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KF #2. Action Oriented Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

REBROADCAST: 719: Liz Wiseman Reveals the Five Practices of Indispensable, High-Impact Players

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Liz Wiseman says: "By working on the agenda, you earn the right to help set the agenda."

Liz Wiseman uncovers the small, but impactful practices of exceptional performers.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why it’s okay to not be working on what’s important to you 
  2. The five things impact players do differently
  3. The trick to leading without an invitation 

UPDATE: Sign up for Liz’s new masterclass and learn what the best professionals do to stand out and perform at their best. Early bird registration is FREE with your purchase of Liz’s new book Impact Players.

PLUS, we’re giving away copies of Liz’s book! We’ll be picking 5 random winners who share a link to this post on LinkedIn, along with their favorite nugget of wisdom from the episode. Don’t forget to tag both Pete and Liz in your post! Giveaway ends August 27, Saturday, 11:59 PM Central time.

About Liz

Liz Wiseman is a researcher and executive advisor who teaches leadership to executives around the world. She is the author of New York Times bestseller Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter,The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools, and Wall Street Journal bestseller Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work. 

She is the CEO of the Wiseman Group, a leadership research and development firm headquartered in Silicon Valley, California. Some of her recent clients include: Apple, AT&T, Disney, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Nike, Salesforce, Tesla, and Twitter. Liz has been listed on the Thinkers50 ranking and in 2019 was recognized as the top leadership thinker in the world. 

She has conducted significant research in the field of leadership and collective intelligence and writes for Harvard Business ReviewFortune, and a variety of other business and leadership journals.  She is a frequent guest lecturer at BYU and StanfordUniversity and is a former executive at Oracle Corporation, where she worked as the Vice President of Oracle University and as the global leader for Human Resource Development. 

Resources Mentioned

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Liz Wiseman Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Liz, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Liz Wiseman
Well, thanks, Pete. I hope I walk away feeling like I can be a little bit more awesome at my job. This is your thing. This is what you do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think I’ve mentioned, before we pushed record, that numerous people have mentioned you by name as being awesome at your job from your book Multipliers. And you’ve got another one freshly out Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact. All things we love doing here, so this is going to be a lot of fun.

Liz Wiseman
This is going to be a fun conversation, I can tell.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so maybe to kick us off, could you share with us your favorite story of someone who made a transformation into an impact player and kind of what happened? What was the impact of that and kind of their before and after, and the results flowing from it?

Liz Wiseman
Well, so many of the people I wrote about were already awesome when I stumbled onto them. And the one I think, like if I could pick someone in the book who made the biggest transformation, it might’ve been me. Like, early on in my career, reorienting myself.

So, I came out of college like a lot of people, kind of fired up, knowing…I mean, some people don’t know what they want to do. I knew what I wanted to do to a fault. And I kind of was like knocking on people’s doors, like, “Hi, I’m Liz. I want to teach leadership and I represent good leadership. And ridding the world of bad bosses, that’s what I want to do.”

And so, I tried to get a job at a management training company and somehow wiggled my way into an interview with the president. He looked at my resume and was like, “You know, if you want to teach leadership, maybe you should go get some leadership experience.” I was like 22 years old and thinking, “That’s sterile-minded of him.” It’s kind of like he doesn’t get me. This is what I’m passionate about. It’s what I want to do.”

So, I went and took my backup job, and that one was at Oracle, which was a great place to go to work but it wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do, which was somehow teach managing and leading. So, I took this kind of consolation job, and about a year into that, I had an opportunity to transfer to another group inside of the company. This was back when Oracle was like a couple thousand people, and today they’re like well over a hundred thousand people.

And it was a group that ran technical bootcamps and I was hoping that their charter would expand, like the company is growing, they’re surely going to be building some management courses, young people are being turned into management, like wreaking havoc on the company. And so, I went into the interview, answered the questions from the VP, so it’s like the final interview for this job, and then it was my turn to kind of take charge of the interview. And so, I made my case for why Oracle should build a management bootcamp, not just a technology bootcamp. And, of course, I offered my services, like, “I would be happy to build this.”

And I thought, for sure, he would say, “Oh, that’s great, Liz. Yeah, I can see you’re passionate about that. Here you go.” And his response, it really, really imprinted me. And he was polite but essentially what I heard him saying was, “Liz, make yourself useful around here,” because his reply was, “That’s great, Liz. We think you’re great and we’re excited to have you join this group but your boss has a different problem. She’s got to figure out how to get 2,000 new college graduates up to speed in Oracle technology over the next year. And what would be great is if you could help her to do that.”

He was saying, “Liz, figure out what needs to be done and do the things that we need.” And I wanted to teach leadership and now he wants me to teach programming to a bunch of nerds, you know, programmers. And I’m like, “Oh, that’s not my thing. That’s not the job I want.” But I could see he was teaching me something. I’m like, “That’s not the job I want,” but what he’s saying was, “That’s the job that needs to be done.” So, like, “Point yourself over there, please.”

And it really shaped me because I said, “Okay, I don’t want to do that but I will do that and I’ll figure out how to be good at this.” And, Pete, I’m woefully underqualified to do this job. I came out of business school and had a teaching background, but I had taken like two and a half programming classes in college, and now they want me to be teaching programming to a bunch of hotshot programmers coming out of MIT and Caltech but I did it and it was amazing what happened after I reoriented myself, and, in some ways, subordinated what was important to me to work on what was important to my boss and my boss’ boss.

First of all, I figured out I love this job. Like, this was fun. I was having the time of my life. And then the second thing I discovered is that by doing that, all these opportunities opened up to me. And they came and tapped me on the shoulders, and said, “Liz, we want you to now manage the training group.” I’m like, “Yeah, I’m having fun teaching.” They’re like, “No, we want you to do this.” I’m like, “Yeah, pick someone else who wants that job.” And they said, “No, we want you to do this.”

And I don’t know if it was because I understood the technology or it was because I was willing to serve where I was needed, but, yeah, I finally said yes to that job. And then I just kept getting bigger and bigger opportunities, and I think it was because I learned to channel my energy and passion around what was important to the people I work for rather than focusing on what was important to me.

And it shaped my whole career and just allowed me to do work that was far more impactful. And it wasn’t too many years, if not even months, after that that I was able to argue that, “You know what, we really need to invest in management training and I’d be happy to do that.” And then, I, essentially, got a blank check, like, “Liz, absolutely. Go build that. Build a team to do it.” And that work had so much more impact when I decided to work on the agenda of the organization rather than on my own agenda.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that feels like a golden key to a whole lot of career things right there. And I guess what’s intriguing is, well, one, you were fortunate in that you got to do the thing you really wanted to do anyway afterwards. And, two, I suppose, I’m thinking, that approach, in a way, it feels rather noble and virtuous in terms of, hey, there’s some humility and there’s some service and generosity that you are engaging in when you’re working on the job that needs done as opposed to the thing you want to do.

I guess I just might want to hear to what extent was there drudgery? Or, it sounds like in your story, this path was actually plenty of fun even while you were on it prior to doing the thing that you really wanted to do originally. Is that the case with the other impact players, generally speaking?

Liz Wiseman
Well, I think it is. And you said it was sort of a noble choice, and I think it was a humble choice. I wouldn’t characterize it as a noble choice as much as a savvy choice. And it wasn’t like I was just like, “Okay. Well, what’s good for me in this?” I could see there was a real need there but something happens when you are working on something that’s important.

So, like if I’m off working on my own agenda, I’m pushing a boulder up a hill. I’m trying to get people to meet with me. I’m trying to get someone to pay attention to the thing I care about. Now, some amazing things can happen when you go down that path. But, like, what happens when you’re working on something that’s important? It’s what I call when you’re working on the agenda.

Well, every time I put myself on this path of impact, working on something that was important to the company, the executive, one of my clients, I always find that people have time to meet with me, resources flow. Like, I’ve done a lot of work with executives over the years, and one of the things I’ve noticed is I’ve never noticed like a senior executive at a corporation tell me something was important to him or her, and then not have budget for it.

It’s like funny how that when you’re working on the agenda, people have time for you, resources flow, decisions happen quickly, there’s more pressure but there’s also more visibility for your work. Like, it’s not drudgery. It’s actually fun because you’re making progress. And when you say drudgery, Pete, it makes me think about something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is burnout. We’re dealing with this burnout epidemic, the Great Reshuffle, the Great Resignation, whatever you want to call it. And I think we’re quick to assume that burnout is a function of effort and work. Like, we’re working too hard. We’re working too much. We have too heavy of a load and we’re going to burn out as a result.

And I’m not opposed to anyone taking time off. Like, a little R&R is probably good for a lot of people particularly right now, but I think burnout, based on all of my research, it tends to be a function of too little impact, not too much work. That what causes us to burn out is when we’re expending energy but not making a difference, not seeing how our work makes a difference.

So, like the beginning of being high impact and doing awesome work is doing work that is valued and important. And even if some of the work is tedious, like, oh, man, I remember like nights I stayed up till 5:00 in the morning trying to learn how to do correlated subqueries so I could teach them the next day. I couldn’t sustain that all the time, but I was making a difference. I was having an impact. I was doing something important. It was energizing not enervating.

And, yeah, there’s details and drudgery and hard things involved but it’s rewarding. It’s what I’ve seen in my own experience in studying these high-impact contributors. It’s a buildup experience not a burnout experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s beautiful in terms of that’s just a fun mental distinction that does so much. When you’re working on the agenda, what’s important to other folks, so many of the roadblocks that are annoying and frustrating and yield to burnout and exhaustion disappear. People are available, they make time for you, they make money for you, they take your meetings, you’ve got some support and backing as opposed to being ignored, and follow-ups. So, yeah, like that’s pretty fine.

Liz Wiseman
And you build voice. You build voice in the organization, and it’s how we build influence and credibility is by making progress on things that matter to our stakeholders. And so, as we do that and as we serve, people listen to us. And by working on the agenda, you earn the right to help set the agenda.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I’m loving this and that’s a lot of insight right there. So, tell me, is that pretty much the core idea or thesis of Impact Players? Or, how would you articulate it?

Liz Wiseman
I just think it’s one of the starting points is how people orient themselves. And I think if I were to kind of try to crystallize the thesis of Impact Players, let me start with the research. We looked at the difference between individuals who were considered by their leaders smart, hardworking, and capable people who were doing a good job, like doing well, versus smart, hardworking, capable people who were making an extraordinary impact, doing work of extraordinary or inordinately high value.

And so, this isn’t like top performers versus bottom performers. In a room full of equally smart, capable, hardworking people, why are some people stuck going through the motions of their job while other people are making a big difference? So, that’s what we looked at. And when I looked at those differentials and all the profiles that we built through interviewing 170 managers is we found that the ordinary contributors, typical contributors, people doing well, they’re doing their job.

And this is how managers describe them. They do their job. They do their job well. Often, extremely well. They follow direction. They take ownership. They are focused. They carry their weight on teams, which sounds great in some ways, like ideal team members and contributors but there’s stellar and unordinary times, but they tend to fall short in times of uncertainty and ambiguity. This is where the impact players handle these situations very differently, and there were five.

And it was how they handle messy problems, like, “Your job is not my job. It’s like no one’s job. It’s not really owned by this department. It’s like no one’s job but everyone’s job.” And this is actually where I think the most important problems and opportunities of an organization is in that white space between boxes. Now, in this case, ordinary contributors tend to do their job. Whereas, the impact players go do the job that needs to be done.

The second is how they handle unclear roles, where, “Okay, I know we’re collaborating, but who’s really in charge?” We have a tendency, organizations want to have more collaborative teams, flat in organizations but in these situations, typical contributors tend to wait for role clarification or direction, like wait for someone to tell them who’s in charge or give them formal authority. Whereas, the people who are having a lot of impact tend to just take charge but they’re not like take charge all the time.

They step up and they lead, maybe a particular meeting, maybe a project, but then they’re willing to step back and follow other people when they’re in the lead. So, it’s like they bring kind of big leadership, let’s say, to the 2:00 o’clock meeting, they’re the boss, but they then walk down the hall to the 3:00 o’clock meeting and they serve as a participant with the same kind of energy that they led the team. So, they’re able to step in and out of these leadership roles really fluidly, which really builds our credibility because we trust these kinds of leaders, the ones who don’t always need to hold all the power.

Pete Mockaitis
And the ones who care when it’s not “theirs.” That’s sort of endearing. It’s sort of like, “Okay, you care about this because you care about the team, the leadership, the project, the company and not just you care about your babies.”

Liz Wiseman
Oh, absolutely. It’s like they work with the same kind of level of intensity. They don’t need to be in charge but they’re willing to be in charge. And I think it’s a really powerful form of leadership. And it’s very much like sort of you take like the pyramid shape of an organization, and you turn that on its side. It’s more like the V formation of a flock of geese, where the flock can fly a lot further because they rotate that leadership.

One bird goes out in front, leads, breaks that wind, creates drag, sort of creates an ease for the other birds behind in that formation, but that lead bird doesn’t stay there forever like until it tires and then falls from the sky in the state of exhaustion, which is what happens so often in corporations. The leaders are running around with their hair on fire. They’re like all fired up, they’re working hard, but other people sit underutilized. Like, when the lead bird has done their duty for the team, they fall back and another moves into that role.

And then there’s three other situations where we see this differentiation when unforeseen obstacles drop in the way, things that are really out of your control. Most people tend to escalate those, whereas the impact players just tend to hold onto them and get them across the finish line. Not alone, pulling in help but they tend to just hold ownership all the way through.

When targets are moving fast, typical contributors tend to stay on target, they stay focused, whereas, the impact players adjust. They’re adapting. They’re changing. They’re like kind of waking up assuming, “While I was asleep, the world changed, and I probably need to adjust my aim so I stay on track with what’s important and relevant.”

And the last is what we do when workloads are heavy, like when there’s just mounting workloads, when there’s more work than…when the workload is increasing faster than resources are increasing, and most people, they carry their weight, but when times get really tough, they sort of look upward and outward for help to ease that burden.

Whereas, the impact players, we found they really make work light. Like, they don’t take all the work, they don’t take people’s workload away from them, but they work in a way where hard work just is fun. They bring a levity, a humanity, that just sort of eases the phantom workload so that people can focus on the real workload.

Liz Wiseman
That’s kind of what I found.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I was going to ask exactly that, so thank you for sharing. And so, that’s sort of like the five core distinctions. And I want to zoom in on a couple like super specific practices, habits. But, first, maybe I’d like to get your take on what discovery, in the course of all these interviews, did you find most surprising or counterintuitive?

Liz Wiseman
I should probably tell you I’ve got a little bit of a pessimist in me which maybe makes me a better researcher. But when we went in to study, like, “What is it that the top, real top contributors are doing?” I expected there to be a fair number of hotshots and superstars and people around whom the team revolved, and what I found was exactly the opposite. There were 170 of these impact players that we studied, analyzed. Not a single one of them was a prima donna, a bully, a bull in a China shop. Not one of them worked at the expense of the team, like, “Hey, I’m so good at what I do that you all need to kind of like be backup for me, or sort of accommodate me, humor me.”

They were superstars and everyone knew it. Like, that’s one of the things about impact players is everyone knows who these people are but they work and I think they’re comfortable with their stellar-ness, their awesomeness, like they get it.

Pete Mockaitis
They don’t have to prove themselves or flex or show off.

Liz Wiseman
Yeah. In some ways, and I’m just realizing this, Pete, is one of the things I found in the multiplier leader, so the other research I’ve done, like, “What is it that leaders do that allow people to be impactful and contribute at their fullest?” And the ones, the leaders I want to work for are the ones that are really, really comfortable with their own intelligence and capability. Like, I want to work for someone who’s an absolute genius who knows it, which you think, “Ooh, well, isn’t that like a know-it-all, a bully?” Like, no, I want to work with someone who’s so comfortable with their own intelligence and capability that they’re over it.

It’s not like, “I have to show up to work every day proving how amazing I am.” It’s like, “Yeah, I get it. I’m smart. I’m talented. I’m over it so now I can spend my time as a leader seeing and using the intelligence of others.” And I think these impact players are similar in that they know that they’re really valuable contributors, they know they do important and valuable work, but they don’t need to be proving it all day long. In some ways, it’s so obvious. They were comfortable with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool.

Liz Wiseman
I thought there’d be some brilliant jerks in the lot but there weren’t, at least not in my sample.

Pete Mockaitis
And then these 170, they were identified by their managers, they’re saying, “Boy, this guy is really an impact player”?

Liz Wiseman
Yeah, they were. And so, we didn’t go in and decide who was. We asked managers to consider the people that they have led over their career and identify someone from each of these two categories – impact players, ordinary contributors – and we also had managers identify someone who I later called an under-contributor – smart, capable, talented, should be amazing, like someone you hire, like, “This person is going to be awesome,” but yet they’re not. Like, they’re under-contributing relative to their potential and capability. And that was interesting. There’s like a whole set of things to learn there.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s different than the five key distinctions that we already covered? Like, they don’t do the things that the impact players do or is there more?

Liz Wiseman
Well, I think kind of in that ordinary contributor station, like you would see people who are well-meaning, working hard, and they’re doing their job. When you see people in that under-contributor kind of position, sort of on the stratification, you see a lot of people who are really pushing their own agenda, you often see people who are trying so hard to be valuable, trying so hard to like get ahead, maybe that they’re honestly annoying.

Like, “Hey, hey, how am I doing? How am I doing? Am I doing great? Was it good work? Hey, hey, coach, what? Can I sit next to you on the airplane? You know what, hey, let’s go hang out.” They’re needy, maybe needing too much attention, needing too much feedback, and they end up becoming more of a burden than a contributor on teams, but, yet, they’re people who are trying really hard.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. Cool. Well, so then I love how we’ve laid out the five distinctions. And now I’d like to get really specific in terms of what are the particular mindsets, or habits, or particular practices, words, phrases, just like the super in-the-moment tactical, practical stuff that we’re seeing in terms of an impact player? I sort of got the conceptual. Could you give us a couple examples of, “Hey, these are the specific actions that we’re seeing over and over again”?

Liz Wiseman
We talked about the first distinction kind of through my own experience, is this willingness to do the job that needs to be done. It’s about extending ourselves like beyond our job boundaries. One of the favorite impact players I got to write about in the book is someone named Jojo Mirador, and he is a scrub tech. He works at Valley Medical, which is part of an academic hospital chain.

So, there are a lot of residents there, doctors who have graduated from medical school. They’re now in their training. They’re in residency. And he’s a surgical scrub tech. Now, Jojo’s job is to prepare the surgical tools for an operation, to make sure they’re sterilized and available, and to hand them to the surgeons when the surgeons ask for them. That’s his job.

But Jojo approaches his job differently than other scrub techs. First of all, he looks on the calendar, and he’s like, “What surgeries do we have coming up? Are there any that I’m not familiar with? Let me look. Let me just like Google that and figure out what’s going on in the surgery.” And during surgery, he’s not just listening for the requested instrument.

Pete Mockaitis
“Scalpel.”

Liz Wiseman
Yeah, scalpel. Exactly. It’s like such a moment. He’s watching the surgeons’ hands, he’s like, “I want to know what the surgeon is doing because I want to know what their next move is going to be because I want to be thinking about the tool they need, so I’m ready.” And one of the surgeons told me, “Jojo doesn’t just lay out the instruments. He lays them out in the order they’re going to be used so he’s got them ready.”

And when the surgeons ask for an instrument, he doesn’t just hand them the one they asked for. He hands them the one they actually need. So, let’s say they’ve asked for like a scalpel, and he provides a gentle suggestion, he’s like, “Why don’t you try this one instead that might work better?” Of course, these residents, they’re young, they’re new, and you can imagine the pressure on them to look like they know what they’re doing when they’re holding someone’s life in their hands. And you can imagine how grateful they are that he doesn’t just do his job. He extends himself and does the job that needs to be done.

And you would think that the senior surgeons wouldn’t want these suggestions, but they do, in fact. He said, “It kind of feels good. They come seek me out before a surgery.” They say, “Jojo, here’s what we’re going to be doing. What kinds of tools do you think are going to work best here?” And they line up outside of the scheduler’s office, they kind of fight a little bit over who gets to have Jojo in the OR with them.

And they found this nice gentleman’s way of sorting this out. It’s whoever has the most complicated procedure is the one who gets Jojo. And I love the imagery of this, which is just extending ourselves out of our job scope, but not doing it in an aggressive way of taking over. It’s done with this kind of sense of finesse of, “I think I can be helpful here.”

Another one of the behaviors we see is that these impact players, they don’t tend to wait for an invitation. I think a lot of people want to be amazing at their job, who have a lot of passion, who have a lot of talent, or maybe holding back a little bit, too much waiting for someone to come along and discover them.

And maybe it’s because I’ve spent most of my career teaching leaders, coaching executives, part of my message to people is like, “Ooh, your leaders probably aren’t thinking about you nearly as much as you think they’re thinking about you. They’ve got their own set of things and they probably don’t have time to figure out, ‘Okay, wait a minute. I’ve got this meeting coming up. Who are all the possible people who might be valuable contributors?’” Like, sometimes, we need to invite ourselves in and go where we’re uninvited but do it in a way that people are glad we showed up to contribute.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really interesting because I think this has come up a number of times, like, “Oh, so many things you attend, it’s unnecessary, it’s a waste of time, and you should figure out polite ways to excuse yourself from them.” And this might be the first time I’ve heard someone say, “There may be times where you want to try to get into a meeting that you weren’t invited to.” And the way that could be super appreciated, like, maybe can you give us some verbiage or an example there, because I can imagine ways you might say it that could come across as appreciated as opposed to like, “Whoa, stay in your lane, buddy”? Could you give us an example there?

Liz Wiseman
Yeah, let me share two. One is about just initiating meetings that no one’s asking you to do. Eli Van Der Kamp at Target, she’s a project manager there, and her job is to get all the technology in a Target store up to speed and ready to go before a store opens. Well, this isn’t her area of responsibility but she can see that, “You know what, we’ve been dropping phonelines in here.” And her job was to get them up and running, but she’s like, “I don’t think we actually need those phonelines because, now that we have fiber optic cables, the phonelines that were needed for the alarm systems in the store, like fire alarms, we don’t need those.”

But it wasn’t that they didn’t need them, they sometimes needed them, and it was sort of complicated, and no one’s asking her to do this, but she realizes the company is wasting money on this. It’s a $92 billion a year company, it’s not a significant amount of waste in a company that size. But it’s significant enough, she decides she wants to do something about, so she just kind of invites herself to lead this meeting, calls people together, explains the problem with no sense of judgment whatsoever, “But we have this problem, and we’re like buying phonelines that we don’t need and it’s wasting money.”

And she just lays it out and invites people to step up and solve it. It was a complex decision tree. They worked it all out, owners stepped up, emerged, the problem is solved and she steps back. It’s sort of like inviting yourself in to lead and volunteering to lead where nobody has asked you. Now, it could be inviting yourself to a meeting nobody is inviting. So, I had experience with this, it was probably midway through my career. It preceded the most valuable piece of work I ever did for Oracle.

And I think, at this point, like I’m the vice president of Oracle University. I ran training for the company in human resource development, and I’ve particularly been focusing on some executive development, and had been working with three top executives to build this what was our flagship leadership development program. We called it The Leaders Forum. And it really consisted of two parts, which is teach our executives around the world like our strategy so they really understood that, and then build some leadership skills.

And in the process of doing this, it became clear that the strategy was not clear. So, we were bringing executives in, like 30 people at a time, presenting the strategy to them, building some skills, setting them on their way, and they’re like, “You know, the strategy is not clear.” So, the three executives I was building this program with, we heard the feedback, and we tried to make some adjustments, and it’s still not clear.

Finally, it comes to a head and we realized we have to stop these training programs until the strategy for the company is clear. I’m in that meeting. We decide this needs to happen. One of the three executives says, “Okay, you know what, I’ll get together a meeting of all of our product heads, all of the senior executives, and we will clarify the strategy.” Okay. So, I know that meeting is happening but I’m not included in this meeting because it’s a product strategy meeting and I’m responsible for training. But the meeting was happening the next week, and I decided that I probably should go to that meeting, not just to listen in, but I felt like I could really help.

And so, this is, I don’t know, this was a meeting of, let’s say, nine of the top 12 executives in the company, and I just decided to show up. And so, I show up, I knew the president would be thrilled that I was there, maybe not some of the others, but I get there early, I sit down, and one by one, like the various executives are coming in, they’re kind of like, “Hi, Liz,” and they know this is a product strategy meeting and they’ve got the head of training there. And they’re like, “Hi, Hi.” And then one particular executive came in, his name was Jerry, and he looked at me, and he’s like, “What are you doing here? Like, you’re the training manager. This is a product strategy meeting.”

And this was an important moment for me because I kind of squared my shoulders, looked at him, and said, “Jerry, we’ve got a really convoluted strategy right now that leaders around the world aren’t able to understand. Like, this group has got to take a lot of complex information about our products and distill it down to something that’s simple and clear, and that’s actually something that I’m pretty good at and I thought I could be of help.”

And he still wasn’t entirely convinced but I think the president said something like, “Yeah, Jerry, Liz is really good at this. And trust me, we could use her help.” And then I just paid attention, and I listened, and I listened to this conversation. Now, the fact that I had taken that job teaching programming helped me to really understand what they were talking about and be trusted to even be in the room, but I’m like taking notes.

I’m like, “Okay, what about this? And I like this pattern.” So, I’m now starting to reflect back to them, “Well, here’s this issue that I see coming up and I hear this, and it seems like these seem to be the three biggest drivers.” And they’re like, “Could you say more of that?” And it’s a longer story but, cutting it short, after two or three more of these meetings, they finally decided that they’re going to kind of obliterate the whole strategy, rebuild it from scratch, and they’re like, “Liz, we want you to be the author of the strategy. Like, we’ll all give you input but we want you to be the one that puts shape to this.”

And it was something I was able to do and it made a pretty big impact in the company, and I just think it’s so funny that maybe the most valuable work I did for the company was work I kind of forced myself into just a little bit. And I wasn’t forceful and I wasn’t rude but nobody asked me to do it. I just knew it was something I could be helpful with.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Okay. Well, so then any other examples leaping to mind in terms of a particular practice that makes a load of difference, sort of a small difference but huge leverage?

Liz Wiseman
Well, one of the ones I found was so interesting was this how people handle moving targets. And do you kind stick to what you’ve agreed to? Like, someone gave you a target, “We’re trying to increase market share by 12% year-over-year.” That’s like your goal, maybe your business development meter. What we find is that ordinary contributors tend to stick to those targets and they stay focused, whereas the impact players are constantly adjusting. In some ways, they’re reactive.

I wouldn’t say they’re reactionary but they react differently. Like, they’re assuming that they’re off target. So, it’s kind of like the metaphor I would use here would be like a violinist. So, if you play the violin, you know that you have to constantly tune that instrument. And, honestly, it was kind of mysterious to me when I was younger, like maybe younger up until like just a couple of years ago when I was like, “Why can’t they tune their instrument before they get up onto that stage? Like, why do they play poorly before they play well?”

And it’s like because even that movement from their backstage to centerstage, they’ve got to tune it before they perform. And it’s this tuning mentality, like lots of little small adjustments. And what we found the impact players do is they respond well to feedback but they don’t wait for feedback. They’re asking for feedback before it’s offered.

Shawn Vanderhoven, is someone who works on my team, and when Shawn started working for me, he would ask questions when he’d start a project, “Okay, what’s the target here? What does a win look like? What are we trying to accomplish?” And once he understood that, he would then start submitting work as part of that, and then he would ask a different set of questions, like, “Are you getting what you need? What can I do differently? What do I need to change so that it better fits the need?”

And he does this with such frequency that he then goes and corrects his works, comes back, submits it. But in the five years I’ve worked with Shawn, I can’t think of a single time I’ve ever had to sit down and have a tough conversation with him. I’ve never had to sit down, and say, “You know, Shawn, this is off and I need you to get it back on.” And it’s not that he doesn’t need that correction, we all do, but he always beats me to it. He’s fixing and changing and adjusting before I ever ask. Like, he’s doing the asking. And it’s so easy to give him feedback.

And one of the other like little distinctions that makes a really big difference is that people aren’t…these impact players aren’t focusing the feedback on themselves, like, “How am I doing? What do I need to do differently?” The focus is on the work, “How can I make this work better?” So, where others are maybe reacting to feedback people give them about themselves and their performance, the impact player is getting information to help them constantly adjust and tune their work so that their work is relevant and on tune.

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

Liz Wiseman
Well, maybe if there was an overarching theme that separated the impact players from everyone else, and I should say it’s not really about people. It’s more about mindsets that we tend to operate in. It’s like what separates an impact player mindset, that I and others tend to go in and out of from sort of a contributor mindset, is how we deal with uncertainty and ambiguity. And the difference we found is that the impact players, when they encounter situations that are out of their control, they tend to dive head in to these situations, kind of like the way an ocean swimmer, or a surfer, like seizes massive oncoming wave that’s kind of scary, like I would turn and run, panic, and get tumbled in the surf, but they dive head into and through this wave.

And they tend to move into uncertainty and they tend to look at that uncertainty and ambiguity through an opportunity lens rather than a threat lens. Like, where other people see, “Ooh, that’s uncomfortable. Roles are unclear. That’s messy. That’s out of my control. Let me back away from it.” The impact players kind of wear opportunity goggles and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, that’s messy, uncertain, uncomfortable, but there’s…let me find an opportunity to add value.” So, they tend to bring clarity to situations that other people tend to steer clear of.

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

Liz Wiseman
Criss Jami, “Find a purpose to serve, not a lifestyle to live.” And when I saw that, and I just saw this today, I thought, “That really captures a lot of what I’ve learned studying these people who were having a lot of impact is that they are not like pushing an agenda, they’re not necessarily pursuing a lifestyle. It’s they’re finding a situation that needs them and contributing wholeheartedly in that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And now could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Liz Wiseman
I think maybe the one that is most useful to the work I do is just this idea that we tend to overestimate our capability, that I think it’s the Kruger-Dunning effect, that we tend to think we’re better at things than we actually are. And this is the dynamic that I’ve seen play out in my work, kind of studying the best leaders, is that when we get put into a leadership role, we tend to focus on our intent, and we tend to not see our impact on others. Like, most of my work is about looking into this space between our intent and our impact, like learning not to operate based on our best intentions but to actually operate based on the effect that we’re having on others.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Liz Wiseman
I’ll give you one that this is a book I like because it made me so mad. I was really jealous when I read it, like kind of green with jealousy because the book is Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull. And the reason why I love it is because, A, it’s an amazing book, and Ed Catmull is an amazing storyteller.

And it’s a story of Pixar, if you’re not familiar with the book, so it’s really like looking into “Why does Pixar consistently produce amazing films. Like, is that an accident or is there actually a system behind that?” And the answer is there’s a system behind it, there’s a reason why, and it’s not coincidence, and it’s how they lead and it’s the culture they built. And the reason why this book made me so mad is I got that reading and it was not too long after I had written Rookie Smarts and I’m like, “Wow, this is an amazing illustration of Rookie Smarts. It’s like what happens when you’re new to something and the innovation that comes out of it.”

And it’s an amazing example of what I call multiplier leadership. Leaders like Ed Catmull who use their talent and intelligence to bring out the best in others. And I’m like, “Wow, how did he do in one book what took me two books to do? And he did it better than that.” But I really loved that book and it’s full of fun, interesting, very practical ways of leading.

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

Liz Wiseman
Index cards. Succinct is not my strength and so I have to work at succinct in writing and in speaking. And so, I use index cards, and when I’m pulling together final thoughts before giving a talk, a presentation, if it can’t get on the index card, it’s not part of it. So, I use it to really boil down my thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Liz Wiseman
I think a favorite habit would be, I guess, I call it check in before diving in. And I’ve been there, like some people would say that I’m a workhorse, like I’m definitely not a racehorse. I’m a workhorse. I’m one of those people who just like grind through stuff. And I usually like to get right to work and I’m excited about it, I jump in. And one of the things I’ve learned to do with my own team is before we start working on something, to just take sometimes up to half of our allotted time and just check in, like, “How are you? How are you doing?”

And it’s gone well beyond pleasantries, and it’s typically like a chance for people to say, “You know, I’m not doing well. I’m struggling.” And sometimes we’ve spent hours, like we had a day blocked to work on something, and we spent hours just on, “How are you?” Sometimes it’s like, “Well, I’m disappointed that I thought by now I would have this done, and I don’t.” So, there’s been these moments where you could really check in and connect with like how people really are before we work on stuff. And it’s made all the difference for our team who’s gotten us through really some tough times.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And is there a key nugget you share that tends to be quoted back to you frequently?

Liz Wiseman
It would probably be something…it would be better said than this because I think other people would probably say it better than this. It’s just like, “Be the genius-maker not the genius.” It would be some version of that.

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

Liz Wiseman
Well, I’m pretty easy to find. TheWisemanGroup.com is a little bit of information about the work that my team and I do. ImpactPlayersBook.com, MultipliersBook.com, I think RookieSmarts.com, RookieSmartsBook.com, I’m honestly sure about that one, or, like I’m @LizWiseman on Twitter.

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

Liz Wiseman
Maybe a challenge and a suggestion. The challenge would be to ask yourself, “What might I be doing with the very best of intentions that is a barrier to impact? Like, what is preventing me from doing the most valuable meaningful work?” And it’s often things that we’re doing with our best intentions.

And if someone wants to get on the path of impact, maybe a challenge to start here, which is to find out what’s important to the people that you work for, whether it’s a client, a boss, internal customers or stakeholders. Find out what’s important to them and make it important to you. And all the right things tend to flow from that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Liz, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and impact in your future endeavors.

Liz Wiseman
Thank you. It’s nice talking to you.

771: How to Own Your Career and Build Your Dream Job with Ann Hiatt

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Ann Hiatt shares valuable lessons learned on career development from her 15 years working alongside Silicon Valley’s top CEOs.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The top three things you can do to develop your career 
  2. How to deal with the pressures of big-impact opportunities
  3. How to carve out your path to promotion when there is none 

About Ann

Ann Hiatt is a best selling author, executive consultant, speaker, and investor. She is a Silicon Valley veteran with 15 years experience reporting directly to CEOs Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Eric Schmidt (Google/Alphabet). 

She has published articles in publications such as Harvard Business Review, Fast Company and CNBC. She has also contributed to articles in The New York Times, Economic Times, The Financial Times and Forbes. Her first book, Bet On Yourself, was published by HarperCollins in 2021. 

Resources Mentioned

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Ann Hiatt Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Ann, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Ann Hiatt
Thanks very much. I’m excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to hear your wisdom. And I’d love it if you could kick us off by sharing a story or two that was particularly instructive for you and career and being awesome at your job working with Jeff Bezos, Eric Schmidt, Marissa Mayer. Give us something that’s inside scoop.

Ann Hiatt
Absolutely it’s been the greatest privilege of my life to have been able to work so intimately and closely with some of the greatest business minds of our generation. I would say that that story actually started a little bit before my very first job working for Jeff Bezos.

So, my very first job at 16 years old, when my friends were working at Burger King and the library, I worked at a five-person startup founded by two brothers who had just graduated from Harvard Business School. So, that was my first taste of entrepreneurism and gave me some of my instincts. I made all of my very novice mistakes with them. And, yeah, my very first job after university was working directly for Jeff Bezos.

And we could talk literally for days and days and I wouldn’t run out of stories of the stories of these entrepreneurs. But I think the foundation really was set there in the beginning. Each of these environments taught me to be a bold risk-taker. Even though my nature is not bold and fearless, I was nurtured into that very much by this entrepreneurial environment that I found myself in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, I bet there’s many, many stories but I’m going to put you on the spot for one. Are there words that reverberate in your head frequently as you’re making decisions, navigating your career, wondering which way to go, and you hear Jeff or Marissa or Eric in your mind’s ear, and say, “You know what, okay, yeah, we’ll do this thing”?

Ann Hiatt
That happens constantly, actually. Even though I left Google, let’s see, almost four years ago and Amazon much longer than that, more than a decade ago, but I can still very much hear them in my head. I think from Jeff, if I had to pick a single word, it is relentless. He is relentless in the pursuit of his passions. He’s relentless in his enthusiasm for his vision of where he wants to take the company. And, in fact, this is a little-known fact, if you go to Relentless.com, it redirects to Amazon. That is how much of a core value that is for the way he approaches his work and what he is doing or was doing at Amazon.

From Marissa, I really learned to focus on the people. It’s much more about the who than the what and the how. You need to be laser focused on exactly who your clients or your customers or users are, and understand not only the needs under their feet today but really anticipate the needs of the future. And understanding those needs of the people you’re trying to serve is important, but, equally, if not more important, is the people you have on the team. I really learned to hire the best possible talented team that you can find.

And from Eric, I really learned the value of insatiable curiosity. He is somebody who will ask about a hundred more questions than a normal person would about any given topic. And so that relentless pursuit of curiosity in new information and expanding his knowledge, those are key attributes that I call upon now as an entrepreneur myself and trying to instill in my CEO clients as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s beautiful. And so then, I imagine there are times when something seems harder than it should be.

Ann Hiatt
So many.

Pete Mockaitis
Can I just get a real-time cortisol monitor? Apparently, there is but they’re not commercially available for the public, so I’m going to have to hunt down some people who wrote some papers. So be it. There’s some relentlessness and curiosity at work as opposed to, “Oh, I guess I’ll just wait three years. Maybe it’ll be around them. Okay.”

Well, then let’s hear about your book. What’s the big idea or main message here Bet on Yourself: Recognize, Own, and Implement Breakthrough Opportunities? What’s the core idea here?

Ann Hiatt
So, this book is my attempt at creating a playlist, taking the best practices of these seemingly super performers that I’ve worked for and translating it for us “normal people.” I have felt such a privilege of working with these incredible minds and not only learning their best practices but experiencing things, moments in time that probably will never happen again.

The dawn of the internet will never happen again, Jeff inventing the gold standard of e-commerce will never happen again, the constant innovation cycles of Google. I really saw some things that were very privileged to experience and I felt a responsibility to pay that forward. So, my book Bet on Yourself is my attempt to give you that playbook of best practices that I think are applicable regardless of your growth stage, whether you’re an intrapreneur or an entrepreneur, regardless of industry, these are some of those gold standard best practices that everyone can benefit from.

And I use my career as a case study in the book to show you that anyone with some ambition and clear goals in their mind can engineer serendipity and create opportunities for themselves. So, I kind of walked through some of these crazy moments in time and reverse-engineer a little bit of some of the luck and very, very hard work that went into those moments.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. Well, I’m excited to dig into the particulars. But maybe to inspire the ordinary people like myself, is there a cool story you could share of maybe a client or a reader who took action on a particular principle and saw a pretty amazing breakthrough from it?

Ann Hiatt
I have a client now who’s working in the food tech space, he is incredibly talented. He was doing a PhD in chemistry and material sciences and discovered mycelium-based protein structure and learned to manipulate in a really unique way, so he’s creating this alternative meat product.

So, when I first met him and worked with him, it was a referral from a common friend of ours, and it was a very, very early growth-stage company of about 30 people. And now, today, he’s just close to Series C, and he’s got contracts literally all over the world for this incredible product that he’s invented. I think he is among my star examples of doing some big, bold risk-taking. He’s doing something that no one’s ever done before.

So, when you’re doing that, you don’t even have the dashboards or the metrics, you don’t even know what you should be measuring quite yet. He’d never produced a product like that before but he really has adopted these principles of insatiable curiosity, of humble leadership, of not only tolerating the demanding pushback and peer review from his employees, and he’s really been very focused on not only hiring the best talent he can find but hiring for passion and mission alignment above all else.

If you get really smart people in the door who are driven and determined to see your vision through, you can teach those people to do anything. And so, I think hiring for that value and mission alignment has been essential. I’m just incredibly proud of what he’s doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, I like that there. You can teach them to do anything. I think that resonates. And I guess, there’s just a little bit of what you said in terms of like aptitude and different…I would not be the guy you want to hire to be your contractor even if I’m super fired up about building your dream home, Ann. I was like, “I’ll just learn drywall and plumbing and electrical. No problem, I’ll just learn it.”

Ann Hiatt
I don’t know, I believe you know. I think you can figure it out.

Pete Mockaitis
I would need maybe four draft homes before I did the real one. But that said, people generally have strengths with, I don’t know, people or things or, what’s that world of work, or data or ideas. But within that, sure, that totally resonates. Okay. Well, let’s dig in then. So, us ordinary folks, can you lay it on us a few do’s and don’ts in terms of, as we’re kind of maybe in the middle of, say, medium to large organization, not at the top and not at the bottom, we’re just sort of making our way in terms of career, what are the top things you recommend people do and don’t do to really develop and move quickly?

Ann Hiatt
I love this question. I think three things come to mind. If you’re mid in your organization, there can be a really important mindset shift that you can make, and this is the way that you put yourself back in the driver seat of your career. A lot of us feel very disrupted coming out of the pandemic, opportunities might seem to have disappeared, everything got turned upside down, so these steps are particularly relevant for this moment in time.

And the first is to be very clear with yourself. What do you want out of this next stage in your career? What do you want to learn? What expertise do you want to become known for? What teams do you want to learn how to lead, or projects? What is your specialization? How are people going to recommend you for jobs in the future? And so, first, you have to have that conversation with yourself and be very clear on that.

And then, second is then share that with your mentors and sponsors within work. So, have that conversation with your manager, of, “This is where my skillset lies. My interests, my goals, my talents are here. I would love your idea of ways that I can utilize that or expand my influence on this team.” The way you get a yes to that is, one, expressing your interests and helping them know how you’re trying to evolve. And second is what I call creating a win-win-win.

The first part of that conversation you have with yourself of what you want in exchange for your very hard work every day. Two is look at your manager’s responsibilities and see what she or he has been tasked to do within the team on the big bet of the company. If you can allow her to delegate something to you, that frees her up to have bigger impact and look good in front of her boss, and that gives you an opportunity to grow into that area.

And the third element of that win-win-win is understanding “What are the primary goals and objectives of the company right now? And how can I align myself with where the company, the skillset, the reputation, the energy, the relentlessness that they might need? And how can I exemplify that?” When those three things are in place, you’re going to get yes every time. Even if the project you want to work on is outside your job description or your current seniority, that’s a great way to open the door for yourself.

So, that’s, I think, element number one for my fellow intrapreneurs out there. Number two, I think is seeking out leaders that you not only like but you want to become like. Now, not every manager is worthy of this. I can appreciate it, especially in your career, you might be working for someone whose leadership style you don’t want to emulate in the future. If that’s true, maybe look for an opportunity to have a cross-functional project or work on something outside your team.

Or, if that’s not even available to you within your organization, maybe volunteering in the community and seeking out a leader who is exemplifying the way you want to manage a team, or is really good under pressure, or is able to exemplify some of those habits that you hope to have in the future. So, surrounding yourself with the best people possible, especially among the leaders you’re working for.

And then I would say the third that comes to mind is proactively disrupting yourself. Now, this probably is not something that many people are seeking out right now because we feel like we’ve had enough disruption, and I can definitely sympathize with that feeling. But what I mean by this is create a checklist for yourself where you’re expanding your skills, your expertise, and you’re up-leveling very consistently before the market or your team or your manager can do it for you.

And that goes back to point number one, which is knowing exactly what you want out of this phase in your career, and finding a place where your team, your company’s goals are in aligned with that. If you think of those three things are in place, intrapreneurs can feel extremely empowered rather than passive and reactive to these items I’ve given, and that feels really, really good, especially in this moment in time when we’re all craving that feeling again.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’d love it if you could give us some example articulations of being precise with what you want because I’m imagining, “I want to kind of be better at Excel,” may not be quite what you’re imagining or suggesting when you say, “Be really clear on what you want.” Can we hear some sample articulations?

Ann Hiatt
So true. So, I actually did this exercise for myself when I left Google after 12 years, and decided to found my own company. I sat down to write my mission, vision, and value statements, as many do, as part of your business planning. And I found that exercise to be a little bit exhausting. In fact, I created a free download on my website, on the book’s website BetonYourselfBook.com, to download it because I found it so hard to do myself. I think it’s a 14-page download but I walk you through how to create meaningful value statements.

I learned this from Jeff Bezos, actually. I started working for Jeff in 2002 in the very early years of the company. He’d officially founded it in 1994 but he was just getting traction right about the time that I started. If you can imagine a time when Amazon was not yet profitable, they had had a single profitable quarter but not yet a profitable year, so that’s the moment in time I’m talking about. I know it feels like a wild money-printing machine right now.

But Jeff really doubled down on creating very clear leadership principles for his entire team because really important decisions were being made in rooms that he no longer could be in. He just had to replicate his thought process across the company as fast as possible. So, I saw him work with three of his SVPs to draft the now-famous Amazon leadership principles. At the time there were 10, then it became 14, and now there are 16 with Andy Jassy as the CEO.

And I encourage you to do that even as an intrapreneur. You don’t have to be in your garage starting something with your computer or going to Silicon Valley and looking for venture capital funds. I really encourage you to do this for your own life and career. And first, it starts with that mission statement, “What is the reputation or the living legacy I want to be leaving right now?” Now, whenever I propose that to a client, they feel a little overwhelmed, especially if they’re early in their career, thinking about legacy, but I think it’s a nice clarifying question, to be like, “What do I want in exchange for this?”

My career in tech has been intense. I’ve definitely worked really long days. There were periods of time I was working 18 hours a day and every weekend, and I didn’t burn out because one thing was true. I knew exactly what I wanted in exchange for my very hard work. I was willing to have that be a very high bar. I worked incredibly hard but I knew what I wanted in return. So, that’s what I wanted to learn, who I wanted to become, and the stages on which I wanted to stand in the future.

And so, I think, in writing your mission statement, think about that. Who do you want to be serving? Why is that you? What about your background, your talents, your desires, your drive makes you uniquely qualified to get there? And then surround yourself with the very best people who can supplement any weaknesses or lack of experience that you might have. Does that answer it?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear the importance, like, “Yeah, that makes sense.” If you got that kind of clarity there, then you can have that sense of purpose, that mojo, that motivation, that inspiration to persist in those intense times. So, that totally checks out. I guess, so the articulation then is not merely one sentence but rather pretty detailed in terms of we got a mission, we got a vision, we got some values. Can you give us some examples of what those could sound like?

Ann Hiatt
Sure. So, mine has taken me quite a while to put together, and I am allowing to be a living, breathing thing that will evolve with me and my work. So, at the moment, my mission statement is that I am here to discover and empower underrepresented entrepreneurs through actionable education and mentorship.

Now, the first word in that statement was the last one I added because, at first, it was just to empower underrepresented entrepreneurs through actionable education and mentorship. But I realized that a lot of people were not yet self-identifying as an entrepreneur. They’re like, “Well, I’m early in my career,” or, “I’m a mid-level manager,” and so I really wanted to wake that up in people and help them discover it. I wanted to seek them out where they were right now as someone trying to get that big first promotion or own the dream client. I wanted to wake that up in them.

Now, the reason that mission statement was important for me to evolve, it really took quite a lot of like heads-down work and testing it, but it’s important because it helps me know what projects to say yes to now. It helps me if I have a limited number of time. I know I’m going to prioritize an underrepresented entrepreneur over someone that I feel is already well served. If it’s an opportunity to help someone discover their inner entrepreneur, I’m going to say yes to that, for example. Maybe university that has a lower-speaking fee than somewhere else, I’m going to prioritize that over maybe people who are already in a privileged position as an entrepreneur, for example.

So, what you really want is your mission statement to be specific and time-bound, like, “What do I want to deliver right now?” And I think that’s really helped me show up in the right way. When I first started my company, I had to try on a bunch of things and learned the hard way of what I was and wasn’t good at, what excited me, who I was best suited to serve, what did that look like, what stage in their growth are they. So, it took a lot of experimentation.

So, don’t think that just sitting down for 30 minutes is going to be one and done with this mission statement. But you know you have an effective one when it allows you to make much clearer decisions and show up in the right way that is rewarding and exciting to you rather than draining and diminishing.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s the mission piece. How about vision?

Ann Hiatt
So, my vision is more about “What am I putting into the world? Am I going to say yes to just the highest-paying project?” For me, I really want to be mission-aligned with you. I want to be working with, for me and my consulting business, I want to work for entrepreneurs who are making a change, I, too, want to see in the world. I’m very attracted to anything around climate change, anything about empowering new generations of entrepreneurs, or expanding education opportunities.

So, that gives me kind of a checklist in my head. There’s just a lot of places you can show up in the world, and I really am value-aligned with that, and I find it if I’m working on a project. For example, I have a friend who started an incredible SaaS company, software-as-a-service company, and I think he’s amazing, and I’ve done a little bit of like helpful advice and coffee chats with him, but it doesn’t wake me up. I’m much more excited to be working on mycelium-based protein alternatives because I think that’s important for the future world that I want to create.

So, it’s often the decisions choosing between good and good are, I think, a lot harder than the good and bad, and having a really clear purpose statement helps me show up in ways that are most meaningful to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And let’s hear some values.

Ann Hiatt
So, my values are who I want to be and who I want to surround myself with. So, for me, especially coming out of Silicon Valley, I really drank the Kool-Aid. I am excited by people who are big thinkers and big dreamers. My values are people who want to live up to what is now a cliché of Silicon Valley, of making the world a better place.

I value being around people who are insatiably curious and smart and collaborative and kind, who aren’t competitive in the negative sense but showing up in a very resilient passionate way. And so, my values really come around…circle around the types of people I want to surround myself with through my work and through my consulting.

Pete Mockaitis
You said the word resilient, and I did want to zoom in on this a little bit. I had a podcast guest, I love it, Liz Fosslien is her name. She had a few great posts about “Just be resilient.” It’s really a cop-out when organizations throw that your way. But I guess, as I’m imagining a world in which you are zeroing in on sort of big-impact opportunities and going after them, there’s a lot of fun and excitement associated with that but then there’s also going to be a lot of pressure and expectation that comes with that, and potentially long hours and some exhaustion.

So, tell us, is there anything in the realm of resilience or self-care or support systems that you recommend that can make all the difference when you’re playing a bigger game with bigger set of pressures on you?

Ann Hiatt
I’m going to answer that in two different ways but I promise they’re connected. So, in order for me, as a, by nature, a timid, cautious, perfectionist person, that is the nature with which I was born, I am a perfectionist, all the negative definitions of that. Like, I’m afraid of starting something without being 100% sure that I can do it perfectly. That would’ve led to a very small life had I not been nurtured out of that by this crazy environment I found myself in in tech.

One of the most pivotal moments in my life, a sliding door moment for me was discovering Carol Dweck’s book called Mindset, and even if you only read the introduction, I think it could change a lot of people’s lives. In the introduction, she introduces the premise that there are two different mindsets. There’s the learning mindset and there’s the performance mindset.

As a perfectionist, I was in the performance mindset. I was not consciously thinking this but I was assuming that I was born with a certain set of skills and abilities, and anything that went beyond that would just discover and out me for all my imperfections. That’s a performance mindset. You want to know you can get a 100% on everything you tried.

Now, if you’re in a learning mindset, you have the mindset that you, with extra effort and time and practice, can increase your abilities, that if you try something, the first time you get 80 out of a 100, then the next time you’ll be better informed and learned from your mistakes, you’ll get 85 and progressively can increase your skills.

I don’t know, that was such a lightbulb moment for me, to be like, “Oh, if I am uncovered…” this is where impostor syndrome comes from, and you hold yourself back if you’re aware that, “If they discovered that I can’t yet do this, that means I never can and they won’t trust me anymore.” So, being nurtured out of that, really helped me with that resilience of, because I failed now, I am equipped with tools that I did not have in my toolbelt before and I want to be able to show up smarter, stronger, and better for it after that.

And so, I think resilience is much more is first about your internal mindset. And then the second way I’m going to answer this is in seeking out those teams. I was very privileged to work in companies that not only rewarded that behavior; they demanded it. So, I want to acknowledge that not all families, not all communities, not all companies are embracing of this. But if you can seek out a community of like-minded people where you have that psychological safety to experiment and to try some things and learn to trust yourself, that’s when work gets really, really fun.

In fact, I’m training for a half marathon right now. I’ve ran a few before but that was pre-pandemic and I’m not the same person I was then. So, I’ve got this Peloton trainer I listen to while I’m running, and she just said on my run yesterday something that super resonates around this resilience. She said, “You can’t push yourself until you trust yourself.”

So, start with that internal work first and know, like, “I can do that one more step. I will be stronger tomorrow than I was today because I showed up in this way.” And so, I think those two elements need to be there. Trusting yourself and then being in an environment that rewards, supports, and encourages that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then, it sounds like a lot of the work is kind of just foundational in establishing, okay, the mission, the vision, the values, what strengths, what am I good at, what am I going for, what specifically do I want in this role. And then, thinking about some of like the daily habits and practices, what do you recommend when we zoom in at that level to be some key do’s and don’ts for professionals?

Ann Hiatt
I think my first thought is around this element of curiosity. So, all of the incredible super performing CEOs I worked for displayed this in kind of Olympic levels of curiosity. For Jeff Bezos, he did a quarterly thinking retreat. Not all of us have the freedom to do what I’m about to describe but I will translate this for us normal people.

But what he did was, for one week every single quarter, he would lock himself into a hotel room away from his family, from work, from everything, and removed all external stimulus – no newspapers, no phone, no conversations, no nothing – and he would just starve himself of external influences. And then the second half of the week, the only thing he brought with him was a blank Moleskine notebook, and those notebooks are full of ideas. I literally see them launching today. That’s how forward-thinking he was in those moments.

Now, most of us don’t have the freedom to take an entire week off just to think and sit in a room and dream of the future. So, the way that I’ve tried to adapt that for myself is, in the middle of my career, when I was already working very, very long days, I realized that I needed to take good care of my mental and my physical health, to be able to not only survive. But thrive in those very intense environments, it was important to prioritize that.

So, I started having non-negotiables with my teams or with my boss. And so, for example, I started working out with a trainer for the first time in my whole life. It was so hard in the beginning but I had this protected hour from 7:00 to 8:00 a.m. every single day, my phone was not with me. Now, I was working at Google at the time so my gym was literally in the first floor of the building that I worked in.

And so, I said, “Okay, if you actually need me, send my assistant down to get me.” And in the nine years that I kept that practice of taking care of my physical health first before I got to my desk, there were only three times when my assistant had to come down and ask me to come up. So, that really showed me that I can give myself permission to do this hour. The world is not going to fall apart if I take care of myself first.

And I think building in that type of resilience and prioritizing, and especially now, as an entrepreneur, I’m really trying to focus also on my mental health, of giving myself that space to think. And that’s another way I’ve translated what Jeff’s practice of this thinking retreats and being really curious, is now I have these protected hours every day where I’m just reading, reflecting, writing, consuming, because so much of consulting is give, give, giving and I need to replenish my expertise and my knowledge, and just give my brain that space to be creative and to be a connector. So, that’s one of many, many, like Olympic practices that I’ve tried to translate into my work and life.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, whether we are spending an hour or a week in this rampant ideation – this sounds like a blast to me, I like it – creative zone, well, one practice is blocking out stuff, although it sounds like, in your world, you are letting in particular things. So, maybe zoom in a little bit, like what are we doing? Are we just sort of sitting there, like, “Hmm” write, write, write? Are there any key question prompts or initial fodder or reading materials that get things going here?

Ann Hiatt
I think your instinct is right. This absolutely needs to be dialed in for each individual. So, the way in which you kind of fill yourself back up in order to give, give, and give, what’s required at home and like your family and at work, I think that’s unique to the individual. So, for me, because my work is in giving advice, and also having this international breadth of understanding of where tech is moving in the world right now, my clients really need me to have that kind of global perspective.

I can’t do that without having time to consume all the information. So, one for me is just, personally, I love to read, I love to listen to podcasts, I love hearing and being exposed to some of the greatest thinkers in the world. So, in and of itself, even if that wasn’t directly demanded of me for my job, I would be doing that anyway.

So, that’s something that fills me up. Even if I’m not reading something for work, I just know that makes me happy. The second thing is I know I need sunshine.

I grew up in Seattle. Most of my life, I did not have that daily dose of sunshine. The second I moved to California for grad school, and now I live in Spain, I know that it’s just like instant happiness for me. So, if I get outside in fresh air and get some sunshine on my face, that’s an instant mood boost for me. Each person is going to be a little bit different. I know I’ll have a good day if I’ve moved my body, if I filled my mind, and if I go outside in nature.

For each person, that’s different. Like, maybe it’s playing with your kids or your dog. Maybe it is in a creative pursuit. You need to paint or create something with your hands. So, ask yourself, “What, for me, even when I am working on it really, really hard and I remain far away from the finish line of whatever goal it is I’m working on, I finish the day feeling like I have been filled up rather than drained?”

So, I think those types of pursuits are always things you want to be seeking out. Like, even if you’re not perfect at it, maybe you’re training for a marathon like I am right now, and trust me, I’m horrible. I’m not doing this because I have any hope of winning anything. Hopefully, maybe hope you are. But just think about that, of what fills you up and fills you with joy regardless of the outcome, that you don’t want to be measuring those rejuvenation periods on the same scale as you are with your work or performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then I’m curious, so let’s say you’re doing all these things and you’re just rocking and rolling, delivering value all over the place, and it seems like, unfortunately, the meritocratic forces in your organization are broken. It’s like, “Oh, you can’t be promoted until someone dies or moves to another role, and they’re probably not going to do that for six years.” How do you think about that when you’re there?

Ann Hiatt
Been there, done that. I absolutely know that struggle intimately. As I mentioned, I worked at Google for 12 years so it was really on me to have to reinvent myself, and I tended to do it in kind of three-year cycles. I would be challenged in the beginning and learning a lot, then I get into my zone of genius and start doing it really well, and then, after that, I would start to get the itch of like, “What’s next?”

And nobody, even at a company as innovative and driven as Google, nobody ever came to me once and said, “Oh, Ann, I’ve noticed you’ve had this untapped talent or interest, and I’ve been thinking about how to apply it.” That just doesn’t happen. That’s your job. So, I think it comes back to having that conversation with yourself and knowing exactly what you want to go for.

So, after about, let’s see, six years at Google, so halfway through my tenure there, I had this idea for a role that I think would really elevate not only my work but the work of my manager who, at the time, was Eric Schmidt, the CEO. And I had seen, we were doing a lot of policy work at the time, and I had seen this role of chief of staff in government, at the White House, in military, for example, and I thought, “That is what he needs.”

I had been this business partner for him, I’d been kind of a thought leader with him, I was kind of that safe space for him to debate ideas, and I thought, “If I could take my job to the next level, it would look like chief of staff.” Eric thought it was a good idea, had me brainstorm, write the job description. I took it to HR and it literally took me three years to fully realize what I wanted in that job.

And so, in the end, I was the very first chief of staff at Google ever, and now it’s pervasive throughout tech and now moving beyond that. But I can tell you right now, I had a conversation, in fact, with my HR rep the day I left for Christmas holidays and it made cry because she, basically, just squashed it and said, “If you want that type of thing, you might want to consider looking elsewhere,” and I wasn’t ready to do that yet but then, eventually, I moved on.

So, I’ve had those really hard conversations but I think it comes back to that knowing what you want, seeing how that solves a problem for your manager, and proving how that’s best for the company. In the end, either you’re going to get it, which I did after a couple of year’s fight, and then, eventually, I needed to move on in order to have the kind of growth that I wanted. So, you can feel both of that. Sometimes it’s wait and work really and prove yourself, and then eventually, sometimes, the answer is that growth opportunity might lay elsewhere.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And not to dig too much into the minutiae of your story, but I think it will be resonant for folks who encounter resistance. Okay, so the CEO wants it, you want it, what’s HR’s problem?

Ann Hiatt
Thank you. I literally said that to him after I got the “No, no, no,” and he kind of…he shrugged, and he’s like, “Gosh, we’re truly a big company now.” But what it was, the part that made sense to me, a lot of it did not, but the part that made sense to me was Google, by then, had had to operationalize, stream-wise, and make sure everything was done with ultimate efficiency. That means that everything was done now on a specific job ladder.

I was trying to create a brand-new job ladder. So, I was trying to kind of merge a lot of this support structure, this skillset in communications and policy and project management, and create this hybrid role, and HR did not want to create a whole new job ladder or this hybrid role that they thought would be really nebulous, hard to write job descriptions, how do you measure for that, how would I be evaluated, how would you be compensated for that.

And so, it took years, and, rightfully, probably in the first year, I didn’t have a clear enough understanding of what the delegated authority level of that job would be, what are the delegated tasks, how would we measure and quantify the success and impact of that work. It’s a very, very data-driven company I did need to dig into the hard work and really make the case. And, eventually, I did but much slower than I had anticipated.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s a nice perspective. It may take some time or it may be hopeless. Any tips on how we can tell the difference sooner rather than later?

Ann Hiatt
I think I pursued it for three years because I did see progress and I became more and more convinced of the value of it. What I ended up doing that sealed the deal in the end was I said, “How about we do an experiment? Let’s not make it official but of the job description that I’d outlined, with this delegated authority level, with this type of responsibilities, with this skillset, I’m going to act like I already have this title and this job,” which took a bit of buy-in from my peers because a big part of being chief of staff is acting as a surrogate, as a delegate of your executive.

And for me to represent Eric Schmidt in rooms he wasn’t in is a big deal and I needed his senior reports to kind of treat me accordingly even without formal title authority. Luckily, I had worked with all of them for more than a decade and I had that trust factor with them already. They knew that time with me would make their jobs better, and so I got that kind of peer buy-in that was essential. Had I not had that, those relationships of trust already established, I don’t think I could’ve converted on it.

But agreeing to do that six-month trial and then inviting extreme critique from all of those people I had worked for and got a 360-performance evaluation from them was the proof that they needed that this actually did, I think one of them described, 10x-ing our output by having me be able to represent him in more rooms.

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

Ann Hiatt
No, I am so excited for your listeners to really create this playlist for themselves, and then to be brave enough to say it out loud. Honestly, I think that’s the hardest part is just the first time you have that conversation with your manager, it’s awkward. I remember trying to expand the confines of my job description when I was working with Marissa Mayer, who was my first manager at Google.

She was employee number 20, first female engineer ever hired at Google, tough as nails, insanely smart. And I remember suggesting a couple of projects that were far outside the confines of my job description, and it was met with awkward silence at first. She literally did not respond. She didn’t even acknowledge she’d heard the words coming out of my mouth. But it was processing, that was kind of her thing.

So, I just wanted to put it out there. Sometimes it does, at first, be met with that silence because you’re trying to teach people to treat you and think of you in a different way so don’t let that deter you but be very clear and show the value of not only for yourself but for your manager and your team as a whole. I found it works pretty consistently.

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

Ann Hiatt
So, there’s two that come to mind, if I can cheat and choose two. One is from Maya Angelou. It is very apropos to what we were just discussing, where she says, “People may forget what you said, they might forget what you did, but they’ll never forget the way you made them feel.” And I think that absolutely resonates for me in my life, in general, and definitely in my career. I have worked for very driven dedicated sometimes terrifying people but they made me feel valued, they made me feel like they wanted to invest in me, and I’ve really tried to pay that forward now in this next part of my career.

And that leads into the second quote that I really liked that’s by Diane von Furstenberg, one of the first self-made female billionaires. And Diane said, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew the woman I wanted to become.” And I think a lot of people who have natural ambition and just feel like they were made for more sometimes can opt out because they don’t know what that looks like yet.

And I don’t want people to be deterred. That quote has inspired me because the woman I want to be has always been very clear to me. How I accomplished that came in very unexpected packages, and so I find that very inspiring.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Ann Hiatt
There’s two I find myself constantly quoting to my clients and to just my friends that we talk about careers is. There’s one by Ben Horowitz called The Hard Thing About Hard Things. My favorite line in that book is full of so much wisdom. My favorite line is saying that, “As an entrepreneur, there are only two emotions: terror and euphoria.” And I find that to be very true in my work.

And another one that I find myself recommending nearly on a daily basis is one that’s written by John Doerr called Measure What Matters. It’s about the goal-setting moonshot system that is used both at Amazon and at Google for innovative thinking, and it’s very applicable to individual careers, not just those trying to become the next Amazon and Google, but it’s really about leading an ambitious life and pushing through the boundaries of your capabilities.

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

Ann Hiatt
Well, the first response that comes to mind is just all the things I’ve used to stay connected across the pandemic, especially since I moved to Spain and started my own company just before the pandemic happened, so I’d already set myself up for a bit of a learning curve. To be connected with global entrepreneurs while not face to face with them is tricky.

So, if I really had to choose something, it’ll probably be this little green light here on my laptop, like being able to be connected on these different platforms, these video platforms is 100% how I do my job now. So, if I had to pick one, it would be Zoom or Zoom-like features is how I’ve really stayed connected.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with clients; they quote it back to you frequently?

Ann Hiatt
Probably the most quoted line from my book that people send me on Twitter or Instagram or otherwise, is “No life is too small and no dream is too big to be worthy of investment.” I really believe in that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, thank you. I’m going to chew on that for a while. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Ann Hiatt
So, the best single stop is the book’s website, which is BetonYourselfBook.com. There you got links to all my social media and all the places you can buy it. I’ve got some nice free downloads there. And very active on LinkedIn. I post articles three or four times a week, and so you get little bite-size pieces of the wisdom from the book and things that I’m sharing consistently with my clients there, so you can find me there.

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

Ann Hiatt
My call to action is start today. As you’ve been listening to this episode, an idea that you’ve been afraid to say out loud has come to mind. Take one little baby step towards that today. And if I could pick one for you, it would be say it out loud to somebody that is a nice sponsor for you that will keep you accountable and support you in taking those first brave baby steps forward. So, start today.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Ann, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all your bets.

Ann Hiatt
Thank you very much to you, too.

762: Reclaiming Your Day to Achieve More while Working Less with Donna McGeorge

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Donna McGeorge shares how you can take back your time and maximize your productivity—all while doing less.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why less is often more for productivity
  2. The one meeting you should always schedule
  3. How to feel more energized throughout the day 

About Donna

Donna is a passionate productivity coach with modern time management strategies designed to enhance the amount of time we spend in our workplace. 

With more than 20 years of experience working with managers and leaders throughout Australia and Asia-Pacific, Donna delivers practical skills, training, workshops, and facilitation to corporations—such as Nissan Motor Company, Jetstar, Medibank Private, and Ford Motor Company—so they learn to manage their people well and produce great performance and results. 

As a captivating, upbeat, and engaging resource on time management and productivity, Donna has been featured on The Today Show, on radio interviews across Australia, and has written for publications including The Age, Boss Magazine, Smart Company, B&T Magazine, and HRM. 

Resources Mentioned

Donna McGeorge Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Donna, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Donna McGeorge
Thanks for having me, Pete. Really happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Well, I’m excited to talk productivity and your book The 1 Day Refund. But, first, I need to hear about your coworker, Dear Prudence.

Donna McGeorge
Oh, Dear Prudence. So, all of our dogs have been named after Beatles’ songs but I think this was the one that absolutely nailed it. She’s an eight-year-old black Labrador, and even just saying her name out loud, that chances are she’ll come here and into this room right now, and we’ll hear a clickety-clickety noise on the floor, so we should be careful. But, yes, Dear Prudence, or Prude for short. I just love her.

Pete Mockaitis
And how does having Dear Prudence in the mix enhance or detract from your productivity?

Donna McGeorge
I don’t know that she’s a particular factor for either. She’s a glorious distraction for times when I needed a bit of a break, and she’s great for company when I’ve got my head down getting stuff done. I think probably where she adds the most if I’m just going to be serious for a moment, the old serious productivity-ish provider. I would say she’s a great source of oxytocin because she always makes me feel good and I just love her. I could even get an oxytocin dose hit happening right now thinking about her. So, that’s always useful in terms of getting your brain function working well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I’m excited to talk productivity, and I’d like to ask if you could start us off by sharing one of the most powerful, surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made about us humans and being productive from your years of researching and coaching on this stuff?

Donna McGeorge
Probably the most, I don’t know, earth-shatteringly, re-framing-ly…

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s what we want, Donna. Yeah, bring it on.

Donna McGeorge
Okay. It’s that you actually get more done by doing less. And this actually started with a bit of research I did that was based on some work by Frederick Winslow Taylor, he was the original time and motion consultant, and he was looking at a study done…now, this was physical labor but the application is the same but a bunch of blokes loading pig iron onto railway carts, and he found that those that, like a regular workday, was 9:00-to-5:00 or whatever, with a 15-minute break, lunchbreak, half an hour, 15-minute break in the afternoon, that was the regular kind of routine.

But he took a bunch of guys, and said, “How about we change it up?” and he got them working for 25 minutes really hard, and then they’d have a 35-minute break, and then another 25-minutes, and a 35-minute break. And they loaded 600% more pig iron onto the back of the trains.

Pete Mockaitis
Six hundred percent.

Donna McGeorge
According to the study. And so, look, I’m not sure that that applies directly to knowledge workers but it got me really thinking around what’s the right balance for knowledge workers, and there’s a lot of studies around there that varies from 17 minutes, to 25 minutes, to 45 minutes around focused…

Pete Mockaitis
That’s the length of the break that you’re talking about?

Donna McGeorge
No, that’s the length of doing the work and then taking breaks after that. So, definitely, the work, it’s true based on research that if we put our heads down and focus for a period of time, and then take a decent break, anything from five minutes to 35 minutes, we just get more done.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. And it’s sort of wild how, I don’t remember where the research came from, but a number of sources. And one was, I think, software and/or video game developers, like there’s a threshold at which you spend more hours doing stuff and it’s actually counterproductive. It’s like negative because you’re making mistakes that cause trouble for other people, and then you’re just sort of actually worse off doing the extra hour. It’s like, not that you make a little bit of a gain but you make actually a negative gain, which is pretty wild.

Donna McGeorge
Yeah, that supports everything I’ve read about it, and we even know it in ourselves. Just your average non-video gaming person, so if you’re just literally sitting at your desk doing your job, you’ll know that if you’re trying to do stuff towards the end of the day, when you’re tired and your smarts aren’t as switched on, you’ll make mistakes and actually make problems for yourself. You mean it’s like, “Step away from the keyboard. Do not send that email until you’ve re-read it the following morning,” because we’re just not in our best when we’ve been doing too much.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now let’s zoom into your book The 1 Day Refund. That’s a great title. What’s the scoop here? How can we take back time?

Donna McGeorge
Well, this all started it out… Thank you for starting around the title because I like it, too, but it started with thinking about the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, and I don’t know whether you and your listeners would know, but in Australia we had some pretty strict lockdowns, and I was, at the time, living in Victoria that had the absolutely strictest lockdowns in the world, blah, blah, blah, and so many people ended up working from home, and this idea that we didn’t have to commute each day. And so, the average commute is around an hour each way, and so five days…

Pete Mockaitis
You’re really selling Australia, Donna.

Donna McGeorge
Oh, we’re pretty spread out like we’re a pretty large country so we can spread out a little bit here. But idea was that we, in effect, got 10 hours back, and I kept asking people, “What are you doing with that extra time?” You got, in effect, more than a day of refund back. And when I asked people, “What would you do if you had a whole extra day in your week?” they’ll usually say things like, I don’t know, their hobbies, the things that bring them joy, spending time with their kids, exercising maybe, some say sleep, but no one says extra email, working on projects, getting 10,000 more reports in. That’s what they did.

And so, the inspiration for this book came from we’ve got to find ways to just work a bit better to give ourselves more thinking, breathing, living, and working space so we can operate better.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really telling. You’re right in terms of, I think, we often can tell ourselves, “Ooh, I just don’t have time for that.” And, yet, here we had a global experiment in which a large population was granted a bunch of extra time, and so…well, now, of course, yeah, you can make the argument how some people lost time because now they got the childcare situation going on. But for some now, it’s like, “Hey, before, I had to commute, now I don’t.” But it didn’t find its way into their important priorities. That’s intriguing.

Donna McGeorge
Well, there was one story I heard that a woman, who had a really interesting take on it. So, prior to the pandemic, she had a small child, she’d take him to school, or would take him to pre-school each morning, and every morning it was an uproar. Every morning, she’d get to the kindergarten to drop him off and he’d be clinging to the legs and crying, and it’d be all very dramatic.

And then when the pandemic hit, she’s this someone who did use her time better, she realized she could walk to kindy, and so, literally, from day one, she’d walked in morning, and from day one, no drama. And she realized, he’s the one who flipped it, and said, “No, I’m going to take advantage of this. I’m going to do it really well.” she says she’ll never go back to the other way but what she realized was that they were taking his small child pretty much from waking to strangers in a really short amount of time, whereas the walk eases them in, eases the little one there. So, I also hear stories like that where people did use that time wisely.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Well, okay, so let’s say that we don’t have a situation where commutes just disappear on us, but rather we’ve got to be a bit more proactive in recovering, reclaiming that time for ourselves. What are some of your favorite ways we can go about doing that?

Donna McGeorge
So, the thing that most people talk to me about is that they’re overwhelmed, out of control, and at risk of failing at the important things, and that’s because they’re not managing their time or energy efficiently. And so, one of the first things I say is, “Which is the one that’s impacting you the most?” And most people will say, “Thinking space. I just can’t think. I feel like I’m being compressed or whatever.”

And so, I’ll say, “Well, the way I start each day is I do a wipe the mind, where I write down everything that’s on my mind, not just tasks, not to-do’s; just anything I’m thinking about.” So, my mother has, no drama, but she’s had a recent health issue, so she’s on my mind. So, I’d write down, “Mom’s health. Is Dad okay? Better call my sister,” and I’d write down a whole bunch of stuff. And what that does, and I keep going, until literally, I check inside, and go, “Anything else?” And it’d start with a quiet voice in the background goes, “No, I think you’re good.”

And so, there’s nothing left in my head, and that, straight up, creates thinking space. As far back as Einstein, we know that he used to make, not this exact phrase, but words to this effect, that the human mind is for having ideas, not storing them. And yet, we store so much information in there which makes us feel overwhelmed. So, step one is clear out your head, and check out in the morning.

Pete Mockaitis
I thought that was David Allen but maybe it was Albert Einstein.

Donna McGeorge
No, no, David Allen probably said that one. You’re absolutely right. Einstein said…someone asked him a gotcha question in a lecture one day, that said, “What’s the formula for blah, blah, blah?” and he said, “I don’t know.” And the student was like, “Huh, you’re supposed to be a genius.” And he said, “Why would I hold things in my head that I can easily look up in a book?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, there you go.

Donna McGeorge
So, there you go. So, you’re absolutely right, David Allen did say that.

Pete Mockaitis
And Sherlock Holmes, he’s a fictional character but that was his philosophy, too. He’s like, “I’m not going to crowd out my brain with knowledge that’s not super useful to what I’m about.”

Donna McGeorge
But that’s actually…whoever said it got it right because it is. So, often we’re overwhelm, it’s not necessarily because we don’t have time, physical time for stuff. It’s that we mentally feel like we’re just in a state of overwhelm. And so, clearing that up straight away can sometimes create the space so people would focus on what’s important.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, sounds like a great approach. Any others leaping to mind here, Donna?

Donna McGeorge
Oh, I’ve got a whole book-full. So, the next one would be, I’m going to, again, this could come from exposure to a bit of a manufacturing world, but I do love Kanban as a way of sorting. You would’ve easily had people talk about Kanban, I would’ve thought before, where we organize our tasks. So, after you’ve done your brain dump, you might go, “How am I going to organize this?” And some of it might form part of your to-do.

So, I love the idea of having a to-do, in progress, and done. Now, true Kanban may have more columns in that but we literally do our work in columns. Your to-do list will have most of them in there, but it’s the currently doing is the one that I think is where you get the real difference because if you look at your to-do list, and there’s a hundred things on it, that’s overwhelming straight up. Just looking at it I feel overwhelmed. Whereas, if I go, “Yeah, I know I’ve got a lot to do but right now I’m just working on these three to five things,” that reduces, again, a little bit of that emotional or mental overwhelm.

And then we want to keep the done, like moving things across so that we know that they’re done because another mate of mine, Dr. Jason Fox, wrote a book called The Game Changer, and it was around motivation. And he said, in his research, the two things that keep people motivated are purpose and progress. And so, making progress visible is a really important part of feeling like we’re achieving things. So, that’s two.

The third one I’d say, which, again, to people who work in offices, they’ll know exactly what this is like. If I’m to cancel a meeting, how would you feel? And a lot of people, when someone cancels a meeting, feel absolutely relieved, they go, “Ahh, I now have a whole hour in my diary that I can just use for myself.”

And so, I would say, rather than be at the mercy of someone else canceling, I’d be booking a meeting with yourself every day, pick a time, it doesn’t matter. But pick a time every day, book a meeting with yourself so that it’s, on busy days, you could be looking forward to that time because you know you’re going to get a break, and you can use that time to just get ahead of the curve, to do the work that you think is the most important so you can try a bit of catchups.

So, that would be my three. So, wipe the mind, use a Kanban or some kind of system to manage what you need to do with your work, and protect some time in your day that’s your time, just for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Thank you. Well, you have some perspectives on setting some limits that protect us from overcommitting and in the form of five Ws. Can you lay this out for us?

Donna McGeorge
Sure. The five Ws is the old journalistic model for writing a good story but I think it’s a really good way of also thinking about “Where am I spending my energy? And who am I spending it with and on what and why? And what’s going to be the right outcome for me?” So, it’s kind of using it to create boundaries. And so, the questions aren’t always I got to literally use exactly the questions but I think it’s just going down those, like, “Why am I spending time with this person? Where am I getting the energy from this? What is the return on this for me? When is the best time to spend time with other people?”

It’s just really thinking about, I think, we spend a lot of time and energy sometimes with people that don’t give us a great return that, again, end up taking energy away from us. And so, just asking some of those simple questions will help us determine, “Are they the right person for right now for where I’m at?”

Pete Mockaitis
And then I’m also curious to get your…when we talked about the when part of these Ws, you are a fan of the morning, or the first two hours of the day. Sort of what’s the story here? And can you walk us through how we can make the most of that time?

Donna McGeorge
Sure. So, the human body has a clock or a rhythm, circadian rhythm or a body clock bit that it operates by. And in simplest terms, we are designed as an organism to wake up when the sun comes up, and go to sleep when the sun goes down. That’s how melatonin is produced, which is what makes us sleepy, and then when it stops being produced, it’s what helps us wake up, so that’s at a very simplistic level.

But there’s more aspects to the clock. There are certain things that switch on and off throughout the day physiologically. And the thing that was most interesting to me was that we are most mentally alert in the morning up to, say, midday, and we more physically get stressed in the afternoon. And so, what that meant to me from a working perspective was we really should be protecting our morning for the work that requires our smarts, our mental intensity. And then, for the afternoon, we do the more routine work that doesn’t require much smarts and merely do without thinking.

And so, if you think about something like email, it’s a really great example, where I think we waste our smarts in the morning by doing something that is largely fairly routine. So, I know it might make your listeners kind of get, like, “Ooh, I could never do that.” But I would say leave your email till after lunch. Scan it if you need to just to make sure there’s nothing super urgent or whatever from someone will send you, but for the most part, leave it after lunch, and use your morning to do your creative work, your problem-solving work, the work that you’re probably hired for, your genius. You do that in the morning and do routine in the afternoon.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, is this sort of universal to all persons? Now, when you talk about melatonin, I’m thinking chronotypes and all that stuff. How does that factor into things?

Donna McGeorge
So, about 80% of this are what we would call moderate or early birds, so we are kind geared that way, and there’s about 20% of us who identify as night owls, a percentage of which are natural night owls for whatever reason – their physiology, their body, their chronotype, their body clock is slightly skewed – or they’re self-created just through bad habits, they stay up too late, they use technology till the middle of the night, they still live and lead their nightlife like they’re a college student as opposed to getting back into some kind of regular rhythm, so it could be a combination of both.

But from my perspective, the first two hours isn’t from waking; it’s from when you sit down to do your work. And so, if you’re a night owl, and you don’t get out of bed till, I don’t know, 9:00 or 10:00 o’clock in the morning, and that might not even be in that morning, it’d be too early, and then you probably sit to start your work at, say, about 11:00, maybe 10:00 or 11:00, it’s then that’s usually you’re most alert from that point after waking.

And so, I would say it doesn’t matter, but here’s the interesting thing. We’re all gloriously unique individuals. So, I’m going to say, rather than worry about whether I’m an early bird, or a night owl, or the first hours, or whatever two hours, I’d say begin to pay attention to when do you feel like you do your best work.

So, my daughter reckons she’s an early bird, she gets up early but she reckons from 10:00 to 12:00 is her sweet spot. I’ve got another mate who also gets up early, she says 2:00 till 4:00 is her sweet spot for doing work. So, you just figure out what works for you as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then I’m curious, when you talked about the Frederick Taylor studies, as well as the video game creation, and just the notion of resting and how that’s super handy, we talked about the timing and how it’s maybe a little bit fluid in terms of precisely how long the work interval is, whether it’s 25 minutes or 80 minutes or whatever. But I’m curious to hear, when it comes to the refreshing part of things, when you’re looking to get that rest and energy boost, what are some of the top things you find are super effective for folks?

Donna McGeorge
We’ve got to start by disconnecting from information. So, if we go back to David Allen’s, quote around the human mind is for having ideas, not storing them, one of the biggest mistakes we make is we go from one information-producing device, say, a computer, our work, whatever, and then we go to another one, which is our phone as we start scrolling social media, and then we may even sit down in front of the television and it can put more stuff into our heads.

And so, I’m going to say, if you really need to take a break, is remove yourself from information-input devices, for want of a better phrase. So, I’m going to suggest get out for walks in nature. The Japanese have a phrase called tree bathing. I can’t remember the actual Japanese phrase but its translation is tree bathing, so get out in trees. Someone actually said that to me yesterday in Australia, “I went out for a tree bath today.” I’m like, “Oh, good for you.” So, go and just sit amongst nature.

The other thing I’d say, particularly in a work day and if you happen to be working from home, it might seem like it’s procrastination but I’m not sure that it is. I think it’s actually taking a break. Go and do a couple of household chores. So, putting a lot of washing on, sweeping the floor, vacuuming, loading up the dishwasher, unloading the dishwasher, whatever it is. Just go do some kind of household chore that is a direct almost opposite to being information input. You can do that stuff without thinking.

And then, again, the third thing around that would be you know yourself better than anyone. What’s the thing that has you feel relaxed? The biggest risk that we have around downtime is our perception of what that means. So, some people say, “It’s a waste of time. Any downtime is a waste of time. Successful people work in the gaps, constantly on.” I’m going to say, no, actual successful people, in fact, rocket scientists…

I just read Ozan Varol’s book Think Like a Rocket Scientist. Yup, turns out that rocket scientists are not always up at blackboards writing complex formulas. They spend most of their time solving problems leaning back in the chair with their hands behind their heads, contemplating the stars, and solving problems. So, you don’t have to be on 100% of the time. So, I would say it’s overcoming this addiction to activity. It’s overcoming boredom. It’s overcoming this notion that it’s a waste. Actually, downtime is exactly what you need.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that’s well-said. The addiction to activity, the boredom, it’s…I guess addiction is a great word because just like if you’re addicted to anything, it’s like you have a desire to do something. You’re drawn to it. Maybe it’s alcohol, maybe it’s tobacco, maybe it’s any number of things. You are drawn to it and, yet, it impoverishes you and you’re worse off having indulged the thing.

And, yet, with information, it seems much more hidden, I would say, in terms of the effects. It’s not like, “Ooh, I can’t get up a flight of stairs because I’m winded,” due to maybe a food addiction or a smoking addiction. Versus, when we go from information, information, information, we kind of feel like we’re productive, and yet the truth of the matter is we are not.

So, I’m just processing this real time, Donna. If addiction is the word, how do we break it? I mean, I guess we can’t quite go cold turkey. We got to have some activity and some information in most of our days. Any pro tips on strengthening those mental muscles and bits of resilience to resist that addiction?

Donna McGeorge
It’s interesting. You talked about the mental muscle and flexing because it’s a different kind…not a different kind of addiction. It’s still an addiction because it’s a dopamine hit, which is what we’re seeking. It’s no different to I’m sitting here, I’m talking to you, and my phone is in sight, and I see the flash come up. And now there’s an agitation around, “Oh, I better check that phone,” and it’s not till I checked it, that I go, “Ahh,” I get that little dopamine hit, that goes, “Ahh, good, I did that.”

And activity is the same. That’s why if you ever watched someone who’s feeling bored, they sit in a chair, they fidget, they move around, they kind of roll their eyes, they’re like twiddling themselves, and their leg will be going up and down, knees banging up and down because they’re feeling agitated. And that’s all because they’re literally waiting for a dopamine hit, and that’s why we use addiction because they’re activity junkies, in effect. They’re trying desperately to get this hit that has them feel better.

And so, the pro tip is exactly as you say. We’ve got to just go a little bit longer. And so, in the great wise words of James Clear, I’d be saying begin to time yourself on your downtime. How long can you sit in stillness? And you might be you can only get three minutes before you think, “Oh, I’ve just got to go do something.” Well, yay, next day go for four, five. Just continue to grow your tolerance for nothing. And trust me, your future self will thank you for that because you’re creating a pattern of recovery for your brain. It’s like a muscle like no other. It does need time to recover. And you’ll function better as a result.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, so we’ve covered a variety of approaches, of tools. I’d love to hear a story of someone who put a number of things together and saw a really cool transformation as a result?

Donna McGeorge
Sure. Look, my favorite is one of my clients, a lovely lady came to me and she was agitated. It wasn’t smoking on our call but she told me smoked, she drinks alcohol to self-medicate. So, busy day, gets to the end of the day, bang, goes down a glass of wine, and half a pack of cigarettes. And when she would talk to me, she’d talk to me really, really quickly, like I feel she’s a bit barely even taking a breath, and sometimes she wouldn’t even finish it because she really had another idea coming on. This was how she operated.

And so, the first thing I did with her, I said, “The first step is you got to stop, take stock, and make some decisions.” And just those three things, we slowed her down, I said, “Your calendar, you’re going to halve the amount of appointments,” and it was a whole bunch of things we had to do here. She kept telling me what a great team she had but then didn’t trust them. So, we worked at multiple levels.

We got her leveling up her team members so that that created some space for her in her diary. So, that gave her some…took away some decision fatigue. I’m sure you’d be familiar with that. Get the team to make some decisions. She offloaded some decisions to her family so she wasn’t constantly thinking like she was the one that had to do it.

So, that gave her some space and willpower to manage some of her habits that weren’t so great for her. And this one was a bit of a fairytale ending with a really great team. She managed to get herself a pay raise, not a promotion, but her job was recognized for the way that she was bringing in. And that all started with a conversation that said, “You just need to stop. You just got to stop and take some breaths because you’re out of control, lady.”

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

Donna McGeorge
Well, look, I’d probably say a lot of people who might be listening now might sound like my client that I just had, that I’ve just talked about, and I’d say it never starts at the beginning of the day. So, anytime we’re trying to make changes, take back control, deal with overwhelm, get our lot back into some level of measured frictionless living, it all start the night before.

So, my best bit of advice for anyone who’s trying to kind of improve aspects of their productivity or their world, generally, is, at the end of the day, stop for about 30 minutes to 60 minutes, I call it an hour of power at the end of the day, and I do a bunch of things that are going to make tomorrow morning that much better.

So, it could be choosing wardrobe, it could be making kids’ lunches, it could be traveling somewhere, checking the routes so I know where I’m going. I’ll even look ahead, where is the parking? Where can I park in relation to where I need to go? Just a little bit of that stuff the night before, and that makes the next morning that much better. And that’s where you get a real bang for your buck, is that, “What do you do in the evenings?” so that would be my number one tip to leave you with for the moment.

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

Donna McGeorge
Well, David Allen’s “The human mind is for having ideas, not storing them.” I’ll go back as far as Benjamin Franklin, and I do like “A place for everything and everything in its place,” because I’m a big believer in frictionless living. And so, most of the time, our friction comes from not being able to find stuff. So, if we have a space for stuff, we’re more likely to be successful. So, that’d be a couple of mine.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite study?

Donna McGeorge
The work of Francesco Cirillo who did all the work around Pomodoro. He did a bunch of work around trying to figure out what is that optimal time. And he discovered 25 minutes on, five-minute break, so I love Francesco Cirillo’s stuff too.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Donna McGeorge
Well, I’m going to have to go with Stephen King. I’m a huge fan of Stephen King for a number of reasons. Probably, The Stand is my favorite of his books but I also love his nonfiction piece called “On Writing” because I also quite like, as a writer, I aspire to his ethic around how he does his work.

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

Donna McGeorge
I love my new reMarkable notepad. It’s the electronic notebook. It literally sits right here. I love it. I love notebooks. I’m a stationery junkie so I always had notebooks and things. But I just find my information was spread out all over the place, and now it’s all in one place, and it syncs. So, if I lose it, I’m still good. So, yeah, I have to say my reMarkable.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. A favorite habit?

Donna McGeorge
I think the wipe the mind every morning. Get up, just empty out the head of what’s happening so that I’m clear-headed for whatever I need to do heading into the day.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you empty out your head, what was it emptied into? Notecards? Tablet?

Donna McGeorge
Just a piece of paper.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Donna McGeorge
Well, I do a pen and paper for that because I don’t need to keep that. That’s not for anything other than just emptying it out. So, I’ll go through it and check and put it into a to-do list, etc. but, no, it doesn’t need to be in anything fancy for that. Just get it out of your head.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Donna McGeorge
I think the your future self will thank you stuff. It’s around what are the things I’m doing now that just make my life easier a little bit down the track. So, that’s probably one.

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

Donna McGeorge
www.DonnaMcGeorge.com or www.TheProductivityCoach.com.au.

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

Donna McGeorge
Yeah, I would just say stop and get out of default mode. So, too often, we get onto a cycle of we just do things out of habit. I’d love you just stop and think and make conscious decisions about actions you’re taking, meetings you’re accepting, activity that you’re doing, and is that right thing for you to be doing in that moment?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Donna, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you all the best with your one-day refund.

Donna McGeorge
Thanks so much, Pete. Thanks for having me.

735: Cultivating the Mindset of Motivated and Successful People with Jim Cathcart

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Legendary speaker Jim Cathcart shares powerful wisdom for overcoming the self-limiting beliefs that keep us from thriving in work and life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The simple secret to motivating yourself and others
  2. A powerful phrase to motivate you to be your best
  3. The four steps to breaking bad habits

About Jim

Jim Cathcart, CSP, CPAE is a person who has achieved every major milestone in professional speaking: President of the National Speakers Association, Speakers Hall of Fame, 22 published books, 3,300 highly paid speeches worldwide, speeches in China, South America, Europe, and in every one of the 50 US states. He received the Golden Gavel Award from Toastmasters International which was also presented to Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar,, Earl Nightingale and Walter Cronkite. He received The Cavett Award from the National Speakers Association, and more.

Jim is also a guitarist and singer/songwriter who performs often in clubs, at conventions and special events. A fitness enthusiast who has logged over 10,000 miles of running mountain trails after age 60, and a lifetime member of the American Motorcyclist Association. A newscaster once said, “Jim Cathcart is what ‘Fonzie’ from Happy Days would have been if he had gone to business school.” To that end, in September of 2021 Jim received an honorary business degree from High Point University in North Carolina.

Resources Mentioned

Jim Cathcart Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jim, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Jim Cathcart
Hey, it’s a great place to be. Thank you for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s so fun to be chatting with you. I was reading you when I was a teenager, and here we are talking. That’s wild.

Jim Cathcart
It is.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I’d love to get your take, having lived through, boy, with some of the greats, a great yourself, when it comes in the speaking biz as well as hobnobbing with other just sort of legends, rock stars, Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins.

Jim Cathcart
Yeah. I grew up in the human potential movement. If you look at the 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s, that was known as the human potential movement because it was the first time that society in the US got really interested in self-development and success, motivation, and that whole general field. And the primary players were Napoleon Hill and Norman Vincent Peale and Dale Carnegie, and then Earl Nightingale and on and on.

And then Denis Waitley and I came along about the same time, and then Zig Ziglar was just before us, and along with us, for that matter, and Og Mandino and W. Clement Stone. And then Tony Robbins came later and Brian Tracy and Les Brown, so it’s been a heck of a ride. And I know all those folks. I mean, I didn’t know Napoleon Hill, but all the rest that I’d mentioned, I’ve known them all and worked with most of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, tell us, any funny anecdotes or stories or surprise tidbits that you think listeners might get a kick out of if they’re familiar with some of these legends?

Jim Cathcart
Yeah. In 1976, in November of ’76, I was at the Oral Roberts University big arena, and it’s called the Mabee Center. And there were 11,700 attendees at the positive thinking rally, and the speakers were Paul Harvey, Dr. Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral, Earl Nightingale, Art Linkletter, Zig Ziglar, Cavett Robert, the founder of the National Speakers Association. And the emcee was Don Hutson out of Memphis. And Don and I had met through a training organization and he invited me backstage to meet my hero Earl Nightingale.

So, I went backstage and shook Earl’s hand and had the appropriate goosebumps and loss of breath and everything that would go with being star struck. And then, Don and I walked out, and we were standing behind the big stage, looking out at the sea of bodies up in the stands, and Don said, “Jim,” he called me JC. He said, “JC, we’ve got this.”

I said this, “What do you mean we’ve got this?” He said, “All these speakers on this program, they’re 20 or 30 years older than us. We’re next,” and he was right. And he went on to become president of the National Speakers Association. So did I. We were both inducted into the Professional Speakers Hall of Fame, Sales and Marketing Hall of Fame. I’ve written 22 books, he’s written a big handful of New York Times bestsellers himself, and I was just collaborating with him yesterday on a new business deal.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool.

Jim Cathcart
And all the others are gone now. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well, our respects to them. And thank you and congratulations for your success and contributions to the field. We’ve got a whole boatload of things we could talk about. My producers found you specifically to talk about motivation and The Power Minute: Your Motivation Handbook for Activating Your Dreams & Transforming Your Life. So, that sounds awesome. Tell us, what’s the big idea behind this book?

Jim Cathcart
Well, first up, motivation needs to be understood as motive and action. Motive, action. Motivation. It’s easy to remember. So, if you think, “I’m not motivated to do something,” well, if you haven’t acted on your motive, then you’re right, you’re not motivated to do it. You might have a motive, but until you take action, it’s just a dream, a wish, or an impulse, or a preference.

So, how do you motivate somebody? Well, you do not bring motives to them. You find motives in them. So, if I put a gun to your head and asked you to give me all your money, if you don’t want to continue to live, you probably won’t give me your money, you’ll just say, “Take your best shot,” right? So, you got to have the motive for me to be able to stimulate it and get the results I want.

So, if I put a gun to somebody’s head and they don’t care if they live or die, then that’s not going to work. I got to find another way to appeal to them. If I offer somebody a vacation in Acapulco and they’re not interested in international travel, it may have been a great reward for somebody but not for them so they’re not motivated. So, if I can learn to read people day-to-day and listen more acutely to what people say and what they express interest in, I can identify their motives because people will teach you how to motivate if you’ll just listen. And so, then I know how to appeal to you.

So, it might be it’s like in couple’s therapy, they talk about love languages. Some people feel really loved when you’re listening intently just to them. Some people don’t think that much of that one. They feel really loved when you give them a thoughtful little gift. Some people feel really loved when you mention them to other people and brag about them, and there are a lot of other ways.

 

Same thing is true for motivation. Some people are motivated by things, some people are motivated by experiences, some are motivated by interactions and relationships, and so forth. So, there are lots of ways to motivate someone. That’s why I wrote The Power Minute, which is your self-motivation handbook. And The Power Minute is 336 one-minute ideas for how to motivate yourself or others.

Now, how do I know they’re one minute? Because I originally wrote them as one-minute radio clips, and so they have to be timed exactly to that and the script was that tight. And so, I put them all together, and I said, “This would make a pretty good book but it needs some more work.” So, I worked on it and had 365, and out of 365, about 30 of them were pretty lame and obvious, so I eliminated those and kept 336, and that became the book. And I was writing the book as if I was teaching my grandchildren how to look at life and live a fulfilling and rewarding life.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it. So, share with us, I like how you could cut 29 and don’t allow yourself to put out inferior content just to hit a sweet 365 number, which should be tempting for many of us. So, tell us, because I’m thinking now about the 80/20 Principle and how 20% of them could have 80% of the juice, and maybe 4% of them, even 64% of the juice, fractal style. So, can I put you on the spot to give me your top, we’ll say, five.

Jim Cathcart
Let me give you one that summarizes the whole book and most of my philosophy in life, “Become a magnet, not merely an arrow.” In other words, cultivate in yourself the qualities of the person who would live the life you want to live, get the rewards you want to get, have the experiences and the relationships you want to have. Be the kind of person the people you admire would love to hang with, and those people will be more attracted to you. Be a magnet for what you want.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s the magnet. And what’s an arrow by contrast?

Jim Cathcart
Well, an arrow goes outward from you toward a target. So, that’s when you work diligently to achieve a goal. That’s fine. You find the goal, you identify the steps, you do the discipline day-to-day until you get there – that’s an arrow. But a magnet develops the qualities that make them the sort of person that others want to do business with, that others want to hang around with, that others would seek out the advice of.

When I joined the National Speakers Association in my 30s in 1976, I was right at 30 years old. That makes me 75 today, by the way, save people the math because some of them are doing it in their heads. So, 30 years old, I joined the National Speaker Association. That’s, at that time, only a few hundred members but they were my heroes, the big names, the big-deal people in the world of human development, and I had none of the credentials that I have today, and I didn’t have much career experience either.

So, I decided to be the most generous, the most grateful, the most helpful, the most flexible, the most willing supporter and encourager that they could find. I went to the convention, offered to move chairs, put out signs, greet people, take tickets, do whatever was necessary, drive someone to the airport, if necessary, although I didn’t have a car at the time, that kind of thing. And I was included into the conversations with the big guns as if I was an equal.

And when they would ask about me, I’d give them a very brief answer, and then I asked about them because I didn’t want them learning about me. I wanted me to learn about them so I could become, someday, one of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. That’s cool. And so then, that magnet principle is fantastic when it comes to people in terms of, “Yeah, this Jim guy, I like him. I like the way he works it. I like the way he’s helpful. I like being around him. I like the way I feel in his presence, so fantastic.” I guess I’m also wondering…

Jim Cathcart
Oh, I got a quote for you.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ll take it.

Jim Cathcart
This is from the first president of the National Speakers Association, Bill Gove. He, in a speech, one time, said, “The greatest compliment I’ve ever heard in my life is this, ‘I like me better when I’m with you.’”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is nice.

Jim Cathcart
Ain’t that a great example?

Pete Mockaitis
I had a friend who once told me, “Pete, you make people love themselves,” which was among my all-time faves, and that memory there. So, yeah, that’s cool. And so then, that magnet principle is fantastic for people-y goals in terms of you want…I’m thinking about sort of like a career in leadership and folks want you in the room, and to be present, and to trust you with some responsibilities and things. I’m curious about goals that are less people-y. Let’s talk about maybe fitness or sort of powering through a bunch of stuff you don’t feel like powering through. What are some of your favorite principles there?

Jim Cathcart
I can definitely address those. Well, in 1975, I weighed 200 pounds on a 5’9” frame that should be 150. Fifty-two excess pounds at the time, and I had never been fit, never been an athlete, and I wanted to be, and I had set some big goals for my life and my career, and I’ve looked at my life totally, wholistically – mental, physical, family, social, spiritual, career, financial, emotional – and I knew that I had to grow in each of those areas, and that’s eight areas, and many of those areas needed work, and one of those was fitness and health.

And so, I’d quit smoking a couple of years before and I’d gained a little weight, and I decided it’s time to make a change so I’m going to lose weight. Well, I knew I could diet successfully. I’d done that half a dozen times but I always gained it back in the next year or two. So, I decided I’m going to become a slender person. And people that knew me said, “What’s the difference?” I said, “Slender people never have to go on diets.” They said, “Well, yeah, some people are lucky.” “No, no, no, no, no. Slender is not luck. Slender may have something to do with your metabolism but you can also live a slender life by choice.”

So, I re-thought the way I lived my day-to-day life, the kind of food that I kept in the refrigerator, the kind of drinks that I used for refreshment, the places I went and the way I participated. For example, I had never considered water to be a real drink. I thought it was the default if nothing else was available. And I’d never had coffee or tea without sugar in it. And in coffee’s instance, I had cream as well as sugar, so it was basically a mocha milkshake.

And I decided I’m going to learn to like black coffee and I’m going to stop drinking sugared soda, Cokes and things, and instead of substituting it with diet soda, I’m going to learn to enjoy water. And I did, and that was 1976. By the way, I lost 52 pounds over about a three-month period, became fit – and I’ll tell you about that part of it in a second – and have been slender ever since. So, my waist is 30 inches, and I’m 75 years old, and it’s been pretty close to 30 inches for the last 40 plus years.

And I enjoy water. In fact, sometimes when we go out to dinner, I’ll just have water with the meal – no ice, thank you – and I’m perfectly content with that. And when I drink coffee, it’s always black coffee, but, at first, I didn’t like just water and I didn’t like black coffee. So, I re-trained my own taste buds and my own preferences, and I went on, at first, what I called a FABS diet. I made it up.

No fats, meaning animal fats, no alcohol, no bread, meaning white flour, and no second helpings. F-A-B-S. Second helpings are exactly twice as fattening as first helpings. I’ve noticed that. And I was always saying to my wife, “You’re not going to waste that, are you?” If she didn’t finish something on her plate, I would W-A-I-S-T waist it by putting it in my body.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Zing.

Jim Cathcart
See, all food goes to waste. It either goes into the trash or it goes around your middle.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Jim Cathcart
So, you have to choose which one do you prefer, and people say, “Well, it’s just wrong. It’s sinful to throw away food that’s still good.” Well, then put it in the fridge and eat it later or wait till it molds and then throw it away, but don’t store it around your middle. It takes too long to get rid of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. So, with that example then, we’re still applying that magnet principle except it’s not so much the people that are drawn to us but the results, and it still comes from the work of reshaping your core, like identity perspective, you are a slender person, and by being that, “How does a slender person think and operate and behave?” and there you go.

Jim Cathcart
Exactly. And that was the big thing because your mindset leads to your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits are your reputation, because a reputation is simply observed habit patterns. And your reputation determines which relationship doors open to you and which ones close. And the relationships you’re able to form determine the size of a future you’re capable of because nobody does it alone.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. That’s right. And if there are any skeptics in the audience, like, “Oh, that’s the motivation-y stuff,” I’ve been quite impressed with the work of psychologist Albert Bandura talking about self-efficacy, which is that these linkages are, in fact, pretty robustly evidenced in research that it’s not rah-rah.

Jim Cathcart
Oh, yeah, there is a lot of proof. The way a person thinks determines the actions they will choose. If they think they are unworthy and unlikable, then they will build up defenses and look for ways to game a system. If they think they are worthy and able to be valuable to other people, they will look for opportunities, and they will reach out.

If they feel they cannot recover from a failure, then they will do everything to mask themselves and their performance so that no one notices their failures. If they feel they can bounce back from a failure, the failure is not a scar or a permanent stain, it’s simply action that didn’t pay off the way you wanted. If they feel they can bounce back, then they will stay in the game and keep trying other things. They’ll be open to new ideas. So, mindset leads to actions, and actions repeated become patterns, which are habits.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, Jim, then, let’s go right to the core there. So, if you do have a belief or a mindset that isn’t leading you down the actions/habits pathway onto results that you’re looking for, like if you think…

Jim Cathcart
Yeah, leading you downhill instead of uphill because you got the same chain uphill and downhill. It’s what I call a causation chain. And so, it’s mindset, actions, habits, reputation, relationships, future. And if you go down the stairs instead of up the stairs, then it’s mindset, limited actions or wrong actions, bad habits, bad reputation, no relationships, small future or dim and dismal future.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, let’s say, if we do find ourselves, like we notice in ourselves a belief or a mindset that is pointing us in a downhill direction, and maybe we think, “I’m just fat,” or, “I am a loser,” or, “I’m too shy. I’ll never be able to run the big thing.” So, whatever limiting or unpleasant or downward-pointing mindset, belief, we have – and sometimes I think they are very conscious and front of mind for us, and other times are kind of buried, a little bit under the surface…

 

Jim Cathcart
And, also, we’ve been listening to people tell us things about ourselves, and many people just say, “Okay, that’s a fact because so and so said so.” That’s not true. That’s their opinion, their point of view based on the limited experience they’ve had with you. Like, if your parents tell you you’re a loser, that you’re never going to be a competitor, or that you’re not good at math, or you’re whatever, name your category. If you’ve been labeled or blamed as not being worthy in that category, and you accept that, then that’s your life. Sucks to be you. Sorry.

But if you say, “Well, man, that hurts and I don’t like that. How do I get past that?” The way to get past that is a different mindset, a different point of view, a different way of thinking about yourself, your world, your relationships, your potential, and other people, about life in general. I recognized, growing up in a working-class household where dad was a telephone repairman and mom was a homemaker, and we had my invalid grandfather in the front bedroom, who spent seven years in a hospital bed, never spoke or moved from the bed because of a stroke.

We had a loving household. But I wasn’t encouraged to think big. No one said, “Boy, Jim, you’ve really got potential. Man, if you apply yourself, you could do anything you want.” Nobody said that to me.

So, one day, I heard Earl Nightingale on the radio, Earl was a dean of personal motivation in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and he said, “If you will spend one hour extra each day studying your chosen field, in five years or less, you’ll be a national expert in that field. And in seven years, with an hour of focused attention extra on that each day, probably one of the world’s leading authorities in that field.” And I thought, “Wow, that’s 1,250 hours if you figure the minimal approach to five years, 1,250 hours on one subject beyond the job, yeah, even I could do that.”

And then I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living because I was working as a government clerk for the housing authority, and then it hit me a few weeks later, “I want to do what he’s doing but I don’t know what that means.” And so, I started studying human development, applied behavioral science, psychology, things like that, fanatically. I’m talking 12, 15, 20, 30 hours a week listening to recordings, reading books, going to the few seminars that existed back then, just getting around anybody that knew what they were talking about in those fields, and my world transformed.

And I bought a whole series of recordings from Earl Nightingale and listened to them fanatically every day to reprogram my own mind over time to seeing the world in a much more positive and intelligent way.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. And I completely buy that incidentally in terms of the hours because I think some people would say, “Oh, Malcolm Gladwell, 10,000 hours, whatever,” and that’s a bit of a different phenomenon, like violin practice versus knowledge in a domain because I’ve heard it said that if you read the top five books in your field, you’re beyond, like 90 plus percent of folks.

Jim Cathcart
You’re in the top 3% already, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s just five books, which might be like 15 of your hours, clock it under a month. So, I totally buy that. So, hey, good on you, How to be Awesome at Your Job listeners. You’re going places. Well, that’s one pathway to answer the question. If you find yourself with a mindset that’s not doing the trick for you, one path is to just dig, dig, dig deep into learning about a thing.

And so, are there other pathways you’d recommend in terms of, let’s say, “I think I’m just shy and I’ll never really be able to have a commanding presence in a room because that’s just not my gifting. I’m kind of behind the scenes, operational person, and that’s fine. We need all sorts.” What do we do with that?

Jim Cathcart
Yeah, let’s drill down. Let’s drill down to the underlying assumption. I found that there are two primary mindsets in the world that tend to easily separate the vast majority of subjects into this school and that school of thought. And the underlying mindset is there is a loving Creator, whether you call it a universal intelligence, or God, or Mother Nature, or whatever it is. There is a loving Creator in our lives. We’re meant to be. That’s one mindset or worldview.

The other one is, “No, there’s not. And once you’re dead, it’s over.” Okay. So, let’s take one of those assumptions and start organizing all the input that comes into a person’s life based on that underlying assumption. The assumption is, “There’s not one. This is it. And when it’s over, it’s over.” Okay. “It’s everyone for themselves. Get what you can while you can. And anything you can get away with, cool. Just do it because…” The other side says, “No, you should be nice to people because that’s what works best.” “Okay, if it works best. If it doesn’t work best, to heck with them. This is your only shot. Go for it.” so, that’s one mindset.

The other mindset is there is a reason for humans to be alive. We are so profoundly different from all other lifeforms that this must be somehow meant to be. And if that’s the case, then we’re not the sheep of an angry god that wants us to submit, because how shallow would that be for something as powerful as a god to just want servants and just wants submission? You follow that through to the thoughtful end of it, and it just doesn’t make sense.

So, if there is a source of creation, a source of life, and that source of life meant for us to exist, then what is sin? Sin would be not living well, fully, in the ways that you’re designed to live. In other words, there are thousands, if not millions, of contributions you could make to the world to make it a better place, a happier place, a more loving place, a safer place, etc. And if you don’t do those things you are capable of doing, or learning how to do, then you deny your creation, you say, “No, I was a mistake. I’m a factory second. Just let me get out of the way. I’ll die soon. Don’t worry about it.”

Or, you can say, “If I’m meant to exist, and I can do a great deal of good, it would be a sin, not in a Biblical sense, but in a cosmic or philosophical sense, for me not to do the good I could do. If somebody needs to be pulled out of quicksand and I’m walking by and I’ve got a rope, and I don’t do it, I can take partial blame for their death because I didn’t do the good I was capable of doing at a time when I could’ve done it.”

So, I think there is a reason for people to exist. I think that the essence of life is living fully, that that’s our job, our assignment, and that that means physically, mentally, spiritually, interpersonally, etc., and that we should live the most abundant life we’re capable of. They’ll, “Yeah, but I’m not good at math.” Yet. See, that’s the word that all these people leave out.

Sudoku, just play around with friends or go to Mathnasium where my grandson teaches, and learn to be better at math, “Yeah, but I just don’t like people.” No, you don’t like you and you’re afraid of getting around other people because you don’t think they’ll like you either. Well, true. Or, “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve got the bandwidth to do smart things.” Do you know how to avoid pain? “Yeah.” Do you know how to eliminate danger, like if a kid is running into traffic, you stop them or you stop the traffic? “Yeah.” It looks to me like you’re a useful being. Go forth and multiply.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s fascinating and deep and profound in terms of like zeroing in on a singular belief and you brought it to a Creator. And I guess, I don’t know, we could debate whether this is one belief.

Jim Cathcart
Yeah, the danger here is when you say the word Creator, people say, “Oh, God, church, Bible, strict, rules, judgment, shame.” And you think, “What? Where the heck did that come from? I never brought up any of that stuff,” but they go, [makes noise] right down into that deep dark hole, and that’s not what it’s about at all. Not at all.

There is a life source. Everybody would pretty much have to agree that there’s a source that causes life.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I guess when you bring about the life source, I guess I’m thinking the notion of responsibility is what hits me in that it’s like either you feel, you believe you are responsible to become all you can be, to contribute all you can, or you think it’s more of a hedonistic do-whatever eat-drink-and-be-merry-for-tomorrow-we-die kind of a vibe.

Jim Cathcart
Yeah. Well, one of those goes outward and the other one comes inward. See, the outward is the service and the doing, and the other one is the receiving, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I guess I’m thinking it’s conceivably possible that you might not have a unique view…you can have a different view of the Creator but also feel the responsibility. But, regardless, I hear what you’re saying in terms of we’ve got…that is a foundational mindset pathway differentiator right there. And so, if we are on the…

Jim Cathcart
And it has a profound domino effect once that shift is made.

Pete Mockaitis
So, if we are on the responsible stewardship contribution pathway, and then we have more of a minor mindset difference, like, “Oh, I’m just shy and I’m not going to be able to do whatever,” it’s like you gave us one master key, which is throwing a yet in there. It’s like, “At the moment, that is the case. However, that is not fixed and we have the opportunity,” Carol Dweck’s growth mindset action, “to grow and flourish.”

Jim Cathcart
Yeah, things are learnable.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that’s one master key. Any other perspectives there? You find yourself with a troubling mindset and you want to shift gears and directions, what can we do?

Jim Cathcart
If you feel that life is unfair, that, somehow, you’re a factory reject, you were the bad product coming off the assembly line and there’s not much hope for you, then your life is going to be defensive. Your life is going to be sad, of course, and scary but you’re going to take that assumption and reinforce it daily with actions that kind of build on that belief. So, how do you interrupt that belief? It’s not just the other. How do you interrupt that belief? Because any pattern that’s not working needs to be interrupted. And if you don’t interrupt the pattern, you get more of it.

So, if I’ve got a pattern of eating too many sweets, let me look at that pattern. Where do I keep the sweets? “It’s all around the house.” Why? “Because I like to eat them.” Okay, do you like the result of eating them? “No.” Okay, could you restrict them to one place in the house and eat fewer? “Yeah, if I didn’t have them on the coffee table and the kitchen counter and the other places, I probably wouldn’t impulse-eat as often. So, yeah, if I put them on the cabinet, always had to go in there and never put them out on the table, then I would probably eat fewer sweets.” Okay, what if you didn’t even put them in the house? What if they were in the garage, in a cabinet?

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Jim Cathcart
“Well, that’s just silly.” No, it’s not. This is simply a self-management technique. I came up with a little formula I call MADE, and I say it’s your mindset and your lifestyle must be made. And it’s going to be made by someone else or by you, so why not take charge of it? So, M mental picture. What do you focus your attention on? How do you envision your future? How do you talk about your future and so forth?

A, affirmation. That’s the words you use, the actions you take, that reinforce one mental picture or another. So, if I say, “I’m not very coordinated physically. I don’t learn new skills quickly.” Okay, I get that. Every time you say that, you strengthen that belief. Every single time you say it, you strengthen the belief in it. And every time you strengthen that belief, you increase the likelihood of undesirable actions.

So, mental picture, affirmation. The D in MADE is daily successes, and that means doing little tiny things every single day that leads in the direction you want instead of the direction you want to avoid. And the E stands for environmental influences. So, it could be something as simple as having a motivational slogan on your wall, or a photo of your dearest child or grandchild in front of you on your desk, or a reminder, or a saying, or something – environmental influences. Also, the people you hang with are environmental influences. The places you go are environmental influences.

So, I thought I was naturally inclined to be a fat guy. I spoke that way and I acted that way. So, I had to change my mental picture, and say, “I commit here today to become a slender person,” and then I had to notice my language and interrupt the pattern of talking myself down, and say, “I’m becoming slender.” Someone said, “Jim, you’re fat,” “Yeah, but I’m becoming slender.” And so, I adjusted my language and I talked in terms of what I wanted and intended, not what I feared or hated.

And then daily successes, I found that I couldn’t get myself, at first, to exercise on a regular basis, so I made an absurd commitment that turned the trick. I committed, and I don’t mean I decided to do this on a superficial level. I committed to putting on my running shoes and walking to the curb every day, 365 days a year, no matter what the weather, no matter what the agenda. And you’d think, “Well, that’s just stupid. It’s so trivial.” No, that was the first olive out of the bottle. That was the first lick on the ketchup bottle that got it to start flowing.

By walking to the curb with running shoes on, every day I had to make a second decision, “Do I go for a walk or a run, or do I go back in the house and eat ice cream?” And some days, I went back in the house and I ate ice cream, but most days I said, “Well, I’m going to the corner. Well, I can go to the next mailbox. I could make it to that tree before I stop.” And before long, I was running five miles a day easily, and the weight just dripped off of me because I was still on the FABS diet regimen, and I was learning to like water and black coffee. And I dropped 52 pounds, I got in great physical shape, and people started talking about me as an athlete.

I remember the first time a guy said, “He’s skinny like Jim,” and I thought, “Oh, my gosh, I am thin. I’m skinny. Wow! Thank you.” And that was 40 years ago.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool.

Jim Cathcart
Forty plus, as a matter of fact.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Kudos. Kudos.

Jim Cathcart
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jim, this has been a lot of fun. I want to make sure we get to hear some of your favorite things. Can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jim Cathcart
A favorite passage from the Bible – I’m Christian – is John 10:10, but you don’t have to take this in a Biblical sense. You can take it in a philosophical sense. John 10:10 is where Jesus is quoted as saying, “I’ve come that they would have life, and have it more abundantly.” Well, I embrace that as my life purpose. I want my life to help others live more abundantly, live more fully, more meaningfully, more satisfying, because they got ideas that I was sharing. So, that’s my purpose.

The greatest quote I can recall right off the top of my head is from Zig Ziglar. Zig said, “You can get everything you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.” And ain’t that the truth, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And could you also share with us a favorite book?

Jim Cathcart
I’ve got two and they’re very similar in nature. One is The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino, which stood for Augustine, and that was his nickname, Og Mandino. And Og was a friend of mine, he sold tens of millions of books. And The Greatest Salesman in the World is not just for salespeople, it’s for anybody, but it’s an inspiring book set in ancient times with people, nomads wandering across the desert and all that sort of thing. And it’s about a young camel boy that ended up becoming fabulously successful. So, The Greatest Salesman in the World.

And then another one that’s similar in nature but much more contemporary, and that’s by Giovanni Livera, and the book is called Live A Thousand Years. And it’s like a Disney movie when you read the book but it’s all about goal-setting and self-awareness and healthy relationships and living a meaningful life. And it’s just so well-written. So there’s two.

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

Jim Cathcart
Well, I’ll point them to my name, Jim Cathcart. If you do a Google search on that, you’ll end up with like 300,000 links. And I’m Jim Cathcart on YouTube, on Instagram, on Facebook, on LinkedIn – Cathcart Institute on LinkedIn also – Vimeo. Man, I’m out there. The only thing you won’t find me on is Twitter. I canceled that account. I got frustrated with Twitter. But Cathcart.com is my website, and I’m pretty much omnipresent.

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

Jim Cathcart
Well, I would just challenge them to take some of the ideas we’ve been talking about and start applying them in writing, keeping a record, dating your written record, right now, for the next 30 days or the next however long you can get yourself to do it. Just start applying some of these ideas and notice the payoffs that you get. And if you need my help, come join me.

In February, I’m going to Nashville. I’m going a program called Going Pro. In June, I’m going to Machu Picchu, Peru and doing a program on knowing yourself and understanding all the things that make you who you are based on my book The Acorn Principle. So, come with me and let’s see how much more successful you could be.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. Jim, this has been fun. Thanks so much for taking the time and keep on rocking.

Jim Cathcart
It’s a joy for me. Thank you. And go to GuitarMusicLive.com and listen to and watch some of my videos where I’m playing and singing. I’ve got 19 songs on there, and I don’t know how many videos, but it’s all free. Just go there and enjoy yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Thank you.

734: How to Train Your Mind to Focus and Handle Distractions Better with Dr. Amishi Jha

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Dr. Amishi Jha shares the results of her research to provide a simple solution to improve your focus.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biggest myth about our attention spans 
  2. The four reasons your attention is getting hijacked
  3. The three systems of attention—and how to train them 

About Amishi

Dr. Amishi Jha is a professor of psychology at the University of Miami. She serves as the Director of Contemplative Neuroscience for the Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative, which she co-founded in 2010. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California–Davis and postdoctoral training at the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center at Duke University. Dr. Jha’s work has been featured at NATO, the World Economic Forum, and The Pentagon. She has received coverage in The New York Times, NPR, TIME, Forbes and more. You can find Dr. Jha at http://amishi.com/lab. 

Resources Mentioned

Dr. Amishi Jha Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Amishi, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Amishi Jha
It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat with you about focus and attention. That comes up a lot from listeners. And at first, I was hoping you could settle this for me once and for all. Goldfish attention spans, human attention spans, shrinking, being worse than that of a goldfish? Is this a myth? How is this measured? How do we even know if the status of the American attention spans this day and age?

Amishi Jha
Great question. And the answer is, no, we do not have the attention span of a goldfish. We are stable in our attention. It has not shrunk.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Amishi Jha
In fact, there’s nothing really wrong with our attention, and that’s the sort of paradox at this moment, is that, oftentimes, we feel like our attention is in crisis, but, frankly, our attention systems are working perfectly. And to answer your question about how we know, it’s because we, as cognitive neuroscientists who study attention, have been using the same type of basic attention tasks for decades, about four or five decades now, and we haven’t seen a blip or a change since the advent of the internet and the advent of smartphones and their prevalence. Nothing has really changed. We’re still pretty much the same brain we’ve been for quite some time.

Pete Mockaitis
And what is the attention task that you use?

Amishi Jha
There’s a whole bunch of them but one example would be where we, for example, would have people come into the lab, and their task is to sit in front of a computer screen, and they see a series of digits on the screen, kind of appearing one, let’s say one every second or so, and press a button every time you see a digit, except if that digit is three. And when you see a three, withhold their response. But the threes only appear about 5% of the time. So, that’s one example.

And what happens is people are terrible at this task, and they’ve always been terrible at this task, because it seems pretty simple to just look at a digit on the screen and press a button. But we are very much prone to what’s called mind wandering or internal distract-ability. And that rate of internal distract-ability is pretty stable. It’s a high number. About 50% of our waking moments, we can get hijacked away from the task at hand. But that number has not gone up since, like I said, cellphones, internet, etc.

And then there’s other ways we can do it, too, looking at things called working memory, where we’re just looking at sort of the cache or RAM, if you will, of your mind, your internal capacity to have a scratch space. That also has not changed over time.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m just a nudge enough of a dork, so if you’ll indulge me, I’d love to know all of these because I went down this rabbit hole of research associated with the Stroop word color test, and even found a game on the iPhone called Stroop, which lets you put red, green, red, because – for listeners not in the know, it might show the word red written in a green font, color, and you have to select the font, color from options which may also be mixed. So, it’s tricky for your brain to attend to the thing and subdue or ignore the other thing you might naturally do. And so, that’s just kind of fun.

I don’t know if I’m actually doing something good for my brain by playing this repeatedly and trying to beat my score. Well, you tell me, is that a helpful activity?

Amishi Jha
I love that you’re interested in the Stroop test, and, yes, just to like refresh people in terms of what this task is because it’s a classic task of attention. And what we’re doing is unnaturally making your brain go to war with itself. So, the task itself is, yes, you’ll see a series of words on a screen, and your job is to press a button indicating the color of the font and do that as fast as possible.

Most of the time, when the font color is presented and it’s some all X’s or all O’s, we have no problem with this. We just press the button to indicate the color. But when we make it go to war with itself, we’re actually causing your brain to have to inhibit a very, very natural and automatic process, which is reading.

So, now we’re going to present those words, like you said, in the letters of a color word, so the word yellow would be in orange font, or something like that, so there’s a conflict there. Your job is to detect the font color, but the word yellow is so prominent that you want to say yellow in that and you’d be wrong. So, it absolutely is engaging, a very specific kind of attention process, executive control, but if you keep doing it over and over again, probably you’ll get better at the task and not much else. Not much else.

Pete Mockaitis
I was hoping to correlate to something.

Amishi Jha
Yeah, that’s the thing about the brain. It’s a smart organ and it will get very specific in its ability to maximize learning, but it’s also very context-specific. So, now if I give you some other tasks where I put your brain at war with itself, you may not benefit because you’re well-practiced at color word inhibition but you may not be very practiced at some other form of inhibition.

And, actually, it’s so funny that you mentioned that because it’s much related to the kind of things that we were doing in my lab. Brain-training games are so prominent and they’re available all over. Like you said, you downloaded an app to do this, but it ends up that there’s not a lot of generalizability. There’s not a lot of evidence that, after doing this game a hundred times, or let’s even say every day of the course of a year, you might see that your score on the game is getting better and better and better, but now if I transferred to some other tasks, it’s going to be back to where it was as if you’d never seen this kind of task before.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, for the research dorks, we got the Stroop word color is one thing, and you described the digit. What’s the name of that test?

Amishi Jha
That’s called the Sustained Attention Response Test, SART, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Sustained Attention Response Test. And there was a third one?

Amishi Jha
Oh, there’s many, many. We could spend our whole time just talking about tasks, but I’ll just give you another one that’s pretty straightforward. And that is something called the operations span task, and this is a classic way that we index what’s called working memory, this ability to maintain and manipulate information over very short intervals. Like I said, the cache or RAM, if you think of a computer analogy for the brain.

So, we don’t need to remember this information forever. We just need to remember it long enough for us to be able to use it. So, in the operations span task, what happens is we present a series of letters that you see, and your job is to remember those letters, but intervening between the presentation of the letters will be a simple math problem. So, it would be like ADZ, and then you’d have to do simple math, and some other set of letters, then simple math again. And at some point, you’ll see a bigger screen that has a whole bunch of letters on it, and you have to click all the ones that were part of those that you were asked to remember.

And people can do this reasonably well but it gives us a very solid notion of what the capacity of working memory is, which is, essentially, the ability to maintain, like I said, the information with this interfering stuff, the simple math, which is requiring work of your brain and potentially causing problems with you being able to remember it so you got to work a little extra hard to remember the information. And on those working memory tasks, like this O-span task, like I said, 50 years, not really any change in terms of how people perform on it. So, we’re not really shrinking in our capacity to pay attention and remember information in this way.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is so fun to hear, well, one, I guess, it gives you more hope for our species and our future. And, two, it’s almost a trope nowadays, like, “Oh, with digital distractions, our minds are being hijacked and so…” You’re saying, “Well, no, according to the measures we’ve had for decades, it looks like our attention spans are actually doing okay.” Is something different? Has something changed? It feels like it has in our experience.

Amishi Jha
Well, both of the things that you said are true. Our attention is more prone to being hijacked and our attention spans are unchanged. So, why is our attention more prone to being hijacked? Because the opportunities for distraction are greater in our day-to-day lives. And the way in which we are prone to distraction is because social media companies, technology developers, are gaming the way the brain is organized.

There’s a reason why when you go on a particular website, let’s say a social media website, your name is prominent, the content is pretty much tied to what is of interest to you, it’s catered to you. There’s also a reason why things that are fear-inducing, threatening, novel, interesting, grab your attention. In fact, your attention is the commodity, is the product that the social media company is selling to make money for its own company.

So, yes, it absolutely is the case that you are going to be sucked in because not of your own failings, but because a team of engineers, not just an engineer or two, but like literally hundreds of people have built very sophisticated algorithms that not only know how your attention work but know precisely how to tune the enticements to your attention so that you will spend as much time as possible on the app.

And so, if you notice the qualities of that information – self-related, threatening, fear-inducing, novel – this is what the brain is tuned for through our evolutionary programming, through our evolutionary development. Of course, it’s the case that you’ll drop everything and pay attention to something novel, interesting, or threatening, or related to you, because that advantaged your survival over the millennia that humans have existed.

So, that’s what’s being sort of gamed and capitalized upon. And that’s why the way we’re going to have to battle the hijacking of our attention is going to require something different. We can’t simply just break up with our phones. We’re going to have to do something in a different manner to be able to manage the kind of pull we’re going to get on our attention. Very different from saying that there’s something wrong with our attention. There’s not.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. So, in a lab-controlled setting, where the smartphone is away is like, “Hey, our mental capabilities are pretty similar to how they’ve been but in the real life, we’ve got distraction machines surrounding us like never before.” Is that kind of how we got both things true at the same time?

Amishi Jha
Yes, both things are true at the same time, but I do think it’s a point of empowering ourselves to know there’s nothing fundamentally broken here.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, amen.

Amishi Jha
In fact, it’s the fact that it’s so healthy and so predictable that allows these algorithms to be built around maximizing that. And so, part of that responsibility, I, frankly, think is on a lot of app developers and social media companies and technology companies to be aware of the costs on that and to build in features that might help us monitor better our own engagement with the technology. It doesn’t advantage their bottom line but advantages our ability to function healthfully. So, that’s one answer.

I think the other part of the answer is really what I wanted to share in my book, which is that we can train our own mind, not through brain-training games, but through other methodologies that might help us advantage ourselves better because we are training ourselves to be more aware moment by moment of where our attention is, to make better choices that favor what we want to accomplish and what we want to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I was just about to ask that next. So, this next book Peak Mind: Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day, tells us, what’s the big idea here and what’s the magic of 12 minutes?

Amishi Jha
Yeah, the big idea is, essentially, what we started talking about, that we live in a world now where it feels like a crisis of attention, even if the objective data tells us our brains are actually fine and healthy. And that crisis of attention feeling, by the way, if we locked ourselves in a room, had no technology, and we’re really intending to focus, we would discover that our attention is not going to be unwavering. And it’s not a modern feature.

If we look back hundreds of years to medieval monks, they actually did that. They became monastics, they isolated themselves from their families, and then they complained that while they were supposed to be praying, they were worried about lunch or a conversation they had. So, this is also something really to appreciate about the nature of the mind. It is built for distract-ability so even though our capacity for attention has not changed, we are distractable. It’s just the way it is. And there’s, again, an evolutionary reason for that.

But it ends up that under certain circumstances, very high-stress, high-demand circumstances, unlike the kinds of the professional lives of a lot of the people that we study in my laboratory, that number, that percentage of time that we’re intrinsically distractable goes up, and then we can really suffer a lot of problems, so that our attention is not in the task at hand, we lapse, we make errors, and those can be consequential, life or death in the case of service members or emergency service professionals, medical professionals, surgeons, for example, or even judges and lawyers. If you miss information, it has consequences.

Pete Mockaitis
So, with regard to the training, well, okay, yes, stress. So, with the stress perspective, I guess I was thinking in some ways stress can really galvanize your attention, like, “Okay, it’s do or die. This is the moment. Got to get her done. The clock is ticking.”

And so, in some ways, I thought that would make us less distractable. You say it can make us more distractable? Can you elaborate?

Amishi Jha
Both again are true. I’m not going to say, “You are completely correct, Pete.” And what I said is also correct. So, it ends up stress is a variable that can range from actually being very helpful to harmful. And we can even think of it as having a shape. So, if you think of it, imagine in your mind, a graph, and I’m drawing on the graph, the X and the Y axes, and then the shape of the graph itself as an inverted U.

So, on the X-axis, we have stress. Low stress, low performance. So, the Y-axis is performance, the X-axis is stress. Low stress, low performance. As the stress goes up, you start climbing up the U, kind of like the top of a mountain, and your performance will reach a sweet spot so that the right amount of stress is going to optimize your performance.

But, now, if you push past that sweet spot and stress keeps going up, you’re on the downward slope where you’re actually going to start degrading and depleting your performance relative to having less stress available to you. So, we can parse the way we think about stress as eustress, meaning the letters E and U, meaning beneficial stress, or distress.

And what ends up happening with a lot of the groups that we work with, like I said – service members, first responders, even students for that matter – what might be the optimal amount of stress, that eustress peak point, if you maintain that level of demand over a long period of time, you will start slipping into distress, and most of us will not be aware that that is happening.

So, it’s like, if you think about a student, “Oh, I’m really good if I have to cram for a final three nights before I have to take the final.” Now, if you’ve got seven finals, I guarantee you that cramming approach night after night after night is not going to lead to beneficial results. So, it’s just important to know that the features of stress that I’m talking about that are problematic are really dipping into distress. There’s not a match between what you feel like you can accomplish well and your capacity to do so.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, really? So, we don’t even know.

Amishi Jha
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, if we don’t know, how can we know? I mean, is there an alternative gauge by which we have a sense?

Amishi Jha
Well, we do know. It may not be a performance that we necessarily are…we’re not aware going into it, like, “Oh, this, my performance is going to suffer here.” We don’t have that view typically but we know what it feels like to be distressed. We know it feels too much.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like after the fact, we know.

Amishi Jha
No, even as you’re in it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Amishi Jha
Even as you’re in it, you’re feeling, “Oh, my gosh, this is too much.” And so, what we can know from our objective data, if you take people over a protracted period of high demand – the academic semester, for an athlete, it could be competition season, or even pre-season training; for a service member, it could be pre-deployment training, or deployment itself. These are periods of time where you know it’s going to be demanding, and the demands are not going to let up for some multiple weeks.

If we test people’s attention with the same kind of tasks we were talking about earlier, O-span and SART and Stroop, and then we come back four to six to eight weeks later and then give them the same battery of tasks, if that period intervening between those two time points was very demanding, we will see a significant decline in performance. And, usually, we see people reporting that their mood is worse and their self-reported distress is greater.

So, that’s something to keep in mind. It’s that it’s not just that you feel icky and maybe burnt out from the psychological standpoint, but your actual effectiveness is going to be impacted. And what I was interested in doing, again, from this attention research point of view, is, look, there are populations, professions, for whom they will always have to operate their best when circumstances are likely to drive down attentional functioning. And we know what the features are of circumstances that are likely to drive own attentional functioning. Threatening circumstances, stressful, like we talked about; stress perceived stress that we experience and negative circumstances.

So, if you think about going into a warzone or going into a fire, if it was a firefighter, or having to deal with critical-care situations as a nurse or a physician, those are characterizing contexts where attention is going to be compromised. But we want these people to perform at their best because things could be a lot worse if they don’t. So, I wanted to figure out a way to train people so that they could be almost mentally armored against stress, and that proved to be a really tricky thing to track down mainly because of what you were saying earlier. There are so many solutions offered right now, like play brain-training games, or use this device to zap your brain with a small amount of electrical current.

Pete Mockaitis
“I have a Muse EEG in my hands.”

Amishi Jha
Exactly. And I’m not going to say anything about Muse in particular, or any particular technology, but I’ll tell you, that in our hands, in my laboratory, when people were experiencing high-demand circumstances, not a lot was helpful to protecting attention from declining.

Pete Mockaitis
Not a lot. Okay.

Amishi Jha
Not a lot. In fact, I would say probably nothing, it reliably showed, protective effects except for one thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, you got my attention. What is it? What do we do?

Amishi Jha
It was a little bit of a surprise to me because I would say I was very skeptical of this solution just for a variety of reasons which we can talk about. But the one thing that tended to reliably, and now after about 15 years of research in my own lab and many other labs has been shown over and over again, was mindfulness meditation training.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Amishi Jha
So, when people engage in mindfulness meditation training, for as little as 12 to 15 minutes a day, during these high-stress intervals, we see that those tasks don’t decline, people don’t decline their performance on those tasks. They actually stay stable over time. And sometimes, if they do enough practice, even if the circumstances are likely to deplete the average person, they can actually improve. So, not only stabilize but potentially optimize attention when everything about the circumstances suggest they would be compromised to attention.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, so many follow-ups here. Okay, so 12 to…you say as little as 12 to 15 minutes. I’m curious, in some ways, I hear that’s sort of like the minimum effective dose. Is there like a noticeable point of diminishing returns? Like, if 12 to 15 minutes is good, is 120 to 150 minutes ten times as good? Or, how does it break down?

Amishi Jha
Yeah, I think that this is where we’re just at the beginning of the science. And my interest in the research program that I’m engaged in was really to ask that first-level question. These are time-pressured people, we’re trying to get them in the busiest most stressful periods of their lives, what do they absolutely need to try to do to benefit themselves? And it’s not one-shot 12 minutes or 15 minutes. It’s over the course of multiple weeks daily.

So, it’s like from the physical training point of view, would walking around the block in a leisurely pace be enough to actually improve my cardiovascular health? Or, do I need to run or jog or walk briskly at some level for a certain amount of time? And the answer tends to be around maybe 20 to 30 minutes a day of brisk walking or jogging can be more beneficial than a leisurely walk.

So, I want to know that. I want to know what the kind of minimum dose was. And the way we were able to find this out was not by prescribing people various amounts of training to do and then seeing kind of like maybe a pharmacologic study where you give people different-sized pills, and say, “Okay, this pill is the one that works.”

Humans, especially complex human behavior, does work that way. So, what we ended up doing is we went to the literature, and said, “Okay, what is typically done?” Because mindfulness training, even though I was one of the first labs to bring it into context like the military, or at least sports, mindfulness training had been around not only for millennia from the wisdom traditions, but even for several decades prior to our work beginning in the military, in the medical setting.

And it was through a program called Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction, which is developed by a wonderful colleague of mine, Jon Kabat-Zinn, offered in medical clinics over 750 or more now around the world, usually offered for people that are suffering from intractable physical conditions that nobody else can help them. So, chronic pain, for example. People come into the clinic, they take a course for about eight weeks, they practice 45 minutes a day, and there are benefits. There are benefits to their body, to their mind, to their relationships, and now even brain imaging studies suggest that those are benefits.

But for the kind of groups that I was working with, 45 minutes a day was a nonstarter. Nobody was going to do that. So, in our initial studies, when, for example, working with pre-deployment Marines, we asked them to do 30 minutes a day, during pre-deployment, like I said. Nobody did 30 minutes a day. I mean, maybe, on occasion, one or two people did it but, on average, people were doing…well, actually, before I even talk about on average, there was just a huge range. Some people did what we said, very rarely but they did it. Other people did zero. And then we had all the combinations in between.

So, we decided to take a data-emergent approach, because just telling them what to do didn’t mean that they would do it. And, instead, we said, “Okay, what is the amount of time that the people that tend to benefit, what is the amount of time that they’re doing?” And it ended up that it was about 12 minutes or more that they were doing. And those that did less than 12 minutes really weren’t benefitting. In fact, they looked no different than the people that didn’t get the training at all.

So, then in the subsequent studies, we said, “Okay, if 12 minutes is some kind of sweet spot, let’s only tell them to do it for 12 minutes. Let’s prescribe them, let’s record guided practices that are 12 minutes long, and, first of all, let’s see if they do it more often.” And they did. “And now let’s see what the benefits are.” And what we found was that it was not just doing the 12-minute practices, which I like said, people were much more willing to do than 30-minute practices, but was doing them about five days a week where we started seeing benefits.

So, this is how study after study where we’re just trying to triangulate around the formula for a minimum effective dose. Now, you’re asking the great question, which is, “What about the other end? I want to optimize. I want to be superhuman. I want to be Olympian-level attention. What do I do then?” Well, you got three years to go on a mindfulness retreat and practice mindfulness practices 12 to 14 hours a day. You could do that.

So, there are people that are in that range. There are people, for example, monastics who devote their lives to intensive retreat practices, and those are very compelling types of data, and that’s a whole field of research. Unfortunately, because the nature of the groups that I work with, they don’t have the option of doing that, and it’s, frankly, just not my interest to look at that. But there is a world of beyond the minimum effective dose where we’re learning, just as you would expect, like an Olympic-level athlete is going to be much more capable than somebody who just starts a couch to 5K. Same thing is true for mindfulness training and the kind of brain changes you see.

In terms of specifically quantifying it, we’re not quite there yet but I think this gives you a sense that there is a minimum effective dose, but the more you do, the more you benefit.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. And so, we’ll get into some of the particulars of mindfulness meditation training in terms of how that’s done. I guess I’d love to hear, when you talk about the benefits, like what does that mean in terms of quantitative-ness? So, we talked about attention decrements, it’s like it’s worse. Attention can be worse when you don’t do it. Could you maybe just contextualize or share some numbers? It’s like am I going to be able to focus like a smidgen better, like 3% better if I do my 12 to 15 minutes a day, five days a week? Or, kind of what’s the, roughly speaking, size of the price for the average professional?

Amishi Jha
Yeah, and we’re talking between something like that, between 5 and 10% better.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s the numerator/denominator we’re measuring with better?

Amishi Jha
Well, let’s just take one very specific task, the sustained attention response test. Like I said, you’re going to press a button every time you see a digit. When you see a three, you withhold. People typically press to the three 50% of the time even though they’re not supposed to, and this is usually because they are mentally time-traveling away. They’re hijacked away. They kind of go on autopilot and they just press, press, press. The three appears, they press, and then they might have a, “Oh, shoot,” they realized they’ve made a mistake. Too late, you already pressed. So, that is the baseline.

Under high stress, that number goes up. People press to the three even more often. And with mindfulness training, we see that they can benefit with about 10% improvement from their baseline. And so, what does that mean? You might say, “Well, that’s, okay, great. So, I don’t press the three, why do I care? Like, why does that matter?” Well, what we think it represents is really this ability to be more present-centered because you’re noting what’s happening moment by moment, you’re not defaulting to autopilot.

It also translates into really a correspondence with actual activities. So, for example, in the context of soldiers, if you’re doing a shoot no-shoot drill so that you know that you are to shoot to the bad guys and withhold from the innocent civilians. And if you’re making that level of mistakes, a 10% improvement is giant. That actually means life or death benefits for people. And those are the numbers that really matter and are actionable for people to not make grave errors that could cause them for their entire lives. So, I’ll just tell you that we’re just at the beginning of now trying to translate laboratory-based metrics into what we call operationally relevant metrics. How does it translate into real life?

But we’re starting to be able to ask those questions to see in the kinds of tasks that people do. So, for example, medical errors. What is the actionable benefit from mindfulness training on the rate of medical errors? And, again, this is now data that’s just starting to be gathered so I can’t give you precise numbers. We’re really on the edge of this knowledge right now but we’re asking the right questions to say, “Okay, attention may be protected and benefitted. How does it matter? And how does it show up in people’s lives?”

But even before we go to the objective, what we noticed people saying is that they’re more there, they’re not wandering away. The quality of their own relationships is improved, their leadership capacity is improved, their ability to do their jobs and feel engaged in their jobs is improved. So, that’s just painting the picture of where we are at the science in the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s interesting. I can’t help but run some numbers in terms of an eight-hour workday, 5% to 10% more attentive minutes. That’s very rough and crude but I mean that is significant to the tune of 24 to 48 extra minutes, which is a lot more than 12 to 15 in terms of a profitable endeavor for us.

Amishi Jha
Yeah. And those are just estimates right now. I think that is probably a lot even more than that if you think about the nature of what kinds of processes improve. So, it’s not just being able to pay attention, which is just so important, but mood improves, work enjoyment and engagement improve, presenteeism is going down. There’s a whole literature on mindfulness in the workplace that is now revealing the benefits for organizations to offer this in the workplace context.

And not just as sort of a salve for like, “Oh, you feel burnt out. Here, just go take some mindfulness,” which is sort of the backlash against offering it. But people going to it on their own, and now finding that just like having a gym in your office building can help you, having courses available through their workplace may motivate them to actually be more likely to give it a try. There’s an ease about being able to incorporate it.

And then, of course, moving forward, it may actually impact work culture so that it’s very normal to begin a meeting with, as my colleagues at the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute say, “A moment to arrive.” It’s like every meeting, people are probably wandering away more than 50% of their time. But what if we make it part of the culture that we’re actually here? What if we can cut meeting time down because you don’t have to repeat yourselves, or there’s not conflicting and ambiguous information being thrown around because more people are really there? They’re not on their phone and they’re not off in their own mental time travel.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And they’re not saying semi-relevant things. They’re saying fully relevant things, which kind of prevents all of the side tangents that never needed to occur because that’s not quite relevant to what we’re trying to achieve in this meeting.

Amishi Jha
Yeah, absolutely. But I don’t think it’s part of most workplaces to take the attentional state of every member of the team seriously and to make it an explicit priority for everybody to show up. But if that could happen, and there are ways to train everybody’s minds to do that for themselves, and then do it collectively, that could be really, really powerful.

So, actually, some of the work we’re doing right now with the military, the kind of edge of our work in active projects is looking at team-based mindfulness. What happens when an entire squad that works together? And this is by the way known in the context of medical teams. When there’s mindfulness practice by the individuals, and even a nod toward what we might call collective mindfulness, team cohesion can improve, the sense of belonging can improve, conflict between team members can go down. And this can all relate to their productivity as well as their fulfillment in the work that they do.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. All right. So, mindfulness meditation training, that’s come up a few times on the show. What does that really mean we’re doing in practice?

Amishi Jha
Yeah. And this is one of those interesting things about a term like mindfulness being so common these days. Like, people have heard it probably at some point, and, like you said, you’ve even had it come up on your show. So, let me just take you through why it ended up, I think, being such a powerful solution for our work that was really focused on attention. And if you don’t mind, I’d love to say a little bit about what attention is because we’ve also kind of been using that word in a blanket way.

And I like to break it down as sort of this giant concept of attention, which is really, broadly speaking, the ability to prioritize some information over other information. And we evolved this ability to solve a big problem that the brain had, which is that there’s just way more out there in the world, and even generated within our mind, than we can fully process at any moment.

So, this notion and process of prioritization allows us to have more fine tuned and granular information accessible to us while everything else sort of fades into the background. So, something is prominent and other things are not. And when we think about the topic of attention, the way it’s been studied, we’re learning that there’s probably three main ways that we pay attention. In fact, three main brain systems that support these different ways of paying attention.

So, the first way is really just probably the way we’ve been using it kind of without even talking about it explicitly – focus, the notion that there’s content. And just like right now, I’m looking at your face, I’m not looking at the curtains behind you or whatever, the door behind you, whatever I see, I’m able to focus in on the granular detail, seeing the expression on your face, etc. Everything else kind of fades into the background.

So, the metaphor for this that I like to use is like a flashlight. If I were in a darkened room, wherever I direct that flashlight, I’m going to get crisp clear privileged information relative to everything that’s darkened around it. Attention really does the same thing, in this kind of flashlight metaphor, something called the orienting system of attention.

And, by the way, this is that same system that we talked about that ends up being a problem with social media and the pull on our attention, because, just like a flashlight, we can direct orienting willfully, we can decide where we want to point our attention. We can move it around. We can direct it toward the external environment or the internal environment. Like if I said, “Pete, what is the sensation right now of the bottom to your feet?” Probably before I said that, you had no idea, you weren’t thinking about it, but now you can check in and give me an answer.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m on a standing mat. It’s got a cushiony vibe to it.

Amishi Jha
There you go, see. Squishy and pleasant probably. But that same flashlight can get yanked. And the kinds of things that yank have those features of salience, self-related, threatening, novel, like all these kinds of things that are programmed into us. But that’s still just one system of attention, this kind of flashlight or orienting system.

Another way we can pay attention is not privileging content, but privileging time. So, what’s happening right now? That’s something that we call the alerting system. And if you want to think about when we use this, it’s like driving down the road or walking down the road, you see a flashing yellow traffic light or something near a construction sign, something that’s blinking and alarming.

You’re at the ready. You’re broad, receptive, alert, but you don’t want to be focused in on anything because you have no idea what could be coming. It could be weird equipment joining into the road, or children, or traffic patterns are weird. Something is odd and pay attention to what’s happening right now.

So, we can privilege content, like with the flashlight, or privilege time with the alerting system. And then the third way in which we can privilege information with attention is something called executive control, which we’ve definitely already talked about as it relates to sort of working memory. We’re privileging information processing based on our goals.

So, what is my goal right now? And is my action and what I’m paying attention to and doing, meaning the way I’m directing the other two systems, is it aligned to ensure that the actions and the goals are going to be aligned the whole way? Or, am I off-goal, or am I not even sure what the goal is? Like, these are ways in which we pay attention that can be so powerful but quite different.

Going back to your question regarding mindfulness, one of the reasons I think it ended up being super useful is that mindfulness training, which is essentially, I would describe as paying attention to our present moment experience without elaboration or reactivity, without having a story about it. Attention is central to mindfulness. And when you think about mindfulness practices, they actually engage and exercise all three of these systems of attention over and over again in a generalizable manner.

So, just to give you quickly, like one practice might be mindfulness of paying attention to breath-related sensations. If we talk through that, you’d see every one of these systems is actually engaged.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. So, that’s an overview of the three things that we’re talking about here. And so, when we do a mindfulness meditation training, you mentioned paying attention to the present what’s up right now, presently without sort of elaborating or creating stories. So, that’s kind of… could incorporate a whole bundle of different activities. So, what are some of your faves?

Amishi Jha
Yeah. And this is where, again, we borrow from the existing literature. We didn’t invent all these things, and the existing traditions, frankly. But one very, very common one is mindfulness of the breath where the intention, and I actually don’t call it mindfulness of breath in the way that I teach it because I know the vulnerabilities when we say that. I call it the find your flashlight practice.

And, really, it’s because that flashlight is such a handy way to think about how we can willfully direct our attention, but what we have to get insight into is oftentimes we don’t know where our attention is because we have no clue. So, I’m just going to give you a very kind of quick view of this. So, it is essentially the same thing as other people might describe as mindfulness of the breath or focused attention. There are so many different terms for it.

But essentially, what you do is sit in a comfortable quiet spot, dedicate a period of time where you’re going to do this practice, and the first step is, essentially, to notice that you’re breathing. And, obviously, we’ve been breathing this entire time but we haven’t probably been paying attention to our breath, but we’re checking in to the fact that we’re breathing, and then we’re going to notice what is most vivid in the breath-scape of our present moment experience.

And that’s actually why, I think, the breath is so handy. You can’t save up your breath. I guess you could hold your breath but you can’t really save it up. It’s happening. It’s transpiring in the moment. And, literally, it is about a respiratory rhythm. So, we notice what is most vivid tied to the breath, and that’s where we devote, we say, “For this period of time, my task, my goal, executive control says my goal is pay attention to breath-related sensation. Take that flashlight, point it toward the prominent breath-related sensation, and hold it there.” That’s the agenda for this. Let’s say you start out by doing just one minute of this practice.

Then the second part of the instruction, the first part is just focus. Focus on breath-related sensation, engage that flashlight. The second part of the instruction is notice if your mind wanders away. So, it’s like you’re checking in and monitoring, “Where is this flashlight? Is it at the breath-related sensation?” All of a sudden, you’re like thinking of the next vacation you’re going to take, or some worry you had, or a troubling conversation, or maybe there’s an itch on your face, or whatever it is, “Ah, look at that. Flashlight is not at the breath-related sensation.”

In that moment, the third part of the instruction, redirect attention back to breath-related sensations. So, it’s literally like my military colleagues, I love the way they put it, “It’s like you’re giving me a mental pushup.” Focus. Notice. Redirect. Or, in other words, engage the flashlight, engage alerting and monitoring, and then executive control, to know what the goal is and make sure I’m getting back on track.

So, that’s why I think that it can be so handy to understand how attention works because then we understand why we’re doing it. It’s not sort of some nebulous concept. It’s actually a workout for our mind in this particular way.

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

Amishi Jha
I think the main thing is just I love the topics that you cover on your pod, and I love how like actionable you want to make it for people. So, one of the things I would just encourage people to kind of be left with is this notion to really pay attention to their attention, and to realize that the mind, just like the body, needs some kind of daily exercise to keep it psychologically fit and performing well.

And what we’ve happened upon my own research is learning that this very simple practice, not always easy, but simple practice done for not that long every day, about 12 minutes a day, can actually powerfully benefit the way that we operate and the way that we feel. So, give it a try.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And now could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Amishi Jha
Yogi Berra, “You can observe a lot by just watching.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite study?

Amishi Jha
Oh, gosh, then I’m going to be probably picking one of my own because we’ve done so many really cool ones. Favorite study recently is one where we were able to benefit the attention and mood of military spouses by training other military spouses to offer mindfulness training to their peers. So, that was really exciting because now it shows us a path forward to have this all proliferate.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Amishi Jha
I would say I’m going to pick something completely uncharacteristic. It’s a book of poems by Rumi.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. What’s it called?

Amishi Jha
Oh, gosh. The Essential Rumi. I think it’s called The Essential Rumi. Yeah.

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

Amishi Jha
It’s a double-edged sword but I’d say actually my phone to use my timer to practice every day.

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

Amishi Jha
Yes, and maybe that would go to a quote, but it’s not. It’s really kind of more of a concept, “Thoughts are not facts.”

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

Amishi Jha
If they remember my name, they can find me Amishi.com.

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

Amishi Jha
Yeah, I would say invest in yourself and invest in your attention, and do that by starting slow and starting small, and really practice paying attention in this way using the tools of mindfulness.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Amishi, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck in your peak mind activities.

Amishi Jha
Thank you so much.