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583: Dispelling the Motivation Myths of Passion and Willpower with Jeff Haden

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Jeff Haden says: "You can create all the motivation you need."

Jeff Haden discusses what we often get wrong about motivation—and what really works.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one thing that makes any goal feel motivating 
  2. The subtle shift in phrasing that makes goals more motivating 
  3. A surprising way to boost your willpower

About Jeff

Jeff Haden is Inc.com’s most popular columnist and one of LinkedIn’s most widely-followed Influencers. His work has also appeared on TimeThe Huffington PostFast CompanyBusiness InsiderEntrepreneurYahoo! Small BusinessMSNBC, and CNBC.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Jeff Haden Interview Transcript

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

Jeff Haden
Thanks, Pete. I am delighted to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m delighted to be here as well. We’re going to be talking about motivation so I thought I might start with asking, Jeff, what motivates you?

Jeff Haden
Oh, great. That is a fun question since I talk about motivation a lot. Probably the biggest motivator for me is seeing some type of improvement no matter what it is that I do. I learned a long time ago that you can have even the silliest or least meaningful goal possible, but if you set it and then you’re making some amount of improvement towards it, it feels good, and you end up liking whatever it is that you were doing. So that whole idea that you have to find your passion first before you can set off to do something, I think it’s kind of…well, I think it’s helpful but I don’t think it’s necessary.

So, if I can tell a really quick story. I decided a few years ago when I was writing my book, I kind of took a page from the Tim Ferriss playbook and decided it would be good to have a couple of cute hooks for me for people to latch onto, so I decided I was going to do 100,000 pushups in a year. So, it works out to 347 a day. I rounded it up to 400 just in case I had a bad day.

The goal was meaningless. I didn’t care. There’s nothing from it. I wasn’t getting paid. It was just something I decided to do, and I didn’t particularly enjoy it at first, but within a month, I liked pushups, I thought of myself as the Pushup Guy. I had fun trying to be able to do more per set or get the whole thing done quicker or all that other kind of stuff. And I actually came to like it and it is because I got fairly good at it.

So, I think if you’re willing to put the effort in, you can find that you will enjoy doing things that you never thought you would as long as you improve and get better at it, and some day get to be good at it. So, I’m convinced that we like the things that we are good at, you just have to give yourself a chance and the time to get good at it.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that completely resonates. I remember I was in high school when a speaker, he’s still rocking, Fran Kick is his name, he spoke to our marching band, and he made this little diagram about…he was in the context of practicing a musical instrument and talked about work, fun, good. As you work, you get good. And as you’re good, it’s more fun. And then you’re more likely to want to work. And I was like, “That makes so much sense.” I remember this diagram, wow, nearly 20 years later because it resonates as really true, whether it’s something silly like, I think, games do this on purpose in terms of like, “Ooh, hey, you’re getting better, Jack. Keep playing us. Keep tapping away.”

Jeff Haden
Yup. And I think that’s really important for people because, like, say, in your job. You get a new job, you find that it doesn’t turn out to be what you hoped it would be, which is almost always the case. There are parts of it that you don’t like, and so people automatically think, “Oh, man, I don’t really like this. I need to find something different.” But if you can put the effort into trying to get better at the things that you don’t like, you may find that you really like them and you enjoy them. And it may not be the most fulfilling thing you’ve ever done in your life, but it always feels good to be good at something. And then when you are good at that, people ask you for advice, people ask you for help, people look up to you as a mentor. That feels good, too, so you get this really cool circle of fun from just having put in the time to get better at something.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so your book is called The Motivation Myth. What exactly is the myth that we’re busting here?

Jeff Haden
Well, I think I’ve alluded to it already, so since it’s fun to drop names, I’ll drop a name or two. So, I was talking to Venus Williams, and I said, “You’re you so this must’ve been your passion your whole life long.” She said, “No, no.” “Really?” “Dad started us out playing tennis. I thought, ‘Man, it would be fun to get better at this.’ I just kept trying to get better. And as I got better, it felt good and I just kept trying to get better.”

And so, I kind of added that up with I’m lucky enough that I get to talk to lots of really successful people in a variety of fields, and I’ve never found one of them that had that lightning bolt of inspiration somewhere along the way that’s like, “Oh, my gosh, I found my passion and I’m set for life, and I’ve got all the motivation I ever need.” They all just found something they were interested in, decided to try it, and then put in the time and effort to get better and create this little feedback loop, like you described, of effort equals success, equals happiness, equals more effort.

So, I contrasted that with a lot of the people that write to me, saying, “Hey, I’m not achieving my goals. I’m not getting anywhere. Do you have any advice for me?” And every one of them was saying, “I haven’t found my passion.” And so, the myth to me is that you have to find your passion first. When, really, what it is, is you have to just decide, “Hey, I want to try this. I have a goal. I’m going to figure out a process to get me there,” and we can talk about that, “And I will get all the motivation I need from my effort as opposed to receiving this motivation from some external source or this lightning bolt,” that carries you along your way.

So, the big takeaway is that you can create all the motivation you need if you know how.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sounds exciting, and I want to definitely get into the process and how that’s done. Now, first, let’s talk a little bit more about what not to do. And I noticed a couple of your reviews, I stalk my guests, in your book on Amazon, some of the reviews and some of your sales copy has some jabs at Tony Robbins. So, a fun fact, when I was a teenager, Tony Robbins was my hero and I wanted to be just like him. I’ve since adopted new role models although I still have learned very valuable things from Tony Robbins.

Jeff Haden
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So, what’s your hot take here?

Jeff Haden
Well, first of all, I did take a few shots at Tony. Tony is aware of the shots I took at him. Tony doesn’t mind and, in fact, we’ve collaborated on a few things since then, so I would never consider him a friend. I would never be so presumptuous as to say he’s a friend. But I know him and we get along fine, and I like him, and we just had a difference of opinion.

So, my shot at Tony was one of the things that they at least used to do, I don’t know if they still do, but they had the firewalk.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m a firewalker, Jeff.

Jeff Haden
You did? Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve walked it.

Jeff Haden
All right, then this is perfect. So, you’ve got the hot coals, and somehow, like that scene from The Office.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Jeff Haden
By walking across them, that shows you that you can do anything, and that sends you off on your way ready to conquer the world. There’s a little bit of truth to that, and I’m sure that that works. But the problem is that’s a very momentary thing and it’s not something you really put a lot of effort into. All you had to do was try to say, “Aargh,” you almost had to freeze your brain for a second and just go, which, that’s an important ability to have but that doesn’t help you when you’ve been working at something for six months or nine months or a year, and it’s hard, and you’re struggling, and you’re hitting roadblocks. How do you find the perseverance to work through that stuff? That’s a whole different kind of a play.

So, my shot at Tony was basically that if you want that momentary one-off, “Yes, I finally bungee jumped,” “Yes, I finally jumped out of a plane,” “Yeah, I walked across the hot coals,” not to downplay your experience. I’m sure it was awesome. But that’s not the thing that is going to get you a long-term dose of motivation that you need. It does prove to you that you can do things that you didn’t think you could do, and that is really important. But those are very kind of one-off momentary things. That’s not a long-term solution to a motivation problem.

Pete Mockaitis
I agree.

Jeff Haden
So, that was my shot at Tony.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Jeff Haden
So, it’s really not that bad of a shot if you think about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. I mean, you could say worse about any of us. You know what’s funny, my firewalking wasn’t that much of a challenge because it was raining the day of, and my feet were actually pretty cold on the asphalt parking lot of the hotel, it’s like, “Dude, my feet are cold. I want to get on those coals just to warm them up a little bit.”

Jeff Haden
How hot was it?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know the precise temperature but…

Jeff Haden
No, I mean, how hot did it feel?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, my experience was it was like, “Ooh, that’s kind of toasty.” And, now, if I were starting from a normal foot temperature, I don’t know. But it was fine, it was fun, and I learned some things, and, yeah, I think. Every thought leader has things that are more or less applicable to everyone, and that’s why we get a lot of voices. So, Let’s hear now. So, how do we get it going? So, we’ve got that sort of virtuous cycle. If I want to have more motivation, what are my first steps?

Jeff Haden
The first thing is the easiest place to start is with something that you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t. So, let’s just make something up. Let’s say your bucket list is not just to walk on hot coals from a tepid fire or parking lot, but you want to run a marathon. Let’s use that. So, you’ve always wanted to do so but you’re not even a runner. So, the first thing you do is you pick your goal, and then you say, “Okay, I’m going to forget the fact that…” if you harken back to the Monty Python movie Life of Brian, where the guy says, you know, “We’re all individuals,” and then one guy says, “I’m not.” Think that you’re not an individual and realize that there are perfectly good processes out there waiting for you to follow that are almost guaranteed for you to succeed if you put in the work.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking of Hal Higdon’s program right there. Bam!

Jeff Haden
But what ends up happening is that people say, “Okay, I’m unique, I’m special, I need a bespoke process. There are things that I’m willing to do. There are things I’m not willing to do.” And by the time you’re done, you’ve boxed yourself into this thin little slice of effort and program that it’s not going to work for you. So, the first thing you do is say, “I’m willing to do what it takes to get there.” And if you’re not, then don’t even start because you’ve picked a hard goal. And the best way to find that process to work, that will work, is to forget about the idea of finding somebody to “coach” you. And I just used Dr. Evil air quotes. That instead of coaching you, the key is to find a pro. And by a pro, I mean someone who has done what it is you say you want to do.

So, if it’s a marathon, it’s a guy that you know or that you can connect with, and through social media you can connect with anybody you want at this point, and just say, “Hey, I admire you, I respect what you’ve done. I would like to run a marathon. Here’s where I’m starting from. If you were me, what would you do?” And what you’re going to get from someone like that, if they are truly someone who has done what you want to do, you’re going to get a hard process. You’re going to get the clear-eyed, cold, hard truth of, “Here’s what it takes to go and do that.”

And then, instead of whining about it, instead of saying, “Oh, but that’s not going to work for me, and I’m special and I’m unique,” or whatever. You say, “Okay, that is what I’m going to do,” and you give yourself two weeks, and you say, “For two weeks, I will follow this exactly. I’m not going to pop my head up and think about changing. I’m not going to worry about modifying. I’m not going to adapt. I’m going to do this.”

The reason for that is you don’t know enough about what it is you’re trying to do to be able to make smart revisions early on because you have no clue. And why would you? And if you revise, you’re probably going to revise to easier, which means you’re going to be less successful and make less progress. So, if you keep your head down for two weeks, invariably, you will pop up at the end of the two, and you will have gotten a little better, a little stronger, a little faster, a little smarter, whatever it is you’re trying to do. You will have seen improvement and you will realize that, “This works.” And by knowing that your effort paid off, we’re back to your band speech of, “Hey, I put in the effort, I’ve seen some success, that feels good, that makes me happy, that makes me get up tomorrow and do whatever it is I’m supposed to do tomorrow.”

And that’s the real key, is to forget about the distance between here, which is wherever you’re starting, and there, which is this long path that takes you to this goal that you want to achieve, and just focus on what you have to do today. And if you focus on today, and you do what’s on your list for today, you get to feel good about yourself at the end of the day because you’ve done what you set out to do, that’s motivating in itself, and that will keep you making progress. And then you get this endless source of motivation because every day you get to tap into it.

I know that was a long answer.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, I love it.

Jeff Haden
But it’s a simple way to approach it, and you can do almost anything that you want to do if you’re willing to follow that kind of process.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think it’s intriguing, like when you go through those steps of you talk to the pro, and then you follow it to a T for two weeks, and you observe some levels of improvement, you might say, “You know what, I actually am not that charged up about being able to run a little bit more now than I was before, about what’s happening to my body and my energy levels. As it turns out, running a marathon was cool in theory, but I don’t actually care about it and I can let go of it with peace.”

Jeff Haden
Yup. And that’s an awesome side effect because you do find out, “Is this really something I will enjoy doing?” Because the end result, you only get to enjoy that for a little bit. Actually, completing the marathon and getting your medal and having your picture taken, and all that other stuff, that’s a very small slice. If you don’t enjoy the day-to-day, then, to me, you’re kind of wasting your time because that’s a lot of effort to put into this momentary slice of, “Wow, I get to feel really good about myself.”

So, if you find at the end of two weeks that, “Yeah, this really isn’t for me, not because it’s too hard but because it really isn’t that fun and rewarding,” then you’ve done yourself a great service because you haven’t wasted six months kind of trying, kind of running, kind of feeling bad about yourself all the time whenever you don’t. And having that in the back of your mind, “Wow, that’s something I really want to accomplish,” saying no to your goals is as important as choosing the ones that you want to go after. It’s a cliché but it’s true. People have tons of goals but they don’t really know whether they want to do them or not, or they like the process. So, if you find ways to sift through that, then you’ll settle on the stuff that you really do like and you really do find enjoyable, and maybe you become a runner for the rest of your life or maybe you don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to get your take on I think a lot of goals fit very neatly with that, and maybe I’m just a quantifiable kind of a guy. I like quantification and so I’m thinking, “Hey, running. Hey, I’ve ran farther than I did before. I feel great about that accomplishment.” I’m thinking maybe sales, “Hey, I’ve made these sales calls.” Maybe writing, “I’ve cranked out these blogposts or these pages or this word count.” And so, I’m wondering about what if things are a little fuzzy? Like, let’s say I want to learn a skill. I have a goal, let’s say, to be a great presenter. I want to be confident and dynamic and inspiring. I guess that’s a little fuzzier in terms of, “Oh, how do I measure my speaking quality?” I guess I’d get a panel of judges in recurring intervals. What do I do?

Jeff Haden
It’s a good question, but I think you can still quantify that to some degree because the outcome, first of all, your goal is a little fuzzy, which is why that seems to be hard. Maybe your goal is instead of it being, “I want to be a great confident speaker,” maybe your goal is, “I want to do a TEDx,” for instance. All right, that’s a little more quantifiable but it carries with it the same qualities that you’re looking for if you just want to be a better speaker.

So, maybe you shift your goal into something that is more quantifiable. But then the rest of it, you can make it kind of numbers-based. You can say, “Okay, I’m going to create five different presentations. I’m going to rehearse them X number of times.” And you build a process that makes you better, that helps you gain the confidence, or you say, “I’m going to work my way up through the ranks of any local organization that will have me,” to, “Hey, I finally got a paid gig,” or whatever. So, you have to find some kind of quantifiable measures of success.

That’s like people that say, “I want to get in better shape.” What does that mean? That’s an admirable goal but it doesn’t mean anything. How do you figure out when you’ve gotten there and what it means to you? And so, therefore, how do you create a process that gets you there when you don’t even know what it means. Or, “I’d like to lose a little weight.” Well, okay, “I’d like to lose 10 pounds” is a little easier to work at because you have a process that you can create to get there.

So, I’ve gone all the way around the barn with my answer but, first of all, your goal needs to be sharper and a little more quantifiable, and then you can create a process and have milestones that actually tell you whether you’re getting there.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. And so, some of those milestones can just be a matter of output, like, “Hey, I did these things. I said these are the five books, and I read the five books. I did 12 reps of different speeches, videotaping and reviewing of them, and I did the videotape and the review of them.” So, someone is just like, “I did the work and I feel great about that.” Or maybe you could say, “Hey, boss, this is something I’m working on. Can we get some video of before and after? And I’d like for you to tell me this is night and day better for these five reasons,” and that’s success.

Jeff Haden
And here’s another example. Like, say your goal is to be a better leader. All right. Well, that’s a pretty fuzzy one, too, but you can quantify that in different ways. You can say, “Okay, I want to be the leader that gets the most people promoted out of everyone else at my level.” That means you’re a good developer, that you’re putting people in great spots, you’re showing that they succeed, you’re giving them praise and recognition, you’re doing all those things. Or it could be numbers-based in terms of productivity or quality or whatever else it might be. So, you can find anything that seems fuzzy and you could put some quantifiable stuff around it. And then that gives you a structure where you’re actually working at the things that will make you that better leader.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and I dig that. And I guess I was being a little facetious earlier when I talked about, “Convene a panel of judges.” But I remember back when I was doing more keynotes on college campuses, I would have everyone fill out a little bit of an accountability form, like, “Hey, Pete, hold me accountable to doing this one thing.” So, I’d give them a follow-up email. And it’s like, “Hey, by the way, score me zero to five in how effective this was.” And I could actually see, hey, what percentage gave me the five. And then I’d also use similar language to, I guess I’m a little competitive, to what an organization that had many speakers to college students was using for their program evaluations, it’s like, “Oh, I could see what dozens of speakers got,” and I’m using the same question so I could compare against them, and then over time. And, sure enough, it was motivating.

Jeff Haden
I’ve done the same thing. Like, if I’m speaking at conferences, and I think this is a cute little tip that applies to just about anything. I can’t be the best speaker in the world, I don’t believe. But, going into a conference, I can try to be the best speaker that was there. I can be the one that people remember the most, or they got the most out of my presentation. Whatever it may be, I can try to “win” that event.

And so, if you approach it that way, now you have a goal. You can look at what other people are doing, you can decide how you’re going to stand out, you can make sure that you actually are speaking to what the audience needs and will benefit from. You could do all that kind of stuff. And you can apply that to your job. You can say, “All right. I’m not CEO yet but I can be the best supervisor in my department, and I can stand out there. And then when I get promoted, okay, now I’m going to be the best at this.” And it doesn’t make you competitive in a bad way. It just makes you evaluate yourself against other people and see where you fall short and see where you can do better. And that gives you something to tangibly do in order to improve your performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we’re spending a lot of time here but it’s time well-spent because just the feeling…

Jeff Haden
I’m long-winded. I’m sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
No, no, I’m saying I feel the difference as I’m imagining these goals in their fuzzy form versus their precise form, like get in better shape, or run more, is a lot different than, “Complete 26.2 miles.” And, likewise, “I want to give a great speech” is different than, “I want to receive the highest evaluations at this event or the highest ever evaluations I personally received are higher than I did last year at the event,” like kind of whatever. Like, it gets real sharp and clear, it’s like, “Oh, shoot. Well, then if I want to pull that off, well, then I’d better get a really clear understanding of this audience and their needs. Just doing something off the shelf probably ain’t going to cut it.”

Jeff Haden
And it allows you to make the most important comparison of all which is not to other people but to yourself and what you were doing yesterday, and how you can be today and tomorrow, because it brings that focus back to, “What do I need to do in order to get to this place that I want to be?” as opposed to, “Well, I’m doing better than he is so I must be winning.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. Well, so I have so many things I wrote down so it might be a little bit jumpy.

Jeff Haden
That’s all right.

Pete Mockaitis
But here we’re going to go. You say there is a question that provides nearly every answer. What is this question, Jeff?

Jeff Haden
There can be one question that you ask yourself that will answer most of your questions, or that will help you make most decisions. It comes from Herb Kelleher, the passed-away CEO of Southwest Airlines. So, he framed every question that employees ask him because he’s thinking about the amount of decisions he had to make in a day. It was probably a zillion. So, he framed it with, “Will this make Southwest Airlines the lowest-cost provider?” If it would, great. It’s something worth exploring. If it wouldn’t, even if it was a seemingly great idea that might be fun, it would take them off in some other direction that didn’t drive towards whatever it is they were trying to achieve, and he could say no.

So, you can make your own one question for whatever it might be. If you want to be a better leader and you see an interpersonal issue between two of your employees, you ask yourself one question, “Would a great leader ignore this? Nah, you would probably step in.” So, you can frame everything you do as a boss through, “Would a great leader allow this? Would a great leader do this?” So, you can do that with anything. If you’re trying to lose weight, “Does a person trying to lose 10 pounds have two pieces of cake after dinner? Yeah, probably not.” “Does a person who wants to be better in band not put in the effort in order to play better?” That’s a dumb example but I was trying to harken back to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Jeff Haden
But you can create your one question and it allows you to make a whole lot of decisions based on, “That’s my goal.” So, if you know your goal then you can allow that to inform the decisions you make, and then you don’t have to have this negotiation with yourself, like, “Oh, but I could have that piece of cake because tomorrow I’ll work out twice as long and I’ll burn the calories off.” Well, you never do. We never win those negotiations. But if you just say, “Hey, that’s not what I do, that’s not my goal, that’s not part of my thing,” it’s an easy decision to make. And in fact, it isn’t a choice at all, because it’s who you are, not what you have decided in that moment. If you can adapt to the identity, then everything is easy.

Do you have kids?

Pete Mockaitis
I do.

Jeff Haden
Okay. Do you wake up every day and think, “Hmm, I really need to be a good parent today”? No, you don’t. That’s not a decision. You’re a good parent. You try to be a good parent. That is who you are. You don’t have to make that decision. I know sometimes it’s hard. I’ve got four kids, I understand. But that’s part of your identity.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you know, that is intriguing is that I put forth plenty of effort towards that end, and I have never asked myself that question. I’ve had self-doubt, like, “Am I really a good dad?”

Jeff Haden
Oh, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
“What do I need to do differently?”

Jeff Haden
And that’s a tough one so let’s use that differently. Let’s say that I know there’s a moment. We used the marathon example. For a while, if you’re training for a marathon and you haven’t run before, you see yourself as a person who has to go out and run. But, at some point, if you do it long enough and it becomes part of your daily routine and what you do, you see yourself as a runner. And when that’s part of your identity, no longer is it hard to go out for your run because that’s just what you do. It’s not hard for you to take care of your kids because that’s just what you do. It’s not a decision you have to make every time.

If you’ve worked at doing the right things as a leader, you don’t have to sit there and ask yourself a question about, “What is the right thing to do in this situation?” because you’re a leader, and you’re going to do what you need to do because that’s who you are. So, if you stick with something long enough, and it becomes part of your identity, it’s a really easy path to follow.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, while we talk about identity, I’m curious about where do you come out in the world of discipline, willpower, habits? What do you think about that stuff?

Jeff Haden
I think you can develop greater willpower. I think you can develop greater discipline. I think habits are easy to lose and really hard to create, and once you’ve fallen off of a habit wagon, it’s really hard to get back on. But I think the better approach is to find ways so that willpower is not required. So, like to start my day, I work from home and always have, or I have for about 20 years, so I get up, I brush my teeth. This is more information than you need. But I get up, I brush my teeth, I go downstairs, I sit down, I’ve already laid all my stuff for whatever the most important thing is I have to do that day. I did that last night. I have a bottle of water and a protein bar sitting there, and I start work. And I start work on whatever is the hardest or the most important thing.

That’s just what I do, and I’ve greased the skids, so to speak, so that it is easy as possible for me to sit down and get started, so I really don’t have to have any willpower because I’m not making any decisions. I’m just walking down, sitting down, opening up, eat while I go, it’s all good. If I eased into my day, checked some email, looked around some news, did a couple of goofy things, at some point I have to make that decision to flip the switch, and then I need some willpower in order to get going.

But if you do some kind of environmental architecture, so to speak, then you don’t need willpower. If you’re trying to drink less soda and more water, if you keep three or four bottles of water on your desk, and the soda is two rooms away, what are you going to drink? You don’t have to make a choice because the water is there and you reach for it. So, I think you can develop more willpower but it’s a lot easier if you find ways to make it so that the willpower isn’t required in the first place. And that is not as hard as it sounds like it should be.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. Those simple environmental shifts will go a long way. Cool. I got you.

Jeff Haden
What’s that cheesy thing about if you eat on smaller plates, you’d think you’ve eaten more food? It does work.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Well, I think that some portion control…

Jeff Haden
There’s all kinds of stuff like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Like, if I’m drinking wine, talk about drinking, if I’m drinking wine directly out of the bottle…

Jeff Haden
Oh, yeah, you’re hammering.

Pete Mockaitis
It goes way faster than if I pour it into a glass first.

Jeff Haden
Yup. And if you do short pours every time, you’ll probably drink less. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly.

Jeff Haden
Yeah. That’s not really on topic, but still.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I think, I mean, you can talk about your portion in any number of ways, whether it’s what’s on your to-do list or your food and drink, that’s either that you’re trying to eat more of or less of, that’s great.

Jeff Haden
But I do have one tip, if you don’t mind, about increasing your willpower. We all have these limits that we’ve created for ourselves, and it’s mostly out of habit where if you’re used to working eight hours, then into that ninth hour feels hard. So, an easy way to kind of reset your limits is not to try to go, “All right. Today, I’m going to do eight and a half.” But do something wildly past whatever your normal limit is, and it will allow you to reset.

So, I like to ride bikes, and so if I’m averaging 30-mile bike rides, if I, one day, just say, “You know what, I’m going to do a double. I’ll go 60,” then when you ride a 30 the next time, it seems really easy because, in your mind, you’ve done the 60 recently. So, a cool way to develop more willpower is to go way over the top of whatever it is you’re doing. You don’t want to do it every time because you’ll burn out pretty quickly. But that will reset what you think your internal limit is and it will take you a little farther. And maybe that’s doing something faster, not necessarily longer. It could be all kinds of shifts.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and that’s actually kind of exciting too when you’re in the midst of it. I remember one, there were a couple of times I did 10, 11 hours of coaching sessions in a day. That’s been a while since I’ve done that.

Jeff Haden
Ooh, that’s a long time.

Pete Mockaitis
And, sure enough, it made it seem easy when there’s a moderate four, five, six, seven hours of coaching in a day. And so, it’s been a while since I’ve done that, such that now it would seem very hard. But I remember, on those days it was exciting because it’s sort of like, “Oh, boy, we’re breaking a record.” It’s like, “Ooh, can I do it? Can I do it? Play the inspiring music. Do a little energizer dance.” It’s sort of like I had to dig deeper to just figure out how the heck to stay sane and focused and present and energized.

Jeff Haden
And the other funny thing about that was probably the first six or seven hours didn’t seem long at all because, in your mind, you knew you had a long way to go so you forgot about the whole, “Ooh, I’m already two-thirds away through my day. I can’t wait for the eight hours to be over,” or whatever it is. You’re just in it. You’ve settled in, you’ve found your Zen place kind of, and you’re just in it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’ve got a term, an extreme productivity day, EPD. Is this sort of what we’re talking about? Is that a different concept for you?

Jeff Haden
No, it’s kind of the same thing where you say, “All right. I’ve got this task and it’s going to take me longer than some block of time I would usually associate with it but I really want to get it done.” So, let’s say you think it will take you 12 hours, and you just say, “You know what, I’m going to give it everything towards that, and that is going to be my day, whatever day it is,” and you prep yourself for it, and you set some things in place, and you let people know you can’t be disturbed, and there’s a lot of tips that I have with that.

But, basically, what you’re doing is you’re saying, “For this one day, I am going to knock this thing out,” and you create little breaks for yourself, and you make sure you’re hydrated, and you make sure you get snacks along the way, and all those other things. But the idea is that every once in a while, you take something that has been kind of nagging at you, you haven’t been able to get done, and you just say, “For this day, that’s what I’m going to finish.” And it feels awesome when you’re done, and that also ratchets up your productivity expectations because you realize that if you put your mind to it, you can, which sound like a little Tony Robbins, yes, it will, but that’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it just has all sorts of follow-on effects in terms of you feel great about just your self-confidence and ability to rock and roll. Well, awesome. Jeff, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention about motivation before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jeff Haden
No, let’s go. Let’s do some quick ones.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear about your favorite quote.

Jeff Haden
So, my favorite is from Jimmy Spithill. He was America’s Cup-winning skipper some years ago, Team Oracle, I believe it was. And his quote is, “Rarely have I seen a situation where doing less than the other guy is a good strategy.” And I like that because I’m not as smart as most people, I’m not as talented as most people, I’m not as connected, all those other things, but if I want a competitive advantage, I can always try to outwork you.

Pete Mockaitis
What I also like is that it’s rarely, it’s like occasionally in workaholic burnout situations that is the better move. But rarely.

Jeff Haden
Yup, exactly. So, that’s the quote I like.

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

Jeff Haden
One of my favorites is, it’s kind of hard to describe, but if I was going to sum it up, it’s that if you talk about your intention, let’s say you’ve decided you’re going to do something, and you talk about it to other people, you are significantly less likely to actually accomplish what it is you say that you are going to do. And I have a quote that I wrote down, it’s from this researcher, “When other people take notice of an individual’s identity-related behavioral intention,” it sounds like a researcher wrote it, “this gives the individual a premature sense of possessing the aspired-to identity.” So, if I say that I’m going to run a marathon, and you and I are talking about it…

Pete Mockaitis
Good for you, Jeff. You’re amazing. Wow.

Jeff Haden
I know.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so great, Jeff.

Jeff Haden
Inside, I feel like I have already done it. And so, therefore, I’ve gotten some of the mental kick out of it, and I’m much less likely to do it. So, if you feel like you need some people to hold you accountable, like you need an accountability buddy, or you want the peer pressure to keep you on your task, don’t talk about the goal other than just very briefly. Talk about the process you’re going to follow and have them hold you to that. So, instead of, “Hey, how’s it going towards your marathon?” It should be, “Hey, you said you were going to run three times this week. Did you?” And hold me accountable to my process because process is going to get you there. Goal isn’t going to get you there.

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

Jeff Haden
I’m going to go with two. One is So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. It’s about probably six or eight years old but I really like it, and if, for no other reason, then it kind of helped inform some of the stuff that I wrote about where it’s all about process and identity and you can learn to find passions through doing things as opposed to having to discover them. And the other one is The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. Do you watch Billions, the Showtime show?

Pete Mockaitis
You know, not yet. It keeps coming up more and more. I’m going to have to take a peek.

Jeff Haden
You should. I don’t love this season as much but the first three especially are really good. But, anyway, one of the characters on there actually was reading that book last night, and I emailed Daniel, and said, “Hey, did you know that was coming?” And he said, “No, but it’s really cool.”

Pete Mockaitis
It reminds me, we had Kim Scott who wrote Radical Candor on the show, and then I was watching Silicon Valley, and they kept referencing it, it’s like, “Ah, what’s Kim have to say?” And so, I went on Twitter, so that’s a fun moment.

Jeff Haden
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
When us semi-famous people have moments of TV-style fame.

Jeff Haden
Yup, it is always fun to see. It is always fun to see people you know, or have talked to, or somehow have some sort of small relationship with, out there somewhere, and you go, “Oh, that’s really cool.” I don’t know. It’s like you lived through them a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Jeff Haden
I already talked about that. That’s to start my day with the most important thing that I need to do and prep for it the night before because all the decisions are gone. And the cool thing about that is when you get it done, instead of saying, “Wow, I’m finished,” and you’ve lost motivation. You’ve actually gained it because you knocked off that tough thing and it creates momentum that takes you into the rest of your stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Right on. And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for, people quote it back to you frequently?

Jeff Haden
Quoted back to me? No, but I have something that I just read recently that I really like. It’s called The Ben Franklin Effect. And so, the idea is that if you think someone doesn’t like you particularly well, and you’d like to kind of bridge that relationship or make it better, ask them to do you a favor. And, typically, they will find that they like you better, which sounds totally counterintuitive. Psychologists say it’s because there’s cognitive dissonance involved which means that you couldn’t have done me a favor if you didn’t like me, so somehow you reconciled that in your mind.

I think it’s because when you help someone, and they appreciate it, you feel better, and you like that. We always like to help people and be appreciated, and that makes us like people more. But either way, if you have somebody you don’t think you’re getting along with very well, oddly enough, ask them to do you a favor, then thank them profusely and they will probably end up liking you better.
So, that means if you ask me for a favor, then I’ll know that there’s a problem with our relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
No. Well, I feel like it’s a favor that you’re on the show, and maybe you feel like I’m doing you a favor because exposure and platform…

Jeff Haden
Maybe it’s mutually beneficial.

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

Jeff Haden
Oh, I write for Inc. Magazine, so if you go to Inc.com I’ve got several thousand articles there. Probably I’m a LinkedIn influencer, which is the only time I’ll ever be on a list with Richard Branson and Bill Gates and those folks. And so, I do accept connection requests. I wouldn’t appreciate it if you say you want to connect, and then the very next thing you say to me is, “Would you buy this from me?” then that’s not really my favorite thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I agree.

Jeff Haden
That’s not my favorite thing but, nonetheless, I do connect with people, and I will certainly talk to them there.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, tell me, any final challenges or calls to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Jeff Haden
I guess I would go back to what I said earlier where whatever you are doing, try to find some slice of that that you can be the best at. Say you’re going to a meeting, you don’t necessarily have to “win the meeting,” but maybe you can be the most prepared, or maybe you can be the one with the most research to your disposal, or maybe you can be the one that helps kind of keep the conversation on track or whatever it is. Find some way to be the best person at something at whatever it is you are doing and that habit will lead you to a lot of success.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that a lot. And sometimes you can just be the person who seems the most engaged and listening in a meeting, like that gives a great energy in terms of you’re not checked out on your phone

Jeff Haden
It also makes you feel better about yourself. I ride bikes a lot and I have people that I’ll ride with sometimes that are professional cyclists, which means that I’m in a world of hurt for the whole time and sometimes can’t keep up, and so I know that I can’t do the most pulls from the front. There’s a lot of stuff I can’t do, but I can be the guy who always has a couple of spare tubes, a couple of CO2 cartridges in case somebody has a flat. I’ve got a couple extra bottles of water, so I can be the little Sherpa of sorts on the group ride, and I can do that. And that makes me feel better about the fact I’m there. It gives me a little sense of belonging in that way and actually makes it a little bit more fun, so I get to be that guy. So, I’m winning that one small thing, but when you do that, you feel a little better about yourself. And ain’t that what we’re all looking for?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, absolutely, and it’s great for your own confidence. Once again, I’m going back to the college keynoting stuff. It’s like, maybe this event has a lot of topnotch speakers or super famous heads of state, whatever, speak at that school, and I think, “I might not be the greatest speaker that you see this year, the most famous or inspiring. But, by golly, I am the most equipped to resolve tech headaches. I got every adapter you could conceive of, and some cables, and some transmit…”

Jeff Haden
I’m going to be the AV guy’s best friend.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, the AV guys are like, “Do you have the adapter?” “I got every adapter.”

Jeff Haden
Yeah, and I look at that, sometimes I’ll be invited to things or…and I just say, “You know what, I’m going to be the lowest maintenance person they have ever worked with. I’m going to be the least needy, the least babysat, the least whatever, the most accommodating, that’s going to be me. And even if I’m not perfect at everything else, that I can do.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. So, it’s affirmative somewhere, gets you the confidence and the feel good and momentum. Love it.

Jeff Haden
Awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jeff, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and motivation in all your adventures.

Jeff Haden
Thank you, sir. I appreciate it. I really enjoyed it. Thank you for doing it. Thanks for your prep. It was really fun.

545: What High-Performers Do Differently with Alan Stein Jr.

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Alan Stein Jr. says: "Fall in love with the fundamentals."

Alan Stein Jr. discusses the fundamental habits and mindsets that separate the best from the rest.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The universal skill every professional needs
  2. The secret to making remarkable change last
  3. A powerful mantra to keep you grounded and present

About Alan:

Alan Stein, Jr. is a keynote speaker and author who spent 15+ years as a performance coach working with famous, high-performing basketball players. He now teaches audiences how to utilize the same strategies in business that elite athletes use to perform at a world-class level.

Alan specializes in improving individual and organizational leadership, performance and accountability.  He inspires and empowers everyone he works with to take immediate action and improve mindset, habits and productivity which is what makes him one of the top motivational speakers around.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Alan Stein Jr. Interview Transcript

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
Absolutely my pleasure. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Me, too. Well, let’s hear just a smidge about your background. So, you used to work as a performance coach for professional basketball players including Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Kobe Bryant. May he rest in peace. What exactly does that mean, a performance coach? What do you do and how does that translate into better results?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Sure. Well, the original moniker was strength and conditioning coach. So, I was always responsible for kind of the fitness and athleticism side of training. But, as that industry progressed, we, I say we as in I’m uniting all coaches, decided that strength and conditioning were just two of the pillars of performance that we actually worked on. So, most coaches today that are in that field go by performance coach.

And, yeah, I was responsible for every facet of performance except for the actual skill work. So, things like improving hand-eye coordination, and explosiveness, and acceleration and deceleration, everything that goes under the umbrella of athleticism. And I was able to work with some really good players and really good coaches who taught me every bit as much as I’d like to believe I taught them, and then decided I was going to take all of those lessons and pivot those to a new audience, which is what I do now.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, so can you tell us an example maybe of, hey, here’s something that you did in that realm, beyond just strength, and then what result that emerged there?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah. Well, I think the foundation of it all, and I know you had mentioned with the rest in peace with the very sudden and untimely and tragic death of Kobe Bryant, but one of the biggest lessons I ever learned was from Kobe at a camp that I worked for him back in 2007, and it’s actually how I open every single keynote with that story of meeting him. And the lesson that he taught me was that if you want to be great at something, you never get bored with the basics, that you fall in love with the fundamentals and you fall in love with the process of doing the basics over and over during the unseen hours until you come as close to mastery as possible.

That is incredibly applicable to every walk of life. I mean, that’s something that is very true on the basketball court. With a basketball player, you have to work on your footwork because your footwork is involved in everything you do on the court. And then I translate that same message to folks in the corporate world, about figuring out, “What are your basics and your fundamentals that you need to master to be awesome at your job?” And once folks have an understanding of those, then they just need to have the humility and the consistency to do them every single day.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love it if you could highlight what are some of those basics that show up a lot for folks who want to be awesome at their jobs?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Almost unilaterally in any industry, I can’t think of anything where being a better listener wouldn’t serve you very well. If you’re in any type of leadership position, you’re a manager, or a director, or a supervisor, an executive, whether you’re in sales, whether you’re in customer service or customer experience, I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t be drastically heightened if you improved your ability to actively listen, to ask insightful questions, then listen to the response, and then make sure that either your response or your behavior pivots accordingly based on what they said.

And not only does this help you take in more accurate information and make better decisions, but anytime we listen to someone, it unconsciously shows them that we care about them. Because, in today’s day and age, our attention in the present moment is our most valuable currency. And when you show someone by listening with good eye contact and warm body language and nodding your head, you’re showing them that you’re willing to invest your most precious resource and your most precious currency into them. And that is a glue that strengthens human connection. And, regardless of what vocation you’re in, we’re all in the relationship and people business, and anytime we can strengthen those connections, it’s a good thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, yes, I’m on board. Listening sounds great and more of it would be good. We’ve had a couple episodes about listening and, boy, I think we’d have a whole lot more. So, let’s dig in a little bit here.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’ve put a lot of these insights into your book Raise Your Game: High Performance Secrets from the Best of the Best. What are some of the top high-performance secrets from the best of the best? One of them we talked about was basics. And I think we’re going to revisit that one some more. But what do you say is the big idea and some of those top secrets we should all know?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, what’s kind of funny is my publisher always gets irritated with me when they think I’m disparaging the subtitle, but I told them, in jest, “We’re going to use the word secrets because it’s something that attracts people, and we want to get as many eyes on this book as possible, but there really are no secrets to high performance.”

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve lied to us.

Alan Stein, Jr.
I have. What it takes to be awesome at your job, those pillars are readily available to anyone. In fact, there are things that most people already know intuitively and intellectually, but it doesn’t mean they’re doing them. That’s really the big idea of the book is what’s called a performance gap. And that’s the gap between what we know we’re supposed to do and what we actually do. And if you want to be awesome at your job, you have to learn how to close that gap.

A perfect example would be I bet everyone of your listeners right now knows what healthy foods are, knows that they’re supposed to get adequate sleep every night, and knows that they’re supposed to do some type of physical fitness workout throughout the week, a couple of times a week. I mean, I don’t think there’s a functioning adult on the planet that doesn’t know those three things to improve health, vitality, longevity, so everybody knows that but we can even look at the statistics, not very many people are doing that. Not many people eat a healthy diet, get adequate sleep, and workout consistently.

And that’s a perfect example of, in health and fitness, performance gap. We all know what we’re supposed to do, but very few people do it. And when I bring that up, it’s never to disparage or diminish someone, it’s never to call them out or to make them feel bad, it’s simply to shine the light on the fact that you know what you’re supposed to do but you’re not doing it. And that’s where we have to start making progress.

I just use health and fitness as an example because it’s an easy one. We could easily say the same thing for our financial lives or for relationships. There’s not a person alive that doesn’t know what things they should do to continue to have a thriving marriage, yet many people, after 10 to 20 years of being married, they no longer do those things, and then they wonder why their relationship is on the rocks. Or financially. Does anyone know you’re not supposed to save some money and put some money away for the future? Everybody knows that but not very many people do it.

And, to me, I’ve always been fascinated why groups of really intelligent people, which is what we all are walking around as human beings, why would we not do the things that we know we’re supposed to do. And the answer comes down to these things aren’t always easy to do. And we all, as human beings, usually default to what’s easiest and most comfortable, yet that’s not very often the path to growth, is ease and comfort.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, there’s lots there. I like it. So, there’s quite the distinction there between it’s basic, in other words it’s not complicated, but it’s not easy. It takes some effort from you. So, they call it entropy or whatever the concept is. We like our comfort and kind of doing what feels good in a given moment and not maybe what seems super boring because it’s basic and you’ve done it a lot of times. So, yeah, I think you did a fine job of teeing up the challenge, there’s a performance gap, that we’re not doing the things that we know we should or could do to get the results that would be helpful.

So, let’s talk about some ways to push through that then if you want to do more of the basics. And I’m just going to say for being awesome at your job, boy, we could talk about a lot. I think sleep is a big one. Listening is a big one. I think maybe one would be not checking your email constantly but rather just take, I don’t know, a couple batch times a day. Email is easier and maybe interesting, like, “What I have to do now is kind of boring and hard, but my email might be cool and easy, so let me go over there.” Maybe making a list of things that are the most critical to do during this day or week or month, and then making sure that you attack them.

So, those are some of the basics. We’ve heard it from many guests many times. So, if you’re not doing it, you’re not feeling it, how do you start doing it?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, absolutely. I’ve got a basic process to follow but not necessarily an easy one. I’m so glad that you brought up the difference between those two because many people do use basic and easy as if they’re interchangeable, as if they’re synonymous, and they’re not. I tell folks all the time during my keynotes, “Everything I’m going to share with you today is going to be very basic. Nothing I’m going to share with you today is going to be easy to implement because if it was, you’d already be doing it.”

So, first and foremost, and this is just kind of the ground level, you have to have the self-awareness enough to know that you have a performance gap. Like, you have to be willing to look in the mirror and say, “I know I’m supposed to get enough sleep but I don’t. I know I’m supposed to save money but I’m not.” So, without awareness, then you just continue to go through life a loop. So, once you have the awareness then there’s a very distinct three-step process.

The first process is once you’ve narrowed it down to the performance gap that you’re talking about, and let’s just say it’s getting more sleep, then you just have to pick one habit or one behavior that you want to change. You see, especially with a lot of high performers and high drivers, they’re enticed into wanting to change several things at once, “I’m going to get blackout curtains for my room. I’m going to get an easy Nest Thermostat for my room. I’m going to buy a sleep mask. I’m going to take this cocktail of melatonin supplements at night.” And they come up with this long list of things they’re going to do, and then they up getting so stifled by it that they end up doing none of it. The key is just picking one thing to have hyper focus on.

So, if you realize that you’re not getting adequate sleep, pick one thing, and let’s just say that one thing is going to be, “I’m going to set a consistent bedtime.” So, that’s the only thing you’re going to focus on. You’re not going to worry about anything else right now, just the one thing. Then the next thing you need to do, so once you’ve established that one thing, is you want to aim to do that for 66 straight days. You want to start to build some momentum and some continuity.

Now, there’s nothing really magical about 66 except there is some research out there that says that when you do something daily for 66 days in a row, it starts to reduce the friction. So, I just like that because it’s an easy number to remember and it could be something very visual. I’m a visual guy so, for me, I’ll go get an old-school calendar from Office Depot and a big red Sharpie, and every night that I go to bed, at this bedtime that I set, I’m going to put a big red X on my calendar, and I’m going to be committed to doing this until there’s 66 red X’s in a row.

Now, anyone that’s into habits, I highly recommend you read James Clear’s book called Atomic Habits. Most of everything I teach on habits has come from James, and he’s got a lot deeper insight into that concept. But let’s just try to build some momentum, so that’s the second step. So, we pick one thing, we’re committed to doing it for 66 days. And then the third piece is you need to keep the spotlight of accountability on, and you do this by insulating yourself with an accountability partner or an accountability group of people that is going to hold you to that.

So, in this example, I might say, “Hey, Pete, I’m really trying to get better sleep at night. I promised myself I’m going to go to bed every night at 9:30. I’m going to make a commitment to doing this for the next 66 days, but would you mind checking in with me? Since you’re my buddy, would you mind texting me every morning and asking me if I did go to bed at 9:30 so that way I’ve got someone else keeping that light on me?”

And, statistically, if you’re willing to focus on one thing at a time, you’re committed to doing it for 66 days and you have some self-accountability, and you get people that you know want to see you successful hold you accountable, if you do those three things, you have a really good chance of changing that behavior.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Super. So, then I suppose that you lock one in over the course of 66 days, and then start another, as opposed to doing multiples at once. You focus on one at a time, and then you give it that amount of time before you take on another.

Alan Stein, Jr.
You nailed it. And, to me, that’s the main reason that most New Year’s resolutions don’t work it’s because of the plural part, because most people wake up on January 1st and say, “I’m going to eat better. I’m going to get more sleep. I’m going to start working out. I’m going to start saving money. I’m going to start doing this. I’m going to call on my…” and they want to do all of these things. While I certainly applaud how noble their intentions are, and I love that they’re trying to better themselves, statistically, by the third or fourth week of January, most of those people aren’t doing most of those things. And it’s because, as human beings, we’re wired to have that hyper focus. So, set yourself up for success by only picking that one thing and having hyper focus.

And that, in and of itself, is hard to do because most people think, “Oh, I can handle two or three changes at once. Oh, those statistics are for normal people. I can do it.” Well, you might be the exception, but let’s play the odds in our favor, let’s use the statistics and the research to say, “I’m going to do my very best to stay focused on this one thing.” Very basic in premise, very hard to do.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve fallen for that myself, “Oh, I can handle doing that more and more.” The compromise I try to reach myself when I’m having this argument is like, “Okay. Well, only one of them counts.” It’s like for the X, if you will, on the calendar, the points, or to report to the accountability partner, it’s like, “The rest are like extra credit. If you really feel like it or you’re in the mood, go for it, but I’m not bending over backwards to pull those off.” It’s like it’s the one thing that gets the point scored and gets supported out.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Exactly. And I think we can all fall victim to that. And, once again, I’m not saying that it’s impossible to change more than one thing at a time, and I’m not saying people can’t do it. I’m just saying we should all have the humility to go into it not thinking that we’re the exception and let’s do our best with this. And, of course, these, I’m throwing out a very general prescription.

I don’t think anything is one size fits all, but I think if you’re going to start, you’re better off starting conservative.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you. So, then let’s talk about some of the basics that make a world of difference. Sleep, I think, is huge, and so we’ve given that as an example. What have you found, I’d say particularly for professionals, are some basics, some habits, that are often real top contenders for being things that unlock a whole lot of power for you?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, what I’ll do is I’m going to give you a framework so that your listeners can actually figure out what those things are for themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, what I’d say is, for your listeners, to take five or ten minutes, and I just want you to reflect on the four or five activities that really fill your own bucket, that charge you up physically, mentally, emotionally. Sit with pen to paper and think, “What things get me going?” Maybe it’s taking a yoga class or a spin class. Maybe it’s prayer or meditation. Maybe it’s quietly reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee, or taking a hot bath, or taking your dog for a walk. Whatever activities fill your bucket, I want you to come up with a list of those four or five things.

And then take another few minutes, and I want you to reflect on what your morning and evening routine looks like. Jot down what you do most mornings and what you do most evenings. Now, I’m aware that most people listening, if you work a conventional job, your Wednesday morning is not going to be the same as your Sunday morning, or your Saturday evening is not the same as your Tuesday evening. That’s okay. But I’m willing to bet that what you do most Wednesday mornings and what you do most Sunday evenings is probably fairly similar because, as human beings, we’re creatures of habit.

So, just start to etch out what you do on the bookends of your day, and then you’ve got these two sets of notes. And what I want you to do is compare those two sets. I want you to see if you’re actually making time in the beginning and end of your day to do the things that you know fill your bucket. And for most people, this is when they start to find some glaring performance gaps. They know that taking a yoga class or meditating or taking their dog for a walk are the things that jive them up, and yet they don’t make the time to do those things near as often as they should. And that’s why I want folks to start making the first little tweaks is using the bookends of your day, the first 60 minutes when you wake up and the last 60 minutes before you go to bed, to do things that refill your bucket, because that’s the only way for you to be awesome at your job, is if your bucket is full. It’s the only way you can serve others.

There’s an old adage that’s been around a lot longer than I’ve been breathing that says, “You can’t pour anything out of an empty cup,” which means if your cup is empty, you have nothing to give other people. So, in order for you to be the most awesome you can be at your job, you have to make sure your battery is always charged and your bucket is always full. And the last way I’ll illustrate that, since I’m a basketball guy, I don’t know if the Lakers are playing tonight or not, but I know if they had a game tonight and LeBron showed up, and he didn’t get good sleep, he wasn’t well-hydrated, he didn’t eat anything, he didn’t do his stretches or his corrective exercises, if he didn’t do all of those things, and he showed up tonight, he would give the Lakers less of a chance to win because he chose not to fill his bucket before he showed up.

And we all have to view ourselves as kind of the LeBron of our jobs in that, “When I show up, I need to show up as my best self. And in order to be my best self, I have to make the time to take care of myself.” And when we’re all willing to do that, that’s the most basic principle we should all be living by to become the best versions of ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, so much good stuff there. Thank you. Thank you, Alan. So, let’s talk about the game day, if you will. You talk about playing present, and so, I guess, part of the game was, hey, prepping in advance, and then another part of the game is really being present while you’re there. First of all, what do you mean by this term?

Alan Stein, Jr.
I’ve heard both Nick Saban, the head football coach at Alabama, and I’ve heard Oprah Winfrey, who I probably need to say her last name because she’s that famous. They’ve both used the term “Be where your feet are.” And I love that because, to me, it has such a strong connotation of being in the present moment. Be where your feet are.

Now, if anyone listening is going, “Well, how could you be anywhere other than your feet?” Now, I’m talking about the connection between mind and body, because in today’s day and age of digital distractions, there’s plenty of times where we’re somewhere, well, we’re not really somewhere.

Pete Mockaitis
He was using his fingers on the phone since we’re not recording the video.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah, and that’s ultimately the problem. And I think a lot of us do that. You’re out to lunch with someone, and you’re so preoccupied with your phone that you’re not really with that person. And the key to high performance is making sure mind, body, and soul are all aligned right where you are. And, once again, very basic premise, very, very difficult to do, especially with all of these digital distractions that we have. So, learning how to be in the moment, not distracted by the past, not worried about the future, not worried about the play that just happened, but completely focused on the next play is vital to being awesome at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so I buy it. And so then, how do we get there? In terms of if we’re naturally distracted by our devices or other thoughts, worries, what else we need to be doing, how do we develop the capacity to be present?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Like anything else, it’ll take some practice. And, as I said before, it starts with awareness. So, first, you have to be aware of when you’re not present. You have to be able to catch yourself saying, “Man, there I go thinking about yesterday,” or, “Here I am worried about tomorrow,” or, “Here I’m constantly letting my phone own me instead of me owning it.” So, you have to have the awareness. And once you have the awareness, then you’ll start to catch yourself more quickly. And once you do that, the other part is really important, is giving yourself some grace and some compassion. Just know that even a Tibetan monk of 80 years isn’t present every moment of every day.

Now, they’re present more consistently than probably guys like you and I are, but nobody is perfect, and I don’t ever want someone to get stifled by perfection. I want you to be motivated and inspired by progress not stifled by perfection. So, just know that you’re never going to have a day where you’re 100% present every moment of every day. But can you be more present today than you’ve been in the past? Can you have a self-talk or a triggering mechanism that you catch yourself when you’re not present to snap yourself back into the moment?

I, literally, say to myself, not out loud, they’d have me committed, I’d say to myself, “Be where your feet are. Be where your feet are. Don’t worry about that, that one is over, Alan. Get back to the present.” And I really believe that the definition of mental toughness is the ability to refocus the lens on the next most important thing regardless of the environment. It’s the acronym WIN, W-I-N, what’s important now. And as long as you can always stay focused on what’s important now, you’ll be in the present moment.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I like that a lot, be where your feet are. I’ve heard some variations. I think it’s from Joseph Goldstein, a mindfulness teacher, talking about, “Sit and know that you are sitting.” I don’t know if he made it up but I think it’s really good, or just sort of breathe and know that you’re breathing. Because, in a way, it’s like, “Well, of course, I know I’m sitting. Of course.” It’s like, “Yeah, but you’re not really sort of there-there in terms of what’s going on.” So, be where your feet are, another way to convey that. I dig it.

And so then, I’d also want to get your view, if we’re kind of focused in the present moment, is it possible to lose sight of the bigger picture, the overall goal because we’re just, maybe, I don’t know, reacting, responding, we’re so in the now moment of what’s happening, we’re not sort of charting a course and driving to wherever we’re trying to go? Is that a risk?

Alan Stein, Jr.
That’s an excellent perspective, and it’s one that I’ve wrestled with numerous times, because we can look both ways on that. I mean, for one, even though I want to be focused on the present, I still want to make sure I’m learning from the past. If I step on a landmine today, I want to make sure tomorrow I don’t step on the same ones. So, part of us does need to have a system in place where we’re constantly looking at previous performances and finding ways to tweak those and move it forward so that we continue to get better.

And then, along the same lines, what you just brought up so insightfully is we also want to make sure we’re prepared for the future. I mean, right now I’m focused on the present moment, but I’m hoping tomorrow does come around and I want to make sure I’m ready for tomorrow. So, I think we want to make sure that we pay homage to both, that learning from the past and being prepared for the future, but we don’t live in either one of those spaces. We’re aware of them, we’re doing our due diligence on both sides, but we’re still in the present moment.

A perfect example would be somebody in sales. They’ve got a yearly quota, or a quarterly quota, of things they’re suppose to sell, and it’s okay to have that number off into the distance, “I’m suppose to sell a hundred whatever by the end of February,” and that’s great to know that but I don’t want to live there. What I want to constantly ask myself is, “What do I need to do today to get me closer to that 100 goal? What do I need to do this hour that will take me closer to that goal? What do I need to do right now, in this very moment, that will take me closer to that goal? And if I can stay in the moment and in the process, there is a very good chance that outcome of 100 will simply take care of itself.” Especially, if you have some analytics behind it.

If you know that every 10 prospects you reach out to, one of them buys, well, now it’s simple math. If every 10, one of them buys and you have to sell a hundred, well, it sounds like you need to reach out to a thousand people over the course of a month. Well, if we divide that thousand by a five-day workweek, four weeks by 20, that tells me how many calls I need to make every single day to be in the process of being able to reach that actual goal. Some days you’ll go higher, some days you’ll go lower, but then if I know that I have to make X number of calls today, I don’t want to worry about any of the calls except for the one I’m about to make right now. That is the only call that matters because it’s the only one that’s directly in front of me.

And then no matter whether this call goes well or not, it’s in the rearview mirror and now I focus on the next call. And this is very similar to building a brick wall. If you’re tasked with building a brick wall, the best advice I have for you is lay each and every brick with care and precision. And if you put your focus on laying each brick perfectly, there’s a very good chance that wall will just take care of itself.

Pete Mockaitis
And if you are an excellent mason in the Chicago area, get in touch with me because I need to hire one. Thank you.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Oh, perfect. And whoever that person is, you make sure you lay Pete’s bricks brick by brick.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, right. Well, that’s a whole another talk, that’s a whole another conversation, in terms of people being awesome at their job in the home renovation world. That could be hard to find at times. So, anyway, refocusing on here and now, huh? How’s that for presence and tie-in.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yeah. Oh, that was perfect. Look at you.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. So, I want to get your take on is there anything else you really want to make sure we mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Alan Stein, Jr.
No, those are really the big ones. And I readily acknowledge that there’s really nothing sexy about anything I’ve just shared. There’s nothing flashy, there’s nothing new, there’s nothing trendy. Master the basics and the fundamentals during the unseen hours. Do your best to stay present. Those things aren’t sexy, that’s why they’re not tons of Facebook memes or Nike slogans with those in them, but those are what’s required at being awesome at your job. And once you’ve found something that you love to do, if you can fall in love with that process and doing that work on a daily basis, you will be awesome at your job.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
“If you do the things others won’t do, you’ll have the things others won’t have.” And that really is something that piggybacks on everything that I just shared. If you’re willing to commit to the basics, which most people aren’t, you’ll have plenty of things that other people don’t have. If you’re willing to be an active listener to the people you care about, you’ll have deeper relationships than most other people have. If you’re willing to lay each brick with care and precision, you’ll probably build sounder and nicer walls than anybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ll get a lot of referrals.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Yes, absolutely. Without question.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
Well, there was an interesting on that goes back on that why I told your listeners to pick one thing. There’s a gentleman named John Berardi, who was the Founder and CEO of a company called Precision Nutrition, and he did a study and he found that when you try to focus on one behavior change, you have an 85% chance of being successful, that as soon as you try to split that in half and change two behaviors at the same time, rate of success drops to 40% to 45%, so almost cut in half.

And then if you try to focus on three things at once, it drops down to 4% or 5%. So, once again, the statistics will show and the research will show that if you want to change a behavior, just focus and get hyper clear on that one thing to change. I remember when I read that for the first time, that was eye-opening to me because at the time, I was trying to juggle many changes at once all of the time and was getting frustrated with myself that none of it was working.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Alan Stein, Jr.
Leading with the Heart by Coach K. That was one of the first, like epiphanic books that I read from cover to cover in one sitting that just completely jolted the way that I look at building teams, and leading, and creating cohesion with an organization. It’s an old book but it’s still just as good as the day it came out.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
I use the Headspace, the meditation app, the guided meditation, and I use it daily. It’s a 10-minute guided meditation which allows me to start my day in a much more present way, it allows me start my day in a grounded and mindful way, and it just kind of, in a very soothing way, talks you through 10 minutes of keeping you present. And I really love it because I’m a pretty competitive guy, and there’s kind of a daily run clock on it which will say how many days in a row is your Headspace streak. And as of this morning, at the time of this recording, I have done this for 929 straight days without missing a Headspace daily meditation. And, for me, I just love that.

Back to the brick-by-brick analogy, most people will think, “Well, 10 minutes of meditation, what’s that going to do?” Well, I agree, a one-time 10 minutes slice of meditation will do nothing for you, but I’m living proof that 10 minutes a day, for 929 straight days, can have a seismic effect on your presence, and awareness, and mindfulness, and mood, and the way you start your day. So, it goes back to the brick-by-brick. One brick doesn’t make a wall. Several bricks laid perfectly, now you’ve got yourself a sound, sturdy wall.

Pete Mockaitis
This is intriguing because here you are, a case study, 900 plus days, so not a lifetime, under three years, but an awesome habit that’s locked in. So, you say it’s made quite a difference. Can you sort of lay that out for us? Because I think there’s a lot like borderline, fence-riding, half-meditators listening to this show, and I’m one of them in terms of, it’s like, “Oh, hey, I did that. That felt kind of good. okay, I’m glad I did that.” And then I got busy, it’s like, “Oh, I didn’t do that.” So, it’s up and down, and I’m generally on board that the data is clear, the research that the benefits exceed the costs, and then sometimes I just get wrapped up, and it’s like, “That sounds boring. I don’t feel like it, so I’m not going to do it.” I’m a little sassy or self-indulgent, and at other times I do it and I’m so glad I did. Other times I do it, I was like, “Okay, well, that happened.” So, let’s get your take so that myself and listeners may be convinced. What is different for you now as compared to 900 plus days ago?

Alan Stein, Jr.
I mean, the biggest difference I would say is kind of my mood and outlook in how I start the day. Like many people, I used to wake up and the first thing I would do would be check my phone, check text messages, email, social increase, and I started to find, like most people, that I was giving my power away, that. I was putting my mood and rolling the dice into the hands of anyone that text me, emailed me, or sent me something on social, and many times I was losing that battle. I would get something that would frustrate me, or irritate me, or upset me, and it’s the very first thing I’m putting on my hard drive in the morning, and I just decided that enough was enough.

And I wanted to make sure that that was not what I was doing to start my day, and I needed something else to replace it. And around this time, somebody that was a mentor and very influential to me, was talking about his own Headspace meditation journey and how much it had helped him, and I think it was just perfect timing.

Everything that you just said, I found true especially in those first few months. There were times I didn’t feel like doing it, there were times where, even in that 10 minutes, I couldn’t stay present for more than 10 seconds. My mind would start racing about all of the things I had to do that day. But over time, it just started to chip away, and, over time, I just found that I was becoming more mindful. I was becoming better with just sitting in silence for 10 minutes, that I was starting my day with a little more pep in my step, with a little wider smile because I was in this rounded fashion.

I also like the consistency of it. I travel a ton as a professional speaker and this is something that I can do whether I’m home or whether I’m traveling. It’s something I can do whether my kids are with me or they’re not with me, so I had some control over it. And then, as I mentioned, I’m rather competitive, so once I had done it for 10 straight days, I was like, “Well, let’s not stop here. Let’s keep it going.” And, yes, there were definitely a few times where I did not feel like doing it but I was like, “You know what, I can’t let my streak break.”

I started putting it out on social because that’s a form of accountability. I had people come up to me at my talks all the time and say, “Hey, Alan, what’s your Headspace streak up to?” because they remember a few months ago I posted how many days I had in a row. So, it’s kind of a self-accountability, like I mentioned earlier with that spotlight, but it’s definitely allowed me to start my day in a much more mindful and controlled manner. And I know that’s very hard to measure, once again it’s not super sexy, but I’ve found that it’s a great tool for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think the most compelling there was you’re not putting your mood in other’s hands, so, I mean, it’s powerful right there. So, then, some meditation, Headspace is the tool. I was going to ask about a favorite habit. That might be it, but if you have another one, lay it on us.

Alan Stein, Jr.
You know, the longest running habit that I’m aware of that I have is probably going on 26, 27 years now, and it’s similar to the meditation. I make my bed first thing every single morning. I do that because I’m a firm believer that it takes discipline to make your bed. I mean, it might only take 8 to 10 seconds but it takes a little discipline, and that discipline is the key to freedom. Discipline is the key to everything that we want in life. If your goal is to be happy and fulfilled, well, self-discipline is what’s going to allow you to achieve that.

If you’re a hard-driver and your goal is success and significance in the board room, discipline is what’s going to allow you to do that. So, I love knowing that I start every single day with a very small simple act of discipline, and then I’d parlay that right into my meditation, and the first 11 minutes of my day, I’ve kind of set the groundwork for the rest of the day. And if the rest of the day is going to be filled with adversity and challenge and chaos, and I’m expected to respond and put out fires, I’m able to handle those things much better just by laying that foundation first thing in the morning.

Pete Mockaitis
And, tell us, is there a particular nugget you share that really resonates with folks and they quote it back to you, you’re known for it?

Alan Stein, Jr.
The number one, and this is not an Alan Stein, Jr. original, I think Coach K was the first to do it, but where I really learned it was from Mike Jones, who was the head basketball coach at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland. I worked for him for six years, and was just phenomenal. And he always talks about this concept of next play, and it’s part of being present. And, basically, what he says, anytime during a basketball game when things don’t go well, Coach Jones says, “Next play.”

So, a player turns the ball over. No worries. Next play. You missed a wide-open layup. It’s all right. Next play. I know, the referee missed that call. Next play. And that mindset is what allows you to be in the present moment. You don’t worry about what just happened, you’re focused on now and what’s about to happen next. And I’ve had many people in my keynotes, you know, I’ll give a 90-minute keynote and they’ll say that was the stickiest most helpful thing I shared was the ability to move to the next play. And many people have told me, I mean, they use it with their children, they use it with their families, I know I use it with my kids all the time.

My kids would get into arguing about something, and I’ll say, “All right, let’s resolve this,” and then we’re moving to the next play. My kids will say they want a dessert after dinner, and I’ll say, “Well, not tonight,” and they whine about it. I say, “Hey, we’re moving onto the next play.” And that terminology, I found to be really sticky and something that’s been very helpful for not only myself but lots of people that I’ve worked with.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
They can go to RaiseYourGameBook.com if they want to learn more about the book. And if they want to hear more about my speaking services and what I do on social, they can go to AlanSteinJr.com.

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

Alan Stein, Jr.
I would say, actually, what you just said, is to put something that we talked about today into action, that knowledge without action is useless. I mean, it’s no different than the book on your shelf that you haven’t read. It’s doing nothing to help you. So, while you may have been sitting here listening to this episode and nodding your head, maybe even taking some notes and thinking, “Wow, this is great stuff they’re talking about,” if you don’t actually put it into motion, it’s not going to change anything. So, just remember, if nothing changes, nothing changes.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Alan, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck in your future adventures.

Alan Stein, Jr.
Thank you so much, Pete. I appreciate you.

423: Becoming Free to Focus with Michael Hyatt

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Michael Hyatt says: "What I'm after is... the double win. I want to win at work, but I want to succeed at life. I'm not willing to compromise either."

Michael Hyatt offers useful concepts to upgrade your productivity and focus, including the  freedom compass, the zones of desire and drudgery, and more.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to do more of what you want with the “yes, no, yes” formula
  2. Three beliefs that prevent you from delegating your tasks effectively
  3. How to feel like you’re winning each day with the daily big three

About Michael

Michael Hyatt is the founder and CEO of Michael Hyatt & Company, a leadership coaching and development firm twice listed on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing US companies. A longtime publishing executive, Michael is the former chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson, now part of HarperCollins. He is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of several books, including Your Best Year Ever, Living Forward, and Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World.
Michael is the creator of the Full Focus Planner, which combines quarterly goal-tracking and daily productivity in a proven system for personal and professional achievement. His blog and weekly podcast, Lead to Win, are go-to resources for hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs, executives, and aspiring leaders. He has been featured by Forbes, Inc, Entrepreneur, Fast Companyand Wall Street Journal. Michael and his wife of 40 years, Gail, have five daughters, three sons-in-law, and eight grandchildren. They live just outside of Nashville, Tenn.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Michael Hyatt Interview Transcript

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

Michael Hyatt
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate being on.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh boy. I think we’ll have a ton of fun. But first I want to hear about something fun in your life. You mention your dog, Winston, is exceptional in your About page and I want to know why.

Michael Hyatt
He’s the perfect dog. His temperament is fantastic. He’s just so easygoing. He always obeys. I don’t know. I feel like we won the lottery with him. He’s an amazing dog.

Pete Mockaitis
How did you get him?

Michael Hyatt
Well, we found out about a breeder in Indiana, who bred Australian Labradoodles. We got the dog from her. Then we sent him to a trainer in Indiana, a lady who actually is a Russian immigrant, who trains dogs for the federal government and for state agencies and therapy dogs and all that. She had him for about six weeks. I don’t know what she did, but some kind of Russian thing, but it’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh Michael, I just love that so much because it’s like you eat, sleep, breathe people, development, and now even dog development. We’re going to find the best trainer in the world. We’re going to spend some deep focus time immersed and come back a renewed dog.

Michael Hyatt
Dog hacks. What can I say?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fantastic. You’re unveiling some more wisdom in your latest book, Free to Focus. What’s the main idea or thesis behind this one?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, the main thesis behind this is you can actually achieve more by doing less if you have the right productivity system. The problem with most productivity systems today is that they’re designed to make you more productive. Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, yeah, what’s wrong with that?” Here’s the problem.

People start out working a 12-hour day, they get some productivity hacks, adopt a few apps, they reduce it to eight hours and then they fill it up with more work. They try to be productive so they can be more productive.

I say productivity is a means to an end. You’ve got to be very clear about what the end is otherwise you’re just going to fill your life with work, you’re going to be overwhelmed, you’re going to be burned out, and you’re not going to get the kind of work-life balance that makes life rich and meaningful.

Pete Mockaitis
When you talk about defining the end, can you give us a couple of examples of how that gets articulated?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, absolutely. In the first part of the book I talk about stopping and kind of taking stock. Get off that hamster wheel and ask, “Where’s this hamster wheel going? Why am I running this race? What’s it all about?” I say the end game needs to be about freedom. More productivity should lead to greater freedom and specifically freedom in four areas.

I talk about the freedom to focus. Focus is a super power today in our distraction economy. If you want to move the needle in your business and in your life, if you want your business to grow, if you want to get ahead in your career, you’ve got to be able to focus and do the deep work, the creative work that really creates the breakthroughs in your business and in your personal life. The freedom to focus.

You also need the freedom to be present so that when you’re at your son’s Little League game, you’re not on your phone thinking about work or you’re out for a day with your spouse or you’re significant other, you’re not thinking about work or when you’re at work, you’re not thinking about something that’s going off the rails at home. The freedom to be present.

Then third, the freedom to be spontaneous so that your life’s not so managed and not every last second is so planned that you just can’t stop and enjoy life, smell the roses so to speak.

Then finally, the freedom – and this is really underrated, but the freedom to do nothing at all. All the brain research says that we’re the most creative, we experience the biggest breakthroughs when our minds are the most relaxed. That means we’ve got to intentionally have that white space where we do nothing.

I learned this when I was in Italy a few years ago. They have a saying in fact. They talk about a dolce far niente, which means the sweetness of doing nothing. It’s true. You think about when you have the breakthrough ideas, the most creative ideas, often it’s in the shower or out for a walk or doing something that amounts to nothing. That’s what I’m after is freedom. I think productivity should lead to that.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a lovely turn of a phrase, the sweetness of doing nothing. I’m reminded maybe when you said Italy, it brings about images. I’m just thinking about just sort of strolling, just walking with a good friend, catching up and chatting. It’s like I enjoy doing nothing in those moments so much. It’s like I don’t even want to be burdened with having to think about where we’re going and where the restaurant is, just having faith that a good eatery will appear if that’s kind of what we’re up to. It’s much more fun.

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, and I don’t think they have bad food in Italy.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, in Italy you’re covered. Sure.

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. Everything I ate there was phenomenal.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. That’s cool. That’s the process in terms of the steps as we’re stopping. We’re taking stock. We’re pointing to greater freedom and a few kind of particular forms of freedom. What comes next?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, in that same section, under Stop, talk about formulate, so formulate a clear vision for what your productivity, you want to accomplish with it. Then secondly, evaluate. This means taking stock of our workflow, our work style. I talk about a concept there called the freedom compass, which I think is really a big paradigm shift and a way to think about your work that makes it possible for you to focus on your highest and greatest work because not all work is created equal.

I talk about kind of a two-by-two matrix, where you have passion intersecting with proficiency. There’s some tasks – and imagine this rotated 45 degrees and you’ve got a compass, where true north is where your passion and your proficiency come together, the things you love, the things that you are deeply satisfying, that you enjoy, plus proficiency, the things that you’re good at.

Not just proficiency in your subjective opinion, but in an objective reality, where people are willing to pay you to do this. That I call the desire zone. That’s where you want to focus the bulk of your time and the bulk of your energy.

Directly south, directly below that is what I call the drudgery zone, things that you hate, you don’t have any passion around it and you’re not very good at. It’s going to be different for everybody, but for me it’s things that look like administrative kinds of activities, like managing my email inbox, managing my calendar, booking travel, even finding the FedEx box, just running errands. All that’s in my drudgery zone. It’s kind of a grind when I have to do that.

Then there’s also the disinterest zone, where you don’t have any passion, but you might be pretty good at it. A lot of people get trapped in this because maybe they were good at something, they lost the passion and they keep doing it because it keeps making them money, keeps bringing home the bacon.

For me, when I started out as an entrepreneur this was accounting. I did it because I didn’t want to pay somebody else to do it and I was really good at it, but I didn’t have any passion and that leads to boredom.

Then on the opposite side of the freedom compass from there, due west, would be what I call the distraction zone, where you like doing it, but you’re not very good at it and you end up escaping there and then it wasted a lot of time.

Again, the key, and it leads to the next part of the book, but the key is to eliminate everything that’s not in your desire zone, the things that you’re passionate about and proficient at, because that’s where you’re going to see the biggest growth, the biggest progress, the most results. That’s the chapter on evaluation.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a nice two-by-two matrix and a clever rotation that makes it a compass. When you talk about doing more of the good stuff and less of the drudgery, what are some of the best ways that we can accomplish that? You have some things about saying no and some things about outsourcing. How do we systematically get our proportions more and more in the desire space?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. One of the things is I think to set ourselves up for success. That’s actually that third chapter in that first section before we get to the Cut section, which is about rejuvenation. This is one of those things that’s easy to overlook because we live in the hustle economy. We’re encouraged to burn the candle at both ends, to work evenings and weekends. Elon Musk said unless you’re working 80 to 100 hours a week, you’re not going to make the progress you need to.

One of the most important things you can do is take care of yourself if you want to be more productive. Getting a good night’s sleep, something as simple as that, can make the difference between whether you’re focused or productive the next day. I talk about sleep, nutrition, exercise, relationships. Those have a lot to do with how productive we are. That’s all the rejuvenation chapter.

But then moving into that second section, the section called Cut. The first one’s Stop. The second part of the framework is Cut. How do we prune all that stuff that’s not in our desire zone? It really does start with elimination. We’ve got to eliminate the stuff that doesn’t need to be done and the best way to do that is to head it off at the beginning by getting better at saying no.

Warren Buffet once said that “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything,” but how do we do that without being a jerk? In the book, I talk about how to do that. I talk about how to give a graceful no. I talk about it using a formula called Yes No Yes. It’s the positive no that William Ury talks about in his book, The Power of a Positive No.

Let me illustrate. I spent most of my career in the book publishing industry. I still to this day get a lot of requests from aspiring authors, who would like me to review their book proposal before they send it to an agent or a publisher. Now, I don’t really have time to do that. I don’t want to be a jerk, but I don’t have time to do that. I have an email template that I use. I respond with that formula, yes, no, yes.

Here’s what it looks like. First of all, I start with an affirmation. I start off not resenting the fact that they asked me to review this proposal. But I’ll say something like, “Hey, congratulations. You’ve done what 97% of most aspiring authors will never do and that is create a written book proposal. That is a phenomenal first step. It’s a foundational step and an important one. Way to go.”

Then I move from the yes to the no. Here I want to give a very firm, unambiguous no, so there’s no misunderstanding. I’ll say something like this, “Unfortunately, in order to be faithful to my prior commitments, I have to say no.” I’ve made it very clear that I’m a person of integrity in terms of trying to be faithful to my other commitments, but I give them a firm no.

I don’t say, “Check back with me in a month. I’m a little busy right now,” because in a month it’s going to be the same story, so I might as well cut it off right now.

Then I end with a positive with a yes so that I leave a good taste in their mouth. I’ll say something like, “Best of luck with your publishing product. Let me know when it comes out. Can’t wait to pick up a copy. All the best. Thanks for honoring me with your request,” something like that.

I’ve never gotten a negative response when I follow up with an email like that. For the most part, people are just glad that they heard back from me because so often we send a request like that and we don’t hear because the person is procrastinating because they don’t know how to respond. They want to say no, but they don’t know how. I make it very clear.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that. I find that when you talk about we don’t know how to respond and we procrastinate, I find that I get a lot of requests, it’s sort of like someone’s presenting me with an opportunity, but I don’t think that they’ve given me nearly enough information to even evaluate if it’s worth talking for 15 minutes about the thing.

I’m trying to craft my TextExpander, generic response, which says, “I will need to know more before I can tell you whether or not I can talk to you about this,” which feels a little bit like, “Oh well, someone’s really busy,” but that’s really how I feel. It’s like “You know your product/service/offer better than I do. What you’re saying might be cool, but I really have no idea what this is supposed to be. Where’s the value here? Could you explain that so that I could tell you if we can find 15 minutes?”

Michael Hyatt
See, that’s a perfect example of what I talk about in the next chapter on automation, where you take something like TextExpander or you could use your email apps signature capability, but come up with a list of email templates so that you can respond to the most common kinds of requests so that you don’t have to create it from scratch every time.

I’ve tried to develop sort of this template mentality, where I ask myself if this task I’m about to do if I think I’m going to have to do it again in the future, why not take a few extra minutes now, do it right, save it as a template or a TextExpander snippet so that I can reuse it in the future and not have to reinvent the wheel every time.

For that example, a great way to deal with that using the Yes, No, Yes framework would be to say, “Hey, thanks for thinking of me for your podcast. I’m honored. I would be happy to consider it, but I need just a little bit more information.” Then you’d go through the information that you need and then let it go from there.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go. That is a nice sentence. “I’d be happy to consider it. I need some more information.” Tell me, what are some other top templates you find yourself using again and again?

Michael Hyatt
Well, here’s what I did, how I started this. This is probably about 15 years ago. I noticed that there was sort of a limited range of requests that I was getting. I would get requests from people who wanted me to consider a speaking engagement or wanted me to consider serving on a non-profit board or make a charitable contribution or just have coffee with me so they could pick my brain. There were about 40 or 50 of these as I catalogued them.

Then what I tried to do – I didn’t sit down and write all these templates at once – instead what I began to do is incrementally populate a template database. At the time I was using email signatures to do this. Now TextExpander makes it even cooler. But to write these one at a time until I had a library of templates.

Every time one of those requests comes in now, I look for the template where I can respond, very rare that I don’t have a template. Instead of taking 10 or 20 minutes, now it just takes a few seconds.

But it’s not just email. For example, I use Apple Keynote for creating slide decks. If I public speech that I’m going to give or a webinar that I have to give, I always start with a template, like with a webinar. I’ve got seven main parts to all my webinars. They always start the same way. They’ve got the same transitions and the same pivots and the same ending and all that.

It’s kind of like paint by numbers, but again, I’m starting with sort of that template mentality of if I’m going to do this again, how can I do it right the first time so I can reuse it, polish it, improve it, and get better at this and take less time as I do it.

Pete Mockaitis
There’s so much good stuff here. I want to dig in in all kinds of places, but it would be too scattered. First, let’s chat a little bit in the realm of going back to stopping for a moment. You mentioned rejuvenation. I think that we’ve heard from a few sleep doctors, a lot of good tips there and I’m a huge advocate for that. It’s so important.

But I want to get your take on when it comes to nutrition and exercise, boy, there’s a lot of advice out there. What have you found ultimately really yields good quality rejuvenation, energy, and freedoms?

Michael Hyatt
First of all, disclaimer, I’m not a physiologist or a doctor or a fitness trainer or any of that. What I do know is what works for me and I have studied a little bit.

But with regard to nutrition, I found that one of the best things to do is to really take it easy on the carbs. A high-carbohydrate diet creates a lot of problems in terms of focus and productivity. It’s why when we eat lot-quality carbs and we eat a lot of these kind of carbs like at lunch, like I’m talking about white bread, pizza, mashed potatoes, pasta, that’s why we kind of go into that funk in the afternoon and get sleepy because that turns to sugar very quickly. It burns up fast and it just doesn’t keep our blood sugar level at a level where we could be really productive.

One of the things I’ve done, and this is – I may lose some of your listeners here – but one of the things I’ve done for several months now is I’ve been on the keto diet. That’s a high fat moderate diet, a moderate protein, low carbohydrate diet. One of the things I had no idea about was how much brain fog I had until I started doing this diet.

It was actually developed back in the 1930s to help epileptic children deal with seizures. There’s a cognitive relationship between this diet, high fat, and your cognitive function. That’s been helpful to me.

I’m very careful about taking supplements, about checking my blood a couple times a week with my physical – or a couple times a week, a couple times a year with my physician, just making sure that my markers are right so that can serve as an early warning sign to head off problems before they happen.

Then I work out five to six days a week usually about an hour, three days of cardio, three days of strength training. All that just keeps my energy level up. It’s important to move in some way like that.

Pete Mockaitis
When you do the cardio or the strength training, what kind of intensity are you shooting for?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I would say moderate intensity. I’m kind of an achiever, so I’m always trying to beat my personal best. I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life that I’ve ever been in. I do work with a trainer, who prescribes a program for me. We get together once a month and reevaluate the program and see where I want to go from there.

I was training for a half marathon this spring, but I injured my foot, so I’m going to back that off till this fall. But typically what I’ll do on the cardio before I had the injury is that I’ll run about 30 minutes of interval training twice a week and then I’ll do a long run and a progressively longer run on Saturdays. Yeah, it depends on what I’m training for.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. Well, so now, talk about cutting again. You mentioned that there’s something that we should permanently remove from our to-do list, what is this?

Michael Hyatt
First of all, you should remove the drudgeries of stuff. That’s where you really start is with the drudgery zone activities. Those are not the best and highest use of you. They’re not going to create leverage in your business or your personal life. You’ve got to really focus on those desire zone activities.

Again, that begins with elimination and it goes to automation, and then that final chapter there is all about delegation, which one of the things I found with people that have businesses or leaders, until you can scale yourself, you can’t scale your business.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. All right, so when it comes to that delegation, any particular tips in terms of where to get started if you’re having trouble letting go of anything?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, I think the first thing that we’ve got to do, Pete, is confront sort of the limiting beliefs or the way that we think about delegation. In my experience with coaching now hundreds and hundreds of entrepreneurs there’s usually three sentences that rattle around in their head. The first one is “If I want it done right, I have to do it,” what?

Pete Mockaitis
Myself.

Michael Hyatt
Right. Or here’s another sentence that they have. This would be a second sentence. “It takes longer to explain how to do it. I might as well just do it myself.” Or they say, “I can’t really afford additional help right now. I guess I’m going to have to do it myself.” As long as yourself is at the center of all this, you’re not going to be able to grow, you’re not going to develop additional capacity, you’re not going to be able to accomplish what you want to accomplish.

Let’s look at those one at a time. To the person who says “It takes longer to explain how to do it. I might as well just do it myself,” it’s true. It does take longer to explain it the first time, but once you explain it the first time and give people an opportunity to do it so that they can be trained, then you save yourself all the time because you never have to touch it again.

“In terms of if you want it done right, you’ve got to do it yourself,” here’s the beauty of the freedom compass. What’s in your drudgery zone, might be in somebody else’s desire zone. If you hire right so that you have compatible people that offset what’s in your drudgery zone with what’s in their desire zone, then not only can they do it as well as you could do it, they can do it better than you could imagine doing it.

That’s basically how I’ve grown my entire business. I have 35 full-time people. Last year we grew 62%. I hire specifically for people that are doing their desire zone activities so that everybody’s functioning in their strengths and doing the things that they love and the things that they’re proficient at. That’s a real key.

Then the whole thing about affording, “I can’t afford somebody to do it,” you can take baby steps. I’m not advocating going out and hiring a big staff or even hiring somebody full time. You can start as a solopreneur or as a leader just with a part time virtual assistant. That’s how I started.

Back in 2011 when I left the big corporate world, where I was managing a large company where we were doing a quarter of a billion dollars a year and then I stepped into a solopreneur job, where I couldn’t even find a FedEx box. I had to start small. I hired a virtual executive assistant, who worked five hours a week. I did that for a couple of weeks. I saw the value of it. Then I upped their time to about 10 hours a week, then 15 hours, and 20 hours.

But here’s how the conversation often goes. I had a client by the name of Greg. Greg said, “Look, I’ve got a business where I have to have a web presence. I know just kind of enough about web design and web development to do it myself. It’s probably not the best use of my time, but I really don’t feel like I can afford somebody else to do it now.”

I said, “Well, let me ask you a question, Greg. How much do you bill for? What’s your hourly rate?” He said “150 dollars an hour.” I said, “Okay.” I said, “What would it cost you to get a WordPress developer, somebody that was really good that knew what they were doing? They could do a little bit of design work too.” He said, “Probably 50 dollars an hour.” I said, “Then why are you paying somebody 150 dollars an hour that you admit isn’t that good?”

The lights went on. He went, “Wow.” I said, “If you hired somebody at 50 dollars an hour, it would free you up to bill for that additional time and you’d come out ahead 100 dollars an hour.” That’s how we have to think about delegation. It requires an investment first, but boy, that’s when we begin to reap the rewards and that’s when we begin to clone ourselves in a sense because we’ve got other people that are helping us.

Pete Mockaitis
For folks who are professionals and not business owners, what are some key things you’d recommend they delegate?

Michael Hyatt
I think the same thing. Go back to the freedom compass. Start with the drudgery zone because your company is probably not paying you to do those things that you don’t love and those things that you’re not proficient at. If they are, you’re in the wrong job. Get rid of those things because it’s not the best and highest use of you.

Then go to the disinterest zone, then the distraction zone. Again, focus on those few things that really create the leverage, the things that your employer thinks the results you ought to be delivering. That’s where you’re going to see the advance in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. When it comes to cutting, how do you recommend we cut distractions?

Michael Hyatt
Well, you’ve got to have an offensive plan to begin with. I talk in the book about how to design your quarter, how to design your week and how to design your day. Once you have a good offensive plan, then you’ve got to come up with a defensive plan for the interruptions. I distinguish between interruptions and distractions, two different things.

Interruptions are the external things. It’s people dropping by to visit. It’s that text message you get. It’s people interrupting you. I often talk to leaders who say, “I can’t get my own work done because I’ve got so many people interrupting me to help them with their work.” I think one of the best strategies is to have an offense on those two.

First of all, schedule time to get your most important work done. Make it a commitment and put it on your calendar. What gets scheduled is what gets done.

Then, preempt those interruptions by going to the people who are most likely to interrupt you, and you know how they are, go to those people and say, “Hey, look, I’m about to do some really important, focused work. It’s important that I don’t get interrupted, but I want to be available to serve you, so are there any questions you have, anything I can help you with before I go into this session?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Michael Hyatt
This is awesome because, now all of the sudden, you’ve put them on notice and you’ve also not been a jerk about it. You’ve communicated that you want to help them, but you kind of want to do it on your terms.

Then you’ve got distractions. Now distractions are all the stuff that look external, but are really a problem with ourselves with self-control. This could be jumping over to Facebook. The problem is we’ve got multi-billion dollar-social media companies, who are doing a tremendous amount of research and whose entire business model is built on high jacking our psychology and manipulating our dopamine.

They want us to spend as much time on those platforms as possible. Why? Because they’re repackaging our attention and they’re selling it to the highest bidder in the form of advertisers. We have to combat that. The best way to do it, I think, is to use technology to fight technology.

For example, my smartphone, it looks like a really cool device. It does a gazillion things. I’ve got an iPhone XS Max. It does a bazillion things, but it’s a very sophisticated distraction device if I’m not careful. On my phone, I’ve removed email. I’ve removed Slack, which is our internal communication program. And I’ve removed all social media with the exception of Instagram because I’m trying to build my Instagram following.

But even there I’ve used the technology to fight technology. I go into settings, screen time, and I limit my use of Instagram to 30 minutes a day. Even better, I gave my phone to my wife and I said “Set a passcode for that so that I can’t cheat and don’t tell me the passcode.” When my time is up on Instagram, my time is up.

There’s a great app for the desktop that works on Windows or Mac or any platform called Freedom. You can find it at Freedom.to. I don’t have any relationship with them except that I use this program and love it. But it allows you to selectively turn off apps and websites for a specific period of time, which allows you to stay focused when you do your most creative breakthrough kind of work.

The only way to defeat Freedom is to completely reboot your computer. That gives me just friction so that I can remember my intention that I’m trying to get focused work done. It enables me to avoid the distraction.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. What do you think about mindfulness practice when it comes to building the capacity to resist distraction?

Michael Hyatt
I think it’s really important. I meditate every morning for 15 minutes. It just gives me the opportunity to collect my thoughts, to kind of get centered, to get focused, to get re-connected with my most important priorities. Again, it kind of goes back to the freedom that I talked about before, the freedom to do nothing. It’s often underrated.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, I’d love to dig in for a moment now. When you say meditation, are you referring to more of a mind training exercise or more of a prayer exercise?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I actually do both. I do pray. I also do just straight up meditation. I use an app called 1 Giant Mind. Are you familiar with that?

Pete Mockaitis
I know a couple. I don’t know that one.

Michael Hyatt
It’s awesome. If you’re familiar with Headspace-

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Michael Hyatt
It’s kind of similar to that, but I actually like it better and it’s free. But 1 Giant Mind. It has 12 initial lessons and then you can go into a 30-day challenge, but the instruction is fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh lovely. Well, thank you. I’ve enjoyed a little bit of all of them in terms of Calm, Simple Habit, Headspace. They all give me a little bit of a different perspective. I go, oh yeah, that’s a really good one. Thank you. Much appreciated. We’ll check out another one. Cool.

Michael Hyatt
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, so we talked about stopping. We talked about cutting. Now what?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, so now we get to that third section of the book, which is called Act. It’s a little bit counterintuitive because you’d think that Act ought to come first, but I find that you’ve got to stop, kind of reflect where you want to go, then you need to cut or prune because anything that’s healthy has to be pruned from time to time, but now it’s time to act.

Now, hopefully, you’ve gotten rid of all the stuff that’s in your drudgery zone, a lot of the stuff in your disinterest and distractions zones and now we’re going to focus on how to get more done in your desire zone, the things that you love and the things that you’re good at. That begins with a chapter called consolidate. This is all about designing your ideal week.

The idea is that you want to design a week as if you were in 100% control of your time and resources. What would that look like? If you really wanted to give it some intelligent design and not just be reactive to what came over the transom and schedule those things, but actually we’re very proactive about it.

Here’s how mine works for example. First of all, I’m going to start with on Mondays is when I have my internal team meetings. I batch all these together for one simple reason. It’s the concept of context switching.

In other words, anytime I switch a context, for example, I go from a meeting to I go to some time where I’m working on a project to maybe I’m going to record some video, anytime I go to a different context, there’s a certain amount of ramp up time, a certain amount of time to kind of get into the groove, find my equilibrium and get into flow. Well, the less you can do that, the more momentum you can build.

When I get into that space in my head of meetings and I’m in meeting mode, then I just batch them altogether. Internal meetings are all on Monday.

Tuesday, is all about what I call backstage time. This is my time for preparation on the front stage. Everybody’s front stage is going to look different, but the front stage is what your employer or your clients are paying you, that’s what you’re delivering, but there’s always some backstage work that has to be done in order to do that.

If you’re a lawyer, for example, your front stage might be arguing a case before a court or negotiating a contract on behalf of a client, but there’s a lot of research in the backstage that has to go into that preparation. For me, Tuesday is all about that preparation.

Wednesday and Thursday for me are front stage activities. For example, when I record my podcast, I do that in a day and a half once a quarter and I record 13 episodes in a row. It takes me a day and a half, but then I don’t think about it for another quarter. I get into that headspace and I stay focused and knock it out.

Then on Friday is when I try to consolidate my external meetings. If anybody wants to meet with me, they come in from out of town or a vendor or a client or whatever, I try to move those to Friday. Why? Because I don’t want those meetings interrupting my progress on my front stage days or my back stage days.

Then, of course, I have – and a lot of people don’t know about this – but there’s actually an offstage. All of life doesn’t have to be work. On the weekends, on Saturday and Sunday for me, I’m not thinking about work. I don’t talk about work. I don’t read about work. I don’t do work. Why? Because I want to get back in on Monday morning totally rejuvenated and ready to hit the ground running.

That for me is my ideal week. This could be a game changer for people to begin to get some sense of control back. I would say, Pete, probably in any given week, I’ll probably approximate that about 80%. Things are going to happen. I don’t try to be legalistic about it. But boy, going into the week with a plan is a whole lot better than just reacting to what comes over the transom. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. Yes. What do you think about in terms of total hours of work in a day and a week, energy levels and optimizing that?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, I keep my work to 40 hours a week. I can tell you that the science and I quote it in the book, but once you get past about 55 hours a week, there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of time you work and the level of productivity you have. It actually goes backwards after you give 55 hours. There’s been a lot of study done on this.

But the average person is buying into what I call the hustle fallacy, where you’ve got to work 80 hours, you’ve got to work 100 hours. That’s a recipe for burnout. It’s also a recipe for screwing up your life, screwing up your health, screwing up your most important relationships.

What I’m after, personally, is what I call the double win. I want to win at work, but I want to succeed at life. I’m not willing to compromise either for the sake of the other one.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love to get your take, I don’t know if you would liken yourself to this, but I think of, hey, Michael Hyatt, Elon Musk, two titans, very different perspectives. I guess, when it comes to Elon Musk it’s like I cannot deny that is one successful dude, who has made a lot of things happen and he espouses very much the hustle mentality.

Michael Hyatt
He does.

Pete Mockaitis
How do we reconcile that?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I think it depends on you define success. He’s blown through a couple marriages. He, by his own admission, doesn’t talk to his kids hardly. He’s sleeping at the factory so much so that his fans started a Kickstarter page to buy him a new couch, kind of as a joke, so he’d have something better to sleep on. He’s appeared in the media and said some crazy things, which have led even to fines from the SEC and other federal agencies.

I think it depends on how you define success. Look, I’m not holding myself up as a paragon of virtue, but here’s the thing. Here’s what’s possible. Last year I took off 160 days, now that counts weekends, so 160 days including a one-month sabbatical, which I’ve done every year for the last eight years and my business grew 62%.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome.

Michael Hyatt
I really think this idea of achieving more by doing less – the hustle fallacy, I want to keep my health. I’d like to live a long time. I’ve been married for 40 years, almost 41 years. I have 5 grown daughters, who I adore and who like me. This doesn’t just happen by chance. It’s not because I’m lucky, but I’ve tried to focus on those things.

Again, I’m not trying to hold myself up as the paragon of virtue, but I’m just saying that there’s a different model for success than the one that Elon Musk espouses. I’m not trying to judge him, but just look at the fruit, look at the results.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well done. Thank you. Well, tell me before we sort of shift gears and do your favorite things, any sort of key mistakes folks make when they’re trying to say, “Heck yes, I want to get free to focus and do these things.” What are some roadblocks or some fumbles folks make along the way as they’re trying to enact this stuff?

Michael Hyatt
Well, I think the biggest tip I can give people is to get a plan for your day. This is where you’re going to get the biggest leap forward. I advocate something called the daily big three. Here’s how it goes for most people. They start the day – if they have a to-do list, and not everybody works with a to-do list, which is also a guarantee for being reactive, but let’s say you have a to-do list. The average person’s going to have somewhere between 20 and 25 items on that list.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. Before they begin the day, they’re already feeling overwhelmed, like there’s no way that I can accomplish what’s on my list. They get to the end of the day and even if they’ve done half of it, where do they focus? On the half they didn’t get done. They go to bed defeated. This becomes a vicious cycle. It creates a lot of dissatisfaction, a lot of frustration and ultimately leads to burnout.

But the problem is they’ve created a game, they’ve set themselves up to fail by creating a game that they can’t possibly win. What I suggest is instead of that, go ahead and identify the three highest leveraged tasks that you can do today. Not all tasks are created equal. We know from the Pareto principle that 20% of the effort drives 80% of the results.

Let’s just go ahead on the front end and say “What are the three most important things that I can do today?” Now all of the sudden that seems manageable. At the end of the day when I accomplish those three things, even if I didn’t do all the other trivial things, at least I got the most important things done.

You do three important tasks like that a day, you do it 250 days a year, which is the average number of workdays people have, that’s 750 important things per year. That, more than anything else, will give you a sense of control and give you a sense that you’re winning. When you feel like you’re winning, it builds your confidence and it builds your momentum.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. I like feeling like I’m winning. Well said.

Michael Hyatt
Me too. Me too.

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

Michael Hyatt
Yeah. I think one of my most favorite quotes is one by Warren Buffet. He said that “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

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

Michael Hyatt
I would say the research that I’ve done into sleep has been probably the most rewarding, especially into naps because I sort of knew intuitively that napping was a powerful way to rejuvenate and kind of reboot in the middle of the day. I’ve faithfully practiced it for about 30 years.

I took a nap today, so between interviews I laid down for 20 minutes, fell to sleep – I trained myself to fall to sleep quickly – I wake up and I’m a little bit groggy maybe for about ten minutes or so, drink a cup of coffee, and then it’s like I’m rebooted.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I want to know, how do you train yourself to fall asleep quickly?

Michael Hyatt
It’s not unlike training yourself to meditate. I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself to fall asleep. What I do is kind of try to focus on my breathing and focus on relaxing. If you do that and do it routinely, you’ll find yourself falling asleep. If you don’t fall asleep, it’s still rejuvenating, even if you do nothing but put your feet up and relax.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Michael Hyatt
I’m one of those guys, I read a ton. I tend to focus on the books that I’ve read most recently. The book that I love that I just finished here about two weeks ago was Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. Have you read that?

Pete Mockaitis
I have perused it. Can you tell me maybe a takeaway that was particularly valuable for you?

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, the biggest one was on the value of high-quality leisure, so really being intentional about your leisure time and how it correlates to our work, it makes us more productive at work. But that was really challenging and really exciting to think about.

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

Michael Hyatt
Let me think here for a second. I would say the tool that I’m enjoying the most right now is a tool called Notion. Have you heard of it?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Michael Hyatt
Notion is kind of like a personal Wiki. It could be. A lot of people are using it as an Evernote replacement. I’m still using Evernote, but only as a digital junk drawer. Notion is where I put structured information, information I want to get back to. It’s a whole lot of fun. It’s an outstanding tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting, thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Michael Hyatt
A favorite habit without question is my morning routine, just going through my drill every morning, setting myself up for high performance. Again, I learned this from the world of athletics, where the world’s best athletes have a pre-game ritual. I think of my morning time as a pre-game ritual. That’s the time when I’m going to pray, the time I’m going to meditate, the time I’m going to exercise and get fueled for the day.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate and get quoted back to you frequently?

Michael Hyatt
I think it’s that one about winning at work and succeeding at life. I think that with my clients, that’s just captivated their imagination and gets them really excited because I think most people have kind of fallen into this idea that you’ve got to give up one or the other. You can’t have both. I think when people are given a model, and that’s what I try to do in the book, Free to Focus, for how that can be done, it resonates with people.

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

Michael Hyatt
Well, in terms of the book, I would go to FreeToFocusBook.com. It has links to all the places where you can buy the book, but more importantly, it also has 500 dollars’ worth of free bonus material related to the book that you can get just by turning in your receipt. That’s all you’ve got to do. Turn in your receipt, claim the free bonuses. It has some amazing stuff including the audio version of the book for free. Then for all things related to me, just MichaelHyatt – Hyatt with a Y, not an I – MichaelHyatt.com.

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

Michael Hyatt
Yeah, I would say that in this kind of distraction economy where people are so sidetracked and there’s so much sideways energy and so much fake working going on, if you can learn to focus, that could become a super power.

I would just encourage people to differentiate themselves from their competitors and from their peers by being the person that really can deliver the highly creative, deeply important work that moves their business forward, that moves their personal work forward because so many people are sidetracked and distracted. You can differentiate yourself and make a real difference in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Michael, this has been a ton of fun. Thanks so much for taking the time.

Michael Hyatt
Thank you, Pete. Appreciate it.

422: How to Make Decisions, Solve Problems, and Ask Questions Like a Leader with Carly Fiorina

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Carly Fiorina says: "An imperfect but timely decision is usually better than a perfect but too late decision."

Former Chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina, discusses how to solve problems, make decisions, and connect with other people like a leader.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why to choose a path instead of a plan
  2. Three steps for arriving at the wisest decision
  3. Key prompts to ensure you’ve considered all the angle

About Carly

Carly Fiorina is the former Chairman and CEO of Hewlett-Packard and a seasoned problem-solver. She started out as a secretary for a 9-person real-estate business and eventually became the first woman ever to lead a Fortune 50 company. Through Carly Fiorina Enterprises and the Unlocking Potential Foundation, Carly and her team strengthen problem-solving and leadership capacity across America. Carly is also a best-selling author. Her titles include Tough Choices and Rising to the Challenge. Her third book Find Your Way releases on April 9th. She and her husband, Frank, have been happily married for 33 years. They reside in northern Virginia near their daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Carly Fiorina Interview Transcript

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

Carly Fiorina
It’s great to be with you. Thank you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I discovered that you’ve recently become a podcaster yourself and apparently the backstory involves bumping into an NBA star. Can you tell us the story and what’s going on over at your show called By Example?

Carly Fiorina
Well, yes, it’s funny. I was at a conference for social innovation in Chicago in the summer of 2017. One of the speakers was Baron Davis of NBA fame and UCLA fame. Now I have to immediately say, I’m not a big basketball expert, so, embarrassingly, I didn’t even know who Baron Davis was. But half my staff was like, “Oh my gosh, it’s Baron Davis.”

I listened to him speak and I was captivated by what he had to say. He listened to me speak and apparently liked what he heard. We bump into each other literally in the lobby of the Marriot on a break from this conference. We sit down and he says, “We should do a podcast together.” I said, “Oh Baron, that would be fantastic,” because he was talking a lot about leadership and I talk about leadership.

One thing led to another and Baron Davis was our inaugural guest on the By Example podcast and also brought to us an incredible additional leader named Dino Smiley. The By Example podcast was born in the head of Baron Davis in the lobby of the Chicago Marriott in July of 2017.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, I am in Chicago. I’ve been to the Marriott, so I can visualize the scene nicely. That’s cool. And you’re just still chugging along?

Carly Fiorina
Well, what I was hoping to achieve with By Example based on that preliminary conversation was an opportunity to highlight for people real leaders. The reason I love doing this, first of all, I get to talk with fascinating, wonderful people, but also because I think in this day and age we are so confused about what leadership is. We think it’s position and title and fame and celebrity and it’s none of those things.

Yet, we also need more leadership. I wanted to introduce to people not just what leadership is, but who leaders are. Some of them are very famous, like Baron Davis or Colin Powell and some of them people have never heard of like Dino Smiley and yet, famous or not, leadership is always about some fundamental common elements. That’s what we talk about on By Example.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. If leadership is not that, what would you say it is?

Carly Fiorina
Well, I would say that leadership is problem solving. Leadership is changing the order of things for the better, which is always necessary to actually solve a problem. Leadership is about unlocking potential in others in order to change the order of things for the better for the purpose of solving problems.

That requires many things that all of us are capable of executing against as human being. It requires courage and character and collaboration and imagination. Some people who have position and title, lead, many people with no position and title also lead, and too frequently, people with position and title are doing many things, but they’re not leading.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Nice distinctions there. Thank you. Well, I think we could chew on that for a while, but I also want to make sure we talk about your book. Find Your Way, what’s the main message behind it?

Carly Fiorina
Well, the main message behind Find Your Way is that each of us, all of us, are capable of leadership, that finding your way in life is about solving problems that impact you and others that you collaborate with or that you care about.

And that each of us can find our purpose, each of us can practice and become adept at being courageous when we’re frightened to death, having character when it would be easier to do something that is not honest or has integrity, that we actually must collaborate with others in order to accomplish anything, and that seeing possibilities is an essential element in making things better.

That’s one huge message in Find Your Way that finding our way in life requires finding our way to leadership, not the position or the title, but the essence of leadership, which requires us to step up to the problems that surround us.

The other message is that too often people get waylaid because they invest so much in a specific plan or destination or job that they lose the path, they lose their way towards becoming a stronger, better, more effective problem solver and leader and happier on top of all of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, could you further distinguish for us the difference between a path and a plan? You say one of the dangers is if you get too invested in the plan, could you elaborate there?

Carly Fiorina
Yeah, so I had a plan. When I graduated from college, my plan was to go to law school, which I did. Surprisingly, to me perhaps, I quickly discovered that I absolutely hated law school. The plan that I had created for my life – which my parents approved of, everyone was excited about this plan – was making me miserable, so I quit. I was definitely off plan.

More than that, I didn’t have a plan. My degree was in medieval history and philosophy, so I didn’t have marketable skills other than I knew how to type and file and answer the phones because I had worked as a temporary secretary in offices while I was going to Stanford and getting my undergraduate degree. I went to work as a secretary in a nine-person real estate firm. Totally off plan.

However, I stayed on path, which was I’m going to do a good job, I’m going to ask a lot of questions, I’m going to collaborate with others, I’m not going to be afraid to try new things, and eventually that landed me in AT&T, a company with a million people. I had no plan there either. I didn’t have an ambition to become a CEO. I was just trying to do a good job, which to me meant solving problems in front of me, which requires collaboration with others.

Some people would look at my life and say, “Wow, she became a CEO and she ran for president. She must have had a plan.” The truth is I never had a plan, but I never deviated from the path.

That is how I have found my way. I hope to share some of that experience and encouragement with people in this book because I think we hear a lot of messages from our culture and our society that you’ve got to have a plan. Further, I think we hear a lot of messages from our culture and those around us that not only do you have to have a plan, but you have to have a plan that everybody approves of.

We spend a lot of time seeking approval. In my case, I went off plan and was highly disapproved of as a result and accomplished more than I ever thought possible. The book is filled with stories of other people who have done the same.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. I’d love to hear about that sort of emotional process by which you kind of untether yourself from the need for this approval. It seems like – I’ve talked to some folks, it’s almost like they’ve never suffered from that. It’s like, “No, I’ve never cared what anybody wanted, needed, expected of me. I always did my own thing and it was just fine,” and others have struggled with it their whole lives, and others kind of had some epiphany or awakening moments to get liberated.

What do you recommend in terms of the practical tactical? If someone’s like, “I know the expectations of others has a real pull on me, I’d rather it didn’t. What do I do?”

Carly Fiorina
A couple things. First I’ll take it out of the emotional realm for a moment and put it into the practical realm. You have a wonderful podcast about how to be awesome at your job. The people who come to you for advice, while they may say they are untethered from people’s expectations for them, let me just say, all of us are susceptible to criticism.

It is, in fact, why problems fester. Problems fester, let’s just say at work, because the status quo has power. The way things are even if they’re unacceptable stays the way things are principally because when people try and change the way things are, criticism erupts, critics abound. “No, no, no, you can’t do that. No, no, no, we’ve already tried it. Who do you think you are that you can tackle this?”

The truth is all of us are susceptible to criticism and critique, especially if it comes from colleagues, even more if it comes from a boss. People can say we’re totally untethered, but, of course, none of us are.

If you want to solve a problem, if you want to solve a problem, which generally speaking is a requirement for being seen as awesome at your job or getting ahead in your job, you’ve got to bring value and that means solving problems, actually. You have to be willing to accept that challenging the status quo will cause people to criticize you, will cause people to say why they’re invested in the status quo.

I think it just starts with a fundamental recognition that to change the way things are, you have to challenge the way things are. To challenge the way things are, you have to be prepared to accept the criticism that comes with that challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d like to talk about what preparation looks like in practice. I guess part of it is that you’re expecting it, you’re not blindsided by it. It’s like, “Oops, where did that come from,” but you’re sort of thinking of, “Yes, to be expected. Here is that criticism I was counting on. It has arrived.” That’s part of it.

Do you have any other approaches in terms of perspectives or self-talk or how you deal with that? You’ve certainly had your share of criticism. Running for president will bring it out in droves. How do you process it and rise above it?

Carly Fiorina
Well, I would say at a very practical level, even going back to your previous question, I would say people ought to think about three things. The first is look around. The second is ask questions and the third is find allies. If I can expound just for a moment on each of them.

Look around, one of the stories that I tell in Find Your Way is something that I learned when I was 15. I happened to be living in Ghana, West Africa. I was driving around with some friends and there were these huge termite mounds everywhere I looked. I was asking about, “Wow, this is amazing. How do these termites build these things?” Bear with me, this is relevant. Don’t get nervous.

My friend said, “Well, termites, they follow the same path day after day. They move their dirt along the same path for their whole lives.” He said, “It’s funny, but people are a lot like termites.”

What happens to us, I think, is we get very consumed by the day-to-day. We put our heads down and we move our dirt and we do our work. Sometimes it’s really important to pick our heads up and look around. What else is going on around you? Who else is troubled by this same problem perhaps? Look around. See what’s going on around you. See who is going on around you. Don’t be a termite.

Step two, ask questions. Ask a lot of questions of a lot of people, maybe those people you discovered when you picked your head up and looked around. Because when you ask questions as opposed to maybe telling people the answer, which sometimes as bosses we feel like we have to tell people the answer, sometimes the most valuable thing you can do is ask a question instead and listen to someone else’s answer. You’re always going to learn things that you can use.

The final step, find allies. As you ask questions, as you look around you, you will find people with whom you can ally yourself, with whom you can collaborate, people who will step up and defend you when that criticism comes, perhaps protect you from some of that criticism and perhaps join with you so that the group of people who are focused on solving the problem actually is bigger and more powerful than the inevitable group of people who just want to sit around and criticize but actually doesn’t want anything to change.

Pete Mockaitis
And with those allies it’s sort of like – I felt it before in terms of just being able to reconnect from time to time with a group of like-minded folks. It’s like, “Ah.” It’s like refreshing. It’s like we can all say what we really think about this thing here and you’re rejuvenated and able to keep up the good fight afterwards.

Carly Fiorina
Yes, absolutely. And I would add there’s one caution to that. We are all most comfortable with people like ourselves. We are all most comfortable with people who think like we do. If taken to an extreme, what happens is we only talk to the people that we agree with. That’s a very dangerous place to be. You can see that happening in our culture. Everyone’s sort of devolving into tribes. It can happen in a work setting as well.

Finding allies doesn’t mean only talking to people who agree with us 100% of the time. Finding allies may mean I need to work with people who also think that this is a problem that we can solve but who maybe have a very different point of view than I do or an additional perspective to share with me about how to make progress.

Pete Mockaitis
I like it. Thank you. Well, so you talked a little bit about some of the expectations, the criticism, the fear side of things. I want to get your take on when it comes to actually solving the problems or using your brain to make some wise decisions with consistency, what are some of your real go-to principles or tactics or questions that you ask yourself to be making the wisest decision more often than not?

Carly Fiorina
It’s several steps. First is I gather as much information as I can. That means talking to a lot of people. It may mean, depending on the subject, depending on the problem, it may mean meeting a lot, it may mean both.

But gathering information, that’s another way of saying pick your head up and look around. Gather information, facts, perspective, data from a variety of points of view so that you have a full picture. You can’t wing it. Particularly if you’re tackling a tough problem, you can’t go into it thinking you already know the answer.

The second step then after that perspective gathering, information gathering, fact and data gathering, is reflection. Reflection for me is very important to take the time after you’ve asked all the questions, gathered all the data, to really take the time to reflect on what you’ve learned and what you’ve heard. As you know, thinking substantially is not easy. It takes time. You need to give yourself the time and space to have that kind of thought process.

Then the final thing I would say is I get pretty analytic about it. What I mean by that is I tend after that period of gathering information, perspectives and data, followed by real reflection and substantial thinking, then I tend to get pretty analytic and explicit. I write down here’s options, here’s the pros and the cons of those options. I find it very, very helpful to be as analytical as possible and as explicit as possible.

I would say I’ve done this with all kinds of decisions, not just big decisions like a merger or how to run for president, but decisions like the care and treatment for my cancer because I think it’s easy to get mushy in our thinking, in our decision making. The more careful, thoughtful, deliberate, and intentional we can be about our reflection in our decision making, in my experience, the more successful those decisions are.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to get your take and some detail on the reflection step. Thinking substantially does require the time and the space. Some decisions are way bigger than others. But I’d love it if you could share, do you have any sort of rules of thumb with regard to how much thinking time, whether it’s in minutes or hours of quiet or sort of days upon which you can sit and wrestle with something that you try to allocate for yourself when making a decision?

Carly Fiorina
It’s such an interesting question. Well, the first thing I would say is honestly it does depend on the decision. There are some decisions that may require days, months of reflection. There are other decisions that require minutes or hours.

However, I would also add that finding the time for introspection and reflection is especially difficult now because everything in our culture, and technology in particular, drives us to hurry up, hurry up, hurry up, hurry up. In fact, we’ve all become accustomed, “Oh my gosh, I sent you a text. You didn’t answer me in the last five minutes.” “I send you an email. We need a decision right now, right now, right now.”

It is true that an imperfect but timely decision is usually better than a perfect but too late decision. This question of how much time is vital. However, in general, I would say hurry up and rush is always the wrong answer. The biggest step I think in finding the time is to give yourself permission to take the time. You don’t have to answer in the next 30 seconds. You don’t have to decide just because somebody else wants a decision from you.

People will have to find their way a little bit. I offer some practical suggestions, but the first and most important step is give yourself permission to take the time to find the time to reflect before you decide.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. When you talk about being analytic and explicit, you’ve written down the options and the pros and the cons, when you said analytic and I’m thinking about tech. I’m imagining sort of like spreadsheets or criteria or weightings of the criteria and scoring of things. Are there any tools along those lines that you invoke or is it pretty much simply, hey, write down the options and then the pros and cons?

Carly Fiorina
Well, of course, I don’t mean to suggest too number intensive when I say analytic. I use and highlight in the book something called the leadership framework, which is a tool  that I have used over and over and over and over to lay out all of the aspects and the facets of a problem so that I am not missing anything as I think about how to achieve goals. I’ve used it personally. I’ve used it professionally. The leadership framework is one such tool that I talk a great deal about in Find Your Way.

The other thing I would say is another analytic tool is to be explicit about what’s wrong with the current state, whatever it is. What’s wrong with it? Let’s write it down. Let’s get clear about it. This isn’t just for an individual to think about alone in their time of reflection. It also might be extremely useful as you are asking questions of others. Why is this a problem? What could we be doing differently? Then to be equally explicitly about the future state.

The leadership framework and current state, future state analysis are tools that I have used honestly all of my life in every setting. We talk about them in more detail in Find Your Way. But what I would say is don’t let the term analytic scare you. It isn’t necessarily all numbers. In fact, sometimes it isn’t numbers at all.

But it does help to explicitly explore all facets of the situation, which is why the framework helps. It’s also extremely helpful to get very clear about why do we have a problem and why is it a problem and what would we like to be different and better?

Pete Mockaitis
Within the leadership framework that helps you ensure that you’re not missing anything, could you give us a couple of the prompts that are often super helpful in surfacing something that might be missed?

Carly Fiorina
Yeah, so for example, the leadership framework starts with what’s the problem we’re trying to solve, what’s the goal we’re trying to achieve. I know that sounds so fundamental, but you would be surprised how often people get into a room and spend hours, months, years even and they’ve never come to an agreement on what the problem is or what the goal is. Our political process leaps to mind.

But the point is, people can talk past each other forever if they don’t start with “Do we actually agree on the problem? Do we agree on the goal?” That would be an important first prompt.

Another important prompt would be who has to do what, who actually has to do what to make progress? It’s something that sometimes people forget. I’ve been in many, many rooms where people will get all fired up. Let’s say they agree on the problem.

Let’s say people agree on the goal and everybody starts talking and getting excited, and to your earlier observation, like-minded people get together and say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah we all know it has to get done.” Then they rush out of the room. Nowhere has there been an explicit conversation about okay, but who has to do what? Who’s going to do what? Are there people who are not in the room who are going to have to also sign up? That’s another prompt.

A third prompt might be, how are we going to know we’re making progress? How are we going to measure success? Is there anything that’s going to tell us we’re actually getting something done or are we just going to go back in and tell ourselves that we feel good about things? What are we going to measure? How are people going to behave? Those are some prompts around the leadership framework.

What is the problem? What is the goal really? Who’s going to have to do what really? How are we going to measure whether we’re actually making any progress really? How do we have to behave with one another and with others to continue to make progress really?

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. I get a kick out of the reallys because they really can spark another important thing when you kind of push beyond sort of the quick answer that satisfies, check the box of there’s been a response to this question, but truly addressing the root of it. I dig that.

Carly Fiorina
The other thing you know people do confuse activity for accomplishment. I think our technology encourages that actually. “Oh my God, I answered 150 emails.” Well, that may not necessarily be accomplishment, although it’s a whole bunch of activity.

One of the reasons to ask the question about really is to help ourselves distinguish between “Am I busy and active or am I actually accomplishing something, having an impact, making a difference, achieving progress?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I want to hear a little bit in terms of your rapid career rise. You mentioned that you stuck to the path of trying to solve the problem that was in front of you.

But I’d also love to hear if you had any sort of secret weapons or tactics or approaches that you applied day after day that really can get a lot of credit for how you managed to become the first female CEO of a Fortune 50 company. That’s pretty special. What do you think you were doing differently than many of your peers and colleagues?

Carly Fiorina
Well, I think it comes back to those three things that I said. Looking around. I always look around and see what’s going on, hear what’s going on. It’s so easy to get in a rut. Jobs are pressure-filled. None of us have enough time. We’re all more comfortable with people like ourselves. The discipline, the habit of looking around and seeing what’s going on I think has been hugely important for me.

Asking questions, asking questions. I’ve asked a million questions. I always learn something. Sometimes I learn a lot about myself by asking questions, but I always learn about the situation around me, the people around me. And what I learn helps me make further progress.

The third, finding allies. I try always to build relationships, not break them. I try to always see the good in people, not the bad. Sometimes that’s hard.

I tell the story in the book about my first business meeting with a client was in a strip club. The gentleman who created that situation did not wish me well. It’s why he created a very difficult situation for me. And yet, I came to understand, tried to understand his point of view. Why was he doing that to me? We ultimately became very strong colleagues and allies.

Finding allies takes work. It doesn’t always mean people that are naturally friendly to you or that naturally like you or that naturally agree with you. I always found allies and tried to see the best in people and to leverage the relationships that I built for a common purpose that we all could agree on.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Tell me, Carly, is there anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Carly Fiorina
Well, I think we’ve covered a lot of ground. I’ve tried to distill all of those life’s lessons into the books, but certainly you’ve asked really penetrating questions. I’ve so enjoyed the conversation thus far.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Me too. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something that inspires you?

Carly Fiorina
If I have to pick one, I would pick the one I heard from my mother when I was eight years old, which is “What you are is God’s gift to you. What you make of yourself is your gift to God.” Because, for me, when I first heard that and every time I remind myself of it, it says every one of us is gifted and filled with potential. I believe that based on experience.

It also reminds us that as we are each filled with potential, not all of us get the opportunity or the chance or take the risk to fulfill our potential.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Could you share with us a favorite study or experiment or a piece of research?

Carly Fiorina
I was in church the other day and I will not get this exactly right because the pastor brought forward this piece of research. But it was research about the power of self-talk, you used that phrase earlier, the power of self-talk among professional athletes, the power of self-talk among children.

But what the research essentially said, and again, I won’t get the citation exactly right – kudos to the pastor – but what the research says is that whether we’re 4 or 40, that we each have a tremendous ability to either help ourselves fulfill our potential or, conversely,  talk ourselves below our potential.

We have a tremendous ability to help ourselves become better problem solvers, more awesome at work, better collaborators, better leaders and we also have the power to do the opposite for ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Carly Fiorina
I read so much that it depends on what I’ve just read. But one of the books I’ve just incredibly enjoyed recently is actually a science book. But it is called The Fabric of the Cosmos. It’s by a physicist named Brian Greene.

It’s heavy going in some part, but to me it was an incredibly fascinating and inspiring read because not only did I learn a lot about the fabric of the cosmos, but what was most interesting to me was the collaboration of scientists, in this case physicists, over centuries, the importance of courage and taking risks for science as well as problem solving, and the incredible collaboration that’s required.

Einstein is lauded as a singular genius, but in fact, Einstein had to be inspired by many others, he had to build on the work of many others, and he had to collaborate with many others. Believe it or not, The Fabric of the Cosmos to me was not only a fascinating look at physics, but it was also a reminder of all the fundamentals of problem solving and leadership that we’ve been talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences or readers?

Carly Fiorina
It’s interesting. I think stories always connect with people. I try to talk in stories. Stories, my own story. I think one of the things that connects, whether it’s in my own story or in the story of a woman I met on the rooftop in the slums of New Delhi, who was living in desperate circumstances and no one’s ever heard of, but wow, she was one of the most amazing leaders I have ever witnessed.

I think the aspect of any one of those stories that connects is no one’s life is a smooth trajectory. No one’s life follows a smooth plan. Most people fall off the plan for whatever reason. Most people get thrown off their trajectory. Every life is filled with set back and difficulty, even the lives that look perfect from afar.

It is, I think, relieving to people to know that you can indeed find your way through all of the thicket of issues that each of us encounter in life and that life is not one smooth ascent. It never is.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d like to issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Carly Fiorina
Yes. If you’re seeking to be awesome at your job, find people around you that you think are awesome. Don’t get too hung up on how awesome you are yourself. Look for other awesome people and try and leverage what makes them awesome. In the process, I think you’ll become more awesome yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, Carly, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck with the book and the podcast and all your adventures.

Carly Fiorina
Well, thank you. And the same to you.

415: Pursuing Your Passion the Smart Way with Brad Stulberg

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Brad Stulberg says: "Do you control your passion or does your passion control you?"

Brad Stulberg explores the inherent contradiction between pursuing passion and balance…and what to do about it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three common paradoxes of passion
  2. The dangers of rooting your identity to a passion
  3. Why self-aware imbalance is often appropriate

About Brad

Brad Stulberg researches, writes, speaks, and coaches on health and human performance. His coaching practice includes working with athletes, entrepreneurs, and executives on their mental skills and overall well-being. He is a bestselling author of the books The Passion Paradox and Peak Performance and a columnist at Outside Magazine. Brad has also written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Wired, Forbes, and The Los Angeles Times. Previously, Stulberg worked as a consultant for McKinsey and Company, where he counseled some of the world’s top executives on a broad range of issues. An avid athlete and outdoor enthusiast, Stulberg lives in Northern California with his wife, son, and two cats. Follow him on Twitter @Bstulberg.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Brad Stulberg Interview Transcript

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

Brad Stulberg:                      Hey, thanks so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Well, I’m excited to dig into your next book, but first I want to hear about your love of cats.

Brad Stulberg:                      My love of cats. How do you know I love cats?

Pete Mockaitis:                    Well, there’s a form I have guests fill out about-

Brad Stulberg:                      Oh, I said I loved-

Pete Mockaitis:                    Oh, yeah, you totally … You just gave it up that you love cats. It’s also in your bio that you live in Northern California with wife, son and two cats. So you can’t escape it.

Brad Stulberg:                      I’ve got two, as you said, Sonny and Bryant and they’re endearing, adorable creatures. It’s like having two of the goofiest roommates that are just there and they don’t pay rent.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Well, tell me what are some of the goofy behaviors?

Brad Stulberg:                      The goofy behaviors. Well, let’s see. So Sonny, who is an orange tabby, she has, my wife and I joke, we call it office hours. So she is the cuddliest, most loving cat between 1:00 and 4:00 PM. Otherwise you can’t touch he. It’s so bizarre. She’ll come find you wherever you are in the afternoon and plop on your lap and just love on you. But then when 4:00 PM rolls around, she wants nothing to do with it. And then Bryant, everything about Bryant is interesting. We would have to record for hours and hours, I’d just have to follow him around with a video camera, but he’s just a total mess in the best way possible.

Pete Mockaitis:                    All right. Well, it sounds like that’s keeping things interesting and I also want to hear about some of the most interesting, surprising, fascinating discoveries you’ve made when researching The Passion Paradox.

Brad Stulberg:                      Yeah, that sounds good. That’s a little bit more concrete than Bryant the cat.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Well, yeah, lay it on us.

Brad Stulberg:                      Yeah, so the book is called The Passion Paradox and the title is pretty telling in the sense that the biggest discovery is so much of what conventional thinking around passion holds is all paradox. And there are three main paradoxes. The first is that people are told to find your passion, and there’s an expectation that you’re going to stumble upon something that will be like love at first sight and you’ll immediately feel energized and you’ll know this is the thing that I’m passionate about. That’s not how it works.

In the vast, vast, vast majority of the cases individuals cultivate passion over time and it doesn’t start out perfect and it’s that very belief and expectation that something should be perfect right away that actually gets in a lot of people’s way from ever growing into a passion.

Second big paradox is this notion that if you just follow your passion you’ll have a great life. And passion is a double-edged sword. Passion can absolutely be a wonderful gift and it can lead to great accomplishments, it could lead to a meaningful life, it can lead to great energy. At the same time passion can become a destructive curse. And that can happen in a few ways.

One is that the inertia of what you’re doing gets so strong that you can’t see beyond it and you get so swept up in what you’re doing that everything else falls away. And for a period of time that might be okay, but in the long term a lot of people end up with regrets. And then the second way that passion can take a negative turn is when you become more passionate about the external validation you get from doing something than the thing itself.

And this is a really, really, really subtle thing that happens to people. You start doing something because you’re interested in it. If you’re lucky you cultivate a passion, you love it. And then you start doing really well, and when you start doing well, you start getting recognized for doing well. And often what will happen is without someone even noticing it, the lotus of their passion shifts from the activity to all the recognition. So you love writing and then you make a best seller list and then suddenly you’re only happy if you’re on bestseller lists. You love your job and suddenly you’re only happy if you’re constantly noticed in meetings and you’re constantly getting promoted.

So it’s this fine line between being passionate about the activity itself versus being passionate about the recognition you got from it. The former, here’s the paradox. The former, if you’re passionate about the activity, that’s associated with overall life satisfaction and high performance. The latter, if you become passionate about the results, which is called obsessive passion, that is associated with burnout, angst, and depression.

Yeah, so there’s that and then the third thing I’ll lay it all on you because that’s what you asked for and then we can dive in more detail perhaps. The third thing is, that I can’t tell you how many times since I’ve graduated college, which is a little bit over a decade ago, I’ve been told two things. One is to find and follow my passion and the other is to live a balanced life, and this makes no sense because passion and balance are completely antithetical.

By definition when you’re passionate about something the world narrows and it’s the thing that you’re passionate about that is going to consume you. So that seems opposite to balance. And if you ask people when they feel most alive, very rarely does someone say, “It was when I had perfect balance.” Often what you’ll hear is, “It was when I was falling in love or when I was training for my first marathon or when I was launching a business or when I had a new kid.” Now, those are not very balanced times.

They’re describing time when they felt like they were like being consumed by something. Yet if you ask people over the course of a life, what does it mean to live a good life? Most people will say, “To have balance.” So again, both things are true at the same time. So it’s really about, how can you be passionate, go all in on things, get that good energy, but then be able to pivot to other things when the time is right. And that’s so much easier to say than to actually practice.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Brad, you are a master. Thank you. That is so much good stuff and we could spend hours unpacking that, maybe even more hours discussing this than the cat, I might say, in terms of all the nuances to be explored.

Brad Stulberg:                      The nuance of Bryant’s behavior. He contains multitude.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Oh boy. So let’s have some fun with this. All right. Well, I think each of those things you said makes great sense to me and sparks all kinds of curiosity. So why don’t we just dig into each in practice. So okay, for the find your passion advice you say we kind of have a little bit of expectation or hope that it’s going to be love at first sight. And in practice, it’s not. It’s more of a cultivation over time. So can you explain a little bit for what does the progression look like most often in terms of when folks got a passion alive at work for them, how did they get there?

Brad Stulberg:                      What’s interesting is the first thing that’s very important is this mindset shift. Again, if you have the expectation that you’re just going to stumble into an activity and you’re going to find your passion, that is the foremost barrier to actually having a passion because almost nothing is great right off the bat. And what’s very interesting is the research and passion parallels the research and love. So individuals that want to find the perfect partner, they end up constantly seeking versus someone that goes in and says, “You know what, I’m going to pursue good enough and I’m going to cultivate it and nourish it and maybe 30 years from now it will be perfect.” And there’s all kinds of research in relationships that shows that that mindset tends to lead to lasting love.

And it’s very much the same with passion. So going in and thinking of it less as this lightning striking and more as a curiosity for the things that interest you and then pursuing those interests, that’s the conduit into what becomes passion. And then when you’re pursuing the interests, the research is very clear here that there are three key things that help something perhaps become rooted in your life as a passion. And this is born out of a psychological theory called self-determination theory.

And what that states is that if an activity offers you autonomy, so you have some control over what you’re doing and when you’re doing it, if it offers you competence or mastery, so there’s a path of progression of improvement and if there’s a sense of belonging and whether that’s physical belonging, you’re actually working in a team or with other people or if it’s more psychological belonging, so you’re picking up a line where there have been craftspeople before you and there will be after you. Those three things tend to help interests transition from merely being an interest or a hobby into a passion.

Pete Mockaitis:                    I’m intrigued by the autonomy point because as I think about some passions very much are kind of team sports if you will. It could actually even be sports, hey, it’s basketball, you know, play in the basketball team. Or it could be music, I’m in the orchestra. Or it could be entrepreneurship, hey, my team is doing this thing. So how are you defining autonomy here?

Brad Stulberg:                      It’s a great question. Autonomy doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going at it alone, but more so that there is room for you to chart your own path. So you might be playing on a team for sure, but I mean, if you have a coach that tells you exactly and I mean exactly how to style your game and what you should do minute-by-minute, day-by-day, that probably won’t be so happy whereas if you have some room to explore yourself and decide how you want to craft your game.

Same thing with the musician perhaps. There’s definitely autonomy in how you practice and most musicians, at least those that have passion, they’re in orchestras or they’re in arrangements where they also have some autonomy to explore their own style of music. And in a workplace setting, its this is just the difference between good management and micromanagement. Someone under good management should feel autonomy to drive their work, make decisions, take risks. Someone that’s being micromanaged often doesn’t feel that.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Okay, I got you.

Brad Stulberg:                      A great example to make this really concrete is actually what you’re doing right now, and I know that you’re passionate about your podcast and my guess is that when you first started going into podcast … You didn’t know podcasting was going to be the thing and my guess is also that you probably weren’t great right off the bat.

Pete Mockaitis:                    It’s true.

Brad Stulberg:                      There was a line of progression and yet with the podcast you have full autonomy. It’s your show. You decide who you’re going to interview. You decide the flow. There’s clear mastery and progression. I bet like this episode is going to sound a lot different than your first one. And there’s, of course, belonging because you’re sharing this with your audience and you’re getting to meet and have interesting conversations with people that have similar interests to you.

So I think that there’s no … It’s not ironic that podcasting has taken off because again, it’s something that people can start is an interest, very few people expect to be great right away and it fulfills those three criteria really clearly.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Indeed, it does. Well, I’d love to get your take on … Well, what are some things … Are there some activities or pursuits that by these criteria cannot become someone’s passion?

Brad Stulberg:                      Yeah, there are plenty. I think the first is that if you find yourself in a workplace situation where you are being terribly micromanaged or where everything that you do is pretty murky, and what I mean by that is there are no objective barometers of whether or not you’re improving or doing a good job, those are the kinds of jobs where people tend to get pretty frustrated and either burn out or they just kind of accept it and go through the motions.

Pete Mockaitis:                    I guess what I’m thinking is that the activity in a different environment or context could provide autonomy or mastery.

Brad Stulberg:                      Yes, totally. It’s often context-dependent, not activity-dependent. And I think this is really important for managers that are listening out there, You want your employees to be passionate and your job is then to create those conditions where people have the ability to pursue what interests them and they have autonomy, they have some sense of progression or mastery, and they feel like they belong. And the flip side is, if you’re being managed and you don’t feel that, it’s a great opportunity to have a conversation with who’s ever managing you about those things or perhaps it’s time to find a new job.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Okay. Well, there it is. So that’s how passion comes about. You’re curiously pursuing something that’s interesting and then if you got those ingredients of autonomy or pursuing confidence, mastery and sense of belonging, that can lead to hey, we got a passion here.

Brad Stulberg:                      Yes, and then the second paradox right is now awesome, I’m passionate, it’s all downhill from here, life is going to be great. And the common trap is that life is great and then suddenly you start crushing it at your passion and people start recognizing that and then you get attached to that recognition. And in the worst case your entire identity fuses with that recognition. So you’re only as good as your last podcast or you’re only as good as the last project that you took on.

And even worse, you’re only as good as how people received the last podcast or how people received the last project that you took on. And that’s a very precarious position to be in because that can set you up for all kinds of highs and lows in a really fragile sense of self-worth and identity.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Yeah. Yeah, that’s powerful. What’s coming to mind for me right now is this interview in which … I think was on Ellen, in which Ronda Rousey, The Ultimate Fighter, who she lost a big match, I don’t know the details, and she was on Ellen talking about it and she’s just crying and it’s powerful because for one, hey, this is a tough fighter person who’s crying and two, she really articulates that notion in terms of like, “Well, if I’m not a champion, then what am I?”

Brad Stulberg:                      Yeah, that’s hard. And as I said, obsessive passion is associated with anxiety, depression, burn out and then it’s also associated with cheating. What’s really interesting is you look at someone like Elizabeth Holmes, who is the former founder and CEO of Theranos, which is the kind of sham pharmaceutical company, all kinds of fraudulent behavior. When she was being celebrated it was all about her passion. I believe it was the Washington Post that ran a story that basically said like, “Elizabeth Holmes is the most passionate, obsessed person there is and that’s why she’s so successful.”

And yet, it might have been that very passion and that very obsession that led her to lie when things weren’t going great in her company. Alex Rodriguez, the baseball player who we now know was using performance-enhancing drugs and steroids throughout his career, when he retired, even after all that he was interviewed by Forbes for his career advice and his number one piece of advice was “follow your passion.” So again, it’s this double edged sword where yeah, passion is great, but if all you care about is hitting the most home runs or all you care about is being the company that everyone’s talking about, well, when things don’t go well, you’re going to do anything possible to remedy that even if it’s not so ethical.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Yeah, so that’s, you said double edged sword. That’s one way is you come attached to the sort of validations and externals instead of the thing itself and it can be-

Brad Stulberg:                      And I don’t want it to be negative. So let me also … So there are practices that can help you remedy this, and there are a whole bunch in the book, but the one that I find the most powerful it to mention here is just this notion of getting back to the work. So after a huge success like yes, pause, celebrate, feel good about it. Do that for 24, maybe 48 hours, but then get back to doing the work. There’s something about doing the work that is so humbling and that on a very visceral level, you feel it in your brain and in your bones. It reminds you that hey, I like the work. As much as the validation feels good, what really makes me tick is the process of doing the work.

The concrete example in my own life as a writer, when I write a story that has a very positive reception or for that matter, a very negative reception, a story I thought I would do great that doesn’t, I’ll let myself have those emotions for a day and then I really try to make a discipline of within 24 hours starting on the next thing, because otherwise I can get very caught up in this kind of cycle of like praise or negativity and then once that cycle grows roots, it becomes harder to step out of.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Yeah, that’s really good stuff. And as I’m thinking there about the double-edged sword, you talk about consumption, I guess that’s the third paradox. So it’s a sword both in terms of you feeling like you’re pursuing a great life and loving it and digging it and having tons of fun with it, but also getting tempted perhaps to follow the external. I’m curious, you’ve got that practice there with regard to hey, when you get the celebration or the victory, you celebrate, then you return to the work. I guess I’m curious, are there any little internal indicators or like kind of early warning signs you might be on the lookout for? Like wait a minute, alert, alert, passion is starting to get externalized, you’ll correct now.

Brad Stulberg:                      Yeah, it’s a great question. There are. The first one that comes to mind for me is if you notice massive changes in your mood based on how well something does in the outside world. So if you’re in a great mood and you go into a meeting and an idea you have isn’t while received or you don’t get to share as much as you would have hoped and the rest of your day is completely ruined. If that happens once or twice, fine. If that’s an ongoing pattern, like yikes.

If you do anything that has a kind of more broad social measurement scheme and what I’m thinking here is social media. So if you’re kind of obsessively checking your retweets or likes or comments, that is a sign of uh-oh, am I really in this to connect with other people and to create good work or am I in this because it feels really good to see how many people liked my post? And if it’s the latter then again, like what happens when you have a post that no one likes? Well, you feel like shit.

I think it’s important to state here that no one is 100% like disciplined or harmoniously passionate. We’re humans. Everyone likes to feel good. The thing is that you just have to realize that hey, that’s a normal behavior and if I catch myself engaging in it too often, it’s time to get back to the work. So don’t judge yourself and be like, “Oh, I’m obsessively passionate. I’m doomed.” It’s more like, “Oh, wow. I noticed myself caring quite a bit about external validation. Let me think about why did I get into this thing in the first place and have I actually done the activity itself recently? And if not, I should dive back into it.” Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis:                    Absolutely. Got it. Well, so now let’s talk about this passion and balance being antithetical. Passion can consume you and so then yeah, how do you play that game optimally in terms of if you want to feel alive so you want to have the passion, but you also don’t want to I guess let everything else fall apart in your life? What are your thoughts there?

Brad Stulberg:                      What I found in the research and reporting on the book is that there’s an expectation, a cultural expectation to have balance day-to-day. And when people hear balance, at least those people that I’ve surveyed, they often think or they often describe everything in it’s right place, in right proportion day after day. I wake up at this hour. I get my kids off to school. I do my yoga. I go to work. I listen to a podcast. I leave work at 5:00. I come home. I watch a TV show. I spend time with my kids. I cook dinner. I have passionate sex with my romantic partner and I sleep eight hours and then I do the same thing the next day.

If you can do that, great. If you can do that and you’re happy, great. Don’t change anything, that’s a great life. But I say that kind of laughing because most people can’t do that and then they get frustrated or they think that they’re doing something wrong when in fact, nothing’s wrong. There are times when it is good to be imbalanced. And those are the times when you’re really passionate about one of those elements in your life. So to try to force balance day in and day out, again, if it’s there, great, roll with it, but if it feels like you’re having to force it, that’s a pretty like narrow contracting space.

And it’s much better to allow yourself to actually go all in on the things that make you tick. And here’s the big kicker is, so long as you have enough self-awareness to realize when the trade-off is no longer worth it. I’m going to train for this Olympic cycle at the expense of my family and my friends. Okay. What happens if you don’t make this Olympic cycle or what happens to the next Olympic cycle? Those are the questions that people have to ask because as you’re pursuing this passion, the inertia of the thing that you’re doing is really strong and when that takes whole, it’s hard to have the self-awareness, to evaluate well, am I prioritizing? Am I evaluating these trade-offs as I should be?

There’s some fascinating research in the book that shows that individuals that are in the throes of passion, even if it’s a productive passion. So someone training for the Olympics or an entrepreneur starting a company, they show very similar changes in brain activity as somebody with an eating disorder. And that is because when someone with an eating disorder looks in the mirror, they often don’t see someone that is skin and bones. They actually often see someone that is fat, that is obese or overweight. They have a distorted view of reality.

Well, what is training for the Olympics or trying to start a company other than a distorted view of reality? We know only 0.1% of athletes ever make the Olympics. We know that something like 99% of startups fail. So it’s kind of delusional and in a neurochemical level, it’s the same thing that you’d see in someone with a pathological delusion. The difference is in the case of passion, you’re pointing at something that society says is productive, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less gripping. So the ability to maintain some self-awareness, to look in the mirror and see things as they actually are is so, so important when pursuing a passion.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Wow, that went in a very different direction that I thought that we’re passionate … Yeah, well, you said passion and then eating disorder, brain activity is the same. I was like, oh, okay, so it’s sort of like that obsessiveness, but now you in terms of like what we’re actually perceiving in terms of what is right in front of our face is wild.

Brad Stulberg:                      I mean, I’m sure that there’s some relationship due to the obsessiveness, but it’s really, it’s a perception thing. And this is a common thing, you hear about marriage is falling apart when someone starting a business and the significant other, it’s like the person completely loses self-awareness. The only thing that matters to them is the business and they don’t understand that they’re being a terrible spouse, a terrible parent, a terrible friend. They’re just so wrapped up in what they’re doing.

And again, I’m a firm believer that as long as you communicate with the other important people in your life, that those trade-offs are okay to make so long as you’re consciously making them. And once you stop consciously making them, that’s when all kinds of problems start.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Yeah, I hear you. I also want to get your take on sort of how we go about lying to ourselves when we’re in the midst of this, like what are some kind of watch out words, sentences, phrases that if you hear yourself saying them that might make you think, wait a sec, let’s double-check that.

Brad Stulberg:                      It can be similar to another example, and this is a back to the paradox of passion is addiction. So the definition of addiction or at least the definition that I like to use, and this is one that’s pretty widely accepted in both the scientific and clinical communities, is the relentless pursuit of something despite negative consequences. And I would argue that the definition of passion is the relentless pursuit of something with productive consequences.

Often times those consequences are socially constructed and socially defined. An example, an Olympic swimmer spends between six and eight hours a day staring at a line in the water. They do this at the exclusion of their family, of other interests. With the remaining time they have, they eat a meticulous diet and they sleep. If that isn’t like abnormal behavior, then I don’t know what is. The difference is that it’s pointed at this thing, being an elite athlete, that society says is productive.

Whereas imagine like if swimming wasn’t a sport that people celebrated. Someone would diagnose that person with some sort of psychological psychiatric disorder. But again, it’s because it’s pointed at something that society says is productive. The reason that I use that example and I bring in addiction in this despite negative or despite positive consequences, I think the ways that we lie to ourselves even when we’re doing a productive passion is we ignore the negative consequences or we tell ourselves they don’t really matter.

And again, it’s so hard to maintain self-awareness because there’s so much inertia. I mean, another example to make this real for listeners is when you fall in love. Generally when people fall in love, all they can think about is the object of their affection. It’s like everything else disappears and passion can be pretty similar. Again, it has to be a practice of maintaining some self-awareness, and there are concrete things that you can do to keep self-awareness.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Well, lay it on us.

Brad Stulberg:                      What’s ironic here is that the way to maintain self-awareness in the pursuit of a passion is to get outside of yourself, because yourself becomes so wrapped up in what you’re doing. It’s like this web where only your passion is there. So some very simple things that you can do. One is to put yourself in situations where you’re experiencing awe. Go to an art gallery without your phone. Go on a day hike in a forest with no digital devices. There’s something about putting yourself in the way of beauty that kind of helps gain perspective and resets your brain to hey, like there’s more to life than this thing. I’m doing.

Another way to help with self-awareness is to have a close group of friends that you can really trust and make sure that they’re comfortable calling you out when you can’t see for yourself and then you have to listen to them. That’s the hard part because that’s when you’re going to lie to yourself. Your friend says, “Whoa, actually you’re a little bit overkill right now.” You’re gonna say, “No, I’m not. You don’t know what’s going on.” You have to make an agreement both with the friend to call you out and yourself took to listen to that friend.

If you’re not comfortable doing that, a really simple mental Jedi trick can be to pretend that one of your good friends was doing exactly what you’re doing and asked you for advice, what would you tell that friend? And then do that. It’s often very different than what you tell yourself. An example here that comes up often is you get an athlete that gets injured and they’re trying to train through the injury, which is so dumb and then you ask that athlete, well, like if your friend had the exact same issue and was trying to force themselves to the gym today, what would you say?

And you’d tell them, “Well, don’t go to the gym better to take a week off now than a year off later.” And then you say, “Well then why are you walking to the gym right now?” So it’s the ability to step outside of yourself that often helps you see what’s best for yourself in the midst of a passion. And then another simple practice is to reflect on mortality. There’s something about acknowledging the fact that you’re going to die one day that makes real clear what actually matters and it helps point you in that direction.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Yeah. Well, that’s good stuff. Yeah, it’s heavy and it’s excellent. Maybe because you share an example of someone that you’ve encountered that you think is doing the passion thing really well. Maybe if you can particularly in sort of their career.

Brad Stulberg:                      Yeah. There are lots of people, which is great. It’s very feasible and it’s very doable. Someone that comes to mind is an executive that I’ve coached and worked with quite a bit. She is at top five position at a Fortune 25 company.

Pete Mockaitis:                    So it’s only 2,500 people in the world it could be.

Brad Stulberg:                      Yeah, I know.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Mathematically, wrong to be speculating.

Brad Stulberg:                      That’s as much as I’ll give, but you guys can do the research. This individual has been so good about setting goals and progression markers that are fully within this person’s control and then judging herself and whether or not she executes on those progression markers. Very, very good at ignoring to a large extent all the noise around her and what other people think, especially because when you’re in a big company like that so much of that is just political wind. And if you get caught in the political wind, you’re going to get blown around.

So the first thing that comes to mind is a relentless pursuit of the things that you could control and judging yourself only on those things. The other thing is completely sacrificing from this idea of balance and instead thinking about boundaries and presence. And what that means is setting real, clear boundaries about these are the times I’m going all in and these are the times I’m going to be going all in with something else, and that can be the difference between work and family, and then bringing full presence to those things.

Versus what so many people do and it’s a common trap is when you’re at work, you’re like 80% at work, but 20% dealing with family and friends. And when you’re with family and friends you’re 70% with family and friends, but 30% checking your phone and at work. Versus being really, really stringent about 100% there and then 100% there. And then evaluating trade-offs and making trade-offs. You have to give up a lot to be a leader in an organization like that, and this individual quarterly reflects on her core values and makes sure that the way that she’s spending her time is aligned with those core values and has made some real changes as a result of what’s come up.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Very nice. Brad, tell me-

Brad Stulberg:                      It’s doable though, which is great. It’s actually very doable. It’s just that, and this is part of the reason if not the whole reason that I wrote this book. This is not stuff that I was told going into the workforce, not stuff that I was told once I was in the workforce. These vague terms are thrown around, find your passion, follow your passion, have balance. And I wasn’t really sure what it meant and I saw myself falling into some of the traps of the obsessive bad passion and I also saw myself being so immersed in what I was doing that I was starting to question like, is this a good thing? Is this a bad thing? Maybe it’s just a thing but it’s both good and bad.

And when I started looking at the research, it’s kind of what I found was that wow, the way that people talk about this topic, which is so often talked about is completely out of sync with the truth and the nuance involved.

 

Pete Mockaitis:                    That’s beautiful. Thank you. Well, now you can share with us a favorite quote so that you find inspiring.

Brad Stulberg:                      It’s actually very simple. The Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says, “This is it.” And I actually have a little bracelet that just has a charm that says, “This is it,” on it. And I think that that’s a wonderful reminder to be present. It’s basically like whatever is in front of you, that’s what’s happening right now. It’s an especially helpful practice for me with a one-year-old at home, sleepless nights, middle of the night he’s crying. It’s really easy to get lost in a pretty negative thought space. But nope, this is it, this is what’s happening right now. How can I be present for it and deal with it?

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

Brad Stulberg:                      The research that I’ve been sharing is top of mind for me. And I think just this notion of obsessive versus harmonious passion or being passionate about results versus the thing itself and just a strong relationship in the former to anxiety, depression and burnout and in the latter, to performance, meaning, and life satisfaction and how they’re both passions, it’s just like in which direction are they pointed and how at different times of people’s lives they’re in different ends of that spectrum. That’s to me it’s so fascinating and so important to be aware of because that can be the difference between a long fruitful career and a not so long rocky career.

Pete Mockaitis:                    And how about a favorite book?

Brad Stulberg:                      Oh my gosh, really? I have so many. How many am I allowed to go over?

Pete Mockaitis:                    We’ll say three-ish.

Brad Stulberg:                      Three-ish. All right. It’s funny. I get asked this question sometimes and I try not to have just like a can three books because I really think that the books are kind of … It’s like the right book for the right person at the right time. So what are my three favorite books right now? So Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig is a perennial favorite. I think that that book is always going to be in my top three, and then I’m going to pair it, I’m going to cheat. I’m going to pair it with the sequel Lila, which is less read, but an equally phenomenal book. So there’s that.

This is so tough. I’m reading Devotions right now by Mary Oliver, the poet that just passed away, which is a collection of her best poems and that feels like a favorite book right now. That woman can just get to the truth of how things are in so few words in a very lyrical way. So that’s a beautiful book. And then my third favorite book right now is probably a book called The Art of Living, which is by Thich Nhat Hanh, who’s the Zen Master whose quote this is it I just shared.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Well, thank you. And how about a favorite tool so that helps you be awesome at your job?

Brad Stulberg:                      Meditation. That is a daily practice for me and it is so helpful in separating myself from my thoughts and my feelings and allowing me to have a more stable base upon which I work out of and then also allowing me to not get so attached to any one thing at any one point in time.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Is there particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks as you’re conveying this wisdom to them?

Brad Stulberg:                      I think it’s really important to ask yourself do you control your passion or does your passion control you? That’s kind of the heart of it. And if you control your passion, you’re in good shape. If your passion controls you, maybe consider some changes. And then equally important is this notion that passion is an ongoing practice. So it’s not a one time thing. So just because you control your passion right now doesn’t mean that that can’t change and just because your passion might control you right now doesn’t mean that can’t change. So it’s shift in mindset and to see passion is a practice and there are skills that support that practice and you have to develop them.

Pete Mockaitis:                    And Brad, if folks want to learn more or get in touch with, where to point them?

Brad Stulberg:                      So you can get in touch on Twitter where I am @BStulberg. So first initial of Brad and then my last name. And then through my website, which is www.BradStulberg.com.

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

Brad Stulberg:                      I obviously am going to encourage folks to read the book. I’m proud of it. It’s my best work yet. There’s a lot of things in there that have certainly had a huge impact on my career and my life outside of my career. So I’d love it if people consider reading the book. And then the second thing is to do something active for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. If you are already, great, keep doing what you’re doing. And if not, there are few things that are more transformative.

We spent a lot of time talking about this neat psychological stuff, but just try to move your body regularly and it doesn’t have to be formal exercise. It can be walking. It can be taking the stairs always that adds up to about 30 minutes, but move your body. That’s something that’s kind of getting more and more lost in our modern world, and it’s unfortunate.

Pete Mockaitis:                    Well Brad, thank you so much for sharing the goods and I wish you tons of luck with the book, The Passion Paradox, and all your adventures.

Brad Stulberg:    Thanks so much Pete. I really enjoyed being on your show.