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KF #26. Being Resilient Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

968: How to Experience More Purpose and Passion Each Day with John R. Miles

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John R. Miles shares powerful insight into what it takes to live an intentional and purposeful life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to feel impervious in the face of adversity and failure
  2. How anxiety makes you 400% more effective 
  3. How to visualize effectively 

About John

John R. Miles is a worldwide expert on intentional behavior change, leadership, and personal mastery. He is a keynote speaker, top-rated show host, and is the founder and CEO of Passion Struck®. Miles is devoted to promoting personal mastery, fostering an intentional mindset, enhancing health and wellness, and building meaningful relationships. His globally renowned podcast, Passion Struck with John R. Miles, has garnered tens of millions of downloads and consistently tops the charts as the number one alternative health podcast on iTunes. Miles is committed to inspiring people worldwide to believe in their ability to push beyond limits and achieve their aspirations. He is a graduate of the Naval Academy, where he excelled as a varsity athlete. Learn more by visiting johnrmiles.com or passionstruck.com.

Resources Mentioned

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John R. Miles Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis 

John, welcome. 

John Miles 

Pete, it is so fantastic to be here. Thank you for the honor of having me on. 

Pete Mockaitis 

Well, yeah, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom, and I’d love it if you could kick us off with any particularly striking, or surprising, or extra fascinating discoveries you’ve made while doing your interviews and putting together your book, Passion Struck. 

John Miles 

A person I love to quote, because I love her work, is Sharon Salzberg, and she has a quote that I just love, that “There’s no commodity that we can take with us. There’s only our lives. And whether we live them wisely or whether we live them in ignorance, and this is everything.” 

Pete Mockaitis 

Okay. And tell me more about how that really grabs you. 

John Miles 

It grabs me because I think so many of us live in the subconscious. We’re not really active and being intentional in creating and crafting the life that we want, and so we end up living it in a way that isn’t as authentic as it could be to what we could accomplish if we were aligning our actions with our ambitions and our long-term aspirations. And I think that’s really what she’s getting at is the well-lived life versus a life of just going throughout our days as if we’re a pinball, actively engaging with everything around us but doing it in an unintentional way.  

Pete Mockaitis 

That’s a cool visual, or should I say a haunting, shocking visual, thinking about a pinball just bouncing around and actively engaging with everything, when some things are better to not be engaged with at times. Could you make this all the more real for us with a cool story of someone who found themselves kind of in pinball mode and then made some changes and unlocks some really cool stuff?  

John Miles 

Yes. So, a great person to highlight would be Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who I highlight in the book. 

And I think his story is a great one to illustrate this point, because if you look back upon it, we see the person today who’s the megastar, one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, but at the beginning of his career he actually spent a pretty considerable amount of time without any money, basically living almost homeless before he found his way to going into the WWE, but at that time he was going by his real name, and it wasn’t until sometime after that that he took on The Rock, which was actually his father’s name, and started to build his career. 

But what really differentiates Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is that he is a constant reinventor. There are so many times in his life that he could have plateaued and stood where he was, but he continuously strove to take those steps that would take him to the next place. And so that led him next into acting and then, even when he was an actor, he envisioned himself becoming even a greater actor in the pinnacle of male actors of his time. And it was through this constant manifesting that he took himself from this point where his life was completely at a point of desperation to what we see today. 

Pete Mockaitis 

Yeah, that is powerful. I understand, in his story, that he pretty much just declared, “I’m going to be a superstar,” and he took inventory of what’s up, he’s like, “Well, I’m pretty good at building muscles so that’s going to be part of the differentiator, and I’m going to hit the gym like mad in order to really become jacked, huge, shredded, etc.” so as to facilitate his journey to superstardom. 

John Miles 

No, I think that’s absolutely the case, and I think you bring up something that’s really important is, he had already started having this long-term aspiration that he wanted to manifest. And then I think what he did, and so many failed to do, is he started to take those daily actions that were getting him closer, and he aligned those actions with the short-term ambitions that he had along the path to reaching the long-term aspirations that he wanted. And that’s really the core of a lot about what I talk about through the lens of Passion Struck and creating a passion-struck life is aligning those three very things.  

Pete Mockaitis 

Well, it sounds like is that how you would articulate the big idea or core message of Passion Struck to make the shift from just existing and reacting and bouncing around like a pinball to getting in the proactive driver’s seat and making it happen? Or how would you articulate the key thesis? 

John Miles 

Yeah, well, the core thesis is it is a state of alignment, like I talked about, where actions, intentions, ambitions, and aspirations are in perfect harmony, but it’s more than that. It really represents a transformative mindset and behavior shift that’s essential for what I think is rewiring the patterns of default that so many of us end up dictating our entire lives to attaining. 

And it really emphasizes the importance of synchronizing what we do, why we do it, what do we hope to achieve, ensuring that every step that we take is infused with purpose and passion. And so that’s what Passion Struck really is, is it’s this never-ending pursuit of becoming your ideal self the best that you could possibly be. 

Pete Mockaitis 

Oh, that’s great. Well, you’ve got six mindset shifts and six behavior changes, and I’m going to rattle off the quick one-sentence version or teaser of what those are in a moment, but first I want to give you first crack at it. I love that turn-of-phrase you had, “rewiring our default setting.” So, answer me this, John, if there were a single setting within us, a toggle switch where we could shift the default from A to B, what do you think is the most leveraged impactful shift we could make? What’s our default setting? What’s the optimal setting? And how do we make that transition? 

John Miles 

I think for me, what’s top of mind today is motivation and what motivates us. So, I think in default, we tend to be motivated by the extrinsic things in life, the things that we’re led to believe will bring us happiness and success, which comes down to the money we make, the way we present ourselves to the world, the houses that we own, the neighborhoods we live in, the cars we drive, the titles we hold. 

And I think the shift that we really need to make is a shift towards intrinsic motivation acting as the cohesive glue that links our mindset, our behavior, and our deliberate action. That doesn’t mean that you can live without extrinsic motivation. It just means that the default should be more leaning in on the internal drive that fuels our journey towards a life of passion and purpose.  

Pete Mockaitis 

That does seem like a superior setting to be rolling with. John, tell us, how do we go about flipping that switch? 

John Miles 

So, I think right now, there is a profound sense of what I call un-mattering in the world. And before I started this journey of creating Passion Struck, I was given this vision over a decade ago that I was being called to serve, at the time, the words that were coming to me were the lonely, hopeless, broken, beaten, bored, battered of the world. And I had no idea what to do with it because my back story at that time was, I was a successful business executive. I was a C-suite exec in a Fortune 50 company. 

And so, when I started hearing these things, I had no idea what it was calling me to do, why or what even I was supposed to be doing to serve these people. But I started to examine my own life and what was going on in it, and I find that we are often best positioned to serve the people that we once were. And that’s absolutely what I talk about because I was living a life where I was consumed with the extrinsic motivations, and on the outside it looked perfect. 

But inside I felt completely numb and detached from the authentic self that I wanted to be. And I felt this profound sense of feeling that I didn’t matter, that I didn’t feel like what I was doing was fulfilling. 

And so, what I really then went on with this was this journey of me-search, of really doing core introspection into what was driving that state and how do I pivot to really having a different set of goals that were guiding me, and reformulating how I was thinking, how I was perceiving what I wanted in life, but more importantly, how I could teach others to really understand that they did matter, and that this feeling of being significant and valued is really anchored in our intrinsic motivation, energizing our pursuit of goals with relentless determination, and the inner spark that not only influences how we persevere through challenges that we face, but also guides and defines our actions towards the objectives that we want in life. So that’s the path that I ended up taking. 

Pete Mockaitis 

Oh, awesome. Well, I’d love to take just a couple minutes to dig into that journey a bit. When you said given this vision and hearing these things, what is the source, the message, the messenger? How did that land in you? 

John Miles 

So, it started to hit me at a point where my life was really consumed with the constant grind, and I have always been religious. And I decided to take courses that are offered in the Methodist religion called Discipleship, where for 36 weeks I went through an intense two-times a week class where we went through the entire Bible. 

And while I was going through that, it also awakened in me, and I think that this is something, whether you’re religious or not, I think sometimes we go about taking on a new challenge, and by doing that challenge, it opens us up to introspection, and that’s absolutely what it did for me, and I started to question the whys behind how I was living my life.  

Pete Mockaitis 

And that is a theme we’ve heard before. It’s like when folks engage, whether it’s a faith, or wisdom tradition, or intense introspective situation, yes, insights pop up and it can be a sort of an epiphany, a transformation, a life changer, a redirector of great consequence. So, we’ve heard that kind of a story before, so we’ll call it a theme, John. We’ll call it a theme. 

So, let’s dig in a little bit. We’ve got six mindset shifts, six behavior changes. And inside your mindset shifts, we’ve got the mission angler, muster the power to do something great; the brand reinventor, never being afraid to reinvent yourself; the mosquito auditor, avoid the most dangerous animal on the planet; the fear confronter, realizing that you are your greatest competitor; the perspective harnesser, zoom out and tap into its power; and the action creator, permit yourself to dream the dream. 

I’m most intrigued by talking about harnessing perspective, zooming out and tapping into the power. Lately, I’ve just been seeing that as a theme in terms of, like, I’m going about my life and I see my iPad, my iPad shows me an image, like Apple Photos does of, “Oh, here’s what was going on three years ago!” You’re like, “Whoa!” Or just looking at photos in general is like, “Wow, that’s a totally different time and place and an experience and perspective, and wow!” because it feels like, for me, at times, what you’re up in in this moment is, all there ever was, all there ever will be. 

And Daniel Kahneman has got a great quote, “Nothing is as important as you think it is while you’re thinking about it.” And I think that is so on the money. So, help us out here, if we want to harness some perspectives, how do we in fact zoom out and tap into some good power of broader, wiser perspective?

John Miles 

Yeah, so I think the first thing for the audience to understand is, in the Western mindset, that most of us who are listening to this likely have been brought up in, it’s deeply rooted in Greek philosophy which excels in linear learning. So, this whole concept of both/and thinking, which is really an Eastern concept doesn’t get really bestowed on us, so we really enter the world by thinking and viewing it as either/or instead of through the paradoxes that amplify the way we think. 

So, to think about this, and this both/and paradigm, it’s really thinking that our life has the possibilities where we can do things such as balance hard work with rest, merge self-discipline with self-compassion, finding harmony between solitude while also having community, integrating mind and body and so on and so forth. But the way I try to break it down in this chapter is I go into the behavior science behind it by looking at the works of Marianne Lewis and Wendy Smith who wrote a great book called Both/And Thinking, and then I use the example of a good friend of mine, astronaut Chris Cassidy. 

And I think Chris’s journey really highlights this difference in perspective and how it reshaped how he viewed challenges, how he viewed the world around him, and I’ll just give a couple examples of that. So, one of the core stories that I remember Chris talking to me about was his time going through basic underwater demolition school training to become a SEAL. 

And as he was going through Hell Week, everyone who’s there is miserable. But I remember him telling me that, in this point of misery, as he was colder than he’s ever been in his entire life, he looked down the line of people who were next to him, and he saw a Thai exchange student who was very thin, used to a completely different climate, and was so uncomfortable that he was actually buckling two and fours, he was looking at Chris, and Chris was looking back at him. And he realized that no matter how bad he had it, someone else had it worse. 

And it kind of gave him this courage to view life differently. Instead of looking at this as a never-ending trial, he looked at it as an opportunity, one, to see how far he could push his body and to view it as if it was a rubber band where he could expand or detract these trying moments in life. And he found through that, he could reshape his perspective to seeing that this was going to have a finite end. 

And all he needed to do was to concentrate on taking the conscious actions to let go of the things that were impacting him from achieving that goal. And that ended up leading him then throughout the remaining training and time in the SEALs as viewing these things that he would find himself encountering as finite periods of stress or trauma or action, and then training his mind to get through them. So, I think that’s just one powerful example of how you can implement it. 

Pete Mockaitis 

That is cool. And, boy, that feels like we need to have a movie scene of this eureka epiphany moment of enlightenment there. And I think that’s often the thing about perspective, is these things are objectively true, “Yes, this is temporary. The training will conclude.” And, yes, it is true, someone else has it tougher than you. 

And it seems like where I run into trouble, and I think many do, is those perspectives, while true, don’t get the focus, the attention. Like, your mind is consumed, like, “Oh, my gosh, this hurts a lot. I don’t know if I can handle much more of this.” And that is the dominant perspective and narrative that is running the show in your brain. Any pro tips, John, on when you’re in the midst of a small perspective dominating the scene, how to return to the broader perspective? 

 John Miles 

Yeah, to me, this is something that I refer to as the growth paradox, and I think real growth is like farming. It’s not instant gratification. It requires consistent effort and practice. And what that ends up doing is it leads to exponential returns over time. So, a core thing for the audience to think about is lulls and plateaus in our life shouldn’t be viewed as times of failure or not making progress, but as stages for future growth, and that’s something that this growth paradox teaches us about. 

Another one would be the failure paradox, which is looking at failure as a valuable teacher, which I’m sure many people have explored on this show, but each failure provides insights and learning opportunities just as James Dyson’s many inventions failed as he was creating prototypes before he successfully created the vacuum cleaner and then many of the other inventions that have come from Dyson’s products since then. So those would be two examples. 

 Pete Mockaitis 

Okay. Well, now, when it comes to, you listed six intentional behavior changes, and I’m going to give a little quick overview here. We got the anxiety optimizer, how to be on edge without going off the edge; originality embracer, realize that originality necessitates adaptability; the boundary magnifier, understand that sometimes being right means being alone; the outward inspirer, speak or act with your feet; the gardener leader, practice eyes-on, hands-off leadership; and the conscious engager, keep the main thing the main thing. 

I want to dig into the anxiety optimizer. We’ve had Morra Aarons-Mele, who’s great, talking about making anxiety your friend when you are trying to achieve stuff and to not let it consume you. So, let us know, what are your best practices you’ve discovered in terms of how do we make the most of the power, the fuel that anxiety can give us without just freaking out and losing it? 

John Miles 

So, I think it’s important, before we even go into that, to define why this is so important for us to master. McKinsey did some groundbreaking research on this zone of optimal anxiety, and what they found was that leaders who were able to perform in this state, outperformed their peer group by over 400%. Another way to think about that is they were able to accomplish, in two hours, what their peer group was doing, in eight to ten hours. 

So, in Passion Struck, why this is so important is I talk about, later in the book, the psychology of progress, and a core theme of that is that time is malleable. Well, in order to find more time, to take more action to move your life forward, you have to be better at utilizing it. And that’s, where getting into this optimal state of anxiety, is extremely important because in those two hours, if you learn how to do this, you can do what others are doing in eight to ten, which also opens up your life to have more balance in it and to develop and cultivate more relationships. 

So, at the core of this, it’s really thinking about your life as if you’re walking a tightrope. And on one side of the tightrope is overwhelming fear, and on the other is an indifference, and the state in between is what we talk about with finding the state of optimal anxiety. Anxiety is like a boon and a bane. A certain level gets you fired up, ready to take on challenges, but too much, it’s like you’re crashing a party like an unwelcome guest who doesn’t know when to leave. 

So, this is really science-backed strategy that’s crucial for achieving anything that you want in life. So, I talk about two different ways of doing it, there are more than these, but I really focus this chapter on another SEAL named Mark Devine, who many people have probably heard of, and also a race car driver named Jesse Iwuji. 

And Mark, when he was going through BUD/S himself, similar to Chris, was the first SEAL leader where his entire boat crew actually graduated from BUD/S. And the reason that that whole crew was able to do it was because he taught them four critical things that allowed them to exist in the state of optimal anxiety. The first was breath control. 

He, at first, started teaching them the simple practice of box breathing, which, if someone wants to experiment with this, just think of yourself doing a box, and breathe in for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, etc. But this breath control is a dynamic way for you to control the energy that’s flowing through you and to really target it in a different way by quieting down your emotions. 

The second thing he really taught these folks was to have a positive internal dialogue, in that, similar to the way Chris, as I talked about, shifted his perspective, they too could shift that positive internal dialogue and how they were approaching their days and the activities that they were going through. The next thing he taught them was the power of imagery and how, having that imagery of them graduating BUD/S, of them becoming a SEAL, and seeing that optimism and success would change the way that they were viewing the longevity of the task that was ahead of them. 

And, lastly, and I think one of the most important things he taught them was the importance of targeted focus, of being present in the moment and getting through the activities that we were doing. So those four things – breath control, positive internal dialogue, imagery and targeted focus – are the things that I highlight in the book. But a way that a person could think about this is we often end up spiraling. And one of the initial things that we can do, is if you practice that breath work, it allows you to have awareness. 

And, to me, awareness is half the battle won, because if we have awareness, we catch ourselves before we even start spiraling because we notice when unease starts creeping in, and that perhaps prickly feeling or that thing where your hair is rising, and that’s your cue to understanding that you need to start taking some deep breaths and slowing everything down to allow yourself to get clarity. So that would be one starting point that I would talk about. 

Pete Mockaitis 

Yeah, that’s really cool, and you’re making me think I really need to finish that book by Mark Devine, the Unbeatable Mind, I think it’s called. I’ve started it, and too many books crowded it out, but there’s a lot of goodness there. So, I’m intrigued by this notion of optimizing anxiety. It seems like there are some interconnected ideas here, whether it’s Stephen Covey talking about the growth zone is in the middle of the panic zone and I think the complacent zone, or Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says your flow state is when the task is not so easy that it’s boring, and not so hard that you’re overwhelmed, freaking out. 

So, it seems like all three of these conceptualizations have some overlap, but I like the way that you’ve zoomed it in on anxiety as an emotion, a signal, a trigger for you to tune in to these dynamics that are going on. Is optimizing your anxiety level just the same as Covey style being in the growth zone, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi style being in the flow state? Or are there some nuances, distinctions that you would highlight within this framework? 

John Miles 

No, you’re right, it is similar to both of those things, and that flow state is a critical and core component of it. To me, I think the phrase that really captures this the best is to learn to be on the edge without going over the edge. And the best vision that I heard to capture this was talking to NASCAR driver, Jesse Iwuji, who told me, when he’s driving the car, when he was too cautious, it would cause him to wreck because the other drivers were expecting him to do things that were more aggressive in his driving style. But when he tried to take it too far to the edge, he also would wreck out because he was trying to push things too much. 

So, it was really finding that balance in between those two where he learned how to position himself to be on the edge without going over the edge. And to me, that’s what makes this a little bit different. It’s like riding the wave without wiping out because we’ve all heard of athletes who are in the zones, artists losing themselves in creation, coders crunching lines of code until time blurs. But what I’m talking about here is the underlying, really, emotion that lies underneath it, and how do you calm that as your entry point into going into this state. 

Pete Mockaitis 

And to flip it, what if we don’t have enough anxiety, like we’re too we’re too passive, chill about a matter, and we would do better to crank it up? I guess what’s resonating for me is I’m thinking about there’s a time where I was hosting leadership conferences. I remember the first time I did it, I was kind of anxious, like, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve never done this before. This is a big role, a big deal. Got to really make sure everything is done well,” and things went rather well. 

And then the second time, I was like, “I got this. I know how this is done. Been there, done that,” and it went not as well. I was too passive and it would have behooved me and the attendees had I been more anxious the second time around. Any pro tips when what’s necessary is to crank it up a bit? 

John Miles 

Yeah, I think I have a tendency probably, as people are hearing me talk, to be more like what you were describing. And so, for me, if I’m giving a talk in that example, I really do my best to amp myself up, because if you’re too subdued, like you were talking about in that situation, people aren’t going to feel the energy reverberating from you that you want them to feel. 

So, I think it’s really having that self-awareness, which I talked about earlier, of understanding where your emotional state is, and the task that you’re trying to complete and readjusting it based on the situation that you’re faced with. So, in that same situation, if I’m behind stage, getting ready to go out there and give my best, I’m really pumping myself up. 

And something that I actually do is I visualize myself being someone other than myself at times. I often, going back to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, picture myself as him coming on the stage, and how would he present himself to the audience, what emotion would he give. And when I do that, and I think about portraying him and the emotions on the stage, it completely changes how I myself am showing up and transforming it into a more profound version of myself. 

So, I would encourage the audience, if they’re facing the same situation, that’s something that I like to do, I was taught that by a speaking coach, is imagine someone else that you want to emulate and picture yourself being them as you’re going throughout that activity.  

Pete Mockaitis 

Oh, totally. We had a guest who used the term psychological Halloween-ism. It’s like you’re donning the costume of the superhero or whomever that you want to be, and, sure enough, somehow that just kind of influences your thoughts and attitudes and behaviors and results. Go figure. Really cool. Now, to that point about Mark Devine with those four things, with the visualization imagery, any pro tips or do’s and don’ts on visualizing well? 

I think sometimes, for example, in a tough spot, if you’re visualizing, “Oh, just a few more minutes till we get a meal,” or a donut, or a smoke, or whatever you’re craving and feel deprived of, that sometimes that could be a counterproductive strategy in terms of getting the best from yourself over the long term. What are your perspectives on best and worst practices for visualizing and using imagery well? 

John Miles 

Yeah, to me, what I think is most important about it is being consistent in your application of it. And for me, there are three different ways that I like to do visualizations. The first is I like to do activations. So, in the morning, I get up really early, 5:00 a.m., I go on this walk with my dog, and I use activations, which is a little bit different than a meditation. I’m activating the way I want my life to unfold. I’m activating how I want my day to go. 

And so, I picture for myself what I want the day to look like when it’s complete, and I kind of walk through what I want my morning to look like, what I want to get accomplished, what I need to do in the middle of the day, what I need to do in the late afternoon, but then also visualize how I want to show up for my loved ones. So that’s one way that I think you can do it is through those activations. 

Another way that I like to do it is through journaling, and really just going into a free flow of thought about, “How am I showing up today? What am I feeling?” and getting those raw emotions out on paper. And then, really then, if there’s a gap between the ideal state that I want to live that day in, then really visualizing, “What actions do I need to take in my energy, in my focus, in how I want to change the very aspects of how I’m going to lead my life for the next few hours of the day?” 

And so, those are two things that I found helpful for me where I use activations or journaling to help me get into that state of internal dialogue, and really that imagery that I want to see for myself and how it’s shaping the immediacy of, for me, the day and the transition points between it. 

Pete Mockaitis 

And so, when you’re visualizing that optimal day outcome, are you sort of imagining yourself in the process of, “Okay, and I’m going to write some stuff. I see myself – third person, first person – at the keyboard, clacking away, or I am admiring the written words with a beaming grin of pride”? Like, what are some of the details of a visualized scene that you construct? 

John Miles 

So, for me, I’m more visualizing the outcomes. Like, this time that I have, what are the outcomes that I want to achieve and in what time frames do I want to achieve them? So, it could be envisioning myself preparing for an interview that I’m doing on a podcast. It could be, as you were saying, visualizing myself writing chapters of a book or a blog that I’m working on. It could be me visualizing a phone call that I’m going to have and how I want that phone call to go to produce the outcome that I want. 

So, I’m really outcome focused and how I’m trying to use this imagery to think through the day and the positive outcome that I want to achieve through the actions that I’m doing. 

Pete Mockaitis 

Awesome. Well, John, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things? 

John Miles 

No, I’ve really enjoyed this. Thank you. 

Pete Mockaitis 

All right. Well, now could you give us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?  

John Miles 

This one is from Henry David Thoreau, and he says that “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” And I also love the quote by Mark Twain, that 20 years from now, you can look back upon your life, and you can either choose to live it by stepping out into the unknown, or you can choose to live it, as Sharon Salzberg said, in constant anticipation of what if or could be.  

Pete Mockaitis 

All right. And could you now share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research? 

John Miles 

So, some research that I really like is that of Dr. Benjamin Hardy and some of the work that he’s done with Dan Sullivan. Top of mind to me is some of the work that he’s done on future self where he’s looked at the difference between the gap versus the gain, where so many of us live in this comparison trap where we’re constantly living our lives in the gap because we’re trying to compare who we are to some ideal that is just almost impossible for us to achieve. 

It would be like me trying to compare myself as a speaker to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, or to Ed Mylett, or someone who’s been doing this to an extremely professional level. Whereas, I could be looking at my life in the gains that I’m making where I’m comparing my current self to my past self, and looking at the incremental progress that I’ve made. And I think that’s really important when we think about the life that we want to craft, is, “How do we develop the mindset shift from going from the comparison trap of living in the gap to living our lives more in the gains?” 

 Pete Mockaitis 

And a favorite book? 

John Miles 

I think one of the most profound books I’ve ever read that’s influenced me personally was Quiet by Susan Cain.  

Pete Mockaitis 

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

John Miles 

At first, I was fearing what AI would do, and so I was trying to not use it, but I’ve really figured that it’s not going away. So, if AI is going to be around for a long time, I better become an expert at using it. So, I have really been going further and further down the rabbit hole of what are different ways that you can use AI to make not only your career better, but your life better. 

Pete Mockaitis 

All right. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often? 

John Miles 

True success really comes down to winning the battle with yourself. Those, I believe, who persist in the pursuit of their dreams, no matter what the hurdles, are the winners in life because they’ve won over their weaknesses. And to me, that is really a profound thing that I want people to take away, is that we all have our different definitions of success. 

But to me, the biggest battle that any of us have is with the inner critic that presents itself to us at each and every day, and learning how to win over that critic, and to overcome the self-limiting beliefs that hold so many of us back, to me is the key to what Sharon Salzberg was talking about in how we choose to live our life, whether we choose to live it in excellence or with ignorance. 

Pete Mockaitis 

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

John Miles 

So, the two best places would be my two websites. If you want to learn more about me personally, you can go to JohnRMiles.com. If you want to learn more about the Passion Struck Movement, my podcast, things like that, you can go to PassionStruck.com. And a really great thing that people can do, if they want to try it out, is I created a quiz when I launched the book that will help people understand where they sit on the Passion Struck continuum. It’s about 20 questions, it takes about 10 minutes, and they can find that on PassionStruck.com. 

Pete Mockaitis 

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

John Miles 

Yes. Often our choice of career is dictated more by the allure of stability and safety than by passion and fulfillment. And I ended up being about 20 years into my career when I came to the profound realization that I had become an absolute expert at making money for others and making others dreams come true, but I wasn’t making my own dreams come true. 

So, really, it’s confronting this fear of uncertainty that pushes many of us towards professions that we feel less connection to, resulting in what I think is so many people feeling unfulfilled or disengaged in the workplace. So, what I would encourage people to do is to take that other path, the path to start making your own dreams come true, and finding something that you feel is fulfilling at your heart, and that you wake up just with this unending desire and passion and ignition within that it’s propelling you to just want to do that with your life. And that really gets down to exploiting your uniqueness, your unique gifts, to find a problem that’s worth solving in the service of others. 

 Pete Mockaitis 

Beautiful. Well, John, thank you. I wish you many more adventures and days of passion. 

John Miles 

Well, thank you so much, Pete, for having me on your show. That was an absolute phenomenal interview, and I can see why your show is so popular. 

Pete Mockaitis 

Well, thank you. Appreciate that. 

959: Daniel Goleman on How to Master Your Attention, Stop Negativity, and Work Optimally

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Famed emotional intelligence researcher Daniel Goleman shares tools for more productive and fulfilling work days.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The five-minute technique for mastering your attention
  2. The technique Special Forces use to stay cool and calm 
  3. How to quiet the negative voice inside your head 

About Daniel

Psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman has transformed the way the world educates children, relates to family and friends, leads, and conducts business. A frequent speaker on campuses and to businesses of all kinds and sizes, he has worked with organizations around the globe, examining the way social and emotional competencies impact the bottom-line.  

Ranked one of the 10 most influential business thinkers by the Wall Street Journal, Goleman’s articles in the Harvard Business Review are among the most frequently requested reprints. He has won many awards, including the HBR McKinsey Award for best article of the year. Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences awarded him its Centennial Medallion. Apart from his writing on emotional intelligence, Goleman has written books on topics including self-deception, creativity, transparency, meditation, social and emotional learning, eco-literacy and the ecological crisis.  

His latest book, Optimal, shows why emotional intelligence can help each of us have rewarding and productive days. Daniel Goleman’s online Emotional Intelligence Program found at danielgolemanemotionalintelligence.com, offers anyone a deep understanding of the competencies of self-awareness, self-management, empathy and social skill.  

Resources Mentioned

Daniel Goleman Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis

Dan, welcome.

Daniel Goleman

Thank you, Pete. Pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about some insights from your book, “Optimal: How to Sustain Personal and Organizational Excellence Every Day” but first I think, when people hear and see your name, they think, “Oh! Emotional intelligence!” So, you’ve been pursuing this stuff for, well, how long has it been?

Daniel Goleman

The first book was in ’95.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, there you go.

Daniel Goleman

When you were probably in nursery school, I would guess. I don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis

I was 12 years old.

Daniel Goleman

Twelve years old, there you go. So, I’ve been doing it a long time and it’s really interesting. The research has gotten better, that’s why I did this book. And when I did the first book, it was really kind of hypothetical, anecdotal. Now I wrote “Optimal” with Cary Cherniss, who was my fellow co-director of a consortium for research on emotional intelligence, and we’re just basically harvesting lots of research.

But in terms of how to be awesome at work, I think the most interesting research comes out of Harvard Business School. It’s what we start the book with. It’s a profile of a good day, and it comes from a study where they had hundreds of men and women keep a journal about what it was like today at work and what happened and how they felt. And from that there’s a kind of composite of a perfect day at work and it goes like this.

You’re very engrossed and engaged in what you’re doing. You’re totally focused. You’re not distracted. You like what you’re doing. You feel good. You’re in upstate, and you feel very connected with the people you’re working with. That turns out to be a high productivity state. And leadership is the art of getting work done well through other people. So, when you’re in that state, you’re helping your boss, and your boss knows it, but you’re also being at your best.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, yeah, that sounds like a fantastic place to be. So, tell us, how often do we tend to get there as professionals? Like what proportion of our days fall into this good-day zone?

Daniel Goleman

That’s a question that we don’t have an empirical answer for, but I would say it also varies a huge amount from person to person. And the lovely thing about this particular zone of high productivity is it’s different from the famous flow state. The flow state is that one time you were absolutely at your best, you know, you can’t believe how well you did. The problem with flow is that it just happens to you. You can’t make it happen. You can’t produce it.

The optimal state, on the contrary, is on the same spectrum, a little lower than flow I would say, but your attention is very important. And, in fact, attention is a way to get into that optimal state. Paying full attention to what you’re doing now or what’s most important to you right now as a doorway into the optimal state.

And the nice thing about attention is it’s a muscle. It’s a muscle of the mind. It’s like, you know, when you go to the gym and you lift weights, every rep makes that muscle that much stronger. It’s the same thing with the brain circuitry for attention. If you do an attention training or attention development exercise, you get better and better at it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Cool. Well, so I’d love to hear, could you tell us perhaps a story of someone who wasn’t having such a good proportion of these optimal days, and they were able to do some cool brain training in order to turn that around, and what happened for them?

Daniel Goleman

Well, the brain training I’ll share with your listeners, it’s very simple. Sometimes it’s called mindfulness of the breath. It’s just if you take any meditation method and you strip away the belief system from a cognitive science point of view, they’re all developing attention. They’re all helping you ignore distraction, which today is worse than ever for people. We all have these little phones with us that carry the things that interests us the most, which are our biggest distractions.

So, by bringing your attention to your breath, the in-breath and the out-breath, and then the next breath, the in-breath and the out-breath, doing that systematically as a training, the same way you go to a gym, for example. It turns out that the research shows that this makes people better and better at bringing their focus to what they need to do right now, and that is how that state blossoms, the optimal state.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that’s lovely. Could you share with us any particular studies or quantification of just how much better we get at that and how much of a dose I need to do of this sort of a practice in order to reach those benefits?

Daniel Goleman

Well, I did another book called “Altered Traits” which reviewed all of the hard science about all this, and it shows there’s basically a dose-response relationship that is the more you do it, the better you get, the better the benefits. I would recommend people who’ve never done this starting with just five minutes a day and then building up from there. The longer you do it the better it is, and that means that the stronger the circuitry for paying attention gets.

There was a study done at Harvard that shows people are distracted about 50% of the time, generally, in life. More so at work, it turns out. And so, if you want to be in a better state, if you want to be at your best at work, this is the kind of thing that will help you do that because it helps you ignore distractions.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And with regard to this dose-response curve, I’m wondering, is there a point of diminishing returns, like after you’re doing six hours, it’s not doing much more for you than when you’re doing five hours? Where would we put that?

Daniel Goleman

Well, frankly, very few people are going to do it five or six hours. You’d rather be like a monk or a nun or something to do it that much. But if you do it over years, if you do it maybe a half hour a day every day for a long time, you start to see, we’ve seen in our research, many more benefits from this.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And can you tell us about the particulars for how that’s done excellently? So, if we’re, for example, I’ve heard it said that it is ideal to have a posture that is alert yet relaxed, like you’re not lying down, and if you’re sitting, you’re not hunched over and you’re not standing at an attention, can you talk to us a little bit about the nuances or the particulars that make a practice optimal?

Daniel Goleman

Definitely. Well, first of all, before you get to your posture, let’s get to where you’re going to do this and when. You’ve got to find a time in your day when you can be someplace where no one’s going to disturb you. You don’t have to answer the phone, kids aren’t going to come in, or the dog is not going to jump on your lap, whatever it is, and you need a space you can control or can be controlled for you.

And then the basic instruction, as you said, is just to sit up straight. Not tense, relaxed, with your spine straight. You can do it in a chair easily, and then bring your attention to your breath, the in-breath and the out-breath, and then the next breath, the in-breath and the out-breath. Then your mind is going to wander at some point, and when you notice it wandered, you bring it back to the next breath. That’s the critical moment. That’s the strengthener because that’s a moment of mindfulness. It’s when you bring your mind back from distraction to the point of focus, where you get the payoff from this.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And if I can maybe vocalize a concern or response, “But, Dan, that sounds so boring!”

Daniel Goleman

People actually often say the opposite.

Pete Mockaitis

Pray tell.

Daniel Goleman

They say, “My mind is…I can’t control my mind.” Rather than nothing happening, too much is happening. And the answer is good for you. That means you’re finally paying attention to how your mind actually is.

That’s a normal beginning response. You start to see how active your mind actually is. Usually, we don’t notice it. We get carried away. We pay attention to this and to that and to this and that. We go wherever our mind does, but then you realize you don’t have to do that. You can start to control your mind. So, that’s a normal response. People rarely say they’re bored.

Here’s what you need to understand, Pete. The body is designed to have a fight or flight response, technically sympathetic nervous system arousal, to an emergency, to stress. The problem for so many of us at work is that it’s unremitting. It’s relentless. You’re stressed all the time. You never have a chance to do what the body needs, which is a recovery period. It’s called parasympathetic arousal, and it’s the downtime when the body rests and recovers. And if you never get that, you’re going to become emotionally exhausted that leads to burnout.

The antidote is something I really urge people to do, which is to schedule something that’s recovery for you, that’s relaxing, you know, playing with a pet or a kid, or being with a loved one, or meditation, yoga, walk in nature, whatever does it for you, but schedule it every day because it seems like it’s irrelevant. Like you were saying, “Well, isn’t this going to sound boring to people?” No, this is important. This is your time to yourself to help yourself be ready for the next period of stress, which is so-called work.

Pete Mockaitis

And, Dan, tell me, if some say, “You know, the way I really like to unwind is by watching movies or playing video games or being on social media,” does that count, Dan? Or, what do you think about that?

Daniel Goleman

Well, I would say that those are other forms of distraction. Sorry, I don’t think they count as recovery. Recovery is a time when you don’t think about those things you otherwise ruminate about and worry about. So, it needs to be something where you break the flow, maybe it’s a video game for you, but if you get really, like, into the game and I’m very excited by the game, it’s not recovery. Sorry. It’s what we call eustress. It’s a form of stress. It might be enjoyable, but still, it’s not that total rest and relaxation and recovery. That’s what you need.

Pete Mockaitis

I think that’s well said, because I guess, whether it’s a movie or a game or whatever, some of them are intense, like, “I’m shooting down 99 other people,” and others are more chill, like, “Okay, we’re making some lines in Tetris. All right. Here we go, doo-doo-doo-doo, in the groove.”

Daniel Goleman

But if you were to be measuring the physiology, your physiology, while you do that, it’s just as bad when you’re stressed.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. So, here we go, we got one key principle, is that great days consist of doing stuff with uninterrupted focused attention on a thing, and one way we can get better at that is by doing a mindfulness practice and making sure that we have some restorative breaks built into our world. Tell us, what are some of the other master keys to being optimal?

Daniel Goleman

One of them goes back to Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer.” You know that prayer that’s used in AA?

Pete Mockaitis

That’s right, yeah.

Daniel Goleman

“Give me the wisdom to know the difference between the things I can change and the things I can’t.” And implicit in that is the ability to adjust to things we can’t. So, think about your boss at work, some people are lucky and they have a great boss and some people aren’t so lucky. I’ve gone around the world asking different business groups, “Tell me about a boss you hated and a boss you loved, and a quality that made that boss so awful or so good.”

And the bad boss is invariably kind of an emotional Neanderthal, and the good boss is, frankly, emotionally intelligent. It’s someone who’s available, who’s empathetic, who’s supportive, who gives you clear direction, things like that. So, if you have a bad boss, day in and day out, or bad working circumstance, the question is, “What can you do in that situation that you can’t change, you have to live with, to make it more manageable for you?” And what I would say is manage your internal state.

I once had a boss that I hated and I became kind of avid meditator in the morning, so that when I went to work, I’d be at my best. So I could stand him, basically, and do my best work. And I would say that managing your internal state is something you have control over. I don’t know if you, Pete, you’re familiar with the book, “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.

It’s a great book, and Frankl survived four years in Nazi concentration camps. And he said the way he did it was by managing his internal reaction to what was going on, and that’s what saved him. And I think it’s very profound because it implies any of us can have more control over our inner world. And it’s our inner world, bottom line, that makes the difference for how we feel at the end of the day.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, I love that. So, let’s talk about some of the practices by which we can manage our inner world and our emotional states. So, you have a scenario for there’s a bad boss, someone you dread interacting with, seeing, experiencing, and one approach is doing some mindfulness meditation practice in preparation for that. What are some of the other super effective tools you suggest we can use for managing our own internal emotional states?

Daniel Goleman

So, the mindfulness, the breath, the attention training that I mentioned, the payoff from that is gradual. It’s not like you’re going to do that at work. You’re going to do it every day or a few days a week, and the benefits come slowly. I would say if you know you’re going into a stressful encounter, you’re going to be with that person you can’t stand, for example, whoever that is, there’s something that’s used by Special Forces that I recommend. It’s a controlled breathing method. It’s called box breath, and it has a very powerful effect on your physiology.

The box breath is sometimes called four by four by four. You breathe in deeply so your belly expands. You hold your breath for as long as it’s comfortable, and then you exhale for as long as it’s comfortable. And if you do that, six to nine times, it actually changes your physiology, your body state, from being tensed, fight or flight, sympathetic nervous arousal, to that recovery mode, to parasympathetic.

It lowers heart rate. It lowers blood pressure, and it does it on the spot. And you can you can do it at work, it’s not that obvious what you’re doing. And it’s used by Special Forces, for example, before they’re going to go into a big whatever that they know they’ve got to prepare for. And I say why not use it at work?

Pete Mockaitis

Yes. Now, Dan, I’m loving this. So, I’ve heard of box breathing, and I’ve done it, and you’ve got some nuances there that I just delight in there. So, now I had heard it suggested that you do, it’s a box, like your inhale time, your hold while inhaled, your exhale time, and your hold while exhaled are the same. So, it’s like you could draw a box with four completely equal sides. And so, I had heard like, “Oh, do for, like, four seconds.” And so, you’re saying, “Ah, instead of doing four seconds, do it as long as you comfortably can on each of the four steps of the way.”

Daniel Goleman

Yeah, and it might be six seconds for someone. Who knows? I don’t think counting the seconds is the point. I think tuning into what’s comfortable for you is more to the point, and if you can hold it longer than the count of four, do it. If you can hold your breath for longer than that, if you can exhale for longer than that. In other words, find what works for you in this.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. And also, you said six to nine times. I love the specificity. And so, that has been shown in the research to get the job done, that that amount of breathing will have a noticeable difference, just six to nine of those loops?

Daniel Goleman

That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. So, like three-ish minutes and you’ve got a transformation. That’s what I’m talking about, Dan. Thank you. All right. Well, hey, lay it on us. What else we got? We got the mindfulness meditation. We’ve got the box breathing. What are some of your other faves for the emotional state management?

Daniel Goleman

If you’d like a third approach, one thing that some people find very useful is monitoring that voice inside our head that gets us out of bed in the morning, it has us propelled through our day, and then puts us to sleep at night. That’s self-talk, it’s called, technically. And monitoring self-talk, you may find, for example, that you’re being too critical of yourself, many people are. You may fixate on the things you did wrong and not encourage the things or celebrate the things that you do well. That is a way that we make things even more stressful for ourselves.

And so, there’s a wonderful book called “Learned Optimism” by a guy named Martin Seligman, a psychologist at Penn. And what he says is that you can talk back. You don’t have to believe your thoughts. And you can, if you find that you’re being overly critical, that you ruminate about the things you got wrong, he’d say, “You know, remember the things that you do right, the things that you do well.” In other words, look at your strengths, not just at your weaknesses.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. So, monitoring the self-talk, I hear you there in terms of our self-talk may be like, “Oh, you always screw this up. You’re such a loser. This is rubbish. Oh, this is not going to work out. It never works out. This is too stressful. Why do I… How did I commit to this? How did I get myself into this?” Okay, so we got that groove. Not so encouraging. So, when it comes to the monitoring, I mean, I can maybe notice, “Oh, I got some negative self-talk going on here.” When it comes to monitoring, what is the practice or protocol or approach?

Daniel Goleman

In cognitive therapy, which uses this approach, they often will tell someone, “Notice what you keep telling yourself.” Very often, the critiques are repetitive. It’s like the same thing in various forms over and over and over again. And prepare yourself, rehearse something you could say back to those thoughts. Like, “I screwed that thing up at work, and that proves to me because of my negative self-talk that I’m an idiot.”

But what could you say to yourself when you notice you’re doing that negativity thing? You could say, “Actually, you know, usually I don’t mess up. Usually, I do pretty well. And I remember this time and that time and that time that I actually did just fine.” And so, you purposely bring that to mind to counteract the negative thoughts.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So, we’ve got some rehearsal in advance. Lay it on us in terms of, if I’ve got some self-talk that says, “Ugh, I’m so tired. I really just don’t feel like dealing with this. This is so overwhelming,” what are some good responses?

Daniel Goleman

So, it sounds to me, Pete, that you’re evoking a situation where it’s kind of relentless and you’re feeling burned out. Is that right?

Pete Mockaitis

It could be burnout. It could just be dread or reluctance or procrastination, in general. It’s like, “Oh, this is a task I don’t feel like dealing with, and here it is. Ugh.”

Daniel Goleman

Okay. So, maybe you remind yourself, “Why do I need to do this? Why is this important? This is part of my job,” maybe. “And what is my state right now?” you might ask yourself. “And what can I do to upgrade it so that I can be up to the task?” I think one thing you can do is pay more attention to what you’re doing right now. One of the things that you’re letting happen, I suppose, is that your attention is just wandering, “Oh, I don’t want to think about this. I don’t want to do this.” You’re just basically letting yourself be distracted. And so, you could intentionally up your focus right then, “You know, I don’t love this thing that I have to do, but I have to do it for this reason, and so I’m going to really do it. I’m going to pay full attention to what I need to do.”

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, Dan, tell us, when it comes to having optimal days, we’ve covered a few things here. Where should we go next?

Daniel Goleman

Well, it turns out that emotional intelligence allows this more often. Emotional intelligence is four parts: self-awareness, managing your emotions, empathy, and relationship management. That’s the whole package, and some of us are better at some parts and less good at others. So, I’ve been talking about the first two parts, self-awareness and self-management; tuning into what you’re feeling and then managing those feelings. But there are other aspects of self-management. It’s not just about reducing the negative emotions, like, “I can’t stand this. I hate my boss,” whatever it may be. That’s part of it.

But another part is marshaling positive emotions, being optimistic, being positive about what’s happening, keeping your eye on goals that matter to you. Maybe you don’t like this particular part of your job, but you know that you want to advance at work. Maybe that’s a long-term goal. So, you remember that at that time, and you tell yourself, “This is part of the job I really don’t like, but I have to do a good job because I’m going up the ladder,” perhaps. That’s one way of doing it.

Then there’s empathy. Empathy is really interesting, Pete. There are three kinds of empathy. One is cognitive empathy, “I understand how you think about things. I see your perspective.” AI is very good at cognitive empathy. But then there’s emotional empathy, “I know how the person in front of me feels because I get a sense of it in my body.” There are actually, when you have eye contact in a real interaction, face-to-face, you establish a kind of invisible, instantaneous, unconscious bridge, brain-to-brain, and emotions pass very effectively on that bridge, so you tune in to what’s going on, and you pick it up. That’s emotional empathy.

The third kind of empathy is actually the one that we want in our boss. It’s called empathic concern, “I not only know how you think and feel, I care about you.” And these are each based in different parts of the brain. So, if you have a boss who has this third kind of empathy, you feel you can trust that person, you feel rapport with them. If you are a boss, if you have direct reports, and you’re that kind of person, then the people who work for you are more likely to give their best effort because they like you as a person.

They feel that you support them. You might even inspire them. You might articulate some meaning or purpose to what we’re doing that is even greater than the job itself. And that turns out to get the best efforts out of people. But at the very least, you can guide them, you can coach them, you can help them get better at what they’re doing. All of that makes people feel really good about their boss. So, that’s the third part. And then there’s putting that all together to have effective relationships.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, I’m curious, Dan. Let’s say, folks, their hearts are in the right place. They would like to demonstrate this and provide this for the people they care about in their lives, their colleagues, their friends and family. Assuming that’s there, what are some ways folks fall short in terms of, like, maybe they’re unconscious, that there are things that they’re doing or not doing that are just sabotaging their ability to effectively be empathetic, empathic, in a way that that folks can receive and appreciate?

Daniel Goleman

Well, one of the common colds of this is having relationships that are purely transactional where you only talk about what needs to be done. You never talk about the person, “How are you doing? What’s your life like?” In fact, one thing that I advise, I’m often asked, “What can we do when we work only by Zoom? We never meet each other.”

You know in the old days, or maybe still in some workplaces, you have a nine-to-five situation where you’re with someone five days a week for all those hours and it’s just natural that you find out about them as a person. You get to know them. It’s the, “Let’s have lunch together,” or, “Let’s have a beer after work,” or just around the cooler, water cooler, whatever it is.

But casual conversation matters because it knits people together. And if you don’t have that, if you’re working by Zoom, I think it’s important, particularly if you’re a leader, say, of a team, to replace that with a one-on-one, with the individuals on that team, for example, where you talk about the person, not the job, “But what do you want from life, from your career?” for example, or, “How can I help you?” That starts a very different kind of connection.

Pete Mockaitis

Alrighty.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, now could you tell us about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Daniel Goleman

The first person to benefit from compassion or caring about other people is the person who feels it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Daniel Goleman

Well, one thing I like talking about are the studies that established the social brain circuitry, which are relatively new in neuroscience, and one of them had to do with a neuron in a monkey’s brain that only fired when that monkey lifted its arm. This was a lab in Italy. One day, the neuron was firing, the brain cell was firing, and the monkey wasn’t moving, and they didn’t know why.

Then they realized it was a hot day in Italy. A lab assistant had gone out for a gelato. He’s standing in front of the monkey, and every time he raises his arm to take a lick of the gelato, the monkey’s brain cell for that same movement fired. That was the discovery of mirror neurons. And it turns out that the human brain is peppered with mirror neurons, and they tell us what the person in front of us is not just doing and intending, but what they’re feeling. Mirror neurons are a very important aspect of the social brain and of empathy.

Pete Mockaitis

And a favorite book?

Daniel Goleman

I’ll say “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Daniel Goleman

Listening.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Daniel Goleman

I’d point them to my website, DanielGoleman.info.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Daniel Goleman

Pay attention.

Pete Mockaitis

All right. Well, Dan, this is fun. I wish you many optimal days.

Daniel Goleman

Thank you. Likewise, Pete. Great.

921: Overcoming Failure and Achieving the Impossible with Astronaut Mike Massimino

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Former NASA Astronaut Mike Massimino shares powerful insights on how to push past failure and achieve the impossible.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The 30-second rule for dealing with failure
  2. The trick to getting along with people you dislike
  3. The most important lesson Mike learned while in space

About Mike

Mike Massimino served as a NASA Astronaut from 1996-2014 and flew in space twice for the final two Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions. He became the first human to tweet from space, was the last human to work inside of Hubble, and set a team record with his crewmates for the most cumulative spacewalking time in a single space shuttle mission. He received his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is an engineering professor at Columbia and an advisor at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum.

He is a frequent expert guest and has been called the real-life astronaut who inspired George Clooney’s role in the movie “Gravity.”

Resources Mentioned

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Mike Massimino Interview Transcript

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

Mike Massimino
Thanks for having me, Pete. It’s good to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Mike, I’m excited to be chatting. You are a bona fide astronaut, and you spent some time in the Hubble Space Telescope. And my hometown Danville, Illinois has a hero we’re quite proud of, Joe Tanner, who also worked on the telescope. Tell us, you know each other.

Mike Massimino
Oh, yeah, Joe was a little senior to me but he was very helpful and a good mentor and instructor. He really was great. I call him St. Joseph because he was such a nice guy. He’s a religious guy but he was also just a good guy and was very thoughtful, a really good guy. You should be proud of him, Pete. He’s a good guy.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m glad, yes. Danville, Illinois, we love to be proud of Joe Tanner and Dick Van Dyke.

Mike Massimino
Oh, he’s another good guy. I met him a few years ago.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, good.
Mike Massimino
Yeah, I met him. We both were on the same talk show together, and I can’t remember which one it was. It was in L.A., and I got to meet him in the green room and spent some time with him. He’s just a really nice fellow.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. You are plugged into all the cool kids but I think my listeners must know an awesome tale from your time in space.

Mike Massimino
So, I’ll just give you a little bit of background. I got a chance to service the Hubble Space Telescope so that was my job as a space worker on both my missions. So, an awesome tale from space, I would say, for me, what I still think about almost every day, Pete, is the chance to look at our planet and enjoy the view.

And the reason I get to think of that every day is not only the view itself that I saw, I thought I was looking into an absolute paradise, is that I have a different appreciation for the planet now. I think we’re living in an absolute paradise. We should be very happy every day we have a chance to be here. And I got that impression looking at our planet from space. It just looked like it was a perfect place for us to have. We’re very lucky to be here. I felt like I was looking into heaven.

And so, I think about that all the time. But being around the planet, you get a chance to engage it, and enjoy its beauty whether you’re looking at buildings, or people, or a mountain, or clouds. It truly is an amazing place, and we should try to appreciate it every day.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Thank you.

Mike Massimino
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now my wife will make sure I ask you. You actually had a medical disqualification but you trained your very eyes and brain to see better. How is that even possible? What did you do?

Mike Massimino
Well, the third time I applied to be an astronaut, I got an interview. The first two times I was just rejected outright. The third time, though, I got an interview, and then I was medically disqualified. I failed the eye exam.

I didn’t know if LASIK existed back then but they certainly didn’t accept it, or they didn’t accept any kind of medical procedure to improve your eyesight, and you had to see pretty well without glasses and contacts. Well, all these rules are changed now so it’s not an issue any longer. But back then, in the mid-1990s it was still a pretty strict requirement to see well without your glasses.

And I was left with no options, really, it seemed. So, what I did was look into it a little bit, and I found out about vision training where you can do exercises and try to train your eyes to focus beyond what they’re looking at, which is kind of interesting.

So, if we focus at an object that’s put in front of us, we can see that clearly. And two feet, we change our focus and we can see that but, eventually, you run out of room, and what you try to do is look beyond that object and try to focus on something beyond that object, and then what you’re looking at kind of comes into focus.

So, it’s a bit of a training not just for your eyes but your brain as well. And I found an optometrist in Houston that specialized in that, and she helped me out, and was able to pick up a couple lines on the eye chart so I could at least apply again. I was able to get medically qualified again and, at least, I was able to submit another application. Once you’re medically disqualified, that’s it. You’re done but I was able to get it overturned.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. And as I’m imagining this in my own mind’s eye, I’m hearing a Rocky montage music as you’re doing vision training.

Mike Massimino
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Was it like that each day?

Mike Massimino
No, it wasn’t really very physical or Rocky with the physical. No, it wasn’t that. It was more like, I don’t know, some kind of strange evil eye I was giving somebody, it seemed like it, kind of staring out. I don’t know what it would’ve been. More like a Psycho movie or something but not Rocky. Rocky music can get involved in other things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, if we cut the scenes together and just so, and put the right soundtrack behind it, yeah, I think that could be an inspiring portion of your movie.

Mike Massimino
Maybe so.

Pete Mockaitis
The Mike Massimino tale coming to big screen.

Mike Massimino
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so you got a book here, Moonshot: A NASA Astronaut’s Guide to Achieving the Impossible. That sounds cool. Could you perhaps kick us off with a couple stories, maybe one inspiring, an inspiring victory and a disappointing failure of those who set out to achieve the impossible?

Mike Massimino
Well, it’s interesting you mentioned that because I think every victory was preceded by a failure. So, to me, in my life, Pete, they seem to run together. So, the first of those, I mentioned I’d been medically disqualified and things weren’t working out with me but I went through vision training and then I was able to rectify that and get selected as an astronaut, so that was a victory. It ended up as a victory.

And I think that things like that, and also failing my qualifying exam at MIT the first time I took it, I did miserably on it and failed, and my advisor talked to me afterwards, and said he didn’t think it was worth my while to try again. They typically give you a second chance at this six months later for that exam. And I thought about it and decided I did want to give it a try, even though it seemed unlikely. And I went back and told him what my decision was, and he said something like, “You know, Mike, if one can learn to live with indignities, one can go far in life.”

And I think it was his way of saying, “If you can get knocked down and beat up, and get up again, you can go far.” And I looked at what I had done to fail, I got cooked in the oral part of the examination. It was a written part followed by the next day, it was an oral exam, and I wasn’t good at thinking on my feet. And some of my friends, I reached out to my friends about it, they knew what happened, and I told them what happened, and the suggestion was, “Well, let’s put together a little team to help you.”

And my friends who had passed the exam in the past, I’d buy them cookies on Friday afternoon, and they would drill me at the blackboard in a small conference room at MIT, and I got much better at answering questions on my feet. And so, I was able to retake the exam and come out with a victory. And I think that those lessons, that and other things, I think anything worthwhile I think is difficult and it doesn’t work out the first time.

And once I got to be an astronaut, every one of us who was in my astronaut class had some sort of adversity to overcome because it’s not an easy thing to do. You just don’t sign up to be an astronaut. It’s a pretty long and could be grueling process to get in there and faced with lots of obstacles. But once you get in, you’ve accomplished something by getting in, but you haven’t done anything yet, Pete. You just showed up for work.

And so, now I think it’s that same grit and determination that get us to the goal that is required to make us successful once we’re given the opportunity. It’s no time to slack off. And so, you talk about success and failure, I was faced with that throughout my training, and also in space. I was repairing the Hubble Space Telescope in my final spacewalk, and it was a very complicated repair, but there was something I was going to do, which was remove a handrail which was blocking my access to this panel that I had to remove to get to a power supply.

It was a very complicated spacewalk, the most complicated, complex one we’ve ever tried. And I made a real bonehead mistake. So, this is where the failure is. I stripped the screw when removing that handrail and we didn’t have a backup because it was so simple. We had a backup for everything else but not this but they came up with a solution.

The handrail was loose at the top. I had gotten through the screws at the top off. There’s just one stuck on the bottom, and the solution was just to tear it off. Now that might seem simple but it took about an hour to come to that solution. And I was able to comply with that, rip off that handrail, and continue with the repair.

So, I think, I would say, each major victory or success I’ve had was always preceded by a pretty bad failure. And in the way I recovered was getting help, both when I was taking my qualifying exam, I got help. I got help from an optometrist to get over the medical problem I had, and then I got help from the mission control center.

And I talk about that in the book where you’re not in this alone. When you need help, reach out to your mission control center, whoever that is. Know that help is there for you somewhere. Reach out. People know you need help. And also, be that person that other people can come to when they need help.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love that. That’s a fantastic principle right there. And I will think of you every time I strip a screw from now on, which is semi-often actually, Mike, I’m like, “Don’t beat yourself up.”

Mike Massimino
Happens all the time, man. Well, it happened at the wrong time, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Out in space.

Mike Massimino
It really happened. I looked out, when I first realized what I had done, I took a look out, bent down to see what I had done, and I didn’t see a hex head hedge screw anymore nor a piece of metal. And I kind of leaned out of the telescope, I leaned myself out, I was in a foot restraint. I leaned out and looked at the planet, and we were over the Pacific Ocean, Pete, and I couldn’t imagine a hardware store to get to. So, it’s one thing when you strip a screw at home, it’s another thing when you’re in space when that happens but, luckily, the team came through for me with a good solution.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious if you drive screws any differently now as a result of that one experience.

Mike Massimino
I kind of do but I’ll tell you the other one. So, those were big screws, they were big bolts, and we didn’t expect them to be a problem. But one of the next things I had to do was remove 111 small screws that were really tiny, and those we were more concerned about stripping than the one that was easy. So, it certainly changed the way I behaved from then on for the spacewalk, and I try to remember that at home, too. You can create a lot of problems and a lot of work for yourself by moving too quickly, so you try to learn from your mistakes.

One of the things I talk about or write about is that if you’re going to make mistakes, it’s okay to be upset and give yourself 30 seconds of regret, beat yourself up internally, call yourself names, don’t vocalize it because you’ll scare people but leave it to 30 seconds and then move on. And that’s something that helped me because you’re going to make mistakes. You don’t mean to but it’s going to happen.

And then the other thing to remember when you’re dealing with a problem is it could always get worse. No matter how bad it is, you can make it worse. And sometimes we make one mistake and we follow it up by trying to rush and do better, and we make another mistake. And now we’ve got a problem B to fix before we can go back to problem A.

So, that’s what I try to keep in mind, particularly during my spacewalks, and when I’m working on stuff around the house. You make a mistake, 30 seconds of regret, and move on. Try to solve it and then don’t make it worse. Give yourself a chance to fix one problem at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s paradoxically very comforting that idea of, “Oh, I can make it worse” because, in a way, well, one, it’s just absolutely true. I’ve just lived that. And, two, it’s just sort of a potent reminder of when you feel powerless in those moments, you do have power. And even if you don’t feel much hope that you can make it better, you have the power to make it worse.

Mike Massimino
You do. No, you absolutely do. And when I made that mistake, I mentioned earlier, I even thought about, “How could I make this worse? Well, I could break something. I could do something to my spacesuit. I could lose the tools I was going to need to fix this.” You’ve got to be really careful. Things float. Objects can become permanent satellites if you’re not careful with them and you don’t use the right protocol to tether things and to keep an eye on things.

And I saw that happen. I’ve seen guys lose one tool, and then have to go get a replacement, and lose that one as well, and now you’re really cooked. So, I’ve noticed these things, and you’ve got to be careful because once you do one thing wrong, if you try to rush to make up for it especially, guess what’s going to happen, Pete, problem number two is going to happen. It will get worse so you’ve got to be careful. Get help. It’s time to slow down and get help when that happens.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’d love your take here – is 30 seconds better than zero seconds or 10 seconds?

Mike Massimino
I think so.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear it.

Mike Massimino
Because you need to be regretful. I think. And I think 30 seconds, to me, is a good enough time that you can beat yourself up. You don’t want to ignore it, “Ah, I’ll leave it in the past.” See, the thing is people keep telling me, “You’ve got to leave it in the past. Move on from your mistakes. Learn from them and move on.” But it’s hard to move on, and I tended to beat myself up for a long time when something would go wrong or I’d make a mistake. It could go on for a week of regret, like, “Oh, man, I really messed that up. It’s terrible.”

But you’re not getting that time back. And in space, you can’t afford to check out for even a minute. You got to stay engaged. And so, that’s a lesson that I learned because I had to. In space, I just could not check out. I’m the guy out there doing the spacewalk. I can’t wallow in the misery. I have to stay engaged. But the value of it is for what goes on, on the planet, all the time when we make mistakes, and that same principle applies.

And I think it’s okay to be remorseful and be regretful, and say, “Holy cow, that was a terrible stupid thing to do. I can’t believe I did that,” and rant. Let yourself have it for 30 seconds, and then you got to get back in the game.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Mike Massimino
Leave it in the past. Flush it. Leave it in the past.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ve got some other perspectives here, such as cultivating a bank of good thoughts. What is this tool about? And how does it help us?

Mike Massimino
All right. So, for that one, I was told a rule or something to think about by my friend Alan Bean, who was the fourth person on the moon, fourth person out of the 12 to walk on the moon. And he told my entire astronaut class that the key to being a good leader and a good teammate is to find a way to care for and admire everyone on your team.

At the same time, we often, to solve complex problems in today’s world, we work together with a diverse group of people, because if everyone thinks the same way, you’re not going to solve major problems. You need people who have different perspectives. Sometimes that can lead to friction and you might find that you don’t like somebody, like, “I just can’t admire that person. I don’t…and I can’t…”

So, if you find someone like that, Alen went on to explain, don’t think of it as you don’t like them. Think of it as you don’t know them well enough, and take the time to get to know them, and find something that you care and admire about them. And I kind of added onto that concept with this bank of good thoughts that you mentioned, that I think it’s important to, when you find someone you don’t like, and you take that time, you got to find… you think you don’t like.

It’s not that you don’t like, you don’t know them well enough. You really don’t. Because people who are in your family or people that are in your workplace, they’re there for a reason. Their name wasn’t picked out of a hat. They have something to add and you have to spend a little time. And when I’ve done that, I’ve always felt so much better about things.

One of my best friends I had a very bad impression with when I first met him, another astronaut, named Andrew Feustel. I thought he was kind of loose and didn’t care, and I just was wrong. And I took the time to get to know him, and we’re great friends. I spoke to him yesterday for about an hour on the phone. A really good friend of mine. And my first impression wasn’t great but I don’t know what he thought of me. Probably not great either, but we took the time to get to know each other, and we really love each other. A great guy. A really great friend.

And I think it’s important, when you find that thing that you like about a person, that you care, that you find that common ground, something that they’ve done that’s good, when people help you, when they show up for you when you need them, when they do some kind act somewhere in their life, or whatever it is that you have about them, that you found out, or that you’ve experienced with them, you have to put that in the bank of good thoughts because you’re going to need to take a withdrawal.

When you start feeling badly about that person, when they do something that might aggravate you, don’t act right away. Take a beat and go get a withdrawal from that bank of good thoughts, and have that good thought in your mind, “Yeah, this person might’ve done this that I didn’t like, and I need to address it, but before I go and send that bad email, or confront that person in an angry way,” because that’s not good.

Go to the bank of good thoughts with that good thought and have that in the forefront of your mind, and say, “Look, I really care about this person. We might have this misunderstanding. I’m going to have to deal with it, talk to them about, to clear the air, but I’m going to go in there with that good thought.” And I think that’s a good way to do it because one bad experience, one bad thought, one bad email, one final to handle, whatever it is, that can destroy a thousand good things.

So, one bad thing, that’s worth a negative a thousand, and to make it up, you’re going to do a thousand good things to make up for it, I think, with a relationship. And that’s what we’re dealing with when we’re working on a team, is building those good relationships with our teammates.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, when you say bank of good thoughts, I am actually imagining specific statements associated with specific people. Is that fair? And could you give us some examples of how these are articulated?

Mike Massimino
Like, for example, with a family member, my brother, for example. He has come through for me on many occasions. And if we have an argument, or something is going on, I try to remember, “This is one of the most important people in my life.” You might argue as siblings or you disagree about things, but he has been there for me when I really need him, and I try to remember that as best I can.

With my crew mates, I try to think of the times where they helped me when I needed them, when I was counting, when I was having some trouble with a concept or with training, and they were there for me and stuck by me. I try to think of that. Or, with my friend Drew that I mentioned, he was a really smart guy, very mechanically inclined, would help me fix all kinds of things. So, that personal relationship where I appreciate his help, but also, I admire his ability that he was a great spacewalker and a really good astronaut is what I came to find.

I do talk about one case where there was one person we were working with on our team, an engineer, that we were having some difficulty with, and he just seemed strange. That person was just like, “I don’t know about this guy.” And people would discount what he would say because they thought he was a little bit different. But I took the time to get to know him, and realized, “This guy is really smart, and he was really dedicated, and he could probably be doing anything that he wanted to in his life, but he decided to dedicate his time and his career to the space program, and, more specifically, helping us be successful on Hubble.”

And so, the feeling was, “Well, it’s a strange idea, whatever he was talking about,” that might turn people off, I try to think of, “Wait a minute. This guy is a really smart guy. Maybe he’s not communicating his ideas well. Let’s give him a chance. Let’s remember what’s his value. Let’s not devalue people. Let’s remember why they’re here and what they can do for us, and what they can do to help the team. Not just for output, what they can do to help the team.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s super. And do you have these written down somewhere?

Mike Massimino
No, they’re in my head.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Mike Massimino
Maybe I should write them down, Pete, but it’s in my head.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess I’m just imagining in the heat of battle if you’re really ticked off at somebody, you might have a hard time remembering the good thoughts you have about them.

Mike Massimino
Just take them, Pete. You can remember.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And now, I’m thinking about professionals who, in the course of their jobs, are feeling maybe a little bit timid or scared, in certain contexts. Maybe it’s before a big presentation, or taking on a risk, or making a career change, or something. You have faced some uncertainties, some potentially scary things, and found the courage within. How do you think about courage and stepping up and enduring discomfort well?

Mike Massimino
Whenever you’re nervous, I think that that’s okay. I think that that shows that you actually care about what you’re doing. And if you’re not nervous, it probably doesn’t mean that much to you. If you’ve got an assignment or something to do that seems scary or makes you nervous, I think that’s a good sign. I think that you should try to use that to help you get ready. I don’t think being scared is good.

There’s times in my life where I was scared and I tried to shut that out because I couldn’t afford it. The thought that went to my mind during one of my spacewalks were, after I made that mistake, I was going to have to do some things I was a little bit uncomfortable doing. I had to go and translate, I had to move as a spacewalker in some areas that were going to be difficult to do that in, and I was scared, like, “Oh, my gosh, what happens if something happens here?”

And I realized being scared is not going to help. I had an airplane incident one time, we had a hydraulic leak in the airplane, we might have to eject, and right away you know the fear or scared, and I realized, “Being scared is not going to help me here. I’m trained. Let me follow the procedure.” And I found that you can use that nervousness, an anticipation to get ready and make your plan.

And then when it’s actually time to face whatever it is you’re doing, I think thinking about is a lot worse than doing it once you’re actually in the heat of the moment, whether it’s making a presentation, or delivering whatever it is you need to deliver to a group, or whatever that might be, whatever that event is, that now it’s time to relax and trust, and trust your gear, the tools you have to help you, whether that’s a computer, or a parachute, or whatever it is you’re using that day. In my case, it was some of those things, like getting in an airplane and trusting a parachute is going to work if I need it.

But trusting your gear, your tools, your computer, whatever it might be, trust your training. Your name wasn’t picked out of a hat. The reason you’re given that assignment was for a reason. And whatever you did to get ready, you can consider as training. And then you’ve trained yourself to be ready for it, and you’ve shown yourself to be worthy, so trust your training.

Trust your team is the third trust. Life is rarely a closed book test. It’s usually an open-book test. You can get help when you need it. So, remember that there’s a team behind you to help you when you need them. And, finally, trust yourself that you’re going to be up for the challenge. So, I think that’s what helped me face really scary things that made me nervous. It was just trust that, “I’m ready for this. It’s okay. I can handle it. I have a team behind me. I have the right tools. It’s going to be okay.”

So, that’s what helped me face some of these things, that, even looking back on, I’m not sure how I did it, but that’s how I did it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, what seems really wise there is you feel fear coming on, and you just decide, “That’s not going to serve me. I put that aside.” Is it just like that, Mike? Is that all there is to it?

Mike Massimino
Well, not necessarily. It depends on the moment you’re in. Let me give you another example. I don’t like heights. And I was on an exercise out in the Canyonlands where we were doing a lot of rock climbing and rappelling and hiking at heights, like very close to the edge of a cliff, and walking up very steep rock formations, and it was driving me nuts after a while.

I just didn’t like it. And I realized I had to figure out a way to get through this because we were out there for two weeks. And right from the get-go, I think I probably dealt with it for an hour or two, but after a while, I was like, “I don’t think I can do this for a couple weeks.” And I reached out to one of my teammates, Jim Newman, who was my spacewalking buddy, and we were out on this adventure together with the rest of our crew. And I said, “Look, man, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I just don’t like this.”

And he says, “All right. Let’s try to take care of this.” And during one of our breaks, we kind of went around the corner, we were having lunch on a rock, more or less. We’re pretty high up on a mountain in an incline. And we walked around the corner so no one would see us around the corner of this rock, and there was a steep face there, and he held my hand, and we walked around it. And then, he let go and made me move around by myself.

Then he made me jump up in the air just to get the confidence that I was okay. So, I think that there are times where you need to think. If you’re in a situation where you’ve been trained to handle the situation, like, I think a lot of times you are, something goes wrong, and hopefully you’re able to handle it, or you’ve been trained to handle it.

So, it depends on the situation but there were times where I was, like, “I can’t be scared right now.” Being scared is a luxury. If you have time to be scared, I think that maybe things aren’t as bad as you think. But I felt like, in those few occasions, like in the aircraft and when I was spacewalking, when something came up, I needed to work the problem. Just being scared was not going to help me. So, yes, I did turn off.

But in other cases where, like the example of being afraid of heights and being scared of the situation I was in, I had time to try to solve that. And it wasn’t just a 10-minute experience. I was going to have to be out there for a couple weeks so I dealt with it in a different way. But I think it’s okay to feel these things. It shows that you want to be better at them when you’re nervous but the scared part of it, I think that could affect our ability to think at a time where we need to think.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. And as you’re sharing your story, it sounds like, I guess, psychologists would say, “Well, that’s simply exposure therapy,” and how that works. And I’m reminded of Bryan Cranston has a lovely autobiography, it’s called My Life in Parts, or A Life in Parts. And when he was doing theater stuff, he was scared of the heights associated with the lights and stuff.

And so, his director said, “Okay. Well, here’s how we fix that,” just very matter of fact. “I’m going to hold this ladder and you’re going to climb up to the top.” He’s like, “I’m scared.” “Yes, I know.” And he’s like, “Now, you’re just going to hang out there for a while.” He’s like, “Yeah, but I’m scared.” And it’s like, “Yeah, it’ll go away eventually.” And sure enough, it did. And that’s how you solve that.

Mike Massimino
Yeah, I would avoid that. The other way is to avoid height. I try to avoid it wherever possible, but sometimes you’re in a position where you need to deal with it. And I found myself in those situations where I had to do it. I just had to, “There was no choice. This is the way home. You have to deal with it.” And that’s when you got to figure out a way to face it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’d also love to hear, in the unique environment that is being out in space with just a few teammates, that’s a whole another flavor of environment in which teamwork skills get put to the test. Can you share, are there any nifty principles or takeaways that you believe can be handy for typical working professionals as well that you’ve picked up from that environment?

Mike Massimino
I think what I learned at NASA pretty much from the get-go was the importance of the team success and that you can’t do things alone. And that was taught to me very early on. My first week at NASA was mainly administrative stuff where we all got to know each other a little bit, we’re in a classroom where we get briefings about different things but we were going to start the training in the second week in earnest.

And one thing that I wasn’t looking forward to that I knew was coming up was that I was going to have to pass a swim test. I did not like the water as a kid. I never learned how to swim very well but we were told, and when we were accepted as astronauts, we were given our packet, after we get the phone call, saying, “You’re in,” which was a great phone call. We got a package of info, and in that there was, in the cover letter, like the second paragraph, it said, “Please practice your swimming skills because you’re going to have to pass a swim test in order to go to water survival training with the Navy.”

And the reason we need to go to water survival training is we’re going to be in an ejection seat aircraft, we eject over water, we need to be able to survive in the water until the help can get to us. But we’re on the Space Shuttle, also there’s a bailout mode. We might end up bailing out if you can’t land on a runway, if you’re having trouble during launch and you can’t make it to orbit, you can’t come back and land in the United States, and you can’t make it over to the other side of the ocean to southern Europe or to one of the landing sites in southern Europe or North Africa, you end up in the ocean.

So, in order to do our jobs, is we had to go through that training. And then to do that training, we had to pass the swim test. And I practiced as much as I could but I still was worried about making myself look like an idiot in the water.

And so, at the end of that first week, we’re about to go home for the weekend, and Jeff Ashby, one of the pilots from the class before us, was our class sponsor, kind of leading us through our training. And he said to us at the end of that day on Friday, he said,
“Who are the strong swimmers in this class?” and a few people raised their hand. And then he said, “Who are the weak swimmers, more important? I want to see a show of hands.” And I raised my hand as a weak swimmer. And he said, “Okay, anyone that didn’t raise their hands can go home. But the strong swimmers and the weak swimmers are going to stay after class. We’re going to arrange a time to meet over the weekend at a pool, and the strong swimmers are going to help the weak swimmers with their swimming because when we go to the pool on Monday, no one leaves the pool until everyone passes that test.

And so, that setup for me, that in trying to accomplish something, it’s a team goal. And individual success is great but if you’re good at something, your job is to help your teammates. And if you’re having trouble with something, your job is to admit it because you don’t want to hold back the rest of the team. And that set the bit of my head of what it was going to be like, that we’re depending on each other.

And so, when we got to space, and you’re talking about conflict, I felt like space life brings out the best in people because you knew that you had to depend on that person in order to be successful on the mission. You can’t do it alone. And that also, for me, what was helpful, was that, what we talked about earlier, when a conflict did arise, you’re like a family member, you love each other, but you might argue once in a while with your crew mate, and you’re going to have conflicts and disagreements, and that’s not good but they’re going to happen, and you need to deal with them.

But I think it’s always good to remember why you like that person, and why they’re important to you, and try to address the problem with that in mind, with good intentions, and not being mean. And that’s the way we did it. So, we would have a conflict or a problem with somebody, we always raise it and always honestly, and usually it was better to clear the air. Don’t let it fester because it just gets worse for the team to do that.

And if you look at it from the perspective that, “I’m speaking up about this for the sake of the team, for the sake of the mission,” then it’s not necessarily just a personal problem, it’s, “Hey, I think this is something we need to talk about because I think it’s going to hurt our team.” Then I think everyone can get on board with that if you think of it that way.

One of the things you mentioned, too, about people not wanting to speak up or raise something, one of the things I learned was the importance of speaking up, whether you’re having an issue with someone, or you made a mistake, or you have an idea, and oftentimes it’s the new person that has the best ideas. And so, I think that people should speak up, and I think it’s up to leadership, though, to foster that sort of culture where, if someone speaks up and admits a problem they’re having, they’re not going to be punished, or a mistake they made, they’re not going to find retribution for it. They’re going to be helped, and we can learn from their mistakes.

And so, if not, if people don’t come forward with the mistakes they’ve made, then people are going to repeat them, and that doesn’t always work because sometimes these mistakes might be something that could hurt you. If you’re in an airplane or a spaceship, and you do something wrong and you get away with it, you want to tell people about it because the next guy might not get away with it. So, it’s important to have a culture, I think, where those concerns can be raised.

And also, good ideas. A new person has a fresh perspective on things, and a lot of times it’s the new person that has the right idea. In my case, doing spacewalks, one of the spacewalks I was assigned to in my first flight had been done before but it didn’t always go well. It took a long time and it’s hard to align one of the scientific instruments on the Hubble. And I had a suggestion of a tool that could help us align it, and I put that forward, and the team liked it, and we designed it, and that’s the way we installed the instrument using the tool that I envisioned.

Now, for every good idea I had, there was probably 20 of them that stunk, but you don’t want to squash the bad ones or the ones you think aren’t good. You want to hear them out because you don’t want to lose that creativity. You want people to keep coming back with their ideas. So, I think leadership needs to set the tone that people can bring up concerns, can bring up ideas, can raise conflicts, so we can talk about it and move on.

And people need to feel that leadership has that culture, is fostering that so they’re not going to get in trouble for bringing something up, that they have the ability to speak up when they feel there’s a need to say something.

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

Mike Massimino
No, go ahead.

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

Mike Massimino
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with the success unexpected in common hours.” What do you think of that? Henry David Thoreau.

Pete Mockaitis
I hope you do voiceovers, Mike.

Mike Massimino
I have. I’ve actually done…I was a voice in the latest Beavis and Butt-Head movie, the voice of mission control in “Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe.” Well, take that. What do you think of that, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know why it’s not in your bio, Mike. I feel like that should be the first thing.

Mike Massimino
That should be the first thing we mentioned. I don’t know. And we talked about all the space and everything while this other…yeah, I lead with that. I save that one, Pete, if I meet a Nobel Prize winner or some really smart person who’s telling me about something they did, “Oh, I was a voice in the latest Beavis and Butt-Head movie. How about that?”

Pete Mockaitis
I very much appreciate that. Thank you. And could you share with us a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Mike Massimino
For me, personally, the stuff that I enjoy doing, I teach at Columbia’s human-machine interaction and figuring out what humans can do well, and what machines can do well, and designing displays to help people control things. That’s what I enjoy. But as far as the stuff that’s interested me, that I don’t necessarily participate in but I find amazing, is the astronomy, particularly the stuff that’s come out of the Hubble Space Telescope, and now what we’re seeing with the James Webb Telescope.

I was very pleased to be able to participate in those missions, in the Hubble Space Telescope missions. And to see the science that came out of it, that research I think is amazing because it’s answering some of the big questions of, or trying to answer some of the questions of “Are we alone in the universe? How did we get here? Where do we go after? How did this all happen?” And they’re getting closer to those answers.

And it’s through the use of these amazing telescopes and some really smart people that have been able to come up with those answers, and also coming up with questions that we don’t know the answers to yet. I installed an instrument called the Advance Camera for Surveys that was used to validate the theory of dark energy, which led to a few astronomers getting the Noble Prize in Physics as a result of that discovery, which was an energy source.

The universe is expanding but it’s also accelerating, and they don’t know why it’s accelerating. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s like throwing a football, instead of it landing on the ground, slowing down and landing, it goes faster. It actually picks up acceleration, it goes faster. And that’s what’s happening to the universe, and they call that dark energy. So, I think those are the really cool things that’s going on. And I don’t directly work in that research area but I feel like I’ve had a hand in it by fixing the telescope that they use for a lot of this stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. They didn’t give you a piece of the prize though.

Mike Massimino
No, not at all. No, but I feel like I had their gratitude, that’s for sure. Every time I see one of those folks, they say, “Oh, thank you for risking your life so that we could do our research.” And I’m like, “Thank you for giving me a good reason to go to space.” So, yeah, it’s like a mutual admiration society there.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Well, I want to ask about a favorite book, and if I may steer you in the direction of something physics related. It’s funny, I’ve actually, by fluke of how my credits worked out in high school and college, never taken a physics course, and I feel a little ashamed. And I might just take one myself, like university continuing education extension, whatever.

But that was some fascinating stuff about the dark matter. Are there any cool books you recommend that are very accessible for lay people to wet their whistle and get a great understanding of physics, and maybe less of a textbook flavor and more of a, “Whoa, this is amazing” flavor?

Mike Massimino
Well, my friend Neil deGrasse Tyson has a book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. So, if you’re in a hurry, I think that’s the right book to get, so I would recommend that. And even if you’re not in a hurry, I think it’s a good introduction to all things astrophysics. Another book that I like, if you like looking at the stars, the book that I used, there was an MIT course for observing. One of the books we had to learn the constellations, and I used that at NASA as well. It’s written by H.A. Rey, the guy that wrote “Curious George,” the monkey.

He wrote a book called The Stars and it talks about all the different constellations. But as far as what’s going on in astrophysics, I think Neil’s books are really good. I think Brian Greene is also another good author that writes some pretty cool stuff about what’s going on. He’s more in the mathematical bent of things but I would recommend anything by those two guys.

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

Mike Massimino
My favorite tool has to be a Leatherman. You can almost get anything done with a Leatherman.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome at your job?

Mike Massimino
What I try to do is I try to appreciate where we are in the universe every day. I talked about looking at the planet earlier, I think, when we started. I think we talked about that, viewing the planet and how beautiful it is. I try to do something every day to appreciate our planet, whether it’s just even riding on the New York City subway, looking around at the faces around me, looking at the leaves on the trees, up at the clouds, stars at night, something. We’re living in an amazing place and I think we need to take a timeout at least once a day to just be amazed at how amazing this place is.

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

Mike Massimino
When I was pursuing the astronaut job and got rejected all those times, we talked about the medical disqualification. What kept me going was the mathematical reality that things aren’t necessarily impossible as long as you try. And it might be one out of a million as your chances for success but that’s not zero.

One out of a million is a non-zero number. It’s 0.000 a lot of zeros and there’s a one at the end. And the only way that that one disappears, and you know your probability of success is zero and you will not succeed, is if you give up. Once you give up, it’s game over and your probability of success, you’re not going to be successful. So, I try to keep that in mind and I encourage people, and that’s been told to me as well as something that’s been helpful for people to think about. So, when you try to do something and you know it’s hard, and it might seem impossible, but as long as they try, one out of a million is not zero.

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

Mike Massimino
My website is probably a good place, MikeMassimino.com. You can reach out to me there. There’s a way to contact me through there if you’re interested in doing that. If they’re interested in following me around social media, I was the first guy to tweet from space, so I’m on Twitter @Astro_Mike now, or X now, AstroMikeMassimino on Instagram and Facebook, Michael Massimino on LinkedIn. Those are ways you can get hold of me there.

And if you’re interested in learning more about these things we’ve talked about, Pete, for the folks out there, if they’re interested and they’re either developing their moonshots or succeeding at their moonshots, whatever they’re trying to do in life, at work, or at home, these are things that I’ve learned that have helped me, and I’d love to share them with you, as we have today, but also in the book if they’re so inclined. And that can be purchased just about anywhere, wherever you buy your books, at your local bookstore, or Amazon, Barnes & Noble, whatever. It’s available there, Moonshot is available there.

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

Mike Massimino
Don’t give up. Embrace the challenge. Embrace change. Things are constantly changing. I talk about that, too, in the book, and knowing when to pivot. But embrace the challenges, embrace the change, remember you’re not in it alone, and don’t give up. If it’s tough, it means it’s worthwhile. Don’t give up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Mike, thank you. This has been a treat. And I wish you many more fun moonshots.

Mike Massimino
Thanks, Pete. You as well.

901: How to Lead with Emotional Power with Julia DiGangi

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Julia DiGangi shows you how to harness your emotional energy and turn it into your greatest strength.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What others’ skepticism is telling you
  2. How to reframe your brain’s negative patterns
  3. The root cause of procrastination–and how to deal with it

About Julia

Dr. Julia DiGangi is a neuropsychologist, who completed her residency at Harvard Medical School, Boston University School of Medicine, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs. She has nearly two decades of experience studying the connection between our brains and our behavior. Dr. DiGangi has worked with leaders at The White House Press Office, global companies, international NGOs, and the US Special Forces. Her understanding of stress, trauma, and resilience is also informed by her work in international development and humanitarian aid, where she served some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

The founder of NeuroHealth Partners, a neuropsychology-based consultancy, DiGangi shows people—at work and at home—how to harness the power of the brain to lead more satisfying and emotionally intelligent lives. She is the author of Energy Rising: The Neuroscience of Leading with Emotional Power.

Resources Mentioned

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Julia DiGangi Interview Transcript

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

Julia DiGangi
I’m so glad to be here, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to get into some of the wisdom you share in your book, Energy Rising: The Neuroscience of Leading with Emotional Power. Neuroscience just gets me all fired up. So, I think, first, I want to hear, for you personally, can you tell us from your own experiences working internationally and with vulnerable communities, is there a particularly powerful moment or story that shaped your understanding of stress, trauma, and resilience from a human experiential point of view?

Julia DiGangi
Absolutely. So, let me just say that I am a neuropsychologist, which means I’m a clinical psychologist with specialized expertise in the brain, and never in a million years did I think that I would become a psychologist. And the reason is my father is actually a psychologist, and I grew up, I’m very close with him. I grew up, he was always telling fascinating stories about human behavior, and I just always thought that psychology was my father’s domain and that it was not going to belong to me.

So, I was called to a lot of social justice work, so I started doing a lot of political work, and I started doing a lot of international humanitarian aid and development. And the reason I became a neuropsychologist was because I started working all around the world, so Detroit, Chicago, Latin America, Africa, and I was working in very, very traumatized communities, very high stress environments.

And the thing that really started to strike me is that, regardless of where I was, people were responding to stress in similar ways. So, I was really kind of struck by this idea that despite this wild amount of diversity, why is it that human behavior looks the same when it comes to extreme stress?

And it was really that question that got my scientific mind fired up and decided to really look at, “What can we understand about the human brain that can explain the way we run our large systems, whether it’s our family systems, whether it’s our organizational systems, whether it’s our companies, and whether it’s our political systems?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, the stressors then, I’d imagine, in those different environments are quite different, varied from each other, you know, what’s happening in Chicago versus Latin America are different, and yet the stress reactions and responses of the people were pretty similar to one another?

Julia DiGangi
Yes. So, I was working with a lot of very, very extreme trauma, so I was working with torture survivors, I was working with combat veterans, I was working with child soldiers, I was working with orphans, I was working with war survivors, so really extreme forms of trauma. But the thing that kind of struck me though is, like, “Why are such similar situations unfolding, because they’re all perpetrated by people? And then what was happening to the human body that was then creating additional trauma?”

Because when we’re traumatized, we then show up in our relationships, in our communities, in our workplaces in ways that aren’t really that functional. So, yes, I was working in a lot of different environments and seen a lot of different things, and I started to think, “If we could understand human suffering and human resilience at the most extreme ends of the spectrum, then there would have to be some pretty, pretty powerful advice about how the rest of us can grapple with the more common stress that we face in our ordinary lives.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Julia, that’s exactly where I wanted to go. You have piqued my interest to the max. So, I have a lot of notes and things I’d like to cover but let’s just go right where we are right now because that’s juicy. So, tell us, from those experiences, did you discover any master keys to resilience that we can put in place right away?

Julia DiGangi
Absolutely. So, I will say that I feel like I am on this planet, I feel like my core message is that our experiences of emotional pain, and by emotional pain I just mean any bad feeling you don’t want to feel – so stress, aggravation, irritation, inadequacy, fear of rejection – that these terrible feelings that we all experience in our own nervous systems in our own bodies are absolutely not here to torment us; they are here to set us free.

They are literally the line between where we currently are and the next evolution of what I call emotional power. So, if you want to show up at work more powerfully, if you want to show up online more powerfully, if you want to be more creative or more expressive, absolutely the number one thing you need to work with is your hard feelings.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that is juicy, that is a thesis alright. Can you provide an example illustration so that we can get our arms around that conceptually to experientially, like, “Oh, I see. I see in that instance, that person, there was the line, and they surpassed it and then cool things unfolded”?

Julia DiGangi
Absolutely. Sure.

So, I would say that, without question, the hardest thing for us is our experiences of other people’s emotion. So, I think that our leadership is best understood as, “Who do I become in the energy of other people’s emotions?” In other words, “What happens to me when people don’t see me the way that I want to be seen? What happens to me when the people around me don’t agree with me? What happens to me when the people around me don’t understand me?”

If I’m not emotionally powerful enough, and I have this really great idea, okay, let’s say I have a great idea for a podcast, I have a great idea for a social media post, I have a great idea for a new product, if I feel like people don’t understand me, it’s going to provoke bad feelings, it’s going to make me feel insecure, it’s going to make me feel anxious, it’s going to make me feel stressed. If I don’t know what to do about those bad feelings, it will shut down my behavior.

So, it’s only when I’m able to say, “I know, in the energy of you not understanding me perfectly, Pete, it’s provoking the sense of anxiety or stress inside of me, and I know…”

Pete Mockaitis
Like, right now?

Julia DiGangi
Yeah, I mean, I always get nervous before these podcasts, so, yes, absolutely, but I think that’s a perfect example. It’s like, “Can I still, in my fear, in my anxiety, in my worries, like, am I going to say something stupid? Are people going to understand me? Am I still powerful enough to show up here and say the things that I want to say?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Understood. And so then, there you go in terms of, like, the line in terms of it is sort of a border or a fork in the road – I’m mixing my geographical metaphors here – in terms of you could say, “Well, just forget it. Just whatever. I guess we’re done here.” That’s one option, like we give in, in terms of the frustration, the anxiety, the fear, the overwhelm, whatever, just sort of wins out, like, “I’m out of here.” That’s one approach. And then the other way is that you sort of fold.

And for the record, Julia, I think you’re doing great.

Julia DiGangi
Thanks for the vote of confidence.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that you have whipped up a frenzy of curiosity inside me such that now I want to understand all of it and with perfect clarity. And so, yeah, we’re going to be picking up on that.

Julia DiGangi
Let me say this because I think this is really clarifying, too. Everyone has problems, we’re all, like, “All right. So, what’s the biggest obstacle in my life? This problem, this problem, this problem.” But if you really think about what a problem is, there is no problem on the planet until you have activity in your nervous system. In other words, anything that you’re calling a problem in your life necessarily means you have bad energy in your nervous system.

So, let’s say I’m fired from my job, and let’s say I’m fired from my job and people call me like a bumbling idiot in front of 50 people, and I legitimately don’t feel bad about it. I’m not intoxicated or I’m not dissociated. I just really don’t feel bad about it. Because I have no pain, I have no problem. And one of the things, this is such a big shift, it makes you so more powerful in your leadership, a lot of times we run around trying to solve our situations, “Okay, this person is going to say this and so I’m going to do this,” or, “This project might go with this, and I got to do this about this project.”

And I’m not saying your situations don’t matter, but if you really think about the most powerful place to work in your life, it’s at the beginning of your emotional energy. In other words, who would I become in this situation if I said, “It’s okay, Pete, if you don’t perfectly understand me”? actually, I’ll tell you a good story.

So, I interviewed a lot of very, very elite leaders for the book, and one of the leaders that I interviewed, and I said that I was going to anonymize everyone because some people talked about some really sort of controversial and difficult things in the book, but I’ll say it’s someone who leads tens and tens of thousands of people.

And one of the things he said to me in the book that I was totally struck by, is I said, “How do you deal with your own tough feelings? Like, how do you deal with your own feelings of doubt, or insecurity, or fear, or anxiety?” And he said, “That’s kind of a hard question for me to answer but I would imagine that if my wife was in the room, my wife would tell you, if I have to make a hard decision that is not a sleep-loss moment for me. In other words, if there is a thousand people in the room, and only 501 agree with me and 499 don’t agree with me, I’m totally okay with it.”

By the way, this guy has amazing employee engagement scores, so he’s very, very well-liked. He’s not some brute who has no emotional intelligence. So, what that moment is telling us is that this man is powerful enough to be misunderstood in the energy of other people’s skepticism and doubt and confusion. And if we’re really honest, how often does other people’s emotion shut down the big visions that we have inside of our own brains and our own spirits?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you know, it’s so funny. I’m reminded of, or there’s so many things that are coming to mind here. I remember a buddy of mine, we had the idea that was basically Airbnb, I think shortly before Airbnb was founded, and so we thought it’s really cool. And so, why not? We were consultants, we saw empty bedrooms, we’re like, “Well, these underutilized resources could really turn into something.”

And so, we thought, “Let’s chat with a buddy of ours who is somewhat high up in Hyatt Hotels.” And then his energy was like, “You know, I think this could be a nightmare for liability, people are going to ruin stuff and commit crimes. And, yeah, ugh, I’m really nervous about that.” And so, we’re like, “Oh, yeah, I guess he’s right.” So, we just stopped.

Now, who knows what life path that we could’ve been to people who started Airbnb, or if maybe hundreds of people were thinking the same thing around the same time in the universe. But it’s true that energy did shut it down, and it’s a common experience. Or, if someone seems to respond to our idea with a sense of, I don’t know, contempt, or disgust, or even just more subtle, like, “Oh,” like they’re not really into it but just, like, “Okay, you don’t find that interesting or compelling. Okay, duly noted.” So, yeah, that can shut it down.

So, are you telling us, Julia, that it’s quite possible to develop the emotional power, force, resilience?

Julia DiGangi
A hundred percent. First of all, your story was a phenomenal one.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

Julia DiGangi
And we all have versions of that, like we all have. And here’s the thing that I think is so important to really get. When we have these moments of inspiration, whether we call it inspiration or creativity, or we have these visions, the whole idea of creativity is the world has never been here before. So, of course, there’s going to be skeptics. It would make no sense if you said, “Hey, you know what we’re going to do, we’re going to start a community on Mars,” and the rest of the world was like, “Of course, that makes perfect sense.”

So, it’s almost like some of our best, most powerful, most transformative ideas, if they’re not being met by other people’s resistance, I think we need to question, “Is it really a good idea?” So, it’s almost like part of our work is to reframe the patterns we have around other people’s reactions. That’s the first thing I want to say.

There’s another second important thing that I can say that can really help our leadership, and that is this. We all know that when people are flagrantly rude to us, or egregiously cynical, that hurts. But something that we egregiously underestimate is the pain of confusion. Well, you just gave a great example where you said sometimes people will meet our ideas and, like, not just be super enthusiastic. They might just be a little bit lukewarm or they might seem a little bit confused.

One of the things we’ve very clear about in neuroscience is your brain absolutely despises confusion. So, a very practical way to think about your brain is as a pattern detector. It’s going through your life, largely unconsciously, going “Apple. Apple. Fill in the blank. Apple. Apple. Apple. Fill in the blank. Apple.” Now what this actually means is “Apple. Apple. Fill in the blank,” sometimes the answer really isn’t apple. But because your brain hates that ambiguity or that openness, it will try to close the pattern in a way that’s going to make sense to you.

When we are confused, what happens is the brain can handle kind of the open-endedness of confusion for a very short period of time, and then very quickly it will close the pattern, and it will close the pattern in a way that is suspicious, fearful, and small.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Just this morning, Julia, this was funny, I thought I was going to be making some scrambled eggs for the family. And then Katy said, “Oh, hey, can you come watch Joey, and I’ll make the scrambled eggs?” And I said, “I thought I was making the scrambled eggs?” And she just said, “Can I do it?” And so, I was like, “Well, what’s going on here? I made the scrambled eggs last time, I usually make scrambled eggs, she’s asking to do it.”

And so, it’s sort of like I can’t even stand the uncertainty, the question mark associated with why this is happening. It doesn’t even really matter in terms of I’m thinking, “Is there something wrong with the way that I make scrambled eggs, with the scrambled eggs that I made yesterday?”

Julia DiGangi
Isn’t that interesting? Because, like, your interpretation automatically goes to the brain definitely has a negativity bias, it’s a way to keep us alive. So, now you’re thinking, “Oh, she hates the way I make my scrambled eggs.” And the next thing we know, we’re fighting with our partners over something that nobody really even understands because we’ve all been confused from the beginning.

So, it’s like if we could understand the power of confusion in our lives, like have reverence for it, understand how the brain is really, because I think I always say the brain is the most powerful machine you’ll ever own. You have to operate it powerfully. A great example of that happened in my marriage a lot more at the beginning, is like me and my husband had different texting patterns. So, it’s like I would text and then he would delay for a long time, and instead of just being, like, the man is not near his cellphone, or the man is busy, or the man is distracted by something else, you start to come up with all of these ridiculous stories.

And the craziest thing of all is the stories help no one. It doesn’t help the relationship, it’s not fair to the other person, and we injure ourselves in the process. So, again, if we understand what the brain is doing, which is why I wrote Energy Rising, we become so much more empowered in our lives.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in that circumstance, I’m curious, it feels like we need a narrative or an explanation so badly we just make one up. So, Julia, is there a better alternative for us in these moments?

Julia DiGangi
Absolutely. So, the thing that you want to do is you’ve got to think about this idea of emotional power is, “Who do I want to be in the energy of other people’s bad emotions?” So, if I want to be the type of leader, and, by the way, our leadership totally shows up in our romantic relationships as well so it’s not just a thing at work, it’s a thing in our homes as well.

If I want to be the type of leader who’s trusting and generous, then I need to know that when I start to wobble in uncertainty because, again, the brain has an allergy to uncertainty, I need to really think, “How do I hold the frequency of trust and generosity?” And if I don’t ask myself, if I don’t have a practice of discipline of asking myself that question, the brain is automatically and reactively going to shut the pattern.

And it’s going to shut the pattern in a way that actually makes no sense to our wellbeing. This is kind of the paradox of having a human brain. It’s going to make you start thinking suspicious, annoying. And if you let it fester for too long terrible things about the people in your life who really are on your team. But can I tell you an example from our lab that I just think is so powerful to show you how much the human brain hates uncertainty?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Julia DiGangi
So, in part of our paradigms, we would, in our lab, we had a machine that would shock people. So, this is a way to administer pain to see how people respond in conditions of pain. And what people, as lots of researchers out there who study uncertainty in the brain, in fact, this is at the foundation of all anxiety disorders are. All anxiety is a disturbed relationship with certainty.

So, we would bring people into the lab, and there’s conditions that you can put people in these laboratory settings. So, you can have a machine that counts down five, four, three, two, one, and when the machine hits one, you’re absolutely going to get a shock. Then you have another condition where the machine counts down five, four, three, two, one, and maybe you’ll get a shock or maybe you won’t get a shock.

Now, the “rational person,” and I’m using air quotes here, is the person who says, “Definitely put me in condition two because there’s a good chance I will walk away pain-free.” But statistically, people choose to be in the option where they get the shock every single time. What that is telling you is that emotional pain, first of all, uncertainty is literally emotionally painful. And the pain associated with uncertainty and stress can be more painful than actual physical pain.

And so, when we think about the way that we lead, the way that we communicate with people, how confusing we are, how much clarity, how much transparency, we have really powerful neuroscientific evidence that says really, really think, especially in a world that is filled with a brim of information, think about how to communicate clearly if you want to be powerful. And by powerful, I don’t mean command and control. I mean effective, connected.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we got this allergy to uncertainty, and one master approach is to rather than letting our default brains do what they do – inventing stories that cause turmoil – we could proactively say, “Who do I want to be in this moment amidst the uncertainty?” And so then, we’re making sort of a conscientious choice, “All right, this is how I’m going to be amidst this as opposed to letting autopilot take us somewhere, which is probably not going to be a great place where autopilot would go.”

Do you have any other pro tips in the midst of uncertainty how we can deal with that well?

Julia DiGangi
I do. This one is, like, I think, a fantastic one. I want to teach you guys something that I call a power pattern. So, I said before, your brain is a pattern detection machine. Now, overwhelmingly, the brain is driving you through your life in ways that are unconscious. We all have had that experience where we’re driving in our car and we’re talking on the phone, and somehow, we magically show up in our driveway and we have no idea, we actually have no conscious recollection of it. So, the brain is an incredibly powerful machine and it does a lot of the work for you unconsciously.

Okay. But let’s go back to this pattern, this idea of “Apple. Apple. Fill in the blank.” How that actually sounds emotionally in our lives, and emotion is the most powerful energy in a human being’s life. This is just a neuroscientific reality. So, we’re all running these patterns in our life, and maybe your pattern sounds like, “Things just never work out for me. Things just never work out for me. Things just never work out for me.”

Maybe you have a pattern that’s like, “People don’t understand me. People don’t understand me. People don’t understand me.” So, if you look at your life and you say, “Where are the ways in my life that I kind of keep getting into conflict, or struggle, or stress?” you’re going to see there’s a pattern that kind of connects all those things.

So, let’s imagine that mine is, “People don’t understand me.” So, I write a book, and I kind of have a sense, “Nobody is really going to get it.” Or, I show up at parties and I kind of feel weird because I really don’t feel like people understand what I’m talking about, or people don’t enjoy talking to me. Now, let’s say I’m creating a business, and the whole reason one would create a business is because, hopefully, it’s bringing something novel to the world.

So, I start this business but my underlying pattern, the underlying energy in which I’m doing it, whether I’m conscious of it or not, is, “People don’t understand me.” What do you think the likelihood of success for that business is? I can almost guarantee I am going to self-sabotage. So, what if I said to myself, “Instead of working with this pattern of ‘People don’t understand me,’ what if, if I think I’m really creative and I have these really kind of cool visions for my leadership, what if I started having the…?”

Also, let me just say, when people don’t understand us, especially if we have kind of forward-thinking ideas, that is stressful. But what if I change my pattern, and my pattern, instead of being, “People don’t understand me,” what if my pattern was, “I am ahead of my time”? Now, I kind of have the sense, when people don’t understand me, “Of course, they don’t understand me. I go first. Of course, they don’t understand me. I am a pioneer. Of course, they don’t understand me. How could they possibly understand a place that I’m trying to lead them to?”

Do you see how much more life-giving and hopeful and spacious, “I am ahead of my time” is than “People don’t understand me”?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. So, building the power pattern seems like we are reframing a thing that’s a bummer into, “Well, yeah, of course, that’s just sort of normal and to be expected.”

Julia DiGangi
A hundred percent true.

Pete Mockaitis
I think I remember doing this during my dating years because it’s a bummer when you’re digging somebody and they blow you off, it’s like, “Oh, okay.” And what’s so funny, I decided about my criteria, I had to boil it down into four.

Julia DiGangi
And will you tell? You’re going to tell me your four criteria or is that top secret?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, they’re cool, they’re cute, and one of them was that they’re crazy about Pete Mockaitis because that’s just more fun. And so, it’s so funny, even though the same thing happened, like, “Oh, I texted her and she ghosted me. Bummer,” I reframed it in terms of it isn’t like, “Oh, why? What’s wrong with me? Was I…?”

In terms of it’s like, “Well, unfortunately, this candidate has been disqualified because she doesn’t really measure up on the key criterion of being crazy about Pete Mockaitis. So, yeah, that’s disappointing that we’re going to have to conclude this candidate’s application process, but I guess we’ll have to move onto the next.”

And it was funny because in both instances, they more or less decided they didn’t dig me enough to want to continue communicating.

Julia DiGangi
Well, Pete, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t dig you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, shucks.

Julia DiGangi
But that being said, things happen that are unexplainable, but what a liberating frame. Because the only thing that would’ve happened if you would’ve been like, “Oh, this person doesn’t like me. I’m not good enough,” which we all do, is we just sink ourselves. So, the other piece here is that this is so big, it almost can sound like I’m saying nothing but it really does matter, which is there is no meaning in the world until you use your nervous system to make meaning out of it.

And the way I really learned that this was true, so, first of all, it’s kind of obvious. If it doesn’t hit your brain and your neurons, like, “Did the tree fall in the forest? Who cares? You weren’t around to hear it.” The whole idea of objectivity, it’s coming through our subjective nervous systems. The way that this really kind of became very, very clear for me is I’m fundamentally a trauma researcher. I’ve done extensive scientific research into trauma, the behavioral consequences, the neurobiological associations.

We very commonly see people undergo the same trauma, the same objective event – childhood issues, assault, accidents, combat – and have wildly different experiences. At one extreme, you have post-traumatic stress disorder, which is a form of illness after trauma, and at the other extreme, you have something that scientists are now starting to study more and more, which is called post-traumatic growth.

How in the world? So, trauma is horrific, that definition is what makes trauma, trauma. How could two people experience something that no one is debating was horrible, and have two remarkably different stories, realities, meanings emerge from that? It has everything to do with what is happening inside of their nervous system.

So, you want to say the stories we tell ourselves are the meaning we make, this has everything to do, everything to do with how powerful we are in our lives. Because I will tell you what, I work with people who had every good reason, every good reason to stay down. The amount of trauma that some people go through is mind-blowing.

If they said to you, “I am never up again,” you would say, “I completely understand.” But for some reason, they say, “I rise because I say that I rise.” And when you see people say, what they’re really saying is, “Even though this horrific thing happened in my life, I am still the most powerful person in my own life.” And when we really touch that, our energy is unstoppable.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Julia, I’d love your take in terms of, I think, sometimes we can see, “Yes, this frame, this power pattern would be more useful and helpful to me than the alternative, and yet, I just don’t really believe that to be true. It’s, like, I’d like for it to be true. It sounds pretty nice. I think it can be true for some people, and yet as I try on that belief, it doesn’t fit, or feel right, or feel me.” What do we do with that?

Julia DiGangi
Totally, you got it right-size it. One of the things I love doing in the area of emotional intelligence, mental health wellbeing, is making just tons of great, great analogs to physical health. If I really had been totally out of shape, and I call you, and I’m like, “Hey, you know what, I’m going to run Ironman. I’m going to participate in Ironman athlete,” you’d be like, “That is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard you say, Julia, and you’ve had some pretty dumb ideas in your life, but that one takes the cake.”

So, what we have to do when we’re thinking about our own emotional expansion, our own emotional increases in our power, and our emotional strength, we have to think there’s not a more powerful journey in your life so we have to right-size things. So, a lot of times what will happen is people will reach for the emotional Ironman off the dome. And this is why I do not like affirmations, I look in the mirror and, let’s say, I feel terrible about myself, I look in the mirror, and I say, “I’m so great. I’m so great. I matter so much. I love myself so much.” Whatever.

But there’s huge parts of me that is like, “Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.” Not only is that not going to help, it’s going to make me feel worse because the dissonance between what I’m feeling and what I’m actually saying is like so far apart. What I need to do is say, “What is the edge?” And I talk about this a lot in my book, “What is the edge of my emotional power?”

So, if I go to the gym, and I can lift 20 pounds today, tomorrow I’m not going to try and lift 50. I’m trying to say, “What’s 22?”. I go to a conference and I normally sit in the back of the room. I’m too afraid to speak up. I don’t say, “I deserve to be on that stage today.” Maybe I say, “You know what’s accessible to me, I’m going to sit in the first row.” Maybe the next thing is, “I’m going to sit in the first row, and I’m going to ask a question.” You see, so it’s this idea of if you can think about evolution in other areas of your life, of course, you can think about evolution in your emotional life.

The other thing that I think is so exciting is we have totally misunderstood human development. We celebrate, like, “Oh, the little kid took a step,” “Oh, the little kid is walking,” “Oh, the little kid is eating solid food.” And then by the time you’re 21, everybody is done with you. Graduation, college, you’ve hit all your milestones, there’s nowhere but down to go. Not freaking true.

The next frontier of human intelligence is absolutely going to be emotional. And the sooner leaders understand this, the better, because the human brain is emotional. But what we need to now think is, in the middle of our lives when we’re kind of hitting our stride in our career, the most powerful question is, “How do we think about our emotional evolution?” And by emotional evolution, I mean, “How do I still speak up when other people don’t understand me?”

I think a lot of us are saying we’re exhausted, but we’re overworking. That’s a form of self-injury. A lot of us are saying we have really great ideas in our mind but we’re keeping our mouth shut. That’s not emotionally powerful. We’re saying we want to work on holding our boundaries, “I’m really going to start telling people no,” and the second somebody calls me, they’ll be like, “Hey, can you do this other project, Julia?” I’m like, “Yeah,” and then I’m so pissed off all night because – why? – I’m not really resentful of them. I’m resentful because I betrayed myself.

So, we got to get clear on, number one, where the emotional pain in our lives is coming from. And a lot of us don’t recognize this but the majority of the pain in our lives is actually coming from the ways that we abandon ourselves. And the second we start saying, “No matter what, I will not leave myself. I will pay attention to my emotional energy. I will work with my emotional energy. I start to become more and more powerful.”

The reason that this is so important for our leaders is, do you know what your followers want more than anything on the planet? They want access to their own power. And when you become the embodied standard of a human being who is in touch with your own emotional power, you become the influence, the true influence. We all throw this term around. You become the standard that everyone follows, not because they have to, not because they have FOMO, but because they truly desire to. And this is the leadership that will change the planet.

Pete Mockaitis
This is powerful stuff. I’m digging it, Julia. Let’s hit another example in terms of a power pattern and knowing that we don’t jump to the Ironman, metaphorically, but rather we sort of take one more step, like sitting in the front of the row. Let’s say there’s a pattern of energy associated with procrastination or distract-ability, like, “Ugh, I don’t feel like doing this. It’s boring and I don’t want to.” And then that shows up a lot. How do we apply some of these frameworks to that issue?

Julia DiGangi
So, you want me to tackle procrastination?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Julia DiGangi
Okay. So, first of all, you ready for this?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Julia DiGangi
We have to really get down to the guts, and Energy Rising takes you to the guts of what procrastination is actually about. First of all, let me just say neurodiversity is totally a thing, so a lot of people struggle with attentional issues. I always say attention is the mother of all of our cognitive abilities. If you think you can’t problem-solve, you can’t remember things, you can’t make decisions if you’re not paying attention in the first place.

So, there’s a lot of sorts of taxes on our attention these days, I want to acknowledge that. But if you really look at the research into procrastination, procrastination is always about a fear of not being good enough.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah? Okay.

Julia DiGangi
Let’s break this down, and I can actually really speak to this from my own. I just wrote this book, like it was a glorious process but I will tell you it was so hard. And the reason it was so hard, and I would have writer’s block, procrastination, distraction, it’s because you have this sense, and a lot of times it’s not even that conscious, but, like, “If I don’t make this perfect,” and a lot of us aren’t able to, we’re not in touch with ourselves enough to say this.

But the logic kind of goes like this, “If I don’t make this perfect, people aren’t going to like it. But it’s not just that they’re not going to like it, they’re going to think I’m an idiot. I’m going to humiliate myself. People aren’t going to want to be around me. I’m going to let everybody down. I’m going to be…” It just keeps cascading and cascading and cascading, and this is what catastrophic thinking is.

So, we do a lot of work around catastrophic thinking in both the coaching industry and in the mental health field, but it’s, like, the true thing about procrastination is not, “I can’t make a phone call,” or write four sentences on a page, or get on camera and say a few things. Procrastination is really this deep, deep fear that there’s something fundamentally wrong with myself.

So, first of all, the first step is to name it. And as soon as you start to say, “Hold on, Julia. So, you’re telling me if you don’t write 10 sentences that are absolutely like Pulitzer Prize-winning, you’re going to basically be a troll living in a refrigerator box?” And when you start to make that explicit, it just starts to let some of the pressure out of the pressure compartment.

And then I start to say, “I’m going to write 10 sentences with absolutely no judgment. I can literally write, “The sky is blue and the grass is…” I just need to start going because you want to start getting some momentum. And you also want to say, like, if we want to be effective leaders, the fastest way to get there is to totally release this perfectionism BS. Because it’s so interesting to me, and I will tell you, I treat a lot of anxiety. OCD is an anxiety disorder, and one of the forms, there’s many forms of OCD, but at a pathological form, perfectionism is OCD.

We think that OCD, or we think that perfectionism makes us so strong. It makes us so weak because the person that you’re doing the perfection for isn’t you. You’re performing for some fantasy that you have about what other people think. And if you’re really getting to the guts of it, what you think is that, “They’re going to think I’m a fool, they’re going to think I’m a reject, they’re going to think I’m a degenerate, unless I nail it.”

And what’s really interesting is when you get people to start verbalizing, “Tell me about the fears,” it’s almost hard for them to put it into words because the intellectual part of their brain knows that it’s absurd. The intellectual part of my brain knows that if I don’t write the best book in the history of the planet, I’m not going to be a social outcast and die alone. So, it’s more of this nebulous sense of, like, “This just doesn’t feel good.”

That sensation is generated by emotional systems in the brain. So, part of the work of getting over distract-ability, and perfectionism, and procrastination is to say, “How is my fear of failure playing out here? Let me start to literally list the reasons, and then let me start to take reasonable action.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Julia, much good stuff. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to put out there before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Julia DiGangi
I think I just want to say this because I think it’s so hopeful and so empowering and so healing, and I sort of started our interview saying this, is that the feelings, if you really think about any problem in your life, the reason you have a problem is because you have a bad feeling. You feel intimidated. You feel disappointed. You feel overwhelmed. You feel scared.

If you don’t work on the actual feelings themselves, those feelings will just keep popping up again and again and again, which means your ability to be powerful in your leadership will be constrained by that level of your emotion. Let me make this more clear. Let’s say I get really anxious talking in front of five people, and I make it through my talk, and they’re only five people there. Next time I give a talk, it’s probably only going to be to five people. If I want to talk on huge stages to 20,000 people, do you think I’m going to be able to talk on a stage of 20,000 people if I really can’t handle a stage of five?

So, it’s not really the situation I need to work with, it’s the sensation of anxiety and fear. And once I break through that at five people, then I can start to speak to 20 people. When I break through that, I can start to speak to 50 people. So, when we really start to work not just with our situations but we really start to work with the energy in our nervous system, it really transforms our leadership and our lives.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Julia DiGangi
Yeah. Can I share two?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Julia DiGangi
I have two favorites. The first quote is from Mother Teresa, and it is, “If only we would sweep our own doorsteps, then the entire world would be clean.” I have worked with human suffering and human redemption for a long time, and we’re all out there talking about a better world. If we really want to create a better world, we have to look more closely at our own emotional pain because nearly all of the pain in the world actually comes from people’s fear. It doesn’t come because we’re cruel, vicious, psychopaths. It comes because we don’t feel like we’re good enough. And in the panic of not feeling good enough, we create messes.

The second quote is related to that, and the second quote is, “Everywhere I go, there I am.” A lot of times, we think if we could just change our situation, we could get a better job, we could make a little bit more money, we could have the breakthrough in the business that we just created, the kids could graduate, on and on and on and on. But what I have seen over and over and over again through my work, and also because I understand the brain, the brain is a pattern detector that runs on emotional energy.

So, your situations can change, you can move from Chicago to Denver, and you might feel good for six months, but pretty quick, you’re going to feel the way you’ve always felt unless you work at the level of your emotional energy.

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

Julia DiGangi
I’ll say one of my own studies that I really like and then I’ll talk about someone else’s work. The study of my own that I like the most is I looked at what’s called pre-morbid predictors of PTSD. So, this kind of goes back to this idea of we have so much power to make meaning out of our own lives.

So, basically, the idea here is that most people who experience a traumatic event will naturally recover. Just like if you fell down on the street and skinned your knee, if you give it some time, chances are good that your leg is going to recover naturally. So, scientists are asking the question, “Is trauma alone not enough to describe who gets sick and why?”

And so, this study really looked at, “What’s going on with people even before the trauma has happened that can describe who’s at risk and who’s really resilient?” Because if we understand that, there’s so much potential to heal people. So, that’s kind of my work that I think is really exciting.

And I’ve also really liked a lot of the studies around uncertainty and boredom. There’s a great study where people were put in a room, and they thought they just had to go in this waiting room for a little while, they thought they were going to be part of another study but it was actually a setup. They were put into this room, and the only thing that was in this room was an electrical shock machine.

And they were like, “We’ll be back in three minutes to come get you,” that’s what the experimenter said, but the whole experiment was just to leave people in the room. And you saw that in a relatively short period of time, people were so bored that instead of just sitting with themselves, instead of just being still, meditating, thinking, people started using this electrical shock machine to shock themselves.

And I think that’s such a powerful metaphor because we are so resistant to just sitting with ourselves. And if we really want to feel better in our lives, we don’t need to achieve more and do more, I’m not saying those things can’t be done, but they come from a much more powerful place when we really understand our own inner energy.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Julia DiGangi
So, a great book, I can’t say my favorite because I have a lot, it’s like picking your favorite child, is The Body Keeps the Score. Are you familiar with this book?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Julia DiGangi
So, obviously, a great book about pain and how it shows up in the nervous system. So, if we really want to empower ourselves, it begins with our brains and our bodies.

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

Julia DiGangi
Well, this isn’t going to be this fancy but it’s going to be honest. I do a tremendous amount of work texting myself. I wrote enormous sections of the book texting myself. So, a lot of times, it kind of goes back to what we were saying about procrastination and fear of failure, when I would fire up the computer, I felt like there was all this pressure to start being, I don’t know, Ernest Hemingway or something. And a lot of times, I would get paralyzed by it.

And it was a night when I was calm and my kids were asleep that a lot of times, I would have all this inspiration – there’s that word again – all this creativity, and I would, in my Notes app and in my text message, do a lot of really beautiful work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Julia DiGangi
I would say my favorite habit is I free-write every evening. I’m very, very disciplined about this. And the reason I do this is because it’s a great way to integrate your thinking and your feelings. It’s a great way to have the most powerful brain. So, you have systems in your brain that think, and systems in your brain that feel, and they are connected but not perfectly integrated.

So, if you free-write, in other words, you’re not writing with a goal, you’re not trying to answer a very logical question, it’s a great way to link your emotions to the way that you think. And the most powerful person is a person who knows what they feel and feel what they know.

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

Julia DiGangi
Yeah. “Emotional energy is a currency, and you cannot give what you do not have.” We get this in all other domains. If I came to you and said, “Pete, I really, really need five bucks,” and if you really wanted to help me but you genuinely did not have five bucks, you would go, “Julia, I’m sorry, I don’t have five bucks,” and that would be the end of it. I would clearly understand.

In our workplaces, in our homes, we’re now talking about all these emotional currencies: transparency, empathy, inclusion, belonging, authenticity. And leaders are supposed to give these things to their teams, they’re supposed to give these things to their children, they’re supposed to give these things to their partners, the problem is I cannot give something I do not have.

How can I give attunement to my child when I’m not even attuned to myself? How can I create a culture of belonging if I’m always feeling, like, “I’m not really sure I belong in this organization. I’m kind of worried about my relevance. I don’t really feel like people like have my back”? We cannot give what we do not have.

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

Julia DiGangi
I would love to connect and talk about emotional power in leadership. I’m on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram @drjuliadigangi. Or, you could check out my website which is DrJuliaDiGangi.com.

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

Julia DiGangi
Yes. I would say think about, look for a pattern in the ways that you get stuck. Where are you getting constantly overwhelmed, constantly stressed, constantly feeling frustrated? And ask yourself, what can you do that would push you a little bit further out of your comfort zone to be able to feel your feelings a little bit more so that you could ultimately release those feelings that don’t feel good?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Julia, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and good energy.

Julia DiGangi
Thank you, Pete. Likewise.

869: Transforming Anxiety into Power with Luana Marques

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Luana Marque says: "We can get rid of avoidance but we can’t get rid of anxiety so we need to be fighting the right enemy to live a bold life."

Luana Marques pinpoints the root of anxiety–avoidance–and reveals how to approach it all the more effectively.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why anxiety isn’t the real enemy
  2. The three-step plan to transform your anxiety
  3. How to manage your thoughts effectively

About Dr. Luana

Dr. Luana is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Founder and Director of Community Psychiatry PRIDE at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and former President of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. She is the author of the critically acclaimed book, Almost Anxious: Is My (or My Loved One’s) Worry or Distress a Problem?, which has been lauded for its clear and practical approach to effectively dealing with anxiety.

Frequently cited as one of the leading experts in Cognitive Behavioral Therapies (CBTs), Dr. Luana has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, CNN, Harvard Business Review, and more. She also has been a frequent guest on television broadcasts such as  Good Morning America, Face the Nation,  and CNBC and podcasts including Ten Percent Happier and How to Be Awesome at Your Job.

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Luana Marques Interview Transcript

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

Luana Marques
Thanks for having me. Excited to be back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into the latest wisdom you’ve got in your book Bold Move: A 3-Step Plan to Transform Anxiety into Power. It sounds right up our alley but I’d like to start with one of your bold moves. I understand that you have, in fact, proactively chosen to negotiate while inside a Payless shoe store. What’s the story here?

Luana Marques
I did. So, I first came to the US as an exchange student and I spoke, basically, almost no English. And growing up in Brazil, we’re just taught to negotiate everything from a car to a banana to pretty much anything. Nothing is at face value what people tell you cost. So, I was here and I needed a pair of winter boots, there’s no need for those in Brazil.

And so, I walked into a Payless with my American family, chose what I could afford for winter boots, and as I was trying to pay, I asked for a 50-cent discount, and my American family, I remember, like they turned bright pink, and they’re like, “You don’t do that.” And I couldn’t understand why they’re so embarrassed, I was like, “Well, what is wrong?” I didn’t know.

I spoke very little English but the store is called Payless, and so I thought, “Well, why I wouldn’t pay less?” I don’t know if it was a bold move or it’s just a ‘I don’t know to speak English’ move but I did negotiate at Payless.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I want to know, what did they say?

Luana Marques
The woman looked at me and said no, and my American mom, like, pulled her money and quickly helped pay. It was really embarrassing for them, I think. I don’t think that saleslady was embarrassed. I felt I shamed them, and I think maybe that’s why I remember it so much.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess the funny thing for me about Payless, in particular, is, yes, it’s called Payless and it’s like they always had some promotion going, so it’s almost like if you’re actually talking to a decision-maker, they might be like, “Sure, hey, we just got everything all the time, 50 cents is fine by me.”

Luana Marques
That is such a good point. At that point, and I remember I didn’t know that there was so much coupons and promotions and buy-one-get-one-free, like that concept was still not in my brain at that point.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, it was not as much bold as it was because you’re unfamiliar with how things are done. Although, every once in a while, that kind of ignorance can really be powerful in terms of, in this case, you might’ve gotten a discount because nobody asks but you asked, and it could happen. And other times, I’ve heard a story, was it Sara Blakely of Spanx, she just called up some merchandisers, and like, “Oh, I didn’t know that’s not what it’s supposed to be done. Oops,” but it worked out great for her.

Luana Marques
No, I think the spirit behind that moment still very much drives me. Like, I will negotiate for my salary. I will ask. My grandma, she used to say, “If you don’t ask, you don’t know. It can be a yes, it can be a no. If you don’t ask, you don’t even have a chance.” And so, I have an event coming up, I’m speaking at Formula One next week in Miami, and I was just not asking for tickets for the event. And then I sat with myself, I was like, “No, I can’t write a book about being bold and not being bold,” so I asked. And I think I might get tickets to watch the race.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, there you go.

Luana Marques
So, that was a bold move.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent.

Luana Marques
That one was good.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Very good. Very good. All right. Well, so let’s hear a little bit about your book Bold Move. Any particularly surprising or fascinating discoveries you’ve made while you were putting this together?

Luana Marques
So, the book, it’s a professional and personal journey for me, and I think the thing that was fascinating, I had the table of contents, I was writing the book, the last section of the book is I call a line, which is the idea of living a values-driven life, so identifying the key values in your life and really aligning your day-to-day life with those values.

And what was amazing to me is that I talk about this a lot, I coach people on the value-driven life, I think a lot about my life, but I realized, as I wrote it, how much I had strayed. I had really started to struggle with health and stopped going to the gym. I put on a lot of weight during the pandemic. I really cared about my work but was not aligning the way those aligned with the specific value related to my work.

And so, it was like this wakeup call, I was like, “Oh, my God, I’ve been talking about this but I hadn’t sat to realign my values.” And it’s something I think a lot of us maybe haven’t done yet since the pandemic. The world went upside down, things stabilized a little bit, and we went back to living our lives as we’ve done, adjusting, I’m sure, but I, personally, needed a major valid realignment to be able to really not only finish the book but to live a better, more fulfilling life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Luana, if I may dig into these values, we’ve come up a number of times here, and it’s such a big word, values. It’s probably the biggest word there is. And so, we’ve had a variety of guests say a variety of things in terms of how one arrives there, like, you could do a values card sort, and you could think about the times that were most meaningful in your life.

Can you share with us what are your values? And how did you stray? And what is a values realignment look, sound, feel like in practice?

Luana Marques
Wow, I’m speaking my language, all so great questions. So, values, to me, just for my definition, are our compass. Often in life, we live a life that we’re sort of guided by external things instead of internal things. And I think of values as sort of intrinsic motivators, so things like health, family, impact, wealth. And so, how do we get our true values?

There’s actually science here. Sometimes people get a list of values and they’ll start circling the values they like, and I have a list in my book. But what we know about values and why is it they hurt so much when we’re not living a life that’s aligned with values, it’s because we’re violating something that really matters to us, so it really only hurts because it matters.

Let me answer your question with an example of how my values got compromised. For 20 years, I worked with an amazing institution at Harvard Medical School and Mass General Hospital, but in the last three years, I had a particularly challenging situation with one of my superiors, and what he did to me really violated trust for me.

And having grown up poor, having grown up with very little, in a situation when home was unstable, if I don’t trust those around me, I can’t really survive, really. For me, it’s sort of I need to have trust to feel safe, safety in the world. And so, I kept working there, and I kept not addressing it, but it was eating me alive.

And so, one of the questions we ask when we’re thinking of values and identifying values is, “Why is this hurting so much? What’s behind this thing?” Because, see, if I didn’t care about this person at all, what he did to me wouldn’t have hurt. So, it hurts because I cared. And that’s how I realized that he had violated trust and that’s why it was so painful.

So, I don’t want to keep going but that’s the first piece. I guess it’s like, “Can you see either if you’re in pain, why are you feeling that pain? What is the value that’s being violated?” because, to me, that’s the first step to then realign your life with those values. Does that answer your question, Pete? Like, I don’t want to sort of keep just rambling about values.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. So, that’s a nice indicator there. And now I’ve got Dr. Steven Hayes in my ear, thinking about values, and I hope to have him on the show. He’s got a great voice. And he said, “Often, when we connect to our values, the most common response is crying.” So, that was a striking sentence, like, “Huh.”

And so then, what does it look like then? So, we see the violation looks like, according to Steven Hayes, of acceptance and commitment therapy, that when you connect to them, you’re crying? What is connecting to your values look like?

Luana Marques
He is so great. And this question about violating your pain is definitely a Steven Hayes question. And the crying, sometimes, is twofold. One, you’re like understanding why it was so painful, and the other one, which I think is implicit in what he’s saying, is there’s a sense of relief, “Oh, okay, now I know what to do.” So, for me, I had to take action and, basically, addressed this with this person so that I could stay with my job and not feel like I was hurting every day.

And that’s the second piece. Once you connect with it, you’re going to have some relief. But in a practical way, what does that look like? In my case, it was intrapersonal conflict. But on-to-day, if we’re talking about productivity, if we’re talking about your life, it’s really choosing actions every day that represent that value.

If you care about connecting with others, are you making time to see your friends? If you care about justice, are you involved in things that reflect justice? And what his research shows very beautifully, Steven Hayes’ research, is when you align daily actions with values, stress goes down, anxiety goes down, depression goes down, and your sense of wellbeing and thriving in life feels much better despite of stress. You still can handle stress better because you’re doing things in a way that’s meaningful to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, so then a realignment then is just you’re taking a look at how things are and what you’re doing, what you’re up to, and then doing things differently?

Luana Marques
Yeah, in a meaningful way. It’s looking at it, choosing it, doing it differently, and then tracking the outcome. Because if you change what you’re doing, you want to know if it’s working, if it’s making you feel better. But if it’s value-driven, it usually does.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. And then when it comes to the defining of one’s values, so trust is one, how many values do most of us have, more or less?

Luana Marques
I don’t think there is a single research that can agree on that. I think most people would say that it’s hard to hold more than five at any active time and actually live a meaningful life towards them. I think we have many more than that. For me, right now, currently, that’s the important thing, we change through our lives. Currently, the values that are really important to me are trust, impact, health, and family. Those are the four main compasses by which I’m guiding my life today.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Okay, so you’re just getting warmed up talking about values. That’s just a warm up, Luana.

Luana Marques
I know. I know I get excited. I really get excited about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, let’s hear about the book Bold Move: A 3-Step Plan to Transform Anxiety into Power. What’s sort of the big idea or main thesis here?

Luana Marques
The main idea of the book is that although anxiety is extremely painful, anxiety itself is not the enemy. The real thing that gets us stuck is psychological avoidance. Psychological avoidance is anything that we do that helps us feel better momentarily but it has a negative long-term consequence. So, these sort of things like you cancel a date, you don’t finish your report at work because it makes you anxious, you walk in your house and your wife gives you a look, and you know she’s upset, and you’re like, “Oh, I have to work a little more. I don’t want to deal with that right now.”

Those are examples of psychological avoidance. When we avoid, we feel better momentarily. Long term, we are just creating more anxiety. So, that’s at the core of what the book is about. It’s we can get rid of avoidance but we can’t get rid of anxiety so we need to be fighting the right enemy to live a bold life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, to not do the avoidance, what do we do? Do we just go for it every time? How do we think about that, like, “Hey, what’s up? You seem upset. Let’s do this”?

Luana Marques
Well, “Just do it” works for Nike. It doesn’t work for psychological avoidance. We have to be more thoughtful. So, the first piece is actually identifying that we’re avoiding. We may know it but not everybody has paused and really asked themselves, “When my anxiety is high, what do I do?” And in the book, I described something called thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, or TEB cycle, the TEB cycle.

And it’s just a technique that we often use in psychology to just cause a pause, create a pause in your brain. So, the first step is if you’re feeling anxious, ask yourself and write it down, “What am I saying to myself? How does that make me feel? What do I want to do?” And if that action is something that is designed to only bring down discomfort, there’s a good chance that you’re avoiding.

So, does that help a little bit, sort of just setting the framework?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. So, if that’s the thing that is there, then okay. And then I could see how that behavior could be, boy, just any number of things. So, first of all, I’m thinking about, like, okay, smoking, drinking, drugs, video games in terms of, like, there’s a universe of things that’s just, like, “I am just trying to push the feel-good button here.” As opposed to, I guess, now there are things like it might be in the gray zone, like going for a run, it’s also a healthy behavior which is good for the body, but is also exiting a situation that you don’t want to be in.

So, I guess maybe that might be in the gray zone of it is, “I’m avoiding but I’m doing it in an uplifting way so it’s not purely just to make me feel better.” And so then, yeah, then I guess the behaviors that would be not just feel-good behaviors but, I guess, they’re like helpful or productive or advancing things in some way. Is that right?

So, like, if your partner or spouse has given you the cold shoulder, it might be you don’t necessarily engage in a conversation right then and there but you might say, “Well, okay, I’m going to do something that’s helpful for her at the moment because it seems like that would be useful.” So, I’m purely speculating, Luana. You tell me.

Luana Marques
I love it. So, Pete, I think you’re dancing with avoidance the right way, and this is the trick. Avoidance works and there are times in life that we have to walk away. So, you’re having a really bad day, it’s certainly much better to go for a jog, call a friend, than to reach for a bottle of wine, just in terms of your overall wellbeing.

The question, really, is not about the behavior. It’s like, “What is the function of the behavior and is there a negative consequence?” So, for example, if every time you’re upset with your spouse, the only way you handle it is going for a jog, and you never address that you’re upset with your spouse, there is a lifetime, a time on this. Meaning, eventually this blows up for every couple. There’s never a couple I’ve worked with where they avoid a conflict, avoid a conflict, and conflict just ran away. Conflict doesn’t have legs. It stays there.

And so, the running, and the clearing your mind, and jogging, it’s great but if it’s the only way you address conflict, then now you get yourself into a problem. So, it’s really about that price tag, and I think it’s helpful to think about three ways of avoiding. The ones that you talked about, it’s alcohol, numbing, those are retreating. That’s when we sort of try to move away from discomfort. So, you had a really busy day at work, you just come home and have a few glasses of wine, once in a while that might be okay. If it’s every night, now it starts to get into really psychological avoidance.

Some of us, though, avoid in a completely different way. When we feel threatened, specifically perceive threat, so you’re upset with your boss, you get an email you don’t like, you are angry with your partner, you react. Those are people that raise their voice. They will write a hasty email. The idea here is that they’re moving towards that discomfort but not in a productive way. In a way of, like, “I just can’t feel this anxiety so I have to do something.”

Like, I had a patient that just would explode. Every time something would happen at work for him that made him anxious, he would explode. So, there is the people that react, explode kind of idea; there’s the people that retreat; and the last category on psychological avoidance is really the people that remain.

This is the person that is frozen. They’re in a job that they hate but the idea of transitioning, the uncertainty, they just don’t make the leap. They have a relationship they don’t like. So, they are sort of stuck, unable to move one way or another. Does that help to clarify these flavors?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it does good. Yes. Certainly. So, the avoiding isn’t necessarily avoiding the situation. It’s avoiding the feeling of anxiety, like, “I’m going to escape this into anger. Like, I’m going to tell you what I think about this with some attitude.” Okay.

Luana Marques
That’s really important. You’re right on target. You’re not necessarily avoiding behavior, which is the way everybody thinks about avoidance. You’re avoiding discomfort. It’s really the anxiety that you’re trying to run away from.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so tell us, what’s the promised land? What can really be possible for us? In a world where stuff happens, we feel anxious, what’s possible?

Luana Marques
So, there are three skills that I talk about in the book that I think are very helpful that, really, I’ve used them since I’m 15, and my grandmother taught some of them to me, and then, eventually, I got to graduate school, I was like, “Oh, there’s science behind what she was saying?” and here they are. The first one is shift.

Shift is the idea of learning to examine what we’re saying to ourselves. So, what is it that you’re saying to yourself when you’re anxious? Because what happens when we’re anxious is our thoughts become very black and white. On my early days of dating, I remember I’d go on a date and if somebody gave me a look, I’d be like, “Oh, my God, they don’t like me.” And we jump to these conclusions without any facts whatsoever.

So, shift as a skill is, really, after we pause, can we learn to talk to ourselves as if we’re talking to our best friends? What do I mean by that? I don’t know about you, Pete, but I say things to myself that I would never say to my friends. Like, we talk to ourselves in ways that are very not helpful. So, to shift is really arriving on a more balanced view of the world.

So, if you’re really scared about a presentation, can you say to yourself, “You know what, yeah, I’m anxious, but I’ve given presentations before, and I’m prepared”? And what we see is if we shift, our anxiety goes down a little bit. It doesn’t go away but it allows us to engage with things that cause some of that discomfort in a way that’s more productive.

And I have two more but how does that one sound? I’ll pause here for a sec.

Pete Mockaitis
No, I dig it a lot and I’ve heard that before, I feel it wasn’t Ethan Kross or David Burns, but, yeah, that is good. Talking to yourself like a best friend as opposed to any number of things that you could be saying to yourself, which could be judgmental or harsh, or, “You idiot, you always do this.” Like, okay, you probably wouldn’t talk to your best friend that way. You’d be like, “Oh, man, that’s a bummer. Oh, okay. Well, hey, you know what, everyone makes mistakes. You are awesome at your job in all these ways. We’re going to figure out a plan to fix this. We always do.” And that’s a much better vibe inside.

Luana Marques
Yeah, I love the example you just gave because it’s like a good leader would do. If you’re working with somebody that you trust and they make a huge mistake, you don’t go, “Hey, that was awful.” You sit with them, and you say, “Okay, let’s figure out how we got here, and let’s walk together to get you out of here.” And it’s being able to take that perspective towards ourselves so that we’re not living dominated by negative anxious thoughts.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. All right. What’s next?

Luana Marques
Approach, not avoid. So, we actually already talked a little bit about this. You mentioned when you’re in conflict with your partner, and the only way you manage that conflict is going for a run because you feel so anxious about talking that you want to run away. Approach is the idea of going towards discomfort by doing what I call opposite action. So, you’re going to do an opposite action of what the anxiety tells you to do.

But here’s the trick, and this is really important. It can’t be all or nothing. So, if you’re afraid of conflict, you can’t, all of a sudden, turn on a switch and go to your partner, and be like, “Well, we’re going to address this right now.” No one can tolerate that. Our brains can’t handle it. So, what is one thing you can do instead of running away? It could be as simple as saying, “Hey, what you said really hurt me, and I’d like us to find some time to talk about it, eventually.” Or, “You know what, that hurt me enough that I need some space from you,” but trying to go towards that discomfort, and so approach instead of avoid.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Luana Marques
And, finally, we actually already talked about it, which is align, and it is drawing from the acceptance and commitment therapy. And the idea of living a values-driven life is a life that really is meaningful. Now, I do this every week, Pete, on Sundays. I look at my calendar for the next week, and I do a little values check, and I go, “Okay, what am I doing that’s related to impact?”

Like, being with you here today feels so important to me because I wrote this book to help the world find science-driven skills to bring the mental health crisis down. And being in such an important podcast like yours, to me, has impact. So, I can check that today, I can say, “Okay, there is impact here.” And tonight, I’m going to have dinner with my son, and he’s really excited. We’re cooking together. Check family.

And so, for me, I try to ensure that I have a little bit of everything, knowing that an aligned life is not a perfect life. I’m about to launch a book, I’m doing a lot more impact, a lot less family, but it’s in a purposeful way so that I continue to live a value-driven life.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. When we talk about values and alignment there in terms of because some values, I think, could be pretty fuzzy in terms of, like, thinking about a week and can we put a check on it. Like, I’m just going to say integrity. It’s like, “Okay, do I have anything for integrity this week?” It’s like, “Well, I’m just going to try to not lie to anybody over the course of interacting with folks.”

That doesn’t quite seem nearly as concrete. For impact, being on the podcast. Family, cooking with son. How do you think about that when it comes to values?

Luana Marques
So, values should be how we say yes or no to things. And if you’re clear on your values, then when somebody presses you, “Can you do this in a way that’s a little shady?” if you’re acting with integrity, the immediate answer is no. There’s not a sense of, like, “I have to think through this. Or, is there a way around that?”

And so, I think about integrity the same way I think about trust in some ways. As core values, they are non-negotiables. So, they’re values that I, personally, every day, want to live by. And then there are things for me that are non-negotiable. Like, integrity is one of them, for example. That my decisions in meta level and in a micro level need to have integrity.

It is harder to check in the list. It is not harder to live by that value if you have it. So, like, I have my list of values and I look at them often, at least once a week. But as a way to sort of say to myself, “Can I keep myself…” the word that comes to mind is reliable, but it’s not really right. “Can I keep a check on myself? Am I really honoring those values?” And it doesn’t feel hard to do integrity but I get your point that it does feel like it’s more amorphous than, like, family, for example.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I guess it seems less schedulable, it’s like, “Ooh, do I have an integrity activity for this week? Hmm, no.” As opposed to reflecting, looking back, “Did you do this?” I’m thinking of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography here in terms of he had his nice little rundown of virtues and “Did I do it today?” and he made the marks on the grid.

So, I could see, like, in hindsight, you can say, “Ooh, hey, actually, I don’t think I had as much integrity as I would’ve liked to there. I kind of let them think something was the case when I knew it probably wasn’t going to be the case, and I could’ve corrected that, and that would’ve been helpful for them and painful for me. And I didn’t do it. I wasn’t lying but that was less than 100% integrity.”

Like, you might be able to reflect on that in hindsight but I can’t think of an integrity activity that I could make sure is scheduled on the weekly agenda, and then if it’s not, go ahead and schedule it. Maybe you can, can you?

Luana Marques
The only one that I think you could schedule but it’s not, again, schedulable as much is parenting. Like, how do you parent with integrity? What do you teach? And can you create moments that you’re teaching specific things that are related to integrity? But it gets in a whole can of worms. Like, how do you parent? What are your values for parenting? What is your partner’s value for parenting? What are the activities around those values?

But it’s the only one that I could because I have a five-year-old at home, so that is something that we think a lot about. So, maybe it is that we just have to check more and reflect on those mega core values, but I like to think more about that. Now you got me in a linchpin here. I want to think about how do you schedule values, those kinds of values.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I also want to dig into one of your concepts. You suggest that we become our own thought lawyers. What does it mean to be a thought lawyer?

Luana Marques
So, what it means is that whenever we’re anxious, our thoughts, well, the way our brain process information is based on our views of the world which are formed early on. I talked a little bit about my view of being afraid I’m not enough, or there are people like they’re not going to think something, or think something badly of me.

And so, our brains are automatically running information that way, which means sometimes our thoughts are not accurate. They’re not either based on reality or they’re likely distorted by our views of the world. And so, to become a thought lawyer is really to pause and look at your thoughts, and to be able to say, “Okay, is this thing I’m saying to myself based on data? Will this hold in a court of law? And if it doesn’t, is there another way to talk to myself?”

So, it’s really questioning our thinking. It’s no different than learning to talk to yourself as your best friend. The idea behind both principles, really, is thoughts are not facts. They feel true but they’re not necessarily 100% accurate. And that arriving at a more flexible view of the world allows us to live a better, more meaningful life.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, it’s funny, when I think of interacting with a friend and a lawyer, it feels different. And I guess when I’m thinking about a thought lawyer, as I’m imagining I am cross-examining a thought I have. It’s like, “What is your evidence for that thought?” And, in some ways, I don’t know, I wonder about what’s the tone we’re going for when we’re being a thought lawyer?

Luana Marques
Well, given that we’re trying to live a meaningful bold life, ideally, a tone that has some compassion with yourself. I think the spirit behind both of them is the same, which is, “Can we interrogate our thoughts? Can we not take thoughts as facts immediately?” Now, I worked with some people, they’re very scientific, and so, for them, it’s like they need to be in a cross-examination, otherwise, there’s nothing. This whole friendship stuff, they’re like, “It’s too soft. I can’t do it.”

And I worked with people that go, “Oh, this law stuff, I don’t really care. What I care about is meaningful relationships.” So, think about them, Pete, as different entryways for people with the same goal. The goal here is, “Can we look at what we’re saying to ourselves?” Because if what we’re saying to ourselves is just leading to more anxiety, do we want to keep talking to ourselves that way? And could we arrive at a more balanced view so that we can bring that anxiety down and transform it into more of a power and more meaningful life?

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Well, I guess the way I’m reconciling it is the thought lawyer is the lawyer that I have hired on my team, as opposed to the lawyer on the other team who’s adversarially going after me. Because I think sometimes with thoughts, I mean, you can, I don’t know, at least these are in my own thought life, if I am too intensive with my interrogation, it’s like I flip on into defensive mode. And it’s like, “Huh, really, is that true, Pete?” “Well, yeah, because dah, dah, dah, dah, dah.” And then it’s like, “Huh, I don’t think I’m getting where I’m trying to be going from this process.”

Luana Marques
So, it’s interesting because defensive mode sometimes is just a way to avoid our own self sometimes because we get defensive, we’re like, “No, no,” and it’s sort of in a way a little bit. I hear you. I think that sometimes we can get so black and white in the interrogation that we just lock our brain more, and that’s the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve.

We’re trying to achieve cognitive flexibility. That’s really the goal behind these skills is you have a more flexible brain. And so, I love that you know for you what works and doesn’t work. And I think that’s what I recommend for everybody. If for you, the lawyer that you hired and your team is better, bring that lawyer on everywhere with you, man. That’s awesome. I love the picture.

Pete Mockaitis
Okey-dokey. And so then, the subtitle of the book Transform Anxiety into Power, so I could see how doing these three things, the shifting, talking as a best friend, the approaching not avoiding, the aligning to be values-driven, are powerful, and we’ve sort of transformed an anxious anxiety into power there. Although, I’m wondering, it’s like could I be powerful without the anxiety? Or, is the anxiety actually being a handy fuel for me? How do you think about that?

Luana Marques
I’ve never met anyone in my life that I worked with that they didn’t want that anxiety gone. I’ll be the first to say I don’t like anxiety myself, so I’m there with everyone here. That being said, we can’t get away of anxiety. If you think about anxiety as sort of a broader concept that involves just even some mild discomfort. Have you ever seen anyone powerful that goes to give a concert, or somebody who’s about to take an exam? There’s some level of apprehension and an anxiousness that is somewhat adaptive up to a point.

And getting rid of anxiety is like getting rid of our pain receptors. It sounds fantastic, you bump into something and you feel nothing, but then you touch a hot stove and we’re in trouble. And so, we can’t get rid of anxiety completely. We can bring it down, and that’s why I chose very thoughtfully the subtitle of transforming anxiety into power.

So, if you’re going to feel anxious anyhow, wouldn’t you want to use it to do something meaningful, something that makes you feel power, make you feel bold towards what you care about? And so, I think we can get rid of avoidance. That, I think, we can do really good. Anxiety, I’m sorry to break it for everybody, we’re all going to have a little level of it. There’s no way around it.

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

Luana Marques
No, I think we covered everything.

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

Luana Marques
So, since I was 16, I’m inspired by Paulo Coelho’s quote on The Alchemist, “Whenever you want something, the entire universe conspires in making sure you have it.” That quote gave me hope when life was tough in Brazil, and still does.

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

Luana Marques
I’m really excited, have been, by the things that I think a ton about is Steven Hayes’ work on acceptance and commitment therapy recently, and this idea that we can actually create more meaningful lives by leaning into our pain, understanding that pain can reflect values, and then create a new life when those values are a part of it. That, to me, is very exciting.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Luana Marques
Favorite book, the last book that I read that gave me a lot of inspiration is Michelle Obama’s new book on The Light We Carry. She has an entire chapter on avoidance, and it’s just so powerful to me to see a woman like Michelle talk about avoidance and also overcoming it. And although she doesn’t use the same terms I use, I can just see the science right there in everything she used, so she inspires me tremendously.

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

Luana Marques
So, I think what I’m really just, I love, nowadays, ChatGPT and just being able to use AI as a way to elevate my writing. I think it’s really incredible. I think there’s pros and cons but it certainly has helped me to sort of streamline my thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
I feel like there are some episodes about this coming up to be done. How do you use it to streamline your writing? Is it in terms of brainstorming or…?

Luana Marques
So, no, it’s mostly, you know, English is my second language. Of course, I’ve been here for a long time. I tend to be a fast writer but being able to create the flow, and sometimes just even clean up the grammar. I can get in a habit there, so being able to say, “Help me rewrite this in a way that ensures tone but allows for grammar correctly, and this, and this.” Just, it literally cleans it up a little bit. It just saves a lot of time. It stays consistent with the message that I want to send. It’s just like I have an editor at home that is just like an amazing editor, and that’s really powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Luana Marques
Breakfast with my family, like sitting and actually having breakfast. We had to create that into a habit because life has a way to just take it over, and it’s a habit for us.

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

Luana Marques
Approach than avoid. All my clients say again and again, like, whenever they avoid, they go they hear me saying, “Approach than avoid.”

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

Luana Marques
www.DrLuana.com. You can find out about the book and everything else there, including upcoming speaking events and book signing.

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

Luana Marques
Yes. I encourage you all to take a pause, look at your values, and really make a bold move to align your job with what matters the most because that, I think, guarantees that you’re going to be super awesome at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Luana, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much fun and many bold moves.

Luana Marques
Well, thank you so much, Pete. It’s really an honor to be back here. It’s super fun.