the end of a week, and say, “How did I do?” Really evaluating, “How did I do? How do I feel at the end of the week? And how well did I execute against showing up with more green in my life?”

And I think there’s things that are inevitable. Like, if I’ve got to fly home. So, for example, one of the examples I actually used in the book is that my daughter was in a play early in the morning one morning and I really wanted to be there. To me, I want to be that parent that when my child looks out, I’m there. That’s really important to us. And so, I had to take a red-eye home from Vegas to get to the 8:30 a.m. play.

So, I’m in a red to get to a green to be able to be there in a moment that I wanted to be connected to my daughter. But that was a very intentional decision to say, “I’m going to wear it. I’m in a little red here but I’m going to be really intentional about when I’m in Vegas I’m going to get a massage, I’m going to get my workout, I’m going to minimize the number of calls that my team schedules for me during that window so that I can fill myself up so when I land, I’m not an E for this play, that I’m maybe at half-full but, still, I’m there, I’m present, I’m locked in, and I’m excited certainly, and feeling fulfilled to be able to show up in that way.”

So, it’s all about the way we prepare for these red moments so that when we shift, and maybe we’re at that play, we’re not on E but we’re still in a green zone, and we’re half-full, not on E. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you, yes. And, Molly, as you sort of kind of let us into your mental process, it’s very helpful. Thank you. I’m wondering if you catch some resistance from folks as you’re teaching this in terms of, “Oh, well, you know, you got to sacrifice and it can’t all just be about me and what feels good.” I’m curious, like if you catch some resistance, what does it sound like, and how do you respond?

Molly Fletcher
Yeah. And it’s interesting that you say that, Pete, because I actually felt that myself. I always felt like, “You know what, to fill your cup, your own cup up, is super selfish, and that isn’t right. It’s not right for me to go take an hour and get a workout in even though that takes me, and is a green for me.” But what I found is that if I can take that time, and I think we’ve all got to be respectful and careful and intentional about…I’m certainly not suggesting that a green is seven days a week, 24/7, if you want to have friends and family.

But what I realized is that if you don’t give yourself the things that give you energy, you can’t give it to anybody else in your life that matters most. So, I’ll give you a real example. I speak about 60 days a year on performance, and I had gone, I had like eight keynotes or something. It was a lot inside of a short window of time. I can’t remember the number, but let’s say it was like eight keynotes inside of like 13 days, which is sort of a lot. And it was Philly to Vegas to California, back to Miami, to Detroit. I mean, it was just a mess of kind of all over the country.

And I’d flown my mom in because our girls, we have three girls, and they were young at the time, and so I had flown her in to kind of help my husband with the girls. And I was sort of like five or six end of the eight, and I was exhausted. I mean, I was just exhausted. And I miss the girls, and I miss my husband, and I felt disconnected, and I felt drained and scattered and disconnected and frustrated and all those things that I referenced. I was in the red. But, yet, I’m paid to show up and be green because that’s my thing.

Pete Mockaitis
No one wants a tired keynoter.

Molly Fletcher
Right. So, I remember so vividly calling my mom, and I looked at my calendar, and I realized, “You know what, there could be a way that I could get home and I could get a little bit of family time and still honor every obligation that I had. If I had a board meeting, and if I left that board meeting just 12 hours or something earlier, I could get home, I could have a little bit of time with my girls. I could feel reconnected a little bit, get back on the plane and go do what I needed to do.

And it was a little bit of fire drill to make that adjustment but I thought, “I need to do this. I need to do this because I need to feel connected to my family in order for me to keep going.” But it was a window, when I came back, so I did. I came home and I pulled my kids out of school and we went and got a picnic, and we got ice cream, we had lunch. I showed up at their lunchroom and they looked at me, and they’re like, “Mommy, what are you doing here?” And I said, “Hey, I talked to your teachers. We’re good to go. We’re going to take the afternoon.” And they were in like third or fourth grade so I could do that, right? They weren’t going to fall significantly behind.

And we did, and then I got on the plane, and I went to the next keynote, crushed the next three, came home, and that’s when I looked at my mom, and I said, “I’ve got to create a system so that that doesn’t happen again.” And so, that was the beginning of a lot of this stuff, and I literally took my keynote calendar and we took weeks, we blocked them out, and we put red lines on the weeks with my team, and now I typically do two, at most three, inside of a five-day window. I’m really careful if I have a week with three that the next week, I only have one. And so, part of that is having the discipline to say no, which is really hard.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, money that does not enter your bank because of your discipline. It is hard.

Molly Fletcher
Right, but the messaging, I think, is when I’m saying no to something, I’m saying yes to the things that matter most. And so, with the clarity around the things that lift you up, it gives you the confidence, the courage, and the discipline, at the end of the day, in order to have the courage to say no to something because you know, “I’ve gotten really clear on this at a time when I wasn’t feeling pressure to make a decision. I’ve gotten clear on what matters most. Now I’m going to have the discipline and the courage to say no inside of these moments.”

And this showed up for me a little bit when I was a sports agent. I had a team of nine agents, I had 300 athletes and coaches, and my strategy then was to try to fill their cups up so much when I could so that between 6:00 and 9:00, when I was home, and my girls were needing me, whether it was homework, or prepping for bed, or a tough conversation that they wanted to have, or stuff going on with their friends, or you name it, I could let those calls go to voicemail because athletes will call you 24/7. But I had gotten clear on, “I’m going to fill their cups up so much when I can so that when I need to honor my kids and my husband, I can do that and I can do it with confidence because I’ve filled them up so much in the other moments that they respect that window of time that I’m honoring my family.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is super handy. And so, I’d love to hear, as you’ve taught this to many folks and they implement it, can you share some of the recurring discoveries in terms of, “Wow, I overlooked this,” or, “It turns out this little thing makes a world of difference for energizing me”?

Molly Fletcher
Yeah. And that’s why I do this work, right? It’s the emails, it’s the notes from LinkedIn, it’s the stuff that people send on Instagram and Twitter, I mean, that is why I do this. It’s so fulfilling. I had somebody the other day that said, “I just did this energy audit with my husband. Both of our calendars are color-coded now. I am so excited to lean in 2020 sort of in this new way.”

And what I think people find is the clarity in itself is incredibly powerful. Even just when we did this with you, the clarity around, “Here’s the things that really, really lift me up. And if I had all those things in my life, one to two, maybe all three of them every day, imagine, would I be a better husband, would I be a better father, would I be a better leader, would I be a better community?” All those things, what we hear from people is, “Yes, here’s the things that…”

I take a gentleman that I’ve renamed in the book, his name is Frank in the book, but it was a real person. But when we took Frank through this, it was incredibly powerful because now he’s clear on the things that lifts him up, he’s been disciplined and intentional about protecting it on his calendar, and now the byproduct of that, inside of usually 20, 21, 30 days, is a person who’s showing up better at work, showing up fulfilled at home, showing up more connected to the people that matter most, more energized for the clients that they serve, the customers, for the team members that they work with. So, those are the stories that we hear.

And what’s really powerful is when people get really clear on the things that drain them, the things that, for you, the ops kind of stuff that you don’t love, my hope and dream and prayer and wish is that you hang up from this podcast, and you go back and you go, “You know what, I’m going to try to find a way to either delegate this or create some better systems so that this shows up a little bit less in my life.” And maybe there’s still a role for it in your life as a business owner, right, we need to be aware of those things, “But how can I maybe dial that back a little bit and then obviously my week looks a little bit better?”

So, I think this is something that works for the whole person not just a business person, and certainly it can work for somebody that works out of the home, as a caregiver in the home. I mean, this is a powerful thing too. And I think it’s incredibly important for men and women that are at home caring for their family are super intentional about that or resentment kicks in in a big way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear you. Well, so then I’d love to get your notion. So, we talked about some doing the audit and getting particular about your own unique things. Can we hear about a couple common discoveries in terms of, hey, a lot of people seem to have discovered that, I don’t know, it’s a nap, or meditation, or eating apples with peanut butter. Is there any little something that makes a big impact that shows up for a lot of people?

Molly Fletcher
Yeah, that’s an awesome question. One is to create an opportunity with somebody that you trust and that wants nothing from you but for you to be your best self, for them to hold you accountable, for them to have access to your calendar, to have access to being able to connect with you about how this is going. So, somebody that you’re willing, we hear from people that they have shared this with, told them that this is something that’s important to them, that they’re leaning into and that they’re trying to do, and that every 30 days, “Would you ask me how am I doing as it relates to setting my energy clock and keeping my clock set? How am I doing?”

And we have, by the way, if you go to the EnergyClock.com, there’s all kinds of resources for folks when they buy the book both as individuals, as teams, and as leaders, that they can access, that helps them sustain their energy clock, so accountability. And then having monthly check-ins with their accountability partner at least every month where they can check in and assess how they’re tracking on keeping their clocks set, because that’s the most important thing, right? It’s not they read a book and they feel great for a week. We want to change behavior over the long haul. And so, we find that when people have accountability and then a system with that accountability partner that works best for them, that the sustainability is just better.

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

Molly Fletcher
No, it’s just I’m super passionate about this. It’s fun to talk about, so most importantly I hope this conversation helps people.

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

Molly Fletcher
One that comes up for me right now because I just saw it on the wall of an office for a company that I’m speaking to, is, “Treat every customer like they’re your only customer,” is I think kind of a cool quote. That one comes to mind.

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

Molly Fletcher
I just interviewed Shawn Achor on my podcast, and he anchors a lot of the work that he does, and he wrote The Happiness Advantage with a lot of research. And I love that conversation because he talks about gratitude and joy. And the research that he’s done over 55 countries on it, which is incredibly powerful, and how I thought this was staggering, Shawn said, “Molly, in the 55 countries and all the work that I’ve done, I found that if people do at least one of these three or four things, the gratitude journal, identifying the things that bring them joy…” if people do one of the three or four things that he mentions, they find themselves happier, and he measures that.

So, I’m super intrigued with the work he does. I’m a big fan of all of the research that Brene Brown does, Adam Grant. I read all of their stuff, everything that they do, and I’m grateful to call them friends. So, they are probably a whole lot smarter than me, right? They’re working inside of a lot of institutions. I’m not a researcher at all so I lean on other people for that, so I’m grateful for their work that I can lean on.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Molly Fletcher
The Alchemist is one of my favorite books. I just think it is so cool the way that it’s just a powerful read. I’ve read it several times. That book is one of my favorites. Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism I’m a huge fan of, The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr, I love. Those are a couple that come to mind. And, of course, all the work from whether it’s Adam Grant to Shawn Achor to Susan Cain. I’m a big fan of anything they put out, I grab and read.

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

Molly Fletcher
Just because it’s on my mind, obviously some of the stuff that we’ve talked about really helps me show up in the work, that I do better when my clock is set. I feel like I’m a better leader. So, that is a tool that I certainly do use myself personally, that my team uses, that we all use it, that I think helps us certainly. I’m grabbing my phone right now. I would say, probably, another one would be Slack. My team and I use Slack, and that’s a tool that we use, and I find it drives some efficiency which is powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Molly Fletcher
A favorite habit would be the gratitude journal or the five-minute journal. I do that whether if I’m travelling, I use my app. If I’m home, I try to write into my book. I like writing it better. But that, to me, is a pretty powerful tool. I love the five-minute journal.

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?

Molly Fletcher
One would be, “When you ask for the business, you get advice. And when you ask for advice, you get the business.” That one is a big one. People love that one. And I also reframe it for young people that are listening, “When you ask for a job, you get advice. When you ask for advice, you get a job.” That one is powerful too. That would be one that people really connect with. When you ask for the business, you get advice. When you ask for advice, you get the business.

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

Molly Fletcher
MollyFletcher.com, there’s all kinds of stuff that leads into the book stuff. Of course, our workshop business, our negotiation training programs, all of that comes out of MollyFletcher.com.

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

Molly Fletcher
I would challenge them to set their clock, to get really energy clock, to get really clear on the things that lift them up, the neutrals, how to be more efficient, and the drainers, or delegate those, and set it. Find somebody to help hold them accountable every 30 days. And my hope and my prayer, and what we’re seeing with the people that we work with now is somebody that shows up more fulfilled and more connected to the things that matter most. So, that would be my challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Molly, this has been lots of fun. I wish you much energy in the weeks ahead.

Molly Fletcher
All right. You, too, Pete. Thanks for having me on and thanks for the work that you do.

527: How to Boost Energy through Greater Mental Clarity with Chris Baréz-Brown

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Chris Barez-Brown says: "You'll be amazed where your brain can take you."

Chris Baréz-Brown shares high-impact approaches to boost your energy for more fulfilling workdays.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The surprising root of our energy problem
  2. The tiny change that massively boosts productivity
  3. A powerful way to lower stress and find clarity

About Chris:

Author and global event speaker, Chris has over 25 year’s experience in coaching, and counts multi-nationals such as ITV and Sky amongst the clients he’s helped transform their business, from a personal level up. He has interviewed senior business leaders including Apple’s Steve Wozniak and regularly coaches on leadership style at global events like Leadercast.

Chris recently created a new social enterprise programmed called Talk It Out, which has been proven to help reduce stress levels and increase self-awareness.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Chris Barez-Brown Interview Transcript

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

Chris Barez-Brown
Hey, it’s absolutely a pleasure to be here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am so intrigued. You have taken the bold step of naming your business Upping Your Elvis. Please explain.

Chris Barez-Brown
Yeah, usually it raises an eyebrow or two to that. So, the name was actually inspired by Bono. So, when he was doing his third-world debt campaign, he used to want to go in organizations and work with and play really fast. So, he used to ask what I think is a great question, he just asks people, “So, who’s Elvis around here?” Now, if you ask that question, people are going to always answer it because what you’re really asking is, “Who here is a bit of brown, a bit of a maverick, they get stuff done, they got loads of energy about them?” And they love every minute of it. Now, I fundamentally believe that business needs more Elvis now than ever, and I know that we’ve all got a bit more of Elvis to bring. So, that’s what we do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. Well, energy, I mean, hey, I’m all about having more of that. Can you paint a picture for us, what’s sort of the current state when it comes to energy levels in the workplace? And, yeah, what’s to be done about it?

Chris Barez-Brown
Well, I think the biggest problem is that we’re just not designed for business, and business is not designed for us. So, if you think about the way that we’re programmed, yeah, we’re designed 50,000 years to be hunter-gatherers on the Savannah and, therefore, we’ve got quite interesting programming as far as our brain is concerned, the way we react to stuff.

The business world in which we live right now is changing so quickly and it’s very hard to keep up with the dynamism of what’s going on when we are 50,000 years old. And, therefore, we have a few problems, like we don’t like change, we can’t focus for more than 90 to 120 minutes a day deeply. We’re not actually designed to sit down. We’re designed to move.

A lot of our design is making sure we have habitual patterns and routines we do every single day. And if things are changing fast, we’ve got problems. So, I think we’ve got some work to be done on our energy because we’re just not dealing with the way the business is speeding up.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. Well, so then maybe to paint a picture in terms of what’s really possible for us, could you maybe share a tale of someone who wasn’t feeling it so much, they didn’t have a whole lot of energy, but then made some changes and has been enjoying the fruits of those labors?

Chris Barez-Brown
Yeah, so I was working in Basille last summer and a guy came up to me, and he said, “Chris, you’ve changed my life.” And I’m like, “Good. That’s a wonderful thing to hear, but can you give me some details?” And, basically, I haven’t seen him for three years. And when I was working with him, I shared how I manage my time and he had basically taken the principle of that and applied it to his.

It tells the story that basically he works in drug development, which is obviously quite a big job, it’s very complex, lots of moving parts. But what he did was he just stepped back from it and realized there’s two main things that he does. The first thing that he does is he spends lots of time doing deep thinking, and it’s all creative, it’s analytical, it’s looking at lots of data and working out what the answers are. And it’s quite cerebral stuff.

The second thing that he does is he runs lots of things internationally. Now, what he was doing before he met me was mixing those two functions up throughout the day, but actually they need two quite different energies and quite different approaches. So, what he now does is he walks the dog first thing in the morning, and I think this is a key thing for us all to do. Go outside, spend some time in nature thinking about, “What is your big thing you need to deliver that day?” Because if you don’t work that out when you wake, it ain’t going to happen. So, that’s the first he does.

The second thing he then does is he spends the morning at home doing that deep work, the thinking analyses, all of that great stuff, and then he goes into the office and he spends the rest of the day doing things. He reckons he is 500% more productive as a result of it and a lot happier because he’s not scrapping around so much trying to make different energies meet when it’s almost an impossible task. So, that’s a simple example of how a very easy behavioral practice can change the way we work.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And so then, what do you think are the key reasons behind why these little changes make all the difference? Five hundred percent, I mean, that is substantial.

Chris Barez-Brown
That is substantial. Well, it’s all about really having great awareness of what makes us tick and how we function. And, actually, with awareness, it comes in very, very simple things, but we do them every day all the time. And the fact that they are things that we do repetitively, such as have meetings, learn and get feedback, think creatively about stuff. It’s stuff we’re doing on a daily basis. If we get just 10% better at doing those, there’s always an exponential impact over a whole year. So, I’m a massive believer in little things that you do every day that make a difference rather than the big, tricky, complicated things that actually a lot of the big change programs are focused on over the years.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I’m with you there. And I’m intrigued by one of the little changes you’ve been exploring lately. You’ve got a Talk It Out program. Please explain. What is this all about?

Chris Barez-Brown
Yes. So, Talk It Out is a creative exercise that I first wrote about in my first book in 2005. And we’ve taught it to thousands of people and it’s great for getting insights and ideas. So, basically what you do is you grab a buddy and you go for a walk, and one of you just talks flat out about whatever it is that you’re trying to work on while the other person just listens. Now, if you do that fast enough and long enough you run out of conscious story and then you start to get into your subconscious. So, it’s great for an unearthing more of your creative genius.

Now, we’ve done that many times for ideas and creativity, but time after time people are coming back and saying, “I’ve got great insights, I’ve got great ideas, I’ve got more clarity. But you know what, I just feel better.” So, we’ve realized there was potentially some therapeutic benefits to this so we’ve researched it with the University of Bristol, and it turns out, to no surprise, it reduces anxiety, it increases happiness, and as a lot of people described, it just feels as if a weight has been lifted off their shoulders.

So, the way that we’ve been thinking about it with the University of Bristol is we’re great at looking after our bodies with exercise and nutrition. This is a very simple thing you can do for your mind to make sure that, with all the complexity and demands on our attention, we just get the focus of the right stuff, and we give ourselves a chance just to breathe a bit more.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly, that sounds great and that’s really intriguing. So, you say after the first few minutes. Explain. We sort of drain the conscious stuff, and then we’re into new territory. How does that work exactly?

Chris Barez-Brown
Yeah. So, if anyone says to you, “So, how’s life?” you will tell them the conscious story, and it’s a story you would tell your family, your friends, it’s, “Oh, work is okay. It’s a bit busy, dah, dah, dah. The house is fine. It’s great to see the kids. Boom, boom, boom.” It’s that kind of conscious story. Now, as long as you’re telling that story, you are stuck in that 5% to 10% of your conscious brain.

Now, we know that there’s so much processing that’s going on in our subconscious. Actually, if you want to tap into what really makes you tick, tapping into that subconscious is the way forward because there’s a lot of stuff that’s going there that’s beneath the surface, that it often takes the way we think and the way that we feel without us being aware of it. So, if we can flush that out, we will start to understand what’s really going on for us, and rarely is it the conscious story. It’s usually some stuff that’s a bit surprising, it’s hidden away.

By bringing it into consciousness and by bringing it into the light and talking about it with somebody else, we can look at it in the cold light of day and then deal with it, and say, “Well, is this something that I want more of in my life, the less of in my life? Is this something I need to fix? Is it something that I just need to live with?” But if you leave it just in the subconscious, you’ll never know. You’re just often walking around, going, “There’s something bothering me but I don’t know why?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. And so then, that’s intriguing because you have that dedicated time. And you recommend a specific amount of time. How much is it?

Chris Barez-Brown
I do. So, the whole process, we pack away in an hour, but you do 20 minutes each way and, obviously, there’s little setup beforehand, and then after 20 minutes you just need to land where you’ve got to, and then you swap over, you go the other way. And the beauty of it is, if you do it with a buddy, you both get a chance and, therefore, there’s a real connectivity that comes from that.

And one of the biggest issues we’re going to be facing over this planet over the next 20, 30 years is actually loneliness. And loneliness has a massive impact on our wellbeing. And what we hear time and time again from people doing Talk It Out is, “Yes, I feel better. My anxiety has dropped. I’ve got more clarity but I also then feel so alone.” And that’s the beauty of, therefore, doing it in a partnership.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then, let’s hear it. So, we got 20 minutes of each side, and then some setup. And so then, how does it go down? Is it just sort of like, “Okay, you talk, Chris,” and then away you go or are there some prompts, some structure? How does it go down?

Chris Barez-Brown
Well, so we’ve got some digital stuff that people can access online for free just to teach them how to do this because this is a charitable arm so we’re trying to get this out to as many people as we can. So, it’s all structured. If people want to check it out, you can find out on TalkItOut.org or Upping Your Elvis, there’s information about it. It’ll just give you a little setup.

So, if you haven’t done this before, it’s good to just get a warm up in. If I’m facilitating a session, I’ll often get a pair just to go for a quick one-minute walk in either direction and just rant about something just to get used to walking and talking. You then come back and then at that point, you set them off and you’re taking turns, say, “Whoever wants to go first, rants.” They can talk about any aspects of their life.

The key thing is it’s something that is on their mind. It might be health, it could be relationships, it could be work, but the key thing is they shouldn’t be filtered. They’re just talking flat out and as honest as possible, and actually with a bit of pace because you don’t want to talk too slowly or you don’t run out of conscious story. So, that’s the brief, it’s as simple as that.

Now, their buddy, their brief is great because all they’re listening for is changes in energy. So, if the person talking slows down, speeds up, gets stuck, starts swearing, those are the things that are interesting. So, we pick up on those energetic changes really well. We’re not listening to everything that’s said, we’re just looking for the energy changes. And those are the things that give us a clue that they said something interesting because that’s how the subconscious talks to us.

So, when you stopped after 20 minutes, your buddy just goes, “Hey, here’s a few things I noticed,” and they just play it back. They’re not advising you, they’re not coaching you, they’re not telling you what to do, they’re just saying, “Look, I just thought these may be interesting.” And then you have a chance to land it. And, invariably, when people land it, they’ve definitely got more clarity.

If you rant for 20 minutes about your life, you will get more clarity. A lot of people get some key insights into things that are holding them down and actually blocking their energy. And a lot of people come away just going, “You know what, I’ve got some actions from that. This is what I’m going to be doing differently from today,” which I think is a pretty productive use of 20 minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, when you say land it, what precisely do you mean there?

Chris Barez-Brown
Well, the challenge with doing any subconscious exercise, and actually the same could be said of dreaming, we often wake up in the morning, we’ve got this dream in our heads, and we go, “Wow, that’s amazing. I have to tell my friends at work.” We go to work and we can’t remember anything because, actually, when you’re in the subconscious, by definition, that’s not part of your conscious activity.

So, what you need to do when you’ve gone through this rant is make it conscious. So, you, therefore, need to listen to your buddy, what insights they’ve had from your rant, and then you’ve got a chance just to articulate where you’ve got to, “So, after just doing this exercise, what I’ve realized is this, or what I’d like to pay attention to is this. This is the headlines of my output.”

And, actually, by articulating that, it helps you access it, sorry, plumb it, write it into your memory so you’ve got something you can work with into the future. So, it’s as simple as that. It’s just a simple way to make sure you are using the insight that you’ve got.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you say you can talk about anything just so long it’s something on your mind and you are talking completely honestly, so then I guess I’m curious, have you started to notice some themes in terms of…? Because it’s kind of unique, frankly, to have the opportunity to rant about something for 20 minutes without interruption.

Chris Barez-Brown
Sure. Yeah, it is.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I can how there’s some therapeutic benefit to that. So, when people are handed this opportunity, what do you find are some key themes that get talked about and maybe are suggestive of we need more opportunity and environment to be able to discuss these things more frequently?

Chris Barez-Brown
Well, there are the classics that come out. So, being overly busy and not really living life as much as people want to, not tapping into their passions, people still talk about work-life balance quite a lot. There’s a fair amount of people who are looking for more meaning in their life, which is an ever-present one as it should be.

Most people just tend to find there are certain elements in their life that need a bit of order. We have a lump of people that come around going, talk to me saying, “Hey, I’ve got a problem with a relationship,” and it’s very top of mind, and they get straight into it, and they find that that works. Interestingly, a lot of people go and say, “Well, I just talk about life.” They don’t know what their issue is they want to crack, but the subconscious will help them get there.

So, as they talk, it changes topic to topic to topic until they find the thing that’s got some energy and then they go deep. So, it’s interesting the way the brain works, right? It kind of finds the true blockages and the true things that hold us back if you let it off to lead long enough.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. Well, so then, I’m curious, if we don’t have Chris and company facilitating these sessions, how do you recommend we get started in enjoying some of these benefits on our own?

Chris Barez-Brown
Sure. Well, I would check out the digital support that we’ve got on the website, so Upping Your Elvis or TalkItOut.org. It’s got everything there. It’s got instruction videos, it’s got a little step-by-step guide, but it’s incredibly easy. There’s lots of things I’ve taught in my life that needs manuals and training and practice, this is not one of them.

We are all brilliant at walking. And guess what? We can talk while we walk. In fact, most of us talk much better while we walk because we process kinesthetically. There’s a great research study by Stanford that shows that when we walk in our natural gait, our creative spikes by up to 60%, 6-0 percent, and that’s because we are accessing our subconscious.

So, we’ll often find, when we’re walking, we just get more clarity and more things come out, so there’s not a great deal to it. The important thing is, and this is the golden rule, whilst you’re talking and your buddy is listening, your buddy just listens. That is the golden rule. As long as people are doing that, it’s good. If they start chipping in and having a conversation, which is really tempting, you’ll not going to get the depth and it’s just chat. So, beyond that there’s very little you can get wrong. Just have some fun with it and you’ll be amazed where your brain can take you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that seems like a powerful approach to boosting energy certainly. What would you say, in all of your research and experience and working with clients, etc., are some of the other really big high-leverage activities you’d recommend folks engage in to boost that energy?

Chris Barez-Brown
That’s a great question. We just spent the last year doing what we call energy experiments where we will do ourselves what we hope what our clients will do. And we’ve done everything from using different kind of strategies for sleep, fasting, some fitness stuff, digital detoxes. And, interestingly, there are some of those that just resonate more than others, one of which is a morning routine.

And morning routines, I don’t know what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years, but I had no idea of the power of a morning routine. And yet the more I research it, the more I realize all my heroes and heroines were already doing it just quietly but the secret is now out. So, my belief of why this is so important is when you wake up, it is the one time of the day that you own. Now, that is the moment that actually is, as long as you stay away from your phone and you don’t look at anything digital, you have a chance to get your energy right.

So, we’ve been doing some experiments with some very simple things as part of a morning routine, one of which you’ve got to hydrate when you wake up. So, we wake up very dehydrated, so drink a pint of water with some sea salt in it, high-quality sea salt because you need the electrolytes to take it on, and you should do that on waking.

Keep away from everything digital, get your heartrate up, just a little bit of exercise, and then I think sitting outside, as I mentioned with the guy walking the dog, and just getting clear on what your big thing is, is just an invaluable thing to do because you know autopilot is going to kick in, you know you’re going to get caught up in busyness. But if you get that direction right first thing in the morning, at least when it does, you’ve got a chance and you’ll succeed and achieve something useful.

So, that is one I absolutely love and that’s where we get uniform feedback that that is super useful. But a personal passion of mine, and I’m going off of one slightly, is cold water immersion. I don’t know if you’re into that, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ve heard of it, and I’ve seen it. Tell us more.

Chris Barez-Brown
So, I go into it through Wim Hof, the Dutch guy is known as Iceman a few years ago, and I live by the sea so cold water is not hard in Britain. But the benefits of getting into the sea, especially around December, like it is now, just seems to be fantastic at doing all sorts of things for you. Very, very good for you physically, very good for you also mentally, I find. It tends to clear things out, makes you incredibly present, but it’s an extreme one, Pete. So, I’m not going around making my clients do that. It’s one that I personally really enjoy. If I start the day with a jump in the sea, I know I’m going to be fizzing.

Pete Mockaitis
Hotdog. And, now, so I guess I’m thinking about motherly wisdom, “Oh, don’t get super cold. You’ll get sick.” That does not happen to you?

Chris Barez-Brown
Well, no. I mean, it’s actually good for your immune system. So, by exposing yourself to cold, chances are you’ll get less sick. I know lots of people that do it every single day of the year, that it’s almost a religion to them, and they are the fittest people I know. You rarely see them with a cold, you rarely see them run down. So, no, I think quite the contrary.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. Well, so we’ve got a few of them, a few of those approaches, so we got the morning piece, we got the hydration, we got perhaps a dip. Once the morning has passed, so what are some of your top recommendations for keeping energy flowing the rest of the day?

Chris Barez-Brown
Sure. So, there’s a couple of, I think, ignored moments. Well, one is lunchtime. It’s amazing how many people work through their lunch and they don’t take a break. Our lunchbreak is the equivalent of five weeks holiday a year, and yet people just keep working through it. And five weeks holiday, I think, most people would really relish so we should take that. And it’s important because it’ll help us reenergize but, actually, we can use that time really well for us. We can do stuff that fill us. So, we can learn something, we can connect with people, and give ourselves a boost again for the afternoon.

Personally, a little bit of exercise is great at lunchtime. So, using the lunch also to reflect on the morning and then set an intention for the afternoon, I think, is a very clear thing to do. I’m also, and I have to confess, Pete, I’m a cheeky napper, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Cheeky?

Chris Barez-Brown
Yeah, I sneak off and have a little sleep when I can in the afternoon. And what I learned from Nick Littlehales, a sleep coach, is that we’re not designed to be monophasic in sleeping. So, this whole idea of having eight and a half hours every night in one big block is not the way we’re designed. We’re actually designed to be polyphasic, i.e., we’re going to sleep more than once in a day. And, therefore, if you feel as if you need a little top-up, a little nap during the day is actually what our body often craves.

So, I’m a big fan of actually going away, just having a little quiet time just to refuel. In fact, I had one just about an hour and a half ago. And I’ve been working about 11 hours flat out, I’ve been up very early this morning, had lots of stuff to do, and I just need a little boost before I talk to you. So, a little nap and here I am.

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

Chris Barez-Brown
Anything else I want to mention. Well, I think, as I said at the beginning, the whole game here around energy is threefold. Number one, it’s about awareness. We need to understand what makes us tick, and actually learning the way our biorhythms are like, and when we have our peaks and when we have our dips, and what we can do to play with those, I think, is really, really important.

I think, then, understanding how that’s kind of deployed on a daily basis to make sure that the leakages don’t happen through excessive meetings, through spending far too much time in the weeds, answering emails, all those things, is key to our success. So, awareness and topping up, that’s one and two really important, but the deployment is the thing that, I think, makes all the difference because it’s so easy these days to just wake up and be buffeted by demands. And learning how to manage things so you’re working on your agenda is the key.

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

Chris Barez-Brown
I suppose one of my favorites is, “Not everything that counts can be counted.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Chris Barez-Brown
I like that one. I like that one because, in my business, I’m sure you come across the same thing, it’s all about ROI. Everything is about the number. It’s all about the money. And yet the stuff that makes people tick in organizations is the stuff that you can’t count. It’s about joy. It’s about love. It’s about the stuff that brings people to work to do extraordinary things. There’s nothing to do with our salary. And I find that in every walk of life, not just in work but in homes and in life. And I think we need to remember sometimes, not everything is about spreadsheet.

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

Chris Barez-Brown
I presume you’ve read Lost Connections, the Johann Hari book. There’s so many studies in there. And I know that the book is all about depression and anxiety, and how you can find hope, but I just think it’s like a manifesto for living. It’s got so much stuff in there that basically can help us have an insight and to have every day work for us.

And there’s one piece of research in there that just pretty much slayed me. If you are intensely lonely, the impact on your body as far as cortisol and adrenaline, is the equivalent or more of being hit in the face by a stranger. And when you hear facts like that, and you start to think, “Well, what are we doing to help people get that connection?” I think that takes me to quite profound places and it makes me think that actually we need to do much better work on this planet and within organizations to get them to hook up on stuff with meaning.

So, that was one that certainly had a big impact on me.

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

Chris Barez-Brown
One of my favorite tools, and this isn’t directly for my job, is my guitar. It’s not that I go on stage and play it, that’s certainly not what I would make everyone do. But I travel quite a lot, and what I find is that 20 minutes of playing my guitar in my hotel room is the best way for me to get my energy back. It takes me to a different place, it de-stresses me, there’s a creative output, and, therefore, it helps me get in the right place to do the work the next day. So, I would say my favorite tool is my guitar.

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

Chris Barez-Brown
I would say being outside with my dogs is my favorite habit. So, I’ve been out with them three times a day. Each time I have gone out with a headful of stuff. Each time I’ve come back with it nice and clear again. And walking in nature, playing with dogs who love you beyond your worth, and just remembering the simple things in life, I think, is incredibly grounding.

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

Chris Barez-Brown
I suppose the one thing that seems to connect with everybody, that they sometimes forget, is that a third of our days on this planet are work days. And if we’re not loving every minute of it, it’s a terrible waste of life. And I think sometimes people forget the joy and the playfulness of the work that they do, and it becomes way too serious. And, often, when people connect to that statistic, they go, “Oh, fair point. Fair point. Am I making sure I’m properly living my life through my work? Or is it just a way of paying the bills?”

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

Chris Barez-Brown
Yeah, come to the website UppingYourElvis.com or Barez-Brown.com got all the information on there. And if anyone wants to play with us on Talk It Out, and help us get out into the world, we’re doing it all for free. We just can’t do it on our own. So, any partners who want to play, we are here with open arms.

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

Chris Barez-Brown
You know, I think the key thing is that when you get your energy right, which you do through morning routines and looking after yourself and clearing your diary and making sure you’re working on the right stuff, I think it’s then incumbent upon us all to be more kind. So, my challenge would be, once a day, grab somebody in your life, and just tell them what you love about them. And I think what you’ll find, if you do that, you’ll get so many benefits.

Number one, your relationship with that person will get better. Number two, it’s karmic so you will find that you will get a little bit of love back, which we all need. Number three, what you’ll start to find is that you’ll program your selective attention to see just more good. And I think that’s a great personal benefit and you’re doing that will make the world a bit better. So, find one person per day in your life, it could be a work colleague, it could be a family, your friend, say to them what you love about them, and your day will be that much more shiny.

Pete Mockaitis
Chris, thank you for sharing the good word. And good luck in all the ways you’re upping your Elvis.

Chris Barez-Brown
It’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me on, Pete. It’s been a real joy.

515: Mastering Your Motivation with Susan Fowler

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Susan Fowler says: "You're always motivated. The question is, "What type of motivation do you have?"Susan Fowler explains what we get wrong about motivation and how to make the shifts to master it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Major misconceptions about motivation
  2. The three keys to mastering your motivation
  3. An overlooked leadership practice to improve engagement

About Susan

Susan Fowler is dedicated to helping others master their motivation and achieve their highest aspirations. A sought-after speaker, consultant, and motivation coach, she has shared her message on optimal motivation and thriving together in all fifty states and over forty countries. Susan is the bestselling author of Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work… and What Does, and coauthor of Self Leadership and The One Minute Manager with Ken Blanchard. Her latest book, Master Your Motivation: Three Scientific Truths for Achieving Your Goals, released last June. Susan is also a professor in the Master of Science in Executive Leadership program at the University of San Diego.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Susan Fowler Interview Transcript

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

Susan Fowler
Thanks, Pete. I’ve been trying for years to be awesome. I hope there’s something that I can help other people be awesome with.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I definitely think there is. You’ve done some research in the realms of motivation. Maybe, for fun, could start by sharing a surprising or fascinating insight you picked up from your research into motivation?

Susan Fowler
You know, there are so many surprises. I’ve been studying motivation now for almost 25 years, been very involved in the research community, and there are thousands of amazing academicians and behavioral and neuroscience researchers out there. But what’s most surprising is, I think, that we’ve just had this totally wrong impression of what motivation is, and it’s hard to change our perspective because a lot of our notions about motivation that were developed during the B. F. Skinner days, where we did all the research on animals and operant conditioning, you know, carrots and sticks, it’s so prevalent in our society. It’s embedded into psyches that it’s hard to change our perspective because it’s literally built into our language.

So, for example, when we ask a question like, “Are you motivated?”, or if you ask yourself, “Am I motivated to do something?” that’s just the wrong question. That question literally sets up a paradigm that we now know is not true. So, I think what’s most surprising to me is how powerful, exciting, and valid, and applicable the new science of motivation is, and also how challenging it is to change people’s perspectives based on what they already know even if they know it doesn’t work.

Pete Mockaitis
So, could you give us a short synopsis of what would be the current model of motivation and then how is that broken?

Susan Fowler
Thank you for asking that question. You know, there’s basically three prominent theories of motivation that are embedded, for example, in leadership competencies in the workplace, or that the workplace tends to use to reinforce their ideas of motivation. So, one is the one I just mentioned would be of Skinner when they did all this research on animals and realized they get, for example, they could get pigeons to do what they wanted them to do if they gave them a pellet and it was called operant conditioning.

And so, the rationale was, “Well, we can get pigeons to do whatever we want them to do. Maybe we’d get people to do whatever we want them to do if we just give them something.” And so, that’s where the carrots came in, and then people thought, “Well, the carrot is not working so let’s use a stick. Let’s give them pressure. Threaten them or make them fearful.”

And the thing is all those things do motivate us but it’s what’s called suboptimal motivation. It’s the kind of motivation, like the carrots, it’s like eating junk food. When you eat junk food, your blood sugar rises and you get a burst of energy, but then you crash. And when you’re eating all that junk food, it might give you that burst of energy but it’s not healthy, especially in the long run but even in the short run. It diminishes your creativity, your innovation. And so, that’s really prevalent in the workplace.

Another thing is like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that is the most popular idea of theory of motivation in the world, and Maslow didn’t even come up with that triangle, Maslow’s triangle, the hierarchy. He was writing about psychological needs and really started people thinking about psychological needs instead of biological drives. But the hierarchy has never been proven and even Maslow would be dismayed if he thought people were actually just using his theory that came out in the 1940s as their basis of motivation.

And then the other one is really prevalent, and I see it all the time in the workplace, is achievement motivation. This whole idea that what people really want is power and status and clout and money, and that leaders especially have this kind of special motivation to achieve without thinking about the implications or what’s behind the achievement and what they’re doing to themselves and others. So, what we really need, basically, I would say, Pete, we’ve been in the dark ages when it comes to motivation and yet there is a totally different way of perceiving and using motivational science and that’s what my purpose is to get my message out there so that people can do things differently.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, then what is the optimal theory as far as what we know now in terms of what really does motivate people?

Susan Fowler
Well, they’re operational but at a suboptimal level. Well, I think what is really basic is that people are not lazy, all right? So, we have this notion that people are disengaged at work, and oftentimes they’re disengaged because we’re not motivating them enough, or we’re not motivating ourselves enough, we don’t have enough perks or benefits, we have to make everything a game to make it fun because, otherwise, we wouldn’t do things.

But that’s just the opposite of what science says about our human nature. Our human nature is we want to thrive. We want to have meaningful challenges. We’re actually motivated by meaningful challenges. We want to make a contribution. We want to feel like we’re doing meaningful work and be connected to people.

And so, what the research has shown is that there are three psychological needs that when these three needs are satisfied, when we can create them, or when we’re experiencing them, especially in the workplace, but this goes for life, then we are going to thrive. And when we thrive, again we’re going to be more productive, more innovative, creative, we’re going to have a sense of wellbeing, and we’re going to generate positive energy that is sustainable.

So, the key to motivation is these three psychological needs that we can create because they’re real and they’re things that we can actually create in the workplace. If you’re a manager, you can help create it for others. And if you’re an individual, you can create it for yourself. And that’s really what my book Master Your Motivation is all about. It’s about how you do you create your own choice, connection, and competence. Those are the three psychological needs.

Pete Mockaitis
And the choice is where the key comes in, it’s like you choose what matters to you?

Susan Fowler
Well, actually, it’s interesting. Choice is what gives you a sense of autonomy. Otherwise, you feel that you’re being imposed on. You know, there’s a difference between getting up in the morning and saying, “Ugh, I have to go to work,” “I have to support my family,” or “I have to make money so I can live,” versus “I’m choosing to go to work. I’m choosing to make a living. I’m choosing to live a certain lifestyle.” 

You know, the reason that diets don’t work, think about this, as soon as you go on a diet, what do you say to yourself? You say, “Oh, I can’t eat certain things. I can’t eat that muffin, I’m on a diet.” So what happens is, immediately through your own language and through your own interpretation, you have just eroded your perception of choice. So, you’ve just eroded one of the three key psychological needs.

So, we think, “Oh, wow, I can’t have that muffin.” What’s the first thing you want? You want that muffin. And you think it’s about the muffin, but it’s not. It’s about your need for choice. It’s about your need for autonomy. And so, what we need to learn and part of the skill of motivation is to be able to say, “I can choose to eat this muffin or choose not to eat this muffin because I have a goal to lose weight,” and then we’ll talk about that in a minute, “I am choosing not to eat this muffin.”

It seems like just a reframing but it’s more. It’s literally creating a perception that stimulates a part of your brain that activates this psychological need that is absolutely necessary for what we call optimal motivation. So, choice is your interpretation or internalization that no matter what’s happening around you, you have choice about how you react to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like one great practical tip right there. You don’t even say, “I can’t do this,” or, “I must do that.” It’s like, “Well, hey, because of this, I’m choosing this.” And so, it keeps that choice factor alive and functioning for your motivation in that domain. So, that’s already very handy. Thank you.

Susan Fowler
Right. Well, yeah, think about this. It’s so funny because people will send out like a meeting invitation. They’ll call the meeting, send out an invitation, and then it pops up on their calendar a couple weeks later, and they go, “Oh, I can’t believe I have that meeting.” I mean, they called the meeting. But just the fact that it’s on their calendar can oftentimes trigger that thing of, “Oh, I don’t have a choice. I have to go to that meeting.” And so, we actually do it to ourselves all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you then maybe share a fun story that kind of illustrates there what’s really possible in terms of someone who felt unmotivated and then dug deep into the three needs and tapped into some great motivation to do great things?

Susan Fowler
Well, can I just point out, Pete, that just in your very question, which is a kind of question that would be normal to ask but it actually sets up the wrong paradigm of motivation? So, we use the term unmotivated. Well, the research shows is that you’re always motivated. You’re always motivated. The question is, “What type of motivation do you have?”

And so, if you’re motivated by money, or power, or status, or image, or even fear, or guilt, or shame, you’re motivated but you’re motivated, what we call, sub-optimally. And so, you’re either not going to take action or you’re going to take action but you’re not going to be persistent at it. So, that’s the first thing I really want people to maybe get in their heads is that we’re always motivated and it’s really important for us to think about the type of motivation that we have.

And then, the other thing is that we tend to think we need to have motivation to achieve great things. And so, I would just challenge, what is a great thing? What does that look like? And what the research will show is that just achieving small everyday goals is more satisfying than some big pie in the sky. I know we need to have those big hairy audacious goals, but what really gives us day-to-day satisfaction is seeing progress and sometimes it’s the mundane things in life.

I’d love just to share one example of myself that’s just a little thing. So, I travel a lot for my work. I do a lot of international travel and so I go through security at the airport a lot. And that’s something I will never be inherently motivated to do. In other words, I will never find that just naturally fun, or what people call intrinsically motivating to go through security.

So, one day, I’m at security and I get all tense. I feel really a lot of pressure because I’m usually in a hurry, and also, I hated going through there so I want to get through quickly. So, I’m looking at all the lines, and I’m thinking, “Which of these lines is moving fastest? I really need to get through the line fast.” So, I’m looking at the TSA agents to see which one lets you through best, and I’m looking for lines that are short, and I’m also looking for a line that doesn’t have like a family in it with a bunch of kids.

Pete Mockaitis
This reminded me of the movie Up in the Air where he’s analyzing and profiling all the different people in the airport, where he’s trying to figure out who’ll probably go faster. Okay, so you got your statistics and heuristics that you’re there, and you’re going. All right, I’m with you.

Susan Fowler
Yes, exactly. Exactly. So, I find a line that I’m going to get into, and then I stop, and I just have a mindful moment. And this whole concept of mindfulness is so powerful when it comes to motivation. Just to be aware in the moment, “What am I experiencing?” And then in that moment I thought, “Well, I’m feeling pressure and tension and stress and all this stuff.” And I think, “What am I doing? Susan, you talk about this stuff. This is what you write about. You research this. What are you doing to yourself?” And I thought, “Okay, I am obviously sub-optimally motivated to go through security. What do I need to do differently?” And I thought, “I need to shift my motivation.”

And this is where motivation as a skill comes in. So, I thought, “I’ve got to practice what I teach.” So, I started thinking, “Okay, one of the reasons I’m sub-optimally motivated is I don’t have choice.” I have to go through security, right? I have to go through that. And then I started thinking, “Well, I don’t really have to go through it. I don’t have to travel. I don’t have to do this as a job. I could choose to do something at home, just stay home and write.” And I thought, “Well, I’m choosing to travel and I know how much I love it once I get there and I’m working with the people I’m working with, so I am actually choosing to go through security. Okay, I’ll give that one up.”

And then I thought, “I’m really competent,” that’s the third psychological need, “I’m really competent. I’ve been through a million times. I’m pretty well geared-up to do it.” But what was missing from me, really missing from me in that moment was connection. And connection means that you have some deeper meaning, you have a sense of the values that you hold, or that you’re making a contribution, or that you feel an affinity with the people you’re working with. And I realized I didn’t have any connection going through security. I’m not sure it really works. I’m kind of thinking sometimes that it’s just bureaucratic thing we have to do to make people feel safe but I’m not sure it really works.

Anyway, I have all these negative reasons not to go through security. And so I thought, “Okay, but how do I shift my motivation?” Well, in order to shift, what you can do, one of the ideas, is to align whatever you’re doing to a value that you have. And so I started thinking about my values. So, it means you have to have values and know what they are. And the first thing that popped into my mind as a value is learning. I love learning. I’ve always been a teacher, a learner. And I said, “Okay, what could I learn going through security?”

And I realized I could learn patience because I obviously am not a patient person. It’s just not my personality type, so it’d be something I would have to do consciously. And I said, “Wow, okay, I value learning. I’m going to learn patience.” So, I found the longest line and that had a family. It had a family with a father, a mother, and two kids, one was a toddler, one was a newborn. They had more stuff than I realized you could even take through security. And after standing behind them, they were just struggling, and I finally said, “Would it be okay if I held your baby? Maybe it would be helpful.” And they said, “Oh, would you? That’d be so great.”

So, I’m holding this baby, Pete, and I’m realizing, “Wow, I’m really having a wonderful moment here because I love babies. I love holding babies.” And so, they go through security and I’m going, “Excuse me, you want your baby?” “Oh, my gosh, yes.” So, they grabbed their baby and I helped them on the other side packing up and everything, and I go to my gate and I’m thinking, “Wow, that really worked out great because I love holding babies.” And I see the father coming towards me, and he says, “Oh, I’m so glad I found you.” He said, “We just feel terrible because we never even thanked you for your help.” He said, “This is the first time we’ve ever traveled with two kids. We had no idea how hard it would be. And we don’t think we could’ve even gotten through the security thing without your help and we never even thanked you. So, I just want you to know you made our day today, you really helped us.”

And I said, “Oh, no, no, no. Thank you. I love holding babies.” And so, we’re going back and forth, thank you, thank you, thank you. And I get on the plane and I’m reflecting, which is part of the skill of motivation. And I’m reflecting on what just happened, and I realized I not only have experienced what we call the inherent motivational outlook, is that I actually enjoyed holding the baby. That’s something I love to do. But I also had experienced what’s called integrated motivation. Because my life purpose is to be a catalyst for good, and in that moment, I had helped a young family and they told me that I did good. And that felt so satisfying, I can’t even tell like the joy I experienced in that moment, that sense of wellbeing. And I knew that, from then on, I would go through security differently.

Now, that’s been years that that happened, years ago that that happened. And anyone who travels with me or see me traveling will tell you that I enjoy going through security, not because it’s fun going through security but because I’m able to live my values, and I’m able to live my life purpose every time I go through security, so I’m always on the lookout for an elder couple that I can help, or a young couple that I can help, or a single mother traveling, or just being nice to the TSA agent who’s getting a lot of backtalk from people. So, that’s literally changed the quality of my travel experience, which is a huge part of my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s lovely. So then it seems like, in the terms of what we’ve discussed here, so we’ve got the choice element present in the story, “Hey, this is the career I’m choosing. I prefer fast and being with people in those places, and part of that is security.” And then for the connection, we’ve got, “Okay, what are my values?” And then you’ve come up with learning and, “What’s something I can learn here?” And patience is the thing you’re going to learn. You’re going to be patient in that context with the security line. And then forming connection with the folks who are there. And so, competence, did we touch on that?

Susan Fowler
Well, the competence, I already felt like I had because I’m really good at going through security, but I have to tell you I think that’s a really good question, Pete, because I actually feel more mastery now of going through security because I know how to do it, I’m able to help others. So, what the research shows about these three psychological needs of choice, connection, and competence is that they’re all totally interrelated. And I call it the domino effect.

If you are missing one, the others will fall. So, if I said, “Oh, I’m choosing to go through security,” but didn’t have the confidence to do it and didn’t feel like I was making progress, or if I was going through security and I was choosing to do it but I found no meaning, no connection with other people or to my values or to my life purpose, then all the choice in the world wouldn’t matter. And you’re not going to find connection if you don’t feel a sense of choice. You’re going to feel pressure and tension and stress, and you’re going to feel like people don’t care about you if they’re putting pressure on you. So, they’re all totally interrelated.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s great. Well, then I’d love it if we think about professional workplace here. Let’s say someone, they’ve got a project, and you know, they’re just not feeling it so much. They’re responsible for it, and so it seems like day after day, rather than to finding or making the time to proactively advance that project, they tend to, “Oh, what’s in my email? My desk needs to be tidied.” So they’re kind of procrastinating or putting it off. So they’re doing some of the less value work instead of pursuing this project which is important although doesn’t light their fire in terms of they’re just not feeling motivated with that over the course the days. So in that world, how would you recommend we apply some of these principles to summon or stir up or whatever you want to call it, to get those motivational juices flowing?

Susan Fowler
Yeah, when we’re sub-optimally motivated to do something, how do we shift into optimal motivation? And so, how do you apply the skill? And I’ve got so many examples, and especially in my book there’s one that I love, like filling out expense reports. I mean, who is actually “excited” to fill out expense reports? The only reason you might do it is you need your money back, but it’s drudgery.

And so, what I’m encouraging people to do to create choice, connection, and competence is to ask themselves, “Okay, what choices do you have?” And as soon as you ask that question, “What choices do you have?” just the idea that you have choices will often help you make the right one. But if you say, “What choices do I have?” And you say, “Well, I could choose not to submit my expense reports.” Or, if you’re working on a project like you were saying, “I could choose to not work on this project,” or, “I could choose to just do the minimum, put in the minimum amount of effort, and just get by, and hope that it’s okay, and that it doesn’t make me look bad.”

So, what you do is you just go through in your mind, and this takes a couple of seconds, to say, “Okay, what are my choices? And then, how do I feel about those choices?” And so, if you get in touch with the fact that you have choices, I mean, when you’re laying in bed in the morning, just get in the habit, and I do this every single morning, I go, “Okay, what choices do I have today? I could choose to lay in bed for another couple of hours or I could choose to get out, get up and write my blog that’s due this week. I have a choice of what to do.” So, that’s the first thing, no matter what the project is, no matter what you’re working on, is to ask, “What are my choices? How do I feel about those choices? What choices have I made that I’m glad I made? Or what choices do I wish I had made?” So, just to think about choice.

And then the second thing is to ask, “What connection do I have with this? And so, what I find meaningful.” So, in my book, Calla is writing about, “Okay, I’m choosing to do my expense reports,” but it was drudgery and she hated it. And then when she asked the question about connection, she realized that Jenny Luna is the gal that would receive the expense reports, and if Jenny doesn’t get them on time, and if they’re not completed correctly, Jenny is the one that suffers because, then, she can’t meet her deadlines that needs to go into accounting, etc. So, Calla said that she realized that, for her, doing it so that Jenny wouldn’t suffer because Calla has a sense of purpose around being a good friend, around being the kind of person that helps others not hurts people. And so, she said getting in touch with that connection was really important to her.

And then Calla realized that the company had gone through a new system and she didn’t have the competence she needed. So, she realized that she was missing two of the three psychological needs for doing expense reports. And once she got in touch with, she’s making the choice, she really wanted to do it because she cared about Jenny and she wanted to be a good organizational citizen, and she needed to learn more about how to do it. She actually got tutored and, in my book, she actually wrote about that experience, and how that transformed her expense reports. And I actually double-checked it with Jenny Luna, and Jenny confirms Calla does her expense reports correctly and on time every month.

So, that’s just it. It’s just asking ourselves, “What choices do I have? How can I have connection here? Where can I find meaning whether it’s to a person, to my values, through my sense of purpose, through making a contribution?” And then asking ourselves, “How did I learn? What did I learn? How did I grow?” And so, if we would just ask ourselves at the end of every day even, “What were the choices I made? How did I make connection? And how did I grow? How did I learn? How did I build competence?” If we could just learn to ask those questions around choice, connection, and competence, we literally would shift our motivation and it transforms the quality of that experience.

Pete Mockaitis
I also want to get your take here. So when you’re managing other people and you want them to experience motivation, what are some of those best practices we can take on so they’re getting connected to those drivers of motivation?

Susan Fowler
So, if you’re a leader, I think one of the things you need to do is start to think about the competing leadership competency. So, if you’re being held accountable, for example, to drive results, I think you need to realize that your method of driving results may actually be putting people into suboptimal motivation. If they’re feeling imposed on, if they’re feeling like they don’t have choice, if you’re using your power to get things done, like, “Do this because I told you to do it,” like a parent often says to a child, then you’re driving for results could undermine the very results that you’re trying to get.

And so, as leaders, what I am constantly teaching, and I’m just sharing with you that I just delivered this message to 300 leaders at the biggest bank in Russia, and basically asking them to, every day, ask people, “Okay, tell me about the choices you made today. Or, let’s talk about the choices you made. And what did you like or what didn’t you like?” Or, let’s say you’re saying to someone, I do a lot of work with pharmaceutical industry, and the FDA has real boundaries. You can’t do this and you can’t do that. What I’m trying to teach leaders is, “Okay, how do you have a conversation about, okay, here’s what you can’t do. But what can you do? What are the options you have within the boundaries? We don’t want you getting creative with the way you approach doctors then talk about research, but where can you be creative in terms of the way you interact with the doctors that you’re selling to?”

And so, we’re trying to teach leaders how to have conversations, or what I call motivation conversations, that really create choice, connection, and competence for people. And so, to ask people, “You know, here’s a goal, this is a goal that is required for your job. How do you feel about this goal? What’s meaningful to you about it? How can we align this goal with the values that you have? Not the values in our organization, although, hopefully, the goals align to organizational values, but your own values.” And what we found is that most leaders have never had a values conversation with the people they lead. We plaster the organization’s values all over the walls and make sure people memorizer them, but we’ve never asked individuals to actually think about, “What are your values? What is it that you bring to work every single day and make decisions with?”

So, I’m encouraging for leaders to have those values conversations to help create connection for people at work, and to ask them, “How do you feel like you’ve made a contribution no matter what your job is?” I was talking to a janitor at a high school the other day, and I asked him these questions about choice, connection, and competence. And you can’t believe how these man’s eyes lit up, and he said, “You know, there’s a lot of kids at this school that come from underprivileged families, and I’m like a surrogate father. I’m kind of like the wise sage or guru, and they come to me, and they tell me their problems, and we talk.”

Now, this is a janitor at a high school who works nights because he has a day job. And he is so optimally motivated in that janitorial job, and the primary reason is because he feels like he’s doing something good for the kids, and he also feels that when he creates the school that’s clean and pristine that he’s giving them an environment they might not have at home.

So, it’s just fascinating to me how, as a leader, you can have these conversations and reinforce the values that a person has that they might have but never thought about. Maybe they haven’t consciously chosen them and talked about them, so, yeah, those conversations are really important. And a leader can always ask at the end of every day, “What did you learn? How did you grow? Tell me about the progress that you’ve been making,” so that you’re reinforcing their sense of competence.

Pete Mockaitis
You also have a term I really want to touch upon for a moment. What is a fatal distraction? And how should we counteract that?

Susan Fowler
I love the concept of fatal distractions because it implies, for me, that we have a basic nature, and that what happens when we are acting lazy, when we are slacking, when we’re doing things that we’ve been held accountable for doing, what fatal distractions implies is that there are things that, outside of ourselves, or the way we’ve interpreted things, that pull us away from our basic nature of experiencing choice, connection, and competence.

So, a fatal distraction, for example, is, in a game, wanting to win, and wanting to win for ego purposes, or wanting to win because there’s a prize. This is why I’m so hesitant about gamification in the workplace. Research has shown, for example, that a lot of HR departments will say, “Hey, join our healthy contest. If you lose the most weight during our contest period, you’ll win an iPad.” And what the research says is that 12 weeks after the person wins the iPad, they revert back to their old habits and actually gain the weight back plus more weight. Plus, they then have this belief that, “Wow, I failed. I may have won the game but I’m never going to win in the long run,” and so they stop trying.

So, all of these fatal distractions, these games, these incentives, the rankings, all these stuff that we thought, because of the carrots and the sticks and the achievement motivation, all those theories that are out there, that counteract our true nature. So, a fatal distraction is the belief, for example, that, “People don’t care about us, and it’s not worth us caring about others.” Or, a fatal distraction is that, “I have to do this or I’m going to fail,” or, “I have to do this or I’m going to feel guilty.” It’s all of the negative self-talk is a fatal distraction, so are all the shiny objects and the junk food that entice us in the workplace every single day.

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

Susan Fowler
I think the thing that I really want people to hear is that motivation is a skill, that if you become aware of your choices, the connection you have or don’t have, and the competence you have or don’t have, that you literally can change the quality of your everyday experiences. And that’s what it takes to eventually achieve great things. You don’t achieve great things overnight. You achieve great things because you have day-to-day optimal motivation that keeps you doing one step, another step, another step. And so, that’s what I would encourage people, is just to really think about how they could create choice, connection, and competence in their lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well, now, could you give us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Susan Fowler
I happen to see a young woman on the internet and she described herself as a self-quoter, and I thought, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve always wanted to have the nerve to do that.” And so, she’s inspired me. And I wondered if you might permit me to just read the last paragraph in my new book because it really says in kind of a nutshell what I believe and it’s important to me. So, I’m going to do a self-quote, which is very audacious.

“A common thread of every great spiritual practice throughout history is the belief that human beings can raise their conscious awareness and live life at a higher level. The belief that change is possible entices you to greet a new day. Hope if a belief that things, and you, can change for the better. Not believing that you can and do change is to wonder what your human experience is about. We are beings with self-determination, and the ability to reflect and mindfully choose who we are, what we believe, and how we behave. The skill to master your motivation may be your greatest opportunity to evolve, grow in wisdom, and be the light of the world so desperately needs.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And do you have a favorite study or experiment or research?

Susan Fowler
Oh, a favorite. Oh, my gosh. You know what I have, Pete? No, I don’t. I have an entire book called Self-Determination Theory that is a handbook of thousands of research studier. And one of the reasons that I’m so, I guess, enamored with or have such a strong belief in the research basis for what I write about is that thousands of researchers have been doing very structured and progressive research for over 60 years, and it hasn’t been one big research study that proves it. What they’ve done is systematically and very consciously and with intent built these ideas on really solid, solid research. So, I think the message I’d like to get across is when somebody says, “Oh, there was a research study, and here’s what it proves,” I would never do that.

What I would say is, “You need to have meta studies, and you need to have years and years of validating the conceptual ideas and the theoretical framework.” And I’d like to think, I’ve been told, that I’m representing this volume of research in a way that honors the work that those researchers have done for over the past 60 years.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Susan Fowler
My favorite book is probably Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. He didn’t know about the three psychological needs but that is what helped him thrive. And if you read that book in light of what we talked about today, it’ll give it an entirely new meaning.

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

Susan Fowler
I can’t live without my iPad. The thing I love about my iPad is that I use it for news, I use it to keep in touch with people, I use it for social media, I use it for games, I use it to shop. I can’t think of hardly any aspect of my life that I don’t use my iPad for. And since I travel so much, I would say that if there was an iPad chip in my forehead, I probably would be happy.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Susan Fowler
I think I have an issue with the whole concept of habits, and so what I would rather say is that I have a ritual. And my morning ritual is, before I put my feet on the floor, I say a prayer, and then I also ask myself, I remind myself, “How am I going to create choice, connection, and competence today?” So, you might call it a habit but habits are subconscious, and a ritual is something that I consciously do because I know it improves the quality of my life.

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

Susan Fowler
I hope people will take the “What’s your MO?” for motivational outlook, “What’s your MO?” survey. It’s free. You get immediate results. It’s on my website at www. SusanFowler.com.

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

Susan Fowler
One of the things that I would challenge people to do, my life motto is that I teach what I most need to learn. And so, when I realized that there’s something lacking in my life, I delved into it as if I would need to teach it to someone else, not because I want to show them up or because I want to use my expertise power or whatever. But I feel that when you can turn around and teach someone else what it is you’re learning that that’s a form of mastery. So, go through life and think, “What is it that I really need to learn? And maybe if I taught it to others, it would reinforce it in myself.”

Pete Mockaitis
Susan, thanks so much for sharing the good word. I wish you lots of luck and motivation in all your adventures.

Susan Fowler
Thank you so much, Pete. Same to you. I appreciate it so much.