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491: How to Have Powerful Conversations that Improve Performance with Jonathan Raymond

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Jonathan Raymond says: "We're too nice to each other. We're not having honest conversations."

Refound CEO Jonathan Raymond teaches how to communicate feedback that gets results.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What makes traditional feedback ineffective
  2. How to have more effective conversations using the 5 stages of the Accountability Dial
  3. How to articulate feedback to your team, your peers, and your seniors

About Jonathan

After twenty years of not being able to decide whether he was a business executive or a personal growth teacher, Jonathan stopped trying to figure it out. He’s the author of Good Authority — How to Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For, and the Founder & CEO at Refound, a people training company that teaches people how to have human conversations at work. Refound specializes in working with people leaders at high-growth organizations and is proud to be a trusted learning partner to Fortune 100 organizations like Panasonic and McKesson, cutting edge tech firms like Niantic and Box and small businesses that are going places. He’s madly in love with his wife, tries not to spoil his daughters, and will never give up on the New York Knicks. Jonathan is an experienced CEO and people manager and has thrown his heart, mind, and soul into more than a few culture change projects. He lives in Encinitas, California and is an avid, albeit mediocre, surfer.

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Jonathan Raymond Interview Transcript

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

Jonathan Raymond
Thanks, Pete. It’s great to be back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to hear, have you learned anything extraordinarily useful and maybe new that changed the way you were thinking from two years ago?

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, I hope the answer to that is yes. We’ve learned a ton, really, as an organization.
I think that one of the ways that we work with organizations and try to advise them is, you know, a lot of people will say, like, “Well, we want more communication.” But if you actually talk to people inside an organization, which we do through our engagements, they say, “Well, you know, it’s not so much that I want more communication. There’s plenty of communication.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Plentiful.

Jonathan Raymond
“What I want is for them to think a little harder.” They meaning the organization or the leaders or whoever. “I want them to think a little more about which ones matter to me and why, and invest a little bit more time in context and why, why this particular piece of communication.” There’s a bunch of stuff that you’re telling me about that, it’s not that I don’t care but I have so many things that I’m trying to digest at the same time, I’d rather you didn’t. If you could just invest a little bit more time in thinking into which pieces of communication need a little bit more context and a little bit more of the why, those organizations are succeeding in terms of having more effective communication.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, when it comes to communication effectiveness, I wanted to chat with you in some real depth about feedback. We touched upon it last time, which was, boy, way back, more than about a couple of years there. And so, I wanted to talk about feedback in particular for this chat and maybe to start us off with in what ways does feedback often sort of just not work in teams and organizations? Sort of what’s the problem that you bump into most often?

Jonathan Raymond
Yes. Well, let’s start by thinking about for anyone who’s married or in a serious relationship. When you try to give feedback to your partner or spouse, how does it go? Usually not well, right? If you have kids and you try to give your kids feedback, including but not limited to teenagers, how does it go? Generally, not well, right? Why? Like, why does feedback not generally go well?

One is because we’ve got a lot of pent-up emotions, typically. We sometimes have more power than the other person, not always. We are often missing context around why they did what they did when they did it. There are so many possible ways that things could go wrong. We have our own bias, we have our own judgments, we have a lot of our own projection and how we feel about ourselves, so it’s a mess. So, when we enter into a thing called a feedback conversation, the likelihood of success is very low given all of those factors.

And so, we have to start thinking beyond feedback. Because that setup, whether it’s in the workplace or in our families—it doesn’t work. We know that it doesn’t work. People get defensive, it’s awkward, we feel uncomfortable, we talk past one another, so we need another way to think about solving the problem of what is the problem that feedback is intending to solve. There’s a real problem there that we’re sort of taking this tool called feedback and saying, “Oh, that’s going to solve it.” And then we found our position is like, “Hmm, not so much. It’s not going to work for that for a lot of different reasons. There’s another way.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I suppose most often, the problem I’m trying to solve with feedback is, “I would like for you to do this thing differently and better as I perceive better.” And so, if feedback is not the mechanism, what is?

Jonathan Raymond
So, for us, the everyday conversations take a different tone. So, exactly as you said, right, “What is the purpose of feedback?” Well, I want someone to behave differently. Now, we could also say we also want to give them feedback around things that they do well. And we’ll get into kind of the different feedback spaces or the different feedback relationships that we all have.

But if we think about approaching that conversation, not by making a statement about something but by asking a question, or making an observation, but doing it from a place of acknowledging our subjectivity, and saying, “Hey, I noticed this,” or, “It seems to me that X,” or, “When I was sitting in the meeting, one of the things that struck me was…”

But we’re approaching those conversations with a spirit of curiosity, with a spirit of dialogue, like, “I don’t have all the information. I don’t know everything about why you did what you did when you did it. I just noticed something and I’m going to bring it up because, as your colleague or as your manager or as your subordinate—whatever the case may be—I see that as part of my role to when I see things that are either problematic or potentially problematic, part of my role as a leader in this organization and in standing for my own values is to say something.”

But the way we go about it changes the whole game. And if we approach it from a place of assumption and conclusion and prescriptive, like, “This is what happened, and this is what you need to do differently.” Well, now we’re doing feedback and we’ll get the results that you would imagine. But if we approach it from a place of, “Hey, I have a question about this. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It seemed like this but I could be…” And so, it’s having that open hand relative to those everyday conversations.

So, in one way you could say, “Oh, that’s another way to do feedback,” and that’s fine, you could call it that. But for us it’s really different. When we train and teach these tools, people feel like, “Oh, so I don’t really have to give feedback in the way that I understood it. All I have to do is talk with people. All I have to do is show up as a human being, find a way to surface what I’m feeling, thinking, sensing, and then we can have a conversation, and that’s right.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m intrigued. So, we start with the curiosity and a statement of, “Hey, I noticed this…” And then maybe how’s the rest of the conversation go or maybe could you do a roleplay or an example?

Jonathan Raymond
Yes, so what we did is we created a tool called the Accountability Dial. And what we found—and this came from my own painful experiences as a people leader—is that I found myself having the same conversations over and over again, whether I was in a management role or when I was more junior, and I would flag something or name something, and I would find myself repeating those conversations.

And so, what we did is we created an architecture, we said, “Hey, what if there’s actually five parts to that conversation?” We called them the mention, the invitation, the conversation, the boundary, and the limit. And if we think about locating ourselves, “Well, where am I in this conversation? Is it the first time that I’m bringing this up? Well, I’m at the mention stage.” “Hey, Jennifer, I was in this standup this morning and you seemed frustrated by where the conversation was going. I’d love to hear more about that if I’m reading that right.” So, that’s the mention, right?

So, I don’t know why Jennifer, maybe there’s a really good reason, maybe there might be 27 things that could be happening, maybe I’m misinterpreting the situation. But my mention is just my first attempt to get in dialogue with Jennifer about that. So, that’s the mention.

Now, let’s say a couple of days goes by, maybe a week goes by, and I’m still sensing she’s frustrated in that meeting, I notice that in some email back and forth, something is not clicking. So, if I was Jennifer’s manager or if I was her peer and I cared about her as another human being, I wouldn’t let it go. I would come back to her and I would say, “Hey, I mentioned something in the hall last week. I’ve noticed a couple of other things. It seems to be something bigger and I care. I want to know. Maybe there’s something, maybe there’s some way that I can help.”

So, that’s the invitation stage, the second step of going into a little bit more deeper dialogue. And every single one of these steps, all five of them, are ways to express care in human ways to say, “Look, there’s something going on, or at least I think there is, and if there’s something that I’m doing, I want to be able to change it. And if there’s something that we need to work out together, well, let’s do that.”

And so, we go through those stages. That’s how we move through the Accountability Dial where we don’t try to tackle the whole thing in one bite. It doesn’t work that way. We’re not geared to be able to solve important things as human beings that touch on all these interpersonal and intrapersonal issues. We can’t solve those in a 30-second conversation so we’re going to come back to it a couple of times over a period of days or weeks or whatever it is.

Pete Mockaitis
And for that second bit there, the invitation, what exactly are we inviting them to?

Jonathan Raymond
So, we’re inviting them to reflect, to say, “Hey, look, it looked like it was maybe a one-off thing but now I’m seeing maybe it isn’t a one-off thing. Maybe there’s a pattern that’s emerging. And it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it doesn’t mean you failed, it doesn’t mean I’m judging you. It just means, hey, I’m here. I’m human, you’re human. There are probably things that you see about me that maybe are patterns. But, in this instance, here’s something that I’m seeing. And if I’m your manager,” and, again, this is a philosophical point of view.

In our work, we say, “Hey, if you’re the manager or the people leader, it’s your responsibility to approach that person, if not in real time, in near time to say, ‘Hey, look, there’s something that seems to be happening here. I’m inviting you to take a reflection on this, to think about, hey, is there something that you’re not saying, or is there a conversation you need to have with someone else, or is there a step that you need to do that you haven’t done?’” Whatever it is, but not from a place of judgment or shaming, but just offering somebody from that coaching mindset, a reflection from the outside.

Because what’s really hard for us as humans is we don’t see when we’re doing that often. Most of us, our powers of self-reflection, especially with the pace of work, are limited. So we want, you know, if you’re hungry for growth you need people around you who are going to say, “Hey, look. Hey, Jonathan, here’s something that I’m noticing. Maybe it’s worth thinking about.” That’s the invitation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s an example we’re running with. So, Jennifer, the first time with the mention, she seemed frustrated by something. And then so how does the conversation unfold during the invitation phase? You say, “It appears that this has happened a couple more times. This might be a pattern. So, I invite you to think about it or…”

Jonathan Raymond
Well, so it depends in the context, right? So, if I’m Jennifer’s manager, that’s going to feel a certain way, if I’m a peer I might approach that conversation a little differently. It depends on how you know the person and what the nature of that relationship is. But the invitation stage, it’s not so much, it’s not a directive. The invitation is more sort of describing the stage. Like, imagine you had like a black light that you could put on the floor of an office, and you could see all of the, what we call, feedback conversations.
Mostly what you would see is a lot of like started but never re-engaged conversations. So, people bring up something, they flag something, they name something, they highlight something, but they never come back around to that person and say, “Hey, remember that conversation we had the other day? There’s something else that I’m noticing that I think might be connected to it.”

And then the whole point of using the Accountability Dial in everyday conversations is you’re engaging your curiosity, right? “Hey, I don’t know. It’s not my job to know the answer, but here’s what I’m seeing,” and building those relationships of trust with a colleague. So, that’s the invitation. And then we move to the next stage, into the conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then some time goes by again, and you notice some other things. And then what happens?

Jonathan Raymond
So, the conversation stage of the Accountability Dial is when we try to help somebody, again, whether it’s a colleague, or a direct report, or somebody more senior, shift their awareness from intentions to impacts. So, most of the time, 99% of the time, when something happens in an office that isn’t great, or a factory floor, you know, we do a lot of work in manufacturing and other contexts like that, it’s not intentional. The person is not intentionally trying to create work for other people, or make life more difficult, or they’re not intentionally doing something to harm others or the team or the customer. And yet, behavior has impact.

And the conversation stage of the Accountability Dial is to help somebody shift their awareness, “Hey, so I get that that’s not what you intended. I get that. I understand that. But I’d love to actually have a conversation about what the impact to de-personalize it. It’s not, well, you’re bad a person.” People are likely to get very defensive especially if you’re their manager or any other context like that too. I know many of your listeners are not in a people management role.

But the context of that conversation is, “Let’s step back and let’s talk about, well, if you’re finding yourself frustrated,” if we take Jennifer’s example, “Jennifer, if you’re finding yourself frustrated with the team and maybe the pace of projects, or there’s too many changes, or whatever it is, how might that be impacting your working relationships? How might that be impacting our customers or vendors or stakeholders? How might that be impacting the overall experience that we’re having as a team? How might it be impacting your own development? Like, is there some career goal or something that you’re working on that’s staying in the state of frustration is keeping you from reaching as fast as you may want?”

So, questions like that to help people go like, “Oh, wow, I hadn’t thought about it in that way.” That’s how you know you’re in the conversation stage to help people, again, de-escalate. Like, the whole goal here is we’re trying to have human conversations, things happen, it’s not about jumping on somebody when they make a mistake, or creating a culture of fear is the opposite of what we want to create, but to be in conversation with that person, but to help them see.

Just like if you had a financial advisor, or a relationship coach, or in any domain of life, the reason why you hired that person is you’re trying to have a different outcome, right? So, you wouldn’t go to your relationship coach and say, “Well, I didn’t intend that,” and expect that to be the end of the conversation. “Of course, you didn’t intend that but that’s what happened, so let’s talk about why. Let’s talk about what the impact was and then let’s work our way backwards.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, you’re asking all those questions, “How might that impact…?” So, I’m imagining you have your view of how it’s impacting things. But is your recommendation to keep it more of you are more of a question-asker as opposed to a describer of what’s up or you do both?

Jonathan Raymond
Yes. So, your orientation, in our overall philosophy, we say, “More Yoda, less Superman,” or, “More Yoda, less superhero.” So, your job is you’re trying to help somebody grow. You can’t actually force them to grow, right? You can’t make them change their behavior. So, the orientation, the best orientation to take as a coach is to ask questions.

And it doesn’t mean, just as you said, you may have a theory. Your theory may be bang on. You might have a really good theory as to what’s happening for them. But if you give it to them, they’re far less likely to feel ownership of that thing that they’re changing and they’re far less likely to succeed in their goal. But if you ask questions and you encourage them to think about things differently, that’s what a good coach does, right? That’s the difference between a coach and a consultant, right?

A consultant gets in there and does it for you, doesn’t force you to ask those difficult questions, those self-reflective questions. A coach, or the hallmark of a coach, is someone who’s willing, who takes a different tact, and says, “Look, this isn’t my thing to change, it’s your thing to change. And the best way that I know to support you is to let you do it and let you struggle a little bit, and have some, maybe, ‘Oh, wow, I never really thought about how it impacted our customers.’ Okay, that’s fine. Maybe think about that for a little bit and let’s get back together at the end of the day.”

You don’t have to solve everything in the moment. We become so inured to this, like, solutions, solutions, solutions, solutions. We don’t even know that we’re doing it. When we do inventory discovery, the depth to which we have adopted it, actually a really problematic level of firefighting and going through our inbox and knocking off inconsequential activity in place of strategic, in-depth full and creative thinking, a lot of that comes from how we role-model that. Do we role-model taking a moment to reflect? Or do we role-model like, “Okay, conversation solved. Let’s go. Action. Go, go, go”? That’s what leads to burnout and overwhelm and all of those things that take culture sideways.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess I’m wondering here, if you’re asking, “How might that impact these things?” and they’re drawing a blank, and you know very well, “Yeah, I see the impact that that had on some things,” and they’re not picking it up, how do you play that game?

Jonathan Raymond
So, you can be and should be transparent. You can say, “Look, I have some theories about how it might be but I think it’s more helpful if you arrive at that on your own.” So, I would be transparent, that’s how I do it. And if they’re struggling, then you can give a hint, you say, like, “Well, one thing I noticed was in this interaction between David and Suzanne, I noticed this.” So, that would be an example. So, give them an example, a specific example of where you see that behavior having an impact.

And then you will almost always get, like, “Oh, I see what you’re saying. I never thought about it in that way before. Yeah, I could see three other things.” So, you’ve got to prime the pump a little bit oftentimes, especially if it’s really on the nose. If it’s something that somebody, it’s so second nature to them to do, you might have to give them an example, and then they’re much more likely to open up.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. And so then, we engage in that conversation. And what happens next?

Jonathan Raymond
So, here we’re going to go, we’re going to diverge a little bit into different types of conversations. So, if I’m a more junior person relative to somebody that I work for, let’s say, and I’m having an accountability conversation. I’ve used the mention, I brought up something that I think is problematic that I’d like to see change. Nothing happened.

I went to the invitation stage, I said, “Hey, I think this is a pattern and it seems to be problematic to me.” Nothing happened. We had the conversation, maybe in a one-on-one, and hopefully I work in a culture where I can talk with my manager in a more open way. I know that that’s not always the case. It’s changing these days, not fast enough, but let’s assume that there’s some amount of that. But I have the conversation, we talk about the impact, and I get an acknowledgment from my boss, and they say, “Yeah, you’re right. I can see that is having an impact. I’ll get better at that.” Let’s say that’s the generic response.

Now, what do you do? So, it’s really different if you’re the manager and this person is more junior than you. You have more authority. You have more structure. You have the ability to put a boundary around the situation to say, “Hey, look, this is what needs to change by when, and here’s what it looks like.” And so, that’s what the boundary looks like if you’re in the manager position, or in the more senior position, you have more power.

If you’re in the more junior position, you have less power, the boundary might look different. It might be, “Well, okay, here’s where I’m at. I’ve had the conversation with this person. I’m not really sure where to go next. But maybe I’m not going to step up for volunteering on the next project that this person has, or maybe there’s some other step that I need to take.” Perhaps even going to an extreme position, and this is a very real position for many people, which is, “Look, if this keeps going, I don’t think I can keep working for this person, or I don’t think I can keep working on this team.”

And the reality is that’s the nature of how most people are already feeling. So the boundary is about getting in reality of where things actually are. And when we interview people all the time, thousands and thousands of people managers and frontline employees, and we ask them, like, “Well, how would you feel about setting a boundary for yourself of what do you need to take care of yourself here? And when does this need to change by? And what does change look like?”

Most people will say, like, “It’s got to change like this week,” or, “It’s got to change in the next month.” Like, I understand why they’re struggling with this but people are incredibly frustrated. And I think one of the things that we have to do is we have to take the mystery out of this idea of like employee engagement or employee disengagement. That’s what it looks like. If you’re spending your energy and life units worrying about what the organization is doing and, “Why my manager is behaving this way?” you’re already disengaged on some level, reasonably so, from the mission and the values of that organization because it’s not real to you.

And so, that boundary stage, or that fourth stage, mention, invitation, conversation, boundary, looks really different depending upon how much power you have in the conversation. And then the third version of that is if you’re working with a peer, you have the same amount of authority as they do, well, what does that looks like? So, the first three steps are the same, mention, invitation, conversation, and then at the boundary, we’ve had whether it’s a senior exec or a junior manager, actually make new agreements, “Hey, we have to make a change because this is what’s happening in your group over here, and these are our needs. This is what we need from you.”

And so, that boundary stage is critical. And when I talk with CEOs, every single CEO I’ve ever worked with, at some point in our first conversation, they’ll say something to the effect of, “Well, accountability is one of our core values.” They don’t always use the word exactly accountability but they’ll say, “Accountability is one of our core values.” And I say, “Great. That’s wonderful. Talk to me about that. How does that work in your organization?” And they’ll say, “Well, what does that mean? What do you mean how does it work?” “Well, talk to me about a situation where someone wasn’t accountable and what the consequences were.” And they say, “Well, what do you mean consequences?” To which I reply, “Well, what do you mean accountability?”

And then we can have an interesting conversation. And this is what we see over and over again in organizations from Fortune 100 companies that we work with to tiny little startups that you’ve never heard of. This is what organizations are struggling with right now. We’re too nice to each other. We’re not having honest conversations. We’re way too over-indexed on wanting to be liked and wanting to be nice and we’ve forgotten the value of having people who are courageous in positions of leadership, in positions of management, who say, “Look, that’s not the way we do it here. We need to do better.”

And we’ve lost that in large measure. We’ve lost that foundational accountability. We could talk about the historical narrative of why, but that’s a lot of the phase that we’re in right now, is we went from too much command and control, we said, “We don’t like that.” And then we went to not enough command, not enough direction, and now we’re finding our way as a business culture, we need a hierarchy, we need managers, we need leaders, we need people who have more experience to direct activity. How do we do that in the lightest way possible so we don’t undermine autonomy and creativity and we’re as transparent as we can be? And that’s the moment that I think we’re in right now.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. So, if you are the junior person, with regard to the boundary, do you recommend that you sort of share that boundary with the manager, or that’s just sort of internal, it’s like, “Okay, this is what I’ve decided that this behavior will need to change within a month or I’m going to be pursuing new opportunities”? Or, what’s your thought? Is it more something you articulate or more something that’s internal?

Jonathan Raymond
So, the first thing you have to know, you may already know, like, “Is there a fear of retribution?” because that could be very real. It is very real in some cases. But, if possible, I would recommend articulating it. And so, here’s what it sounds like. If I’m setting a boundary with someone more senior, I’m saying, “Look, I really appreciate that we have this conversation. It’s impacting my results and I don’t know what else I can do.” Right? So, that’s my boundary. It’s like, “I’m working within the constraints that I see in front of me and I believe that that’s where I’m at, and I can’t move what I can’t move. I don’t have the authority to change that. I need you to change that. But, in the interim, here’s where I’m at.”

And so, to be able to articulate the impact, again, so we’re pointing the conversation stage forward, so that impact is still there. “And here’s how it’s impacting our results. And I’m doing the best I can. If there’s something that you think that I’m missing, please tell me. I’m happy to hear that. I’m happy to consider that but that’s where I’m at.” That’s the boundary as articulated to somebody more senior.

And, again, you have to know who you’re dealing with. I would say most of the time, and with most of our engagements with most managers, people are willing to hear that conversation as long as it’s not coming in the form of an attack. It’s like, “You’re screwing up and you’re making life bad for me.” And you frame that conversation as, “Look, here’s how it looks to me, is I can’t move this project any faster because these things happen so I’m going to continue to do it based on the constraints that I have.” So, that’s a form of how you would articulate that to somebody more senior.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think sometimes your boundary and the implication is that you’re just not enjoying the experience of work under the circumstances and you would rather be elsewhere.

Jonathan Raymond
Right. And I think that’s, at least in North America, we’re at effectively 0% unemployment, right? So, if you’re talented and you’re resourceful, you can go get another job and employers understand that. So, we do a lot of work in tech. The average tenure in tech is 1.8 years, right? It’s not very long. So, people are moving around a lot. It’s longer in other industries, but people are moving around a lot. People are looking for different experience of work.

And so, from our perspective, it’s like we’re just being reality around that and then make a plan. So, if you know, now there may be opportunities in that organization to move. You may have, hopefully you do have, other outlets for where to go, “Hey, I’ve been trying to have this conversation, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I’m frustrated. I really love this company, this organization, but this isn’t working for me.” If you’re any at all talented or a skilled person, you’re going to find a receptive ear in that other person. So, don’t feel like, my last piece of advice there is, don’t feel like you’re on an island there.

Oftentimes, people will leave an organization prematurely and then they won’t take that other step of like, “Go talk to somebody. What’s the worst that could happen is your feelings fall on deaf ears. Okay, well, you’re already there so no harm done in having that conversation.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then there’s the final step, the limit.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, the final step is the limit, and a lot of people think, “Well, the limit means I quit,” or the limits means you’re fired. It doesn’t mean that. If people read the book Good Authority they’ll get the nuance there is if you think about good leaders, just take a moment, for anyone who’s listening to this, take a moment to reflect on effective coaches, mentors, parents, teachers, people in your life who were there in a moment in your life where something big changed for you, something important, not a minor thing, a major thing.

And if you think back to those situations, in some of those moments, one of the tools that they used was a limit. They said, “This goes no further. I can’t support you behaving in this way even one more time.” And it was in that moment where we went, “Whoa, I have to change. I have to do something different. This person, who I respect, who I value, who I love, who I know, even though I don’t like the way they said it, I know that they care about me. They’re putting up a stop sign and they’re saying no further with this behavior.”

And that is a key feature of how we grow as human beings. And so, the limit is doing that in the workplace. If we want to say, “Hey, we want to bring humanity to the workplace,” we have to bring all of it, and so that includes having a limit which doesn’t mean, “You’re fired.” It means, “Hey, we’ve been having this conversation — mention, invitation, conversation, boundary — I can’t support this behavior any longer.” Now, does that mean you’re fired? No, it means, “I want you to take some time to think about this, and maybe there’s a gear you haven’t found. Maybe, for whatever reason, it didn’t quite click for you until this moment. That’s all fine but I need you to tell me where we go from here.”

That’s the limit from the perspective of a manager and it’s an incredibly effective cultural tool. I’ve seen this happen over and over again where leaders, especially when someone is on the verge of maybe leaving an organization, and maybe for an okay reason, not because there’s animosity, but it’s just time to move on. And by having a boundary and by having a limit, you give the opportunity for that person to really own their exit. How often does that happen where a company can celebrate, or a team can celebrate when somebody leaves and it feels like a great moment instead of a lousy moment where everyone is like, “What happened?” and it creates all these gossip and politics?

If you use accountability conversations in the right way then that person will go, “You know what, actually this isn’t the right place for me anymore and I’m sort of approaching this from so much frustration, but there’s actually nothing wrong here. I need a role where I can do this other thing that I really love and I can’t do that here.” Okay, that’s all right. That doesn’t require any personal animosity. We can shake hands on that, and both from the individual and from the organizational perspective.

There are so many good things that can happen as a result instead of, you know, one of the things I say to managers all the time is, “Remember, when you’re managing somebody, especially if you’re in the process of thinking that they shouldn’t be on your team anymore, you got to worry about that person. But don’t worry all about that person. Worry about the rest of your team. How are they interpreting what’s happening? How are they perceiving how you’re handling this situation? How are they perceiving how this person is being treated and whatever their opinions may be?” People are watching so it’s your opportunity to live and live your values as a leader in how you treat people that may be exiting for a good reason or otherwise.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so now this is a great framework and I’d love to hear it just sort of play out maybe one, or two, or three examples, one from the manager, one from a peer, and one from the report to the manager, and so three different scenarios. I’m really putting you on the spot, Jonathan. Let’s kind of rock and roll kind of through the five steps in three different scenarios.

Jonathan Raymond
Which one do you want to do first?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do the peer-to-peer first.

Jonathan Raymond
Okay. So, let’s say I’m on the marketing team. I’m a junior manager on the marketing team, and I work a lot with operations because a lot of the stuff we do touches on operations. And my peer in the operations department basically says no to everything. Everything I want to do he says no to. So, my mention, let’s call him Dave. So, my mention to Dave is the first time that I see that ideally, I’m going to say, “Hey, so I know this request came through from somebody in our team and it got denied. Can you tell me a little bit more about what happened there? I want to understand.” So, there’s a mention. I’m not saying, “You have to change,” I’m not saying, “Push it.” I’m asking a question, right?

And then maybe I agree with his assessment, or I understand it even if I don’t like it, whatever it is, or I let it go. So, that’s my mention, I’m at the first stage where I’m saying, I’m flagging to some degree, “Hey, there’s a something here where we’re trying to accomplish something and your group said, ‘You can’t do that.’ I want to know a little bit more about that.”

So, then maybe that goes by and then I’m getting from my team, they come to me, they say, “Hey, Jonathan, we’ve pushed through like eight requests to do things in the last week, and like six of them were denied. And we don’t know why. We’re really frustrated. All those ops people, they’re a bunch of whatever.” “Slow down, okay? Let me go talk to Dave and see what’s happening.” So, I’m going to go back to Dave and I’m going to say, “Hey, Dave, so something is happening here. My team put through eight requests and six of them got denied, and I’m not sure what happened there, but there’s some frustration that’s emerging on my team.” So, I’m going to the next level. I’m not going to the CEO and saying, “Dave is a jerk.” I’m going to say, “Hey, let’s have a conversation.”

Now, I may or may not get a good answer from Dave, and I’m going to form my follow-ups based on that. I might even go right to the conversation, he might be like, “Oh, well, I didn’t think those were that big a deal so that’s why we denied them.” “Oh, wait a second. Well, do you have five minutes because I want to talk with you a little bit more?” I’m going to go into the conversation, “So, it’s impacting my team in a bunch of different ways. I don’t know if you’ve seen or folks have come to you with that.” So, we’re going to engage in a conversation shifting. I know he’s not trying to make life miserable for my team, but he’s making life miserable for my team! So we’re going to talk about impacts.

Again, we have the same level of authority in the organization so there’s that. Now, when we get to the boundary, Dave, maybe he tells me what I want to hear in that moment or it turns that he did, and that keeps happening and, basically, they keep behaving the same way and nothing ever changes. Now, I’m going to go back to Dave and say, “Dave, hey, look, we’ve got a problem here. So, we had a bunch of conversations about this, and I have to do something else here because, as I said to you, it’s impacting our goals, it’s impacting our speed and our ability to do things. If you and I can’t come to a resolution here, I’m stuck and obviously I’m going to have to go someplace else with that. I don’t want to do that but can we talk about this?” And we’re going to go deeper, right?

And that conversation might be a little uncomfortable but that’s where we’re going to go because, again, Dave doesn’t control whether I can afford my mortgage next month. He’s a peer in the organization and so we should be able to have healthy conflict. In a healthy organization you’re going to have healthy conflict just like in a healthy relationship, right? And so, that’s going to go through and then if nothing changes there, I say, “Hey, here’s what I need. I need you to go back and take a look at those eight requests and really come back to me. And say, hey, do those really need to be denied, and if so, why? And really help me to understand was it something the way we did it or however.”

And then I’m onto my limit stage where I might have to do something else. I might have to say to Dave, rather than me going to, let’s say we have the same manager, or we have a manager in common. I might say, “Look, I don’t want to go to that person by myself. I don’t want to do that but you and I need some help here. Let’s go talk to Jennifer and see if she can help us with a resolution. So, let’s go together rather than I said, you said, and that kind of thing. How’s that sound?” But I’m not going to let that conversation go. So, that’s what the Accountability Dial looks like, an example of what it looks like in a peer-to-peer situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s good. I understand it and that’s helpful seeing that play out. And it seems like the timeframes here could be short or long, you know.

Jonathan Raymond
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
This might happen over the course of a year or a week.

Jonathan Raymond
Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s really the art of it is like, how important is it? Is it something that needs to be resolved today? Rarely, right? Sometimes, but rarely. Is it something that needs to be resolved in the next week? Hmm, sometimes. Is it something that needs to be resolved in the next 30 days? Almost always. And if you look at most cultures, you have a whole bunch of things that really need to get resolved in the next 30 days that never are, and they go on month after month after month, year after year, and we still haven’t dealt with that and we cycle through people, we cycle through systems, and we cycle through documents and culture initiatives because we’ve skipped over the human conversations to change the very nature of work, the things we work on together day to day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I want to get, let’s do another scenario, and let’s say I am managing somebody remotely and I have a request that I think is simple and that I’d like to see carried on, which is sort of that each day to get sort of a daily email that reveals, “Hey, this is what I worked on, and these are some questions I have for you, and this is what I plan to be working on tomorrow.” So, that’s something that I think is a good practice and I’d sure like to see that but I’m not seeing that. I say, “Day after day after day and maybe I brought it up.” How would you, using this model, kind of roll this out?

Jonathan Raymond
So, I’ll take a step back for a second because you said something that I want to push on a little bit. Is it something that you would like to see or something that you need to see?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I suppose it’s theoretically possible for work to happen without this.

Jonathan Raymond
But you’ve hired this person, right, or you’re managing them. In order to do your job, you need this, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. There are certainly numerous negative implications of not having this.

Jonathan Raymond
So, part of it is what is the expectation? So, when this person came on your team, maybe the conversation was then. If not, maybe the conversation is now, and maybe that’s your mention, right? So, your mention is, “Hey, you know what,” there’s two possible mentions, right? “You know what, I don’t think that I was completely clear with you about what one of my expectations. And one of my expectations in the role, for anybody, irrespective of whether it was you or anyone else in the role, was that I would get this daily email. And the reason why it’s important to me is X, Y, and Z,” right?

“So, there might be a piece of context missing because without that I can’t do X, Y, and Z. Does that make sense? Can you understand why I’m asking you for that? Rather than you need to do this because I need it. To some people it might sound really overly process-y…”

Pete Mockaitis
Controlling or dominating. Okay.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, but it’s a really necessary part for people to understand the why. And, again, when we talk with folks, this is over and over again, “I don’t understand the why. I don’t understand.” And from the perspective of the manager it’s often much more clear to us, “Well, of course, I need that,” but not from their perspective because we don’t understand all the other things that they’re trying to deal with. So, if I put myself in that person’s shoes, I’m going to be like, “Oh, my God, an email at the end of every day. That takes me this and I have to do these other things, and I don’t think Pete understands how busy I am,” and all that kind of stuff.

So, it’s an opportunity for you to get into conversation with them about it. So, we’ll put that to the side. But so let’s assume that the context is there, so let’s say it’s day three of their employment. The first two days, they did the email and the third they didn’t, right? So, ideally, I would say to that person, “Hey, I didn’t get the daily email. What’s up?” And not in a mean way, but it’s like, “Hey, I’m right there. Like, I look at that every single day.”

So, I want to let them know the reality which is that, “I look at that every single day so it’s not a process for the sake of process. Every time you send me that email, I open it, I read it, I digest it, and I notice when it isn’t there.” “Oh, I’m really sorry. I got really busy today. Like, can I send it to you when I get home.” “Sure.” “Can I send it to you in the morning?” Now, you might say, “No, I actually need it right now,” or you might say, as you probably would, you’ll say, “That’s fine. Can you send me the wrap-up so I have it for first thing in the morning? That’s fine,” and this, and whatever.

So, let’s say he did that. And then over the next couple of days you’re seeing, “Wait a second. This is like some days I get it, some days I don’t.” So, clearly the mention didn’t have the intended impact which was a full resolution of this thing, right? So, now you’re going to go to invitation. You’re going to bring it back up. Now, again, we said just before, it could be really the timeline or the timescale of the whole five steps could be really short or it could be really long.

So, in this case, if it’s a core business process and it’s not happening, it’s going to happen really fast, “Hey, so we had this conversation and I thought we were on the same page. Something must’ve got crossed there, but two out of the last five days I haven’t gotten it, for example, I’m getting concerned.” So, it’s your opportunity to say, “Look, I am concerned. I’m concerned that we’re not aligned in terms of this particular thing that’s really important to me.”

And leaving space for them to explain or not to make an excuse but you want to understand why is this thing that, from your perspective, seems basic, but it’s clearly not basic from their perspective. You want to understand why. If, for no other reason, then that person, let’s say that person says, “Pete, you’re a jerk. I’m out of here. I never want to work for such a terrible boss ever again,” you want to know what it is about that tool that maybe you can improve for the next person. Maybe there’s a grain of truth in their otherwise victim mentality that you’re like, “Oh, you know what, they didn’t handle that professionally. But for the next person, I’m going to make it six steps instead of eight because that’ll make it a little bit easier for them to do on a daily basis,” whatever the case may be.

So, are we tracking so far?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. So, you say, “I’m concerned,” and then you sort of let them sort of respond without sort of any follow-up questions just to see if they respond?

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah. And so, if they say, like, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s fine. You don’t need that.” “Okay, now I‘m really concerned,” right? Or if they step back and they go, “Whoa!” If there’s an acknowledgment that you have to work with the person in front of you, the human being in front of you. And different people are going to respond really differently in that moment. And that’s how you find out what your people are made of, not that they never make a mistake. It’s what do they do when they make a mistake? How do they recover? What’s their level of resilience? What’s the level of dialogue? Are they willing to be vulnerable with you? That’s the team that you want. You want a group of people that’ll do that with you and that you can do that with them.

So, all of the cycle is happening in leading the high-performance team. So, that’s your invitation. Now, let’s say you have a one-on-one with that person later this week. You might sit down with them and say, “Hey, look, we’ve had this kind of hallway conversations, we’re not in the same building together so we had them via Zoom or via Slack, or whatever it is. I actually want to drill a little deeper here. It’s really important but I know in the hallway we can kind of lose sight of it. This has a really big impact, like when this doesn’t happen, it has a really big impact. And I understand that that might be harder for you to see from your perspective because you’re not the one asking for it. But can you imagine or let’s play this out for a little bit.”

“Like, from your vantage point, how might this have an impact on me or our team or our organization if we don’t have these daily reports?” I promise you they have never thought of that question, they haven’t thought of the answers to that question. So, that’s the conversation stage, you’re helping them shift. They didn’t intend those outcomes, right? They didn’t intend to make you late on the report that you need that information to, that wasn’t their intention. They were just busy. They were overwhelmed. We’re all overwhelmed, or most of us are.

And so, the conversation is your opportunity to help them go deeper, to take ownership and say, “Wait a second. Oh, I didn’t realize how big of an impact that was.” Now, you could say, “Oh, well, they should’ve gotten that from the initial moment.” Yeah, maybe, but that’s not the world we live in. I was working with an IT director recently, and he said, “Well.” We were talking, and one of his colleagues brought up an example, and he said like, “Well, that would be unacceptable to me.” And his colleague called him out, and said, “Come on, man, really? You’re going to fire a person if they didn’t do that?” “Well, no, not really. I can’t really do that,” right?

There’s a whole bunch of reasons why you can’t. Like, you can’t hold that line for really good reasons, we have controls in place in organizations so you can’t just snap off at a person. There has to be an opportunity for, if you went to your HR leader’s office and said, “Hey, they didn’t fill out that report two days in a row. I want to fire them.” They would say, “Get out of my office, Pete. Don’t want your lawsuit. Go have another conversation with them.” So, how are you going to do that? It’s helping them shift from intention over to impact.

And then, you’re seeing the pattern here, so then you have that conversation, and in that conversation, right, you might start foreshadowing what about, “Hey, what’s your plan? How are you going to make sure that you get that report done at the end of the day? Not what’s my plan for how you’re going to get that done. What’s your plan for how you’re going to get that done because I can’t have you do my plan, that won’t work, right?” So, now we’re going to the boundary step, “What is the…”

People will often say, it’s like, “Okay, Pete, I hear you. I get it. I promise it won’t happen again.” “Not good enough. What is the plan? What are the action steps? What do you need to give up in order to make sure that that stays the priority that we need it to be?” Then you’re in the boundary stage of the Accountability Dial. And then if that doesn’t work, so let’s say, I’ll ask you a question that I often ask of managers. So, if I say to you, Pete, “This person is going to be on your team, this remote employee, they’re going to be on your team, and they’re going to be not sending you the daily report 40% to 60% of the time, and they’re going to be doing that for the next 10 years. How’s that sound?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s not going to work. I mean, we can conceivably have an alternative to email, but there must be some sort of a daily communication that occurs, yeah.

Jonathan Raymond
Okay. So, how about if we went on for five years, are you good with that?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Jonathan Raymond
How about one year?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Jonathan Raymond
How about 90 days?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if there’s some really extenuating circumstances maybe.

Jonathan Raymond
Okay. So, every single time I run that question, it’s at 90 days where it starts to get a little bit like, “Well, maybe, depends.” But somewhere in there, between zero and 90 days, that’s the boundary, right? The only difference is internally to you, you have that boundary. They don’t know that that’s your boundary.

So, the process, the boundary step is getting in reality with them, and say, “Look, maybe there are some extenuating circumstances that make it so that 75 days is a reasonable time when probably not given the scenario we’re working on. It sounds like something that needs to be cured much sooner than that.” But if you think about the boundary phase as like, “Hey, this is something that we’ve talked about. We both acknowledged that it needs to change. What’s a frame within which it needs to change?”

It’s very, very rare where the right answer is going to be more than 90 days. And almost always it’s going to be in the next 30, and we’re going to need very specific milestones where we know that progress is happening. That’s the boundary phase.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we’re having that conversation, we’re establishing and getting to some sort of agreement, like, “Yes, this is what I shall do within this timeframe there.” And so, I guess, that almost sounds like a Performance Improvement Plan. I guess we’re not using that kind of terminology and structure but it’s similar.

Jonathan Raymond
So, there’s an overlap in the way that we approach it. In a lot of the organizations, one of the things that we’ve learned is that what HR wants, which we were hoping would be the case, is that they want the manager to have these types of conversations outside of the Performance Improvement Plan because the Performance Improvement Plan is not a joke, it’s there for a reason but those reasons are legal in compliance. It doesn’t actually improve performance. If you ask any HR leader who’s been around for more than one year, “How many times in your career has a Performance Improvement Plan actually turned somebody around?” And they’ll give you like one example. It never works. Almost never.

So, it is, in this context, when we’re talking about something that needs to change, it definitely is about performance and about improving performance. But the idea is we’re doing that in a humane way, we’re having a conversation, it’s not a writeup, we’re not bringing in HR. Once you bring in HR, once you go outside of that relationship, that bond between you and your employee, mostly only bad things happen. So, it’s, “Hey, this is something that needs to change. Let’s you and I figure this out, right? Like, I know it’s uncomfortable, I don’t like having this conversation, you don’t like having this conversation, but this has got to change. This has got to be our agreement for what needs to change.” So, that’s the boundary phase.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And so then, the limit?

Jonathan Raymond
And then at the limit, let’s say you make that and the person says, “Look, I’m going to, over the next 10 days, I’m not going to miss one, right? Every single day for the next 10 days, that’s our first milestone, I’m going to hit every single day. And then at the end of that 10 days, we’re going to like shake hands, and then we’re going to do the next 30 in a row, and we’re going to build up my reps, so to speak, where I’m not going to miss a day.”

And let’s say you’re good with that, and you say, “Okay, that’s fine. Okay, well, what are the consequences, what are the implications if you don’t send me that in the next 10 days, not what do I think the consequences should be, what do you think the consequences should be?” “Oh, hmm. Well, Pete, that’s a really good question. I think in the next 10 days if I miss one, then I shouldn’t be able to go to this conference that I was really excited about that you said that I could go to. Or I’m not going to be eligible to take on this other part of the work until this part of my…” whatever the thing is, right?

So, let them author the boundary if that’s possible. And if they can’t come up with a boundary, what I found is that most of the time when you ask people to come up with their own boundaries and consequences, they’re tougher on themselves than you will be on them. Not always but oftentimes. And so, that would be a boundary and then there are some clear agreements, “What needs to change by when? What does change look like? What happens if it doesn’t work?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s the boundary.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah. And so, then the limit is, let’s say, it doesn’t happen. They just don’t do it. Let’s say starting on day one they don’t do it, like, “Okay, I’m going to go right to that limit.” Say, like, “Hey, we tried this. I appreciate your earnestness. We made this agreement. You said you were going to do it, there was no constraint that prevented you from being able to do it. I don’t know what else to do now. I feel like I’ve done everything that I can as your manager. I’ve given all of the thoughtfulness and coaching and everything that I could think of but I don’t know what else to do here. So, I feel like I’m out of options.” That’s the spirit of that moment.

Now, in that case, you have to decide, “How important is that task relative to the role? Are there enough other things that that person is doing that outweigh where you would be willing to change that tool for this person? I doubt it but anything is possible in that scenario. But that’s what the limit would be. And what you will find is that here’s the, I don’t know if we will call it ironic, but what will happen if you use the mention, the invitation, the conversation, and the boundary, is that somebody who doesn’t want that level of accountability in their life, they’re going to leave. They’re going to say, “Pete, you know, I’ve been thinking about this and I think you need somebody who’s more detail-oriented than I am or whatever. And I don’t want to let you…” Whatever it is, right?

Okay, fine. That’s good. That’s a good outcome. In a healthy organization people leave and they move on and we shake hands and we say, “Hey, you were right for the role for this period of time. The role has changed, or you want different things, that’s okay. Let’s shake hands.” I love that concept of the tour that I think Netflix pioneered, you know, that tour of duty, “Hey, go on a tour with me. And then when that tour is over, let’s decide should we go on another tour together.” This idea that you’re an employee for life, it’s a fiction. If it was ever true, it’s definitely not true now. It’s a fiction. Let’s be in reality with one another. I’m there for as long as it’s valuable to me as an employee and that my skills are valuable to you as an employer.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you, Jonathan. Anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jonathan Raymond
I will just say that for wherever you are in an organization, whether you’re a first-time employee in the workforce or a senior leader, the thing that you want—to feel seen, to feel heard, to feel valued—get that. Don’t settle for less. You deserve that. As a human being, as a sovereign human being, you deserve to have a world of work that is additive to your life and not subtractive where you go home and you feel dread or feel like you’re being exploited or taken advantage of. And I can tell you because a lot of them are our clients. There are amazing organizations out there that would love to have you so don’t settle for less.

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

Jonathan Raymond
My favorite quote is from Albert Einstein, he says, “I don’t have any special talents but I’m passionately curious.”

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

Jonathan Raymond
I love the Harvard relationship study or I think some people call the Harvard happiness study that they did a couple of years ago. There’s a great TED Talk about it. And, basically, what they found was that your satisfaction in relationships is the best predictor of longevity and long-term health outcomes. So, they said, “If you look at someone when they’re 50, you’re much more likely to know how long they’re going to live based on their level of satisfaction in their relationships than their cholesterol.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jonathan Raymond
I’m still working on it, but I read the first couple hundred pages of Sapiens some years ago. So, it’s still my favorite book because I haven’t finished it. I hope that doesn’t change at the end. But I love Yuval Harari, a wonderful philosopher and I love what he has to say.

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

Jonathan Raymond
I have to say I’m happy to be off the guests list for Superhuman which is a very hyped email interface that goes over Gmail and it makes it really easy to go really fast. So, the hype is earned in my view. Superhuman is a really neat tool.

Pete Mockaitis
I use it. I love it. And I’m not ashamed that I pay $29 a month for email that could be free.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, it’s worth it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Jonathan Raymond
My favorite habit is walking often with my dog and listening to an episode of Revisionist History. I’m a big Malcolm Gladwell fan.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you’re known for, something you say that gets re-quoted, re-tweeted?

Jonathan Raymond
A lot of people re-tweet, “You don’t get to grow and look good at the same time.”

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

Jonathan Raymond
You can go to Refound.com and then if you click the Resources tab, there is some quizzes and some downloadable tools. And then, of course, you can pick up the book on Amazon, “Good Authority,” Kindle, print, audio, the whole thing.

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

Jonathan Raymond
Have one conversation, ask one question that you’ve been thinking about asking, you’ve been thinking about approaching this person and asking them a question or making an observation. Commit to doing that in the next 24 hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Jonathan, this has been a delight. Thank you and good luck with all your great conversations.

Jonathan Raymond
Thank you so much. I really enjoyed the conversation.

440: Accomplishing More in Less Time by Building Microskills with Stever Robbins

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Stever Robbins says: "The hammer that seems to work for almost everything is accountability."

Stever Robbins shares how to break down skills into microskills…and shares which ones are worth building.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A productivity power tool to help you accomplish almost everything
  2. Why to break down learning into microskills
  3. Essential microskills that will save you years of time

About Stever

Stever Robbins is a serial entrepreneur, top podcaster, and productivity expert. He co-founded the early internet success story FTP Software, served as COO of Building Blocks Interactive, CEO of JobTacToe.com, and has been an initial team member of ten start-ups, including four IPOs and three acquisitions. He currently runs Get-it-Done Groups™, which help people make extreme progress on important projects and habits.

He was project manager at Intuit. He serves as business plan judge for the Harvard Business School business plan competition, the MIT $100K competition, and several other competitions. His Get-It-Done-Guy podcast has been downloaded more than 36 million times.

He’s been interviewed in numerous publications and is the author of It Takes a Lot More than Attitude…to Build a Stellar Organization and Get-it-Done Guy’s 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More.

Stever holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Stever Robbins Interview Transcript

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

Stever Robbins
Thank you very much for having me. I’m hoping to learn how to be awesome at my job.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thinking that we’re both going to do some great learning. I’ve learned a lot from you with your Get-It-Done Guy podcast. I remember listening to it in Brent’s car. Shout out to Brent.

Stever Robbins
Hey, Brent.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I think it’s going to be a really fun one. And we were already talking about a lot of cool stuff. If we had to push record before we run out of time, but one fun tidbit about you I got to hear about is you grew up in a New Age commune. What’s this about?

Stever Robbins
I did. My parents were hippies, but they came to the scene late, and they didn’t have the hippie movement to join up to. So, my father got involved in some various New Age philosophies and we sold our worldly possessions, bought a 23-foot trailer, and went bouncing around the country starting psychic growth centers.

Pete Mockaitis
Psychic growth centers.

Stever Robbins
Yeah. Don’t get me started. Let me simply say that it turns out that most of America isn’t really very open to having you start psychic growth centers. Remember the kids on the other side of the tracks that your parents warned you not to play with?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, right, it’s Stever and company.

Stever Robbins
That was us. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
So, just real quick. Psychic growth centers, does that help me grow in my psychic abilities, or what happens in a psychic growth center? Okay.

Stever Robbins
Yup. Also, the children of the people who start the psychic growth center become atheists. So, that’s the other thing that happens in a psychic growth center. It makes a real impression on you when you grow up. Actually, we switch religions every couple of years. My father was into lots of different things. And, as a result, by the time I was 18, I had been through four or five different belief systems, and once you’re through a certain number of belief systems you start to say, “You know, all of these are just belief systems.”

The more interesting part of your question, though, isn’t, “What’s it like growing up in a psychic growth center?” It’s, “What’s it like having grown up in a psychic growth center?” Because what it does when you’re the kid on the other side of the tracks is, you don’t take the same things for granted that everyone else does.

So, for me, the most interesting part about having a non-standard background is that I question things that everyone else simply take for granted. And, on one hand, this is very powerful. It means that there’s a lot of problems that I can solve that other people can’t because I ask different questions than they do, and sometimes the questions I ask are the ones that will lead to the solution. On the other hand, there are some real problems with this because there are plenty of places in life where you really need to understand how the standard people think, and you really need to understand what would be societally acceptable and what will not.

Let me give you a hint. You do not want to discover behaviorally that wearing a loincloth to school is a bad idea. Some people know that instinctively. Others of us had to learn it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s maybe the pulled quote that we’re going to feature from this interview, Stever, is that tidbit right there. Well, yeah, I think we’re two peas in a pod in that way. Not the loincloth specifically, but the asking questions that others don’t seem to ask because I do. And what I find to be the downside is folks are just not prepared or equipped for it, and so it just slows everything down. It’s like, “Wait a minute. What do you want? I don’t even know how to address that for you. Maybe talk to someone else.” Because it’s sort of like customer service systems, or businesses. They’re setup to do a few things well and efficiently and by the millions at scale. So, when you throw these little monkey wrenches in there, it just slows everything down, and it gets inconvenient for everybody it seems.

Stever Robbins
Oh, yeah. And, in fact, one of the things I was thinking about before this call, because I knew you were going to ask me that question, one of the things I was thinking about was, “What are the perspectives that I have despite the fact that I have a fairly mainstream life in many regards?” But I’m always amazed at the fact that we live in the most materially-rich society in all of human history, by wide, wide measure the most productive in terms of labor hours needed to produce a particular result. And, yet, we have such an extraordinarily narrow range of activities and things that we do, and lifestyles that we have.

And it boggles my mind that we have the resources to give ourselves as a race lots of leisure time, lots of ability to pursue meaning, the resources to try out and experiment with different governmental types, with different ways of being, with different work weeks. And, yet, we create very narrow boxes, live inside them, and then forget that we’re the ones who created the boxes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a big question.

Stever Robbins
Yes, they may be bigger than we’re supposed to be talking about today. I think we were talking about getting things done or something similar.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess my first thought in there is, I guess, it has to do with like the fear of the unknown, or risk, or uncertainty, and how maybe relatively few people want to go down that pathway. But, yeah, I’m going to be chewing on that one as well. Thank you, Stever. I want to hear, yes, I do want to hear about getting things done. And maybe, so, you’ve got an interesting sort of start in terms of that New Age commune and travelling. But then you did get some credentials that folks tend to kind of think are more normal and desirable, you know, MIT in Computer Science Bachelors, MBA from Harvard Business School, good stuff. So, how did you become branded and adopt the moniker of the “Get-It-Done Guy”?

Stever Robbins
Oh, that was never supposed to be the case. I started the Get-It-Done Guy in 2007 because I was working doing one-on-one executive coaching and strategy consulting, which is the main thing that I’ve done through most of my career. And I was really yearning for a creative outlet because, frankly, one of the fascinating things about the business world, is the business world is really very anti-creative. It uses the principles of uniformity to grow organizations, and the uniformity exists in terms of people and behavior.

Do you ever notice when someone says that you should dress professionally or act professionally? What they mean is you should restrict your behavior to the narrowest possible window of things, right? Those are not expansive. When someone says, “Act professional,” what they do not mean is “be creative, be wild, be innovative, think outside the box.” What they mean is, “Oh, my gosh, you’re wearing a three-button vest instead of a two-button vest? I can’t be seen in public with you.”

So, I wanted a creative outlet, and I had started a little podcast called Business Explained, and I had produced about 10 episodes for it. And then I experienced Grammar Girl. And Grammar Girl talked grammar, but it was fun and it was interesting to listen to, and she had an attitude. She had character. And, oh, my gosh, Grammar Girl was, and is, awesome.

So, I wrote her a fan letter, and I said, “If you would ever like a business podcaster, I would love to be your business podcaster,” because she had a little network called the Quick and Dirty Tips network. And just out of sheer coincidence, my letter got to her right after she had sold the network to Macmillan Publishing, and they were having a meeting to decide who should the next podcaster be.

And my letter came in at the right time. I auditioned for the part. I got it. And they let me choose the topic. I chose personal productivity mainly because I thought it would be fun. I thought I could do a lot more with that in terms of humor than with corporate strategy. And I was right, as it turns out. Became the Get-It-Done Guy, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Well, actually, not quite. What happened is for years I didn’t do anything with it professionally. And my branding in the marketplace was very much around strategy, and entrepreneurship, and high-growth companies, and how to be a good leader, and all that stuff. And then, about a year ago, I decided I had this podcast and I had a following, and why not start doing things that were more productivity-oriented, and just see if it flies?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, one thing I’m quite intrigued by are the Get-It-Done Groups. I’m a huge fan of accountability, and I’m intrigued as to what exactly is this.

Stever Robbins
Well, so Get-It-Done Groups are they’re accountability groups. And when I looked at the offerings out there, first of all, I’ve been an executive coach for about many, many years by the time I’ve developed this. And one of the things that I had noticed is that at the end of the day, coaches are trained to help people develop their innate capabilities, help people get that strength and motivation, that proactiveness. And, boy, is that a lot of work.

And, one day, I had a CEO client, because I mainly work with executives, I had a CEO client who had had a homework assignment, I don’t even remember what it was at this point. It was something simple, like write a letter firing someone. It was something. It was emotionally difficult but it was technically very easy. And three weeks in a row he hadn’t done it.

And so, this time we started our coaching session, and I said, “How’d the letter go?” And he said, “I haven’t sent it yet.” And instead of trying to get to the root of his blocks, and instead of trying to deeply trigger his motivation by connecting it to his highest values and his purpose and his why, I said, “Dude, I happen to know for a fact that you have one hour currently available on your calendar because that was the hour that we were supposed to be talking. So, guess what? We now have 57 minutes left. We’re going to hang up the phone. I will talk to you in 23 minutes, at half past the hour, and we will review the first draft of the letter. Bye.”

Hung up the phone. When we met at half past, he had the first draft done. And in that moment, I started to realize, “Wait a minute. Human beings are social creatures. We are hardwired to take our commitments to other people more seriously than we take our commitments to ourselves. And, if that’s the case, why are we bothering with all of this deep psychology bull pucky and all of this, “Oh, we must find your deep inner why”? Look, just, you need to get your taxes done. Great. Get them out. I’ll watch. Fabulous. Now, that you have them out, 10 more minutes, you start working and I’ll call back in 10 minutes to check up on how it’s going.

And then, real time, of course, if someone is getting stalled, you can, at that moment, diagnose why they’re getting stalled and work with it as opposed to checking back a week later, and saying, “Oh, why didn’t do your thing?” And having them try to remember what was going through their head at the time and so on.

So, what I recognize is that there are a couple of things. Number one, the hammer that seems to work for almost everything is accountability. Number two, people get lost in different ways. They get lost sometimes in their moment-to-moment ability to focus, which technology is making far, far worse. They get lost in their ability to concentrate on one project out of a portfolio of projects long enough to make progress.

And so, I said, there are three timeframes we can operate on. Let’s operate on the level of a quarter, 12 weeks, the level of the day, and the level of the hour. And what Get-It-Done Groups do is they provide accountability on all three levels. We have a couple days a week where we meet hourly, and every hour we actually commit to doing things. Those are the days when you do that stuff that otherwise would procrastinate the heck out of and that you just don’t want to do, and we all just get together and do it together. And it works really well.

The daily accountabilibuddies is what we call them. The daily accountabilibuddy is a thing where people divide up into groups of two or three and they meet every day. A very short meeting, like five to 10 minutes, and they go through, and make sure that they’re making progress on all of the things that they need to be accountable for, which will add up to where they want to go in the 12-week period. And then, over the course of 12 weeks, if we’ve designed the daily check-ins right, they will get most of the way, or all of the way, or well past their 12-week goal.

And people have used Get-It-Done Groups to write a book. In fact, she finished the last word of it this last Sunday, and several members of the group were on a Zoom call with her as she was writing those last two sentences. Unfortunately, I didn’t find out about it until about 20 minutes later, but I would’ve been there too.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m just imagining, like, one who has a violin, and it’s like a very orchestral celebratory moment.

Stever Robbins
Oh, goodness, yeah. We had been there with her for almost the whole thing. I mean, it was amazing. There was another person who qualified for professional degrees. He had been trying for many, many years, and just hadn’t sat down to do all the work. Sat down and did all the work. We had somebody else who had multiple businesses that she had developed over the years, and she wanted to merge them all, and create unified branding, and put them all under one website. She did that. We have just a whole variety of things.

So, Get-It-Done Groups are groups where you get it done. And one of the people that are especially good for is people who are self-employed because when you’re self-employed you don’t have any external person who can stop and say, “Now wait a minute. You said that doing your marketing was important to you but for the last four days you haven’t done any. What’s up? Do you want to give up on that? Or do you want to do it but now we have to make some tweaks to how you’re doing your day because empirically you need some sort of tweaks in order to be making the progress you want to be making.” And they work amazingly well.

I’ve actually been quite surprised. I wasn’t thinking that they were going to work. I mean, I thought they would be effective but, in fact, the effect that they’ve had, I think, is almost out of proportion with how simple, well, it’s way out of proportion how simple they are. But it’s way out of proportion with what I thought. I thought they’d be useful and they’ve been life-changing for some people. Like, seriously life-changing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so cool. Now, how big is a group?

Stever Robbins
We do it as a cohort introduced every month or every couple of months, and then everyone who is currently an active member all works together.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it could be dozens.

Stever Robbins
It could be. At the moment, we’ve never had more than 15 people involved in any given moment, which is a whole another story, having to do with customer acquisition versus customer retention. Well, what we found is that, really, I’ve already figured out how to scale it to whatever point is needed. But for like the hourly do-it days, we usually have between four and seven or eight people show up for that. That’s when we check in every single hour. We have a community call once a week, and every week we’ll get anywhere from five to 12 people on that. So, it depends.

All of the elements of it are optional except for the daily check-ins because part of the whole idea is we’re all busy people, and any productivity system that takes enough time that it impacts the way that you work is not a productivity system. You need productivity systems that mesh with what you’re doing so you don’t have to feel like you must do every single thing. You do just enough and just the pieces that will give you the results that you want.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Awesome. Well, I’m a huge fan of accountability. It’s come up before. I wrote a book about accountability groups back in the day, and it had a big impact on me, so that’s huge. Well, specifically for we’d be talking today about microskills for sharpening focus and working smarter, that’s one of your key areas of expertise, and something that we dig here. It sounds like, one, a key skill is just trusting others and sharing and having some accountability. Could you maybe define for us the term microskill, first of all?

Stever Robbins
Yes. Just as people think of different timeframes, as I mentioned a moment ago, people think at different levels when they think of skills. I’ll call it a chunk size. Sometimes someone will say things like, “You need to learn to focus,” as if focus is itself a single skill. Well, it’s not. Focus is comprised of a lot of little skills. Focus is the ability to identify what you’re working on. If you don’t identify what you’re working on, you won’t do it because you don’t know what to be focusing on.

It’s the ability to block out or eliminate, in advance, external distractions. It’s the ability to either eliminate or notice when you have an internal distraction and pull yourself back on task. It’s the ability to know when you’re done, etc. So, there are actually tiny chunks of skills that make up this word that we use as a larger level skill.

And, to me, a microskill is one of the component skills that makes up what we would normally call a skill but, which in fact, is really the accumulation of lots and lots of things. And I will give you a slight spoiler, this is going to relate to our conversation about neuro-linguistic programming later in this because this is my NLP in the form of the brain that has resulted in the paying a lot of attention to microskills.

For example, we have two people in the current Get-It-Done Group who really, really, really aren’t doing enough prospecting, and they were like, “Okay, I keep falling down on my prospecting progress so let’s do a day that’s just prospecting.” And I talked to the two of them individually, and I said, “So, tell me about your prospecting process.” Now, what I’m actually listening for here is, “Are they both getting screwed up the same way? Or is there a difference?” Because if I’m going to be designing a day to work with them, I want to make sure that whatever I do during that day actually hits the causes of where they’re getting stalled.

It turns out they were getting stalled in different places. With one person it was identifying where to find prospects. For the other person it was actually picking up the phone and writing an email to reach out to the prospect, and then there’s a bunch of other skills, too, like follow up, etc. We can get into it a different time.

But, essentially, there are microskills that make up the skill of prospecting, and one of them is identifying prospect sources. The next one is identifying prospects from those sources. It’s not enough to identify the source. You actually have to go to the source and get the prospects. Then you have to craft a message, then you have to get that message out to them, which may involve doing research as to how each prospect likes to receive information, or it may involve sending out an email blast, or it may involve doing a bunch of phone calls, but whatever. You actually have to then take the action to get the prospect deal.

And, generally, when people say, “Oh, you need to do more prospecting,” they largely just mean this big chunk thing. And, to me, a microskill is one of the smaller chunk things that people don’t pay as much attention to but which often are where people get really tripped up.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really dig that because these words, I’m right with you, prospecting, focusing really are huge. Like, I’m just thinking about my wife. We got stuck for a little while because she’s like, “We need to baby-proof this home.” I was like, “Well, I don’t know what all that means. I’m sure there are many steps, and components, and devices, and thingies that are built up when it comes to baby-proofing, and I don’t really quite know where to start.” So, we got stuck for a good while actually until I just Googled and I found a professional baby-proofer who made a lot of things happen for us. So, that was nice because it was a one-time thing as opposed to baby-proofing as a lifestyle.

Stever Robbins
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, installing new stuff every week is a skill I need.

Stever Robbins
And you know there are people who do that.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m sure, yeah, you could find a new way a kid could hurt himself, a day without trouble. But I dig it because often that sort of, I don’t know, deflates the energy or makes it less actionable when it’s big and vague as opposed to, “Now, what I’m talking about is getting on the phone again and again and again,” or, “What I’m talking about is figuring out where the heck I can get a bunch of names.” Those are different problems that have different actions and solutions.

Stever Robbins
Correct. And so, that’s what a microskill is. A microskill is understanding the skills that make up the thing you’re trying to do and then, to some degree, even more importantly, is to identify which skills are missing, and then figure out how to intervene because it’s not the case that all interventions are created equal or that all problems are the same problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, then, when we’re talking about those goals of sharpening focus and working smarter, what are some of the most potent microskills that give you a good return on your investment, a big bang for the buck in investing to develop them?

Stever Robbins
Well, I’ll tell you my favorites because they’re not super popular – speed reading and touch typing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, there you go. Now, touch typing, I’m right with you. I am sold and, okay, go ahead. You can sell a little bit more but I’m already with you. Now, the speed-reading though, yeah, I’ve heard folks who are like, “Oh, speed-reading, it’s a scam. You really can’t blah, blah, blah.” So, lay it on us with some evidence. What’s real and possible speed-reading versus what’s hype and fluff?

Stever Robbins
Okay, do you want me to address the touch typing or the speed-reading first?

Pete Mockaitis
Do speed-reading first.

Stever Robbins
All right, speed-reading. I don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. All that I know is that I push myself to read faster and faster but I never could go so fast that I don’t have comprehension. I know that some speed-reading systems say push yourself so fast that you can barely comprehend. And then when you slow down, you’ll be able to go much faster. And I’ve actually done that particular exercise a few times.

I’m not a fan of things like photo-reading where you supposedly can digest an entire book by flipping the pages quickly. Apparently, there are people who can do that. I’m not convinced that that is the level of useful skill because the context for most people do reading these days is on a screen. So, what you need to be able to do is scan a screen and really get the meat of the information. The problem is most people skim, and skimming is not the same as reading. With skimming you get a superficial understanding, maybe, if it’s a well-written article or well-written post. Of course, in this day of pay per clicks, not pay for quality content, there’s an awful lot of stuff out there that’s extremely poorly written.

[24:27]

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, don’t get me started on the sloppy junk out there, and the agencies that enable it, which I’ll leave right there.

Stever Robbins
What happens is, for a well-written piece of writing, for example, you can scan the headlines, the headers, and the subheads, you can scan the topic sentences and things, and you really will get an idea of what the article is about, what the argument is, and then you can go back to the pieces you want more information about and read up more deeply.

That just doesn’t apply to an awful lot of things on the web because most people don’t know how to write, or they don’t take the time, or they can’t afford to take the time because they’re being paid so little that they have to grind out 10 articles in the space you would have to do one.

Pete Mockaitis
I signed up for one of those just for funzies to take a look around, and it’s like, “Holy crap, I’d have to be cranking almost as fast as I can type for like a third of that hour to eke out minimum wage here. And you’re hiring US labor? What?” So, okay, that’s a whole rant we could go on.

Stever Robbins
We have an awful lot of rants that we can go on.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, we got to get our own, you and me, the Stever and Pete podcast we’re going to rant all day long. Okay, so speed-reading, you push yourself to read faster, and then that yield some results. So, how might we go about learning how to read faster? What’s sort of the practices of developing that microskill?

Stever Robbins
You know, the thing that I would do for that, and I literally just took a speed-reading course, but the exercise that I thought was the most useful with the speed-reading course was the one that I mentioned a minute ago. Take a book or something that you want to read, give yourself, first, read a paragraph, not read a paragraph, read a chapter at normal speed, time how long that takes you.

And then read the next chapter giving yourself half that time. And then the chapter after that, half that time, and just push yourself to get successively faster and faster and faster until you’re going so fast that it’s very clear you’re not absorbing very much. But, then, when you downshift, you will downshift to a much faster rate than you started with.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, now, I’ve heard the term, because I’m dabbling reading about speed-reading before, and I’ve heard the term subvocalize which I understand to mean inside my mind, inside my brain, I’m saying each word to myself. So, if I’m looking at your bio, I might say inside my brain, but not out loud with my lips, I’d say, “Stever holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School, and a BS in Computer Sciences.” So, are you pushing past the subvocalization speed or not?

Stever Robbins
I don’t think that I am personally. What I’ve heard is the maximum speed you could get to, while you still subvocalize, is about, I think, 1500 words a minute or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s still lovely. That’s 55X normal, right?

Stever Robbins
Right. And I can get up to that, I think, when I’m really going. I can get up, assuming that it’s not something that requires lots and lots that I have to stop every sentence to digest it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a ton. That’s reassuring.

Stever Robbins
But I don’t think I ever really quite break the subvocalization barrier. I think that for the most part, well, you know what, now that I’m saying that, that isn’t true. When I took the speed-reading course, I always subvocalized. Now that I think about it, this is a conversation I’ve had with friends before, I’m at the point where I see a sentence and I know what the sentence means. And there’s a sense that somewhere I might be subvocalizing a little bit, but it happens faster than I could possible talk it. So, if it’s subvocalizing, it’s subvocalizing it two or three or four times what my external talking speed is.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, that’s reassuring then that I always thought of that as some kind of crazy transcendental, the Matrix, Neo-type experience. It’s like, “Whoa, I’ve entered a new plane of information processing which is unfelt ever before.” So, okay, cool. So, that’s just all you got to do is push yourself to read about twice as fast as before, and then twice as fast as that, and then maybe twice as fast again, and then once you’ve reached the “clearly I’m not absorbing anything” level, you back it off a little bit. And then, holy smokes, you find that you are able to maybe read two, three, four, five times as quickly with just as much retention. Is that accurate?

Stever Robbins
Yeah. I tell you, it works in both directions too. It also works in the direction of output. When you’re doing public speaking. I was just helping a friend of mine prepare for an important presentation he has to give. And I would love to say that invented this exercise, I did not. This was taught to me by my very first business mentor years and years ago, back right after I had graduated, you know, at least six or seven years ago.

And he had me give a presentation at my normal speed. The presentation took about 40 minutes, and said, “Great. Now you can do 20 minutes. Give me the presentation again. You’ll have to decide what to leave out. And then do it in 10 minutes. And then do it in 5 minutes. And then do it in 2 minutes. And then do it in one minute.”

And when you push it down to one minute, and especially when you do it in that order, because each time has to learn how to filter through and decide what’s important and what isn’t. When you get it down to one minute or 30 seconds, the only thing you can say is the main points. You can’t give examples. You can’t give supporting evidence. You can say…

Pete Mockaitis
Prop down. We’re scared.

Stever Robbins
Right. And that’s it. But then what happens is when you then expand that back out to 40 minutes, your brain has gone through the process of compacting everything down and putting into the chunks that makes sense with you. So, on the fly, you can dynamically expand and contract portions of it to be able to adjust to any length.

And if you make it too short then you say, “Now, we have room for Q&A.” And if anyone asks about the pieces that you left out because you misjudged the time, well, they’re in your brain because you’ve already been through this presentation this many times and packaged all the information up nicely for yourself. So, then, all of that preparation simply serves to make you look like a genius and uber-prepared during the Q&A portions.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. We had a guest who wrote the book Brief and that was good stuff and he recommended a similar exercise which is so handy. So, okay, that’s how speed-reading can go down, also applies to presentations. His name is Joe McCormack, for the record, the author of “Brief.”

So, now, let’s talk a little bit about the touch typing. I understand that the average typing speed in the United States is 41 words per minute. I just research these dorky things of my own volition. So, you’re saying that we got a lot more room to grow in that front.

Stever Robbins
When I was in 7th grade, I took a touch-typing course, and I took it on a manual typewriter, not an electric, a manual. And at the age of – what’s 7th grade, 12 years old? At the age of 12 years old on a manual typewriter, I could consistently test out at 70 words per minute.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Stever Robbins
If I can do 70 words per minute as a 12-year old on a manual typewriter, anyone can get at least that fast if not faster.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s huge. How do we get those skills?

Stever Robbins
You take a touch-typing course or you go online and I’m sure there are websites because I learned to type the DVORAK layout I learned from a website and from some apps. And you know what? It’s not sexy. It really isn’t. If what you want is some magical thing that will teach you to, suddenly, boom, get the touch-typing skill overnight, that doesn’t happen.

What you have to do is you have to train all of the common letter combinations. You have to get your fingers used to moving in those combinations. You have to practice it over and over and over, punctuated with appropriate sleep periods so that your brain can consolidate the information. And it may take weeks or months. Actually, I don’t know if I’m as fast on DVORAK even now after I’ve been doing it for about 10 years as I was on QWERTY at the time.

I find the big advantage to DVORAK is far less finger strain and finger movement which is, and I’m still pretty darn fast typing DVORAK. But I practiced DVORAK for months before I got up to a reasonable typing speed but it was completely worth it because, in the 10 years, or actually it was more because I was already typing DVORAK when I started the Get-It-Done Guy. I have written roughly 750,000 words of paid content, which I guess makes me a professional writer now that I think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Bling. Bling.

Stever Robbins
But part of why I was able to do that is I could type fast enough because it doesn’t matter how great your ideas are, it doesn’t matter how great you are at composing sentences, if you can only type 20 words a minute, you’re not going to be able to write 700,000 words of text because you just don’t have the time to move your fingers that much.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s true and I played around with all kinds of speech-to-text and dictation tools and software, and it’s not there yet. Maybe in five years, maybe 10 years, but we’re not there yet. And so, when it comes to keyboarding and typing faster, one of my favorite resources, I’m going to drop this in the show notes, is keybr.com. They’ve got some cool case studies of folks doubling their typing speed in like five hours of practice over the course of a couple weeks. And part of their brilliance, I think, is that it starts you, it kind of drills each key in order based upon its frequency versus difficulty to type so that they’ve really kind of leveraged it for you as much as possible, and it’s free. So, keybr.com is a handy one, and I’m digging it.

So, okay. Well, let’s move. Time is flying here.

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Stever, I want to make sure we get a chance to touch base on, so you are a smart dude and you’ve got impressive credentials from impressive places, and you think clearly about stuff. And I’m so intrigued that you are also a certified master trainer elite of NLP, neuro-linguistic programming. Now, NLP has got an interesting reputation. Maybe, could you give us a feel for, first of all, what is it, for those who are less familiar? And then, can you kind of like with the speed-reading, tell us what’s real, what’s exaggerated, and what benefits can we really expect to glean from NLP?

Stever Robbins
Sure. So, NLP is a set of models for understanding how humans think and how the way they think can be inferred from their language, and ways to change the way you think, or someone else thinks once you know what that is. I learned about it first because I wanted to learn things, and NLP was originally introduced to me as a technology for being able to sit down and talk with someone who had expertise and understand at a cognitive level, which basically means, “How are they thinking about the task involved to be able to produce whatever results they produce that constitutes expertise? And how can that be expressed in such a way that I can learn it or you can learn or someone else can learn it?”

Because, for example, if you’re talking to Mozart, and you say to Mozart, “Gee, how do you compose that passage?” And Mozart says, “Well, the way you compose it is you just play it over and over, and you listen really carefully until it sounds right.” That’s not a useful description. If you don’t happen to be Mozart and have Mozart’s definition of “sounding right” then you’re not going to produce the kind of music that Mozart can produce.

However, if what Mozart says to you is, “Well, what I do is I make colored pictures in my mind, and every color corresponds to a note. And I notice that when the pictures have a particular type of symmetry when played as notes they sound good.” Every step of that is something you could teach someone. Again, maybe not easily. This phenomenon of matching visual things with sounds is called synesthesia. If you want to create a synesthesia such that your colored pictures can be translated into notes, I’m guessing that doing that itself is a skill, and if you don’t happen to develop it as a child, or you’re not born with it, that itself is going to take you a while.

But assuming that that really is the way Mozart creates music, then if you have those skills, and this is where the microskills come in. And, in this case, the microskills are being able to make these colored pictures, being able to judge if they’re symmetric, being able to make them symmetric if they’re not, and being able to translate it back and forth into sound. If you have those skills, then you can produce probably not the identical results to Mozart because he has his own personal history that he’s filtering all of this through, but you’ll be able to produce things that are in the realm of musical expertise.

Now, I made that example up, by the way. But the idea there is NLP helps you listen to how somebody does what they are talking about that they do, and figure out what are the mental steps they’re doing to get there. And, as I mentioned before, that’s really at the heart of so much of what I do, because NLP says, “Given a big chunk skill, like composing musical piece, what are the tiny chunks that make it up?” And the tiny chunks may well be different for different composes, in which case, there are many different ways you can learn to compose music.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, now, I like when you said that because I think sometimes as I’ve seen NLP, neuro-linguistic programming presented, it’s talking about, “This is some mind control hypnosis stunt that’s going to make you crazy persuasive if you anchor touching your tie when you say something really compelling.” You know, I was like, “I don’t know about that.” Or, “You can tell if anyone is lying based upon where their eyeballs move.” It’s like, “I don’t know if that is accurate or being validated by any of peer-reviewed research.” What do you think about these kinds of claims?

Stever Robbins
Depends on a specific claim. The NLP will make you an amazingly unbelievably persuasive. NLP does make a set of distinctions which teach you how to understand how someone is thinking and how to package information in such a way that it fits with the way they think about something.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like a persuasive booster.

Stever Robbins
Right, it could be a persuasive boost. But the information, even if you packaged the information so somebody will use it the way that they want to receive it. So, let me give you an example. Let’s say that I’m someone who is a visual thinker, and I understand long-term trends by visualizing a graph and noting if the graph goes up or down. So, if someone says to me, “Oh, unemployment is falling,” I actually picture a graph that has a line that goes from the upper left down to the lower right, and that’s my mental representation of what the sentence means “unemployment is falling.”

If you know that that is how I represent things, and you want to communicate the information that consumer happiness is rising, or maybe that consumer happiness is all over the map, then if you simply show me a picture that has this line going up and down, and left and right, and all over the place, and say, “This is consumer confidence,” I don’t have to do any work to understand that because that matches with the way that I understand things.

However, if you show that exact same map to somebody who understands things by visualizing a column of numbers, not a graph, they’re going to look at that graph, and go, “I don’t know what the heck that is. I can’t make any sense out of it,” because their mental representation is not making graphs with lines in it.

So, what that means is for a given person, if you understand how they take in and process and understand information, you can package whatever case you’re trying to make so that it fits their type of information so they don’t have to work to understand it. However, just because they don’t have to work to understand it, it doesn’t mean they’ll immediately take it in. It just means that they won’t reject it because it doesn’t make sense to them. If they make sense to them, but then they may reject it because it doesn’t make good sense.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Fair enough. And how about these eyeball directions indicating if someone is lying?

Stever Robbins
So, that’s interesting. The actual NLP model does not say that eyeball directions indicate if someone is lying. In fact, if you read the book, they explicitly say that’s not what they do because that’s one of the common ways people misinterpret them.

What the eyeball directions are claimed to do, and this is something that drives me nuts because of the way this is phrased, it’s one of the easiest things to “test.” And I put that in quotes because, so far, I have yet to see any test that actually does a good job of genuinely testing the claim.

The observation is that people systematically move their eyes while they’re talking. Sometimes they move them up, sometimes they move them to the sides, sometimes they move them down. And in the NLP model, we pretend that what goes on inside people’s brains is they make pictures, they talk to themselves, they hear sounds, they basically have an inner sensory life in the five senses that corresponds to the same five senses that you use on the outside.

And, in fact, since NLP was developed in the 1970s, there’s been a lot of research that shows that’s probably even accurate in terms of what’s really going on because they found that if you have somebody visualize moving a muscle, all of the same neurons fire in their brain except for the very final neurons that actually activate your limb moving or whatever.

So, what the eye movement model in NLP says, it says when you’re constructing visual images, your eyes move one direction. When you’re remembering visual images, your eyes move another direction. When you are imagining sounds you’ve never heard before, your eyes move in a third direction. When you are remembering sounds you’ve heard before, your eyes move in a fourth direction. When you are talking to yourself and engaging in internal dialogue, your eyes move in a fifth direction. And when you are experiencing your feelings very strongly, your eyes move in a sixth direction. So, there’s three directions on each side, there’s three to your left, and three to the right.

And they may be different for different people. On some people, especially left-handed people, one or more of them might be swapped left to right. But the NLP model says that when somebody is retrieving information, when they’re really involved in information processing, their eyes will move in a particular direction that corresponds to the type of processing they’re doing.

You can then use that to help choose an intervention to decide what to do with them to help them change their thinking if what you’re doing is trying to help someone change their thinking, because NLP, the first place it was really used extensively, and the fact where it was developed, was in the realm of therapy. So, people would come in and they would say, “I have this horrible phobia.” And by watching their eyes, one of the things that you could find out is every time they talk about the thing that was a phobic trigger, they would always move their eyes to visual memory, or to the direction that corresponded to visual memory.

If that’s what happened, there is a particular technique that was developed in NLP that says, “When somebody is having a phobic reaction, and it is instantaneous, and it involves a remembered visual image, use this technique and it will help get rid of the phobia.” And you then could use that technique and it would help you rid of the phobia.

And, like all things, there’s plenty of margin for errors. Some things don’t work all the time. Some things sometimes you misdiagnose, etc. That’s the NLP eye movement I’m on. The way that people have misinterpreted this is to mean, “Gee, if you ask someone a question, and their eyes move to the creating a visual image area, that means they’re lying.” Well, maybe. It may mean that they’re remembering something and they’re creating an image that they’ve never made before that’s based upon the thing they’re remembering. It may mean they’re not paying any attention to your question. Instead, they’re making an image of…

Pete Mockaitis
Daydreaming. That sounds more interesting.

Stever Robbins
They’re making an image of the delicious casserole they plan on making just as soon as they can get out of the job interview or whatever. And this is the problem with a lot of NLP. Number one, the term is not copyrighted or trademarked so anyone can claim they’re teaching it, and anyone can claim they’re good at it. And, number two, an awful lot of people do, and they have no idea what it really is or how it works.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, if we want to read a book or two or three to get some useful understanding that is applicable, what would be your top recommendations on that?

Stever Robbins
Oh, that’s so difficult because I don’t think there are very many good NLP books out there. My favorite one is called Using Your Brain for a Change by a man named Richard Bandler who is one of the co-developers of NLP. The impression I get is he was really, really the principle key to the whole thing. And it is a book about how different changes in your mental imagery affect the reactions that you have to those mental images. And the reason this matter is that a lot of our behavior is driven off from mental imagery.

So, let’s say that somebody says, “Hey, we’re going to raise your tax rates,” and you’ll get super upset at that. Well, you’re not actually getting upset at the words, “We will raise your tax rates.” You’re getting upset of what that means to you. And it may be that what happens is you make a mental image of yourself lying in a gutter surrounded by really bad liquor with people stepping over your body because you think that if your tax rates get raised, that’s what’s going to end up happening to you. And what you’re going to reacting to is that image that you’re making.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s helpful.

Stever Robbins
So, Using Your Brain for a Change teaches you to identify the images that are actually driving your behavior and gives some specific techniques for how to manipulate those images and change them so that they drive your behavior differently. Because if you took that exact same image of yourself lying in the gutter with the cheap liquor, and you put circus music behind it, “toot, toot, root, toot, pop, para, pop” it wouldn’t produce the same emotional reaction. It may not make you want to be there, but it’s not going to be this horrible tragedy.

But, on the other hand, if you put these strings and violins, just doing the slow mournful thing, well, that makes it worse, you know, etc.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Stever Robbins
Now, people go, “Ugh, that’s just a funny little mental trick.” And I’m like, “Yes, it’s a funny little mental trick that completely changes the way that you feel about something. Isn’t that useful? Like, if you can just do a funny little mental trick and, suddenly, this thing that has been causing you incredible stress and high blood pressure and anger, suddenly becomes funny, that sounds like a mental trick worth learning and doing more of.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said.

Stever Robbins
So, the thing about NLP, to me, number one, very few people who claim to understand it really understand it very well. Number two, they often misrepresent it as a thing that accomplishes a certain result, like being a lie detector, or persuading people of things. And it’s less about getting a specific result, and it’s more about when you’re dealing with people, how do you understand the way they communicate? How do you understand the way they think? And how can you communicate to them so that you could be most understood by them?

And if they want to change, and if they want you to tell them how to change their behavior so they get better results in their life, how can you package the communication about how they can change such that, number one, they can hear and understand it; number two, they can then turn that understanding into different behavior; and then, number three, how can you make sure that the behavior you’re telling them to do, like in this case the circus music, is actually the thing that will make a difference for them? Because, for some people, circus music may not make something silly. For some people, circus music may make it ominous because maybe they saw too many clown films as a kid or whatever.

But once you know for a given person how they think, which things are meaningful for them, what their language is, you can help them reach the results that they want by using NLP to understand all of those things. Has this been clear?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Thank you.

Stever Robbins
Sure.

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

Stever Robbins
With me you mean?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Stever Robbins
With me, I’m at SteverRobbins.com, GetItDoneGroups.com, and if you are interested in the podcast, which is the Get-It-Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More, which is way too long. It should just be called the Get-It-Done Guy, or it should be called Work Less and Do More, go to itunes.com/getitdoneguy. Or, essentially, Get-It-Done Guy on any place that you listen to podcasts.

368: Upgrading Your Productivity through Accountability with Focusmate’s Taylor Jacobson

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Taylor Jacobson says: "In order to upgrade your life, upgrade your accountability."

Focusmate founder and CEO Taylor Jacobson breaks down how tribal psychology and accountability partners can do wonders for your work and life.

You’ll Learn:

  1.  The biggest distraction drivers in the workplace
  2. Four streamlined to-do list hacks
  3. Why NOT to rely on willpower

About Taylor

Taylor Jacobson is the founder and CEO of Focusmate, building productivity software that works when nothing else will. He’s a trained executive coach with clients like Yale, Cornell, and Wharton, a wannabe adventurer, and a recovering pizza addict turned holistic health aspirant. His work has been featured in CNN, GQ, The Huffington Post, Men’s Health, and more.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Taylor Jacobson Interview Transcript

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

Taylor Jacobson
Thanks for having me Pete, excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Me too. I want to get your take first of all about your 3,000-mile bicycle ride.

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah. Fun story. I just moved back from India and I was getting ready to do an MBA, although truth be told, I was kind of waffling on whether I wanted to do it. I always sort of wanted to do my own thing. I was debating.

I reconnected with a high school friend, who just wrapped up his stint in the Marine Corps, was taking some time off and I think we did a workout, we grabbed coffee and he said, “By the way, I’m going to do this thing we’ve been talking about since high school. I’m going to ride my bike from Boston to Seattle. You should do it with me.”

This goes all the way back to middle school. We can tell some fun stories about middle school because middle school stories are always fun if painful. But going back forever, I sort of knew that doing cool, hard stuff especially with somebody else was like this silver bullet for me.

I’d always wanted to do this particular challenge of riding my bike cross country and just was like, “Oh my God, this amazing person, a Marine, good friend of mine, is going to do this thing. This is my chance to do this really hard adventure.” That kind of flipped the switch for me of saying, “I really didn’t want to do this MBA anyway. I’m going to say yes.”

The next day we went to REI, we bought a tent, bought a sleeping bag, some stuffed sacks, whatever we needed. I think we had maybe a week before we were going to head out, so we did a couple you know – we loaded all the stuff on our bikes and tried to figure out how to ride with all this stuff strapped on there. I’d say we mostly figured it out. And then we just took off.

There’s a lot I can say about the ride, but one of the things we’ll get into in this conversation a lot is the power of your peers and the power of accountability and the power of just doing things together. I’ve never done that ride by myself, but I don’t know that I ever would or could.

Doing it with this friend, Brendan, every day you multiple moments, where you’re not having fun at all. But there’s just something about – your mind just kind of shifts when you are doing it together and it makes it a little less painful and it also – it sort of cements the reality that you just are doing it and you’re not going to give up.

For me the mental narrative when I’m doing virtually any kind of exercise, certainly cycling like this, certainly if it’s raining or there’s head winds or anything like that or it’s cold, which happened plenty, the debate raging in my head is like, “Should I quit or not?” That’s a little shameful to admit, but that’s the truth.

If I have somebody else there with me, it’s a whole different conversation. I’m just committed. I might be complaining in my head, but quitting is kind of off the table.

I won’t nerd out too hard on why that shift happens just yet while I’m telling this story, but needless to say, we made it. It took us 52 days, took some days off in the middle, went out for drinks in Bismarck, North Dakota because of course, you’ve got to do that. Yeah, incredible trip.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool, so every night you were just outdoors in the tent?

Taylor Jacobson
Most nights. Probably if I had had my way, we would have done more camping, but Brendan was a good voice of reason and when we’d pull into bigger towns, maybe once a week or so, he’d say, “We are getting a motel and we’re sleeping in a bed.”

We slept outdoors a lot, which I grew to really love. I miss it sometimes. But yeah, we tried to give ourselves a chance at a little bit more of a restful time to – especially if it was really cold or rainy or what have you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. It’s one of those things, you’ll remember it forever. It seems like some real seeds got planted there associated with the power of partnering up and accountability. Could you also tell us the tale behind your company and concept Focusmate and how you saw personally that this is some powerful stuff?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, absolutely. I’m going to go back to 2011 for the start of this story, which predates my company by a bit. I was living and working in Mumbai, India. I had been a top performer my whole life.

Pete Mockaitis
At work.

Taylor Jacobson
Went to Duke.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, Duke.

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, went to Duke, management consulting out of college. I was employee 6 at Teach For India. I was cruising. Then our office location changed in Mumbai and a kind of reasonable commute became much, much more arduous. This is a very long, very sweaty, just miserable commute, where I’d be like changing clothes when I got to the office. I just wasn’t digging it.

I basically begged my boss to let me work remotely. She sort of conceded. She was really reluctant, but I was just like, “I have to do this.” I started working remotely and I was excited about it, but her apprehensions turned out to be kind of – I don’t know what the right word is, but –

Pete Mockaitis
Justified, dead on.

Taylor Jacobson
Justified, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Prophetic.

Taylor Jacobson
Yes, thank you. In short, I could not figure out how to be productive while I was working remotely. It was really bad.

I would say I’m sort of a busy or productive procrastinator. I’d be like doing stuff constantly. I’d put in a good eight hours of something would be happening. I’d have my computer there on my lap, but I just wasn’t getting my job done. I wasn’t working on the really important stuff.

The next conversation I had with my boss was about a different topic, about my performance. We had a couple of those over a course of a few months. Eventually she didn’t fire me, but she basically said, “You can work here, you just can’t work for me.”

I drew a lot of ego strength from being a top performer, it just hit me really hard. I didn’t have the kind of resilience toolkit yet or sort of the mental pick-yourself-back-up toolkit yet. I kind of took this segue to start working for myself. I started my first startup at that time, but of course I was still working from home.

Kind of simultaneously because of this really conspicuous big failure, the first real big failure that I couldn’t kind of explain away, I went into this spiral of shame and depression. I really didn’t know how to get out of it. Of course, I was working alone, accountable only to myself, dealing with all the same things that had previously caused me to procrastinate. It was pretty nasty.

I won’t say that I figured out a lot in that phase. Kind of the first thing I figured out was just how to stop shaming myself and that was a good first step. But what happened was I started reading about self-improvement.

I started reading about behavioral science, and productivity, and all the productivity hacks, and blogs, and spirituality and just being in that really bad place actually and being motivated like that really cemented my passion for self-improvement and set me on this path.

Prior to starting this company, I was an executive coach for a number of years. That was a great opportunity to kind of take all this philosophy or research and be accountable to work with people on their real problems and see what works and what doesn’t work. Focusmate grew out of that.

I was working with a client, someone I had known for a really long time, sort of self-proclaimed procrastinator, also really high performer at the same time. He had an investor presentation coming up, really, really big and really important presentation, career-making type of meeting.

He called me up and he said, “Man, I have this meeting in two weeks. I need my investor deck and I haven’t started on it.” An investor deck for a meeting like this is something that could easily take you couple months to get into good shape. So he was really freaking out.

I had known him for long enough that I had kind of given him every bit of coaching that I knew. He didn’t need more coaching; he just needed to have his feet held to the fire. He just needed to sit down and do it somehow.

And so, I had meanwhile been procrastinating on writing a blog post at that time, something that I procrastinate easily for months. And I just said, “Listen, why don’t we just get on Skype tomorrow and I’ll sit there with you. And I will write my blog post and you will work on your investor presentation. I won’t even charge you because I need this too.”

And so we did that. It was crazy. We sat down. We both shared exactly what we’re going to do. Within a couple minutes, we’re just working. Two hours flies by. Both of us were kind of giddy at the end of this because we had just tapped into something that neither of us had ever experienced before.

He and I did that very day that week. He finished his presentation. That went great. But that was sort of the seed of realizing, “Oh, there’s something really powerful here.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so cool. It’s intriguing I imagine, boy, you really get into a dark place with regards to, “Hey, I’m a top performer. I kick butt all the time. Win, win, win is what I do. And yet I can’t pull myself away from-“ I don’t know if it’s Facebook or Netflix or cat videos or memes or gifs, whatever might be distracting you. What do you think that’s about in terms of our sort of individual capacity to resist distraction? What’s the deal there?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, that’s a really good, important question. I think the answer is actually – you can go read epic blog posts about this. You can read the Wait but Why has a really classic blog post on procrastination.

But I think it’s kind of simple, which is we spent 99% of evolution living in tribes, basically just trying to survive. We’re wired to function in that environment. What we’re not wired for is to have everything on demand and constant barrage of stimulation and opportunities for pleasure.

Pleasure could be Netflix or Seamless or – Seamless is food delivery here in New York or just email. That instant dopamine hit of getting a new email. I think it’s just we’re not wired to deal with the environment that we have today.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. You mentioned that there’s some data suggesting that distractions are getting worse and worse. Can you sort of unpack some of that to lay out just what’s at stake here?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, so some crazy data. I didn’t really fully grasp even until I started really building Focusmate and trying to understand what’s going on. Just like a few interesting things to look at.

Chronic procrastination is the most severe kind of procrastination. It’s a diagnosable condition. The study that I looked at for this starts tracking chronic procrastination right around the time that computers come into existence, like 70s, 80s.

The first data point they have on chronic procrastination is that it affects about 5% of the adult population. That number has gone up steadily until the most recent data point for this particular research on chronic procrastination is 2007, where it effects 20%, 1 in 5 adults.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s 2007.

Taylor Jacobson
2007.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve got 11 years to catch up to see how big it is now.

Taylor Jacobson
Totally. By the way, 2007 is when the first smartphone, when the iPhone came out. You can extrapolate a little from that. We’re in a pretty bad place with – this is hardcore, severe procrastination affecting a lot of people, somebody you know.

Another one is adult ADHD scripts. So from about let’s see, 2003 to 2015, adult ADHD scripts went up by over 3 times. And then the other just terrifying statistic is about a third of the workday now is wasted on distractions. Just a couple hours a day every day wasted on distractions.

Pete Mockaitis
Do we have a breakdown of what are the big distraction drivers there in the workplace? Is it more so folks dropping by or is it more kind of self-inflicted, like, “Oh, I keep looking at the news or my phone?”

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, that’s a good question. I haven’t looked at that data for a little while, but I know that noise is a big one, especially now we have open offices are unfortunately still really trendy even through there’s really no evidence to support that they’re good and there’s a lot of reasons why they’re bad. But, yeah, noise is hard for people.

If you’re introverted – I’m introverted – or if you’re sensitive to noise – I’m hyper-sensitive to noise – we know that introverts are a lot of people and a lot of people are sensitive to noise, so for certain types of people especially, working in an office environment can just be totally crippling.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. There it is. It’s big in terms of distraction affecting us more and more at a bigger scale. You stumbled upon a powerful anecdote with that Skype chat and then you went ahead and built a whole company around this. If I want to get me a Focusmate, how do I make that happen and how does it work?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah. The premise behind Focusmate is basically just using this technique, this kind of tribal psychology of accountability to unlock productivity. A kind of simple way to think about it is it’s like an accountability buddy or a study buddy on demand.

We have a standard session format. This is a 50-minute video working session, where we make it possible for you and your partner, your virtual co-worker, to sit side-by-side over video while you both get work done for 50 minutes. At the beginning of each session, you each commit to what you’re going to work on. You write it down and you get to work. At the end you check in with each other and talk about how it went.

It sounds pretty simple and it actually is, but there’s also a lot of behavioral triggers packed into that interaction. Part of it is when we schedule things in advance, our intentions further ahead are actually better often than our intentions right in the moment.

Then reflection, stopping and reflecting is – a lot of research shows that that improves productivity even though it doesn’t feel as good as just doing stuff. This forces you to stop and reflect on what you’re about to do.

Writing down what you’re about to do increases productivity. Telling somebody what you’re going to do increases productivity. The immediacy of doing it right after you write it down and tell somebody, also increases productivity. There’s a whole bunch of layers that go into why it’s so effective.

And part of what we’re building also is really enabling you to have a really customized experience so that the virtual co-workers that you have are exactly the right people for you, the people that you want to be working for, whether that’s because they’re actually your favorites, so to speak, that you’ve added to your tribe or that that’s based on your preferences of how you like to work.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Is this free or how do I get me some of that?

Taylor Jacobson
It is free. All you’ve got to do is go to our website, Focusmate.com, and sign up.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Are there any kind of corporate firewall IT blah to contend with when using this software?

Taylor Jacobson
It’s a totally browser-based experience, so you shouldn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Taylor Jacobson
You shouldn’t have any. Yeah, but let me know.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I like the way you sort of unpacked that in terms of it’s really just a few simple practices, but they have a compounding effect and they all kind of come together. Then that’s cool.

I’m a huge believer in accountability. I was sort of already sold. I read a book about accountability groups in college and I had a powerful experience as well in terms of, “Hey, we’re making commitments to one another and we’re sharing this is what I’m going to do and we’re checking in with each other regularly.”

You’ve added the real time dimension of “We are sitting down now looking at each other doing the thing,” which is a whole other level, so that’s awesome.

Taylor Jacobson
Thanks.

Pete Mockaitis
Then tell me, do you have any sort of stats on the effectiveness or the measurement of just the extent to which it gets the job done? You and your buddies think it’s really cool and a good experience, but how do we measure it in terms of sort of like a yes or no I got the job done or how do you put numbers to prove that this is doing the trick?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, so we’ve done some internal surveys. The results are kind of crazy. 100% – this is about a 60-something person study, so pretty small, but we think significant. 100% of the respondents said, “Yes, this improves my productivity.” Of those, 96% said, “It improves my productivity by at least 50%.”

Then just on the anecdotal side of things, we have many, many, many people who are saying, “I’ve tried everything under the sun and nothing has worked until this. I have severe ADHD and I never thought I could do X. I just wrote it off. I was never going to get to do this goal. Now, I actually think that I can.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. I’m intrigued then. That’s one sort of tremendous tool we now all have in our toolkit. We can just go to Focusmate.com and grab a partner on demand so that’s great.

So I imagine though as you’ve done your research, you’ve sort of determined a few other kind of best practices and themes when it comes to humans and our capacity to focus and be productive and stay on task and beat procrastinating, so what are some of your other pro tips beyond getting a partner?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah. I think it’s useful to actually kind of abstract one step because really the principle that is at work is around this tribal psychology. There’s this great quote from Jim Rohn that “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I must have seen that quote like ten times before I really understood what it means.

As I started to study psychology more, the way that I’ve come to understand why that really works, because it’s not magic, it really works. The reason is that we are social animals. We evolved in tribes where if you wanted to eat, you had to hunt. If you wanted to hunt successfully, you needed to collaborate with other people.

Or you wanted to raise a child, well, there was no baby monitors, so if you wanted to step away to do something else, you relied on somebody else. Or you got a cold, well, on how earth did you survive a basic common cold living in a tribal society? You completely relied on other people to take care of you.

We’re really hard wired to respond to these social triggers. There’s plenty of places that you can see this in life today, just stuff like why might you buy a Nike shoe versus a New Balance shoe? Well, a Nike shoe is going to send-

Pete Mockaitis
Because Steve Prefontaine, of course.

Taylor Jacobson
Of course. Well, that’s funny because it kind of gets at the thing, which is that Nike stands for something else. What that really means is it sends a different message both to you, but also to other people around you.

You go into an office, why is every guy there wearing basically the same thing. Well, that’s because you want to fit in. In a tribal society, it’s really, really costly if you stand out. The minute you stand out, you get ostracized, you’re dead. The way our brains our wired is we conform to the behaviors around us.

That works both ways. That means, hey, if your spouse turns on Netflix every night at 7 like clockwork and you really want to study up on machine learning. Sorry, but it’s not going to happen. Netflix is on and boom, your willpower is gone. You’re probably just going to sit on the couch too.

But it works in the other direction too. Since we’re talking about running, just one of the coolest examples I’ve seen in 1954 this runner – what’s his name. I want to say Roger Bannister, don’t quote me on that. But basically no one had ever run a four-minute mile before. In 1954 this guy he breaks the four-minute barrier for the first time. Remember this thing has literally never happened before.

Suddenly, two months later, somebody else does it. I just checked the research on this. As of today, over 1,400 people have broken the 4-minute barrier.

When your brain makes that switch to something is possible because somebody else did it. Something in your environment sends a signal about what’s possible, suddenly it’s also possible for you or it becomes normalized for you.

On a really practical level, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. The way that plays out is, you start to internalize the way that people around you are speaking and their body language and soon the way that they think and the way that they act and all these things you’re just – the way your brain is wired is you’re just subconsciously absorbing all those things. You actually can’t help but start to be like them.

It’s not a totally rational thing in today’s society, where you can totally pretty much survive on your own, technically, but it is still a really, really incredibly powerful hack where if you change the people that are in your environment, if you change that social environment, it will just change who you are from the inside out.

That has so many implications for our work, but in the very immediate who’s your boss, who are your co-workers, who are the people that you talk to about work, those sort of things can actually have a very, very direct impact on your output, your results at work.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s huge. Part of the game is just hey, pick some great people and be around them frequently.

Taylor Jacobson
Completely, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well so then, we’ve got sort of that lever to pull. Then I’m wondering in terms of when you find yourself without people at your disposal or maybe you have a shorter window in which you need to focus, like 20 minutes instead of booking a 50-minute advance session, what do you recommend in the heat of battle to sort of stay on task and focused and to beat procrastination and to keep at it when you’re not feeling it so much?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah. I think this can be a tough one. One of the things that I find really helpful is this idea of doing less better.

When you sit down and you’ve got 50 things on your to-do list, which all of us have at least 50 things on our to-do list, it can be really crippling, especially when you only have in this case 20 minutes or something. You might be a little weary and decision fatigue has set in. It’s really crippling and that’s one of the things that makes it really hard to be productive when you only have 20 minutes.

Actually really streamlining and I’ve heard different approaches to this. One person shared that she uses a Post-it note every day and she can only fit about three things on there so that’s how she plans. She just uses a really tiny surface. That’s one way to do less better.

I’ve borrowed a technique or adapted a technique from Jake Knapp.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, we had him on the show.

Taylor Jacobson
Oh nice. Yeah. Jake wrote an article about what he calls the Burner Method or something like this. Sorry, Jake, I’m going to totally screw this up. But the essence of it is to do less better and to really simplify.

My approach to this is I take a blank sheet of paper every day and I divide it into a top half and a bottom half. On the top half, I literally put just one thing usually. If there’s other things I absolutely must get to that day, they go on the top half. That’s a really, really high bar for things you absolutely must, must get to.

And the bottom half is like okay, bonus if I finish that thing at the top, here’s some more tasks I can get into. On the bottom right is personal tasks, administrative, “I’ve got to pick up my dry cleaning” or “I’ve got to – “right now I have write a thank you note is in that bottom write corner. I find that it helps avoid decision fatigue when it’s just extremely simple and you can just focus on that one thing.

And then kind of related to that, I like to say that we should write our to-dos like we’re giving instructions to a robot or to a computer.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that.

Taylor Jacobson
What that’s about is really about specificity and reducing complexity. Our brains don’t like complexity. When we create it, we procrastinate. When you see something on your to-do list that says write a presentation, to reprise our old example.

You actually can’t write a presentation. You can create a blank document in Keynote. You can write an outline with some slide headers. You can sketch out some graphic, some ideas for visuals for your slides. Those are things that you can actually do, but it’s not physically possible to do the activity of write a presentation. That’s another fun little trick is write your tasks like you’re giving instructions to a robot.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. That’s sort of one of the tenants of GTD, Getting Things Done, methodology.  We had David Allen on the show back in the day, episode 15, awesome dude.

Taylor Jacobson
OG productivity baller.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah and a personal hero. But it really resonated because if on your to-do list it just says ‘mom,’ it’s like there’s a whole other level of – I don’t know if it’s consternation or friction, it’s like what does that even mean, ‘mom.’ It’s like, “Oh, mom’s birthday.” Okay, well that’s closer, but what’s the instruction for mom’s birthday. It’s like, “Visit Amazon.com to find something that mom would like for her birthday and order it.” Okay, that’s what I’m doing.

Then you sort of really cut through a lot of that resistance in terms of “Oh, it’s not ambiguous at all. This is what’s happening is I’m opening a window and going to Amazon.com and buda bing buda boom.”

Taylor Jacobson
Totally. Yeah, I love the level of specificity that you just went to because that’s exactly what is necessary for our really terrible brains.

But it’s funny how much resistance – I still find this, I got the habit down now, but there’s – you’ll still find there’s resistance when you’re writing down a task to just write those extra words and do that little bit of extra thinking when you’re planning.

I find that doing all your planning and reflection together as its own task and making sure that, “Okay, now while I’m doing the reflection and planning, I’m going to take the time to write down ‘go to Amazon.com and research gifts and buy gift for mom,’” whatever you’re going to write down.

The other sort of hack that I use on this is sometimes you need to write something down that is complex and it’s not the right time now to actually plan out the specific actions around that. So you might actually need to write a presentation and you just need some kind of place holder on your to-do list to work on that. It may not be right to break that into the 12 steps that are actually involved.

When I encounter that situation, i.e., every day, you can just write plan out the steps to write the presentation. Actually treating the planning as its own task I find is a really helpful way to sort of get around the stuckness on complex projects.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, tell me, you’ve got a turn of a phrase I find intriguing. You say ‘Stop relying on willpower.” What’s the key message there?

Taylor Jacobson
Oh gosh especially in the US, we have this notion of rugged individualism. I subscribe to it so much as you might guess from someone who does a cross-country bike ride, but it’s also kind of toxic in that I think it has us think that there is some glamour or glory or righteousness about muscling through things. That can look like trying to do things on our own. It can often look like just trying to use willpower.

I can’t count the number of, days that I wasted earlier in my career just kind of shaming myself because I thought, “Gosh, I really just should be able to willpower myself through this obstacle.” And it doesn’t’ work. There’s plenty of evidence that it doesn’t work. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that does. We’ve talked about some of the stuff that does. But I think just the key message is to just let go of the notion that there’s something better about muscling through.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. It’s almost challenging in terms of you hold on just like, “But if I were some sort of a hard core super achiever, I could do it.” But the word Navy SEAL comes to mind, but even then, they’re working in teams.

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, yeah, they’re working in teams. They live together. They have routine. All of it.

This is like the part two to this idea is it’s okay to get some support, but not too much. There’s a line that we draw somewhere in our minds, where it’s like, “Okay, I can call up a friend and ask for help on this, but I really shouldn’t call two friends I don’t want to take too much of this person’s time or whatever.”

Of course, you need to use social intelligence and be gracious and not overtax your relationships, but separate from that, I think we just kind of put a barrier on what’s acceptable to create as support in our lives. Categorically, there is no limit to how much support is okay. I really think it’s just if there’s a way to get the job done, maybe you should use it.

So accountability is one great way, but I’m sure you’ve had plenty of guests who talk about stuff like automating things in your life, where, “I’m not necessarily reliable to get my laundry done when it should be done, so I just have a pick up set for once a week, where I’m like, all right, I guess I’ve got to scramble and get my clothes together because the person is coming,” just to give a couple examples of any way that you can avoid using willpower to do something, might be a good idea.

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

Taylor Jacobson
No, I’m good. Let’s do it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, how about you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, so, I’m going to just trot this one out again. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. That’s Jim Rohn.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Taylor Jacobson
There’s a study called The Power of Kawaii, which is this concept of viewing cute baby animal photos. What they looked at is what’s the impact this has on your productivity. I’m talking about this because it’s a perfect example of tribal psychology of we can’t help when we look at a picture of a cute baby animal, it actually boosts cognitive function, it boosts mood, it boosts concentration. Pretty crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve heard references to this. I said, “What?” I never scratched beneath the surface, so while we’re here, you’re thinking that it’s the tribal psychology explains this. Can you make that connection for me?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah. The kind of obvious connection is-

Pete Mockaitis
It’s an animal, we should kill it and eat it.

Taylor Jacobson
Well, okay. There’s that. I think it might be more intuitive for people to think about raising kids. When you have a baby there’s this blob that really doesn’t give you much interaction. There’s really no reward for a long time. There’s just a thing that has a lot of needs and also causes you a lot of distress.

How do we get through that crucible? Well, a lot of it is just the way our brains are wired. When you look at a baby, what happens? You calm down. You feel better. You can concentrate. They’re evolutionarily optimal to ensure the survival of the species. You can extrapolate one layer or in this case, the research suggests that this effect also extends to looking at other kinds of animals that are also babies.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, interesting. Thank you.

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah.

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

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, you mentioned Navy SEALS. I’m actually reading right now a book called Living With a SEAL but Jesse Itzler. This guy, Jesse, who is a really successful business guy, he invites a Navy SEAL to live with him for a month and to train him.

In addition to being really inspiring, it’s also hilarious and amazing example of how changing your environment, changing the social structure and putting this other really high-performing person in your environment is transformative for Jesse. It’s awesome. Highly recommend it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. How about a favorite tool?

Taylor Jacobson
A favorite tool. Well, I’m going to just be self-promotional and go there and say Focusmate. I wouldn’t say it if this is something that as a recovering procrastinator has really changed my life and changed even my identity, where I feel that I can rely on myself to get my most important work done. It’s been transformational for me and a lot of other people. I think it can be really effective for a lot of your listeners as well.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah, I wanted to choose something a little maybe uncommon. The habit that I want to share is around positive self-talk. This is something that probably the first million times I encountered it I was like this is some woo-woo crazy stuff. But it’s actually made a huge difference for me in the last few years that I’ve really started to get some momentum around it.

It cuts a couple ways. When something goes well, I’m actually sometimes out loud verbalizing, like “Great job,” or “Boom.” I’ll keep it clean on here, but I’ll enthusiastically congratulate myself. It just kind of – it literally creates, maybe dopamine actually in this case, but literally creates a chemical response where it sort of cements that experience in my memory or something that makes it actually more tangibly positive and helps me build on it.

Sometimes I’ll do that even if it was mediocre because there’s just like, “You know what? You did the best you could given what you knew at this point in time, so that’s awesome.”

And then plenty of times something goes terribly I walk out of a meeting and I just feel like I did terrible. In that situation too, I’m not telling myself “You did great,” and trying to steamroll the negative feeling, but I will really say to myself, “It’s okay. And it’s not all on you. There’s another person in this interaction. What did you learn from this interaction?”

Shockingly, after many years of thinking this was a crazy thing, it’s actually become a really indispensible and career-changing tool for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. And a part of the key is saying it out loud?

Taylor Jacobson
You know, I have found that sometimes saying it out loud makes it a little – what is it? It can make it a little more real. It can also help reinforce the habit as you’re building it. It’s kind of fun too. Maybe it’s a little crazy and I’m just a crazy guy, but yeah, something about saying it out loud, it’s maybe a little extra oomph.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks when you share it?

Taylor Jacobson
Yeah. We’ve really talked about it a lot. It’s just this idea that in order to upgrade your life, upgrade your accountability.

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

Taylor Jacobson
You can email me at Hi@FocusMate.com. You can also head over to our website, FocusMate.com.

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

Taylor Jacobson
I do. My challenge is – you can call it an audit of the people in your life. It’s not just your work life, although that’s certainly an important category, but it’s really everyone that you spend a meaningful amount of time with. It’s your friends, it’s your romantic partner. And to ask yourself – I guess there’s two questions.

One is, are there sort of – are there roles in your life that – or needs that you have that you don’t have somebody who’s serving that role. I think of these as roles that you are casting for in your life. That’s sort of list one.

List two is people in your life or behaviors that some of those people in your life are exhibiting that are causing drag, that are slowing you down, that are sort of – again, if you are the average of the five people who you spend the most time with, are there people in your life that you actually don’t want to become more like them?

And then go find the people that you’re casting for in list one and in list two, either establish a boundary with those people or if you need to actually cut those people out from your life. I think actually following through with those two things can completely change your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Taylor, this has been a real treat. Thank you for sharing your experience, your vulnerability, your story, and your cool software with us. I’m just a huge fan of what you’re up to and I wish you all the best.

Taylor Jacobson
Thanks so much Pete. It’s been really great being on the show.

344: Confidence-Forming Habits with Jordan Harbinger

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Jordan Harbinger says: "People who ask for things... are the ones who get them."

Jordan Harbinger shares mindsets and practices to boost your confidence and your results with people.

 

You’ll Learn:

  1. The secret strengths of introverts
  2. Why to ask for what you don’t deserve
  3. How a post-it note can transform  your non-verbal communication skills

About Jordan

Jordan Harbinger has always had an affinity for Social Influence, Interpersonal Dynamics and Social Engineering, helping private companies test the security of their communications systems and working with law enforcement agencies before he was even old enough to drive.

Jordan has spent several years abroad in Europe and the developing world, including South America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and speaks several languages. He has also worked for various governments and NGOs overseas, traveled through war-zones and been kidnapped -twice. He’ll tell you; the only reason he’s still alive and kicking is because of his ability to talk his way into (and out of), just about any type of situation.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jordan Harbinger Interview Transcript

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

Jordan Harbinger
Thanks for having me on, man. I appreciate the opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I am excited to chat because you’ve been an inspiration for me in podcasting. You kind of got me going on the three times a week as a matter of fact, so that – we have you to blame for that.

Jordan Harbinger
Right, so if you can’t keep up with this podcast, it’s largely my fault for also making it impossible to keep up with my podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, one fun thing that I learned about you from your IMDB profile actually – someone’s a big deal – is that you were at one time an FBI informant. What’s the scoop here?

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah, when I was actually essentially a kid, when I was younger, I had figured out how to – do you remember green boxes on the side of the road that were like, “Hey, what’s that thing? I guess it’s a phone thing.” Do you remember those things?

Pete Mockaitis
Kind of, but what is it?

Jordan Harbinger
Kind of. Yeah. Not exactly a tourist attraction. I figured how to open those. When I opened them I saw all these screws in there with wired pairs. I went, “Oh, what are these?”

I remember stopping on my bike once when I saw one of the lineman – the telephone company guys, not the football guys – opening that thing up. I said, “What are these?” He goes, “Oh, every house in the neighborhood, all the phone wires, they run right into this box, so each of these pairs is someone’s phone.”

I said, “Oh, and that little orange handset you’re using you can listen to the call.” He goes, “Well, I don’t do that, but I can use it to test the line if someone’s on the line when I put it on there I get this little red light. I don’t hear anything.” I said, “Oh, okay.”

I decided that I was just going to get one of those and open that thing up with the – because you needed a special wrench, as if that’s hard to find. I would get that and open those up and I started listening to conversations and I started to get really interested in people and really interested in the phone system because I could learn more about people through the phone system.

I learned how to clone, which is sort of like hack in a general sense, I learned how to deal with that with cellphones, analog cell phones. That was obviously really quite interesting for me. I started to clone these cellphones. The FBI was like, “Hey, this is actually a crime. You should probably not do that.” But I started to tell them how certain technical things were done and they were interested in that.

Then one day, I worked for a security company and that security company was intern contracted by a really wealthy Detroit area billionaire. I went into work one day at the security company and I was like – we were talking about dating or something like that because my boss was like, “Hey, how are the ladies treating you?” That kind of thing. I was 16 years old.

I said, “Oh, I’m actually meeting women on the internet.” He’s like, “What?” because this is 1995 or 1996. It’s like what are you talking about. I would tell him how I would chat with essentially girls at that age on America Online. He’s like, “Oh, this is so fascinating.” He would ask me about it every time I’d go to work.

Eventually I started working with the – with him on talking with the FBI about the technology stuff, but then one time we started talking about the dating on America Online or the chatting on instant messenger, which we used at the time.

I started saying – it’s funny because I had this really sort of ambiguous unisex sounding username. Some people on there thought I was a guy and some people on there thought I was a girl. I always had to say like, “Oh yeah, I’m a 16-year-old guy live in Troy, Michigan,” whenever I was talking to people.

Pete Mockaitis
ASL.

Jordan Harbinger
ASL, right? Age, sex, location. I eventually started to see people hitting me up. I was like, “Oh hey, I’m a guy. You don’t want to be sending me a picture of a rose or something,” and they’re like, “Oh, okay, sorry.”

Then some people were really creepy about it. I was like, there’s all these guys on there that are like 40 that are totally okay with me being a 16-year-old boy. What a bunch of weirdos. I told my boss about this and he goes, “Yeah, that’s not okay, man. Those are sexual predators. We need to report these people to the police.” I said, “Well, all right.”

We called the police; they had no idea what to do with it. We contacted the FBI, who I had already sort of been talking about with the tech stuff and they were like, “Yeah, we don’t really how to handle this. We have a cybercrime division in Washington, D.C., but no individual office,” again, this is the ‘90s, “has anything to do with computer crime because it’s so advanced.”

Computer crime back then was bank wires probably and really advanced Matthew Broderick dialing into the Pentagon-type of crime, not somebody chatting on America Online. There was no crime to be had there. There was no financial transactions. PayPal didn’t exist. You couldn’t bank online, etcetera.

I started talking about this and they said, “Look, show me what you’re dealing with,” because they thought, “Oh yeah, some pervert’s trying to get you to send a picture with your shirt off or whatever. Who cares?” I sent them transcripts of these emails and other things in chat rooms, because remember back in the day you had whole rooms of people talking.

Some of it was just really, really, really not cool, like really gross and graphic. It’s like who are these people? This is a 14-year-old girl. Look here where she says to another user how old she is and where she lives. Then this is where this guy says he’s 45 and works at Radio Shack.

I started to send those things in by fax, of course, to the FBI and they went, “Oh, wait a minute. This is like really – there’s really – this is really bad.” Because there were guys saying like, “Yeah, I’ll come over to your parent’s house when they’re not there and take pictures of you. You’ll be a model,” like that kind of stuff.

They started saying, “Look, we can’t ask you to do anything, but the more of this we get, the better our case is going to be against some of these users when we go to a judge for a warrant and try to sort of look at this person’s email and all that stuff.”

I started just going into chat rooms and I even made different screen names and I would get into chats with these people and stuff like and I would fax all the transcripts to the FBI. We caught a bunch of pedophiles.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jordan Harbinger
We caught a ton. Yeah, we caught a bunch. I was in Michigan, so what we would do – essentially the crime itself online was multi-state, which brought it to the FBI jurisdiction, but what we ended up doing was Toledo, Ohio was pretty close to the southern border of Michigan, so the ruse at that point was “Oh, I’m going on vacation with my family to Toledo. We’re going to be at the Holiday Inn and this place.”

Then the guy would drive from Michigan to Toledo and the FBI, the local PD would be there and they’d be like, “Well, you just traveled across state lines to engage in inappropriate conduct with the minor, so now you’re ours. You’re not Toledo PD. You’re not Detroit PD or whatever suburb PD. You’re FBI and we have all the chats.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jordan Harbinger
It was just like boom.

Pete Mockaitis
And Chris Hanson says, “Why don’t you take a seat over there.”

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah, that’s exactly what it was. When I first saw that show, I went, “Oh yeah, they’ve been doing this for a long time.” This is not a new operation. In fact, as far as I know, we were one of the first people ever to do this because if I had to talk to Washington, D.C. FBI just to tell them how pedophiles run America Online in ’96, I don’t think there was a whole lot of activity in that area at that time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, if you’re like the lead expert as a 16-year-old from Michigan.

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah, as a 16-year-old boy with a dial-up modem is the lead expert on AOL sex crimes I guess you would call it, then there’s not a whole lot of expertise in the area. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jordan, you are full of interesting stories. You share a number of them along with guests on The Jordan Harbinger Show. Tell me, what’s your show kind of fundamentally all about?

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah, what I do on The Jordan Harbinger Show, what we do as a team, is we interview amazing brilliant people, in my opinion, and we study their thoughts, their actions, their habits, and then we have them teach their ways to the audience.

For example, I had – I just earlier today interviewed the former head of the CIA and NSA, General Hayden. I said, “Look, how are you making these tough decisions? How are you balancing people’s freedom with the fact that you have to defend us against terrible people?” Or I’ll talk to Larry King and I’ll say “Tell us about conversational skills. You’ve had 60,000 interviews. You must have picked up a couple of tips along the way.”

I’ll have them teach those skills to the listening audience. Then every episode has worksheets. It’s really practical. It’s not just like, “Wow, gee, that was so inspiring. Thanks for coming on.” It’s like, “No, here’s five things you can now do to become better at conversations, networking, body language, persuasion, influence, etcetera.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Clearly we have much synergy between our shows, so it’s so good to have you here. I’ve learned a lot from you, particularly in the realms of confidence, likeability, relationships, communications, like that universe.

Now you’re going to be, if you will, the Larry King is to interviewing and Jordan Harbinger is to likeability/confidence stuff. Let’s go there. What’s sort of your secret sauce or your flavor behind – it seems like, if I may, following you for a while, it’s like you’re kind of a dork. I say that in the nicest way.

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah. No, you don’t have to – not kind of. I mean it’s well established, my friend.

Pete Mockaitis
And yet you’re also super freaking cool at the same time. You’ve got a real good vibe going, which serves you well as an interviewer and broadcaster, but I’m sure many other circumstances. What’s going on in your head in terms of where your seeming abundance kind of confidence and self-assuredness is coming from?

Jordan Harbinger
Where does my confidence come from?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jordan Harbinger
Well, yeah, it’s definitely not something that I just woke up one day and I was like I’m good at this. I certainly – it’s funny, people who’ve known me my whole life, they go, “It’s so funny that you ended up being a talk show host interviewer. It’s just comedy.”

Because when I was a kid I was an only child, so imagine I spent a lot of time watching TV sitcoms, first of all, which actually is where I learned a lot of my cheese ball sense of humor because people who know me for a long time will be like, “Oh yeah, I remember you watching The Fresh Prince for seven years straight and just talking and being funny in that way.” I sort of have a humor evolution from Perfect Strangers all the way on up to Seinfeld or Friends.

Pete Mockaitis
The highest echelon of evolution.

Jordan Harbinger
The highest echelon of culture, naturally. But the reason that happened was because I could either sit there and watch baseball with my dad, who like – he’s a smart guy, but he’s an engineer, so his communication is primarily grunting and then getting frustrated when you don’t understand exactly what he means. Then my mom, who loves reading. I’m an only child, so I’m just sitting there like, oh my gosh, I’ve got to – I’m not doing a whole lot of talking.

Then when I was in school, I just found that either things were so boring that I would get in trouble, and then I had like the typical middle school, I wouldn’t call it social anxiety any more than a normal kid has, but instead of me being – acting up and trying to be one of the in-crowd, I just kind of was like, I’m just not going to talk. If I’m invisible, then nobody will bother me. You know that kind of thing?

I did that for years. That persisted even through a little bit of high school. Then in college I studied really hard. I wasn’t concerned with partying and stuff because I thought you get one shot at this. Then I went to law school, not exactly known for its outgoing super social well-adjusted people, especially at that level where I was studying. Then I worked on Wall Street.

The fact that I was able to then leave that and develop a talk show host and interviewer skillset was really a large pivot. But it wasn’t as big of a jump as I think a lot of introverts think. Because when we’re introverted and as we know from new science now, things like Susan Cain and her book and her work, introverts are actually better at forming relationships and generally having conversations with people that are meaningful.

Because – I say we because technically I’m still an introvert. I don’t think that’s something you really shake. We think more about what we’re going to say before we say it. We think about other people’s feelings, what repercussions is this going to have, how’s it going to make the other person feel, how is this going – what conversation should this be like, whatever do I want to put into this conversation to make it worthwhile.

That’s the type of thing that introverts think of, which is why we seem quiet and reserved. We are indeed, but also we’re not just talking because well, if I talk a lot, people will think I’m cool. We don’t have that.

If we talk enough, we go “Oh, I just want to go home and not do anything,” whereas an extrovert says, “Oh, I’ve been working all day, I just want to go out and have drinks and chitchat.” It’s like we don’t rest that way, introverts.

The pivot seems strong, but really it’s just a use of a skillset that I had for a long time. I was always the guy that people would ask for advice. I was always the people – I was always the guy people would say, “I trust you to keep this secret for me. My parents are getting divorced.” I’m like, “We’re in third grade. Why are you telling me this?” That was kind of thing that I always had.

I think it was me putting people at ease because I wasn’t necessarily fronting all the time. I wasn’t trying to be cool. I was just me because I didn’t have the skills to be anybody else or even try to fake it. That I think is why I ended up in this particular niche doing this particular gig.

But I do think that all of us, especially if we think, “Oh, well I’m working at this company and I’m never going to be this outgoing or this person or this type of person that’s going to be a manager, an outgoing leader.” I think we should take a second look at that because a lot of times the things that we think about us are a disadvantage, are often symptoms of an advantage that we have that maybe we haven’t explored yet, similar to the introvert thing.

“Oh, I’m too quiet. I could never be a radio talk show host interviewer.” Well, that’s not really true. All of the characteristics that make you quiet, you think before you talk, that’s actually really beneficial to somebody who wants to have a meaningful conversation in any format, whether you’re a writer or you’re speaking on a microphone.

The shyness, yes, you’ll have to get over eventually. But shyness and being introspective and quiet are actually totally different things.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I love that good stuff there. I’m actually a certified Myers Briggs practitioner. I train people on this all the time.

There’s a lot of aha moments in terms of we sort of assume or project onto the other person, “Oh, if I’m extrovert and I’m quiet, it means I’m bored. I’m disengaged. I don’t care, whatever. Therefore, that person is thinking, feeling the same thing.” It’s like au contraire.

[15:00]

As you very nicely articulated, the introvert is kind of operating on all of these maybe deeper levels of consideration about what would be the implication if I say that and the repercussions to the other person, how are they thinking and feeling about that. That’s very well said.

I want to dig into a little bit of that repercussion piece when it comes to thinking about maybe if folks are overly cautious or worried about offending or being rejected or rubbing people the wrong way if they speak up about something, what’s your take on how to overcome those sorts of fears and anxieties?

Jordan Harbinger
Sure. I think for a lot of people this is a slow – I won’t say it never goes away. I will say that it’s slow to go away. It’s not like one day you’re working on this and you finally feel like “Ah, this is gone now.” It’s more like you stop noticing it, if that distinction makes sense.

The way that this works will be something like rejection therapy for example, where you go – some of the drills that I give clients from The Jordan Harbinger Show or for Advanced Human Dynamics, which is our training arm, are things like I’ll point them to the negotiation episodes that we did where most people are using that to get a raise in their salary or they’re using those types of skills to get something else for work or business.

But I’ll also say, “Look, the next time you go to Starbucks ask for a discount.” People will go, “Oh God, I can’t do that. It’s awkward. It’s weird.” So what though? You’re in an airport. You’re in an airport; you’re never going to see that barista again. It’s not the one that’s a block away that you go to every day, where you might actually face consequences. Ask for the discount and the worst they can say is no.

You have to work up courage, of course, to do this kind of thing, but as you do that and you experience positive results, which most people do –

You’d be surprised how many places, by the way, have some sort of discount button that automatically knocks 10% off the price because, “Oh, you’re in the office building above us. 10% off.” “Oh, the manager is standing next to me and that’s totally fine because she’s seen you before. 10% off.” That happens all the – “Oh, you brought your own cup. 10% off.” That kind of thing, always, cafes, restaurants, that happens all the time.

As we experience positive results, we start to say “Well, wait a minute, if I got that by asking, what else can I get by asking?” We used to have all of these different sorts of drills to lead up to that. I won’t spend too much time on that because I don’t want to take up the whole show with it, but a lot of what these do is they build small pieces of situational confidence that then lead to greater confidence in other areas.

If you are able to ask for what you want or a benefit when you actually don’t deserve one, like you do not deserve a discount on that coffee. You don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
But I’m so adorable, Jordan.

Jordan Harbinger
But I’m like, if you ask for that and you get it, then you start to think, “Well, wait a minute. There’s a whole world of possibility that doesn’t make me an entitled jerk for exploring.” Once you start to do that, then you can build on to bigger and bigger things.

When you frame things in the way of negotiation, like, most people do deserve to get paid more than they actually are. Or I should say they’re bringing more value than they’re actually paid. I think in many ways you get paid what you negotiate in certain corporate structures, not necessarily what your value is.

Once you start to realize that you think, “Well, wait a minute. There’s somebody else-“ because chances are, think about this right now. You’re working in a corporation if that’s what you’re doing. I know a lot of your audience is doing that. There’s probably somebody at your same level that’s making more than you and you have no idea.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Jordan Harbinger
The reason you have no idea is because HR cut them a deal with they negotiated with that person and part of it was “I will not tell anyone else what I’m making.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. And that is illegal in some countries. Fun fact.

Jordan Harbinger
I didn’t know that. Really?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it is. You cannot do that in certain countries for the very reason that it is a disservice to workers or employees or wage earners, but business owners and HR folks in the US will – it’s to their advantage. There’s an awesome Adam Ruins Everything, if you’ve ever seen that show,-

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
-episode about this. I was like, “Right on Adam. You preach it.” Yeah, it’s a little bit kind of taboo I guess in the US to discuss those things, but it’s generally to the employees benefit when they do. Yeah.

Jordan Harbinger
Interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m vibing. I’m vibing with what you’re saying there. I’m also vibing with that statement there: ask for what you don’t deserve. I’m thinking I don’t do that very often.

Jordan Harbinger
No.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m wondering if it’s because my sense of justness or rightness or fairness or is being compromised. Set me straight, Jordan, why and how is it cool to ask for what you don’t deserve?

Jordan Harbinger
It’s social pressure, right? The reason we don’t do it. We have some unwritten rules that say look – I’m not saying walk into Wal-Mart and then walk out with a lawn chair and be like, “Can I have this for free?” They’re going to be like, “No,” and then you’re going to apply pressure and turn the screws.

We’re not doing this thing where we’re going to a local mom and pop restaurant, eating a full meal and saying, “I’m going to pay you half of what you asked for for this.” You’re just giving people grief at that point.

But when you’re talking about, “Hey, can I have a discount on this coffee?” Nobody sat down and went “Look, this is the morally acceptable price for us to charge for this cup of coffee.” They went, “People are willing to pay five dollars for this mochaccino. Charge these morons five dollars for that mochaccino,” if that’s a real thing.

If you ask for a discount, Starbucks is still profiting handsomely off of you. They want you to come back. They might do this all the time. There’s a reason they give away free stuff all the time. There’s a reason they have all these rewards programs. They incentivize that way. You’re not stealing from them by asking because you’re giving them a choice. They’re fully allowed to say no.

It’s not when they say no, you walk up to the shelf with all the ceramic mugs on it and knock it over. You’re not doing that. You’re just walking up to the counter and saying “Can I have a discount on that?” Sometimes they just go, “Sure.” Or you say, “Can I have a discount on that? I’ve had a really long day and I would love to just have one thing go right,” and they go, “Yeah, sure. My pleasure.”

Pete Mockaitis
It is their pleasure.

Jordan Harbinger
It is.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re giving them an opportunity to delight you and that’s worth something.

Jordan Harbinger
It is.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re doing them a favor by asking for that. That’s my reframe. I’m rolling with it.

Jordan Harbinger
And frankly it’s often worth about 15 cents, so it really doesn’t matter that much, but it’s nice to have anyway. The reason we ask for what we don’t necessarily deserve in those instances, not because, great, I’m saving a quarter on a cup of coffee. The reason we do that is because imagine how much easier it then becomes to ask for something that you do deserve.

“I know I’m underpaid by five grand a year. Oh, but I don’t want to make my manager’s manager angry. I know that times are tight right now.” No, this is a negotiation. You deserve more than what you’re getting. Other people at other offices are getting paid more for doing the same amount of work and they have better benefits. You should be leveraging that.

By asking for small little things, and again, coffee is not necessarily going to lead to a bigger raise for you, but it can over time compound and you will find not only are you enjoying some benefits of that, but you gain a sense of control over things, namely your environment, that you may not have otherwise had.

Then it starts to lead to the idea that, “Well, wait a minute. If I can negotiate a discount on the cup of coffee that I don’t deserve, then maybe I can negotiate the 5,000 dollar raise that would be a qualitative lifestyle difference for me that I actually do deserve that other people are getting that I’m not because I’m nice, too nice.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m digging it. I’m digging it. Time is already flying here. But Jordan I’ve got to get from you a couple, if I may, pro tips in terms of being likeable or charismatic or kind of winning people over-ness, if that’s a word. What are some of the top foundational principles or tips that you share in that realm?

Jordan Harbinger
Sure. I used to be one of those like, “Well, look people in the eye. Have a firm handshake and positive-“ and I still do the positive, upright, confident body language thing. In fact, I’ll give you guys a – why don’t I give you a body language drill. This is always a nice easy one that people can learn in an audio only format.

I would say some of the major benefits come from developing relationships and networks that really help other people because you can have the greatest nonverbal communication of anybody in the whole world, but if I’ve thrown you three – four show guests or I’ve introduced you to somebody who you ended up marrying or got you a job, you’re just going to like me a little bit more than the guy who has a firm handshake and good eye contract. At least, I hope so.

The body language and nonverbal stuff does have its place though. I think for a lot of folks, especially I used to think this way as well, we often think, “Huh, well my first impression happens when I open my mouth, so I’ve got to have cool, fun, entertaining things to say.” This really actually is not true.

We know that we form our first impressions nonverbally before the other person even has the opportunity to open their mouth.

If you don’t believe me, next time you go to the mall and you’re walking down the street, listen to the little voice in your head – not the one that says walk faster, it’s cold outside – but the one that says, “That person is small. That person is tall. Oh, that person is kind of scary. Should I cross the street? No, I’m just being weird. They’re fine. Oh wow, this person is attractive. I wonder-“

That voice, you’re making judgments about people constantly. We’re evolved to do that. It’s something that keeps us safe and has kept us safe for millennia. We do this. It’s not bad. It does not mean you’re a judgmental jerk. We do this.

Now what this means for us is that our first impression is already made well before someone walks up and says, “Hey, can I borrow a quarter for the payphone? I’ve got to catch the bus.” Whatever. That is not the first impression. That’s the second impression generally speaking.

This happens just as well in corporate environments, at a mixer or something like this. We generally form that first impression within milliseconds. As soon as someone becomes a blip on our radar, we form some judgments of them based on their nonverbal communication.

What we want to do is make sure that our first impression, nonverbal first impression, is upright, positive, confident, friendly, open, all these nice positive adjectives that we can throw out there.

The way that we do that is essentially, unless you’re driving right now, you can follow along with me, stand up straight, chin up, chest up, shoulders back. You don’t have to exaggerate this. This is not like superman pose or anything. It’s just sort of upright, positive, confident, friendly. Put a smile on your face.

We want to do this every time we walk through a doorway because that’s generally when people notice us is when we walk through a doorway. Of course, the problem with that is we walk through doorways all day, so you’re going to walk through a doorway five seconds from now, forget to do this and then everything goes to heck.

Grab a stack of Post-It notes, maybe those little ones that have absolutely no use other than what I’m about to tell you because they’re too small. If you don’t have those, go grab a pack of that from the office supply room or go to the drugstore and grab it. Stick them up at eye level on the doorway. You don’t even have to write anything on it.

What this is going to do is it’s called a pattern interrupt in psychology slash hypnosis speak. What that is is you look at your doorway, you don’t see anything because you walk through it all day. But you look at your doorway, you see a hot pink Post-It note at eye level on the doorframe and you go, “What is that? Oh right, the doorway drill that Jordan was talking about.”

You walk through that doorway and you straighten up. You reset your body to that open, upright, positive, confident body language. You do this in your own home. You do this in your office. You do this when you go out to the break room, the conference room. I don’t think anybody’s going to be too suspicious of a Post-It note on a doorframe in an office.

Pete Mockaitis
They’re not going to snag it away on you.

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah. If they do, you just replace it because they keep on refilling that office supply container, don’t they? Or you put a little note there and you write on it ‘Do not remove’ and it will be there for like five years and people will go, “What is that thing?”

Pete Mockaitis
What the heck is this thing?

Jordan Harbinger
I don’t know. Don’t touch it though. It says ‘Do not remove thanks, MGMT,’ so the management obviously put it up there.

When you do that you start to reset your nonverbals. What this does is it trains you to reset throughout the day that open, upright, positive, confident body language. Within three to six weeks, you’re not going to need the Post-Its anymore. You’re going to have that nonverbal communication going all the time.

What this does, this is great, because then the next time you go to a meeting, a mixer, a conference or Starbucks, whatever it is, you have your body language and nonverbal communication set the right way.

When people form those first impressions of you based on that nonverbal communication, they start to treat you differently. When people start to treat us differently, we actually start to behave differently and there’s a lot of science, which I probably don’t need to go into that proves this. I don’t think that anybody would even argue with that anyway.

When we start to be treated differently and we start to behave differently, then essentially the core of who we are begins to change for the better. We start to behave as if we are indeed entitled to smiles and that coffee discount and-

Pete Mockaitis
You’re worth smiles, Jordan.

Jordan Harbinger
You’re worth smiles. You’re worth smiles. You’re worth people turning around and looking at us and actually being pleasantly surprised that somebody friendly walked in. You’re worth it.

That trains us to behave differently, which is a higher level of social status than we’re typically accustomed to. That’s powerful. It’s kind of like getting taller.

If I can commission a study, I would want to compare the social status equated with being tall or wealthy with the social status equated with high-value charismatic social behavior because there is science to this effect, not using the doorway drill of course, that shows that people who are outgoing, friendly, positive and confident, do enjoy higher levels of income, larger networks, more career satisfaction.

The idea that you can get that from Post-It notes is pretty powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
I was just going to say and it all starts with a hot pink tiny Post-It note.

Jordan Harbinger
That’s right. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. I love it because we had BJ Fogg on the show talking about tiny habits and that’s a potent tiny habit.

Jordan Harbinger
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
It takes mere seconds to do. We have a clear trigger. It has highly leveraged results flowing on the back end. That is a slam dunk. Thank you.

Jordan Harbinger
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me Jordan, any really top things you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Jordan Harbinger
I’ve actually – I love these little drills for networking and relationship development. I think relationships are the most important lever in business and me having had to restart my business in The Jordan Harbinger Show within the last six months, again, after doing my other show for 11 years and bringing this new show, The Jordan Harbinger Show, to 3.8 million downloads a month and already in the top 100, the relationships are what did it.

People go, “Well, you’re really good at what you do.” Thanks a lot, but really it’s the network. I want to just underline/highlight/emphasize the fact that relationship development is one of the most crucial skills that anyone can build. At the end of the show maybe we can plug some of the drills and exercises that I’ve developed similar to the doorway drill that will help with that and people can go and grab those.

But I want to highlight that because I think people put networking off until later. They’re like, “Oh well, I got a new boss right now and I’ve got to bust my tail for this. Then I’ll worry about networking,” or “I don’t need a new job right now. I’m really satisfied where I am, so I don’t really need to network inside my industry or outside it. I want to spend that time doing other things.”

I understand those arguments but they are erroneous because the problem is you cannot make up for lost time. When it comes to building relationships, you have to dig the well before you’re thirsty because at the time you eventually need that network, you are far too late. That’s a tough lesson to learn in real time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jordan Harbinger
Oh sure. Something that I find inspiring. I use to really love “Fortune favors the bold.” It sounds great in Latin. But that sort of sounds a little bit bro these days, so I’m going to share that quote with the caveat that what that really means … our earlier conversation is that people who ask for things that they want or they think they deserve are the ones that get them.

Seldom do things sort of flutter down and land in our lap. That’s usually the right place, the right time, a whole lot of luck. I really do like the idea that fortune favors the bold.

I think that Abraham Lincoln even had something like – or this is one of those internet quotes, where it’s totally not Abraham Lincoln, but it’s credited as him slash Mark Twain. But I think he said something like, “Good things come to those who wait, but it’s only what’s left over by those who hustle.”

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Jordan Harbinger
I love that one as well. It’s very similar.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Jordan Harbinger
Favorite book. Gosh, I read so much. But I really love Extreme Ownership, which of course is written by Jocko Willink, who’s a Navy SEAL. It’s full of these kinds of cool battle stores from Ramadi and Iraq. But really what extreme ownership is about is figuring out what part you’ve played and pretty much any failure or any problem.

If your team fails and your boss totally misled everyone and half the team quit and it was just you and one other person and that person got the black plague and had to stay home for two months and you’re the one that did all the work, you still look at what part you played and what you could do differently later.

Because externalizing blame or faults or anything is always, even if it’s 100% valid, like, “Look, we failed because I had to do this alone with no help.” “Okay, that’s the main reason why you failed. The other reason is, well you decided that it was going to be impossible six months ago, so you kind of resigned yourself to failure.” “Well, yeah, but it was never going to work.” That doesn’t matter.

Extreme ownership means look all the way at every facet, all the way up and down the food chain and figure out what you could have done differently because if you don’t do that, then basically you didn’t learn anything other than woe is me.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. How about a favorite habit?

Jordan Harbinger
Favorite habit. Every day I wake up, and this is also in my networking drills that I’ll share later in the show, every day I wake up and I usually have an alarm for around 10 AM. I don’t wake up at 10 AM, FYI, I wake up around 5:30, but I have the alarm set for around 9 to 10 AM depending on what time zone I’m in.

I scroll all the way down to the bottom of my text messages and I text the five people – those are the texts where it’s like two years old, where it’s like, “Hey, where are we meeting for lunch?” and you’re at some conference in Washington, D.C. Those are people you haven’t spoken to since that lunch.

I’ll text them and I’ll say, “Hey, it’s been a long time. I hope this is still your number. This is Jordan Harbinger. I just wanted to check in. What are you working on lately? Where can I be of service? Would love to touch base with you,” something along those lines. You make sure you sign your name, so that you avoid new phone, who dis.

You also say no response necessary if you’re really busy. That actually increases your response rate by about 30% from about 40-something to 70-something. The reason is because then – when people build urgency because they’re trying to sell something it’s usually like, “Contact me right away,” so of course when you get a text like that you’re thinking, “Wait, I haven’t talked with Pete for like two years. Is it Herbalife or is it Scientology? What is this going to be?”

Pete Mockaitis
It’s ….

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah, right. But if someone says, “Hey, look, I know you might be really busy so no urgency. You don’t have to get back to me if you don’t have time.” People are like, oh well, clearly this isn’t somebody trying to be like “Once in a lifetime urgent opportunity.” It’s like, “Hey, look, get back to me if you want.” People usually go, “All right, this is a social thing,” so they’ll do it.

I do this pretty much every day. Some people don’t reply and other people do. You end up with the craziest opportunities. You’ll reengage a couple of people, nothing will happen.

But then once a week, twice a week someone will say, “Hey, Jordan, it’s funny you texted me because I’m about to walk into a meeting where we’re going to decide on our speakers for this year’s annual corporate retreat. Do you speak? Would you be down to do that? It’s in Hawaii. It’s not a bad deal. The fee is really low, but we’ll pay you to go out there.” You go, “Sure, yeah, I’d love to do that.”

Let me tell you, I’ve gotten some crazy opportunities as a result, including literally trips to Hawaii to go speak at corporate retreats because that person just happened to get that text the morning before the meeting. I guarantee you they were not thinking of me as a candidate for that before they walked in the door and before that text came in.

It’s a number’s game. It costs you nothing. Half the time you’re at an airport gate, at Starbucks, taking a break, lounging, waiting for your coffee machine to finish pouring something. We’re talking minutes per day.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that take, especially the non-urgent piece. It reminds me of the one time I sent a low importance email and I got a ton of replies. It’s like “What exactly is this low importance message? I’m very intrigued.”

Jordan Harbinger
That’s funny.

Pete Mockaitis
So good. Jordan, tell me do you have a final challenge or call to action or if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them to?

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah, a lot of the drills that I’m talking about, so the texting, reengagement stuff, the doorway drill that I mentioned, I’ve got dozens of these and I give them away for free at AdvancedHumanDynamics.com/LevelOne, AdvancedHumanDynamics.com/LevelOne or if you just go to The Jordan Harbinger Show on any podcast app, you can hear me talk with brilliant people.

But level one will teach you a lot of this amazing stuff. It will change your life. It’s all free, just to be super clear. It’s not something I’m selling.

These are the habits I wish I had like 15 years ago because I started doing them about 10 years ago and I just think the amount that I got, the benefit I got from doing this for so long has been so enormous that any day that I didn’t do this, it’s kind of like dang.

I highly encourage people to do this now because it doesn’t matter where you are in your career, whether you’re new or this is something you’ve been doing for a while. There’s a lot here. I teach the same stuff to military, intelligence agencies, corporations and I’m giving a lot of it away there at AdvancedHumanDynamics.com/LevelOne.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Jordan, thank you for that and taking the time. This has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you and The Jordan Harbinger Show all the luck in the world.

Jordan Harbinger
Thanks Pete, I appreciate it.

317: How to Form Habits the Smart Way with BJ Fogg, PhD

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Dr. BJ Fogg says: "Emotions create habits."

Stanford behavior scientist Dr. BJ Fogg shares his evidence-based insights into forming “tiny habits” and other powerful tools for transforming behavior.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why the Tiny Habits © Method is such a reliable pathway to behavior change
  2. The core recipe and three critical ingredients for a great habit
  3. How–and why–to celebrate repeatedly

About BJ

Dr. BJ Fogg is a behavior scientist, with deep experience in innovation and teaching. At Stanford University, he runs a research lab. He also teaches his models and methods in graduate seminars.

On the industry side, BJ trains innovators to use his work so they can create solutions that influence behavior.  The focus areas include health, financial wellbeing, learning, productivity, and more.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

BJ Fogg Interview Transcript

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

BJ Fogg
Hey Pete, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to get oriented first of all when it comes to what you’re doing when you’re not coming up with brilliant research which is being on the water with surfing and paddle boarding. What’s the scoop here?

BJ Fogg
Well, I’m just really drawn to nature, just being in the water or on the water or by the water is a really calming and energizing thing for me.

Yes, I swim a lot. I don’t do straight up surfing. I do surfing on standup paddle boards, which is fun and terrific. Yesterday, in the river I was swimming around with a mask looking at rocks. I just think being in the water, by the water is, it’s really important for my health.

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm. Cool Great. When it comes to your health and that rejuvenation, you’re pouring that into some great stuff at Stanford and your research lab. Could you orient listeners a little bit to what is your area of research?

BJ Fogg
Yeah, I’m a behavior scientist. Right now in my lab, called the Behavior Design Lab, we’re studying new models of human behavior and new methods of how to help people change their behavior for the better.

If you rewind 20 years, I was just wrapping up a series of experiments about how technology, how computers can change our attitudes and behaviors. That was 20 years ago. I called it persuasive technology.

There’s a lot of attention in that area now, at least in the world, but my work has moved on. It was about ten years ago we shifted away from that and looking more just behavior in general and especially habits and how habits work.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, so you’ve sort of built out a whole Fogg behavioral model. Could you walk us through some of the tenants of that?

BJ Fogg
Yeah. In the work that I call behavior design, it’s a set of models and a set of methods. Models are ways of thinking about behavior.

I think the most important model and I decided to put my name on it, that should signal that I think it’s important, I called the Fogg Behavior Model. It’s essentially this, its behavior happens when three things come together at the same time.

There’s motivation to do the behavior, that’s one. There’s the ability to do the behavior, how easy or hard it is. Then there has to be a prompt or a cue. I used to call it a trigger, but now I’m calling it a prompt.
It’s motivation, ability, prompt. When those things come together at the same moment in the right way, the behavior happens.

Pete Mockaitis
From your TED talks and others I had mapped in my head motivation, ability, trigger. Well, just because I’m a dork, why did you choose to go from a trigger to a prompt?

BJ Fogg
I came up with the word trigger a long time ago, like probably 12 years ago. I thought it was – I talk about hot triggers and cold triggers. I thought it was kind of – it’s a fun word.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

BJ Fogg
But I always had to explain that by trigger I mean the prompt or the cue. I don’t mean what’s motivating you. There was always this little bit of education I had to do around the word trigger.

For a few years, I thought man, I’m going to change it to prompt, I’m going to change it to prompt. Finally I took the leap last year. That means a whole bunch of talks that I’ve given, a whole bunch of other people that have referenced my work. There’s kind of like a version 1.0 of the Fogg Behavior Model and this is version 2.0.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, good to know. The dorky jokester in me was like was it too triggering to say trigger … had to be trigger warnings.

BJ Fogg
Triggering the wrong thing, triggering the wrong thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting.

BJ Fogg
As you know, as you look at my work, I’m all about how do you make it easy to understand human behavior. How do you make it easy for people to change their behavior? If there’s something getting in the way, it even can be a word, like the word trigger, man, you’ve got to fix it.

That’s what I ultimately I just owned up to that and said, “No, we’re going to take the word prompt.” Now it’s going to be clear and people aren’t going to have to be trained on what that word means.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it is a really clear framework. It really has kind of really changed the way I look at all sorts of behavioral change things. It seems so simple and true that it strikes me as but of course, this is the way.

BJ Fogg
Thanks.

Pete Mockaitis
But there’s some alternatives, right? There’s some different models out there. Could you maybe debunk some myths perhaps in terms of, “Hey, we often hear that behavior change works like this, but that’s actually kind of complete or even misleading.”

BJ Fogg
Yeah. About ten years ago kind of in a moment of frustration, the frustration – we were publishing these papers from my lab and people were emailing me and said just give me a checklist. I was like, “No, our papers are eight pages. They’re short.”

But after I got enough of those I sat down and said “Okay, I’m going to make a top ten list, the top ten mistakes in behavior change.” I cranked it out. I ran it by my lab members who made some revisions. We shipped it. We shipped it on I think SlideShare. It’s a set of slides.

It turns out, Pete, sadly enough that is the most widely accessed and used creation from my lab ever. This thing that I did in a moment of frustration, the top ten mistakes, turns out to be the thing that well over a million people have seen and they reference it. They will replicate it and so on.

One of the top mistakes, I won’t go through all ten. You can just find it online if you’re interested. Type in ‘top ten mistakes behavior change.’ One of the top mistakes is to just think of the aspiration like, “Oh, I want to lose weight,” or “I want to have more energy,” “I want to sleep better,” and then make yourself feel guilty about not reaching the aspiration. There’s two mistakes bundled.

That’s a fairly common thing, where people just have this vague thing in their mind they want to achieve and they think they can get there somehow magically or just by making themselves feel bad. That’s wrong or that’s not optimal anyway. It’s two ways.

Number one, you can’t design directly for an aspiration like have more energy or get more sleep. You’ve got to break that down into specific behaviors. You need to focus on behaviors that will take you to the aspiration.

Then the other thing is usually, the most reliable way to get a behavior to happen isn’t about trying to motivate yourself and certainly not through guilt, but it’s by making the behavior easier to do. Really what you want to do is figure out what behavior is going to take you to that aspiration. Then how do you make it easy to do so you don’t have to rely on motivation very much.

Pete Mockaitis
You mentioned that motivation is kind of pretty inconsistent or fickle day-to-day.

BJ Fogg
Yeah, it’s pretty slippery. Another model out there has to do with are you ready to change. For decades people have tried to – well, that has been perpetuated.

Behavior design doesn’t look at that question at all. It starts with the premise that everybody is ready to change in some way. You just have to figure out what way they want to change right now. You don’t have to wait around for somebody to be ready to change. Instead you have to figure out what’s their aspiration and what specific behavior are they willing to do right now to take them to that aspiration.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well I’m also curious to get your take then when it comes to the aspiration and thinking about it and wanting it and guilt and that stuff not doing the trick. I guess when it comes to I guess goal setting type standards or approaches, does that kind of mean that you’re sort of with or-

BJ Fogg
I am going to offend people here.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it. Let’s do it.

BJ Fogg
These make people think I’m crazy. I think you can change your life dramatically without setting goals and without tracking your performance toward the goals.

That is not – that’s often packaged up with “You must set a goal and you must track or you won’t do it.” That’s not necessarily true. We change all the time without putting down, even for the worst, better or worse, change is change, whether it’s good change or whether you think it’s bad change.

The word goal is an imprecise word, so I don’t use it in behavior design. A goal can be an aspiration, a vague aspiration like, “Oh, I want to get more sleep.” A goal could also – or it could be an outcome, like “We want to increase sales in this company by 20%.” A goal can mean either thing. An aspiration and an outcome are very different.

If you say the word goal or if somebody says the word goal, listen or ask questions to verify are you talking about an aspiration or an outcome.

What I found is sometimes when you ask people to set goals, it actually discourages them or it scares them because they’ve done it before and they know if they say, “Okay, I’m going to lose 15 pounds in one month,” they know they are setting themselves up to be – to fail in a measurable way.

If I were coaching – and I don’t coach people in weight loss – but if I were coaching people in weight loss, I would say, “No, why don’t you just figure out what behavior are you going to do every day involving nutrition and just do it every day and stay tuned and watch how you progress.”

You don’t have to have an outcome goal. Instead you’re focusing on what you do every day. If you miss one day, so what? Just do it the next day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, excellent. Then what are your favorite tools in getting those behaviors to occur with that sort of daily or regular frequency is the tiny habit which I just love. Can you unpack what are tiny habits and how do they work?

BJ Fogg
Wow, I created this method called the Tiny Habits Method. It was a bit of an accident, where I was just goofing around with my own behavior and it started with me looking at the graphical version of my behavior model. It has two coordinates. It’s two dimensional figure that you can find online if you look at behavior model.

What that shows is if a behavior is easy, really, really easy, you don’t need a lot of motivation to do it, your motivation to be high or middle or low. When I saw that on my own model I was like, “Hm, that’s really interesting.”

If I instead of trying to floss all my teeth, what if I just floss one? If I instead of putting on all my sunscreen, just put on one drop? Will I be able to consistently perform that very simple behavior? Floss one tooth, put on one drop of sunscreen. It turned out that the answer was yes. You can be very consistent.

Then I started – there were ten people I recruited. I called them Team Yoda. I coached them in the method. It went really well. Then at one point I sat down and wrote up a five-day program that I thought I would share with a handful of friends. Well, fast-forward today, Tiny Habits method, which really emphasizes make it really, really simple and find where it fits naturally in your life and revise if it doesn’t work.

I’ve coached over 40,000 people now in that method, coached them personally through email. It’s grown in ways I wouldn’t have imagined. In fact, my forthcoming book is going to be called Tiny Habits. The broader scope is behavior design, but within behavior design, a special focus on the Tiny Habits method.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us a few examples of tiny habits and sort of the three components that kind of make them come together?

BJ Fogg
Yeah. What you do first and foremost, you take whatever behavior, let’s stick with flossing, and you make it really, really small. Because the fact is flossing all your teeth does take some effort. If you’re not very practiced, it might be painful and you might see some bleeding. All of those things are going to demotivate you in the future. You just scale it back, floss one tooth.

Then you find where does that tiny behavior fit naturally in my day, specifically, what does it come after. Flossing is an easy one. It comes naturally after you brush. Then, we call this a recipe in Tiny Habits, you create this phrase, “After I brush, I will floss one tooth.” You’re specifying when you’re going to do it, after what existing routine. Then what are you going to do? You’re going to floss one tooth.

That’s all you have to do. Now of course you can floss more. You can floss all your teeth. But the requirement is just one tooth. If you do one tooth and stop, you have succeeded. You tell yourself “I did a good job. Good for me,” and you move on. The two pieces there are make it tiny, find where it fits in your natural routine.

The third piece, and this is going to sound crazy to people, but this is really important is what we call celebration. As you’re doing the new habit or right after, you do something to make yourself feel a positive emotion. You might say, “Good for you,” or you might give yourself a thumbs up or a high five or a smile in the mirror.

What you’re doing with that is you’re firing off a positive emotion so your brain rewires and looks forward to doing that new behavior again.

In other words, I know it sounds crazy but it’s very effective, if you can fire off a positive emotion while you’re doing the new habit or immediately after, then you are cementing, you’re rooting that habit into your life. That’s what causes the habit to form.

It’s not number of repetitions. It’s not utility. It’s not other things that people have talked about for years. The bottom line in three words is ‘emotions create habits.’ In the Tiny Habits method you don’t leave the emotions to chance. It’s part of the method. It’s part of the technique of creating new habits quickly and easily.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so great that emotions create habits. It seems like some of the habits that I’ve fallen into, it’s almost like I just happen to get a great emotion from the thing.

I remember it was last Thanksgiving, I guess I just sort of woke up earlier for no good reason. There was a treadmill. I was at my mom’s place. There was a treadmill. I was like, “I’m just going to do some walking here.” It would be hard to walk outside because it’s still sort of dark and it’s cold. “I’m just going to walk on this treadmill.” Sure enough, “And I’m going to drink some water.”

I felt pretty great. I was like, “Okay, let’s do that again.” It was like, “Hey, that feels pretty great.” Then I just kept doing it until before I knew it that was the thing that I really wanted to do always.

BJ Fogg
Good for you.

Pete Mockaitis
When we bought our home and I got my little home office set up, it’s like, “Well, where’s the treadmill going to go?” Just because Chicago winter it’s not so easy sometimes to put on all the stuff and go out in the crunchy, cold snowy environment. That’s more than enough to make me go, “Eh, no, I just think maybe I won’t do that.”

BJ Fogg
Right, well good for you. What I’m hearing in your story, and this is a … that you have that you may not have recognized. You allowed yourself to feel good. You allowed yourself to feel that positive emotion.

That – you watch high-performing athletes and they hit a good tennis serve or they make a three-point shot, what are they doing? They’re celebrating after. They’re raising their arms. They’re dancing around or whatever. I believe high-performing people are naturally good at celebrating behaviors that they want to become more frequent or they want to become automatic.

You want that three-point shot to become automatic. You don’t want to be thinking about it. As you watch sports, moving forward, if you thought I was crazy talking about celebrations, which will be most of you, next time you watch athletic performance, see what the top performers do when they do a behavior that they want to become more automatic or they want to repeat in the future.

Now a lot of people, and Pete, you may not be in this category, but a lot of people are very, very good at telling themselves they did a bad job, but they’re terrible at telling themselves they did a good job.

That’s one of the challenges when people learn the Tiny Habits method. Certainly one of our challenges in teaching it is giving people permission to tell yourself you did a good job and helping them find the technique to fire off that positive emotion. It’s different. Not everybody can go, “Good job BJ,” or give themselves a high five or do a fist pump or say, “That’s awesome.” You have to find what works for you.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. I want to dig into a few examples here on all three of these ingredients, the celebration and then the prompt and the action. For celebration, while we’re having some fun with it, I’ll tell you one of my favorite little celebrations.

BJ Fogg
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess it’s linked to my childhood playing some video games like Mortal Combat.

BJ Fogg
Nice. Perfect.

Pete Mockaitis
Now that you’re bringing this to mind, it’s like I should probably do this more consistently. It’s almost sort of like happenstance. But I will say, because in the video game Mortal Combat if you defeated your opponent without suffering any damage, the announcer would say, “Flawless victory.”

BJ Fogg
Flawless victory. Nice.

Pete Mockaitis
Then your character would like bow. I will from time to time, usually when no one else is around, celebrate with ‘flawless victory” and then bow and it really does feel quite good because one I guess it’s linked to dominating my friends in video games and kind of feeling skilled or whatever in that moment.

BJ Fogg
Oh Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s just a little bit silly. It makes me giggle a little.

BJ Fogg
Good for you. Now you can use that as a deliberate technique anytime you do a behavior that you want to become more frequent. Let’s say you leave sweaters on the cabinet in your bedroom. Well, when you take that sweater and put it away, you can say…

Pete Mockaitis
Flawless victory.

BJ Fogg
And kind of chuckle and feel good and notice the next time you go to put it on the counter, you’ll brain will go, “Wait a minute, let’s put this away and then I can hear…”

Pete Mockaitis
Flawless victory.

BJ Fogg
Exactly. When I was – man, surfing, learning to surf. I had some challenges learning to surf, broke some ribs, separated – every year something would happen. Finally I said no more lay down surfing. I’m doing stand-up surfing, stand-up paddleboard surfing. I finally nailed it this year.

What I found myself doing naturally is as soon as I caught a wave and just the feeling of catching a wave is amazing to begin with, I would say, “You got it,” which is kind of crazy because other people might hear me say that and whatnot. But what I saw myself doing was I was affirming that you got it. This is what you do next time. Then I caught on and got pretty confident in catching waves.

There’s lots of things I can’t do surfing, but I did get to the point where I could go out and reliably surf. That is like any other habit you want to bring into your life. You’re not going to be perfect at the start. You’re going to fall in, just like you’ve fallen on surfing. You just keep going. You learn little by little and eventually you can nail it.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. I’d love it if you could just get a little bit of, I guess, no, a lot of multiplicity of examples in terms of you said, you had a few things for celebration: got it, awesome, flawless victory, thumbs up, high five. Could you rattle off a few more quick celebrations people can do?

BJ Fogg
Sometimes it’s, “Whohoo.” One of mine, I have a range of them. I use different ones at different times. One will be a sound effect like, do, do, do, doo, like the castle. I don’t use this one, but some of the people I’ve – we’ve trained and sort of had coaches in this, but some of them go think “Ahhh,” like the crowd cheering for them. One of mine, just my go-to one is like, “Way to go BJ.” I just say, “Way to go BJ” to myself.

Then I will – you shared something from your childhood, so I’ll share mine. If I really need a powerful celebration, let’s say, it’s not quite a tiny habit or let’s say that I need to form the habit really fast, then I pull out the big powerful celebration.

For me what that is is I’m thinking of my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Bondy Eddy in Fresno, California. She says, “You did a good job.” For whatever reason, that’s really powerful. I imagine her saying, “You did a good job.” That fires off the emotion in me.

Pete Mockaitis
What I love about these is that they’re so varied. In a way I kind of delight in the weirdness or the eccentricity of it because it’s personal and it’s vulnerable.

But I guess, maybe this is a – here’s a book in here somewhere, but it seems like to achieve kind of great results in things, it seems like you can either put a lot of time, energy, effort into something, you can spend a lot of money on that something or you can just do something very different and slash weird in terms of your paths to victory.

BJ Fogg
Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I would much prefer the weird path than the expensive path.

BJ Fogg
Well, I tend to be a real goofball, so doing things like celebrating was natural for me. Then when I talked about it, I found it wasn’t natural for everybody.

But I know this Tiny Habits method will sound strange to some people, but step back and look at the traditional ways that you’ve tried to change your behavior and evaluate. Did those work? Probably not very well. This method is about making it really easy. It’s easy to start. It’s easy to do consistently. That really matters.

When you fail – I don’t really use that word. When you don’t floss one tooth, when you don’t do the two pushups, it’s not a very big issue. It’s like no big deal. It’s like a baby taking a stumble.

Also, one of things I learned later about the method was because you’re changing your life gradually, it doesn’t prompt people around you to sabotage you. I did not know that happened until I started doing a little more work with Weight Watchers.

The reality there, unfortunately, and it happens more broadly than that, is sometimes when somebody tries to change in a big and dramatic way and they announce it, people – and I don’t know if it’s malicious or well-intended – they’ll say, “Well, you’re going through a phase,” or “Here’s the last time you tried this,” and so on. Sometimes the sabotage is active, which is really unfortunate.

If you are just doing two pushups every time after you pee or if you’re just flossing one tooth and eventually flossing all your teeth and if you’re taking care of your skin and you just kind of ninja redesign your life in ways that eventually people will notice, but nobody will step in right away and sabotage you.

I hope it hasn’t happened to many people listening to this, but it is a reality. There is a social factor of non-support that can happen when you try to transform your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s true and it’s unfortunate. But picking up on the strange element for a second though.

When you said the crowd goes wild, “Rar,” in a way that seems so natural because I think as a child this is something I did all the time with regard to – I didn’t even play a lot of sports as a kid. But it’s sort of natural to sort of imagine that scenario and the crowd going wild. I think that if you rewind and reflect upon childhood, these sorts of celebrations were just normal par for the course.

BJ Fogg
I think you’re exactly right. You’re exactly right. I haven’t studied it scientifically, but it does seem that as kids we are natural celebrators. At some point it got pushed out of us. In some countries when I share this, they think I’m insane. It’s like, “Oh, that’s a crazy California woo-woo thing.”

But if you look at babies and I have gone online to watch babies start learning to walk. As they do something like walk further, sometimes they will clap their hands or they’ll shake their arms like, “Look, what I-“ I think they are reinforcing the walking behavior. I think it’s hardwired into them.

If the mom or dad is there also cheering them on, they’re accelerating creating the habit of walking, doing the movements that lead to successful walking. If you look at what athletes do, you look at how babies learn to walk, just go to YouTube and type in ‘baby learning to walk,’ you will see what we’re calling celebration. It’s that emotional wiring in in your behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. We have a five-month old at home. I’ve been seeing this too. When he successfully rolls over, particularly from the front – I’m thinking my front, my sides messed up. He’s lying on his stomach and he goes to his back, that’s the tougher one it seems.

BJ Fogg
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
He’ll look right at us and smile, so it’s like, “Yeah!” Something significant has occurred here. We celebrate him.

BJ Fogg
If people can embrace that, if people can say, “Wow,” that’s how Tiny Habits is a way to change your life through feeling successful. That matters. And by being playful. And by not getting all tense.

The old traditional way is, “Oh, you’ve got to get all wound up and if you don’t do it then you fail. Here’s a black mark on the calendar.” It’s about getting you to change through making you feel guilty. I’m kind of exaggerating that a little bit.

But the point – one of the takeaway points is you change better when you’re playful, when you’re flexible, when you recognize your successes. The things that don’t go as you intended, don’t worry about it, just move on.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. We covered, again, numerous sets of options for celebration. I’d also like to hear when it comes to the prompt. We’ve heard after you brush your teeth or after you pee. What are some other great prompts that are just superb hooks or places to put a tiny habit?

BJ Fogg
Anything you do reliably. Just watch yourself. What are the routines you do every day? You could even make a list of those. Then when you find something like, “Oh, I turn on the shower every day that means I can insert a behavior right after that routine. What might it be?”

In my own life, and I will answer questions about what the prompts are, in my own life what I find fits right there is after I turn on the shower, I think about one aspect of my body for which I’m grateful. It can be even something quite abstract like, my skin stretches or that I healed this little cut or something like that.

Just watch what you do every day. Typical ones are you put your feet on the floor and there’s a tiny habit for that, you pee, you brush your teeth, you start the coffee maker, you start the dishwasher, you buckle up in the car or you sit down on the train, etcetera. Anything you do reliably can be the prompt, the thing that reminds you to do the new habit that you want.

Now in the Tiny Habits method, we call that an anchor. Your existing outline I decided to call an anchor because I thought well, here’s this stable thing in your life that you’re attaching the new behavior to.

Getting out of bed in the morning is a stable thing. Pretty much everybody does that. Pretty much everybody pees in the morning. Pretty much everybody – not everybody gets in a car, but start the coffee maker. Pretty much everybody brushes their teeth. That’s a great anchor, the thing that serves to prompt flossing.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Then when it comes to the actual action, anything you can dream of that you’d like done and it’s tiny, but I’d love to get your take coaching 40,000 people, what are some of the tiny actions that just have profound ripple effects?

BJ Fogg
The superpowers. Yeah, superpowers. Yay.

One, and I did a whole TED talk just on this one, is as soon as your feet hit the floor in the morning, as soon as you stand up or touch the floor, say, “It’s going to be a great day.” Those words, “It’s going to be a great day,” seven words. Even if you don’t believe it, say it. What you’ll find is it changes the trajectory of your day.

That’s one of those things that a lot of people do it. I devoted a whole TED talk to it because I felt it was so important. People get back in touch with me all the time saying, “Oh my gosh, you changed my life.” In fact in one case, a woman said you saved my life with – I call it the Maui habit. She said you saved my life with the Maui habit. Wow.

Another one, totally different category that I would suggest is work in two pushups or two squats into your day. A good place to put those is after you pee. Most people – I did the research – I didn’t do the research. I looked up studies on this and people pee about seven times a day. Let’s say five of those times are during daylight hours.

That’s means you’ve got to do – my tiny habit recipe is after I pee I will do two pushups. I’ve been doing that for years now. I’ve done a lot of pushups and I’ve gotten a lot stronger. Some people – I work mostly from home. I don’t do it at Stanford. I don’t do it at public buildings.

You can do more than two. Today I started out with 15. Yesterday I might have done 25 first thing in the morning. But today I got down to do two pushups and the phone rang. I finished the second one. I picked up the phone and it was like I did it.

In the Tiny Habits mindset, the tiny behavior is always okay. If there’s some reason that I only floss one tooth, if there’s some reason I only did two pushups, yay, good for me. I got it done. I didn’t sweat it.

Pushups or squats, that is a really helpful thing. One is a kind of mindset shift. The other one is there’s something about pushups that people tell me it’s a gateway exercise to doing other things. That would be a couple that I put really high on the list. And of course flossing. That goes without saying.

Floss, your dentist will love you.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s some more. Let’s keep it going. I’m wondering maybe about hydration. That could be easy and powerful.

BJ Fogg
Yeah, what I’ve got right here is a glass of water. At a certain point in my morning after I put down my breakfast plate, I fill a glass with water and I walk in and put it here.

I don’t have my little bowl of vitamins here because I’ve already taken them, so I’ve returned it. There’s a time when I – it’s not take the vitamins, it’s put the vitamins in a little dish because I find that actually taking the vitamins is too hard.

The tiny behavior there is what we call a starter step. Just get the vitamins, put them in a dish, and then I put it here on my desk. Then at some point during the day, I take – I don’t know. I just take them during the day when I’m drinking the water so I get that done.

Certainly there’s – this is quite a tiny behavior, but I go into – I have – I created a gym in my garage. Every morning I go out there and do a specific thing depending on what I’m – first thing in the morning even though my real workout happens in the afternoon.

Right now I’m getting on to a vibration plate made by BulletProof that vibrates at 30,000 second or 30 – I don’t know what it does. It just vibrates you like crazy. I decided I wanted to do that for a period of time to see how it goes.

In the morning I go do that. If I go for five seconds and I’ve had enough, I get off. But it never ends at five seconds really, though I could and be okay with it. It usually expands and expands. Now I’m doing all sort of things on the vibration plate from pushups to squats to – I was even doing yoga yesterday on it, like keeping one part of my body on the plate for any kind of yoga move and that was interesting.

Maybe that’s not the best example, but maybe the takeaway there is play around with your behavior, be flexible, explore, have fun with it. You don’t have to be perfect. If some day you don’t want that habit, like some days yeah, I don’t want to do the vibration plate anymore, that’s fine. Let it go.

Do something else with that – basically it’s real estate – with that real estate in your day. You can do something else with it.

Pete Mockaitis
I like the notion of real estate there because it kind of reminds me of I am sort of organizing or cleaning a space. There are times in which you find that something just fits perfectly, like, “Oh, these Tupperware storage containers are absolutely perfect when stacked and rotated in this way, put on that shelf. Aha, it’s where they fit. It’s where they belong.” It just works forever.

It’s kind of for me, even though I’m not super tidy, it’s kind of exhilarating. When you say, “Ah, that is where that that fits perfectly and where it belongs and so it shall be.” To liken your own day and behavioral landscape similarly totally makes sense.

BJ Fogg
Yeah, that’s right on, right on. Let me go a little further with that. People often ask how long does it take to create a habit. I don’t know why people ask that because there’s no simple answer.

If you pick a tiny behavior you want and if you find where it fits in your day naturally, that habit will just click. It will just come together and it will feel like magic, like, “Oh my gosh, I’m doing these pushups just without thinking,” or “I’m tidying my desk,” or “I’m flossing,” what have you.

If it doesn’t, if you create a recipe, if you go, “I’m going to put pushups after breakfast. After breakfast, I’ll do pushups.” I can pretty much tell you that’s not going to work well for a few reasons. But let’s say you do that and it doesn’t work. Revise. Don’t get down on yourself. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t put a Post It note up to remind you. Just go, “Oh, I put it in the wrong spot of my day. Let me find another spot.”

Just like you would if you put a chair, you bought a new chair and you bring it into your living room and you put it somewhere and it’s like that didn’t really work there. You move it somewhere else and you go on with life. You don’t get down on yourself you put the chair in the wrong spot. You revise and you revise and you revise until you find the right spot.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. I want to get a quick tidbit and this could probably be a whole other interview, but when it comes to – you talk a lot about behavioral change internally for yourself, one person. If you want to encourage behavioral change in others or at work or on teams, what are some of the best practices?

BJ Fogg
Let me split this into two buckets. One bucket we won’t go to unless you tell me to. If you’re trying to get people to change in ways they don’t want to change, yeah, there’s approaches to that, but let’s not go there unless you really want me to.

Let’s take the other one, where people are open to change when they want to change. What you need to do in that case is match them with a behavior or a new habit that will help them reach their aspiration.

Let’s say somebody comes to me and says, “Oh, I just really want to be more productive.” Okay, that’s an aspiration. You have the opportunity at that point to give them a very specific behavior that would help them be more productive. Now there are dozens if not hundreds of options in the specific behavior.

That’s where the art and the genius of behavior change comes in. I call it behavior matching. You need to match that person with a behavior number one that will take them to their aspiration. There’s three characteristics.

Number one, it needs to lead them toward their aspiration, say of being more productive because if it doesn’t have impact, then it’s a bad match. Number two, it needs to be a behavior that they want to do, at least part of them wants to do. Don’t match them with something they don’t want to do. Number three, it needs to be a behavior they can do.

Notice those last two. One is they need to have motivation and they need to have ability. Notice the requirements of the two of the three characteristics for behavior matching is make sure they have some motivation for it and ability. Then, of course, it needs to have impact. It needs to lead to their aspiration.

If you can match people effectively, you don’t have to worry about motivating them because they already want to do it. Then all you have to worry about is what’s going to prompt the behavior. What’s going to remind them to do the behavior? In the Tiny Habits method you find an existing routine, but there are other ways to prompt to remind people.

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

BJ Fogg
Well, I’m surprised I’m saying this, but I will. One, I looked over some research that had about 3,000 entries of how people – habits people wanted to stop. It listed their habits and how they felt about it and so on. I skimmed through it and when I got to the end of that I was like, “Oh my gosh, people are so hard on themselves. They’re so worried about the smallest little habits that are no big deal.”

I guess, and this is becoming a bigger part of my work, which is I guess why I’m bringing it up now, people just need to have more compassion for themselves and more – man, just don’t expect yourself to be perfect.

I’ll explain that a little bit more. Especially in today’s world, in today’s climate of fighting and discord and harshness, there’s got to be a group of us who are more compassionate and understanding and accepting of those around us and we need to do that for ourselves as well.

Just I guess in some ways lighten up, in some ways lower your standards or be more patient with the process of change. Just have – here’s the metaphor I’m writing into my book. I’ll share this. Here’s this little baby that’s just learning to walk. She’s taking these small steps forward and once in a while she tumbles and she gets up. When the baby tumbles, you don’t get mad at her, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

BJ Fogg
She just gets back up and progresses. If you, yourself, is that little baby that’s trying to do this hard thing, like eat differently or sleep better or exercise consistently, and you’re just taking these little baby steps, you’re learning how to make it work, you’re going to have tumbles, don’t get down on yourself, just realize that’s part of the process and just get up and keep going.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

BJ Fogg
Well, the book I’m reading right now. I have many, many favorite books, but the book I just picked up that I’m reading is called The Natural Navigator: The Rediscovered Art of Letting Nature be Your Guide. It tells you – it’s terribly impractical for everyday life, but, again, it’s connecting to nature theme.

It tells you how do you find your way and navigate your way in the world if you don’t have any instruments and how to use the wind and the sun and the stars and all of that. It’s just fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite tool?

BJ Fogg
Wow, many, many favorite tools. One of them, I’ll pick a behavior change tool. One of them is a little timer that I have that’s very, very easy to set.

If there’s something that I’m procrastinating like looking over a legal document or filing my finances or things I don’t like, I take the time and I set it for three minutes or seven minutes. I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to file these papers for three minutes. As soon as the timer goes off, I can stop.”

Now, what happens is almost always, once you get going you keep going, but see you trick yourself with this tool into getting started.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Now, this timer, is it a – how do I get it?

BJ Fogg
Well, I will send you a link to it. It’s a little kitchen timer. It’s a very, very small one.

One of my students just sent me a different timer. I happen to have it right here that’s a cube. I’m playing around with this. As you turn the cube it has – this one has 1, 5, 10 and 15 on it – as you turn it on its side to 1, it starts and it flashes. Then when it’s done it will go off and you set it upright and it ends.

I’m goofing around with this new – because he sent it to me. He’s like, “This is even easier than your timer.” He knows that I’m obsessed with simplicity, so I’m trying this one.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. Tell me, is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate and get folks retweeting and repeating it back to you?

BJ Fogg
Well, one of the surprises was after I read that research on how hard people are on themselves, I just said, “Man, maybe we all just need to lower our standards a little bit.” People really resonated with that.

There is just so many people that are feeling defeated and just beaten down and so on. Social media is not helping. Just kind of remember what I said about – three minutes ago about you don’t have to be perfect. Just have compassion for yourself. Just recognize your successes and don’t let your failures get to you.

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

BJ Fogg
BJFogg.com is kind of the launch point. You can go to TinyHabits.com as well. But if you go to BJFogg.com, eventually it points you out to other places. Yeah, there’s stuff there about how behavior works, behavior design, Tiny Habits, some pointers to my earlier projects that had to do with experiments around computers influencing people’s behavior and so on.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

BJ Fogg
Yeah. Here it is. Right down an aspiration you have. You may think of it as a goal, whatever you want to call it. Write it down. Then spend five minutes and come up with specific behaviors that would lead you to the aspiration.

Let’s say you want to be a better public speaker, “I want to be a-“ write that down. Then think well, what behavior could I do that would lead me to become a better public speaker. It might be watch TED talks, read a book on public speaking, sign up to give presentations at work, hire a speaking coach, and so on.

Come up with ten or so behaviors and then choose one or two and execute on those. What you’ve done in that exercise is you’ve gone pretty quickly through the behavior design flow, what’s the aspiration, what are the behavior options. Don’t just guess. Come up with a bunch and then match yourself with one or two of those and then move forward on those.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, BJ thank you so much for taking this time and sharing the goods. It’s been inspiring for me and everyone I’ve shared it with individually. It’s great to be able to do this on a bigger scale here with the whole listenership. It’s been a treat. Thank you and best of luck.

BJ Fogg
Pete, thanks so much. Thanks so much.