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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Jacinta

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

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

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

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Dr. Jacinta Jimenez Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacinta Jimenez
Yeah, there you go.

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

Jacinta Jimenez
It’s very troubling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacinta Jimenez
Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And what is cognitive flexibility?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacinta Jimenez
TheBurnoutFix.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Nic

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Nic Marks Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

621: How to Banish the Four Habits of Time Wasting with Steve Glaveski

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Steve Glaveski says: "Focus on what you can control, not what you can't control."

Steve Glaveski reveals how to unlearn the four habits that make us time poor.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we often feel like we get nothing done 
  2. The simplest way to keep others from stealing your time 
  3. Why we achieve more when we have less time 

About Steve

Steve Glaveski is an entrepreneur, author and podcast host whose mission is to unlock the latent potential of people so that they can create more impact for humanity and lead more fulfilling lives. 

Steve is CEO of Collective Campus, an innovation accelerator based in Melbourne and Singapore, and founder of Lemonade Stand, a children’s entrepreneurship program and now, SaaS platform, that has been delivered to kids across Australia and Singapore. Steve is also the author of Employee to Entrepreneur: How To Earn Your Freedom and Do Work That Matters, the children’s picture book Lemonade Stand: From Idea to Entrepreneur, and the newly released Time Rich. 

Steve hosts the Future Squared podcast. His work has been featured in Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street JournalForbes, the Australian Financial ReviewTech in Asia and numerous other outlets. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

Steve Glaveski Interview Transcript

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

Steve Glaveski
Thank you so much for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom but, first, we need to hear about your relationship with heavy metal and performance in a tribute band.

Steve Glaveski
Wow, that’s a great question, a great place to start this. Well, I always say that you’ve got to cultivate a positive relationship with adversity, put yourself in all sorts of uncomfortable places, and then everything just becomes easier. So, one of those uncomfortable places for me was wearing zebra-print pants, a snakeskin cowboy hat, and makeup in an ‘80s metal tribute band called Ratt Poison, that’s R-A-T-T, paying homage to the band Ratt many, many years ago now. I think I was about 21 at the time, and, well, I’m still a big heavy metal fan, and that was a great experience. Although I do recall snapping a string at that particular performance and spending about 10 minutes trying to fix my guitar while the band played without me. So, trial by fire, but, yeah, that’s my heavy metal story, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Now you said that this was an uncomfortable position, so you didn’t seek this out, it was thrust upon you?

Steve Glaveski
No, look, I joke. I was looking for a good way to introduce that but, ultimately, I loved it. Like, it was a lot of fun. I mean, looking back now at those photos, they can be used to incriminate me or can be used against me, but I proudly have them up on my Facebook account. So, Pete, if people want to look for that photo, they can find it on my Facebook profile.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, thank you. It sounds like a rich use of time. How’s that for a segue? Your book is called Time Rich, which sounds like an awesome thing I’d like to be. Can you tell us, what does it mean to be time rich?

Steve Glaveski
It really means living life according to your values. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you wake up in the morning and you spend all day in your underwear watching Netflix. It really comes back to having the time to invest your hours, your very few hours, into things that give you a more rewarding experience of life. So, for some people that might be working longer hours, for some people it might be spending more time with family but, ultimately, I think it comes back to how you choose to spend those hours, and spending those hours in high-value activities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like the ideal. Can you tell us kind of what’s the state of affairs right now in terms of how much of us, how many of us really do that?

Steve Glaveski
Very few of us do that. I think a typical person now is spending about 12 hours a day staring at screens. That’s actually gone up since the pandemic just because we find ourselves watching more Netflix and YouTube and whatnot. But if you look at what we’re spending our time doing with those screens, particularly now when it comes to work, people’s way of work, we’re effectively taking what we did in the office, which was 50 to 60 interruptions a day, which was 40 to 50 notifications, push notifications popping up on our screen all day long, which was responding to emails within five minutes of them being received, checking email every six minutes, we’ve taken that and we just put it all online.

Like, instead of a one-hour face-to-face meeting, it’s a one hour Zoom call. Instead of taps on the shoulder, all day long it’s a Slack message. It’s actually worse now because we’ve got that Slack channel or the Microsoft Teams channel up all day long, and the red light is always going off, new notification, so we’re bouncing back into that all day long.

And what that does for us in terms of our focus, effectively we’re paying a cognitive switching penalty because every time we switch task, it can take us up to 23 minutes to get back in the zone. And when we’re in the zone, when we cultivate the ability to get into flow, we’re about five times more productive. When we’re totally immersed in one task, the rest of the world seems to fade away and the hours just fly by, we’re way more productive. But we’re in this state of hyper-responsiveness where nothing gets done, and we can be “busy, busy, busy” all day long but have very little to show for it come the end of the day.

And just to close the loop on your question, Gallup ran a study last year which found that 85% of people are either disengaged or not engaged by their works. So, any 15% of us are engaged by our work, which comes back to these organizational cultures where either we’re not aligned with the values of the organization or we’re just not given a sense of control to actually get stuff done because we’re spending all day long in meetings, we’re being interrupted all day long, and we’re glorifying things like inbox zero, which demonstrates that we’re really good at responding to other people’s demands on our time at the expense of our own priorities. So, my sense is that very, very few people are doing the utmost with what little time they’re given.

Pete Mockaitis
Now that 23-minute stat, I think that sounds familiar, like the Microsoft study with email. Is that where that comes from there?

Steve Glaveski
Oh, that actually comes from an organization called Advanced Brain Monitoring in the United States who ran a study on the flow state. It also echoes a study that McKinsey ran, a 10-year study around high executives where they found that when these executives are in a flow state, they are up to five times more productive.

There’s also another study that Advanced Brain Monitoring ran where they found that even micro tasks switches, so a notification pops up on your smartphone and you see it but you don’t tap on it, you just notice it. That one-tenth of a second micro task switch, over the course of a day, they found that that can add up to about a 40% productivity loss because even if you’re in flow, and you notice that, that’s enough to kind of take you out of flow and it’s going to take you time to get back in. Not only does it compromise our productivity but this constant sort of recalibrating our minds around a different thing, it can leave us exhausted as well.

So, we can find that by, say, 1:00 P.M. we’re feeling spent just because we’ve spent the first four, five hours of our day just shuffling between browser windows madly instead of just focusing on that one-high value activity.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, this is quite fascinating because when you said 23 minutes, I thought, “Oh, that sounds like the 24 minutes associated with the Microsoft email study.” But it’s a completely different study which arrived at a very similar number, which I find intriguing and validating. So, can you share with us some details on what was going on in terms of how we tested that and got to that 23-minute figure?

Steve Glaveski
So they basically got a number of control groups and it required a little bit of objective feedback in terms of the interruption and how they got back to it. So, they would look at a performance of, say, marksmen who were able to get into flow in terms of how well they hit the bullseye. And what would happen was they would leave them be to just, say, extended stretches of time of, say, 30 to 60 minutes to just work on their craft, and they performed at a much higher level than when they’d been, say, interrupted or when someone came over and had a quick conversation with them.

And then they’d look at the first, say, 5 to 10 minutes thereafter, as opposed to, say, 20, 30, 40 minutes thereafter when they’d had more time to just really hone in and get in the zone, and it’s kind of the same as, say, you might find if you meditate. The first two or three minutes, there’s a lot of monkey mind going on, but then 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes in, a lot of that stuff kind of starts to fade away and you really get into your element.

So, they ran these studies across a number of different fields where they basically took someone’s performance shortly after an interruption and then compared it to their performance 20, 30 minutes in, and there was a vast difference in that. And then after they’d been interrupted, how long does it take them to get their performance up to that sort of optimal level.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Well, so there we have it. I mean, it seems like there’s plenty at stake here in terms of whether or not you’re engaged at work, whether or not you’re having fun, whether or not you’re doing well, you’re executing at a high level and just sort of ultimately getting more stuff done during the course of the day in terms of whether we are in flow and doing things well in a time-rich fashion versus kind of just jumping and being scared all over the place with notifications and emails and interruptions in a time-poor fashion.

So, tell me, what are the best interventions, super habits, practices, tips and tricks, for those of us who want to cut out the time-poor behavior and be all the more time rich?

Steve Glaveski
Sure. So, a good visual mnemonic that will help your audience is TYRE. So, I say when it comes to our personal productivity, we’re carrying around spare tires which effectively slow us down. So, the T stands for task switching. So, the best thing you can do there, actionable step is you turn off your notifications; that’s a really easy one. But the second one is really cultivating the ability to focus on one thing for extended periods of time. So, using something like a Freedom app or BlockSite to block Twitter, to block these app sites you’re inclined to jump into, and then just, “Yeah, let me just quickly check my notifications.” And that can send you down the Twitter rabbit hole for half an hour. The other thing there is also the browser windows. Like, rather than having 20 browser windows open, just focus on one. So, these are like some actionable things you can do in terms of that environment.

And then the other thing I would do on task switching is it’s like cultivating any habit. Like, if you’re not used to going to the gym, it can take you a while to get into that. But cultivating the ability to sit still on one task for 30 to 60 minutes without switching, that also takes effort so you might want to start with, say, 15 minutes and work your way up.

Environment design is important too. If you want to build new habits, cultivate an environment where it’s easy to build that new habit, where it’s easier to break bad ones as well. So, I’ve touched on a couple of them there, but also if I have my phone right next to my desk, and I was going to reach for it but I don’t have it here, which speaks to what I’m trying to communicate, it’s much easier for me to just pick that phone and just check Instagram quickly and do things like that. So, whatever you can do to build a habit free of distraction, build an environment free of distraction, do that.

And then the second piece on building that…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if I may, before jumping to the I of TIRE, so this 30, 60 minutes of not switching, you say that could be hard. We might just need to start with 15. I think maybe it might be beneficial to paint a picture in terms of when we say not switching, I have a feeling you have a higher standard of this than most of us. So, give us an example of when you say, “Hey, okay, for the next 15, 30, 60 minutes, I’m doing this and only this.” What can be some examples and then what are we not doing? We’re not looking at any notification or ding or beep or buzz whatsoever or visiting any place. Paint a picture for us.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, definitely. So, look, I’m a writer so I spend a hell of a lot of time staring at my Google Docs module, and if I am writing a thousand-word article, I am not checking my phone, I am not checking other websites, and there are no notifications popping up on my screen. I’m focusing purely on the task of writing. Now, there may be, while I’m writing, I might need, say, a reference of some kind to help me elaborate on things but I’m going to go through one round first.

So, if there is a reference that I’m looking for, I might just make a note of that in the article, and write, “Reference,” highlight it in yellow, and keep on going. Because if I stop every 50 words to seek out references, that can slow things down. I want to write it first and then go off and do those other things because it’s, in a world of four million blogposts being published every day, it’s so easy for us to get stuck in content rabbit holes. And, again, we need to be honest with ourselves because it can be easy to conflate doing stuff with being productive because, ultimately, we derive a lot of self-worth from our work, but we need to make sure that we’re deriving that self-worth from productive activities rather than just stuff that makes us feel busy.

So, that’s essentially my definition of not task switching which is really focusing on not just the one task but also, “What’s the task within the task?” because writing, it could writing, it could be researching, it could be fact-checking, there are different elements to that value chain of writing, but focusing on that one task within the value chain of writing at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Yeah, I really like that about the task within a task. And then I guess that’s where things get tricky is when you need to get something else to do the thing you’re doing, whether it’s inside your email, or whether it’s inside a reference, or whether it’s inside your phone text message history. That’s what trips me up in terms of it’s like, “Oh, I need to get this thing in order to finish what I’m doing.” But then as I go to that other place, I’m besieged with all the other stuff, and I hate it. How do I fix it?

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, that’s a great, great question, and in some cases, you might get to a point where, “Look, it’s a dead end, and I need to jump into my email to get this widget, to get this attachment, whatever it is, to continue with my work.” So, of course, you need to do that. Now, I would say that in some cases there are tools that exist. So, for example, if I need to quickly write an email but I don’t want to be besieged by all of my new incoming emails, well, there’s widgets like…or plugins rather, like Google Chrome’s compose email plugin, which will just open the Compose email window so that way I spare myself seeing my inbox. Or, it might be that if I’m jumping into my inbox to get an attachment, well, in that case, I might see those other things coming in.

At the same time, I think it comes back to building that muscle and cultivating the ability to be like, “Hey, I see you. I see you, email, but right now I’m working on this other thing, and I’ll get back to you later.” So, that comes back to nothing new. I mean, people have talked about batching before, but really batching the checking of email to, say, three times a day, which is something I talk about in the book where a study showed that once people check email more than three times a day, their sort of emotional wellbeing starts to fall off with it. There was like an inverse correlation, the more times you check email throughout the day and how good you feel kind of tapers off.

So, batching that, whether it’s morning, mid-day, end of the day, and just having that time specifically for checking and responding to those emails is better than sporadically doing it throughout the day. Now there’s probably all sorts of reasons why people feel worse off when they do that. It might be just that they’re spending all day on shallow-level tasks, they’re not getting any high-value work done, and that could be part of it. It’s kind of like Netflix is all, well, and good, but if you spend four hours bingeing a TV series, you feel terrible at the end of it. Like, it’s just shallow-level work. You get into sort of a vegetative state and it can be that that would also happen with that email as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so let’s hear what the I is in TIRE.

Steve Glaveski
So, I is actually Y, so we’re going with that definition, so it’s higher. But, basically, so the Roman philosopher Seneca once said that, “People are frugal when it comes to guarding their personal property but not so when it comes to their time,” which is the one thing which is right to be stingy with because time, unlike money, cannot be earned back once you spend it.

So, Y essentially stands for yes, saying yes to all sorts of demands on our time, oftentimes at the expense of our own thing. Because, as human beings, we have a tendency, well, not a tendency, we have a predisposition to wanting to be liked. So, if someone requests something of us, we say yes. If someone sends us a meeting request, in most organizations it’s expected that you will say yes, and that if you say no, well, that’s going to create a bit of a tension there between you and that person that invited you. But every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to everything else.

So, there is a lot of narrative, if you will, particularly in startup ecosystems where they say, “You know, if you say yes to everything, you create serendipity,” and that’s true but, at the same time, you’re saying yes to one thing and you’re saying no to everything else. So, being more diligent about what we say yes to, and making sure that that stuff really aligns with our goals, is going to help us get close to those goals.

But the one other thing that I would say on that is when it comes to meetings, for example, at Basecamp, if you want to book a meeting with someone else’s calendar, you just can’t do that. You need to sell the meeting to them. You need to, like, why is their contribution going to be valuable at this meeting. Whereas, in many organizations, there is just this tendency to just call every man, woman, and their dog to a meeting, and you have, like, 10 people sitting around a Zoom call nowadays, when, really, you might only need two or three people to be there.

One example I can talk of there is Dominic Price who is the resident work futurist at Atlassian. So, he uses this really useful visual of boomerang and stick. So, for so long, his calendar was basically back-to-back meetings all day long, all week long, and after a while, he said, “Look, I can’t keep working like this, I can’t work on my own goals, and I’m not just finding that my time is really optimized attending all of these meetings.” So, he started saying no, and two-thirds of those meetings didn’t come back so they were effectively sticks. He sent back the meeting rejection; they didn’t come back. One-third did and he called them boomerangs.

So, it might be that two-thirds of the meetings that you’re attending yourself, particularly if you work at a large organization, could be proverbial sticks, if you will. And just by saying no, you might save, as was the case with Dominic Price, 15 hours a week that you can reinvest into your own stuff as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really inspiring because I think you said, perfectly earlier, like, yes, there’s this fear associated with, “If I say no to this meeting request, I’m going to create some friction, some tension,” and it sounds like that was not the case for Dominic in terms of he said, “No,” it’s like, “Oh, okay.” Well, I don’t know, maybe they were furious but it sounds like they were just fine with it, it’s like, “All right, that’s fine.” And then the one-third was like, “No, seriously, I really need you.” He’s like, “All right then.”

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that’s a pretty simple filter then right there. And do you have any pro tips on how we’d recommend saying that no?

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, definitely. So, rather than just saying, “No, I will not attend your meeting. It’s not of value to me,” it comes back to human psychology, trying to empathize with that person, make sure that they understand your own position as well, and say, “Look, I’m currently working on XYZ. It’s a high priority for me. I need to get it done by then. I don’t think that my presence at this meeting will be of value but if there’s anything I can share that you think is valuable, I’m happy to email that along. If you think, for whatever reason that I absolutely have to be at this meeting, let me know why and I’ll come along.”

So, it’s just about, I suppose, taking the edges off somewhat and just being human with your rejection. It’s the same as anything. Even last week, I had organized for someone to appear on my podcast, and in line with this philosophy of not saying yes to everything, I had them come back and say, “Oh, you know, our AV guy wants to set up a 30-minute or 15-minute test call.”

And we’re a small team with only so many resources, and I don’t do test calls with anyone, so I went back to them and said, “Look, I appreciate that. I’ve never had any issues with AV. We’ve got a good setup. I’ve published 400 podcasts episodes. I have a small team and we’re very diligent about what we say yes to because if we say yes to one thing, we might find ourselves saying yes to everything, and I won’t have any time to focus on our goals. I hope you understand.” And they were completely fine with that, they responded and said, “Yep, totally understand,” and just about doing it that way rather than just saying no off the bat.

But, ultimately, what’s better than that is just getting to a point where your organization has a culture where you’re not expected to say yes to things and the onus is with the people requesting the meeting to say why you need to be there to spare you from having to say no in a very sort of diligent way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. That’s great. And if there are superior solutions, like I think, I don’t know what it was called, it’s like Online-Voice-Recorder.com or something like that, is something I’ve sent people to in that very context in terms of it’s like, “You see if it’s recognizing your microphone, and if you record it, if it sounds good. And then if it does, then that’s really the hard part. So, we’ll be all set by the time we’re meeting up here.” So, that’s great. And then it’s probably for them, too, in terms of they don’t feel embarrassed, like, “Oh, I’m sorry, Steve. Let me try to unplug it and then refresh, and sorry.” Okay, you can be there on your own with no self-consciousness, so everyone is better off.

Okay, so we got the T, we got the Y. What’s the R?

Steve Glaveski
Residual work. So, many of your audience will be familiar with Forrest Gump, and there’s this classic scene in Forrest Gump where he’s playing college football, and he was running towards the end zone, he gets there, he’s got the touchdown, he just keeps on running right into the change room, he takes out one of the band members on his way there. And this is essentially how we tend to approach a lot of our work where we don’t stop at the point of diminishing returns. We just keep on going. And so, we might spend, say, four hours putting together a sales presentation, but then we might spend another four hours tweaking it, working with the formatting, making it absolutely “perfect,” at the expense of just saying, “Okay, we’ve created most of the value. Let’s stop. Let’s move onto something else.”

And so, high performers tend to have a good relationship with that point of diminishing returns, and this is something that I find myself doing sometimes as well, and often it comes back to doing something that’s familiar, that’s comfortable, and that gives us that sense of being busy, again, at the expense of starting something new. Because when it comes to switching and starting a task afresh, something that’s perhaps somewhat challenging, our brain needs to recalibrate around that, it’s like staring at a blank page, you can get writer’s block or coder’s block or whatever block is associated with your work.

And the way around that, again, comes back to just breaking that up to its smallest possible unit, and getting started on that, and getting those wheels rolling because that comes back to Isaac Newton and his first law of motion, “An object at rest stays at rest. An object in motion stays in motion,” which effectively means that once that ball is rolling, the amount of energy you need to apply to keep it rolling is much less than what’s required to get it started in the first place.

So, when you do find that you are at that point of diminishing returns, stop, maybe go for a 20-minute walk because that helps us release some BDNF, brain drive neurotrophic factor, which is like our cavemen brain sensing movement as a fight or flight moments, and that helps us focus. So, taking that walk, coming back, and starting on that fresh task, breaking it down to its smallest residual part, getting that ball in motion, and once it’s in motion, it’s so much easier to do that.

And the benefit of this is we’re not talking about this over one day, but if you do that over, say, a hundred days, you’ve saved yourself countless hours just kind of tweaking stuff, inconsequential activities that you do on a task long after it’s been done, and you’ve actually spent a lot more time working on high-value activities. So, the compounding interest benefit, if you will, over long periods of time is significant.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what are some telltale signs that you are approaching or have hit or have passed this point of diminishing returns?

Steve Glaveski
You’ve got to be objective based on your own work, so it’s hard to answer that without knowing the kind of work that people are working on. Like, I know myself that if I am getting into that state of just doing stuff because it’s comfortable, because it’s easier than moving onto something else, I have a pretty good relationship with that. Like, yes, there is value in, say, writing an article and then going over and making sure it’s spellchecked and it sounds good and everything else.

But once you’ve done that once or twice, you might just yourself scrolling up and down, and just looking at it ad infinitum, and that’s perhaps the point where you want to move on and go to something else because it really depends on the individual task at hand. I can’t think of a perfect way that we would say, “Okay, here’s a telltale sign around when you have hit that point of diminishing returns.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I think that’s…I’m picking up what you’re putting down there with regard to you kind of know it when you see it and feel it with regard to, “Has anything useful happened here in a while?” Like, for me, I find it often occurs like maybe I was in a good groove for like 90 minutes plus, and I’m still working but it’s more of a coasting at that point than a creating new stuff, and it’s like my brain is tired but I haven’t yet acknowledged that my brain is tired.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, you might find yourself, like if you work in social media, you might spend a bit of time putting together some content, and then you go off and you publish it, and then you might just find that you’re spending too much time refreshing the screen and seeing what kind of engagement you’re getting. Now that’s past the point of diminishing returns. People might say, people who work in social media will say, “Well, that’s part of my job.”

But, like the email, you can batch that. You don’t need to be doing that refreshing the page every five minutes, and then while you’re there, checking out some of the other things that have been posted, going into analytics and doing all these little inconsequential things that perhaps you should be batching once a day, and then moving onto another activity.

So, again, that comes back to that sort of the value chain of work, “What is the nature of your work? What’s the value chain within a task?” And batching that stuff rather than finding yourself kind of just in this hamster-on-a-wheel sort of mode. And the value in that case was creating the content, publishing it, and that’s it. But refreshing the page ad infinitum? That obviously isn’t a high-value activity.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think you’re really nailing something there with regard to when there’s real-time stuff happening. It’s funny, we’re recording this on Election Day in the U.S., you’re in Australia, and so there’s a lot of refreshing I think going on in a lot of places to see, “What’s the news? What are the numbers? And how are things potentially unfolding?” But I found that that is a temptation, like when I’ve done my listener surveys, I’d refresh, “Ooh, we got two more. We got two more. What do they say? What do they say? Ooh, they love the show. Great!” It’s like, “Ooh, we have three more.” So, there’s that real-time temptation, I think maybe people who if they’re doing trading in the financial markets as well.

And so then, as I’m thinking about this real-time, it kind of gets back to, “Hey, what am I trying to accomplish in this moment?” And there may be a great reason to say, “Okay, hey, I just launched a survey, and I want to see the first 5, 10 results right away to see if maybe I had a really unclear question, and folks are not actually giving me answers that are what I’m after, or they’re confused, or skipping it. So, yeah, I do want to check, maybe repeatedly, in the early moments to do a quick correction and make sure I don’t let it run for five days and get 200 responses that are not what I wanted because I was unclear with my question.”

So, in a way, I think that that’s super helpful to do that refreshing, it’s not a diminishing return. It’s a great return. But other times, it’s just like, yeah, it’s almost like you go into a state of, “Duh, refresh anymore.” It’s like there’s less life and juice and drive and goal domination going on in terms of how it feels in my psyche.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, which comes back to what I was saying earlier, like you know it when you see it, essentially, when it comes to that point of diminishing returns. And what you’re talking about there is so valid as well. I’m not a big fan of absolutes and all-or-nothing type of advice or guidance on anything. I feel like most things in life exist on like an inverted U, like stress as well. Like, “No, stress is not a really good space.” I mean, some stress actually helps us get to that point of optimal performance. So, that inverted U, you want to look for that space at the very top of the inverted U, or the bell curve essentially.

Pete Mockaitis
Or an N, lowercase N.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, whatever the case it is, lowercase N, but then you’ve got two like peaks, so. But, essentially, finding that space. So, yes, maybe check it for a little bit, get the feedback you need. It’s the same with running an ad. You want to run an ad and you want to see that it’s performing in the early stages, and if not, you want to tweak the ad and make sure that you’re getting a better click-rate, for example, that you’re reaching the right people, whatever the case is. But if you’re sitting there, refreshing the ad all day long, “Oh, our cost per click has gone down a little bit. Oh, we’ve got a few more clicks now,” like that is obviously the point where you’re like, “Okay, let’s move onto something else.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we got the T, the Y, the R. And the E?

Steve Glaveski
So, the E, essentially, I suppose dovetails off something we touched on, which was the path of least effort. So, human beings, biologically, we’re predisposed to taking the path of least effort. I mean, that comes back to evolutionary wiring whereby tens of thousands of years ago, when we were naked running around the African savannah, we didn’t know where our food would come from, and so we needed to conserve energy for extended periods of time in case we needed to hunt out some prey or evade some predators.

This now shows up in our work when we sit down to our desks and we take that path of least effort, checking Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on. And we already touched on some of the ways to circumvent that by breaking things down to their residual parts, environment design, and cultivating the ability to get stuck on the most difficult task perhaps first thing in the morning or first thing in the afternoon, whenever it is you tend to do your best work, which is something we touched on in the book as well, which is that about 50% of people are actually night owls, which means they do their best work 10 hours after waking. Otherwise, if you try and get a night owl to work an hour after waking, they actually suffer from a form of social jetlag, which can also predispose them to developing anxiety and depression over the longer term.

So, this whole idea of getting people to the office at, say, 9:00 A.M., getting them out of bed at 7:00, particularly if they’re night owls, it’s really detrimental to their health, but not only their health but their ability to perform at a high level. So, when you think about the fact that about 50% of the population are night owls, like they have these preferred sleeping patterns but they’re forced to get to work early, and I think it’s encouraging to see that now with the move to remote work at scale, hopefully more organizations stay that way.

It does create the conditions to move to more asynchronous communication where we’re not expecting real-time responses, where we’re not conflating presence with productivity, and people aren’t expected to be on Slack all day long and expected to all be on these back-to-back Zoom calls. It does give people the ability to design days as it best suits them, as it best suits their biological predisposition, the realities of their lives, their families and everything else, and they can get work when it best suits them.

And, ultimately, that benefits everyone. It also benefits the organizations because if you can create those types of cultures, it also is a compelling recruit tool because people want to work at places where they can create their own days as it best suits them but also work in organizations where they can actually get stuff done and not be bogged down by bucketloads of process and policy that just gives them no sense of control or agency over their work.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well-said. Well, so I also know you’ve got a take on the eight-hour workday. Lay it on us, are shorter workdays better and why?

Steve Glaveski
Sure. So. Shorter workdays, there is no yes or no answer. Ultimately, a six-hour workday experiment was something we ran two and a half years ago and I wrote an article about this for Harvard Business Review and called “The Case for the Six-hour Workday.” And what you find is when you have a shorter workday, if you’re an organization that has a lot of bloat, that isn’t intentional about how it goes about creating value, a shorter work day forces you to focus on high-value activities. It’s a forcing function.

So, one, it will force you to, say, automate and outsource rudimentary process-oriented lower-risk activities so that your people aren’t doing that. Two, it will force you to focus on, say, high-value tasks. So, applying the Pareto principle, focusing in on those 20% of tasks that create the majority of the value rather than just focusing on those low-value tasks that feel good, that you’ve done because you’ve always done them before but don’t really move the needle forward. It forces people to cultivate the flow state, to get better at getting into that deep-work state, do away with those notifications, those distractions, and those meetings that inhibit our ability to do our best work. So, a shorter workday will help you in that regard. So, if you do have a lot of bloat, and you’re working at eight-hour workdays, and you come back to six, you will find more productivity.

Now, over the past couple of years, there’s been a trend as well to four-day work weeks. We saw Microsoft Japan run a four-day work week, and they suggested that their productivity improved by 40%. Now, me, personally, I would argue that five shorter work days is better than, say, four longer ones because if you have created this environment and culture where people can get into flow and people can do that for, say, the max amount of time, which is about four hours a day, maybe five, then if you’re keeping them there for, say, eight hours for four days a week, that suggests that maybe there’s two, three hours of waste there rather than running, say, five days at four or five hours a day, which I think is more beneficial if people are spending that time in flow.

Now, again, there’s something to be said about not all hours will be in flow. Like, for example, you may have to have some meetings. There is collaboration that’s required at organizations, there are things that need to get done where you’re just not working in isolation, so that’s why adding maybe a couple of hours to that workday, so it’s six hours rather than just four, I think makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And you mentioned automation and outsourcing. Do you have any favorite tools or services or tricks?

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, look. I think Zapier, for me, is probably one of the most powerful ones. So, Zapier, or IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That. So, these tools will basically help different tools speak to each other. So, recently, during the pandemic, I spun off a media company called NoFilter, and one thing we found was taking up a lot of time was getting people that we had paid to take Google Docs that our writers had developed, take them, copy them, paste them into our CMS and publish that.

So, we created a very simple automation between, say, a web HTML form and our CMS so that our writers will just plug the content right into the HTML form, and that would get picked up by Zapier and come into our CMS, so then us, as editors, we just jump into that CMS and we just need to publish it, or we might need to just make some changes if we feel like the content is not good enough, or just delete it if it’s crap, right? But that saves us a lot of time copying and pasting, but it also meant that we could operate at scale because, then, we could reach out to a lot of different writers, and say, “Hey, if you want to write for us, here’s the online form. You can republish some of your old blogposts too and we’ll link back to that, and we’ll give you an article links and whatnot.” And that just helps us make the process a lot more seamless. So, that’s one.

Another example is tools like repurpose which help you effectively repurpose content for different platforms. So, you can think about something like recording a Facebook Live video and then using a combination of tools like Zapier, Repurpose, record posts, for example, where that Facebook Live video could get turned into a transcribed blogpost, an audiogram, a YouTube video, and social media post with a click of a button essentially.

Now, again, inverted U, sometimes there is an element of personalization that can get missed with that but these tools are slowly getting better and better, but just by recording that Facebook Live video, you can have all these other forms of content basically at the click of a button, and that just means that we’re creating a lot more content, we can reach larger audiences, and it saves us a hell of a lot of time in trying to manually create different versions of that content ourselves.

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

Steve Glaveski
There are a couple. Another couple of tools people might want to look out for: WebMerge and Airtable. So, I mentioned earlier our sales presentations, we use Airtable to automate our sales proposal generation, right? So, rather than having to manually seek out, “Hey, where’s that proposal we prepared for that client about six months ago?” getting that PowerPoint or keynote, and then manually putting that together, we’ve created this tool where all we do is plug in the prospect’s name, their logo, and choose the color scheme, and also just choose what products they’re actually interested in, and this will spit out a presentation that we might spend 5 to 10 minutes customizing. And, over the course of the year, that also saves us a bunch of time when it comes to just automating these rudimentary process-oriented tasks.

So, I would challenge people that whatever task you’re all currently working on, like whether it’s customer service, sales, marketing, testing, administrative tasks, like so many things can be automated, and the cost of doing so is not high, but a lot of people will say things like, “Yeah, but I haven’t got time or money to do that,” but it’s kind of ironic because over the long term you actually end up spending a hell of a lot more time and money trying to do it yourself rather than just spending that time upfront which will pay itself back in orders of magnitude.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. That’s what I found. It’s like it’s not so much that you don’t have time, it’s just that it’s kind of hard and tiring to figure it out and execute it and set it up, but once you do, yeah, I’ve had many instances of setup a system and a process with a combination of training someone to do something, and software doing something, and bring them together, and I spend two hours and it saves me 40 hours. There’s not a lot of 20-to-1 returns to be had in your investments, but when it comes to time and automation outsourcing, there’s many, many to be done.

Steve Glaveski
Many, many. One quick one there, just on that 20-to-1, if you look at things like a five-minute task done five times a day, like if you just outsource that task or automate it, that saves people something like 15 days over the course of the year, like if you extrapolate that five minutes out. And that’s just that five minutes, like we’re not even accounting for the fact that you need to stop what you’re doing to do that task and then come back to what you were doing, so the task switching as well.

So, it doesn’t need to be a big task to save a lot of time, but it’s the small task that you’re doing often, like even five-minute tasks, think about outsourcing that as well.

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

Steve Glaveski
I’m a big fan of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditation, And one of the quotes in his book was, “When you have power over your mind, not external events, realize this and you will find strength.”

So, essentially, I think that navigating life in that way where things will happen to you that perhaps aren’t pleasant, things won’t go your way. You might pursue business and perhaps it doesn’t work out, but you have control over your mind and how you choose to interpret and respond to these things. Just by having that sort of mindset, it just opens you up to trying things where you might fail and you might not be good because so many of us suffer from a sense of paralysis when we’re scared that things will not work out our way.

I’ve tried to cultivate that adversity in my life just by doing things that scare me. Like, last year, I hit the standup comedy open-mic circuit here in Melbourne, and I did five shows. Now, I’ve done keynotes and things of that persuasion in front of hundreds of people but getting up in front of a crowd of ten in a smokey back-alley bar somewhere and trying to make them laugh, man, that’s scary. Doing these things just, I find, optimized not only your life but just predisposes you to taking that path of more effort rather than the path of least effort. And, oftentimes, even if you fail, you end up in a much better place.

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

Steve Glaveski
One that I pulled out during my research for the book Time Rich was around some group of scientists that…so there was three control groups: so one was working 20 hours a week, one was working 35 hours a week, and the third was working 60 hours a week. And what they found was that the group that was working 20 hours a week was twice as productive as the 35-hour a week group, and the 60-hour a week group was the least productive of all, which they found came back to the fact that the more hours these groups had, one, they’d spent it on non-consequential tasks, but, two, they also had less time to rest and rejuvenate and come back as the best version of themselves. So, that’s why the 60-hour a week group were just the least productive of all.

So, that comes back to something I talk about in the book, which is burnout. Burnout essentially, where that comes from is the fact that us, as human beings, we might be present on a Zoom call or in the office, but if we’re burnt out, we’re only physically present. On the inside, we’re a shadow of our former selves, and that’s kind of like a house that’s been ravaged by a house fire. It might still be standing but if you go inside, everything has just been burnt out to a crisp. So, that’s an interesting study that I think validates some of these thinking around shorter work days and focusing on high-value activities rather than just conflating hours with output as we might, say, on the factory room floors of the industrial revolution.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Steve Glaveski
For now I’m going to say Ray Dalio’s Principles just because he is someone who’s been in the trenches for a number of decades in the funds-management space. His initial business failed, he effectively came up with ways to codify decision-making based on what’s worked in the past but also adaptive decision-making in a way where he will update his worldview based on new evidence that comes to light which is a core of the scientific method, but just lots of principles in there which I think help us navigate not just business and life.

For example, multi-order thinking, so not just thinking about, “What’s the benefit of making this decision but what are the consequences? What are the second, third, fourth order consequences of this?” So, it’s just a chock-full of these principles that effectively help us better navigate life essentially.

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

Steve Glaveski
It’s really about a quadrant that I drop on a whiteboard once every quarter. So, not a fancy like tech tool or anything like that, but I just draw up this quadrant and I just write in each corner start, stop, more, less. And so, I’ll do this with my business, I’ll look at, “What should we start doing, stop doing, do more, do less?” And I’ll apply this to sales techniques, marketing channels, products we’re selling, customers, geographies, real targeting, all that sort of stuff, so that every period of time we’re always optimizing, we’re cutting away wastes, and we’re doing more of what works, we’re introducing new things that we perhaps haven’t tried. We’re always experimenting.

But it’s also a valuable tool that you can apply to your own life in a sense that, “Hey, here’s what I should start doing, stop doing. Hey, here’s what’s not really working for me. Perhaps I need to stop doing this, and perhaps I need to be more of a friend to these people,” whatever the case is. But being objective with that and just taking the time out to stop and reflect, as Mark Twain urged us to do, and actually act on those reflections, I think, just helps us get to a place where we’re just living more contended lives.

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

Steve Glaveski
Just getting started to the most difficult thing first thing in the morning, whatever it is. It might be a gym workout. It might be writing a 1500-word article. It could be anything, but I find that if I start my day achieving something, then that kind of permeates the rest of my day in a way. And not only that, but there is something to be said about dopamine release that comes with accomplishment, that comes with achieving something, that puts you in a better state of mind as well, which then, in turn, impacts how you show up with the people around you, and impacts the energy that you bring to the rest of your work. So, for me, that all just starts with making my bed first thing in the morning and then going from there.

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?

Steve Glaveski
Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t control. I think that’s a big one. So often, people don’t delineate between the two and find themselves getting wrapped up with what they can’t control, and that’s really putting yourself in a place of victimhood narrative. There’s nothing you can do about that other than make yourself feel like crap. So, really delineate between the two and focus on influencing what you can control and the stuff that you can’t control, well, there’s no point working yourself up over it because it’s essentially outside your locus of control.

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

Steve Glaveski
I’d point them to SteveGlaveski.com. They can find all of my links to businesses, social media, books, all that sort of stuff over there. And if they want to learn more about Time Rich, they can do so at TimeRichBook.com. They can download the first chapter for free as well as a 30-page document of Time Rich tools over at TimeRichBook.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Steve, it’s been a treat. I wish you all the best in being time rich.

Steve Glaveski
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

620: Reframing Your Mindset for Greater Resilience and Positivity with Anne Grady

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Anne Grady says: "Resilience is a practice, it's a muscle, something you have to work at."

Anne Grady discusses how to bring more positivity into your life by building your resilience muscle.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What to do when negativity hijacks your brain
  2. The simple trick to making each day more enjoyable 
  3. The foundational skills of resilient people

About Anne

Anne Grady is an internationally recognized speaker and author who shares humor, humility, refreshing honesty, and practical strategies that can be applied both personally and professionally to improve relationships, navigate change, and triumph over adversity. 

Anne is a two time TEDx speaker, and her work has been featured in Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur and Inc. magazines, CNN, ESPN, and FOX Business. 

With a master’s degree in organizational communication and more than 20 years of experience working side-by-side with industry gurus, political and educational leaders, and CEOs, Anne addresses audiences worldwide on topics including change management, resilience, leadership, communication, and emotional intelligence.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Anne Grady Interview Transcript

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

Anne Grady
Hey, Pete, thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat once again. And I think you’ve got some very critical wisdom to share, talking resilience. Tell us, what are you doing to stay resilient these days?

Anne Grady
Oh, my gosh. Well, I have been tested. I think we have all been tested. And so, I’ve been putting into practice all these great strategies I teach. And, just like all of us, I’m human, so some days work better than others, and it’s just putting one foot in front of the other. Resilience is a practice, it’s a muscle, something you have to work at. It’s not one of those things you’re either resilient or not. So, I can’t wait to share with you some of the strategies I’ve been using and the things I talk about in my new book and ways that you can just kind of navigate this difficult time a little bit easier.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. And even when, at last, the pandemic is behind us, we’ll still need these for the next challenge. So, maybe you could open us up. So, your book is called Mind Over Moment. What’s behind that title?

Anne Grady
So, our life is this collection of moments, that’s really all it is, and we’re so caught up. We’re busy being busy, and I feel like the Girl Scouts are going to start handing out a busy badge at some point. We’ve just gotten really busy, and we’re reacting through life, and we kind of just instead of living a life that we intentionally want, or simply trying to survive the one that we have, and there are ways that we can change that, that we can get out of reactivity.

But it’s using this idea of mindfulness to be deliberate about where you’re investing your time, your energy, your attention from a mindset perspective, from a skillset perspective, and then being able to reset to really take back control of your life. Otherwise, each day just becomes the same day and we kind of just end up on this hamster wheel and land somewhere and draw bullseye around our self, and go, “Oh, well, I guess this is where I was supposed to be,” instead of really crafting the life that we want.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, boy, there’s so much to dig in there.

Anne Grady
Dig away.

Pete Mockaitis
And a great distinction in terms of enduring the life that we are in as opposed to really kind of designing and going after that. So, yeah, let’s talk about some mindset things. How would you orient us in terms of what is the optimal mindset to be resilient AF, as your T-shirt says, which keeps cracking me up?

Anne Grady
I have these made. We’re actually going to start selling these at some point.

But your mindset is, literally, the story you tell yourself. It’s the story you tell yourself about what’s going on in your life, it impacts how you see yourself, how you view the world. And so, I guess where I would start with mindset is understanding your brain. And without going too deep into neurology, our brain is this amazing three-pound cauliflower-like blob sitting on top of our shoulders but it’s actually working against us.

And so, if we are left to our own devices, if we just let our brain operate as it is, we’re really focused on looking for everything that’s wrong instead of figuring out what’s right. We have a negativity bias. And this served us well as we’ve evolved as a species because our brain’s job is not to make us happy or keep us content. Our brain’s only job is to keep us safe. And in order to do that, it is really keen on the negative around us because the positive stuff is not going to kill us. So, your brain just easily kind of lets go of all these positive moments that you have in your life, and it really hones in on the negative experiences.

And so, we have to offset Mother Nature. And the thing that’s happening right now is that our brain views uncertainty as a threat. Our brain doesn’t like an outcome it doesn’t know. It actually would rather have an outcome it hates than one it doesn’t know. And so, because of this negativity bias, we keep going to worst-case scenarios, and we tell ourselves these stories in our head. And that actually shapes our neuro chemistries.

So, when we say things, even if they’re true, like, “I’m so stressed. I’m so tired. This is crazy. This is nuts. What are we going to do? This is horrible,” your brain actually responds to protect you, and it starts pumping you with cortisol and adrenaline and noradrenaline and norepinephrine. And all those chemicals are there to help you fight, freeze, or run away but they’re not doing anything to help you live purposefully or to help you find peace. We got to protect our peace. It’s one of those things where…My son is severely mentally ill and autistic. We’ve talked before and I think I told you about he tried to kill me when he was three years old with a pair of scissors.

And by four, he was on his first anti-psychotic. By seven, he was hospitalized and had his first in-patient psychiatry. When he was 10, he was hospitalized again, and I got diagnosed with a tumor in my salivary gland that left me with facial paralysis, and that resulted in a scratched cornea which required eye surgery before I started six weeks or radiation, but not before I fell down a flight of stairs, breaking my foot in four places. So, I didn’t learn this stuff, I mean, I say I didn’t learn it in a textbook. I had to live it first and then I wanted to understand how it worked. And I learned that there were things that I was doing along the way that were supporting my resilience but there were things that were sabotaging it.

And if you are focused on deliberately cultivating the right thoughts, the right belief systems, the right mindset, you change your entire life. Our thoughts are not facts. We take them as facts but they’re not.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s dig in. So, we got this negativity bias going on, and you’ve figured out how to overcome that with a host of challenges. Again, wow! So, glad you’re here and well.

Anne Grady
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how do we go about overcoming, reprogramming, dealing with that?

Anne Grady
Well, it starts with the story you’re telling yourself, right? So, I found myself, people would say, “How are you?” And I’d be like, “Oh, my God, I’m so busy. I don’t have time. I’m overwhelmed. I’m stressed.” And while those things may have been true, my neurochemistry was flooding me with all of these neurochemicals to help protect me but it actually was increasing inflammation and making it difficult to sleep, and impacting my mood and my ability to make decisions and solve problems.

And so, you really start by being deliberate about the story you tell yourself, which is, stuff is not ideal but there are still good things happening if you look for them, and that’s really the key. People who are resilient, who practice resilience, proactively cultivate positive emotions, they use their brain to search for the good to help offset the bad. And that doesn’t mean that you ignore the bad stuff.

“Pretend that everything is peachy keen?” And that’s not what I’m advocating. In fact, while it seems counterintuitive, you actually have to feel the yucky stuff. When we try to push it away or get rid of those uncomfortable emotions, and we suppress them or numb them, we actually increase the intensity and the duration of them. So, it’s not to say that you should ignore the uncomfortable negative emotions, but you have to proactively search for the positive ones.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, well, let’s hear those two parts then in terms of, okay, so pushing away, ignoring, suppressing, repressing the unpleasant stuff is the wrong move. What is the right response for, you know, “I’m anxious,” “I’m angry,” “I’m depressed,” “This thing ticked me off”?

Anne Grady
Yeah. Well, it’s to acknowledge it and give yourself grace. We’re human. And I think we’ve grown up in this. The last decade has been this positive psychology cyclone, and what we don’t realize is we’re not supposed to be happy all the time. Those moments happen in little blips but our brain has developed a negativity bias for a reason. It’s meant to protect us from everything that’s going on. And so, if we’re going to overcome it, well, first of all, we can’t overcome it. It just is what it is.

And so, when you’re feeling anxious, it’s going, “Crap! I feel anxious right now,” and identifying where you feel it, “So, my stomach feels tight. My shoulders feel tense. My palms are sweaty. My heart is racing.” What that does, simply by naming it and identifying where you feel it, it’s called tracking, it actually resets your nervous system and gets you out of the sympathetic fight or flight, and back into the parasympathetic rest and digest.

So, simply acknowledging the emotion, and, “Yeah, I feel crappy right now. And this is what I’m experiencing and it’s okay to feel that way,” because feelings are fleeting. It will shift and change, but when we fight it or try to numb it with unhealthy vices, we just serve to aggravate it and bring it to the forefront even more.

It’s like me telling you, like, “Don’t think of pizza or chocolate cake when you’re going on a diet.” We pay attention to what’s top of mind. It’s called selective attention. It’s like if I said, “Think of an animal but whatever you think of, don’t think of pink elephants.” Well, that’s what you’re going to think of. So, we have to start acknowledging the stuff that doesn’t feel so great, but then you have to be deliberate about what you’re searching for.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then we talk about the unpleasant emotions and how to work with that. And so then, to be conscientious about what you’re searching for, how do we amp up to find more and, I guess, linger or dwell more into the pleasant experiences?

Anne Grady
You know, I used to think this was so touchy, fluffy, feely. When I thought of resilience, I thought of like finding your Zen, and eating tofu, and sitting in a full lotus, and drinking green tea. And it seemed very fruppy and fluffy demand ‘til I dug into the research. Over 11,000 studies have proven that gratitude is the most direct path to wellbeing and happiness. And I know when I was going through my facial paralysis and stuff with my son, my natural inclination was, “What do I have to be grateful for right now?”

But there are always things to be grateful for. And the simple act of looking, you don’t even have to find anything, the simple act of looking releases serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good neurochemicals and antidepressants. The simple act of looking for something to be grateful for decreases the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. And because we tend to scan the environment and find what we look for, whether it’s looking for, like yesterday, I had a crappy day. It was one of those days where every light turned red, things were not going well, and I have a sign on my bathroom mirror that says, “What do you want to find today? What do you want to see today?” I mean, it’s not like a fancy sign. It’s written in blue Sharpie marker. But I wanted to find reasons to be grateful.

And so, I drove to the grocery store, and a car was leaving one of the spots right up front as I was going away. And what most of us do is we just go, “Okay, that’s cool.” But in order to rewire our brain, there’s something called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. And, basically, what it means is the more you think and behave a certain way, the easier it is to think and behave that way. So, the more often you’re anxious and cranky, the easier it is to stay there.

And so, if you think of like a computer, you download a program but you have to install it. And so, having the experience is downloading it, but to install it, you have to actually sit in it. It’s called savoring. And it means you have to step outside of the experience and observe it and appreciate it for 15 to 20 seconds, and you can literally rewire the neural structure and function of your brain when you get in the habit of doing that.

And so, what ends up happening, like, when was the last time you laid in bed at night and you’re ruminating about your day, and you’re thinking about the good things that happened? We default to the negative. You get a performance review. You’re told you do nine things exceptionally well. You have one opportunity for growth, and you’re lying in bed at night marinating and stewing in that conversation. You’re not thinking of the nine things you did exceptionally well. You’re stewing over that one negative thing.

And so, it’s not to say you ignore that. Is there truth in it? Can you learn from it? Is there something you can do something productively with that feedback? But then it’s sitting in those nine things that we typically dismiss and rush past, or that compliment that you get that you just brush off instead of really sitting in that and feeling it physically because that is what changes your brain.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s talk about how that zooming right into it, doing some savoring. So, you mentioned savoring the last time. I’ve been thinking a lot about it, so let’s dig in some more. So, you get that great parking spot, and instead of just saying, “Oh, that’s cool,” walk us through the depths of savoring in depth. What’s happening in your brain? How are you savoring that well?

Anne Grady
So, what I did when I pulled into the parking spot is I just took three deep breaths, and most of us don’t breathe correctly. I can get into breathing more a little bit later as we talk about other things. But I took three really deep diaphragmatic breaths. And what that does is it allows enough oxygen to get into your brain and it resets your nervous system. And I just took a second and said, “I’m really excited I found this cool spot up front. It’s rock star parking. This is going to be a good trip to the store. I’m going to find other good stuff.”

And it was so funny because I did. I went to the store looking for good experiences. And a grocery store at 5:00 p.m., even in a global pandemic, is crazy. It’s like full-contact sport, right? But I was standing in one of the aisles and I could not find the spice I was looking for, and there was a mom and a daughter walking by, and I’m like, “Hey, can I borrow you guys for a second?” And they looked at me like I was a crazy person, which I probably am. But I said, “My eyes, I’ve been staring at this spice aisle for five minutes and I can’t find what I’m looking for. I’ll give you a bonus point, if you can find this.”

And so, they were like, “Ooh, a bonus point.” Well, I’m giving them nothing, right? But they both found what I was looking for in a split second, and then we all had a really good laugh. And that single moment could be easily dismissed but, instead, as I was walking down the rest of the aisle, I thought, “That felt really good, you know. They had a laugh. I had a laugh. I found what I was looking for. It didn’t cost us any money. They weren’t annoyed by it. It was a good interaction.” And I actually left the store feeling better than when I got there.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And people could be starved for those interactions in a pandemic in terms of like, well, one, they might’ve just fled from you, “Aah, too close. Danger. Toxin.”

Anne Grady
“Ahh, crazy.” I had a mask on.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, good. Good. So, there’s that. They could be particularly starved for that experience there.

Anne Grady
But it’s funny you mentioned that, and I’m sorry to interrupt you. But it’s funny you mentioned that because I teach resilience. And so, I was doing a session today for a group of leaders at a high-tech company, and I shared that experience. And one of the guys said, “You know, it’s interesting you say that because yesterday I was at the grocery store, and the exact same thing happened. I couldn’t find something, and this woman was standing there, and I asked her to help me, and she found it.” And this is the gentleman talking, he said, “And I told her, ‘You’re awesome,’ and she started to cry. And she said, ‘That’s the first time anyone has told me I’m awesome all year long. You just made my day.’” And I do think we’re starved.

And I don’t have any data to support this but I think the mask thing is a big deal because we’re missing out on so much human connection, and social distance, really, is physical distance. We still need social connection but we’re starved for positive moments right now. And the single most momentary increase in positive emotions comes from doing something nice for someone else. And if somebody else witnesses that, they’re more likely to do something nice for someone else.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s very beautiful to think about, I don’t know, that ripple effect and the good vibes to put forth in the world there. So, finding the gratitude, expressing the gratitude, and that’s big in terms of for the parking space, then how you ended up discovering more cool moments along the way there. So, those are sort of the mindset part. Talk to us about the skillset. What are the top skills that folks need to adopt to become more resilient, and how do we get them?

Anne Grady
Well, I think of the mindset as the toolbox, it’s the foundation but you’ve got to fill it, and so the skills are your tools. And what we just talked about is a big one. Proactively cultivating positive emotions, whether it’s humor, a smile, one that involves the muscles around your eyes actually calms your nervous system, cools your heart, slows respiration. True genuine laughter increases pain tolerance, lowers blood pressure, stimulates dopamine and serotonin production, even makes you appear more attractive. So, anything that you can do to proactively cultivate good emotions.

So, for example, I have watched every Netflix standup comedian that I could find. Like, I think I have exhausted them all and I’m watching them all again. And it’s because your brain doesn’t know the difference between…like, they’ve done studies with Botox where they forced a smile and your brain doesn’t know the difference between a real smile or a forced smile. It just recognizes the facial movement, and so that literally shifts your brain. When you experience laughter, it is not only good for your brain, it’s physiologically good for your body. So, that’s a huge one.

Self-care. This morning, I was teaching a session, and I said, “Think of the dirtiest word you can imagine. Like, think of the dirtiest word you can imagine.” And then I asked, “How many of you thought of self-care?” We think of it as this selfish luxury but it’s really a skill. Self-care is nothing more than a skill, and it doesn’t have to be taking-a-spa day. It can be sipping that first cup of coffee and just really appreciating it. It can be lighting a candle while you do your taxes. It can be stepping outside and just taking a five-minute walk or snuggling your pets.

Social connection is another one. And so, many of us have heard of this chemical called oxytocin. It’s the bonding agent so I guess you could call it. It’s called the cuddle hormone and it’s, basically, what bonds parents and children, mother and child as soon as the child is born, but it’s actually a stress hormone. And so, when we are feeling stressed, our body produces oxytocin because it’s craving connection. We are tribal by nature. We’re social creatures. We survive together better than we do individually.

And in a time when we have been so focused on socially distancing ourselves, with that has come social disconnection, and it’s huge. Loneliness kills more people every year than smoking, obesity, and high-blood pressure. And you can be in a room full of people and still be lonely, right? So, you could be in the middle of Times Square, back when it used to be filled up, and be lonely. So, social connection is huge. Self-care, gratitude, positive emotions, all of those seem like they’re so easy that, I mean, they’re so simple that it’s easy to dismiss them. And you don’t have to tackle all of them at once.

So, for example, look, I’m not Ms. Rose-Colored Glasses. My husband will tell you I’m the most pessimistic motivational speaker he’s ever met. Like, I am not out high-fiving sunbeams, there are not doves released when I walk into a room. I was diagnosed with clinical depression at 19. So, my natural optimism bias is very, very low. I have to really work hard at it. For some people, it comes more naturally. For me, I have to really, really work hard at it.

And exercise, for me, is not something I look forward to, it’s not something I necessarily enjoy, but it rivals anti-depressants. And, no judgement, I’m on everything but roller skates. But exercise, literally, changes the structure and function of your brain. It repairs neurons damaged by stress. It increases the density of grey matter, and that’s the part of your brain that’s responsible for attention and emotional regulation.

So, if you’ve noticed, since this pandemic started, that you’ve had a harder time focusing, or you’re more irritable, or easily agitated, there are specific things like sleep and exercise. And yoga is great because it combines meditation, breathing, and exercise. There are things you can do to repair your brain, but sometimes we just default to what’s easiest. And it’s easier to binge on Tiger King for six hours than it is to focus on taking a walk.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a nice lineup there. And so then, all these are skills, in so far as it’s not a matter of them coming naturally or exerting some effort, you’re working on them and they become more natural over time, and so, excellent. And then how about the reset part of things?

Anne Grady
So, the reset is kind of two-fold. One, it is resetting your priorities, so resetting your priorities and your perspective. I think what’s been most fascinating, as I’ve been working with a lot of my corporate clients is that working from home is no longer working from home. It’s living at work, and we are constantly connected. And because people know we’re not anywhere else, when we don’t respond for a couple of hours, it creates a sense of urgency.

And your eulogy and your resume shouldn’t be the same document. As someone who is very goal-oriented, achievement-driven, I own my own business, I’ve had to really work hard at remembering that it’s not just about prioritizing your schedule. It’s about scheduling your priorities. If you were to track your time for a week, is it reflective of what you say is most important to you? Or, are you just getting carried away being busy?

So, I told you swimming, for me, is my exercise. It’s my self-care. And I swim in a pool, and there’s this line painted on the bottom of the pool so I go straight. But if you’ve ever tried to swim in an ocean, then you know swimming in a straight line is like impossible. You’re carried away by the tide. You’re carried away by the current. So, you’re taught, if you’re an open-water swimmer, aim for an immovable object, like a buoy, or a dock, or a lighthouse.

And so, this idea of your lighthouse. What is your lighthouse? Because I feel like life is kind of like the ocean. There are times when the seas are calm and it’s beautiful, and the birds are chirping, and the sun is shining. And then there are times that we’re in right now, like a global pandemic, and it’s a torrential storm, and we’re getting sucked under. And if, when we rise back up to take a breath, we don’t have something to look toward, we just kind of swim aimlessly.

So, one of the things to reset is really get clear on what your most important priorities are, and is that reflected in your calendar. The other thing is, “What are you swimming toward?” And you can have big lighthouses. Like, my biggest lighthouse is mental health advocacy but I have little lighthouses like pizza night. So, I’m doing sober October, I have a lighthouse on November 1st, I get to enjoy a cocktail. Part of the challenge, I think, with the pandemic is that we don’t have a lot to look forward to because we don’t know what’s going to happen.

Like, my husband and I, for the longest time, our lighthouse has been getting an RV. And I’m not a camper, I’m a glamper, so we wanted to get a travel trailer. And we’ve been putting it off, and putting it off, and waiting till the kids graduate, and waiting till the right time, and we finally said, “You know what, there’s never going to be a time when every duck is in a row, when everything is in alignment.” We just did it. We bought a travel trailer. And, my God, it’s been so fun just to start having these little lighthouse adventures along the way. So, that’s that part of it.

The other part is resetting your nervous system because we can, like consciously, physically get out of fight or flight and that cortisol-induced stress state, and we can, literally, put ourselves back into a relaxed place where we’re able to reengage the logical part of our brain and think creatively. It’s a skill but it’s doable.

Pete Mockaitis
Woo, so much good stuff here. Well, Anne, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Anne Grady
Well, I think, for me, the resetting your nervous system is something that we take for granted that we can do. And I just love that there are a few techniques you can use. One of them is breathing. And it sounds so simple, right? But most of you are probably thinking, “Okay, Anne, I can breathe. Like, I’m sitting here. What’s the magic with this?” But we breathe shallowly.

So, if you put one hand on your chest, and one hand on your stomach, and you just breathe normally, there’s a high likelihood that your chest is moving more than your stomach. Like, take a second and do it for you. What’s moving more, your chest or your stomach?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I kind of knew what you were going to go for so I’ve taken a few.

Anne Grady
Darn it, Pete. You’re messing this up for me. No, when we’re stressed, we take shallow breaths. So, if you’re an elite athlete, or an opera singer, of which I am neither, you’re trained in a technique called diaphragmatic breathing. And it’s kind of counter to what you would think. When you inhale, you imagine that there’s a balloon in your stomach, and you fill it with air. So, on the inhale, you create this giant Buddha belly. The exhale is actually the part of the breath that puts you into the parasympathetic nervous system, the part that calms your brain. So, the exhale should be a little bit longer. So, you view the inhale as filling up your belly with air, but the exhale, imagine there’s a weight on the end of it that just kind of takes your exhale even lower.

And so, three deep diaphragmatic breaths resets your nervous system. A deeply relaxed person takes seven breaths a minute. And so, people talk about meditation and, again, for me, it was like playing Whack-A-Mole with my thoughts. I would sit there and try to breathe, and go, “Oh, crap, I forgot to call my mom,” or, “Oh, what am I going to make for dinner?” until I learned it’s working. So, meditation is focusing on your breath, but the goal is not peace or Zen. The goal is catching your mind wandering and bringing it back to your breath. You’re training your brain to direct your attention where you want it to go so that you’re less likely to hit the panic button. You’re learning to observe your thoughts and your emotions without getting carried away by them.

So, breathing is something that is super understated. It’s very, very important. And even three of those deep breaths. I started wearing my daughter’s Apple Watch because it has a reminder to breathe, and just take some time out once an hour to take a few deep breaths. It’s really, really powerful.

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

Anne Grady
My first was from my grandmother, it’s actually a Yiddish proverb, and she always used to say, “Annie, if enough people tell you you’re tired, it’s time to lay down,” like, if enough people are giving you the same advice. But my favorite was when she used to say, “Annie, if you act like an ass, don’t be surprised if people try to ride you.” That’s probably my all-time favorite quote.

But I guess the second closest to that would be Ray Wylie Hubbard. He’s a Texas singer-songwriter, and he’s got a lyric in one of his songs, and he says, “And the days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, well, I have really good days.” And so, what I have found is that when we’re unhappy, it’s usually because our expectations are out of alignment with reality. And you can’t always control what’s in reality but you can control your expectations.

So, the more time you spend being grateful and the less time you spend being resentful, or disappointed, the easier it is to find the good stuff.

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

Anne Grady
So, one that I just came across that I really liked was this study done by the University of London. So, they took these participants and divided them into two groups, and they basically said to one group, “It’s a computer program, and every time you click on a rock, and a snake is under it, you’re going to get a mild electrical shock.” They tell the other group, “You’re going to get a mild electrical shock but it’s not every time the snake is under the rock. It’s just going to be intermittent.”

And what was phenomenal is that the group that knew that they were going to get shocked every time there was a snake under the rock had less anxiety than the people who knew it would be intermittent because our brain is so against uncertainty. It hates it. So, it constantly goes to the default worst-case scenario. There are so many studies.

Another one that I find fascinating, and Kelly McGonigal writes about this in her book The Upside of Stress, and she’s got a great TED Talk called “Make Stress Your Friend.” And they tracked 30,000 Americans over the course of eight years, and they start by asking them these two questions. The first is, “What level of stress have you had in the past 12 months? Low, medium, or high?” And the second question is, “Do you think stress is bad for you?” So, they asked 30,000 people these questions, they tracked them over eight years, they used death records and mortality rates as a way to track progress.

And they find that for people who had high levels of stress in the previous 12 months, there’s a 43% increased risk of dying prematurely, but it was only for the people who thought stress was bad for them. The people who thought stress is just nothing more than just your body’s physiological response. “Increased heartbeat? Well, that’s just your brain needing more oxygen. Tension in your shoulders or your stomach? That’s just your body putting on armor to protect you from what’s ahead.”

The people who did not believe stress was bad for them, but had high levels of stress, had a zero percent increased risk of dying prematurely. It was the lowest rate of anyone in the study. So, they basically found, they looked at these cardiac monitors, and they hooked people up to them, and they find that for people who are experiencing high levels of stress and think it’s bad for them, their arteries constrict, so they tighten up, they limit blood flow to the heart and to the brain. But people who have stress and believe it’s just your body, which is you stress, is just activation of your sympathetic nervous system, nothing more, nothing less, they had zero constriction. They had the same cardiac profile as people who experienced joy and courage.

And then they took it a step further. They looked at housekeeping staff at hotels, and they asked these housekeepers, “Do you exercise?” So, they take a group of housekeepers that don’t exercise, and they divide them into two groups. One group, they don’t tell them anything. The other group, they say, “Did you know that every time you change a sheet, you burn this many calories? Every time you clean a window, you burn this many calories. Every time you flip a mattress, you burn this many calories. Every time you vacuum…”

So, the people that they didn’t say anything to, the housekeepers that just kept business as normal, didn’t lose any weight. The people who were told that what they were doing as part of their job was exercise, even though they changed no other habits, lost weight. Like, our belief system is so powerful that it drives our neurochemistry. And the beauty of this is that beliefs can be changed.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. That’s great. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Anne Grady
Well, you can always go to AnneGradyGroup.com. Anne with an E. You can certainly text the word “strength” to the number 22454, I’m sure you’ll probably post that on your show notes, but it’s 22454, text the word “strength” and you can get some free resources, a resilience self-assessment, a self-care sheet, a poem that I wrote a couple years ago that could not be more fitting than it is right now. But we also have a weekly resilience reset tip, tool, or strategy that kind of help you just reset.

And so, you can go to my website to sign up for that. You can also learn more about my books on the website. And, like I said, a portion of all my book proceeds go to the National Alliance on Mental Illness here in Central Texas. I live in Austin.

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

Anne Grady
So, we think that we separate work and life, like, “I want this balance.” And I would say that there’s no balance. Right now, it is about taking care of you so that you can be the best version of yourself to perform well at work, and you cannot do that if you’re not well. So, it would be a self-care challenge. Every day, schedule 10 minutes on your calendar to do something kind for yourself. It could be just doodling on a piece of paper or drawing. It could be snuggling your pet or your kids. It could be doing a puzzle. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it brings you joy.

And most of us are constantly thinking about, “How do I alleviate stress?” And I would challenge you to reframe it. Instead of, “How do I stop stress?” it’s, “How do I find joy? What are some things I can do throughout my day? What can I insert throughout my day to create joy?” because that is what will change your brain and build your resilience muscle. And it is just that, it’s a muscle.

Pete Mockaitis
Anne, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all of your moments.

Anne Grady
Thank you. Yeah, life is made up of moments. It’s just a collection, and so we got to make those moments count.