Tag

Energy Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

663: How to Stop Negative Self-talk, Beat Impostor Syndrome, and Feel Confident with Melody Wilding

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Melody Wilding says: "Confidence isn't a prerequisite for success. It's a byproduct of success."

Melody Wilding shares powerful strategies to stop overthinking and deal with your inner critic.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The two behaviors that greatly hinder sensitive professionals
  2. Three tactics for silencing your inner critic
  3. Powerful questions to counter negative thinking

About Melody

Melody Wilding, LMSW is an executive coach, human behavior expert, and author of Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work. She has coached hundreds of private clients, from CEOs and Fortune 500 executives to leaders from the US Department of Education, the Federal Reserve, and the United Nations. She teaches graduate-level human behavior and psychology at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College in New York. Her writing is regularly featured on Medium and in Harvard Business ReviewFast CompanyForbesBusiness Insider, and Quartz. Her advice has been featured in the New York TimesThe CutOprah MagazineNBC NewsUS News and World Report, and more.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Melody Wilding Interview Transcript

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

Melody Wilding
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to talk about your latest work Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work. I do some overthinking and could use some help channeling emotions, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone, so lay it on us. What’s maybe the most surprising and fascinating discovery you made as you’re putting this together?

Melody Wilding
I think the concept that really underbeds the entire book of being a sensitive striver was the biggest lightbulb moment for me. Personally, yeah, I am this personality type and it was the huge discovery for me to put together and put words to something that I had struggled with for most of my life up until that point but also, after coaching people for 10 years, I had just seen this really repetitive and consistent constellation of challenges that I couldn’t put words to.

And so, when I was writing the book and I was really struggling with the proposal, trying to figure out what I was writing about, I just took a whiteboard and wrote down on it all the different challenges my clients had, grouped it into two different categories, and kind of stepped back and had that lightning bulb moment of, “Oh, sensitive and striver,” those two sides together. So, that was the biggest aha for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a great turn of a phrase – a sensitive striver. I think I am one, and I think that’s a resonant term for many of our listeners. But can you unpack it for us? What exactly does that mean to be a sensitive striver?

Melody Wilding
Of course. So, being a sensitive striver means that you are highly sensitive and high-achieving so you are someone who thinks and feels everything more deeply, you process the world around you more intricately, but you’re also very driven, you want to succeed, and you want to advance in your career. So, it’s that combination of sensitivity and striving.
Biologically speaking, this is about 15% to 20% of the population that has a genetic trait difference so we’re actually wired differently to pick up on more of the environment. So, we have a more highly attuned central nervous system, which means that we’re more perceptive, observant. We’re more attuned to our own emotions as well as those of the people around us. We’re deeply caring. We give our 100% to our work but we tend to have an inner world that’s on overdrive. And that’s because we process more deeply than other people that leaves us more susceptible to some of the downsides of stress, emotional overwhelm, overthinking.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m intrigued and I think that we’ve got plenty of applicability whether you happen to have that genetic switch going for you or not. Well, first of all, tell us, can we get a genetic test? How do we confirm this quickly and easily?

Melody Wilding
Yeah. So, I actually have in my book, there is a quick quiz, and I can run through some of the items in the quiz if that would be helpful. But this quiz is drawn from the research, from what we know about high sensitivity as a trait, and from what we know about high performance in the science. So, some of the signs, you’re someone who experiences emotion to an unusual level of depth and complexity. You have that desire to exceed expectations in everything that you do. You need time to think through decisions before you act, since the hallmark of sensitivity is pausing before acting.

You tend to have an inner critic that never takes a day off. You’re kind, compassionate, empathetic to others. You find it difficult to set boundaries and say yes too much. You struggle to turn your mind off because it’s constantly filled with thoughts. You hold yourself to very high standards and you judge yourself harshly if you make mistakes.

So, those are just a few of the signs but we can actually dive into, I actually have a framework that explains the six key qualities that all sensitive strivers have so we can dive into that if you like.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I’d love to hit the quick version of checking to those six. But, first, I’m thinking, let’s distinguish a bit. Everything you said resonates with me a bundle. I suppose it’s hard to say if we use words like unusually high or more than others, it’s like, “Well, I don’t know what others are experiencing in their interior life.” But I suppose what would be the insensitive striver, for example? So, I guess there are people who are ambitious but don’t have that going on. What is it? Just like, “You can’t make it on without cracking a few eggs. I don’t care who I have to dominate to win.” Is that what the insensitive striver sounds like?

Melody Wilding
The insensitive striver, I love that. No one has said that to me before so I love that. Sensitivity is a spectrum. So, as you were saying, people, you fall on that just like you would any personality trait. So, people who are highly sensitive are much more affected by the world and the environment that they’re in.

So, for example, if you’re someone who is utterly drained at the end of a long day with meetings where your partner is not. So, for example, my partner, the things that drain me and are very taxing to me, my partner, it doesn’t faze him at all. Or, things that I pick up on in a situation where I notice certain subtleties or nuances goes right over his head. And I love him with all my heart, so that is said with kindness.

Pete Mockaitis
And can this also be true about just actual physical stimuli, like sandpaper feels rougher, a loud noise is more jarring and painful?

Melody Wilding
One hundred percent, and that’s actually the first of the strive qualities is actually sensitivity which sounds obvious but it refers to exactly what you’re saying, which is sensory – sensitivity. So, we startle more easily. Yes, we’re more sensitive to smells and fabrics and bright lights, for example, so that’s why Zoom tends to be really fatiguing because it’s just visual stimulation and you’re self-monitoring all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Melody Wilding
And so, sensitive strivers can become really highly overstimulated and operate at that level for a long time, kind of just pushing themselves through it, that’s the striver side, and being burnt out. So, yes, you’re exactly right on.

Pete Mockaitis
And so that’s helpful there in terms of, okay, there is a spectrum and so it’s not necessarily binary, on/off, you got the gene, you’re in the 15% versus you don’t, you’re not. And one thing I think about sensitivity in terms of like when I’m dealing with people, I get the impression that some people I know seem to really feel, I don’t know, I guess, sensitivity, I mean, they feel the pull of like guilt and/or reciprocity significantly, and others seem completely immune to it. Like, there’s just no sense of they owe you.

And, in a way, I envy that. This is like, “Man, you’re such a killer negotiator. Like, you don’t care at all about all the things I’ve done for you. Wow, I just can’t be that heartless,” although I’d probably be more lucrative if I could be. So, does that fit in the mix or is that a totally different construct?

Melody Wilding
No, you’re 100% right. So, actually, you’re kind of leading down this framework, so the way to identify your qualities as a sensitive striver, conceptualize them, it conveniently spells out the acronym STRIVE. So, we first have sensory sensitivity, that’s the heightened nervous system response that we talked about. Then we have the T which is thoughtfulness. So, you’re contemplative, you’re reflective, you’re intuitive but you can overthink situations, worry more, get into indecision and doubt.

Next would be responsibility, which is part of what you were talking about, being dependable always, being counted on to follow through for other people but we also can’t bear to let people down so we will take on actual responsibility even when it means sacrificing our own wellbeing. Then we have inner drive which is that desire to exceed expectations, set a lot of goals. Sometimes we can set our goals so sky high that it’s unrealistic and we fall into perfectionism.

Fifth, we have vigilance, which is also being attentive to other people’s needs, having the keen awareness for those subtleties, a change in your boss’ body language, the general mood of a meeting. So, you’re constantly on high alert, taking on what’s going on around you but you may sometimes read danger where there is none.

And then, last is emotionality, so that’s our E in our STRIVE. And that is having complex more intense emotional responses, so you’re more emotionally reactive, so to speak, both positive and negative. So, we get the joy of experiencing life in full color, of the full emotional spectrum of gratitude, excitement, but we can also get stuck in negative emotions, like anger, fear, anxiety, and stay stuck there longer than most people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s funny, I’m not a hoarder, like, “Where is this going, Pete?”

Melody Wilding
I like that, whenever a sentence starts that way.

Pete Mockaitis
But sometimes I do have a lot of complex emotional relationships associated with objects in terms of, “Are we just going to let that go and what does that mean? Does that mean that I’ve failed, I made a poor decision, that we’re no longer committed to this thing I thought we were committed to when we embarked upon this path and acquired this?” So, it’s like I really do have a lot of complicated emotions associated with several things, like, “Hey, are you going to use it? Well, then get rid of it.” It’s like, “Well, there’s a little more to it than that.” Not every item in my home but there’s like a sliver of things that fall into a weird category.

So, it sounds like, okay, there’s a spectrum. It sounds like I’m on it and I think a lot of our listeners are. And for the insensitive strivers, well, maybe you’ll learn what the rest of us are dealing with and interact with us.

Melody Wilding
That’s right because this is 20% of people, so this is one in five people. So, if you’re not one, you definitely work with one, love one, are friends with one, so it’s good to know about this personality, and in terms of how to get the best out of them, how to communicate with them, so definitely something here for everyone.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then could you maybe share with us an inspiring story of a sensitive striver – I’m really going to put you on the spot here – who was having some stresses, some difficulties, but then, gaining some awareness and some tools about the sensitive striving, was able to open things up and make a positive impact?

Melody Wilding
I do. I do. And this one is timely because this actually happened last year when the pandemic really hit. So, I have one client who is in a senior leadership position at his organization, it was a nonprofit and he characterized himself as a reluctant leader. He actually consulted with the organization before, and the organization was in a transitional period, let’s put it that way. It was really, the leadership was in disarray. They had really been managed by an old-school model, kind of managed by fear and dictating what people should do, and just kind of your old-school management style.

And so, people had left, there was a lot of turnover, there was a lot of upset on the board about the organization not hitting their targets. And so, my client was thrust into a full-time senior leadership role when someone very suddenly exited. And so, all of a sudden, he sort of found himself as this reluctant leader of this broken organization and then the pandemic hit shortly after that, and there was, all of a sudden, a lot of pressure from the board.

This was really a catalyzing moment but, for him, it was also an opening to say, “We can’t do things the way we’ve always done. If we don’t change something, we’re not going to survive,” because, actually, his organization, what they did was in-person teaching. They would bring people to teach in-person classes which, as you can guess during the pandemic, was not possible, so overnight, pretty much their entire revenue stream evaporated.

Now, what my client was able to do and what we worked on together during this time was, first, his confidence of shifting from, in his mind, keeping himself and that identity of the reluctant leader, “This is only temporary and part time, and they didn’t really want me and I got here by luck.” A lot of getting past a lot of his hang-ups around the impostor syndrome and fully stepping into, “I’m the leader of this organization,” and owning that identity.

Second was really starting to leverage how his qualities as a sensitive striver could really uniquely be huge strengths in this situation. And a big one is that sensitive strivers, because we’re processing, we’re taking in a lot of information, we tend to anticipate eventualities, we tend to be able to spot opportunities that others miss, or anticipate roadblocks that may come up.

So, my client, even before the pandemic hit, he had been very vocal about the fact that, “We need to get our online learning up and running. We need to really be going deep on that as a different revenue stream.” And so, when the pandemic hit, he was very well-poised to push that through and very quickly was able to help the organization pivot their entire business model to an online revenue stream because he had seen that opportunity coming.

And then last was using his sensitivity, his empathy, his emotional intelligence, his high value for integrity and diversity, he completely rebuilt the team from the inside out. As I had mentioned before, the culture of the company was very much by fear, by criticism, and he completely changed that to be a very psychologically safe place, to be a place that people were going from a 50% turnover to people saying, “I never want to leave this job. I love working here so much,” and people referring their friends to the organization.

So, really, he completely turned around the inside of the organization and that’s primarily through his skills as a sensitive striver, his problem-solving, complex thinking, his empathy, emotional intelligence. All of those things, combined together, was the perfect combination needed to help the organization get through the pandemic.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s lovely in terms of the reluctance from which we started there, I guess impostor syndrome is huge there with regard to, “I don’t know enough. I’m not worthy of this opportunity. I’m a fraud.” And, yet, it seems like those same kinds of instincts that lead to you thinking you’re a fraud are actually the sorts of instincts that are assets in terms of helping out in terms of the sensitivity and the empathy and whatnot there. So, that’s cool right there in terms of just having that awareness. Okay, this is good.

Melody Wilding
Yeah, those strive qualities I mentioned before, they can all be strengths. You want to think of them almost like dials on the stereo. You can dial them up and you can dial them down. And when your qualities are well-balanced, for example, when your thoughtfulness is well-balanced, you’re able to be reflective and problem-solve and bring creative original ideas to the table. But when your thoughtfulness is not balanced for whatever reason, you’re stressed, you lack the right tools, you lack the awareness, well, then it can turn into impostor syndrome, overthinking. And so, they’re two sides of the same coin.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think I’ve got a good picture for how the strive qualities can be assets, and I’ve got a little bit of a picture for how that could be unpleasant as you’re inside the head of a sensitive striver. Could you paint perhaps a detailed picture in terms of the six strive qualities and how they can be working against you or feeling not so great?

Melody Wilding
Yeah. And I think many people will be familiar with this part. So, let’s take some of the most common examples. We talked about impostor syndrome. So, that is that feeling of being a fake, a fraud, despite your accomplishments, so it’s really just being really hindered by your insecurities. So, a lot of the clients I work with come to me because they say they are playing it safe in their career. They’re running away from more responsibility because of their lack of confidence. They don’t want to put themselves out there or take higher leadership positions, or they do take higher leadership positions and they self-sabotage or flare out early on. So, that is one common thing we see.

Also, something I call the honor roll hangover. And that is a combination of people-pleasing, perfectionism, and over-functioning. So, it’s called the honor roll hangover because many of our habits that many sensitive strivers are grownup A+ gold star students, who bring that same sort of mentality, “Be the best. Do everything right,” they bring that mentality with them into their careers. And while that helps them be successful then, that it’s not necessarily the same skillset it means to be successful particularly as you advance in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say over-functioning, that sounds like a good thing. But over maybe not so much, what do we mean by that?

Melody Wilding
That’s right. So perfectionism, most of us know perfectionism is not really the desire to be perfect, but it’s more the self-recrimination. It’s being highly self-critical, nothing you ever do is good enough, beating yourself up relentlessly for everything that you do, all or nothing thinking, that’s perfectionism.

People-pleasing can also look good, “I want to be helpful to people. I always want to be of value.” We hear that constantly from people in the workplace. But people-pleasing can look like agreeing to someone’s not-so-great idea when you don’t actually agree with it; morphing your opinion so someone likes you; or, a lot of folks I worked with who are managers and leaders will sort of downplay their opinions because they want their team to like them, or not give feedback. So, that’s people-pleasing.

And then over-functioning can look like a few things. It can look like swooping in to fix situations. You always have to be the one putting out fires. If others around you are very dependent on you, so if everybody comes to you for answers to the point where people don’t know how to do the work themselves, so you are basically an enabler. So, when you’re over-functioning, you tend to overwork as well. You tend to take on more than your share of responsibility.

So, if you take on emotional and mental responsibility for situations when it’s really not yours, an outcome of a meeting or a project and you are just beating yourself up and feeling horrible because it went sideways when, really, there was so much out of your control, then you’re over-functioning. And the problem with over-functioning is it causes other people under-function.

So, you can actually create this cycle where other people don’t take responsibility, they don’t step up, they’re not empowered, which only reinforces it because you feel more resentful, you feel like the kid in the group project who does everything by yourself and nobody else steps up, and it might be because you’re not giving them a chance.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, let’s zoom in on some solutions here. When it comes to your inner critic, when it comes to second-guessing or rumination, when we’re in the heat of that battle in our brains, what do we do?

Melody Wilding
So, one of my favorite strategies and one my clients love is naming your inner critic, personifying it, giving it an identity that is separate from you. And this is simple but powerful because so many of us over-identify with that inner critic. It is the loudest voice in our head. It drowns out our intuition or our wiser self, the more balanced and calm self. And so, it’s so automatic and what we need to do is be able to gain distance from it so that we can hear what it’s saying but not necessarily buy into and act on what it’s telling us.

So, when you personify your inner critic, I recommend giving it a silly name or imagining it as a character from a movie. So, one of my clients named his Darth Vader, and actually got a Darth Vader Lego figure, put it on his desk so that every time his inner critic was acting up, he was able to look at it, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Darth Vader is uniquely perfect because he’s so critical and so overreacts, like he’s going to choke you if you make a mistake, and so that is perfection. What are some other examples?

Melody Wilding
Well, I’ve had a lot of people call theirs the little monster or Gremlin. Some folks, a lot of Karens this year with the rise of…

Pete Mockaitis
Poor Karens in real life.

Melody Wilding
I know. I feel very bad for real Karens.

Pete Mockaitis
All listeners named Karen, we love you.

Melody Wilding
I know. Yes, that is very true. So, yeah, that’s a few of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. Okay, so we give it a name. That’s a great tip. And then what?

Melody Wilding
And so, once you are able to gain distance from it, that’s half the battle. Half the battle is even recognizing when it comes up so that’s not so automatic. But where the greater power is starting to change your thoughts, starting to reframe the impostor syndrome dialogue that’s going on in your head. And so, this is really a process of self-coaching, and so much of my job as a coach is to put myself out of a job because I want to give my clients the ability to have a Melody in their head so they can coach themselves to better thoughts and better solutions.

And so, for example, if your impostor syndrome is saying…well, what are some critical thoughts that you struggle with?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s see. I don’t know if, you call it negative self-talk but I don’t know if it’s so much of a criticism, it’s not like, “You screwed up. You’re bad. You suck. You’re unworthy of love.” I don’t have much of that going on but I can sort of dwell on the, “Ugh, I’m tired. I’m exhausted. This is too much. I don’t know if I can handle all of this.” Some sort of like, “Woe is me. Tired. Overwhelmed.” So, does that count as an inner critic? It’s not helpful.

Melody Wilding
Well, that’s what I would say, yeah. And so, one kind of coaching question, or coaching questions I come back to again and again and again, one of them is, “How is this thought serving you? How is that thought helping you reach your goals?”

Pete Mockaitis
Fantastic question. Usually, it’s not at all. Occasionally, it might help me anticipate something, like, “Hey, yeah, good point. That’s probably going to pop up so let’s prepare.” But more often than not, it’s just bellyaching in the moment which does nothing for me.

Melody Wilding
Yeah, exactly. And negative or critical thoughts stick around because there’s always a kernel of truth and usefulness. As you said, it helps us anticipate or prepare whatever it is but they become so outsized that it’s not helpful. So, that’s one question is, “How is this thought serving me?”

Another one that really stops people in their tracks is, “What am I making this mean about me?” That’s my golden coaching question that I come back to again and again, because, so often, we are personalizing other people’s actions and behaviors to mean something. We interpret it as something negative about us, “My boss used a period instead of an exclamation point. Well, that must mean they’re mad at me, they’re going to fire me. I knew he thought I did a bad job on that,” instead of looking at the facts of the situation, which is, “He used a period instead of an exclamation point.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s so good.

Melody Wilding
And we go down this narrative, right?

Pete Mockaitis
And the stimuli doesn’t even need to be external. Like, in terms of me saying, “I feel tired,” I could say, “What does that mean about me?” I could leap to conclusions, it’s like, “Well, yeah, I’m out of shape. I haven’t been doing much working out. I’ve been neglecting my health and vitality. I’m getting older. I’m not as motivated as I used to be. I’m losing the fire. I used to be such a go-getter, and now I’m getting weak and soft.” Whereas, it could really just mean, “Yeah, you didn’t get enough sleep last night,” or, “Yeah, it’s been about seven hours since you had a meal. That’ll do it.”

So, that’s awesome whether it’s coming from the external or the internal. We could personalize and make it mean something about us that’s not so handy.

Melody Wilding
Yeah. And two other helpful tools to get past that then when you do find yourself personalizing or getting hooked by those stories, one is another acronym, that is THINK. So, you’re going to be thinking anyway, but THINK stands for, “Is this thought true?” Do I have factual evidence? Or is this an interpretation or an opinion? A fact is, “I made a typo in an email,” whereas an opinion is, “I’m horrible at my job.”

Is it helpful? “Is it serving me or others?” Is it inspiring? “Does it help me move closer or away from my goals?” Is it necessary? “Is it necessary that I focus on this thought now, that I act on it, or even pay attention to it or can I let it go?” And then last is kind. “Is it compassionate? Is it caring towards myself or to others?” And even just that, I’ve a lot of clients who just keep a sticky note on their computer with THINK. And whenever they find themselves going down that spiral, it’s an instant reset to help you access some of that more balanced, calmer, compassionate thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love that so much. Boy, this reminds me of, every once in a while, something reminds me of a verse, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, and if there’s anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” If there’s any Christian in the house, that might resonate, like those are similar things and themes to think in terms of those are the kinds of things that are going to serve you and help get you where you want to be.

Melody Wilding
Yeah, that’s beautiful.

Pete Mockaitis
Right on. Okay, so we catch ourselves, I guess, in the moment. We go through the THINK acronym. And then what if we say, “Hey, you know what? No, it’s not true or it’s not helpful,” how do we kind of shimmy from there?

Melody Wilding
Yeah, part of it is even practicing on, practicing new thoughts, because new thoughts then lead to different actions. Because if your thinking is, “I’m not worthy. I’m not capable. I’m inadequate,” well, your actions are going to be congruent with that. You’re not going to put yourself out there. You’re going to diminish your successes. But if your thinking is more constructive, well, then you are going to put yourself out there, you are going to feel more confident.

And so, so much of overcoming impostor syndrome comes down to changing your thoughts, yes, but then taking a leap to act differently so that you get evidence to build your credibility with yourself. And so, when I have clients in my group coaching program, the first thing I say in our initial session to them is that, “You build confidence and credibility with yourself in proportion to the number of promises you keep to yourself.”

And so, if so many of us put other people first in our careers and in our lives, and we are the last person on the list that we say, “Well, I’ll take my lunch break today,” “I’ll finally take that course that I’ve been wanting to take,” that always falls to the wayside, or, “I’ll speak up in that meeting and I’ll share my idea this time,” “I’ll give feedback or I’ll ask feedback from my boss,” and we don’t hold ourselves accountable. And that only reinforces the negative thinking, the inner critic, the impostor syndrome thoughts, because, look, you are such a scaredy cat. You can’t even ask your boss for feedback? Who does that? No wonder you’re not successful at this job.

But if you take a leap and you keep that promise to yourself, well, you start changing. You have evidence to back up that new story that you’re telling yourself. You’re depositing in your confidence bank, so to speak.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Thank you. Well, tell me, Melody, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Melody Wilding
I think the last thing I wanted to mention around impostor syndrome is really internalizing your achievements because so many times, sensitive strivers, again, we place all of our attention externally on other people versus channeling it internally. Most of the time, when we channel our energy internally, it’s to be critical, it’s about how we’re not measuring up, or we need to be stronger, our weaknesses.

So, I have my clients keep a brag file, which is an ongoing place of work journal, essentially, where, on a daily basis or on Monday and Friday, they are talking about their biggest achievements, their biggest wins. And what’s important about this is it’s not to think of wins in the glorified sense of, “I made the company a million dollars,” but in the, “What moments of strength did I have? Did I overcome resistance? Did I do something that was hard?” It can be wins, like positive phrase and feedback, but it is important to do this because, if we don’t, the negativity bias will take over. It’s very easy to get to the end of a day or week, and feel like, “I did nothing productive or worthwhile today.”

And so, your brag file is a force point of reflection for you to do that and to help you really take in, internalize and appreciate how far you are coming. And through that, you can see your strengths, your talents, what type of work you are good at, so it can be useful in a number of different levels.

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

Melody Wilding
Mine would be a quote from Charles Dickens that says, “Have a heart that never hardens, a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.” A very sensitive striver.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, lovely. Thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Melody Wilding
Lately, I have been reading a lot of future of jobs reports from the World Economic Forum, for example, about what are the skills, workplace skills that are going to be most valuable in the future, and it’s all things sensitive strivers are strong in – emotional intelligence, empathy, complex thinking, problem-solving. So, I have really just been fascinated by where the future of work is going and how much those skills are in demand.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Melody Wilding
Thanks for the Feedback by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone. Fantastic book. If you have ever struggled with taking feedback or criticism personally, you need to read it. It completely changed the way I see communication and conversations in general.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite tool?

Melody Wilding
With this, I’m going to go with the Oura Ring. Not sure if you’ve heard of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, it’s like a Fitbit except it’s a ring.

Melody Wilding
Yes, and I have mine on right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, good.

Melody Wilding
And it’s fantastic. It tracks your sleep so it’s been really helpful to help me spot patterns in my sleep. It tracks your heart rate so it has really been helpful for helping me manage stress and build more healthier, productive habits.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, if I can dork out here for a moment.

Melody Wilding
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Does it do stuff above and beyond what a Fitbit does or is it just more a form factor thing?

Melody Wilding
I think the sleep might be superior and deeper to what you can get with a Fitbit but I think beyond that, most of it is the same and it’s, yeah, it’s a fit and form thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it looks cool. All right. And how about a favorite habit?

Melody Wilding
For this, I’m going to go with every Saturday I do a weekly reflection. I call it my CEO report, and it’s a time for me to sit down, quiet, no other distractions, and really log different metrics for my business, but also ask myself big questions about, “What is going well? What needs to be improved? What’s on the horizon?” So, it just really helps me feel grounded.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share with your clients, something that really connects and resonates, they quote it back to you frequently?

Melody Wilding
Yes, “Confidence isn’t a prerequisite for success. It’s a byproduct of success.”

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

Melody Wilding
You can head to MelodyWilding.com/book. That’s where you can find more information about me, my website, but also get your copy of my new book Trust Yourself.

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

Melody Wilding
Start viewing your sensitivity as a strength and the world will change.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Melody, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in your sensitive striving.

Melody Wilding
Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

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

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Paula

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

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

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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

Paula Davis Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Paula Davis
Anything by Brene Brown.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Paula Davis
Exercising. I run almost every morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paula Davis
Thank you so much, Pete.

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

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Jacinta

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

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

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

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

Dr. Jacinta Jimenez Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacinta Jimenez
Yeah, there you go.

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

Jacinta Jimenez
It’s very troubling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacinta Jimenez
Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And what is cognitive flexibility?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacinta Jimenez
TheBurnoutFix.com.

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

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

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

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

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

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Nic

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

  • Canva. Design like a pro–for less time and money at canva.me/awesome 
  • Blinkist: Read or listen to summarized wisdom from thousands of nonfiction books! Free trial available at blinkist.com/awesome 

Nic Marks Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

625: How to Be Happier, More Fulfilled, and More Effective Every Day with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar says: "The problem is not the stress. The problem is the absence of recovery."

Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar discusses the fundamental principles that help us lead happier, more effective lives.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why many ambitious people end up unhappy 
  2. Why chasing happiness won’t make you happier—and what will 
  3. How to find your motivation in just five minutes 

 

About Tal

Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar is the co-founder of the Happiness Studies Academy, as well as the creator and instructor of the Certificate in Happiness Studies and the Happier School programs. 

After graduating from Harvard with a BA in Philosophy and Psychology and a PhD in Organizational Behavior, Tal taught two of the most popular courses in Harvard’s history: Positive Psychology and The Psychology of Leadership and taught Happiness Studies at Columbia University. He is an international, best-selling author whose books have been translated into more than 25 languages. 

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar Interview Transcript

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

Tal Ben-Shahar
Thank you, Pete. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to chat with you. I’ve read two of your books long ago and so much good stuff to dig into. So, maybe could you open us up with a little bit of a background on how you became an expert teacher on happiness?

Tal Ben-Shahar
So, I became interested in happiness because of my own unhappiness. I was an undergraduate at Harvard studying computer science, of all things, and I found myself, in my second year, doing well academically and doing well in athletics, I played squash, doing quite well socially, and yet being very unhappy. And it didn’t make sense to me because, in terms of what I’d learnt until, and I checked all the boxes, I did everything that I thought I needed to do to be happy and yet I was very unhappy.

Now, I remember, this was a very cold Boston morning, there were many of those, getting up and going to my academic adviser and telling her that I’m switching majors, and she said, “What to?” And I said, “Well, I’m leaving computer science, moving over to philosophy and psychology.” And she said, “Why?”

And I said, “Because I have two questions. The first question is, ‘Why aren’t I happy?’ Second question, ‘How can I become happier?’” And it’s with these two questions that I then went on to get my undergraduate degree in philosophy and psychology, then studied education across the pond, in the other Cambridge. And then back to Harvard for my PhD, all the time asking, “How can I help myself, individuals, couples, families, organizations, and, ultimately, nations, increase levels of happiness?”

Actually, I did become happier as a result of my studies, then I went on to share what I’d learnt, and what I continue to learn, with others.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great. I got a chuckle out of “About the Author” picture on the back of one of your books. You didn’t look super cheery, but you’re smiling a lot, so…

Tal Ben-Shahar
Well, I’m smiling a lot today, at the same time, I’m not always cheery. Happiness is not about a constant high. That’s a myth and illusion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, we’re going to dig with that, too. But I want to know, in your personal case, what did you discover was missing or, for you, what was like the discovery or the practice or the thing that made a big difference for you?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yeah. So, for me, the main thing was realizing that happiness doesn’t come from success. This is the model that most people have in their mind. They think that once you’re successful, once you achieve your goals, once you reach the summit, the peak that you’ve been aiming for, then you’ll be happy. That’s a misconception. That’s a misunderstanding of what a happy life is about. At best, success, arrival, achievement lead to a temporary high, nothing more.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I remember in your books you talked about often it’s a relief as opposed to happiness that we experience in those victories.

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yeah, exactly that. So, it’s a temporary relief. It’s what I describe as negative happiness. Why negative happiness? Because you need to go through a lot of pain and suffering and discontent. And when that goes away, you feel the relief, and you mistake that relief for happiness. You know, it’s a little bit like having a terrible headache, and then you take a pill and you feel better, and it’s such a relief, you’re happy, but it presupposes going through a lot of pain before.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, one key thing for you was the distinction associated with the relief and then the success, the achievement. Any other key discoveries that made the impact for you?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yes. So, another key discovery is about goals, in general. You know, there are essentially two dominant models when it comes to happiness. The first dominant model is it’s all about achievement, it’s all about getting there, arriving at that peak. That’s one model, it’s future-oriented. The other model is present-oriented. It’s all about being in the here and now, being present. And when you can be fully present, that’s when you can be fully happy.

And over the years, I shifted, as many people do, between the two models, and for a while I thought, “Okay, it’s all about finding a meaningful goal,” and then for a while I thought, “Okay, goals don’t do it for me or for anyone as far as I can see. Let me just focus on the present.” And in many ways, the future-oriented model is associated with the West. The present-focused model is associated with the East. And what I’ve realized, and what the research tells us, is that actually we have to synthesize the two models. The challenge, of course, is how to do that. How do you find the golden means, so to speak?

And the answer is that we need both, meaning we need to have a future goal. We are future-oriented creatures. We do need to have something that we strive, something meaningful, significant, in our life that we want to attain. We need that. At the same time, after we have that goal, then it’s time to let it go. Then it’s time to say, “Okay, I know where I’m going, I know my direction, I know where that peak is that I want to reach, and now I can just focus on the journey.”

And let me give you a personal example which, for me, is very timely. So, I have a book coming out on the 27th of April. That’s the date that my publisher gave. So, I have a very specific goal, a future goal. It’s a personally meaningful goal, which is of course important if we’re concerned with happiness. So, once I have that goal, I can let go of it. How do I let go of it? I say, “Okay, it’s in the future. Now, what I need to do is spend three, four hours every day writing in the present moment.” So, this morning, before this, I sat down for over three hours and I wrote.

When I wrote, I was in the present moment. I was focused on the here and now. I didn’t constantly think, “Oh, April 27th. Oh, I have to get to that mountaintop.” Not at all. That played its role as far as I’m concerned, and now I can let go and focus on the present moment, on the here and now, which helped me enter a state of being fully present or a state that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as flow.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. Well, so let’s zoom out a little bit beyond your own experience. So, you spend a lot of time with Harvard folks, an ambitious bunch. Can you share, our audiences also are ambitious, any recurring observations associated with happiness and ambition that you saw over and over again that How to be Awesome at Your Job listeners should know as well?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yeah. You know, very often, this is unfortunately quite common, we see very successful people, in fact, people whom we would describe as the most successful members of our society, we see them becoming depressed or addicted, whether it’s alcohol or drugs or even, in many cases, suicide. And the question is, “Why?” Why does a person who seemingly have it all opt for drugs, alcohol, or suicide? And here lies the answer. It’s because of the model, the false model, that they have internalized from a very young age.

So, let’s take an example. So, you have an individual whose dream it is to become a famous movie star, and he is unhappy as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult. However, through his unhappiness, he constantly and consistently tells himself, “That’s okay because when I make it, when I become a famous movie star, then I’ll be happy.” So, that belief sustains him.

And years go by, years where he’s unhappy, however, continues towards the goal. And then, eventually, he makes it and he becomes a success and, suddenly, he has more money than he knows what to do with, he can buy anything. And he buys himself the best and the fastest car and the most beautiful home in the most prestigious neighborhood, and he can have any partner, basically, that he wants, and he’s living the dream, and he’s finally happy. He has made it. And that lasts for a month, six months, maybe a year?

And then very soon after he makes it, he goes back to where he was before, psychologically speaking, emotionally, he’s once again unhappy. He’s once again, in fact, miserable. Only this time he doesn’t have the illusion to sustain him, telling him that, “When you make it, then you’ll be happy,” because he’s made it, he’s there. But he realizes there’s no there-there. And then he becomes despondent. Because, you see, the difference between sadness and depression is that depression is sadness without hope, and he no longer has hope now. He no longer has hope that reality can provide him with happiness. So, he looks for the answer outside of reality. What’s outside of reality? Well, alcohol or drugs or the ultimate exit from reality, which is suicide.

The belief that success or outcome or arrivals will make us happy, that’s an illusion and it’s a sinister illusion because it’s causing millions and millions of people around the world, ambitious people, well-intentioned people, to reach a dead end.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that is powerful and well-said. Thank you. That rings true and explains a lot of things all at once. I want to shift gears for just a smidge. So, the goal of happiness, in and of itself, is a great one. I want to make a connection. I’m thinking a little bit about some Shawn Achor work with The Happiness Advantage. Can you share the linkage between being happy and being awesome at your job?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Sure. So, there is a lot of research that shows that success doesn’t lead to happiness but there is also a lot of research that shows that happiness does lead to more success.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Tal Ben-Shahar
For example, if you increase levels of wellbeing, even by a little bit, I’m not talking radical transformation here, but if you increase levels of wellbeing by a little bit, creativity levels go up. We’re more likely to think outside the box. We’ll be more innovative. You increase levels of happiness even by a little bit, you become more engaged, more productive, whether you’re in school or in the workplace. Increased levels of happiness, and relationships improve significantly, or if you’re thinking about the workplace, teamwork improves.

In school, grades go up. In organizations, performance increases. Profits, revenues go up if you increase levels of wellbeing; retention rates go up. So, happiness is a good investment. It’s a good investment as an end in and of itself because it feels good to feel good, but it’s also a good investment in terms of other outcome measures, other KPIs, key performance indicators, that organizations, whether businesses or schools, are interested in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so a double whammy, being happy feels good and increases performance. So, let’s dig in then, how does one learn to become happier? What are some do’s and don’ts, some practices to start and stop?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yeah. You know, Pete, the first thing that we need to keep in mind, remember, is what has been coined “the paradox of happiness.” So, what’s the paradox? So, on the one hand, as the studies have established, happiness is good for us, so most people want to be happy. Again, because it feels good, because of all the other benefits thereof.

On the other hand, there’s also research, and this is by Iris Moss and others, showing that people who value happiness, in other words, people who get up in the morning and say, “I want to be happy,” or, “Happiness is important for me,” they actually tend to be less happy, they actually tend to be lonelier. And loneliness is a very strong predictor of depression, so we have a problem here that, on the one hand, we were told and we know that happiness is good for us, we want it therefore. On the other hand, we also are told that if we value it and it’s important for us, then we’re going to be less happy.

So, how do you resolve this paradox? And is it self-deception? Do you tell yourself, “You know, I actually don’t want to be happier, wink-wink, I actually do”? That’s not the way to do it. What do we do then? How do we resolve this paradox? The way we resolve this paradox is that we pursue happiness indirectly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Tal Ben-Shahar
Let me explain this. Let me explain this starting with an analogy. Think of the following analogy. Sunlight. You’re looking at the sunlight. What happens? It hurts. It burns. Unpleasant. So, instead of looking directly at the sunlight, what you can do is break the sunlight down and look at it indirectly. So, how do you break it? You break it using a prism and then you look at the colors of the rainbow, and you can savor them and enjoy looking at the sunlight indirectly.

In the same way, pursuing happiness directly, that’s unhealthy, unhelpful. But what if you break down happiness and then pursue those elements that make up happiness? Then you’re pursuing happiness indirectly. Now, this insight was actually described by John Stuart Mill 160 years ago. Today, we have the research to back it up. So, we know that if we get up every day and say, “I want to become happier,” we’ll actually become less happy. However, if I pursue the elements that make up happiness, for example, a sense of meaning in my work or at home, or if I pursue relationships which are one of the elements of happiness, that’s pursuing happiness indirectly, and that resolves the paradox, and that can actually lead us to becoming happier.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then let’s talk about elements. Is there a collectively exhausted set of these elements? We got meaning, we got relationships. If there is a red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, you know, lay it on us, what are the other colors?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Exactly. So, what are the colors of the metaphorical rainbow? My colleagues and I have been, obviously, working on this for a long time, and looking at positive psychology, however, also looking at general psychology as well as philosophy and theology and literature and neuroscience, we have created a model that brings together the different elements of happiness, the fundamentals, the basics, the primary colors, so to speak. And there are now three primary colors, there are five primary elements to happiness, and here they are.

The first element is spiritual wellbeing. Spiritual wellbeing, we could, of course, find it through religion. However, it doesn’t have to come through religion. It comes through a sense of meaning and purpose in life and through being present in the here and now. So, if I’m present to a blade of grass or to a person sitting in front of me, and truly present in the here and now, this potentially is a spiritual experience.

Then there is physical wellbeing. Physical wellbeing is about nutrition, it’s about exercise, it’s about sleep or rest and recovery, in general, it’s about touch. We are also physical beings. Next is intellectual wellbeing. So, intellectual wellbeing is, for instance, about curiosity. You know, Pete, that people who ask many questions, who are constantly learning, they actually live longer. In other words, it strengthens our immune system. They’re also happier. So, learning and deeply engaging, whether it’s with a text or with a work of art or with nature, deeply learning also contributes to our intellectual wellbeing, into our overall happiness.

Then there is relational wellbeing. The number one predictor of happiness is quality time we spend with people we care about and who care about us. Relational wellbeing also has to do with the relationship we cultivate with ourselves, which is obviously important. And, finally, it’s emotional wellbeing. Emotional wellbeing refers to our ability to deal with painful emotions, which are an inevitable part of life, of every life, as well as our ability to cultivate pleasurable emotions, whether it’s joy, gratitude, love, and so on.

So, these five elements – spiritual, physical, intellectual, relational, and emotional, that make up the acronym SPIRE – these are the five elements of a happy life. And when we pursue these elements, then what we’re doing is we’re indirectly pursuing happiness and contributing to our overall happiness, circumventing the paradox.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is excellent stuff. And I think, right then and there, that can trigger things for listeners right away in terms of, “Aha. Well, I’ve totally neglected maybe some spiritual practices,” or, “I’ve been eating out boxes recently instead of having salads, etc.” or, “Hey, instead of really channeling my curiosity into rich, engaged learning stuff, I’m just looking at headlines which aren’t really deeply satisfying,” intellectual needs there, and then relationally and emotionally. So, that’s a lineup.

I’m curious, when it comes to dealing with negative emotions and cultivating positive emotions, I imagine there are some not-so-healthy ways you could do trying to do that and some better approaches. What are the do’s and don’ts here?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yeah. So, this is very important. In many ways, I see the foundation of happiness. The foundation of happiness is, first of all, accepting unhappiness, or more specifically, when we encounter, when we experience painful emotions, what we need to do is embrace them, accept them. Now how do we embrace and accept painful emotions? Well, we can shed a tear. That’s one way of expressing painful emotions. We can talk about them, whether with a therapist, or coach, or our best friend, or partner. Or we can write about painful emotions.

There’s a lot of research, wonderful research by Penny Baker, Laura King, and others on the value of journaling. And when we write about our most difficult experiences, traumatic experiences, we are expressing them, we are giving them space rather than rejecting them, and then they do not overstay their welcome. There’s a beautiful poem by a Sufi poet, Rumi, from the 13th century, called “The Guest House.” And in “The Guest House,” Rumi talks about how we need to welcome all thoughts, all emotions, into our house just like we would welcome guests. Why? Because they are messages from the beyond.

Now, I don’t know whether or not they are messages from the beyond, but what I do know is that when we accept them and embrace them and welcome them, like we do guests, then they come in, we experience them, and then they leave. Whereas, if we reject them, the paradox once again here, is that they only intensify, grow stronger.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, so I’d like to zoom into in my own experience, some days I’ll have, well, I call the BLAHs, it’s an acronym, it’s that ordinary tasks, they aren’t that big of a deal, call it like email, or making dinner, or something, on some days they just feel a little extra BLAH, a little extra boring, a little extra lame, annoying, hard or hassle, and it’s not that hard or annoying or lame really to do any of these things, but some days they just feel like that, an extra dose. So, what is your recommendation in terms of best practices when we’re just having one of those days where there’s some extra BLAH associated with normal stuff? What should we do?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yes. So, there’s a lot of great research, much of it done in Carleton University in Canada, on procrastination. If you can believe it, there’s actually a procrastination lab. I don’t know whether they get any work done but it exists, and they actually do get a lot of work, a lot of great work done. And the most important research coming out of the procrastination lab, to my mind, is, well, they have coined the five-minute takeoff.

The five-minute takeoff is about starting whatever it is that you want to do even if you don’t feel like doing it. Why? You see, procrastinators, and, by the way, the majority of people would classify themselves as procrastinators, and would pay a high price for seeing themselves as procrastinators, meaning a high psychological price.

So, procrastinators have the mental schema, the model, that motivation must precede action. In other words, for me to act to do things, I have to feel really motivated. Some people take it even further extreme, and their argument is that, or they believe that, inspiration must precede action. This is a false model, and this is a model that leads, inevitably, to procrastination because, very often, as you point out, we have those BLAH days, very often we don’t feel like doing the work even if, overall, we like our work, or if it’s not too taxing and even pleasant overall. We all have those days when we just don’t feel like getting out of bed or working.

And if one has the mental model that motivation must precede action, well, then there’ll be no action because there’s no motivation. People who do not procrastinate, or procrastinate little, because we all do some of it, they have the model the other way around. They understand, they recognize, that action usually precedes motivation, that action needs to precede inspiration. In other words, even on days when they wake up and they don’t feel like working, “So what? We can still take action even if we’re not motivated,” and they start doing it. That’s the five-minute takeoff. And after five minutes, or it could be 10 or 20 minutes, motivation comes, energy comes, and then they continue to work. There is inertia that’s created by the action.

In other words, simply put, fake it till you make it, or fake it till you become it. That is the best advice. And this is advice that I heed and many people do, and that’s how you get work done. I study a lot about the lives of writers, of authors, because I can learn a lot from them. And, inevitably, what the prolific writers do is they have a set of rules when they write and how much they write. And it doesn’t matter if they’re inspired to write, or they feel like writing, or they’re really motivated to write. It doesn’t matter. They sit down and write. And if they have to fake it till they make it, or fake it till they become it, then so be it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And that five-minute guideline for the procrastinators, is there some magic to that number? Like, that’s kind of enough for the motivation to kick in pretty often or is it just sort of arbitrary?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yes, and yes. So, it is pretty arbitrary. However, for most people, five minutes is enough, and if it’s not, then have another five minutes. There are days when a minute is enough, and there are other days when an hour is not enough, but it doesn’t matter. An hour is simply 12 five-minute sessions.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. Let’s talk a little bit about being in the pandemic, that has taken a toll on people’s happiness. Are there any particular threats or practices that are specifically relevant for this context?

Tal Ben-Shahar
I think most of the things that are recommended for regular times are good for difficult times only more so. For example, the rule of thumb in terms of the minimum amount of physical exercise that one should do is 30 minutes three times a week. The three times a week is a lot better than two times a week and it’s not much worse than four times a week.

So, this would be the rule of thumb, this is how much I used to practice pre-pandemic, three times a week, 30 minutes each time. During the pandemic, because stress levels are generally, for most people, higher, I would recommend doing four or five times a week. This is what I am doing now. Similarly, with gratitude, if usually even once a week of doing the gratitude exercise contributes to happiness, during difficult times do it twice a week or seven days a week. Just do more of the basics. In other words, increase the dosage of the regular interventions, of the regular practices.

Mediation. That’s another very helpful practice. And, again, mediation can be sitting down and focusing on the air going in and out, or it can be doing yoga, or it can be mindfully listening to your favorite music. These are all forms of mindful meditation. So, if you usually don’t do it, well, that’s a good time to start now. Or if you do it five minutes a day, bring it up to 10 minutes a day. So, go back to basics is what I recommend and be vigilant about them.

I often ask my students, “When is the time that you’re least likely to exercise?” And, invariably, they say, “Oh, exams, because that’s when there’s just too much pressure. I don’t have time to go to the gym or go out for a run, and then have to shower after that. Too time consuming.” And my response to that is, “When you are stressed, exam period or pandemic, this is the time to exercise, even more important than during ‘normal times.’”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And I think about these practices, I’m curious, are there any particular practices to do at work, whether it’s mental or the means by which you approach a meeting or an email or the writing, kind of whatever maybe your deep focused work is? Any key ways that we can do work better with a happiness perspective?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Very much so. Very much so. So, let me begin with brief tips, some of which I’ve already mentioned, and then go into something which I think is so, so important, and I’ll elaborate. So, first of all, simply, at the end of each day, write down one thing that you made progress on. This simple practice was introduced, described by Teresa Amabile who’s a professor at Harvard Business School in her book The Progress Principle.

And she found that people who focus on the progress that they make at work, and it doesn’t have to be something major, it can be “I cleared my desk or my inbox,” or, “I had a good client meeting,” or whatever. People who do it regularly are not just more satisfied with the work, they’re also more productive as well as more creative in the workplace.

Then there is another very important element, and that is probably the number one reason that companies invite external speakers, or psychologists in particular, to speak is because of stress. Before there was the COVID-19 pandemic, there was the stress pandemic. Burnout is a very common phenomenon in the workplace today. There is, fortunately, something that we can do about it. You see, many people perceive stress as highly problematic. In fact, many people talk about stress as the silent killer, as the destroyer of innovation, creativity, joy in the workplace.

However, once my colleagues and I started to study stress, we realized actually that stress in and of itself is not a problem, but actually stress potentially is good for us. Think about the following analogy. So, let’s say you go to the gym and you’re lifting weights. What are you doing to your muscles when you lift weights? You’re stressing them. Now, is that a bad thing? Not at all. On the contrary, you go to the gym one day, two days later you go back to the gym, you lift more weights. Two days after that, you continue your routine. And over time, you actually become stronger, healthier, better off than you were before. Stress is not the problem.

The problem begins when you go to the gym and you lift weights, and then more weights, and then more weights, and the following day you do the same, more and more and more. That’s when the problems begin. That’s when you get injured. That’s when you get weaker rather than stronger. The problem, therefore, is not the stress. The problem rather is the lack of recovery. And that’s a problem in the gym physiologically, or in life, in the workplace, psychologically.

What we need to do, if we want to fulfill our potential at work, is find more times for recovery. Now, recovery can come in the form of a 15-minute break every 90 minutes or 2 hours, whether it’s a cup of coffee or chatting with colleagues or just hanging out or exercising. It can even be 30 seconds of closing our eyes and taking three deep breaths, five to six seconds in, five to six seconds out. That in and of itself can shift us from the fight or flight stress response or to what Herbert Benson, from Harvard Medical School, calls the “The Relaxation Response,” because the problem is not the stress. The problem is the absence of recovery.

Recovery is also getting good night’s sleep. There’s a lot of research on the benefits of sleep for productivity, creativity, of course, happiness, for physical health, mental health. Taking a day off is an important form of recovery. Vacation, of course, is an important form of recovery. And if we punctuate our crazy busy lives with periods of recovery, then we can make the most of our energy, and we can be at our best more of the time.

One more thing that is related to recovery. One of the reasons why we experience so much stress in our day-to-day work is because of multitasking. And multitasking is fine, we do it, it’s natural, it’s important at times. However, what we also need is to create, what I’ve come to call, islands of sanity throughout the day. Islands of sanity are times when we are single-tasking, when we’re only doing one thing, when we’re focusing on it, when we’re mindful. And it could be doing email, and it could be being in conversation with a colleague, and it could be writing the organizational strategy. It doesn’t matter. But single-tasking, islands of sanity amidst all the crazy, busy multitasking.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Tal, there’s been so much good stuff here you’re sharing, and I know you’re sharing a whole lot more in your Happiness Studies Academy. What’s this program all about?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Well, the Happiness Studies Academy offers certificate programs in that respond to two questions. The first question is, “How can I become happier?” The second question is, “How can I help others become happier?” And, of course, through happiness, given the relationship between happiness and success, we also become more productive, creative, improve our relationships, and so on. So, the Happiness Studies Academy offers practical applied interventions that we can employ in our personal lives as well as our professional lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Super. And so that’s conducted online, are there classmates or groups or cohorts, or how does that go down?

Tal Ben-Shahar
So, it’s all online, and it’s on our website, which is HappinessStudies.Academy.

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

Tal Ben-Shahar
Albert Camus, “In the midst of winter, I found within me an invisible summer.”

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

Tal Ben-Shahar
So, I think my favorite research is one that it’s a joint study that was conducted by the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School. And what they found was that the best way to increase our happiness levels is through giving, by contributing to others, by helping, by being kind and generous. And I love that because what it does is it takes the whole field of happiness studies to a place where it’s not just a solipsistic, individualistic pursuit but rather it’s a pursuit that contributes to our own wellbeing as well as to society. It’s a wholistic pursuit.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Tal Ben-Shahar
I’d have to say Mary Anne Evans, aka George Eliot, Middlemarch.

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

Tal Ben-Shahar
Realize, recognize, that becoming happier follows the same trajectory, the same routine as becoming better at any skill, which means we need to invest time and effort. It’s not enough to just know what leads to happiness. What we need to do is practice, implement, do the work.

Pete Mockaitis
Tal, this has been a treat. I wish much happiness in all your adventures.

Tal Ben-Shahar
Thank you very much, Pete. And thank you for doing the work that you’re doing.