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KF #1. Ensures Accountability

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

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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 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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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.

287: Establishing Motivation, Intention, and Boundaries Like a Boss with Emily Thompson and Kathleen Shannon

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Emily Thompson and Kathleen Shannon of Being Boss talk setting intentions and the importance of boundaries.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The benefits of creating monthly intentions
  2. How to set boundaries – and stick to them
  3. How to have healthy dialogue with your boss

About and Kathleen and Emily

Kathleen Shannon and Emily Thompson, self-proclaimed “business besties” and hosts of the top-ranked podcast “Being Boss,” know what it takes to launch a business, do the work, and be boss in work and life. Both successful independent business owners, Emily and Kathleen started the podcast in January of 2015 to talk shop and share their combined expertise with other creative entrepreneurs.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Emily Thompson & Kathleen Shannon Interview Transcript

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

Kathleen Shannon

Pete, we are so excited to be here.

Emily Thompson
For sure. We are ready to tell people how to be awesome at their job.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, you’ve been doing it for a while and you do it in style with fun. Your branding – well, that’s what you do. It’s so awesome with regard to the colors and the photography. It says boss through and through.

Kathleen Shannon

Our brand board was like Lisa Frank, me, The Craft, like that witchie ‘90s movie, basically.

Pete Mockaitis

When you say it that way, it kind of makes me look at the purple smoke in a different way.

Kathleen Shannon

Do you see it in a whole new way? Like, there’s going to be a unicorn flying through, and a Tarot reader, and a crystal ball.

Pete Mockaitis

That is funny.

Kathleen Shannon

They might make it rain.

Emily Thompson
Definitely make it rain.

Pete Mockaitis

Nice double meaning there.

Kathleen Shannon

Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis

I much appreciate it.

Kathleen Shannon

I’m glad that you got that.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, cool. Obviously I’ve got to get into so much good stuff. I learned, Kathleen, you shared that you like to work in complete silence. What’s the story here?

Kathleen Shannon

I know, so you asked me one thing that people might not know about me and as Emily knows and as our listeners at Being Boss know, I’m kind of an open book. I’m probably talking about things I shouldn’t be talking about. But the thing I think that people don’t know about me is that I work in complete silence. I definitely give off this vibe that I’m this crazy, cool, creative. At least, that’s a vibe I hope I’m giving off.

But I find myself working in complete silence because whenever it comes down to getting focused and doing the work, I find myself even listening to ambient music, tuning it out, so it becomes this extra distraction that my brain is having to work around in order to do the work. I think it’s just maybe the one thing that people don’t know about me is it is dead quiet. You can hear a pin drop whenever I’m working.

Pete Mockaitis

Intriguing. How do you enforce quiet around you? Isn’t noise just going to happen? I shopped around at length to find a sound-blocking door. I totally resonate with this. What are your tricks?

Kathleen Shannon

Well, so I do work from home. My kiddo is in full-time daycare. My husband is at his day job. I am completely alone during the day at my home office. This is part of the reason why I decided to work from home and not go to a co-working space.

I do have an agency. I live outside of Detroit and I have an agency located in Oklahoma City where all of my partners and employees work. I did build out in that space two little office spaces with doors and sound proofing for podcasting and that sort of thing. But I have a spray bottle to keep my cats away from me and that’s about it. That’s how I enforce it.

It’s just like in the decisions I’ve made along the way, I suppose. At some point every creative does kind of have to decide, like, “Oh, am I lonely being all by myself at my house or should I go to a co-working space, should I go to a coffee shop?”

I certainly have the tools. I used to work in an open office space before I started working for myself, so I can go to a coffee shop and tune things out, but I get so focused then that it’s almost like silence, where you would have to get eye-contact with me to make sure that I’m listening to you, like I’m that focused on my work.

Pete Mockaitis

I hear that. When my wife comes in sometimes I’ve got the headphones and the noise cancelling on and maybe even ear plugs underneath the headphones straight up.

Kathleen Shannon

You’re not messing around.

Pete Mockaitis

I’ll like be startled, like, “Oh, there you are.” I’m resonating. Thank you. Tell me, Emily, how do you find yourself in the work groove?

Emily Thompson

I’m pretty similar where I used to listen to music. The first time Kathleen told me that she worked in complete silence, I was shocked, like, similar where I felt she was probably just like dancing around her office listening to Beyoncé all day, every single day.

Whenever she told me she worked in complete silence, I was super shocked because I, at that point, liked to listen to music while I worked but I found myself as, I’ve guess grown in my entrepreneurial endeavors where I’m responsible for all things, this sincere need to get super focused. I can only do that when it’s pretty quiet.

Now, I do home school my child. Actually, hear her in the kitchen right now banging forks and plates around. I’m trying not to get too terribly annoyed at. So I do have to drown out a whole lot of noise, but I’ve kind of gotten used to it. But otherwise, like pretty quiet. I’m not listening to music.

Here’s a funny tidbit though. I used to develop websites. That’s what I did as I began growing my online career. I do code best when I’m watching TV.

Pete Mockaitis

Intriguing.

Kathleen Shannon

I was about to say that too, Emily. I feel like our jobs have changed, where you used to be coding, I used to be doing a lot more graphic design and busting out that Bezier pen tool, any designers listening know what that is, and this kind of redundant work where you can listen to music or watch TV.
That’s my favorite, are days whenever I have to do some design and I’ll sit down in front of Keeping Up with the Kardashians and just knock some stuff out.

Kathleen Shannon
Now we do so much writing that I feel like it requires a different kind of focus where it’s harder to drown out those outside noises and it’s harder to get that focus with background noise happening.

Pete Mockaitis

Understood. Yeah. Well, thank you for setting the stage here and could you maybe continue that. But first, I want to make sure – I first learned about your show from one of our mutual listeners. It’s Beth in Baltimore. Can we just talk about how great she is?

Kathleen Shannon

Yeah. Beth, high five.

Emily Thompson
Thanks for spreading the Being Boss love for sure.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool. Shout out accomplished. Tell us, what’s Being Boss all about?

Kathleen Shannon

Being Boss started as two business besties, that would be me and Emily. We were really craving that connection and conversation, so, as we mentioned, we’re working alone out of our homes, sometimes in complete silence. That can get kind of lonely.

So we became creative peers and colleagues whenever we were hiring each other for the work that we were doing. Beyond that, we started to connect on a more friend level. We would hop on a video call and really talk shop.

After a year or two of over Skype talking about what was working, what wasn’t working, our conversations were getting deeper. We were talking about real numbers, like sharing money, which is kind of taboo.

We were sharing our biggest secrets as far as business secrets, the kind of stuff that people like to keep to themselves. We were sharing insights as to how we were juggling work and life and time management and growing families while growing careers.

Emily was even there when I was like, “Okay, I’m thinking about starting a family. How am I going to make this work?” She’s like, “Okay, you need to automate. You need to get some systems in place and you’ve got to put that kid in daycare.” Well, that’s not entirely true because Emily homeschools, but I definitely had to do the daycare. Anyway, all this to say, we were having these conversations.

One day Emily sent me an email saying, “Hey, you know those business bestie conversations we’re having, we need to hit publish on them. We need to start a podcast. Other creatives are craving this kind of conversation and probably feel just as alone as we did and we could be their work buddies.”

Our podcast, Being Boss, it really did catch on pretty quickly and we became the go-to podcast for other creatives and aspiring entrepreneurs who wanted to hear some insights and real talk about what it takes to do the work. ‘Do the work’  has essentially become our mantra because we all know making a living doing what you love isn’t always easy and it takes hard work. That’s the conversation that we have been having for the past three years.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s awesome. But I’ve seen several Facebook ads that tell me if I just follow this bulletproof system I can make millions of dollars online easily working from home.

Emily Thompson

Yeah, yeah and how has that worked out for you?

Pete Mockaitis

That’s like all the ads I get on Facebook. I guess like some of the wrong things that get me targeted for that.

Emily Thompson

Yeah. There are so many people in the online space or not even in the online space, who have laid out these blueprints or plans or mapped out success in a way that if you follow them, X, Y, Z, you’ll get the thing that you want.

Kathleen and I, we’ve done some of those probably back in the day, like here’s how you build a six-figure launch or whatever it is. We quickly realized that that’s not how the world works. It only took us a time or two to realize that’s not how things go down.

That’s really what a lot of those beginning conversations were, were here’s the thing that I tried. Here’s what worked and didn’t work. You do it, find out what works for you, and then let’s share back and forth.

We realized that everyone’s success is defined differently and therefore the path to your success is always going to be different from someone else’s. That’s really been the core of what Being Boss is, is define success on your terms and then take the steps that you have to take to get there. It won’t look like anyone else’s journey; it will look like your journey and that’s what makes it all the more special.

Those blueprints and things, they may work for three or four people, which is great for those people, but buying into those things is a mistake when what you really need to do is define success on your own and make it do the way you need to make it do.

Pete Mockaitis

Well said.

Kathleen Shannon

One of the things I always think about are working actors, like those actors that have tons of jobs but you never see them as the lead role, but they’re probably living a pretty nice life. I kind of think of us as that as well. We are working creatives who are in it with you. We’re not those million dollar overnight successes, but we’re going to show you that you don’t have to be a million-dollar overnight success to do the work and do what you love.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, I love that. That reminds me of the documentary, maybe you’ve seen it. It was pretty engaging. It’s called That Guy … Who Was in That Thing. It’s all about those actors.

Kathleen Shannon

I love that.

Pete Mockaitis

Interviewee after interviewee are like, “I kind of recognize that guy.”

Kathleen Shannon

Yes.

Pete Mockaitis

“He was in that thing.” He sort of talks about the struggle. I love how you talked about defining success on your own terms as opposed to sort of just knee-jerk reacting to, “Hey, quit your job. Leave the rat race,” because for the most part, my listeners enjoy their jobs most of the time or are actively trying to find a switch and are finding some fulfillment and fun and flourishing – oh, alliteration – in the world of being employed at a place as opposed to being the sort of the owner CEO.

But, nonetheless, you talk about boss in many ways as a mindset in your upcoming book, Being Boss. Could you unpack that a little bit?

Emily Thompson

Absolutely. I mean for us it all starts with mindset, with the sort of foundational belief that you can do whatever you want. You have the right and ability to define things the way you want them to be and then you have the ability to go make it happen for yourself.

If you don’t believe those things, it’s not going to happen for you. It’s really important to get into that right frame of mind in order to tackle all the challenges that come at you, whether that’s creating your career or building your life and doing those in a way that you find fulfilling.

It’s being confident. It’s seeking out motivation and inspiration. It’s committing to setting and working towards really big ass goals or maybe not really big goals if you’re not a super big goal kind of person.

We also believe that a lot of it comes into trusting yourself, trusting that you’re going to make the right decision and that you’re going to be able to show up and do the work and get the thing. It all starts with that foundational mindset that you can do what it is that you want to do as long as you show up and do it.

Kathleen Shannon

Yeah, whenever I think about the boss mindset and all of the people that we’ve interviewed and even in our early conversations with each other, it’s this idea of self-reliance, trusting that you’re not going to have all the answers, but that you can absolutely figure it out.

Emily talked about trusting that you can make the right decision, but I’m going to take it even a step further and trusting that no matter what decision you make, right or wrong, trusting that it’s going to get you where you need to go. That definitely is that primary foundation that we always start with is mindset. Part of that is really understanding your values as well.

This can be applied for people who are working for themselves or working in the context of an organization or a company where they are an employee. It’s really understanding what you value and bringing intentions and action to those values so that you are living them out not only in your life but in your work.

Pete Mockaitis

I am loving that. As you say values, you’re firing off some connections for me, thinking back to my Coaches Training Institute training back in the day. How would you define a value and can you give us a couple of examples of what a value is and what’s not a value, like you said that is a value, but that doesn’t quite sound like a value?

Emily Thompson

Sure. I mean values are sort of the foundational beliefs that you sort of build your own characters. For me, I value freedom where whatever I am going out into my work or even my life, like that’s something I’m consistently seeking, it’s something that I value seeing in other people. Wherever those opportunities are presented to me, those are more intriguing than the ones that aren’t.

For me, something that I value is freedom. Everyone has values, whether you value kindness or assertiveness. Kathleen, feel free to jump in with any additional one.

Kathleen Shannon

Yeah, so one of my biggest values is authenticity. I know that’s a word that’s being really used a lot lately, but I can’t think of a better word for it. It’s one that resonates with me.

This is another thing whenever it comes to values is choose words that resonate with you on that kind of cellular level because there are a lot of words that mean the same things and so once you start to unpack your value, really explore all the words that are similar to that value or synonyms with that value.

Mine is authenticity and that is really, whoever I unpack that a little bit, it’s being who you are 100% of the time. And as I’ve gotten a little bit older and hopefully wiser, I realize that being who you are 100% of the time takes a lot of self-awareness and it takes a lot of questioning and curiosity. I would also say being who you are 100% of the time and seeking out who that is.

For me, anything I create – I use my values as a guidepost for making those hard decisions. I think that decision making is one of the hardest things whenever it comes to being your own boss or even making tough decisions about if you’re working a day job, whether or not to leave or to switch careers or to switch companies.

For me, I run every single decision I have to make through the question is this going to help my listeners, readers, whoever is consuming or engaging with me in any way be who they are 100%. If the answer is no, I’m not going to do it. If the answer is yes, alright, let’s go. For me and Emily too, we both use values as a way to really set boundaries in our business and to really draw that line between what we’re willing to do and what we aren’t willing to do.

Pete Mockaitis

I think that’s so good. That point about thinking about what resonates at the cellular level and thinking through some synonyms. Because I might say integrity. I’d think we’d all agree, yes, that’s important. Integrity is good. But for me, if I think about synonyms, I think about count-on-able, which is a little weird way to articulate it.

Kathleen Shannon

Nice word.

Pete Mockaitis

But it resonates more. I want to be someone that can be counted upon as opposed to, “Oh boy, that flake.” You know?

Kathleen Shannon

Yeah, totally.

Pete Mockaitis

It just resonates more and I think it’s powerful in terms of making them all the more real as opposed to I guess – and exciting as opposed to just sort of obligatory, like, “Yes, I should do that because that’s a value,” as opposed to, “Oh, this is how I roll, so I’m fired up about it.”

Kathleen Shannon

Oh yeah. It should absolutely be something that you’re fired up about. This is a monthly practice for us, if not daily. But every month Emily and I set intentions. Sometimes we do use the word value and intention interchangeably, but the way that we like to think about it is that intentions help you bring actions to your values.

We’ll set intentions every month. I think what was mine last month was to rally. Another word for that could have been reliable, like I want to be really reliable this month, but I really wanted to rally and bring enthusiasm. For me it had this whole other kind of energy beyond reliability that really resonated with me.

We like to also do this on a monthly basis to explore new values and to really test some out and see what sticks and see where we can work on our own character by bringing in more of these intentions into kind of a practice in our personal lives and in our business.

Pete Mockaitis

Those intentions, that is powerful and one of our best episodes was How to Have a Good Day with Caroline Web. It’s so powerful. When you set an intention, all sorts of things go off in your brain in terms of what opportunities you notice and the decisions you choose to make in each of those opportunities. It’s a little thing, but it really has profound cascading ripples that go down when you’re living life.

Emily Thompson

Absolutely. I think the most I ever sort of got out of intentions or I guess the time that I realized they were probably so powerful, several years after – Kathleen and I sort of had this intention practice for a couple of years now. We share them with each other. We hold each other accountable. We’re always cracking jokes about having adopted the other one’s intention or whatever it may be.

I was listening to the Making Oprah podcast. One of the episodes of that podcast was when Oprah decided to start adopting an intention practice. She made her entire team at Oprah do it. Everything they did had to be based on some sort of intention. There had to be a good reason for doing everything that they did and how much of her sort of life and success she has placed on this adoption of an intention setting practice.

I was like, “Well, if Oprah can do it and be Oprah, then this has to be super powerful. It gave me a whole other level of appreciation for this practice that Kathleen and I have sort of kind of accidently fell into but we definitely see how profound and life changing and business- and career-changing it can be.

Pete Mockaitis

I love it. I love it. I’d like to get maybe a little bit even more sort of tactical into the day-in, day-out in terms of if someone is in a job, what are some of your top tips for being more boss like or some top boundaries that might make great sense to set right away?

Kathleen Shannon

Oh, I’ve got one.

Emily Thompson

Yes, ma’am.

Kathleen Shannon

I do. I do. This is to stop checking your email in the evenings and on weekends.

Pete Mockaitis

There it is.

Emily Thompson

Yeah.

Kathleen Shannon

That’s it. It’s funny because whenever we were writing our book and running the first draft by our publisher, our editor said, “Hey, what about emails? How do you pry yourself away from your email?” This is something that Emily and I do not have a problem with. We are not slaves to our email. I think it is because of some of those early foundational boundaries that we set in place. It’s just kind of a non-issue. We forgot that some people might even have an issue with that.

We really thought it out and I think that this applies to anything though, anything that is capturing your attention that you don’t want to be giving. I think that email is a huge one.

Really tactical, turning off the alerts on your phone for email. It is not a text message. Don’t open your computer. You don’t have to check your email. I think that this can be hard too because a lot of it is setting those boundaries with your coworkers and that can be really tricky.

But one of my favorite mantras is ‘it’s only as weird as you make it,’ right? If you can be strong enough to set this boundary and just say, “No, it’s actually more weird to check your email in the evenings and weekends,” then you can just own it. That’s a big part of being boss is just owning who you are and owning that time.

Another thing that I do and I’ve been doing this since I’ve had a … is scheduling time for myself on my calendar and literally putting in a meeting on my Google calendar and pretending as if it’s the most important meeting of the day because so often we treat our deadlines and our client meetings with more importance than our meetings.

For me I’m scheduling every day my daily workout. I’ve been doing this since I’ve had a day job. I have a kid and I can still squeeze it in.

One of the things that Emily and I are constantly talking about is your to-do list will fill up with as much time as you give it, so I just give it a little bit less time and I prioritize myself and I find that I’m more productive whenever I do that. I would say scheduling time for yourself on your calendar is another really great boundary that you can literally see that boundary.

Then also looking at your calendar can help you see what you value and if what you value and where your intentions are aren’t being reflected in your schedule, it’s time to update something.

Pete Mockaitis

I like that. Emily, more.

Emily Thompson

Sure.

Pete Mockaitis

I’m demanding.

Emily Thompson

Right. We have this little exercise that we have people do occasionally, I even think it’s in the book, where we tell people to write their own sort of employee handbook for themselves.

If you are an employee, you have an employee handbook, but it probably – actually, I think number one is actually read your employee handbook if you haven’t already, if you’re not super familiar with it, to really see where the lines are already drawn because those boundaries are so important.

If you have a boss who’s overstepping those boundaries or if you have a coworker who is trying to nudge you into showing up too early or staying too late, too often or whatever it may be, knowing what the employee handbook already says, can be super helpful for helping you draw those boundaries.

But I also like the exercise of creating your own employee handbook, like what is not outlined in that employee handbook that you need to outline for yourself and whether that is stretch your communication boundaries or making sure you’re giving yourself an extra 15-minute moment in the afternoon to regroup so that you can really give the rest of your day the best you’ve got.

Defining some extra rules for yourself so that you can really show up and do the best work that you can do.

Pete Mockaitis

I love this. I’m just sort of imagining how it can play out in practice in terms of with the email if there’s resistance like, “No, I can’t.” I think you can just have some candid honest conversations, like, “Hey, I’m trying to unplug and be more present to my family, so I’d really appreciate it if something super urgent that you’d give me a call or text message if it’s in the evening time,” and there you go. It’s kind of hard to override that.

Kathleen Shannon

You know what? Unless you’re a doctor, unless you are saving lives, then at that point you’re also on call and getting paid for that. There is no emergency. Emily used to deal with this a lot with launching websites. People act like that is a life or death situation and it just isn’t. Maybe this is some tough love here.

Pete Mockaitis

I love it. Keep it coming.

Kathleen Shannon

I don’t want anyone texting me either or calling me. I don’t even want them to have my phone number.

Emily Thompson

Yeah, yeah. I think it’s looking at the points in your work where there is pain and trying to define your way out of that pain. If you are getting text messages from your boss and you don’t want text messages from your boss, tell your boss to stop texting you or whatever it may be, maybe it’s a coworker or whatever the case may be.

Those boundaries are super important. They keep you really good at your work and not resentful of the relationships that you have at work.

I also want to point out here that people will only take your boundaries as seriously as you do. If you say, “I won’t be emailing on the weekends anymore,” but you’re sliding out emails on the weekend, then no one’s going to respect those boundaries. You have to hold those to the highest standards as you set them and people will follow suit.

I’ve had people ask me before, “Your employees or the people you collaborate with, do they have issues with your email policies?” Because Kathleen and I are not emailing outside of regular 9 to 5 business hours and people would assume that the people we work with struggle with that or have issue with it.

What we’ve actually found is that people respect us more and they definitely respect those boundaries because we know what we need to do to get the job done and that does not mean responding to an email at 9 PM. We’ll be there at 9 AM to respond and you’ll get us fresh and ready to go. We’ll have really great relationships in the life outside of work as well. It really only holistically makes the entirety of our efforts better by putting those boundaries in place.

Kathleen Shannon

Okay, I want to mention that Emily has been her own boss like forever and I do come from an agency world where I did have a boss. If any of your listeners are like, “Oh my gosh, there’s no way I can tell my boss like, ‘Sorry, I’m not responding,’” because I know that that can be tricky. I think for me the hardest thing is what you don’t say.

You can respond to the text or to the email on Monday morning at 8 AM or whatever your working hours are. That’s a more subtle clue as to here are the times you can expect me to respond.

Then I also think that being really fully present and working your ass off while you’re at work and really staying focused means that you’re going to get more done in that time and you’re going to be more present for your co-workers and your boss and whoever else during that time, that they’ll start to see like, “Oh, maybe this actually works, this whole work/life being intentional in all the places kind of thing.”

Pete Mockaitis

I appreciate that you brought that into real experience if folks are having some resistance to this notion. I think I can think of a person, Kelsey, who told me just that. I was like, “Oh, you’re consulting, is that really draining you?” She’s like, “You know what? I just kind of told people how I work best and it works.” It was almost like, “Whoa, you can do that?”

I’d love it if you could maybe bring in some additional experiences from maybe your listeners or those you’ve interacted with who are in jobs who have had kind of a case study or a success with this.

Kathleen Shannon
We talk to a lot of entrepreneurs. But one thing I was going to say as Emily was sharing earlier with writing your own employee handbook, one of the things I have found to be really helpful in my own business is creating my own policies and saying things like, “Hey, it’s not my policy.” I’m just going to keep using email as an example since we’re there, but this could apply to a lot of things.

Like, “Hey, it’s not my policy to work for free,” or, “It’s not my policy to email on the weekends.” I wonder if there’s a way that if you are working a day job, like really think about your own policies and even using that verbiage to go with your boundaries might be really helpful for you.

I am married to a guy who has a day job. It’s been stretching him recently and it’s been kind of tricky navigating because you want to please the people that you work with, you want to be a good employee, you want to show that you’re enthusiastic and that you’re in it and that you’re a team member, but you also have to show them that you are a responsible parent or you’re a responsible husband and you’ve got more obligations or even if you don’t have kids or a wife or any of that, you do have a life outside of work.

I think that a good thing whenever it comes to that that you can do is kind of blend – like instead of this work/life balance and separation, is blend a little bit of it, so maybe even sharing with your coworkers what you’re doing outside of work and really just setting the stage and saying, “Hey, I’m going to go pick up my kid,” or, “I’m going to go hiking on the weekend.” I think whenever you can do that, it can help them get a sense of who you are outside of work and make them respect that time even more.

Pete Mockaitis

Absolutely. I’ve noticed that often, other professionals will have sort of a respect or awe or admiration for, “Well, good for you. I’d really like to do that myself.”

Sometimes if it’s kind of heavy, what you’re dealing with, like, “Hey, you know what? My mom is sick so it is really important to me to be able to spend some extra time because we don’t know how much time we have,” or there’s a hospital or even with the hiking example. It’s like, “I find that I am so much more brilliantly refreshed and creative at work if I’m able to do this,” so everybody wins if this works out.

Kathleen Shannon

Right. I want to point out here that the key here is communication. It’s talking about what it is that you’re doing and how it is that it helps you be better at your job.

I can’t speak a lot to having conversations with people who have day jobs, but I do know that as a boss of people who I’m providing their day job, we talk about those kinds of things all the time. I do prompt a lot of it because I do understand how that makes for a much healthier work environment for all of us, but they also bring those sorts of things to be.

I’m super cognizant of the fact that there are ways in which people are more efficient and more effective and those are the sorts of things that I want to nurture.

I recently had one of our employees, who’s actually a contractor, come to us recently and say, “I think that I would be more effective if I were to focus at being boss on Monday, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and leaving Thursdays and Fridays open for other endeavors that I’m working on.” I was like, “Great. That’s absolutely fantastic. We can adjust some things to make sure that we’re only relying on you on those three days,” and it wasn’t an issue.

It was clear communication. If she had stopped showing up on Thursday and Friday or was only half putting in the work on any of the days, that would have had a negative effect on what it is that we’re trying to build together. But it’s just that direct and clear concise communication that is appreciated and effective and allows us all to move forward and creates an organization where we’re all working better for it.

I think very often, even in large organizations, people think that their efforts don’t affect everyone or that their hike on the weekend isn’t going to make anyone’s job better but their own, but the truth is that it affects everything. You’re a part of a larger system and the more you can really give to that part whether it’s your communication or your undivided attention or your best self because you took that hike, the better off everyone is going to be for it.

Pete Mockaitis

I love this stuff. Thank you. To shift gears, I know you’ve got some great wisdom in the realm of confidence and dealing with fraudy feelings. What are some of your pro tips there?

Kathleen Shannon

Oh, I’ve got one. I love it whenever I need to cultivate confidence or overcome what we call fraudy feelings, which is kind of imposter syndrome, is to throw a dinner party. For me this is kind of calling on my inner mentors. I pretend as if I’m hosting a dinner party with these people who can give me boss advice and really guide me in this super mentored way into where I need to be going.

If my dinner party includes Beyoncé, Neil deGrasse Tyson, maybe Bill Nye the Science Guy. I’ve got a couple of scientists there. It may be a comedian like Dave Chappelle. I’ve got a few guests at my dinner party. You might be thinking like, “Wow, Kathleen is super connected,” and I’m not. I’m not.

This dinner party exists only in my head, but it really does help me cultivate this confidence of what kind of advice would Beyoncé give me if I feel like I’m struggling with having a hard conversation with a business partner. It’s really fun to kind of almost play it like an ad-lib game or have unexpected people give you unexpected advice to the problems that you’re trying to solve, like how would Neil deGrasse Tyson, how would he help advise me in solving this design problem.

It can really lead to some creativity and innovation. Whenever you’re feeling creative and curious and innovative, there is no room for feeling bad or feeling sorry for yourself or having fraudy feelings. At that point, you’re energized and excited just to make the thing. That’s how I like to do it.

Emily Thompson

Love that, Kathleen, your fake dinner parties. I like to be a little more practical I think. I always look at
proof.

One of the things that Kathleen say to each other and ourselves consistently is ‘I can do hard things.’ We know this because we’ve done it. We can look at the past, at what it is that we’ve built. I imagine anyone listening to this, you’ve done something hard in your life at least once or you probably wouldn’t be listening to this podcast on that cool device that you have in your hand or in your pocket or wherever it may be.

You can do hard things. If I ever need to bolster my confidence and get something done that I maybe haven’t done before or it seems a little daunting or I’m trying to tell myself that I’m not going to be able to accomplish it, I always look back at all the things that I have done.

If I can’t do it for myself, I call up a friend or pour a glass of wine and go talk to my partner, David, and we’ll go over some of the things that I’ve done, whatever I need to do to remind myself that this is just one more hard step on a very long path and journey of hard steps. It’s not quite as fun as Dave Chappelle and Beyoncé, but I find it just as useful.

Kathleen Shannon

Well, Emily, one of the things that you’ve always done that’s really inspired me is to approach everything as an experiment and to know that you can test and change. I think whenever you approach a project as an experiment rather than like, “Oh my gosh, this is my livelihood and I need to make some money,” you’re open to failure because aren’t scientists looking to fail. Aren’t they looking to prove themselves wrong?

I think that that’s what we’re trying to do as well is really see what works and what doesn’t through the lens of an experiment, like this is a thing that we are trying. Yes, our livelihood does depend on it, but whenever we can get curious and be open to failing, we succeed nine times out of ten.

Pete Mockaitis

That is powerful. I love that notion ‘I can do hard things’ feels like a much more tangible and specific belief to cultivate as opposed to what you might call self-esteem or self-confidence.

This brings me back. Boy, when I was a freshman in college I remember, I just kept getting rejected from stuff. I wanted to join all these clubs and they wouldn’t have me. I was like, “What the heck? I was such a rock star in high school. This is bogus.” It really did kind of bring me down in terms of what you’d call self-confidence.

So I made a big old notebook with bullet after bullet of cool things that I’ve accomplished. If you sort of look at those evidence points for not just, “I’m great,” but, “I can do hard things,” I think that’s really galvanizing and resonating.

Emily Thompson

Yeah, it’s important. It’s so easy to start beating yourself up and forget that you’ve gotten here because you did cool things or you did something and the next thing is just the next thing that you have to overcome. It’s just an easy, simple tactic for getting you there.

Kathleen Shannon

One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is that it’s not supposed to be easy. No good story doesn’t come without some challenges. We’re on a hero’s journey and that means we’re going to be falling on our faces sometimes and that’s okay. We’re supposed to.

Pete Mockaitis

This is so good. Tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear, rapid-fire, your favorite things?

Emily Thompson

My favorite quote, it’s not even inspiring, it’s one of those things that drives me a lot. It’s really funny, I also have to share the story that surrounds it. The quote is ‘Look for what’s different.”

It came from a teacher that I had once. I think about this all the time. It was in reference to looking for four-leaf clovers of all things. We’re like out in the school yard, looking at clovers, and she told us to look for what’s different because it’s the four-leaf clover that’s different from the three-leaf clovers.

I think about that all the time. I absolutely know that little mindset nugget, that little just quote that seems so simple, is one of the things that’s definitely brought me to where I am, where it’s not the 14-step blueprint that’s going to make me 18 figures or anything like that. It is the thing that’s different that will take you down the path to what it is that you’re supposed to do.

The quote that I’m always thinking of is Dear Ms. Thompson, because we did share a last name too and that’s just a whole other level of magic there, this idea of you should be looking for what’s different, not at what’s the same.

Kathleen Shannon

Is that how you find so many four-leaf clovers? Is that your secret?

Emily Thompson

Yes, it is. That is my secret. I also just shared the secret to how it is that I find four-leaf clovers more easily than anyone I’ve ever met.
Kathleen Shannon
Wow, I love it. Mine is – I’m going to butcher his name, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and it is “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

Pete Mockaitis

And it rhymes. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Emily Thompson

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. This one changed my life and we’re often asked what business books we recommend and this isn’t a specific business book, but it is one that will teach you the power of vulnerability and resilience and it has changed my life.

Kathleen Shannon

Mine is just Harry Potter, all of them.

Pete Mockaitis

Lovely, thank you. Could you share a particular nugget that really seems to connect and resonate with your audience? You hear them quoting it back to your often.

Kathleen Shannon

Do the work. It’s so funny whenever we were writing our book, we were asking our audience, “Is there anything that we have said that really stands out for you?” All of them said, “You’re constantly just telling us to do the work.”

That means to get into that mindset, to get into your habits and routines, and to establish those boundaries and to lean on your wolf pack, and your tribe, and your community, and to really be who you are 100% of the time in work and life and that takes a lot of work, but you can do it, so do the work.

Emily Thompson

I agree with that one, except I think I’ll expand because one of things that I feel like comes back to me often, I feel like there’s been some Instagram graphics made out in the world where at one point I said, “Do the work is what happens between the wanting and the having,” so a nice little definition there for it’s all the work that happens between wanting something and actually having it.

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

Emily Thompson

BeingBoss.club.

Kathleen Shannon

I was going to say, www.BeingBoss.club.

Emily Thompson

Good job. Good job Kathleen.

Kathleen Shannon

We’ve had our listeners get stressed out about the way I say www.

Pete Mockaitis

I was thinking that. I noticed that myself. I’m like interesting choice.

Kathleen Shannon

Yeah, yeah right. We have an interesting URL, so I like to include the www for context. But yeah, that’s where you will find us.

Pete Mockaitis

And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue forth to those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Emily Thompson

I do, and Kathleen, I look forward to hearing what you have to say about this one. One of my very favorite ones and I think this is especially for people who have jobs because I think there are a whole other set of rules, it applies to both, but job people. I think I challenge people to say no three times this week.

Kathleen Shannon

That one makes me start to sweat a little bit.

Emily Thompson

I know it does. I know it does.

Kathleen Shannon

I have a hard time with it.

Emily Thompson

I think it’s a good one.

Kathleen Shannon

Mine is going to be make space for what you want, whether that is on your calendar or whatever that looks like for you, make space for what you want. I would say on your calendar and schedule it and make it happen.

Pete Mockaitis

Mm-hm. Well, Emily, Kathleen, this has been such a treat. Thank you for sharing the good stuff. I hope that your book is a smash success and you keep on being boss and flourishing in all you’re doing.

Kathleen Shannon

Thanks for having us, Pete, this was so much fun.

Emily Thompson

Yes.

277: Keys to Exceptional Goal Achievement with (100% Bucket List Completer!) Danny Dover

By | Podcasts | 4 Comments

 

Fascinating achiever Danny Dover shares how we can unlock similar achievements in our own careers and lives.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How and why to set binary goals with zero wiggle room
  2. How to eliminate distractions, ruthlessly yet tactfully
  3. Approaches to rediscover your motivation

About Danny

In 2010, Danny Dover assigned a deadline of May 25, 2017, to his life. He was tired of hearing about other people’s exciting lives and decided to jump-start his own by taking steps to actually live as if the end was in sight. He tattooed his deadline on his butt and made the sole purpose of his life to complete his Life List (a list of more than 150 life goals). While pursuing his list, he inadvertently became a minimalist in order to gain the necessary focus to create a more meaningful life. This seemingly small change in mindset (which he later detailed in the book The Minimalist Mindset) dramatically changed his life for the better.

As of 2017, Dover has completed his entire Life List (which included living alone in the wilderness for a month, traveling to nearly 100 countries, mountain climbing in Antarctica, becoming a best-selling author, etc.)

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Danny Dover Interview Transcript

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

Danny Dover
I am so excited to be here. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. Well, I think we’ll have a great chat here so I’m excited as well. First of all, I’d love to hear about the tattoo on your butt. What is the scoop here?

Danny Dover
This comes up more often than I had imagined before I got this, or when I got this. Okay, so if you rewind about 10 years of my life, I was in a really, really, really rough spot. I was dealing with depression among other things, and I realized, very frankly, that I had really no choice but to find a better life for myself or perhaps a better way to word it now, say building a better life for myself.

I knew I was a procrastinator. I knew that with depression I had very, very little motivation, so I decided that I need to make this thing very real, something very permanent, and something very important to me, meaningful. And so I got a tattoo with what I imagined, at the time, would be the deadline for my life, so this was May 25, 2017, and, again, I got this done about 10 years ago.

And very, very slowly I got started on rebuilding my life a little bit, on making some strides and, as I’m sure we’ll talk about, on working on a list of 150 goals that I have for myself before that deadline.

Pete Mockaitis
So deadline for your life, you mean, to do all the items on your list prior to that date?

Danny Dover
That’s correct. Now, you got to remember, I was in a real dire side of my life and so I was taking this very morbid direction and a very serious direction. But in hindsight, I can look back and say…

Pete Mockaitis
Hind? Ho, ho, ho, zing.

Danny Dover
Hiny-sight. That was exactly what I needed then, so it did the job. I came up with this idea that it seemed like a good idea to follow this general advice of, “Live as if the end is in sight.” But, of course, none of us know when that time is going to be. And so I said, “Well, what if I just picked a time…” or a date in this case, “…and have that be my trajectory,” and kind of draw a line in the sand or a tattoo on my butt, if you will.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s cool. And so, then, you had a healthy list of 150 life goals. Can you give us an example of a couple of them that were the most challenging and transformational?

Danny Dover
Sure. And I should give a little context on where this list came from. When I was in this little part of my life, I asked people around me what were some of the favorite stories from their lives, and some of these were accomplishments, some of these were people they’ve met, some of these were relationships they had. And I took their stories that they told me and made those the items on this life list.

So some of the odder ones, the more challenging ones, well, first, just this wasn’t specifically a bucket list then, but it was inherent to the list. I had to come up with ways of paying for this. And perhaps even more difficult, or at least equally difficult, I had to figure out, “How am I going to create a lifestyle where I can do these things as far as time goes?”

Because if you’re going to make money, that means you’re selling your time to somebody else, usually. And so I need to find a nice balance there where I could do these things. So let me give you some examples here.

So, visit every continent. These were more specific, but go to roughly about 100 different countries, get multiple patents, complete many, many meaningful tasks a year, and each of these had smart goals associated with them, so each of them were very specific, but in this list they’re not. Run a marathon, do astronaut training, go to the Olympics, Super Bowl World Series, create a profitable business, live in the wilderness alone for a month, so on and so forth, 150.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s so good. Now I want to touch base on what you mentioned there with smart goals. So, that’s kind of how actually I got my start in speaking as I was presenting at this conference called HOBY, Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, which I still do. It’s a lot of fun, very sort motivated, fun, high school sophomores assembling and having a transformational sort of a weekend experience.

And so I do talk about smart goals because I was a goal-setting enthusiast. Some people are a little down on smart goals, saying, “That’s actually not the optimal way to establish goals given our psychological understanding given dah, dah, dah.” But, hey, you’re a living proof, you had 150 of these and you knocked them all out, and all of them had a smart goal associated with it. Can you unpack, first, the acronym, and second why you think this is a good way to go?

Danny Dover
Well, perhaps, surprisingly I agree with some of the research that you just referenced.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Danny Dover
I don’t think that smart goals are necessarily the best way to do it for everybody, but I think the general concept, which I’ll talk about in just a second, seems like a better path than what I was doing before – smart goals.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Danny Dover
So, before it was smart goals, my goals were very broad and it wasn’t clear if I completed them or not, and there’s lots of wiggle room. With a smart goal, I don’t even know if I know the acronym off the top of my head, but I think it’s specific, measurable, actionable, I don’t know what the R is.

Pete Mockaitis
Realistic?

Danny Dover
Realistic, thank you. And timely or time-based. And I don’t care so much about getting the specifics and nailing it down, but what I care about is making a goal that fulfills these general accomplishments. It is binary decision, “Have I completed this or have I not completed this?” And there was absolutely no wiggle room. It is either a yes or it’s no. There’s no, “Well, maybe,” or, “Yes, but…” that doesn’t exist.

So what I’m really going for is a binary thing, and the tool that I used for that is smart goals but I’m not really religiuos about obsessing about making sure I hit each of those letters. As long as it’s binary I’m happy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so I’d love it if you could maybe give us an example of how you binarialized – we’re inventing a word, Danny.

Danny Dover
Sure. I think you did. I guess you get credit for that.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s a joint creation. You made binary. Some accomplishments or goals are tricky when it comes to sort of like an emotional thing or about some happiness or like a relationship thing in terms of if you want to have a good or better relationship with a spouse or a great friend. So could you give us an example of maybe something that started fuzzy and how you made it smart or binary?

Danny Dover
Yeah. So let’s take chess, which actually ended up in the hindsight, hiny-sight, if you will.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Danny Dover
Ended up being one of my least favorite items I did on there. But, originally, when I wrote it down it was not a very good goal as far as being smart. It was, “Learn to play chess well,” I think is what I wrote.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Danny Dover
And in order to do that, and in order to make this binary, you need to add more attributes to it. So what I first did was researched, okay, “How is chess set up? How is it measured? What does the Bell curve look like?”

Pete Mockaitis
Those ranking are insane, bro.

Danny Dover
They are insane. Oh, yeah, some people… there’s a problem actually with this. I’ll go into it as kind of an aside. So in order to look at distribution of a chess players, you look at places like chess.com, or this was what I chose. But people who spend all their time playing chess for fun tend to be very good at chess, and so the Bell curve has shifted than what it would be for the average human being. So it’s actually made the challenge quite hard.

So there’s multiple chess ranking systems, there is, I believe, is Elo is how you pronounce it, and Glicko-2, too. So I chose Glicko-2, it looked like, for my research, that that was going to make more sense for my goals. I found what the center of Bell of curve was, I wanted to be slightly above average which would be well because I was taking into account this bias that the people who were on chess.com playing this were the ones who play chess all the time are like quite good, and so I wanted to beat the average.

And I believe the number was 1550 on the Glicko-2 is what I had to beat. I’d have to look at my notes but I believe that was it. So I played chess until I was able to beat 1550 on the Glicko-2, if I’m getting my numbers correct.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Danny Dover
It was terrible.

Pete Mockaitis
I mean, I was going to say that. I think that would take a long time based on my progress in the game of chess.

Danny Dover
Yeah, so chess is really interesting. I love it as an analogy, and I love it as a concept for explaining strategy. But what I found, for my personal taste, is that the way to get good at chess, which is just rote memorization, is trying to understand lots and lots of different permutations and memorizing that is just not a fun endeavor for me, not to say that it can’t be great for other people. Clearly, a lot of people get a lot of joy from it, but not for me.

What I thought I was going into was a game where you would get broad strategy, but what I found, to master it, at least my understanding from the teachers and mentors I worked with, it was more about memorization and then general rules based off of trends that you start to see. And that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, maybe that’s why I didn’t get that far. It’s like I learned the lesson.

Danny Dover
And maybe that’s why I didn’t get farther. I mean, any subject that we take in this kind of very quantitative way is going to be, there’s going to be lots of side cases.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And so I’m intrigued there, so then that’s the idea, is you’re shooting for, it needs to be binary such that there is no wiggle room. I know that I have to achieve it by this date or I have not.

Danny Dover
Correct. So it was 1550 on Glicko-2 by a specific date. I had the overall deadline on May 25, 2017, but when I went through each goal on this list, each of this list items, I signed a sub-date so a deadline that I gave myself earlier, so.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. That’s so cool. Now, I think that others would suggest, I guess, the smart goals doubters would say, you know, “Hey, you need to be kind to yourself and not sort of put yourself in a position where the results or the performance is somewhat beyond your control. And you got to focus in on what you can do, your actions and the process.” What’s your response to that kind of vibe?

Danny Dover
It’s complicated. So half of me says, “That’s right. You should be kind to yourself,” and that not enough people are kind to their self in a meaningful way and for long periods of time. And I think you can cause a lot of damage by not being kind to yourself.

The other part of me says that, “If you want to be a person who lives an extraordinary life, then you’re going to have to take action that is extraordinary,” just by definition. And so I was a person who had given myself this big goal, this entire life list, and I said that I’m going to make this the meaning of my life, that’s why I was so serious with the tattoo, and so that is going to require extraordinary steps.

So, now, is that the right thing for every single person to do? No, but I think this general idea of trying to create some meaning or importantly, or worded better, choosing a meaning for your life, I think that is a really good idea and I think that does apply to everyone. Now the difference will be in the meaning that you choose and the execution you choose to pursue.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious to get a sense for, you said you made that the purpose of your life and it’s like sort of decided this is very important. And then you stuck with it. Like are there any sort of master keys that others who have fallen off the wagon for their goals can do there?

Danny Dover
Maybe. I hope that by discussing this topic, some other people will be able to skip some steps that I took, that ended up not being useful. So I spent a lot of time at the beginning of this journey, or really let’s say when I got about a third of the way through, because at the beginning I was doing nothing. I had no motivation. I barely get out of bed.

But as I slowly progressed, very slowly, I started doing more research on happiness, and how do you measure that, and what do you look at. And there were studies I read about measuring the different brain chemicals, which we can go to as an aside. I think they’re all kind of crazy. There’s different ones like measuring facial expressions and wrinkle depth to see how much you smiled, that kind of stuff.

And there’s all these kind of studies I read and there’s lots of other ways people went about it from like how do you act or you’re perceived by people or how you perceive other people, to kind of more psychological perspective. At the end of the day, I realized it just doesn’t matter. We don’t know. We really don’t know what we’re talking about when we’re talking about measuring happiness or quantifying happiness because it means different things to different people in different contexts.

So what I realized is that if I’m going to battle these very, very, very big problems in life, these big questions of, “Why am I here? What is the meaning of life?” I’m not going to find a binary answer. I’m not going to find something that’s like specific and measurable. I’m not going to find a smart answer to this.

Instead, what I’m going to find is that we don’t know. It just so happens that we’re here on this floating rock. You might as well just choose a purpose, just make your own decision, and what you’re going to find meaning, or what I found meaning from, as a result of that decision, is just pursuing it. Waking up every day and having a mission, even if it’s not the mission that was granted you by some extra like spiritual being.

Even if you have that choice, you made that choice, then you can find your own meaning in that, and that’s what happened to me. I think you can do that in lots of different ways. It doesn’t have to be a life list. But, for me, the key was just choosing something and fully committing myself to that decision. That’s what really made a big difference in my life.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing and I guess I’m wondering. You didn’t waiver and decide, “You know what, actually there is another mission that’s going to be the thing,” and sort of back and forth, teeter-totter, wobble. It’s like, “Nope, this is the thing,” and it stuck. Any sense for what made it stick?

Danny Dover
Well, first, the push for me to make this big decision was just I didn’t really have any other choice. I mean, nothing was working in my life so I needed to make a bold change or I was going to be stuck or even worse. So I had a large reason to push me to do this.

And then the second part of it was, well, I had created this tattoo that I had told some people about and then I eventually kind of writing about this kind of a year later, maybe a little longer, and so I had public peer pressure in a positive way. So positive peer pressure and people reading this and asking me, “How is it going?”

And so put this out here and I had these feedback loops in place that kind kept pushing me forward. So were there days that I waivered? Sure. There absolutely were, but I had chosen this mission and it was very clear what needed to be done and it was a matter of trying to figure out how to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Thank you. Well, so then, I’m curious now, in order to do that it takes some discipline associated with prioritization and saying no to alternative things. What are some of your best practices there?

Danny Dover
Well, okay, this is a big topic. I’m glad we’re going into it. So let’s talk about, in order to answer this, let’s try to talk about high achievers. So we’ll choose one aspect of high achievers, and I want to be clear, there’s lots of different ways you can achieve things, but one aspect of that would be people who have a lot of money, so let’s say billionaires, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Danny Dover
And billionaires are unique not because – well, they are unique because they have a lot of money, but that’s not the part I care about. What they’re unique in is they have a lot of power. So I think there’s a lot of evidence that these people, in many cases, really are able to change the world. It seems like they are modern-day superheroes who are the people who have this much power. So billionaires being one example of that.

Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld has a funny quote on this, he said, “When men are growing up and reading about Batman, Spiderman, Superman, they see these not as fantasies. They see them as options.” And I always really identified with that. I always thought that was funny.

So if you look back like last year, there was something like Forbes, I think, I’m quoting this from. There’s 2,043 billionaires on the planet in 2017, and that number rises roughly every year by 200, it depends on how the stock market does. So we have 2,000 plus billionaires who are with us right now, and none of them are Batman. This pisses me off. What the heck is going on here?

Pete Mockaitis
That we know about.

Danny Dover
That’s true. Maybe Batman would be smarter and just not actually show us. So we do have heroes who are billionaires. We have Bill Gates who professionally, I dislike him. But from what his impact on the world with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is actually amazing. He’s probably the prime example of someone who’s saving the world.

We have someone like Elon Musk who’s trying to save the world by leaving it, or at least getting humans off of it. So we do have these people who are like superheroes in our modern world so it’s exciting and it’s interesting.

So what I did, trying to understand this stuff, was start to study them. So lots of autobiographies and biographies, and really, I like those kinds of book in particular because they’re based in the real world and they’re people who have the same limits as all of us, meaning time, but they’re still able to achieve things.

And what I noticed was that, yes, there are definitely specific factors that applied to each of them specifically within the context of how they grew up and all that. But, generally speaking, what all these people who I have read books about, had in common is they had luck which I define as opportunity times preparation. You don’t really get to control opportunity per se but you certainly can control preparation, so it’s the multiplying the two where you really get luck.

And then habits, which is, this is part of my long answer in answering your original question here. Habits, I think, are what superheroes and billionaires and other people who are successful in other ways are different than the rest of us. So I started looking very seriously into that, and there’s a whole bunch of books on the topic, and they’re fine.

But what I’ve started to realize and what I really ingrained in myself is that it’s habits, not ideas, that are the programming language of human beings. And so I took this and I very seriously studied this concept. So I studied artificial intelligence, trying to mine this a little bit, trying to understand what breakthroughs are being made there, and can I apply this to myself.

And I found one that I thought applied quite well. It’s this idea of recursive self-improvement. So this is stolen from the field of AI, but I try to apply it with habits. Recursion, if you’re not aware, if you don’t have a development background, is a method that calls itself. And so you can be very, very powerful in a very, very small instruction base, or very, very small amount of code.

So in a human’s life it seems like this would be a habit that calls itself. So a habit that improves on itself. The most straightforward example of this would be something like speedreading. If you can speedread, and you really could keep your retention high, then you would be better at self-improvement because you’d be able to input more information into yourself, and then you’d get better at everything essentially if you’re reading the right stuff.

So in this way it would be recursive in that it would be a habit that was making you better at self-improvement, so improving that self-improvement.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, so sort of like a loop of sorts.

Danny Dover
It’s a very specific kind of loop.

Pete Mockaitis
So you’re saying, if this is fair, you tell me, that it gets real powerful when – like the speedreading example – is that you are improving your ability to improve yourself and, thusly, there’s kind of a, I’m thinking like compound interest here.

Danny Dover
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But there’s like a growing effect when you’re growing the thing that does growing.

Danny Dover
Exactly right. So like a billionaire is going to know the advantage of compound interest, right? That’s probably how they became a billionaire, at least in many, many cases. And so I wanted to apply this concept of compounding interest to people, to humans, so take away from finance entirely. And I realized that there’s certain habits, these ones I’m calling recursive self-improvement habits, that get more powerful as you develop them and they make other parts of your life better.

So speedreading is one kind of example although there are some problems here. The other ones that I’ve seen that I think are more beneficial are diet and exercise and, say, personal finance, friends, your network, your family, and things like focus. If you can get better at those core, I think other people, there’s like a Venn diagram here with what I’m calling recursive self-improvement habits, and other people call it like keystone habits.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Okay.

Danny Dover
So there are these ones that if you can get really good at these then it makes everything else much, much better. And so I doubled down on this concept. So you would ask me, “Well, how do I measure these things. How do I prioritize things? And how do I persevere with these things?” Well, this is exactly how I prioritize things.

I take what I believe to be these recursive self-improvement habits and I draw what’s called the goal-map. This is cool. I’ve actually never talked about this publicly before so this is something I’ve actually been doing for years.

So what I do is I outline what are the most important skills that I want to be working on in my life and then every quarter map the projects that I am doing to those, and I realized that if my projects are not aligning with these specific habits then I’m not going in the direction that I want. So let’s do a concrete example of this.

For me, these are diet, exercise, personal finance, family and friends. There also could be something like, if you go through traditional like definitions I’ve read of job satisfaction, it would be something like autonomy or competence, relatedness, maybe creativity impact. I think these broad categories and then I map all my projects to them.

And if you have job, well, so anybody who has a job is going to have to do some projects that don’t align with these, but you can know you’re doing the right direction, you can know you’re pointing the right way if most of the projects you’re or most of the hours that you’re spending are building up these kind of recursive self-improvement habits. These ones are going to get better over time and superpower you, like they give you these superpowers.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s cool. That’s exciting. I’d love to dig deep into one of them. Let’s talk about focus because I think that’s highly applicable for professionals who have a lot of things coming at them from a lot of places. So how would you recommend starting to grow your capacity to focus such that it’s recursive and building on itself in becoming all the more awesome?

Danny Dover
Well, the most recent book I wrote, it’s called The Minimalist Mindset. It’s entirely about just focus. Focus is a very, very big topic. And funny enough, I think it’s one that doesn’t get enough attention even though we’re in a world where it’s very hard to focus and like there’s more need for focus than ever.

The way to become focused is to figure out what it is that you want to be focused on first, so prioritizing as we just covered. I use this tool called the Go Web but you can use any kind of prioritization system that you want and that works for you, and then being ruthless about eliminating distractions or anything that is not serving you.

So if you want to have extraordinary results, again, you have to really be persistent about being ruthless of eliminating any avenues you might have for failure. So this could be as simple as a clean desk. I mean, that’s the kind of advice I hear on like every podcast including yours. Your last guest, I think, spoke a lot about this and did a nice job on it.

But it’s also making sure you don’t have too many things on your plate, too many responsibilities. It’s about saying no and then consistently doing it which is hard. This reminds of a Steve Martin quote, “Perseverance is great substitute for talent.” I think that is a great way of looking at it. If you can just persistently say no to things that are not important and have an eye and understanding of what is important in your life then you’re setting yourself up on a very, very good path for potential success by however you want to measure that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to hear a few more things              that are great to eliminate, you know, one is clutter from a desk, another is many, many commitments. Are there sort of particular commitments or distractors that are particularly pernicious?

Danny Dover
Yeah, so this book I wrote called The Minimalist Mindset is a book about minimalism. And minimalism is usually applied to things, so this would be like having less clothes so that you don’t have to spend your creative energy picking out clothes in the morning, right? And that’s how minimalism is usually looked at, which is I think a good idea.

But I think the real beauty of minimalism is it applies to everything. So this could apply to your friendships, this could apply to your email, this can apply to your car, it can apply to anything you want. So I want to go give you an example that’s not the common one. So I’m going to avoid email just because that comes up in lots of podcasts episodes. Inbox Zero is a great way to do it. I’m looking at a tool called SaneBox. There’s a Cliff Notes version of how I got my email under control.

But let’s try to do something like priorities because that ends being the hardest one from a professional perspective. Let’s kind of dive into that a little bit. So what’s happening with a job, from my understanding, is that what you’re trying to do is trade time for money. And in doing so, if you’re working for somebody else, which almost all of us are, be it a client, be it a boss, then you are helping them achieve their dream rather than you necessarily achieving your dream. And you have to do this to start this when you don’t have a lot of leverage professionally because you need money and you need to pay your bills.

But I think it becomes very tempting to continue to prioritize all the things that your boss or your clients are prioritizing so that you can get more and more money so you can upgrade your lifestyle, so you can kind of go down this path. And, again, that works for everybody. But, for me, as a minimalist, I eventually got to a point where I had enough career capital, enough leverage where I could say, “You know what, I’m doing okay and I’d rather focus on these other things that I’ve already established as important in my life.” So, in my case, my life list.

So I was able to take these things that I had a focus on and then realizing kind of take a step back and be like, “Well, whose dream do I really want to accomplish here? Is it help my millionaire boss get more money? Or is it that I want to have more flexibility and freedom in my life, and in my family and friends’ lives?” And so I kind of took a turn there and started to persist in those directions, making things work that way. And that kind of is a rabbit hole as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’d love to hear, as you’re being ruthless, as you’re saying no to things, any pro tips on how to do that in the kindest or best way possible?

Danny Dover
Yeah, this is a very hard thing, and I want to make sure that that part is clear, that saying no, I think people gloss over how difficult that is, but a lot of times it’s saying no to like your significant other or saying no to someone who has a lot of professional leverage over you, that’s very difficult.

The only ways I found to do this is to create scripts so that’s as easy for you and reflexive for you as possible. If you’re very clear on what the direction you do want to go in, it gives you this motivation to do these uncomfortable things of saying no to people you may really legitimately care about.

So for professional, I’ll do an email script, so I’ve written up a very polite way of saying no that says basically the idea is that, “Currently I have too much responsibilities on my plate. I want to make sure I give everyone my all with those. I’m happy to meet with you or I’m happy to work on your project…” whatever the context is, “…but it has to be after I finish my current obligations. I don’t like being this busy, and so I’m taking active steps to make sure that’s not the case going forward”

So I have a written out email that already says this. I’ve massaged all the wording so that this is crystal clear and that’s what I’ll send. And it’s just for me, it’s two keystrokes. I run a Mac and you can just build this. It’s built into the operating system to do shortcuts with texts. So I think I just typed in, “Nob,” so nob I think is the word and it does that on my email, and then I hit send. And then I go on the next thing.

If it’s a significant other, it’s a lot harder. It’s working with your family and your friends so they can understand what it is you’re up against and what it is you’re trying to achieve so they can understand why you’re prioritizing things you are rather than just saying no. It’s giving them a fuller understanding of the why you’re saying no and let them know that the no is a temporary no so you can pursue this other thing so that you can make everybody’s life – so this would be your friends, family – make everybody’s life a little bit better.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very nice. So, let’s see, I had all these things I want to hear from you, and I think we’ve covered a good bit. When it comes to habits, you’ve focused in on here’s something that’s worth developing as a habit and we’ve said no to a lot of other things in order to make that happen and to dig deep because it is recursive and has great cool accumulative effects.

What are your perspectives on getting that habit to really stick in terms of, “I am embarking upon this. I want this to be a habit in my life”? What do I do to ensure that I can make that happen and not fall off the wagon?

Danny Dover
Well, the first thing I do is I put it out there into the world that I’m working towards this habit. So be it weight loss or be it exercise or be it Inbox Zero or whatever it is. Put it out in the world so that you have this positive peer pressure working for you. You could also word this as working against you. But it works in your favor because people are going to check in on this.

From then, I make sure that I have plans for your bad days because there’s nothing I found that I can do to eliminate bad days or days when you don’t have motivation. And so I pre-plan some simple alternatives to make sure I do my full prep.

So if this is exercising, this would be saying, okay, if you’re having a bad day, or today you’re traveling or it’s going to be really hard for you to do a run, for example, then what I’m going to do is I’m going to have this exercise, put into notes on my phone so I know exactly what it is. I’m already have looked at what all the positions are so that I know this, so there’s nothing to stop me there, and then I’m just going to do it in the clothes that I’m wearing. So this wouldn’t be a run, this would be something like a series of like jumping jacks and pushups and sit-ups that kind of thing, where you don’t need equipment.

So I pre-plan for bad days and I make it crystal clear on what I’m going to do on days where I don’t have the option of doing what I’m supposed to be doing. So that example was with exercise. You could also do this with, say, email or you could do this with kind of any other area in my life as I pre-plan for them.

And the last one here is rekindling what it is that inspired me to start this to begin with. So this is almost always YouTube videos for me. So what I’ve realized is that I can get into to, say, Day 20 of doing a new habit, be it exercise or be it, right now, I’m learning to base guitar. And what I found is that like Day 1 and 2 are easy basic, like kind of easy because you have a lot of motivation. Day 3 is always really hard because your motivation is a little bit low, and you don’t really have that willpower as strongly as you did the first two days.

And so what I found is that I go on Day 3 or Day 4, I’ll go re-watch that initial spark that made me be inspire to do this job to begin with. So, again, I said this is usually YouTube videos, sometime this will be a conversation with a friend or whatnot. But then I’ll do that again like 10 days later so that works out to Day 13 or Day 14.

And then any other times I stumble past that point where I’m not going to make it to a true ingrained habit, usually depending on the research or who you’re reading, is like Day 22 or Day 30. I make sure that I get those re-boost of the original inspiration source, multiple times at point when it’s particular important.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing that you can often pinpoint the original inspiration source. I’m curious, are there particular YouTube channels that you’re watching. Where are you going to pack such a punch?

[00:33:03]

Danny Dover
We’ll come back to that a little bit. So it’s important to note that sometimes watching this same video over and over again is not going to quite do it. Although there are some videos which I’m happy to share with you on the show notes, that really every time I watch them really get me going again. But it’s more like I’ll find a particular, with the base guitar I’ll find a particular artist. I really like Flea, and re-watch some new stuff that he’s done or stuff that I haven’t seen is really a better way of saying that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So understood. So the source of inspiration there. Now if you want to create habits of focus, for example, and you are seeking a source of inspiration, I’m wondering if a video would, what video would do it, it’s like, “Check out that guy,” not looking at his face, but it seems to be I’m fired up. What would it be?

Danny Dover
Well, in that case it could be that video is not the best way to do it. I’m certainly open to that. But if I was trying to do focus, I might look at something that someone has accomplished as a result of their focus and focusing on that. So that could be a great business person or a great sports star and their highlight reel, something along those lines, or spending some time with someone who I really admire who does a great job with their family and to see how it is they’re focusing on their children and just watch that again. I mean, maybe that’d be an offline example that is better applied here.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. That’s cool. And then I’m almost seeing, in my mind’s eye, I’m picturing just sort of like a pulled quote and a graphic of the person’s face, and them sort of articulating that sort of decision or philosophy whether it’s entrepreneur or someone that you’re looking up to, like they have attributed their success to a thing.

Danny Dover
I’m reading the book Black Swan right now and it seems to be at this point in the book that the major thesis is saying that some things that happen to us are very random, and very often humans do not take randomness enough and do account when they’re looking at back at their college life.

So one of the key examples, I don’t remember if it’s from this book or from something else that I read, Steve Jobs looking back at his life, and he does the famous commencement speech which is a great YouTube video. I bet you more than half of your listeners have watched that. But what he’s failing to do is understand a lot of the other things that happened in his life that he didn’t have any control over, any responsibility over but also helps him enable these.

So, yes, he’s certainly used some habits to make these things occur, but it also just so happen that he was born during a time when computers weren’t even possible to develop, and there’s also ripe given the marketplace for it. Those are the things that he didn’t have any control over. So these ae kind of the exceptions that break the rule, and I think humans overly attribute their own amazingness to their past accomplishments.

So I’m trying now, I’m reading this book. I’m trying to apply that to my life as much as possible. You can do things that open up opportunity for you but you’re not going to be able to control those opportunities and how they play out. You’re only going to be able to prepare yourself for the potential for an opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. You know, it’s not sort of “if this then that” kind of direct line of “because Steve Jobs did not check his email” I don’t know “early in the morning, then if I don’t do that I, too, will achieve his results.” But, nonetheless, it seems like that theme associated with identifying the patterns that you want to model or the spark of inspiration that is compelling for you will push you, even if, hey, even if we’re deceiving ourselves a smidgeon along the way to get there.

Danny Dover
Yeah, I mean, I’d be this role of randomness is a very positive thing in my life so if you want to say that like the habits that you’re doing and the opportunities you’re trying to present for yourself or you just throwing spaghetti on the wall, then by all means throw more spaghetti but just acknowledge that even if…there is going to be a degree of randomness to this.

And I find this is a nice thing because if I fail at something and it seems like I was doing everything right, it makes me realize, “Hey, you know what, the world is actually much more complex than I understand. There are other things that play here. It doesn’t mean that I’m a failure because I fail at this particular thing. It just means it didn’t happen this time.” So I see this, the role of randomness, as a very positive thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. Okay. Cool. Well, Danny, tell me, anything else you want to cover before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Danny Dover
I do. I want to talk about mistakes that I’ve seen lots of my friends make professionally, and then I think they can be very valuable if people were able to get better at it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Danny Dover
So the most common professional mistake that I’m seeing with friends and family members and other people like clients that I have is that they’re not showing the right kind of value to the right people. A lot of people that I work with or have worked with in the past try to demonstrate their value by putting in lots and lots of hours.

And while in some, like especially the taxing emotions for most of my time has been that can show value – it doesn’t necessarily show the value to the right people, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting the right things done.

So what I’ve tried to do instead is really hyper focus and work these people to make sure that they’re demonstrating the right kind of value, so understand what their goals are from their boss which, actually I found is they can just ask their boss and that enlightens people a lot. They work on something, and I’ve done this many times, I’d work on a project for six months, nine months, and while my boss thought that it was interesting or good, I didn’t realize that it was not the thing that was most important to them or that it would solve their bigger hanging problem.

And just by having that simple coffee conversation with them, asking them what their biggest problems they run into, now I can understand what the right value is. And then showing this to the right person. So it’s easy to show value to your boss because they’re checking on you and they’re making sure you’re providing value for the business.

But what turns up to be more important is to show value many times to your boss’ boss because they’re going to be ones who are going to be – information about you is going to be new because they don’t see you every day, and they’re probably the ones who can make decisions that are going to impact you in a way that you’re able to leapfrog in your career as opposed to just move up incrementally.

So what I’ve been doing with that is sending out, and I have an email script for this, but a polite way of trying to have a very casual coffee with your boss’ boss, if that applies, or just with the head of the company, the CEO or whatnot, and just trying to understand their problems and then demonstrating that you have some value without stepping toe on the toes of anyone who you’re directly working for and just saying, “Hey, I’m here to help. I’m interested in what is you see as good employees. I’m interested to see where you think the company is going. I’m interested to see what your priorities are with everything just so that I can be on the same page with you and help eliminate kind of silos that kind of stuff.”

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

Danny Dover
Yeah, I’m a big fan of quotes so I have lots of them, but the one that has been resonating with me lately is one that my bartending instructor gave me years ago at a bartending school, he said, “Everything that we are is revealed by how we play.” That really struck me because I think a lot of people spend a lot of time, myself included, overthinking things. I do this probably worse than anybody. But when your shields are down, it’s when you’re actively playing that I think your true essence really shows itself. And I’ve been trying to remind myself of that more and more.

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

Danny Dover
Favorite book. Hands down it’s The Alchemist. It’s the only book I re-read every year. The Alchemist is really a beautiful wonderful story.

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

Danny Dover
Gap tape. So gap tape is very much like duct tape but it doesn’t leave residue and it doesn’t melt in high temperatures. Of course, if you put it on the sun it would but generally speaking it doesn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
So this is for like your studio setup?

Danny Dover
Yeah, I mean, but I travel with this so there’s been lots of times when – you can use tape for anything, right? But this’ll be that I’m fixing some clothes. This will be patching a tent. This will be earplugs. I probably shouldn’t have done that but I have. I mean, gaff tape is just solves all kinds of problems that know has such an expansive way of solving problems. So, yeah, gaff tape, you can buy it on Amazon or anywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. And how about a favorite habit? Of all these we’ve discussed, is there on you think is evermore key for you?

Danny Dover
Boy, I mean, I don’t have a specific habit but I would say a general good direction going is to read more autobiographies. So if you want to make that into a smart goal it would be read, say, 15 autobiographies by December 31, 2018.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And is there a particular nugget you share that seems to really connect and resonate with folks who hear them repeat it back to you?

Danny Dover
Yes. Okay, so this has to do with the human eyeball. This is something that comes back to me, and I haven’t heard people say it to me verbatim, but I’ve heard them express this same idea so I like it. So if you look at the human eyeball from an evolutionary standpoint, how we got it to where it is now, there’s at least one interesting thing about it, but I’m sure there’s many.

The typical men’s eyeball compared to the typical women, I want to make it clear that, of course, there’s going to be some variations here so I’m making a very big jump here by just saying that men versus women. But it’s more complicated than that but I’m going to.

So men’s, if you look at their eyeballs, it’s developed in a way where the visual perspective is relatively laser focus when compared to a typical female eyeball for humans, whereas women’s are very, very broadly focused. And so it’s unclear exactly what’s the reason for this but the best guess that I’ve heard from an evolutionary standpoint is that men developed narrow visual focus for hunting.

It’s very important to know exactly where the animal is and have that laser focus, whereas women’s evolutionary spent a lot of time taking care of children, and children are running around all over the place, and there’s lots of things going on at the same time so having a broader focus would be something helpful there.

And I like this from a humor perspective because it explains perfectly well why man checks out a woman, it’s very obvious. But when a woman checks out a man it’s not quite as obvious. But where I actually find value in this is that this is a really beautiful vivid picture of understanding alternative perspectives.

It’s very easy to get caught in your head where you believe that everybody lives in the same world as you. But with this example, it’s not that only do people think differently from you, which is kind of obvious, but it’s also a bit, in this example, half the population is going to see the world differently than you, and they’re going to experience the world differently from you because visual, your eye, is such an important sense for how you experience the world.

So I really like this idea of understanding how just that small subtle change can really make a vastly different world from different people’s point of views.

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

Danny Dover
Go to LifeListed.com in the About page there, so lifelisted.com/about. It’s got all the contact information, much more information about my story.

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

Danny Dover
Sure. If you’re interested in learning more about focus and an alternative way of trying to develop that in your life, check out my latest book The Minimalist Mindset. You can find it any bookstore or on Amazon.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. Well, Danny, thanks so much for chatting here, and I wish you luck with the subsequent goals that you are establishing for yourself, and it seems like you’ve got a heck of a track record so it’d be cool to see what unfolds here.

Danny Dover
Well, thank you, and thanks to all the listeners for spending time with us today. We both really very much appreciate it.