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

458: How to End Bad Behavior and Renew Your Team Amidst Change with Steve Ritter

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Steve Ritter says: "The recipe for what makes a team effective is no different than the recipe for what makes a relationship effective."

Steve Ritter shares the fundamentals that makes teams healthy through their inevitable changes.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Where teams get stuck most often
  2. How to grow and deepen over time as a team
  3. Why there’s hope for disengaged team members

About Steve 

Steve Ritter is the Founder and CEO of the Center for Team Excellence. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. He is the acclaimed author of the 2009 Amazon Top 50 Business Book: Team Clock: A Guide to Breakthrough Teams and the 2019 release: The 4 Stages of a Team: How Teams Thrive…and What to do When They Don’t.

Resources Mentioned in this Show:

 

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Steve Ritter Interview Transcript

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

Steve Ritter
Pete, I am thrilled to be welcomed back. It has been how many years since we talked the first time on Episode 36, I believe.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that was, well, almost three because you were one of the first as someone I know.

Steve Ritter
Yeah, so a lot has changed and a lot of things haven’t changed since then.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. Well, yeah, and we’re going to talk about both of those things. But, first, I want to get updated. So, you do a lot of fun garage band rocking with your crew. What’s the latest there?

Steve Ritter
Well, so technically speaking the music hub is a basement not a garage. And I just realized in thinking about this that we’ve actually performed 1% of the time. This group of guys got together for the first time in 1985, so I think we’re in year 34, and we get together once a month, and we mostly just improvise with pizza and cold beverages.

And, in that time, we’ve had four gigs. So, when we have a gig coming up, we get to work and make sure it’s as tight as possible, but that’s not our natural state of being. Our natural state of being is to improvise and have fun and see where it goes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ve been improvising and having fun and seeing where things go – – but committed to it with your work in teams. And so, you just recently released another book “The Four Stages of a Team,” and your previous book “Team Clock” we talked about way back when. So, can you orient us, for those who are not as familiar with the first one, sort of what is your team philosophy, framework, and what’s new?

Steve Ritter
Well, so “The 4 Stages of a Team” was the book that followed the why and the model. So, “Team Clock: A Guide to Breakthrough Teams” is now a 10-year old book, and that followed about 30 years of discovery of a method for what makes teams effective and how teams sustain and thrive through change after change after change.

We’ve been doing the work for about 30 years but had not trademarked the methodology and hadn’t published the book. And so, we had a lot of knowledge but we felt like we had to get the why out there. So, a decade later, and approximately 300 team engagements later, there was a lot of clinical evidence about that it works and why it works and how it works.

And so, to the why and the model of Team Clock came the how of “The 4 Stages of a Team.” The subtitle of the book is “How teams thrive…and what to do when they don’t.” So, in a nutshell, the model was designed after an analog clock where each number around the clock, from 1:00 o’clock back to 12:00, represents a stage of the team’s development.

And the notion of using a clock was because teams operate in cyclical ways, not in straight line trajectories. The inspiration for the model, back around 1980, came in a graduate school class after learning about Bruce Tuckman’s 1965 team model of forming, storming, norming, and performing, which makes a lot of sense at face value when you look at teams who come together, and they form, and then they have some conflict, and they storm, and then they establish some ground rules, also their norms, that enables them to perform. And then, congratulations, now you have a team.

But when I looked at that, I realized that none of the teams in my life and none of the relationships in my life went from beginning to middle and then called it done or over. All the teams that I saw, operated in cycle after cycle after cycle after . And so, the clock became a way of saying, “So, what happens in the early phase?” And then once you establish that, what happens next? And if you establish that, where does it go after that? And when you repeat those cycles over and over, how do they grow and deepen over time?

So, the simplest model was that, in the first stage, which is investment, teams are figuring out their norms, teams are getting aligned on their mission and their values, teams are learning how to disagree and how to manage conflict in a professional and constructive way. And that provides an infrastructure and a platform and a foundation to be able to do things that feel much more like teamwork which is trust, and collaboration, and sharing, and those kinds of .

And so, the second stage is trust phase where teams learn to connect, and teams learn to share or respect, and teams learn to be accountable to themselves and to each other. So, now, when you get to that stage of a team, you’ve created a sufficient platform to be able to be really innovative, and to explore, and to experiment, and to discover, and to be creative, and to take advantage of the differences that you have on the team, and to take some smart risks and move .

And that creates change, and that’s the fourth stage, which is we call distancing because when you’re in a state of change, you kind of have to step back, and re-evaluate, and refuel, and kind of recalibrate, and refocus on whatever your new circumstances are, which takes you back to the investment phase, and to kind of resetting your ground rules, and resetting your values and mission, and making sure that everyone is together on .

And so, that’s kind of where this started and where it went was here’s the model. We believe that all relationships and all teams and all organizations, when they’re healthy, operate in these cycles. And, now, we have 300+ case examples over the last decade to help people who are going through challenges in their teams, see how other teams in all walks of life have handled those same kinds of challenges.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, 300, well done. That’s awesome.

Steve Ritter
Thanks.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember it back in my day before the book was written and, yeah, so that’s fun to see it evolve over the trajectory here. Well, so then let’s dig in a little bit into that subtitle “How teams thrive…and what to do when they don’t.” How do teams thrive? Like, what are the fundamental ingredients so that they go in a cycle, okay? So, I imagine there are a couple make or break things that could happen at each phase in this cycle that really matter.

Steve Ritter
Absolutely. So, you think about the investment phase and the team, people are either baking in healthy norms and they’re baking in unhealthy norms. They’re either moving forward with clarity around their values and their mission, and their vision, or they’re moving forward without that clarity, or they’re building in unhealthy conflicts versus healthy conflicts. When you think about the things that teams are trying to establish as a foundation that will be reliable, it’s just that.

It’s, “How do we treat each other from day to day under normal circumstances? How do we treat each other from day to day under stressful circumstances? Are we all moving in the same direction toward the same goal? Have we created space for differences on the teams? So, we may have the same destination but there may be many paths to that destination. And have we made room for the diversity of all those paths?”

And so, the idea in the investment phase is to get clarity around norms, and mission, and values, and vision, and how conflict should be handled. The place that people get stuck there is that that’s hard work. And, usually, that phase comes after a distancing phase or a change phase when people are really emotionally and physically depleted from managing.

And so, it’s difficult to work on infrastructure and build a foundation when you’re really depleted from going through a change. And, oftentimes, that’s been a change of leadership, or a change of direction, and not everyone is in agreement about whether the new leader is a good leader, or whether the new direction is a new direction. And so, that’s the place that people get stuck .

Interestingly, the place that people get stuck in the trust phase is in one of two ways. One is either that it’s working, and people are being accountable to the mission and the values, and people are feeling connected and respected and accountable, and it’s very . And the place that people get stuck is that, “Why would you want to sacrifice comfort to do something innovative where it’s a little more apprehensive or scary?” And so, people like to get into their comfort zone in the trust phase.

The other place that people get stuck is when that’s broken down in some way, and the team doesn’t have psychological safety to be able to take risks, and trust is a problem on the team. It’s really virtually impossible to move forward because what’s supposed to happen next, after trust builds on a team, is for people to explore and innovate and be creative. And when there’s not psychological safety on the team, it’s really hard to take the risk of .

And then the exploration phase, the innovation phase, has reasons that people get stuck as well because you’re out on a limb and you’re trying something new, and the chances that that might fail are part of the discovery process. And not everyone feels comfortable with being out on a limb, and not everyone feels comfortable with taking a risk, and so not everyone feels comfortable with diversity.
And so, in order for innovation and creativity to really thrive on a team, people have to be comfortable being out on a limb and taking risks and having diversity of ideas and of backgrounds on the team. And then, inevitably, that creates . And the obvious reason that people get stuck during the change phase is that most living things prefer stability, and when things are changing it depletes energy, and it’s hard to imagine a better future when you’re in the middle of a lost or a .

And so, kind of like a night’s sleep or the dormant phase of a tree in winter, sometimes we have to step back and refuel before we can step forward and get back into something that’s different than the way it used to .

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I think a lot of the beauty of this model is that it, especially if you’ve been on a particular team for a while, you can sort of see it, like, “Oh, yeah, this happens. There are cycles. There are phases. And you can’t sort of expect it to be all innovation all the time. We’re banging out new ideas 24/7 for years at a time.” So, that’s pretty handy there. So, then I’d love to get your take then, maybe you could start with an example. Let’s talk about a workplace, and how you saw some things transform from unhealthy to healthy.

Steve Ritter
Your introduction to that question makes me think of a different case example that I had considered sharing with you. Most of the case examples that we see involve teams that are struggling and are trying to get moving again. But you joked that teams just can’t be all innovation all the time. But the case example I’m thinking of, actually, that was their goal. Their goal was to be able to be all innovation all the time.

And the challenge they needed to get past was in order to be able to do that, you have to go through the other stages too. You have to manage the fears around innovation. You have to manage the change that you create. You have to lose people. You have to reinvest. You have to rebuild trust. There’d have to be glitches. You have to get through those .

But they, the team that I’m thinking of, and I didn’t end up using them as a case example in the book, is a team that is so attentive to the wellness of their entity as a team that they never let themselves get stuck. They never let conflict become destructive. They never let disrespect take any footing on the team. They never let fear get in the way of trying something new. And they embrace change as a healthy component of their .

And the result of that is that they are probably the most innovative team that I have been aware of in the history of my career. And they know that. They know they’ve become that. And, as a result, they have become a powerful magnet of recruitment internationally. People come from all over the world to be on this team, and they have become an impressive group of people that retains their talent. Nobody wants to leave this team as .

And the reason that they’re a good story is because they didn’t begin this way. I’ve been involved with this particular team for about six years, and when we began it was very similar to many team stories. This was a medical team in an academic center. And it’s not unusual for a couple things to be true on medical teams in academic centers. One is that the politics of universities-based medical centers are rich with academic politics, and they affect the way people…

Pete Mockaitis
Politics are rich. What a weird word choice. Impressively annoying.

Steve Ritter
Exactly. So, oftentimes, you’ll get a leadership change where the natural response is for the faculty to reject the new leader or to fall into factions in some way. And then you get the same dynamics that you get in any group situation. The Gallup organization has been measuring engagement and disengagement for decades. And so, it’s not unusual to have about 20% of your people unhappy anytime there’s been a change. And, oftentimes, people spend all of their energy acting out that unhappiness and then preventing the team from moving .

So, you got a team that’s trying to pursue excellence, and you got a team that’s trying to be more productive and to grow, and you’ve got a team that wants to be more magnetic in their recruitment, and you got a team that wants to research and discover new ways of doing things, but you’ve got 20% toxic, broken, dysfunctional people who are trying to hold everyone back at the same time.

And so, the idea is to be able to somehow get around the corner from the 6 of the 30 people on the team that seem to want to use up all the team’s energy moving forward. And so, ultimately, we end up in a situation with teams like this that I call stay stuck or move forward. There’s usually a moment of truth in teams like this where the vast majority of people in the room want to move forward, but a vocal minority, with power, wants to stay . And you see this in medical centers, you see this in law firms, you see this on professional sports teams, you see this in public schools, you see it everywhere that the powerful vocal minority oftentimes is enough to keep the majority stuck in some .

So, the stay stuck or move forward moment is the team, as a whole, has to decide whether to empower the bullies, or whether to move forward and invite the bullies, or whoever is bringing the dysfunctional behavior onto the team, you know, how to mitigate that. And, usually, it starts with some clarity around mission and values that everyone on the team can  that, “We want the finest clinical excellence. We want the finest patient experience. Or, we want the highest associate satisfaction scores,” or whatever that happens to be.

And if everyone can agree to those values, and everyone can agree to that mission, then it’s a question of whether people can be accountable to that, and whether people can hold themselves and each other accountable to . So, at that point, you’re giving everyone the equivalent of a striped referee shirt, and you’re empowering people from top to bottom of the organization to blow the whistle, or call, or throw a flag whenever there’s a foul. And a foul would be that we didn’t respect somebody else’s opinion, or the foul could be that we don’t view conflict as a productive and powerful change agent, or the change isn’t being managed .

And so, when people are empowered to call a foul, or to throw a flag, or to blow a whistle, and say, “Hey, that’s not what we all agreed on.” And you do that enough times, the culture starts to shift. And, eventually, people who are in that dysfunctional toxic group either leave or they find a way to get in stride with everybody .

And so, usually, at that point, you’re deciding how to kind of reward and invest in the engaged people, you’re deciding how to coach the under-engaged people into engagement, and you’re deciding how to mitigate the disengaged , whether that’s inviting them into the culture on your terms, or whether that’s excusing them from the organization in some kind of a Human Resources 101 Performance Improvement Plan, or whatever it happens to be.

And it’s surprising how the power of a culture that has shifted in that direction will take on its own momentum and that the right things will happen. Either the Performance Improvement Plans will result in the intended outcome, or people will fold into the culture and negative leaders will become positive .

So, team that I’m thinking of that became the most innovative team I’ve ever seen took on that challenge and spent probably almost two years eradicating the dysfunction. They called it a bullyectomy where they surgically removed the people who were hurting the team. As talented as they might’ve been, as condescending and arrogant as they may have been, and for being the smartest person in the room, if they were hurting the team, they didn’t belong on the team .

And so, after about two years of a successful bullyectomy or two, this team got to the business of defining clinical excellence, and using research and discovery to innovate new things, and becoming a magnet for recruitment for the world’s best . And if you think about the old spinning the plate on the stick thing where the plate wobbles, you got to spin it again to keep it moving, they just keep spinning the plate over and over and over again, and they never let anything dysfunctional or anything toxic to the team take root. They know that it’s going to happen every once in a while, because humans are humans, but they address it proactively, even if that means an uncomfortable .

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, some of those norms that you’re talking about establishing there, that everyone had the right to referee, what might those sound like in practice in terms of particular behaviors?

Steve Ritter
How we treat each other, civility, respect, appreciation of differences, embracing change, those kinds of things, Pete. The common sense things that you would have in your marriage, that I would have in my marriage, the way I would treat my children, the way I would treat my best friend, and the way I treat my spouse are the same ground rules that you want in a team or in an organization, they just apply in a larger scale.

And so, it gets down to the way we treat each other, and the way we talk to each other, and the way that we value the diversity on the team, and the way that we manage conflict and adversity in kind of a poised and resilient . It’s basic things you learn in kindergarten kind of values that somehow get a pass in a workplace but wouldn’t get a pass with a best friend or with a lover, right?

So, one of the things that we have learned is that the recipe for what makes a team effective is no different than the recipe for what makes a relationship , whether that’s a co-worker, or whether that’s a lover, or whether that’s a friend, or whether that’s a teammate on a recreational softball team you’re playing on the weekends.

The scale is different when it comes to trust, for instance. Interpersonal team may be more intimate, but the expectation that people treat each other with kindness, and with civility, and with understanding, and with productive conflict resolution, and poise and resilience and flexibility during periods of adversity and change are common sense. And, really, the refereeing is giving people permission to embrace that and to call themselves and each other out.

If in yours and my relationship, which goes back a few years now, if I treated you in a way that was disrespectful, even if I didn’t realize I was being disrespectful, I would hope that you would bring that to my . I’d hope that you would say, “Steve, when you said X, it caused this in me.” And I should have the maturity to say, “Whoa, I had no idea. I did not intend to hurt you, but I see that I did, and I own that, and that’s not going to happen again, and I’m sorry for what I did.” I should be able to do that in any relationship.

One of the exercises that we do with teams is we ask everyone to think about three relationships in their lives, at least one in the workplace, where there’s an unresolved crucial conversation that ought to happen. And the reason it’s unresolved is because it’s uncomfortable, or because you’re afraid it might make it worse, or whatever it happens to be. And then what is the issue? How do you want to address that issue? And what would be the measurement of the outcome of that being in a better ?

Oftentimes, when we see teams move to healthier cultures, that’s what’s happening behind the scenes, is that people who have been not getting along for a long time, figure out why that is and what they need to do about . I had a manager in a medical team last week say, “I don’t understand why she doesn’t like me anymore. We used to be friends.” Now, that’s a very personal exchange, but that caused her to go back to her and say that directly to her, which was my intervention with her, is, “Have you asked her what happened?”

And so, she went back and said, “What happened between us?” And it ended up being something, in the grand scheme of things, that might’ve been petty, “I found out that you made more money than I did, and I’ve never felt the same about you since,” something like that. But, now, it’s being talked . So, if you take the kind of crucial conversations 101 curriculum and methodology, oftentimes that’s what people need to .

And most human resources departments are equipped with people that have the talent to move people through conflict resolution, to move people through crucial conversations, to move people through change management, innovation technique. It’s really just giving the team permission to be well and to act on the common sense things and make relationships .

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess that’s what I’m wondering when it comes to common sense things. I mean, a lot of the things we’re talking about, you know, poise in the midst of conflict, or respecting conflict as a tool to bring about good things. I guess they’re almost a little bit subject to interpretation. I guess. If someone were to sort of throw a flag, and say, “You’re not doing this.” And they can say, “Yes, I am.” It’s almost a little bit, not to be sort of like childish or elementary, but I can see like, I guess, there’s this tension I’m thinking through with regard to, are you really going to spell it out in terms of like explicit rules, like, “We do not say, ‘That’s a stupid idea here’”? Or do you leave it at a higher level of abstraction, like really respectful in our discourse?

Steve Ritter
Sometimes it is childish and immature, and sometimes you’re calling people out for not playing nice in the sandbox. I had a situation where probably the most highly-educated group of people in the room were listening to their assessment results. And so, when you get assessment results that say there is an undercurrent of disrespect in the workplace, for instance, and that that scores a really high mean and a really high standard deviation statistically, which means people feel really strong about it, and there are some people who it affects more dramatically than others.

And you give that piece of data to the room, and then you say, “You, 12 people, responded to this survey in a strong way saying there’s an undercurrent of disrespect on this team. Or, words and actions that undermine the team are tolerated by a leadership. These are survey questions assessing the team’s wellness that give very clear valid metrics around what’s broken with the .” Then you get the conversations about, “What does that mean?”

So, I’ve had a person raised their hand, and say, “I think that’s me. I think I’m the one that people are talking about. And the truth is I don’t handle stress very well and I don’t know what to do about it because when I’m stressed, I don’t treat people very nicely. And I guess people learn to tolerate that with me. And I don’t want to be that way but I don’t know what to do about it.” And then you get four other people that raise their hand, and say, “I’d be happy to help you with that.” And then that person grows in some .

I had a person once in a public school setting where, after about a year of the majority of the faculty trying to wrest control back from the handful of bullies that were bullying the rest of the faculty, raised her hand and said, “I know that everyone thinks I’m one of the bullies, and everyone thinks that I’m one of the disengaged people. The reality is I was and I don’t want to be that person, and I see where we’re going, and I want to move in that direction. I’m just slow to change. So, if you can bear with me, I’m coming.” And everyone embraced that. Everyone embraced the fact that people are allowed to repair . People are willing to accept folks who are on their own journey to be a better teammate in some way.

So, usually, the data from the assessment, whether you do that formally with the online assessment that gives us the rigorous metrics of what’s going on in every aspect of the team, or whether you do it informally with just asking a couple of simple questions, usually leads to a , “So, why are we seeing this data? Tell me what’s going on with the team that makes this data portray this aspect of the team.” And people will tell you a story, and the story will usually lead to, “What do we need to do to fix this?”

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s really beautiful as you described these conversations, they’re just so open, so real, you might say vulnerable. It’s like, “Yeah, this is what’s really going on with me, y’all.” And it’s beautiful. And I think some of listeners might be like, “Wow, we’re miles away from people being able to disclose at that level.”

Steve Ritter
But that’s what happens. So, if the foundation, our norms and values, and that creates a platform upon which to build trust, and there is psychological safety in the , then those are exactly the kinds of conversations that happen where people will ask for coaching, where people will ask for help with .

You work from the assumption that everyone’s doing their best and most of us perform pretty well when there’s no stress. But under stress, some of us regress and some of us get immature, we’re not always at our best all the time. And so, when you’ve gone through the labor of building an environment of accountability and a culture of accountability that strengthens trust, those are exactly the kinds of conversations that  where people will say, “I would like help with this. I’m not being my best self. I’m holding the team back. I want to be a part of this moving forward. What do I need to do to get there?”

Pete Mockaitis
And for the disengaged bullies and folks who are just not having it, you mentioned some coaching and Performance Improvement Plans. How does that process work?

Steve Ritter
Well, you would be surprised at how many people who are in that category find other places to work on their own. For some people, dysfunctional relationships is their currency in life, and when a culture shifts to a healthier more trusting environment, they’re not getting their needs met because their needs are met by making other people feel small, and so they have to go somewhere where they can make that happen.

So, you always have a small number of people who find a way to leave for those reasons. But you’d also be surprised at how many people don’t want to be broken, and they’ve never really had an opportunity. We call them the tippable disengaged, folks who can be tipped into the culture. And so, disengaged people rarely become under-engaged people. They usually buy in, and they say, “I want to use my leadership skills in a different way than being a negative leader. How can I be a part of the solution

And so, I guess when you think of a PIP, when you think of Performance Improvement Plans, they’re generally designed to get somebody out. They give people a tight set of accountabilities and a tight timeframe to perform them which guarantees failure, and then you catch them on the failure, and you have a reason to let them go. That’s usually what a Performance Improvement Plan is designed to do in Human Resources circles.

But a true Performance Improvement Plan gives someone a path to grow and to improve. And if you surround them with the right coaching and the right , you end up with conversations like, “Your peers say that you’ve not been easy to play with in the sandbox. I’m guessing that this isn’t just a problem in the workplace. Perhaps this is a problem in your family, in your social circles as well. You’re 43 years old, do you want to do something about this? Is this okay with you? Because if you want to do something about this, we have resources that can help you.” And you’d be surprised at people’s ability to transform when provided an opportunity to get coached.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And when you said about the drama or the conflicted relationships is their currency in life, it just reminded me of a quote from The Office, Kelly Kapoor said that if she had to choose between two suitors, and she said, “Robbie makes me so happy, and Ryan causes so much drama, so I just need to figure out which of those is more important to me.”

Steve Ritter
Exactly. Exactly. Well, you know, but if you think about that, those of us, and I’m one of them, who thrive on conflict and who thrive on change, I’ve put three kids through college and built two businesses on assisting people with conflict and assisting people with change. And so, there’s a positive way to have that surround you in life. It’s okay to be fueled by chaos as long as you manage it in a professional and a respectful way. It’s okay to have conflict as long as you are mature and adult about the whole .

And so, there are people in life who’s competency is to be good under pressure during periods of significant change and conflict, and those people often become advisors, and consultants, and coaches, and therapists, and teachers, and mentors, and those kinds of professions because they can elevate other people into healthier places, and elevate relationships and teams into healthier places. So, conflict and chaos sometimes gets a bad rap.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. And so then, I guess I want to talk a little bit about the innovation side of things. So, once you’ve got some of those norms well established, and we’re invested, and there’s the trust is working, and we’re sort of owning our stuff and sharing it, what are some of the best practices for making the most of the innovation phase when you’re in it?

Steve Ritter
Oh, well, I think it’s a willingness to live with an unsolved problem to begin with. Innovation always starts with an unsolved problem. And being willing to experiment, and explore, and create, and fail a couple of times to be able to discover a new way of looking at that problem. And so, all of those dynamics require someone to feel safe and trusted in an environment that supports that kind of thing.

And so, I guess a rich and fertile garden of diversity, full of people who are unafraid to take smart risks and to stumble and fall a couple of times, is usually what creates new ideas. Whereas, the opposite, where people hold onto the status quo and aim for safety usually doesn’t result in new ways of thinking about things or doing .

And so, it all goes back to the foundation of common values and common goals that allow for a culture of , that enables a team to have the psychological safety for people to take risks because innovation is all about providing an atmosphere that, I suppose, has a safety net underneath it so that people can be out on a limb and take risks and try  without having to worry about whether the amygdala portion of the brain screams fear and tells you not to do it, that you go ahead and use your cerebral cortex to analyze and interpret and make decisions and try things even though your fear center is screaming, “Don’t do it.”

And, usually, that happens most effectively when the team has created an atmosphere of collaboration and psychological safety so that falling, or stumbling, or failing are not a big deal. They’re actually fuel for the next round of .

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

Steve Ritter
Well, I think that you’re going to see a barrage of social media hype around the book “The 4 Stages of a Team: How teams thrive…and what to do when they don’t.” I’m excited about this book, but I also want to let your audience know that there’s a 10-year archive of blogs on the TeamClock.com website that are categorized in every area of team effectiveness that you would imagine. And so, while the book is a few hundred pages of best practice and case study and how to, there’s a deep archive of blogs available on the website as well, so I would point people in that direction.

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

Steve Ritter
You know, I think the last time you asked me that, I quoted Seth Godin, and I think I want to quote Seth again. Seth was kind enough to endorse my first book. He talked about the importance of taking responsibility for what it means to join or to lead a team. And his most recent book is titled “This Is Marketing,” and he says in that book, “People don’t want what you make. They want what it will do for them. They want the way it makes them feel.”

And so, that might be more connected, or that might mean peace of mind, or that might be status in some way, and so I think about that quote all the time. I think about that quote when I listen to your podcast, for instance, because your podcast is a great example. I listen for the way it makes me feel. It makes me feel smarter. It makes me feel more equipped. It makes me feel like I have a better toolkit to go out and manage my life. And every episode, without exception, has that outcome when I listen.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, shucks. Thank you.

Steve Ritter
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I just put out a big survey, and I asked a question along those lines in terms of, “What are your recurring thoughts and feelings when you’re experiencing the show?” And I’m thinking I believe that more and more for marketing, and that’s been part of my…well, this isn’t about Pete’s journey to learn marketing.

Steve Ritter
But we’re thinking the same too that, as Seth says, it’s not about what you make, it’s about what it’ll do for you and the way it makes you feel.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And I think that’s true of everything, even when it’s a rational purchase. It’s like, “Oh, this is a wise investment because it will save me money or make me money, so it’s money on top of money. Of course, logically that’s just better to do than to not do.” It’s like, “Yeah, but why bother? Why do you even care what’s money doing for you in the first place?” I was like, “Oh, I feel secure and free and able.”

Steve Ritter
Peace of mind, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, I think Seth really is as brilliant as people say he is.

Steve Ritter
Well, not many people write a daily blog that has the followership that he has.

Pete Mockaitis
And a good daily blog.

Steve Ritter
Yeah, and I’m one that reads it every day. And, you know what, they’re not all a plus and neither are the things that I write, but there’s enough A pluses to keep reading and keep sharing.

Pete Mockaitis
And, let’s see, was I asking about a study or a quote or a book? You’ve got a little bit of everything.

Steve Ritter
You asked about a piece of research. I don’t know if you remember, you and I talked about this Journal of Applied Psychology article that came out maybe over a decade ago.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I do.

Steve Ritter
They studied what it is that most drives the outcome in a professional relationship. And they studied all of the variables and equation from gender to age to educational background to theoretical orientation, and they found that the greatest driver of outcome in a professional relationship was the perception of connection within the first hour from the perspective of the client. And so, if the client felt like there was a good connection in the first hour, the outcome of that professional relationship is going to be much stronger.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. And in a way that just makes me feel so much better. I thought about that many, many times as our conversation because it makes me feel better about, I guess, others think I’m like being real judgmental in terms of like I’m reading a book or listening to something, I’m just like, “I just don’t like this guy.”

Steve Ritter
Right. And then when it resonates, you have the opposite feeling, it’s like, “Oh, we are connected, yes.”

Pete Mockaitis
And then I feel so bad, it’s like, “I don’t like this guy. I want to stop reading.” It’s like, “Well, Pete, you should like him. Take in broad perspectives from all sorts of different people that you like and that you dislike.” And then I come back to, “Yeah, but Steve told me that…”

Steve Ritter
In the first hour, in the first 10 pages of this book better grab me.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, so even if I muscled through this book and hated every moment of it, it probably wouldn’t deliver the goods for me just because I’m not resonating from the get-go. Maybe I think they’re scamming or unethical or fraudulent.

Steve Ritter
As an author, Pete, I don’t want you to have to muscle through any page of my book. As our mutual friend, Mawi, told me when we wrote Team Clock, “You never want to give a reader any reason to put a bookmark in the book. You always want the reader to continue to turn pages.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Mawi episode number one.

Steve Ritter
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, he’s like the cardinal sin, I think, he said is being boring.

Steve Ritter
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Don’t do that. Oh, inspiring dude. Okay. Well, how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Steve Ritter
Favorite tool. I’m going to give you two. As a writer, I am a devotee of the Flesch-Kincaid Readability statistics in the options menu in Microsoft Word. I don’t know if you use that but it tells you not only how many words you’ve written, but how many sentences per paragraph, how many words per sentence, how many syllables per word, and it tells you at what grade level you are writing at. And I try to keep all of my writing in the eighth to ninth grade level. It just keeps the book flowing and doesn’t give people a reason to put a bookmark in any page. It keeps pages turning.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Steve Ritter
The second tool I would offer is I’ve become an owner of the HeartMath wearable biofeedback tool. And so, the app on your phone is called Inner Balance but it pairs with a Bluetooth connectable device that reads your heart rhythms. And if you want to know how to manage your stress in real time, all you do is clip this thing onto your shirt, and attach it to your earlobe and turn on your phone, and it will tell you in real time whether you’re in a relaxed or stressful state. And you can teach yourself how to put yourself in a relaxed state at any time. And what I find is when I need to perform, whether that’s my band at a wedding, or whether that’s writing a book that I want you to read, I do that at my best when I’m in a relaxed state.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a favorite habit?

Steve Ritter
I put a little creative music into every single day no matter whether that’s five minutes or an hour. It opens new pathways.

Pete Mockaitis
And a particular nugget that you share that really connects and resonates and gets quoted back to you often?

Steve Ritter
I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on the concept of renewal. When you think about teams and relationships that’s happening in cycles, you realize that there’s always another chance to refresh something or to repair something. And so, when you think about the things that happen in relationships and teams, anytime you add or subtract a teammate, you have a renewal. Anytime a conflict gets resolved you have a renewal. Anytime an innovation alters the work of the team, you have a renewal. Every time you celebrate a success or a disappointment of a failure, you have a renewal. Every time a goal gets redefined, you have a renewal. And so, you get these chances over and over to elevate your relationships and your .

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

Steve Ritter
TeamClock.com. There’s plenty on the website and it’s in the process of getting refreshed with the new book information, so we hope to make it even more beneficial for our readers.

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

Steve Ritter
I have been asking people to continually assess their relationships and their teams for my entire career, and I want to make that simple. Ask three questions, “In what stage are we right now? Why are we in that stage? And what should we do to move ?”

Pete Mockaitis
Steve, once again, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck with the book “The 4 Stages of a Team,” and all your other adventures.

Steve Ritter
Thank you, Pete. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you, and I look forward to all the other episodes. You’ve created a tool for all of us, so thank you for that and thanks for inviting me on again.

439: How to Find Opportunities Hiding in Crappy Situations with David Greene

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David Greene says: "Ask yourself how you can run towards a problem instead of away from it."

David Greene shares how you can identify valuable opportunities in any situation you find yourself in–even the crappy ones.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How difficulties often indicate valuable opportunities
  2. Why analyzing your anxiety often yields valuable insight
  3. David’s salad story which reveals how to 8X your efficiency on certain tasks

About David

David Greene is the co-host of the BiggerPockets Podcast, author of “Long Distance Real Estate Investing: How To Buy, Rehab, and Manage Out Of State Rental Property,” online blog contributor, Keller Williams Rookie of the Year, and a top producing real estate agent in Northern CA.

As a former police officer who started investing in real estate in 2009, David has built a portfolio of over 30 single family homes, as well as shares in large apartment complexes, mortgage notes, and note funds.

David teaches free monthly seminars on real estate investing and has been featured on numerous real estate related podcasts. He runs GreeneIncome.com, a blog where he teaches others to build wealth through real estate, as well as “The David Greene Team”—and is one of the top Keller Williams agents in the East Bay.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

David Greene Interview Transcript

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

David Greene
My pleasure. I’m excited.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat with you too ever since I’ve listened to the BiggerPockets podcast many times. So, I’ve heard your voice, but then when I got to hear your story on the BiggerPockets Money podcast, which I’m excited to appear on, in some weeks from now, I really got a kick out of how time after time after time, you saw some opportunities that others didn’t. So, I’d love it if we could start your tale with back in the day when you were a waiter.

David Greene
That’s actually really fun to talk about that, BiggerPockets Money Podcast. I think it was maybe Episode 12, was the first time that I had ever talked about my story on a podcast, for sure, but maybe even in like the last 10 years. So, I had a lot of fun going back to remembering how I used to think and the doubts and the fears and the worries I had. And now seeing how it worked out. It’s kind of incredible. So, this should be fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, well, let’s take it away.

David Greene
Okay, where should we start?

Pete Mockaitis
Well so, there you are, you’re a waiter and you are starting to wonder how can I make some more money here?

David Greene
Yeah, so I was always a very driven guy, like I wanted to make as much money as I could, I knew it. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily greed that was driving that but like ambition might be a better word. I knew that I didn’t want my time to not count for anything.

So, I was very, very, like, motivated by if I was going to show up somewhere. And if I was going to put six hours of time, eight hours of time into somewhere, I might as well work hard when I’m there. It didn’t benefit me to show up and not work.

And that was one thing that I noticed that was different in me than other people, we both had to be stuck there for eight hours not doing the stuff we’d rather do, right. You can’t go snowboarding— for me playing basketball was what I loved to do, I can’t play basketball when I’m here at this restaurant.

So, I might as well work hard. And I noticed that a lot of other people were content to be there but not work. And I always looked at it like well, if you’re stuck here, you might as well get something out of it.

So as a waiter, the more tables you had and the better job you did at those tables would determine your income because it was like you know, 90% tips. That’s how you were getting paid. So, I noticed if I could wait more tables, I could make more money. And I knew at the end of my shift when I clocked out and I was going home, all that matter was how much money I had in my pocket. It didn’t matter if I sat around and did nothing or I worked super hard, that was over. And the money that I had was only thing I was taking with me.

So, I became determined to get as good as I could at waiting tables as well as I could and learning the skills that I would need to be able to do that to be able to make more money.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. So, it starts with a different perspective like, “Okay more tables equals more money—”.

David Greene
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
“I want to make the most of my time, so, giddy up, and let’s make that happen.” And so how did you do that?

David Greene
So, the first thing I did was I looked at who in the restaurant is already the best, who’s doing this at the highest level. So, there was two waitresses that were kind of like to go-tos when they got really busy. All the tables would go to them. When there was a big party coming in, they would get the big parties, right?

And, and I started so like ingratiate myself to those girls. It was “hey, what do you need? Can I fill up your tables’ waters? Can I get them some coffee? Can I help brush your tables? Can I bring your drinks from the bar to your tables?” I always be them a priority. When my tables were all done and there was nothing to do and everyone else was standing in the kitchen kind of BS-ing, I would then go help those girls.

And I noticed that they would start to say things to the owner like, “an, this David guy is incredible. We love him.” So, I kind of got a little, “Ooh, this is good. The owner likes me now she’s treating me a little better.” So, I would start doing what we call side work at the end of the night. This is like the cleaning up of the restaurant that they make the waitstaff do.

I would get mine done and then I would go to theirs two, right, because if I have to be here for this time, I might as well clean my stuff up fast and then go help them, more compliments my way. Now I noticed that the owner was kind of pulling me aside and giving me extra training or maybe testing that other waiters weren’t getting.

She’d pull me aside and say, “Hey, these are the eight different kinds of glasses that the bartender uses. We use this type for this cocktail, we use this type for this cocktail.” I being 19 years old or whatever I was, didn’t understand what this had to do with my job. But looking back now I realize she was looking to see, is he a flash in the pan or is this a kid who really wants to learn the industry?

And when I would memorize it, she was very happy and I would get more responsibility, right? And this was my first kind of like, foray into, “you can earn your way into a better position, you don’t have to just wait for someone to notice you and say let me give you a raise, let me give you a promotion.”

So, I went to the owner at a certain point and said, “Hey, I want to wait more tables, so, what do I need to do to be like Haley and Kelly?” Those were the top two waitresses. And she said, “I’m so glad you asked. This is what I look forward to see if you’re ready for the next level.” And she gave me a list of stuff. Now I had a literal blueprint for what I needed to do if I wanted to be successful at this job.

Pete Mockaitis
So much good stuff there, that’s applicable just about anywhere in terms of, alright, attitude and making the most of the time, zeroing in on role models, on who’s the best here. Helping out, proactive favors, ingratiating to the best, asking the questions, “How do I be like that person?”

All that’s great stuff and I guess what’s interesting is, most people did not do that and you shared it in your story that’s a part of that equation could be that the owner was kind of demanding, had some high standards that rub some people the wrong way?

David Greene
Yeah, I guess I should mention that, she was a terror. I mean, people were terrified of this woman, right? When she would show up, everybody went to like, scurry like cockroaches to find somewhere to hide because they didn’t want to be seen by her right?

You hit it on the head, she had extremely high standards. Now, I was used to that in my life before this, I had been playing sports and coaches had really high standards. My parents had really high standards. Now that you mentioned it, so yeah, I’m learning something about that myself. That might be one of the reasons why I do better in life is because I have higher standards. I didn’t really think about that till right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Happy to help.

David Greene
Thank you for that. So rather than me running away from the person with the high standards, I ran towards the person and said, “How can I help you hit these standards?” And because everybody else was running away, I made me stand out.

So, I realized the reason she was always cranky and grumpy was because the standards were not being met. And I would have been part of the problem by running away. That’s why the standards weren’t being met. And by her increasing her expectations of me, it was actually a compliment, right? When everyone else was complaining, why did she care if the cracker wrapper gets left on my table or who cares if their water was empty for a minute.

I was looking at it differently like, if she’s paying this much attention to what goes on at my table, she’s noticing me, this is my opportunity to show her that she can trust me, because I was so motivated by getting more.

And what I found, Pete, is that like, the difference between taking it easy and getting three or four tables and working hard and getting eight or nine tables was literally double your income, right? So, like, if your average waiter was making 40 grand a year, and you worked harder and got eight tables, you could make $80,000 a year as like 18 or 19-year-old kid in 2000/2001, whenever this was happening. It’s a big amount of money for somebody in that position, right?

And that was what motivated me to get good at the job. So, once I got to where she was trusting me with more responsibilities, which meant getting more tables, now I had to learn how to keep the same level of service even though my workload had increased. And that was my first like, foray into being more efficient.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. There’s so much good stuff here. And at first I want to key in on that notion of you ran toward the person with the highest standard rather than running away and you being noticed is a good thing even if it doesn’t feel like it like “oh my gosh, get off my back.” That reminds me of a previous guest Eddie Davila, who said that, “Pressure is really a gift, you give pressure to someone you trust and that you’re expecting great things of as opposed to giving pressure to someone who you think is everything in them out too much or be able to accomplish much for you.”

David Greene
Yeah, that’s absolutely true and you see it with everything, you see it with professional athletes, you see it with the best performers. You see, I think even to a degree with like teachers and their students, that principle runs through everything.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then how in practice did you execute, doing more tables?

David Greene
When it came down to at this specific restaurant, it was not run very efficiently, the waiters had to do an insane amount of the actual work. And the busboys and the helpers, if there was any, didn’t do very much at all.

So, what it meant was like every dinner would come with a salad or soup and the waiter had to make the salad. And the salad had to be tossed in the dressing. And there was like nine different things you had to put in it, right. And then we had like 12 different kinds of salads. And then there was no food runner, so you had to run your own food, there were no computers, you had to handwrite all this on a ticket, right.

So, I started to notice just from listening to my own emotions, what would cause me stress or anxiety. So when I would get like a table of eight and I would take all their orders on a piece of paper, I would then go in the kitchen and I’d have to pull up a menu and look at the menu and write down the price of every item that I was going to give to the kitchen staff.

So, if they wanted a T-bone steak, I would have to write a T-bone, medium rare. I’d have to put whatever starch they wanted, a baked potato, rice or pasta, right. And then I’d have to put the price of whatever that thing cost on the ticket because that was also going to be the receipt that we gave to the customer at the end.

And all these waiters would be all like huddled around the area where the menu was trying to fight and see over the top of each other to write down all the prices and I’m like, I would get anxiety when I knew I had to go do that. It was going to slow me down and what if my food comes up, I have to run out to the tables while I’m doing this.

What if my drinks are up at the bar? So, I would memorize that menu. I took one home and I just memorized the price of everything. I made flashcards, then when I would go running, I would go in my head and I would say porterhouse $28, T-bone $26, filet mignon, oh, I can’t remember.

Then I would make a note, I need to go look up the price of filet mignon, right. And I would just run them over in my head over and over and over until I had the entire menu memorized. And that would save me the time of having to go look at that menu and write the price in as well as fighting with the other servers to be able to see it.

Now, some people said, “David, that saves you 30 seconds, big deal.” But 30 seconds in the middle of a crunch is huge.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah and again and again and again repeatedly.

David Greene
Over and over and over, that’s exactly right. So, that was the first thing I did. Then the next thing I noticed was I would feel anxiety whenever I had to go like make all those salads, right. And there was a ton of steps that would have to go into each one.

So, one night when we closed, I went to the little salad station and I broke down every step I had to take to make a salad with my hands. So, we would—this may be a lot of detail but we had the salad kept above you at like eye level in this really big bin and we would take a scoop of it out and put it in a bowl, then we would scoop the dressing from the little container into the bowl, then we would grab a fork and we would toss it all around, then we would take us a chilled plate out of a fridge, pour the lettuce on to the plate.

So, we’re like four steps here, then I would take a handful of croutons and a handful of like cut up cabbage and stuff like that, put it on the top. So, we’re at six steps, then there was a tomato that you added that was step seven, then you would have to put that salad plate on a tray behind you and make the next one.

So, I went there and I would practice this like dance of my right hand goes to grab the lettuce, my left hand goes to grab the dressing. I’ve already put the bowl where I’m going to put them in place. How quickly can I get those two things done?

The minute that the left hand is pouring the dressing into the bowl, my right hand has nothing to do, it should already be going to grab the croutons, right. And I would practice how to grab the right amount of croutons fast, how to grab the right handful size of lettuce so that it almost became like second nature to me. And I got to where I could rip through these things in maybe 10 to 15% of the time that the other waitresses were taking because they just kind of went at a comfortable pace.

Pete Mockaitis
10 to 15%, in other words eight times as fast.

David Greene
Yes, I was like, I was a blur, right. And I made it a game like how quickly can I do this. And it almost became fun when you get into the zone and you’re concentrating that hard. So, I could make it eight times as fast. And again, maybe that saved me two and a half minutes. But that two and a half minutes was really big when you were in the middle of a crunch, two and a half minutes when a table wants to order food and you’re not there can be a big impact on your tip, right.

And so, what I would do is I would go through the process of all my responsibilities of a waiter. And I would notice at what point do I get all the anxiety? At what point are we like, “Oh, I hate this part?”—because we all have those thoughts. And then how can I be better or more efficient? How can I solve that problem? Because that was the same problem my competition was having, and they probably weren’t being as purposeful at solving it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, that’s really cool how the anxiety serves as an emotional indicator for what’s happening in sort of a business process flow logistics context as a bottleneck. It’s just like, this thing is slowing it down and you’re feeling the anxiety when you’re in the midst of the slow down.

And so, by really focusing with great, I guess precision on, alright, memorize the price, alright, salad dance, let’s just flash this in half and half again and again. That’s really cool and has applications to all kinds of jobs, like this process seems to be taking a stupid amount of time, let me really go after how I can accelerate it.

David Greene
That’s exactly right and I’ve used that same strategy or technique or whatever you want to call it in every job I’ve had. Like right now I’m a real estate agent. And there are steps to every single transaction that happen and some of those I do really well and some of those I don’t do well or I feel that same level of “oh, I hate this part.”

This is always where I mess it up, right. I’m gonna have to call the client and tell them this and they’re going to give me attitude and my natural response is to be cold and apathetic because I don’t like when I get attitude, right. I’m not going to do well here.

Most of us ignore that feeling of anxiety and we just say like, we either ignore the tasks that would require it or we have half-butt it to get through there because we don’t like it. What I did as a real estate agent was I said, “Okay, this is not my favorite part. How do I get somebody else and train them to do that for me, that does love doing it?”, right.

Now the anxiety is gone and I’m focusing on the parts I like and I’m doing better. I ended up working at a different restaurant after this when I had reconstructive ankle surgery from a basketball injury. And when I came back, I said, what could I do to make more money, I can only take so many tables at a certain point, there’s diminishing returns, you can’t take more.

And I realized I better go work in a more expensive restaurant. So, I found a more expensive restaurant that was much further away. But it was like twice or three times as expensive as the steakhouse I had been working at. And that was my first foray into seeing like, different businesses are structured and use different models. And you have to take these skills I’m talking about and apply them in new ways in different places that you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, and that’s good stuff. Well, maybe when we get a couple more examples of you and noticing opportunities and how you’re making it happen. You pulled off a pretty neat stunt in terms of getting way, way, way cheaper rent in California. How did this come about?

David Greene
As far as where I was living?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

David Greene
Yeah, so what I did was I was— man, how did this start? I moved to the Bay Area in California to become a deputy sheriff and go to the police academy. And I was paying a fee to live in a house with a bunch of strangers from Craigslist. So, it was only like $650 a month, which is pretty good rent but I hated it. I mean I absolutely hated living with these mutants that I was having to spend my time with—

Pete Mockaitis
One of them is listening, these mutants.

David Greene
Yeah, I doubt they even know what a podcast is, Pete. These were people, who were very negative, very problematic, complained about everything. It was really rough. And I knew if I wanted to go get like an apartment, rent was around $2000/$2500 a month, and I could have paid it but I just didn’t want to.

So, I heard all the guys at work talking about one deputy who said that he had just bought a house. And they said, “Yeah, he got this big old huge house, it’s just him, his wife doesn’t even live with them right now, she’s overseas working. Why did he buy it?” And they were all kind of laughing at him. And they brought me into the conversation to mock him also because they knew I was like a real estate guy.

And I didn’t think I should mock him, I was like, “What’s he gonna do with all that space? Why did he buy it?” Right. So, I went to talk to Vaughn and I asked Vaughn like, why he did it. He’s like, “You know what, I just always wanted a big house man. I grew up in a small poor area.” He grew up in East LA, was very rough.

He said, “I’ve always wanted a big house. I knew it was bigger than I needed but I didn’t care. I feel great having it.” And I was like, “Well, do you want to make another $300 a month?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Let me move in.” He goes, “Okay”.

Pete Mockaitis
Here we go.

David Greene
We’ve got like five bedrooms, I’m not using.
And that’s what the number I threw out, right. Like, I could have said $200, he probably would have went with that. So, I didn’t say, “Hey, can I rent a room?” And he said, “Sure.” And then how much and now we’re negotiating the price. I structured that differently, right.

So, now I move in with this guy, I’m paying $300 a month, no utilities, no electricity, like nothing at all other than this $300 a month, and I have an entire like upstairs mansion completely to myself and a house that was about five years old.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that there. And I think there’s a cool lesson when it comes to wherever there is stupidity, there is often a mismatch of resources and thusly, an opportunity. They say, “Hey David, can you believe this guy?” and like, interesting.

David Greene
That’s exactly right, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s so much more productive and uplifting, I would say just for people being kind to each other, approach to go there as well as great way to phrase the question. In terms of free money you weren’t planning on having as opposed to “Oh, I have a resource called a room that’s empty. What should that go for?”

David Greene
Yes, and so he obviously wasn’t good with money. We knew that before we started the conversation, right. So, he didn’t value money, what he valued was like, “I want to feel like I’m a somebody.” So, he also got a little jolt out of knowing he was helping me, that made him feel like a good friend, a good person, he was providing for somebody.

So, I think a lot of us make the mistake of assuming everybody values money as much as we do when for him it meant nothing. I mean, I probably could have lived there for free if I could have sold him on how much it would have helped me or what it would have meant to me or if I did chores or something like that. But yeah, you’re right, like, he was very stupid when it came to money. And so there was opportunity that was within that kind of environment.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s real nice. So well, nowadays, much of your opportunity identification comes about in real estate investing, and you’ve got a hot new book, The BRRRR Rental Property Investment Strategy Made Simple, which I’ve enjoyed reading. So, there’s a few things I’ll point to, but maybe you could just give us your quick take on what is this strategy? And how do you go about identifying opportunities in this particular context?

David Greene
So, the BRRRR strategy itself is, it’s a cool name first off, but is that really, the idea itself is still pretty simple. The problem with buying rental properties that you spend a lot of money on a down payment, then you spend a lot of money to fix the house up to get it ready.

Now you’ve got a property you can rent out to somebody else, but all your capital is sunk into the house. Okay, so you can’t use that capital to buy another house, that’s the inefficiency in buying rental properties, it takes you a long time to save up all the money that you’re going to dump into the property, right.

The BRRRR strategy involves buying it and fixing it up and once it’s been fixed up and it’s worth more, at that point you refinance it and take your money out as opposed to financing it in the very beginning when you buy it.

So, you can use your own money, borrow from your 401K, borrow from a retirement account, take a HELOC on your house, partner with a friend, however you find the money to buy the house, you go by the most undervalued asset that you can, and you’re looking for opportunity in homes other people don’t want.

You’re literally looking for the stinky, smelly, nasty house that most people look and say, “no, why would I ever want it”, right. Because you’re not going to be renting out that stinky, smelly thing, you’re going to be fixing it up to make it worth more.

It’s very similar to if you want to go buy a business, you don’t want to go buy a business that’s already be running incredibly efficient and would sell for top dollar. You want to step into a business that’s being mismanaged, their sales team is terrible, their operations team is off the hook, they’re spending way too much money, their profits are very thin.

So, you can buy it at a low margin, then use your skills to make that business run more efficiently and better. And then either enjoy the profit or go sell it at a margin, right. It’s the very same principle applied to real estate investing, but it’s so much easier to do it because all you got to look for is a crummy looking house.

So, you buy it, you fix it up, I often add square footage to it if it’s extra small house, I look to add square footage. If it only has two bedrooms, I look to take maybe the dining room and turn that into a bedroom to make it at least three because that’s what makes it worth more. Once that’s done, I pull the money out and I have all my capital back that I can then go use to buy the next house and I can increase the scale.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that and that’s a great lesson right there when it comes to the opportunity, when something seems gross or crummy, there is an opportunity there, whether you’re buying a real estate property or a business. I’ve got a buddy who’s done this with websites.

He says, “Hmm, this is a website that has some decent traffic but could have way more if they just did a few things like A, B, C, D, I’m gonna go ahead and buy that website and crank up the traffic with these smart strategies”, and lo and behold, he’s got a really valuable source over there.

So, that’s cool and of itself is not to be disgusted by the grossness but to say, “ah, there’s something here.” And I think my favorite part of the book that I read was about— so you’ve got your five stages, your buy, your rehab, your refinance, your rent, and you repeat, so BRRRR, that’s four RRRRs, the BRRRR is where that it comes from.

And so when it comes to the rehabbing, I’ve got my property here. And it’s been a heck of a time with contractors and renovation professionals. But you had a really clever tactic when it comes to paying for bids, can you tell us about that?

David Greene
Paying a contract to do a bid for you?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

David Greene
Yeah, so if you’re getting a contractor that’s going to go out to the house, take his time, give you a bid of what it’s going to cost to fix it up, and then you’re not using them, you’re not going to get a very good contractor. At a certain point, they’re not going to want to give you anything for free.

So, you can get free bids from guys when you’ve worked with them in the past. But if you haven’t worked in the past or you don’t have a very strong, like future potential to give them a lot of business, they’re going to want you to pay. If you really don’t want to pay, you want to look for ways around that, like “how can I bring this person value, so he’s not going to have to necessarily charge me all the time for whatever this bid that I’m looking for is,” right.

One of the ways that you do that is you send them other people who need the same work, you send them referrals, right. What business doesn’t want referrals, any sales person whose job is to find business, if you send them referrals, you’re helping them do their job, they’re going to like you, they’re going to give you something back, right.

Another one would be I would say, “Hey, if you get this job, I’ll put you on my social media, I’ll let everyone know you’re the one that did this, will take the best pictures, the best angles, it’s free promotion for your business.”

Contractors are usually not business minded people. They don’t understand bookkeeping, let alone marketing, sales and a CRM, right. So, when you’re providing this stuff, it’s immensely valuable to them because it’s like magic. Like “I’d never even thought of doing something like that,” right.

And I like to take that approach with all the people that I’m using is, “what can I bring?” Or what do I know that’s easy for me that I can use to help them that’s very difficult, much like doing the side work for like a woman who’s worked really hard and maybe has two kids, and she’s trying to raise them alone is the end of the day. She’s been up since six o’clock in the morning. She’s exhausted, she does not want to clean that coffee station. I probably slept until 10:30 that morning. I’m a 19-year-old dude, I’m in great shape. That is not a very big deal for me to go clean the coffee station, but it meant a lot to her.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Yeah, that’s excellent. And so, what I think is fun about your mindset that differs from any others would be like, “I’m not going to pay someone to come by and not do anything.” But you’re thinking, “No, no, no, I am paying someone for the bid in order to (1) get more bids and explore more people to see what they can do. And hey, maybe you’ll end up saving coming out ahead of a deal, and (2) to build up a relationship with the folks you find to ultimately be the rock stars.

David Greene
Yeah, when you think about the value that a good contractor can bring you versus the price of a bid, it’s not even worth comparing, right. A good contractor can make me tens of thousands of dollars just in the work that they’re doing. For me to give them 100 bucks for their time to go make a bid means a world to them but it’s nothing to me with what they’re going to bring me, right.

And that’s assuming that they’re not actually bringing you deals. I get deals from my contractors, like someone will say, “Hey, can you come look at my buddy’s house, it’s in bad shape,” and he has no one to do? And they’ll go look at it, and they’ll say, “Yeah, it’s gonna cost you $50,000 to fix it,” and those people say, “We don’t have $50,000, what are we going to do? I guess we give it back to the bank.”

I want him coming to me and saying, “Hey David, there’s this opportunity over here, they’re going to give the house up to the bank,” where I can step in and buy it and then he gets his job, he gets his $50,000 job that he wanted and I get an incredibly good deal that’s worth a whole lot more to me. I mean, some of these deals, you’ll make $50,000 in equity on an average mediocre one, right. That’s not a bad return for the hundred dollars I was willing to pay that guy to give me a bid.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s huge. I do the exact same thing with a lot of hiring for I guess, they’re contractors in terms of they are sort of contract workers in sort of the digital or information knowledge working space in terms of it’s like, “Hmm I want someone to write something or to design something, or to do transcripts,” or whatever it may be.

I will like to take a peek in terms of “Okay, well, what can you do? Let me pay you for a sample,” even though if I have no need to use that sample, just so I could see “Oh, wow, that looks way better than the other.” So, I’ve done this before is where I’ll pay 30 people for a sample piece of work, and then say, “Ah, these are the two who are really rocking it. I want to use you now hundreds of times over.”

David Greene
Yeah, and it’s a model that a lot of industries use often, like imagine a music producer trying to find the next big boy band or something, right.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m imagining that right now, with all the guys, high five again, “Hey, girl—”

David Greene
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m right there with you, David.

David Greene
Exactly. Is there a better ROI than a boy band that blows up, makes billions of dollars to sing and dance, and you sell throw pillows and all kinds of other crazy stuff. They have to go through a whole lot of people that are underwhelming, right. And they’re going to have to spend a little bit of time and money taking people lots of dinner, flying around to get to know them. But when you find that one rock star, you don’t care how much money you spent, you’re earning so much more back in the process.

Pete Mockaitis
I didn’t think we end up at boy bands but I’m glad we did.

David Greene
I don’t think that’s ever come up in one interview I’ve ever done. Good job Pete, you pulled something out of me no one else has.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you, thank you. Well, tell you before we shift gears to hear about a few of your favorite things, do you have any kind of final tips that you’d share with others who were trying to notice hidden opportunities, in their own careers, in in real estate or send the course of living life?

David Greene
Yes, I’m a huge proponent of Warren Buffett’s advice that you should be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful. Now he gives that advice in the context of when you’re buying stocks or when you’re investing.

So, when everyone else is saying buy, buy, buy, you should be a little worried, pull back. When everyone else is saying you’re an idiot, don’t buy, the sky is falling and they’re running around like a bunch of chicken littles, that’s when you should actually have the courage to jump in and buy.

I’ve taken that reasoning or that principle, and I’ve applied it to almost everything else. So, when everyone at my job was like, “oh, she’s coming again, I don’t want to deal with her” and they ran away, I ran towards her, right.

When their emotions were saying, “oh, this anxiety, I hate it, I should quit” or “I don’t want to take more than three tables because I don’t like the feeling I get when I do,” I would say I don’t like that feeling either but what does that feeling signaling to me that I could be improving, right. And that’s what drove me to be better to memorize the menu to get faster and making salads and bunch of other things I did that made me much more efficient, right.

Like one thing I didn’t even mention is most waiters would go to the kitchen, get ketchup come back, drop it off, the person would say, “can I have some pepper”, go to the kitchen, get the pepper come back, drop it off, I would make around to my tables and talk to all six of them and have all of them see what they needed, go to the kitchen, get all six tables’ stuff and in one trip, come back and drop it all off.

You do that seven or eight times a night and you’re saving yourself like 30 minutes of time, right. Just that one thing. But that was because I noticed every time I was going back and forth between the kitchen, the table and anxiety, “oh, I’m falling behind”, right. Everybody else was, their answer was to quit, to pull back, to try less hard, to give less. And I went the other way and I busted through.

That’s the advice that I would give people. When you have that boss that just drives you crazy and you can’t stand them, right. There’s a reason they’re acting that way. Understand what’s in their head. Are they getting it from their boss? Are they getting this pressure coming downhill? Are they insecure and they don’t really know how to do their job very well. As a cop, I got that all the time by supervisors that knew the least about law enforcement were the hardest to work for, because they were constantly afraid that a mistake was going to be made and they didn’t know how to predict it.

Well, I knowing what should be done was their favorite because I would say I would do things for them basically. So, they didn’t have to have anxiety when they were just all over me about stupid details, rather than pushing back. I was like, “oh, this guy’s terrified that something’s gonna go wrong,” right.

So, I would step in and do a lot of this stuff for them to make sure nothing did go wrong. You become their favorite. They stop ragging on you. And if and if anything, they look for opportunities to help you, right.

That’s the advice I would give your listeners. If you have a problem with the boss and you don’t like the way it feels, ask yourself how you can run towards that problem instead of away from it. If they’re constantly hounding you about deadlines, do whatever it takes to be better at your job to get it done before the deadline, then go to your boss and say, “Hey, I’m done, what other problems you have stacking up I can help you with?”, right.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that is so perfect and it’s so funny when you mentioned the Warren Buffett advice. I thought “Oh yeah, I read a really great article about that simplifies from Warren Buffett, guides me to deals no one else’s findings, like, “Oh, David wrote that—!” I read that years ago and it’s so good.

David Greene
That’s so funny.

Pete Mockaitis
So, if I may I’m going to embarrass you to read an excerpt, it says, “I have to target the people that others are overlooking. I want a lender able to actually return my calls. I want a property manager who doesn’t have a portfolio so large that they can’t even tell me when I have a vacancy because they’re too busy. And I want a handyman who can go immediately when something significant breaks as opposed to chasing the folks who have a ton of amazing reviews and are booked up for weeks and months to come.”

David Greene
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So good. Well, David, let’s shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things now, can you share a favorite quote something you find inspiring?

David Greene
Well, the Warren Buffett one is pretty good. But I got another one, I got another one. It’s a Bruce Lee quote, which makes it cool right off the bat ‘cause Bruce Lee said it, right. He said, “I do not fear the man who knows 10,000 kicks, I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

That’s what I did with making salads or memorizing the menu. And I got way better at that one thing and that one thing was super important for whatever my goal was, which at the time was having more tables, right.

The reason I love the BRRRR strategy with rental property investing is that it allows me to spend a dollar, get a house, get that dollar back and buy another house with the same dollar. I can scale way, way, way faster than someone who has to earn $50,000 and put that into a house and then wait till they can earn another $50,000. By buying more houses, I’m practicing that kick more than other people. And I become better and more efficient at doing it than the people who buy maybe one house a year.

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

David Greene
I love the Stanford one. I’m sure a lot of your people probably talk about that, one where they brought little kids in and they said, “Hey, I’m going to leave this room, and here’s a marshmallow. If you eat this marshmallow, that’s okay. But if I come back and the marshmallow still here, I’ll give you another marshmallow.”

And the little kids that were able to wait for the second marshmallow before they ate the first, they tracked them all. And they found that they were much more successful in work. They had much higher happiness scores, they had much less like, problems like with law enforcement and mental disorders and alcoholism and substance abuse. And the implication from the study was that the better you are at delaying gratification, the happier and more successful you’ll be.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

David Greene
Man, I got a couple but I really, really, really like the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. It’s funny, we just interviewed him on our podcast yesterday. So, in a couple weeks, that one will be coming out. That’s an incredible book at just basically—a lot of the points I’m making right now, he was making similar ones, but he’s just sounds a lot smarter than me because he’s a Georgetown professor, of course. But I read it and I was like, “Yes, that’s it, that’s what I’ve been doing!” And now there’s a person with a PhD who’s saying the same thing. So, people will actually believe me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d say different voices, different credentials, a PhD or a fat portfolio of properties, I think both adds credibility to it, yeah. How about a favorite tool that helps you be awesome at your job.

David Greene
Google Drive, believe it or not, is a huge, huge help for me. Part of part of the problem with me is I’m involved in a ton of different things all the time and it’s very hard to keep my thoughts organized. Google Drive works really good for taking a thought that I have, getting it out of my head, putting it on, I would say paper but it’s actually a computer screen that looks like a piece of paper.

And from there, I can kind of flesh out whatever that idea was, and assign it to someone else and say, “I need you to take this and I need you to make it a reality.” So, Google Drive is one of the tools that I really, really, really like and it’s simple but before I had it, I was immensely frustrated with just I don’t know how to turn this process into something someone else can do. And making checklist on Google Drive and giving it to people, making a video showing how I’m doing this like a screenshot and putting the link in Google Drive that I gave to someone really brought all that stuff to life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that is so huge. And for your video making, I don’t know if you’re already on to Loom as in www.useloom.com but it is so good.

David Greene
Yeah, shout out to my best friend and buyer’s agent Kyle Rankie, he told me about Loom and it’s been incredible. We were using Screencast-O-Matic before that. But it like limits you at 15 minutes, which I had to learn the hard way after making like an hour of video and then realizing it stopped recording at 15 minutes.

But Loom doesn’t do that. So yeah, we use that. Like as a real estate agent, I’m constantly training other agents on my team and I find myself saying the same thing a hundred times a week. So, now I use Loom to make these videos and say, “Just watch that.” And that should answer your question.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s so good. I like to have Loom with, I’ve got my text instructions on the left-hand side, I’ve gotten the website or whatever I’m working with on the right, and so you can reference them both. And then you can read the text and so it’s like unmistakable, what I meant by any step along the way. So, so good stuff—

David Greene
Beautiful.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a key nugget, something you share often with your team or readers or listeners that really resonates with them and they repeat back to you often?

David Greene
I think “rock stars know rock stars” is a phrase I say a lot that sounds simple but it’s actually really deep. It’s just this concept that the best people at what they do hang out with other people that are the best at what they do. And that just this is a principle we see throughout life.

I’ve heard people say “eagles don’t fly with ducks”, “birds of a feather flock together”, like all these little sayings but when people ask me, “I need someone to do X, how would I find them?” The answer is always going to be “who do you already know that’s doing Y that would know somebody in the world of X?” That’s where I find my referrals from.

So, if you were to say, “David, I need to figure out how to solve this problem,” my mind would immediately go to who do I know that’s doing that at a high level? And if no one, who do I know this doing something similar to that at a high level? And who would they recommend?

I think most of us take way too much responsibility on ourselves to figure things out, like I’m going to go through Yelp and read 100 reviews. And I’m going to Google this for seven hours and then call all 20 people and interview each of them as if we actually have the credentials for like reading someone’s mind and knowing from an interview if they’ll be good, as opposed to talking to someone who’s already really good at it and saying who would you use?

“Oh, you know what, actually that guy, he’s great. My buddy uses him and he’s doing a high level. And that’s where I start”.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s so good. And David, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

David Greene
I have a personal blog, www.greeneincome.com where they can follow me there and read some of the articles that I write. I’m very involved at www.biggerpockets.com. This is the website where we teach people how to invest in real estate for free and the podcasts that I run, the books I publisher are through there.

And then I’m DavidGreen24 on all social media, Instagram is the when I check the most but I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, like all those sites, Greene is spelled with an E. So it’s DavidGreene24.

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

David Greene
Yeah, what I would say is most of the things that cause us to be frustrated with our lack of success can be identified as a barrier to entry in some way. There’s something making it hard for you to get from where you are to where you’re going, right. Learn to look at that like an incredibly good thing. Because that’s keeping all of your competition from raising up to go anymore. When you figure out what you need to do to get through that barrier to entry, there’s very little competition on the other side of it, and you rise very quickly.

So, for me in this example I gave the barrier to entry was memorizing menu prices. That was all that I had to do. Make some flashcards and memorize a frequent video. And the next thing that I know or memorize the menu, my boss was like, “Hey, David can handle tables, give them all to him.” And when they would get three, I would get eight or nine and then I would stay late to close and they were all going home, and when they were getting other four or five and I can triple or quadruple my income.

So, it’s the same way like being a real estate agent, it’s very hard to get started it because there’s no one that gives you business. It’s on yourself to get it and for most of us, we don’t know how to go find business on our own. That’s a big barrier to entry, keeps a lot of agents from doing well.

But if you can solve it, like all the business is yours because nobody else could figure it out. So, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve actually looked for only opportunities where it’s difficult to do because I know there’s not going to be as many people competing with me, and it will be easier to succeed once I figure it out.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it, once again, you’re reframing for opportunity. David, this has been a huge pleasure. Thank you and good luck with your real estate investing and book writing and all you’re up to.

David Greene
Thanks Peter. I really appreciate it. Have a great day.

437: Building the Resources for Resilience with Dr. Michael Ungar

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Dr. Michael Ungar says: "As we are better resourced, we actually become... more rugged as individuals as well."

Dr. Michael Ungar shares insights from his decades-long research into resilience to reveal that it’s not about your ruggedness, but rather your resources.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The true key to resilience
  2. A master checklist for upgrading your resilience
  3. How to change your mood by changing your environment

About Michael

Dr. Ungar is a Family Therapist and Professor of Social Work at Dalhousie University where he holds a national Research Chair in Child, Family and Community Resilience. Dr. Ungar has published over 180 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on the subject of resilience and is the author of 15 books for mental health professionals, researchers, employers and parents. These include Change Your World: The Science of Resilience and the True Path to Success, a book for adults experiencing stress at work and at home.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dr. Michael Ungar Interview Transcript

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

Michael Ungar
My real pleasure, Pete. Nice to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I learned that you have built three houses and raised five children, but you said that building the houses was easier. Can you talk about that?

Michael Ungar
Yeah, for sure. Let’s just say that houses are kind of like children, they change your life, they improve the quality of your life, and your experience in the world, and they make you calmer, they make you happy, and all these kinds of other things. But they also stay put, right? They don’t sort of like change, or at least they’re not supposed to unless there’s a flood or something.

And kids are a little different. Having raised five, they don’t always sort of, for some reason, they aren’t always inspired by my advice. I can’t understand why that would be, but at least when you put a wall up and you actually hammer a nail in, or you get a stud wall up, it kind of stays there. And there is something pretty satisfying about building whatever, any kind of arts or craft or whatever.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, so when you built these three houses, that means like you did everything. That’s impressive because you’re also a mental health powerhouse, these are very different skills.

Michael Ungar
Yeah, the houses were different ones. Some of them were just like seriously 90% reno kind of things. One of them, literally, we chopped, we cut the wood down off of a wood lot that my father-in law had, and milled the wood, and literally skited it out of the forest, and built the house with it. And I had a master carpenter, I don’t have all the skills. But I hired a master carpenter, and was kind of funny. Some days I was his boss in terms of making decisions, and the next day I was just basically the laborer on the job site and he was literally telling me, “Nail that board, and lift that log, and do exactly as I tell you.” So, it was really fun. It’s great.

I always find, too, that the more I sort of vary my activities, even my writing, I write fiction, I’ve written a novel, I’ve written for different audiences, and I find it’s the variety that actually keeps me sort of shocks my mind, awake, if you will. There’s something really wonderful about these different experiences.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. And it seems like much of the research about creativity is just that. You’ve got deep expertise in one thing but you dabble in many things, and suddenly associations and ideas pop up, like, “Oh, this is a lot like nailing a board together.”

Michael Ungar
You do see patterns actually, and that’s what the richer your environment around you, the more people you sort of surround, even if you’re not an extrovert, there’s lots of ways sort of bringing those experiences to you if you’re just sitting on a park bench.

I travel the globe, and one of the most wonderful things I get a chance to do is actually just to walk around cities. I do take in some of the cultural events and all that, but often it’s just that sense of watching how architecture goes together or how people pattern their lives that remind you that there are so many different ways that people find pathways to success or put their lives together in ways that actually make sense.

And you begin to, like, if you’re in Japan. I mean, Japan looks a lot like where I live in North America, but the assumptions underlying those things are just so, so different, where leaving a tip at a restaurant can be an insult. Or when you get on a subway, taking your backpack off and putting it up on the tray sort of above the seat without any fear of it being stolen, it kind of shocks you into new ways of thinking about the world and many of your own sort of, well, certainly for me, things that I would just take for granted.

And I do find that, ultimately, especially when I write books, I think of ideas like resilience. I’m always sort of trying to sort of get my head out of standard thinking, and really see what really is happening. And that’s maybe the scientist in me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Well, so, could you orient us to a particular area of your expertise, which is resilience?

Michael Ungar
Yeah. Well, it’s been something, a big part of my research and my clinical work for the last, I’d say, two decades. It kind of has become just kind of boiling down to this idea that in the field of resilience, if you say to the typical person, “What do you think is resilience?” They tend to offer you that kind of idea of bouncing back, the personal transformation, that personal grit.

Pete Mockaitis
I feel like Rocky.

Michael Ungar
Yeah, like Rocky, which I love the movie, but it’s actually not what the science is actually saying. And most of the scientists in the area, the real people really looking at this, are actually telling us now that it’s not just about being a rugged individual. It’s also about being a resource individual. And that, in fact, most of what changes us, most of what gets us through a crisis, is actually not inside of us at all. The missing piece here is that what mostly gets us through is the resources around us.

If you look at even like the great superstars. You look at like a Ronaldo, a soccer star, you look at whatever. If you can kind of get close to them, what you’ll often discover is less about just how they keep their mindset perfect. But there’s always those wonderful stories of people who believed in them. Like, I always say this, if I’m going to talk to someone like Ronaldo, I’m going to want to ask him who gave him his first soccer ball. Like, who saw in him the potential to keep growing? All these aspects of our lives, and yet somehow are this conversation we often have about resilience.

In a very strange way always puts it right back on our own shoulders, that somehow if we just think, you know, have the right thoughts, show enough grit, have the right mindset, that we will succeed. And I hate to burst the bubble, but actually, as I sort of talk about in this book Change Your World, I’m sorry, the evidence is against you on that one. That is actually not the whole story. And so, that’s kind of what I’ve been looking at, what resilience comes from and all the different places around the world, including in North America, but what are the factors that make us resilient on the job, in our family lives, etc. like that.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s intriguing as you’re talking about it. It’s less about sort of what’s inside your brain and more about your resources and your support group. I don’t know why, I’ve got this silliest line is coming to my head. It’s from an Andy Samberg movie, which is basically spoofing, I think, Justin Bieber’s life. And so, he’s a rock star, and he has all these people around him doing all these things. And he says, “It takes a village to make me look dope.” And it sounds like, in crass, silly terms, that’s kind of what you say.

Michael Ungar
But what’s even more fascinating is that it’s not just the relationships, which I think sometimes, again, people will, “Yeah, relationships matter a lot.” But it’s what the relationships, in a sense, bring us and all the other things. Well, people sometimes, I find sometimes when I’m working clinically that people are doing research in this area. People will come back to that, “It’s always got to be people,” and then if they don’t have people, if you’re kind of isolated, right, socially isolated, and you think, “I can’t be resilient.”

But, actually, I’ll give you an example. I was working clinically with a young woman who was a paralegal, came to my office on her lunch hour dressed to the nines, just completely put together. And by way of a social worker, a family therapist, I’m not sitting in the office with a suit and tie sort of thing. So, she always impressed me that way. But she was in an abusive, this really abusive relationship, and I could never quite reconcile, how this very put together confident young woman, who came into my office with that energy, could go home and just so let herself, in a sense, not let herself, but, I mean, be put in a very abusive situation.

And I know the psychology of this. I’m in the field. I’ve worked for many years. But what would change that? And we tried to get her to change her mindset, to change her thinking about her relationships, etc., but she’s still sort of had that sense that, “No, no, no, I’d be worse off with leaving the guy.” Anyways, very small, little change.

I, one day, asked her to go home, and, instead of changing her clothes as she came in the house, which is what she used to do, putting on the track pants and looking kind of just frumpy and normal and calmed or whatever, and then letting herself be abused by this guy verbally, she just didn’t change her clothes. She stayed in this office power suit, and it gave her that cue and, in a sense, it had enveloped her in an environment that cued her to say, “You are worth more than this guy.” And it dramatically changed the work that we did together.

That really started her on a path to changing really things that she got rid of the apartment, she left the guy in the apartment, he’s kind of moved in on her. She found the support from her friends to get her stuff out of the apartment. She talked to the police about how to do this safely, etc. And I was really impressed by what I’ve learned from her, which was that we can create around us these external cues that remind us how to be rugged. In a sense, the resources trigger the ruggedness.

And, in fact, this is what the science of resilience teaches us, that it’s the external world that literally changes how we think, how we attribute cause, what we believe we can do, and whether or not we’re actually going to realize our talents, whether or not it’s in the work world or in our family at home.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating and a really inspiring story, and fun in terms of the implications that that can have in any number of context and lives. And we had Todd Herman on the show earlier talk about enclothed cognition, and sort of how indeed what you wear send signals and changes sort of your emotional state, and your capacity to even be effective in different contexts. So, what I’m digging about that is it’s just so darn actionable in terms of the clothes you choose to put on is a part of your environment that’s literally right on you.

Michael Ungar
Oh, absolutely. I mean, if it’s okay I can even take it a little bit further because people think, “Okay, I’ve got the clothing down.” But, of course, we know that, I mean, if you really want to know how to make yourself resilient, you’re also going to have to think even further afield. Like, housing, right? People often say, “Oh, you know, you need relationships. I want to be loved. I want to be mattered.” All these kinds of things.

And I get that, but then they put themselves into, say, small mini mansions, like very large houses where they might have a couple of kids, but the house is so large they can’t even find the kids much less call them for dinner.

It’s kind of interesting that our houses can actually change our mood, whether or not there’s green, green spaces outside that home, whether or not we connect to our neighbors, the way we lay out our streets, whether or not we push that big garage to the front of the yard and hide the house sort of back on the yard.

All of these decisions that we make that in and of themselves seem rather, well, mild, accumulate to stress us or tear apart the very patterns of relationships, the impromptu context that we have with our neighbors, the sense of community—coming back to me with Justin Bieber and the village. But when people begin to think about a whole list of things, and I do talk about that list. It is that how we setup our houses, how we have relationships. Whether or not people around us give us a powerful identity, whether or not the relationships that we want, we’ve actually setup environments to give those to us.

I’ll give a small example. I don’t know if you have a morning routine for a cup of coffee or whatever it is that you drink in the morning. But a lot of people often say to people, “If you’re feeling disconnected and alone, go back to the same coffee shop for three weeks at the same time, and you’ll suddenly get known.” A little bit like the chairs idea, right? You’ll walk in and you’ll be the double soy latte extra hot with foam sort of thing.

And bit by bit you’ll become connected into a pattern, a community. And, again, we can either tell you to go on a yoga retreat and get your mind together, or pay a high-priced guru, or something like that, but, in a sense, that’s not going to create a sustainable change, not unless you already have all these other relationships in place. And if you do, then you’re good. If you’re not, then the individual flipping the switch in your head is not going to be a sustainable change.

And that’s not just an opinion. That’s, unfortunately, what the research actually shows in terms of all those wonderful practices, where all that sort of self-help movement stuff that were preaching at people, it ain’t working.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, I’d love to hear, could you point to one or two or three of the most striking smoking gun studies that really support this paradigm?

Michael Ungar
Well, sure. Even if you just want to stick with Center for Disease Control sort of statistics, if you prefer, we know that overweight and obesity rates are rising in North America, both countries, in Canada and the United States, Mexico, etc. That’s the truth and then we’re going to actually see a decrease in people’s longevity as a consequence of that.

And that’s, at the same time, that we have this massive diet industry, and everyone has access to the internet to get good advice, and there’s more advertising, and more self-help movements, and more opportunities to sort of reflect and fix yourself. What about if, I don’t know, we can take different maybe medications for depression?

Again, you’d think with all the self-help out there that, in fact, depression rates would be going down and that medication use would be going down. And, in fact, it’s going in the opposite direction entirely. The same with anxiety disorders and who’s appearing at our emergency rooms, especially amongst our children.

All these statistics are pointing to the fact that despite this mammoth cornucopia, this smorgasbord of available self-help stuff, the problem is we’re so focused on the rugged individual that we’ve missed that, in fact, without understanding that we also have to be resource individuals, we are not going to get better. We are actually, potentially, going to make the situation worse.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, that’s tricky, certainly if you have ample information at our disposals, so to do some of that self-help stuff. And so, obesity, overweight is way up now as compared to before, and depression, anxiety also way up. So, I guess, then, that would follow that our environments have also become worse in terms of supporting a healthy weight, or a calm, tranquil, happy mental state. Could you sort of speak to some of those environmental factors at work there?

Michael Ungar
Well, some of the big ones that we know about are relationship breakdown. The irony, by the way, one good stat, if you’d like, divorce rates are going down, but that’s only because fewer and fewer people are actually marrying. That’s right. So, I hate to tell you this but it’s a good news/bad news story there.

So, if you think about those kinds of statistics, etc., you’re not necessarily seeing a great deal of change. Loneliness, for instance, would probably be the other big problem that we’re seeing. A huge number, something like one-quarter of US households have people living alone in them. And we’re not actually designed for that kind of lifestyle.

Now, the other side of that is that people, our kids are staying at home with us. And, culturally, there are some cultures that are probably, “That’s a good thing,” right? You don’t move out until you go and get married or something like that, and that’s just the family norm. Thankfully, for my own five children, that is not the family norm. They’re launching, so I can say that.

But you begin to look at loneliness, an inability to launch, in some cases, living in isolation. These are sort of structural things going on around us which are breaking down and, I think, not just I think, are actually showing up in our emergency rooms in our hospitals and, indeed, in our doctors’ offices where you’re seeing a spike in medications.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So, loneliness in and of itself is an indicator of a depleted environment or less resource now as it used to be. And what are some other ways that our environments are more bad?

Michael Ungar
Toxic?

Pete Mockaitis
Our environments are worse or toxic. They’re depleted more so now than before in the realms of supporting a healthy way, to a healthy emotional state.

Michael Ungar
Well, the thing is, of course, the evidence is now mounting about cellphone use, screen times, and the social isolation, and accumulative stress that that causes in our lives when we’re online and how we relate to other people when we’re online. We’re not in those relationships really are satisfying to us. In and of itself, using your cellphone, being online a bit is not going to be the problem. Having a rich Facebook community that you’re swapping photos with your neighbors and friends and family. This is not the problem.

The problem becomes when it’s just your only outlet or you’re really caught up in that sort of neurological ping of having more and more likes or that sort of social desirability that you’re looking for. It drives me nuts when I see people taking those selfies. You know, they’re sitting there in the coffee shop and they’re just kind of having a ho-hum day and their facial expression is kind of neutral. And then, suddenly, they want to pop a selfie, and they do this really weird little smirk off to the side, like somehow that social presentation has to be, “I can’t just be normal. I have to be upbeat.”

And if you do it once, that’s not a problem. But if that’s your whole lifestyle, you are going to be more stressed. It’s also not necessarily building the real substance of what we need, which is genuine, well, not just genuine relationships, but a sense of your culture, a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself.

I think part of this that also worries me, because I study resilience so you’re looking for patterns, and this could be on the job site or elsewhere, but you want people to feel like they’re making a really genuine contribution, a real contribution to some product, or some end goal, or mission statement. We are driven by that, whether it’s in our families. And, certainly, when I’m working with people in business settings and stuff, and you often say, “Well, if you’re not getting that from your work world…” then often what you want to ask people, “…are you finding these connections, this sense of meaningful participation in your community outside of your work world?”

And, yes, an audience will raise their hands and I’m sure listeners, too. People would say, “Do you volunteer? Are you a member of a religious organization?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I do, yes.

Michael Ungar
But it’s not just the relationship that you’re going to enrich. You’re also going to get access to more advice, resources. I live in a part of the world, I’d like to joke, where I live, it’s a town of about 400,000 people and we’re casserole people, we’re Maritimers, we’re East Coasters. And if someone down the road breaks a hip, they get a casserole or two or three. And, obviously, if someone’s child is sick, they get a whole freezer-load of casseroles.

But that kind of stuff brings our communities together. And I’m going to argue that even if your job is not meaningful at work, if you’re coming home and cooking in casserole for the neighbor down the street, and your housing is setup, and you’ve been stable enough in your housing for long enough that you actually know that neighbor, then you’ve got a lot of advantages, a lot of environmental advantages that is actually going to carry you through.

Well, not only are you avoiding depression, which we know, but it’s also going to carry you through in terms of being safer, less opportunities to be exposed to violence, you might be even more active in a community like that. I even just saw, I recently read a study that said your mortgage rate might be lower as well because, of course, you’re swapping information with your neighbors, right? So, there’s massive financial, social, emotional advantages when we do things and feel connected to others. But also, in culturally meaningful ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And I can tell you, having recently our family given birth to two kids, under two, we appreciate getting a casserole.

Michael Ungar
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s the equation of the household chaos, but much appreciated. So, that’s cool. Well, let’s really get into some of the actionable tidbits with regard to elements of your environment, and how to upgrade and build up those resources. We talked about clothing, we talked about housing, we talked about relationships. Could you maybe kind of lay out the kind of the master checklist and some of the best practices for upgrading those resources so we’ll upgrade our resilience?

Michael Ungar
Yeah, for sure. And I kind of list out 12 in Change Your World but I’m not going to go through all 12 because some of them are hitting here. But, essentially, obviously you need some structure, you want routine in your life, it carries you through periods of crisis. You want accountability. Put yourself in situations where people rely on you even if you’re just accountable to your dog to take them out for a walk. It’s that routine, it’s that sense of purpose in life that’s given to us by our environments.

You’re going to want, of course, relationships. But I always say, you don’t have to be loved, even though it sounds odd, but you do have to matter to somebody, and that’s often the tipping point that you see in studies of resilience. You have to have a powerful identity. There’s got to be something special about you. And, by the way, identity, let’s face it, it’s given to us, it’s not just homegrown in front of the mirror. It’s something that’s reinforced and given to us by others who say, “You are special at this.”

Power and control experiences. You really need that sense of efficacy, that sense that you can make a difference and make decisions that count in your life. What about fair treatment? It’s another that we often overlook. You know, if you’re not being treated fairly, if you hit the glass ceiling, or you’re feeling racially pushed aside, or your ethnicity is being disparaged, all these things accumulate in people’s lives and make it much more difficult to succeed especially when times get tough.

You need your basic needs met, all those kinds of things. You need a sense of your belonging somewhere in your community or your extended family. And, of course, you need things like, finally, yes, you need positive thinking. It does carry you through a tough period as well, but it’s a heck of a lot easier when you see all the other elements of that. And just basic financial. You need enough money and enough physical health to do the things that, frankly, matter to you.

But could I make that a little more concrete? That’s a heck of a list for people to digest, but let me give an example. I was doing some work with one of the worker’s compensation boards, and they were hearing a great story of a fellow who had injured himself on an oil rig. He was right down at the well head, doing really heavy hard labor, you know, paid well, very proud of that identity, a real rough and tumble sort of individual.

And he injured himself and he can never go back into that kind of heavy work. And too often, what we do with workers like that is we direct them into IT jobs, or some sort of a sales job, or something like that. But, very wisely, his case worker got him a job back in the oil patch, but not down in the heavy lifting area. Where he was, he was at the front gate, checking in and out the trucks as the supply trucks and as people came in and out of the yard.

Now, if you think about it, the fellow, he’s changed his identity from the sort of rough and tumble guy at the well head, but he’s still in the same industry. And what’s more is he’s still wearing a hard hat, he has a vest on with the flashy colors and everything else, he’s holding a checklist so he’s in control of things, he’s able to direct people. And when he goes to lunch, he’s still with the same people that he was hanging around with before. And when he’s at the bar, or wherever he goes on Saturday nights, and someone turns and says, “What do you do?” He says, “I’m in the oil industry. I’m in the oil and gas industry,” right?

Now, like, for me, that was an interesting lesson learned, that when you create continuity and you give someone back access to their, in a sense, almost their culture, a sense of purpose, you give them the same uniform, coming back to what we talked about in terms of dress codes and that type of thing, giving him decision-making power, there’s a real sense of power in his job as well, that’s a perfect transition for someone.

And you know what? They’re not going to leave that. They’re not going to experience that injury and then fall into depression and, God forbid, suicide or other kinds of things that sometimes follow when you see people who have gone through these really traumatic injuries on the job. So, when you begin to have this kind of it’s almost like a checklist or a code book, on how to make people more resilient, and as you go through it, we begin to see it. The more of those that you check, as I just did with the sort of the fellow in this hard hat, the more you check, the more likely you are to have success, especially when you hit a really difficult, almost like a time in your life you’re going to stumble.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that makes some really good sense there with regard to keeping a lot of those things right there, identity is still there, relationship still there, a sense of belonging still there, and the relationships, they’re mattering, so accountability into some of the same kinds of folks, so the same structure routine, that’s pretty cool.

So, then, I’d love to get your take then, because that is a good size list, what’s your impression then, maybe specifically the context of professionals who hit some hard times maybe just because, “Oh, dear, I have to work 12 to 15 hours a week, for a few weeks in a row.” That’s exhausting. Or, “Oh, dear, now I’ve got the demands of job plus a sick child,” or, plus a sick parent. So, there’s some sort of plenty of work responsibility and then, suddenly, a whole lot more land. What are some of your top pro tips to get a really good bang for your buck in upgrading a key resource?

Michael Ungar
Well, that’s a great question. Indeed, you do see that problem of the sandwich generation, that’s probably a great example of that. So, if I learned anything from like literally interviewing hundreds of people, all the complex studies that we carry on, on these topics, I keep seeing a pattern of, well, maybe four simple steps that people go through in trying to figure out how to cope with a tough situation.

And, by the way, to be fair, it’s going to change depending on your risk exposure. So, that is probably the one kernel that we often forget. So, if you’ve got all of those supports, all the education, job stability, and a Visa card that’s not maxed out or a credit card that’s not maxed out, right? If you’ve got all that in place, then you can probably get through that situation you just described, right, because you’re going to have the resources, you can hire a nurse for your mother who’s ill, you can get your kid extra tutoring, you can hire a nanny to look after the house when you’re gone.

Like, you’ve got the infrastructure. So, the only thing you have to do, the first thing, I always encourage people, look at your risk exposure. Before you run to the next motivational guru, just ask yourself first, “How many real risks, how many real dangers, how many real threats am I experiencing in my life?” And then don’t expect that things are going to change if you’re under a lot of external stressors.

So, if you’re not under a lot of external stressors, then, frankly, change your mind, change your mindset, encourage more grit. I just listened to Brene Brown talk on her sort of being daring and courageous and these kinds of things. These are all great advice for us—when we have stability in our lives and that we also have some of, basically, we have healthcare, we have resources that allow us to be daring and all those kinds of other stuff.

So, one, get your mindset on. Change your heads. Absolutely, that’s your first strategy. Second strategy is, heck, if that’s still not quite enough, re-exploit the heck out of all the resources around you, right? Ask for help from your spouse, if that person is willing to step up. Demand that they step up. Ask your kids for a little bit of support, right, getting out of the house, or whatever, or helping with granny if she’s ill. Look to the professionals that you can tap in your community. Maybe tap into your savings if you have some. Do whatever you’re going to need. If you need timeout, pay for a vacation at that time. Do whatever it is that’s going to carry you through. Exploit the heck out of all those resources.

But I often find that the people I’m working with often are more stressed than that, that’s why they’re seeing a therapist often, or whatever. So, the third phase is, of course, you’ve got to create new resources, and that gets a little bit more tough. That means you go to work and maybe your boss is a real, whatever words you want to complete that with, that sentence.

Pete Mockaitis
Jerk face.

Michael Ungar
Jerk face, there you go. And maybe you’re going to need new resources. If that’s not a place you can have it, true enough, I often see people, “You don’t have to quit your job,” which I hate. Well, I actually hate when I hear people tell people to quit their job and start over. I hate that advice because I live in an economy that were often quite depressed, and people don’t quit jobs. You’ve got a good job, and you’ve got your mortgage covered, you do not quit that job.

What you do is, if you’re really stressed by your boss in a really toxic emotional environment, you make a lateral move. You say to them, “Is there a special project that I can get reassigned to? Is there a change of hours or shifts that I can do?” to get on to a different shift or a different boss. “Can I do an extra workshop or something to train up on a separate skill? It won’t increase my pay but at least it gets me into a different part of the office building, or something like that.”

So, often it’s about changing the resources around us. People often say, “I don’t have time to exercise.” I say, “Well, actually, change your parking spot. Park farther from your office door, right? Decide where you’re going to park. Take a parking spot, if you’re going to have to pay for a spot, pay for one that’s three blocks away instead of one block away.” Remarkably small efforts like those can actually exploit the environment around you much better.

Find a friend, find a new person, find a new activity that you’re interested in and exploit that activity to network with a new group of people. Each of these, is basically saying, “I can expand my resources.” So, one, change your head, try to get your head on straight, exploit the resources around you. The second strategy, or the third strategy is build more resources if at all possible.

And, unfortunately, the fourth strategy I see with people, and this has to be said, you know, sometimes we’re in such tough situations that we cannot find more resources. In that case, the only thing we can do is change our expectations. And maybe we don’t need suc   h a big house. Maybe we don’t need the second car. Maybe we aren’t going to go in that vacation that we’ve always dreamed of this year. And maybe our child is, frankly, still going to be sick tomorrow, and it’s still going to be a really, really crappy, burdensome life that we’re going to be living for the next foreseeable future. You don’t want to drive yourself crazy with high expectations.

And, in a sense, that brings you back to maybe changing your mindset, but that doesn’t mean that that’s the end of the story. What that often says is that time is often on our side, that new resources, just through the serendipity of life, just the randomness of where we are and where we could move to, and as our child develops, or our parent passes away, if that’s where you’re at in life, what I’ve seen people do is suddenly new doors open and there are, in a sense, new resources that they can, if they’re able to, to pull those resources to them. Because if you have those resources outside of you, Pete, they will change you. And as we are a better resourced, we actually become also, in a sense, more rugged as individuals as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well, that’s so powerful to think through whatever your situation, and then to be able to go through each of those elements. And I’m thinking real-time about how even working with the challenge and have, you know, two kids that are two years old in the home all of a sudden, then we’re asking for some help for whether someone’s bringing in some food or grandparents are helping out, we’re spending some money, like someone is coming in from time to time to do a little bit of helping with the tidying and the food and the laundry, all the stuff, you know, the bottles upon bottles upon bottles.

And that really has made a cool difference, and then as well as changing the expectations. Like, “Hey, it’s not going to be tidy all the time. It’s a different game we’re in right now. And we’re okay with that.” So, but I’d love to hear, we’ve talked about changing your head. How in practice is that done?

Michael Ungar
Well, it’s often by putting ourselves in environments that compel the change. It’s funny, we often think right there it starts from inside, but actually it can actually start a lot from outside. I’ll give you a couple of funny little examples. A colleague of mine works on what’s called physical literacy, and he tries to get kids to move more, which is, “Oh, my gosh, we’re worried about that all the time as parents.” Two-year-olds move a lot. You’re not there yet, are you? But eventually they slow down, and then you want them to move more.

And this fellow, what he does is he went into an elementary school, and he put accelerometers on kids to see how much they’re moving and how fast they were moving. And then what he did was he went back on the weekend after he had his baseline measurements, and he painted hop scotches in the hallways of the elementary school.

Next week, he measured the kids again. Guess what? They were moving more and they were moving faster accumulatively. Now, it’s a silly little experiment perhaps, but if you see this as a pattern, we know that certain environments induce us or nudge us, if you like that word as well, towards different sets of behaviors to change. And they, in a sense, change our thinking about exercise, about movement. So, that’s why people get a dog. I mean, it’s a great external change. It not only makes us feel like we matter, it not only introduces structure and routine and accountability, it also involves us by compulsion. We must take the dog out for a walk. We’re literally outdoors more, hopefully, and in a sense moving.

So, these external elements can actually change our experience. And I have another sort of a funny example. Recently, we were in our neighborhood, we have a fairly good set of neighbors, but partly that’s because we’ve owned a house in the same space for a little while. And the other day, we were having a lot of family over for a turkey dinner, and the turkey didn’t de-thaw. I don’t know if you’ve ever lived this kind of weirdness, and it was just a too big a bird and it didn’t do what it was supposed to do in the fridge and it just wasn’t ready to be cooked when it was supposed to be ready to be cooked.

So, my partner goes scrambles all around the town and finds a couple of other turkeys that are fresh ones that we can cook up and feed everybody. But, meanwhile, we have this turkey that’s now half de-thawed that you can’t do anything with. So, what we do is we put our call out. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the story of the stone soup. You know, the guy shows up in a city, town, and says, “I can make a soup from a stone.” He just gets every single person in the town to contribute one little ingredient to the pot of water and, suddenly, he has a beautiful soup.

So, we put out a call to our neighbors, we said, “You know, we have a turkey but we don’t have a turkey dinner. And we need potatoes, we need vegetables, we need stuffing, we need gravy, we need this and that.” And, suddenly, basically, two days later we held a massive party, impromptu, in our kitchen that brought in 30 people, well, 30 of our neighbors.

And the reason I’m sort of saying that is there’s a part of me floating above that whole experience going, “You know, if you want to talk about combatting loneliness, if you want to talk about feeling connected and knowing that you have people in your corner, it’s not always about deep heart-to-heart thoughts, or great emotional moments.” It’s sometimes about simply saying, “Join me in a turkey dinner because I have a big bird that I can’t eat and, frankly, I need a little bit of help doing something like this.”

So, I’m always kind of amazed that we can change our emotional moods, we can change our physical behaviors through external environments. And I think we do this in the workplace all the time as well, right? I don’t know if you’ve ever met somebody like this but one of the best examples that I’ve ever encountered, and it’s so mundane it’s silly, but I’ve met people who don’t necessarily find much meaning in their workplace, but they’re the birthday person on the job.

And I’m not sure if you’ve ever worked in a place where there’s the birthday person. You know, the person who remembers everyone else’s birthday to make sure that there’s a cake, cakes and the cards and stuff? And if you actually sort of look at what’s going on, they have found an identity, a role, a way of building community, a sense of purpose and place. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not they’re processing claims for whatever, right? It’s a completely, in a sense, an action that reminds them, that changes their mood. It’s a small act that, evidently, they have to be motivated to do, but it kind of reflects back to them and changes who they are.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. I really like the turkey story and it reminds me of a time when we had too much beer in the keg.

Michael Ungar
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I was like 23 years old, and it’s like, “What are you going to do with all this extra beer?” So, we like made little flyers and slipped them under everyone’s door in the apartment building, and we did. We had a bundle of random folk from across the apartment building finishing up the keg. And it was fun, we got to know these neighbors, like folks we never met before, like, “Well, I’ll show up for some free beer. Sure.”

Michael Ungar
I love it. And, yeah, the difference between being maybe 23 and 43, or maybe not. Somehow, I tried to play that actually.

Pete Mockaitis
Right in the middle now it’s like, “What was going to be my thing? Is it a turkey? Is it a keg?” I’m sure we’ll figure it out, but this is good food for thought saying podcaster pun. Well, tell me, Michael, any final thoughts about boosting resilience before we shift gears to talk about some of your favorite things?

Michael Ungar
Well, probably the best part of this is really, if I could, just the research is really clear, right? It’s the external things that make us a mess, that causes the trauma. It would make sense that it’s also the external things that are going to heal us. I just don’t understand why when we talk about the external things, there’s these wonderful studies out of the US called the Adverse Childhood Experience Studies where they’ve identified 10 things that are really going to mess you up as an adult. If you have those things happen as a kid, like abuse, and a parent goes to jail, and a parent with a mental illness or an addiction, or even a divorce or separation of parents, all these things have long-term health implications for you when you’re an adult. And that’s what the Adverse Childhood Experience Studies show.

But they’re all preventable, right? These are all preventable things through good social policy, through good healthcare, good access to resources. We can prevent families and children from experiencing these awful things, which kind of, if you flip the coin here, it would make sense that if you also gave children, well, beneficial childhood experiences, you would also decrease heart disease and depression in adulthood. You decrease all the illnesses that are now associated with those negative things as kids.

So, for me, as much as I’m both a clinician and a scientist and a father and a neighbor, there’s such a robust evidence that says to me, “Be resourced, not just rugged, and you’ll stop blaming yourself for these problems.”

Pete Mockaitis
Now, Michael, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Michael Ungar
Well, I would still say something along the lines of it’s easier to change the world around you than yourself. I mean, that’s sort of the mantra that I just keep going with over and over again. Or, maybe even better, Joni Mitchell, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” which is sort of a rift on the same idea, right? Once you have it, you don’t kind of acknowledge it, you don’t sort of see it, but, boy, once it’s gone, you know it.

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

Michael Ungar
Probably the Adverse Childhood Experience Studies which I just talked about, or there’s been some wonderful stuff, sort of the neighborhood studies out of Chicago that were done decades ago. Certainly, it showed up much the same, you know, people’s need for stable housing. Or, a recent study up in Alaska by Shauna BurnSilver. Her colleagues had showed, you know, people’s nutrition and health has very little to do with the food supply, and a whole lot to do with, say, she’s talking about like a hunting in a more sort of hunting societies.

A lot of it has to do with how bountiful the game is, and much more about how the communities share what they have, which kind of speaks again to we’re a lot stronger together and through cultural practices and how we see ourselves as contributing to the welfare of others.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Michael Ungar
That’s tough. I love fiction but I also like sort of the non-fiction realm. If readers haven’t come across Chris Hadfield’s Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth definitely a great read. He was the commander of the Space Station and the guy who did all the musical performances up there and some great photography as well. And he just kind of basically brings it home. He says there was a lot he learned as an astronaut, but there’s a lot of great lessons about how to cooperate in a team, and how to work together with others. And I think Chris definitely has a great perspective on life.

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

Michael Ungar
I’d have to say, I know it’s going to, maybe it’s funny, but actually the tool is part of my family. It’s actually what happens in the prep to get to the job. On the job site, it’s probably just finding a common mission. There’s something, a principle called collective impact. If people ever tripped to cross that idea of that you get people on the same agenda, you feel like you’re all collaborating.

I work a lot in international teams where we’re spending a lot of time communicating over the web. And I find that when you have a common mission statement, that’s really great, but it’s even better when your family is interested in what you’re doing, and it kind of reinforces it.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Michael Ungar
Oh, definitely coffee shop hanging out watching people. Whenever I’m too burnt out or just tired and whatever, especially, I travel a great deal, I find it’s the coffee shop, it’s that hunt of a local, not a chain, but sort of a local kind of hip place to hang out and just watch people, and just that centering space of the routine, of doing the same thing, or having the same kind of drink anywhere in the world. It almost transports you home. It almost just reminds you sort of what life is about, I guess, for that particular moment.

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

Michael Ungar
Well, they can check out my website, it’s michaelungar.com. Of course, it has all the links, and the books, and stuff if you want to read a bit more. “Change Your World” is coming out. Hopefully, it’ll inspire some ideas as well. And if they’re really into more research side, the website is resilienceresearch.org and that’s our big research center that we run.

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

Michael Ungar
Oh, man. Just, yeah, focus a little bit less on blaming yourself and trying to be rugged, and just think about putting around yourself, enveloping yourself with the resources that are going to bring out your best. And just let it follow, just let your mindset be changed by the environment around you so that people will notice you. Situations will make you feel good about yourself. Your success will sort of elevate your identity and your sense of power and control. These things can all be done through the external cues to you as opposed to, you know, I know it’s so much work.

Frankly, it’s exhausting, exhausting to try and get the world, to try and just change ourselves and then go, day after day, back into a toxic environment. And I think that is such a formula for depression and other diseases or mental health problems, versus just shifting ourselves a little bit into environments that reward us. And, frankly, if work ain’t cutting it, then find that elsewhere. Volunteer. There’s a jazz festival that comes to where I live every summer. I see people volunteering at that. I also see people volunteering as coaches in the little league. You know, there’s endless opportunities to give back and feel like, frankly, you have meaning to others. And, frankly, that’s what resilience is all about. I see it over and over again.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Michael, thanks for sharing the good word, and good luck with your book “Change Your World” and all your adventures.

Michael Ungar
Well, thanks. And all the best to you and your young family. What an adventure that is.

399: Maximizing Your Mental Energy with Isaiah Hankel

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Isaiah Hankel says: "You can produce four to five times as much work during... peak mental energy."

Isaiah Hankel highlights the importance of your mental energy, the best time to use it, and how to protect it from the people and things that drain it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The little ways we waste our limited mental energy
  2. How to tactfully deal with people who drain your mental energy
  3. How to gain more energy by closing mental loops

About Isaiah

Isaiah Hankel received his doctorate in Anatomy & Cell Biology and is an expert on mental focus, behavioral psychology, and career development. His work has been featured in The Guardian, Fast Company,and Entrepreneur Magazine. Isaiah’s previous book, Black Hole Focus, was published by Wiley & Sons and was selected as Business Book of the Month in the UK and became a business bestseller internationally. Isaiah has delivered corporate presentations to over 20,000 people, including over 300 workshops and keynotes worldwide in the past 5 years.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Isaiah Hankel Interview Transcript

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

Isaiah Hankel
Great to be here, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into the goods, but first can you tell me a little bit about what it was like growing up on a sheep farm?

Isaiah Hankel
It was rewarding. Some days it didn’t seem like it, but the one day that always stands out in my memory when I’m asked that question is a day that came every year as a sheep farmer, which is when you would shear the sheep.

Pete Mockaitis
I thought you were going to say that. What made that day special?

Isaiah Hankel
It was just a good insight into sheep behavior and as I learned later, human behavior, because sheep were very responsive to two things, carrots and sticks. It’s one of the many places where we get that phrase, having people respond to carrots and sticks, because humans respond to those two things too.

Pete Mockaitis
You mean literally feeding them a carrot and using a stick?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, yeah, it’s literally with the sheep and usually not literally with the humans.

But with the sheep to shear them, it’s a painless process, but you have to get a large herd of sheep, in this case it was usually 80 to 100 head of sheep, into a funnel essentially with a very narrow opening where only one sheep could fit at a time.

You would think this would be very hard to do, but sheep operated through a herd mentality. What that means is that you could walk behind them with a couple of sticks, bang those sticks together, they’re also scared of everything, and they would go running in the opposite direction. If you just bang the sticks behind them and if ahead of them was the funnel with the large gate that they would be funneled into, they would run right into it for you.

Then just to get them to go that last few yards, to get them to go one-by-one through that gate, you would just tease them with carrots held out in front of them, they’d walk right into the sheep shearers arms. You’d have to wrestle some of the larger ones sometimes, but in most cases carrots and sheep, carrots and sticks would do the trick.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, generally speaking, when sheep are sheared or shorn—

Isaiah Hankel
Yes, shorn.

Pete Mockaitis
Is it enjoyable, like, “Oh man, that was really a weight off,” versus like, “No, this is my precious fur?”

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, in the reverse order though. They’re at first scared of the buzzing sound and they’re scared of everything, but then it doesn’t hurt, they’re relieved, it happens in the middle of the summer. They’re very happy afterwards.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I imagine that right after the shearing, the times are good on the sheep farm. You’ve got a bundle of cash coming in.

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, times were good. As a farmhand you don’t get paid too much, but you did get paid quite a bit more on that particular day. It was always a sense of reward after working hard with your hands. Looking back, it’s some of the most enjoyable work that I’ve done, somewhat ironically.

Pete Mockaitis
We’re not going hold that against you to any of your colleagues or collaborators, like, “I’d rather be with sheep than you guys.”

Isaiah Hankel
It just made you very present. I think in today’s world behind screens, it’s hard to get present like that in the same way. I think you have to do it much more deliberately now.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear you. Well, you talk a little bit about some of this in your book called The Science of Intelligent Achievement. What’s sort of the main thesis behind this one?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, this book is about how to protect your mental energy and then what to do with your energy after you have protected it, after you stop doing the things that are depleting you on a daily basis.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, that sounds important. Can you sort of lay out that importance, like why do we need to protect our mental energy? Isn’t it going to be fine? Or what’s the attacker that we are defending against?

Isaiah Hankel
It’s usually people, but it’s a lot of things. I think the best way to frame it, and it’s kind of how the book starts out, is mental energy is your most valuable asset.

We usually hear that time or money is your most valuable asset, but we can quickly disregard these as being your most valuable asset because most people, just as an example, certainly in the US, have both a phone and a watch or a Fitbit. These things can do the same thing in terms of telling time, but we buy extra things for little features that we don’t really need. If you’re not buying that argument, go see how many pairs of shoes you have.

When it comes to time, how much time have you spent watching or re-watching your favorite movie or your favorite TV show or watching a YouTube clip? It’s not so much time that’s valuable. Maybe you were exhausted at the end of the day. You just wanted a feeling of comfort. You watched your favorite movie over again. Again, these can be disregarded pretty quickly, especially when you start comparing them to mental energy.

The last one that’s very popular today because we hear quotes like, “Your network is your net worth,” and all these feel-good relationship quotes about your relationships. We think, “Okay, well, it’s just about how many people you know? How many people will give you value for the value that you give?”

What we do there is we eliminate yourself from the equation. We forget that “Oh, I have to have enough energy to stand on my own two feet and enough energy to produce and provide value or enough energy to be present and be the kind of person other people want to connect to.”

We’ve all bought things we didn’t need. We’ve all spent our time on things that were a waste of time. We’ve all wanted to add more to relationships, wanted to give more, but were spread too thin. The limiting factor is actually your mental energy. How much mental energy do you have? You can think about it a different way. How many attention units do you have?

I think a lot of people try to reduce it to something that’s physiological, “Did I get enough sleep? Did I eat?” That’s really what controls my attention. There’s a little bit more to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well so now I’d imagine that that might be sort of the starting point of the funnel, if you will, in terms of just how much mental energy you have to work with. But then it gets frittered away and unprotected. Could you lay out what are some of the biggest drains on our mental energy and how do we prevent those from being drains?

Isaiah Hankel
Great question. Let me tell you how much or how little you actually have to start every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh do, thank you.

Isaiah Hankel
If you get five or six rounds of rapid eye movement sleep, REM sleep, then your willpower levels, your attention units, whatever you want to call it, your mental energy is going to be restored if – of course a lot of people don’t sleep as much as they should today. But if you get that amount of REM sleep, you start out each day with about 90 to 120 minutes of peak mental energy.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh boy.

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, that’s it. That’s according to several studies. It’s been printed in the Harvard Business Review and of course a lot of primary peer-review publications. 90 to 120 minutes, so two hours tops and that usually strikes within an hour or three of waking up for most people, so right in the morning.

Then if you think of that as like your ten out of ten mental energy time. Then you have about an eight out of ten mental energy for maybe three to five hours during the day. Everything else is much lower. If you start thinking-

Pete Mockaitis
Like four?

Isaiah Hankel
Like four, exactly. Four or five.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Isaiah Hankel
If not lower. If you start thinking what you can actually get done in a month, gets reduced pretty quickly to okay, let’s say you’re just doing what you do during those two peak hours and you have okay, during a work week about ten hours. Think about it, most people that go to an office, what’s the first thing that you do during that time?

Pete Mockaitis
They’re going to get the coffee, check the email.

Isaiah Hankel
Exactly. Scan some email. Then you look at the news. Then by the time you’re done with the news and email and chatting with your colleagues, you are out of your peak mental energy state. It’s very easy when you’re feeling good, your mental energy is peaking, you have your first cup of coffee, you get kind of chatty, to just diffuse and spend all that mental energy.

Here’s the key. I didn’t even mention this yet, during that 90 to 120 minutes, you are four to five times as productive as you are out of that peak time.

Pete Mockaitis
Four to five times even as compared to the level eight energy time?

Isaiah Hankel
Four to five times overall compared to the rest of the time during that day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, wow.

Isaiah Hankel
So time is relative. You can produce four to five times as much work during those peak mental energy, but again, most people don’t protect it—or we didn’t mention meetings. You’re in some nonsensical meeting, listening, some meeting that can probably be done in seven minutes and you’re spending an hour there.

These are just some of the ways that people are diffusing their peak mental energy during the day and why it’s important to start scheduling your day around these peak hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’m wondering, you mentioned it hits during the morning, is that pretty universal regardless if you are a night owl or an early bird?

Isaiah Hankel
Good question. The night owl is a bit of a myth. I think it’s around one or two percent of the population actually is biochemically a night owl, where this peak mental energy is at night. A lot of people just like to think they’re a night owl because it lets them procrastinate during the day. But there are outliers of course in all sets of data.

One very easy way, and this would kind of be considered a meta-analysis, not really a peer-reviewed study, but it’s of yourself and you’re an n of one or a sample size of one, is to just take your phone and jot down every hour of the day from the time you wake up to when you’re asleep, so six AM, seven AM, eight AM, and just type down on top of every hour, and you can set an alarm on your phone or your Fitbit or whatever, how you are feeling in terms of your mental energy on a scale of one to ten.

What you’ll find over the course of even four to five days is you’ll start to see a trend. You’ll start to see – you’ll probably start maybe at a six, maybe a person starts at a four. Then pretty quickly you’re going to climb up to a ten. Then your tens are going to be in a row. You’ll have one or two in a row. Then it will go to about an eight.

Then you’ll have lunch. Then there will be the afternoon dip, which is a real thing. You’ll kind of drop to maybe a five or a four. This is what I’ve seen very, very commonly. Then maybe you’ll peak for one or two hours at six or seven after that. Then you’re right down to a four for the rest of the day. Something like that. That’s a typical curve. A lot of it has to do with your cortisol cycle in your body too.

Once you do this for a few days though, you can see, “Oh wow, these are the two hours of the day where I am peaking. What am I doing during those hours?” You start to rearrange your day in pretty simple ways, so you’re using those hours for the things that are most important to you, your career, your personal goals strategically.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that sounds wise. I am all about that. Then I’m curious, when it comes to those, if it’s two hours, do you recommend doing two hours straight through or like having sort of a power brief rejuvenation in the midst of it?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, exactly. One thing you can do is go for a walk. You can go to the gym in the middle of the day if you can get out, just some people walk around the office. But if you do get the blood flowing during that dip, then you can get your mental energies to start to climb again. That’s really the key here is you have control over this.

That question is exactly what you need to be asking yourself. Okay, I usually dip here. Maybe instead of going to the gym in the morning, I can try to go to the gym or get some activity or go for a short run or whatever might be possible in my work life to bypass that dip and at least maintain maybe a six or seven during that time.

The key is just kind of restructuring your day for your peak mental energy or to keep your mental energies peaking rather than just letting them fall wherever your activities in the day fall.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us some examples for you or those you work with in terms of what are some great things that you might really try to slide into the peak mental energy times?

Isaiah Hankel
It comes down to every person’s individual goals. One thing that I started doing once I realized that this – when I started seeing this data and I wanted to publish my first book, is that I started taking my lunch break very early.

I started peaking around ten AM. This was when I would get up around six or seven. I’d peak at ten AM. I would be on from about ten AM to about twelve noon. During that time I could write at least five times as much as I could during any other time of the day. What I did was I started taking my lunch from ten till eleven AM, some cases eleven to twelve, and I would go somewhere and I would write.

I got my second book done very, very quickly because of this. If I had not done that, it would have taken me at least four to five times longer. That’s one example.

A lot of people have a goal to start their own business, but they struggle to get a business proposal on paper. They struggle to take that first step. They struggle to do all kinds of strategic things for their life that if they were just using their peak mental energy like 15 minutes a day, they can make real progress on.

It doesn’t have to be right in your peak time. If that’s just an impossibility for you, can you get up 15 minutes before your kids get up? Can you get up an extra 15 minutes early even if that’s like your 7 time, when you’re at a 7 out of 10 and use that time to do something strategic for your life, where you’re really moving the needle on your long-term goals.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that idea in terms of those things that are important, but you’ve been having some trouble getting movement on. That seems like a perfect combo for, “Ah, a peak mental energy time is what needs to be allocated here.”

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, ideally I’m thinking of the four quadrants of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, not urgent but important. That would be the idea stuff that you’re using your peak mental energy time for. Every once in a while it might be important and urgent, but at least you’re always doing something that’s important during that time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. It’s key to do the scheduling and to be strategic about how we are deploying it. Then beyond that, what are some ways that our mental energy gets zapped over the course of the day?

Isaiah Hankel
Once you have your map there and you know when your mental energy is peaking, now start asking yourself what gets in the way of your mental energy or start tracking during the day. Maybe take a couple of notes underneath that list that you’re creating for four or five days and make a list of when you’re feeling the most drain. Who did you just interact with? What did you just do?

Everybody is different. One draining activity or one draining person for me might be different for you. What you’re going to find is that there are certain people that really drain your energy, certain interactions, certain types of interactions

Maybe sometimes with your boss it’s okay, but other times it’s not. If they had a conversation with you during this time right before lunch when they’re hungry, it’s not good, so you can start avoiding that.

Maybe every time you have a conversation with this person, they’re really dramatic and they suck you into their drama and you’re like, “Oh wow, this is usually happening during my peak mental energy, like I’m responding to some text. I’m going down this rabbit hole. If I just stop responding to this person, it goes away.”

Maybe it’s an activity that just completely drains you, you really dislike doing, not something that’s important, that’s hard to get started that you need to do, but something that’s lifeless and just pure busy work that’s not really moving you forward, something you can outsource to somebody else or delegate at work.

Start asking yourself, “What are the activities I can get rid of, the things that are really draining me?” What you’re going to find more often than not is it’s people and that you’ve done a really poor job of being selective and deliberate with the people that you’ve allowed in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, intriguing. So being mindful and aware of the different people and how that’s impacting us with the energy certainly. Then any pro tips for dealing with that, like, “Oh, it looks like these people are sucking the energy and I’d like to minimize my exposure?” How do you do that with tact or grace?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, I call it going on a relationship fast. An important caveat here, just like with food fasting, we used to think, oh, if you fast for two weeks, this is somehow good for you. It can be very bad for your body. You don’t drink anything, don’t eat anything for weeks, very hard on your organs.

But we do know that certain types of fasting can be very, very good for your body, intermittent fasting, fasting certain types of food like not eating grains for a period of time or not eating dairy for a certain period of time or limiting foods one by one to see what you might have a food allergy for. All kinds of fasting that once you get more strategic with it, can lead to big insights and big benefits.

Same thing is true for relationship fasting. The problem is that we’re all so connected to our networks and we all have been bombarded with especially in today’s over connected world, that connections are important. You need to have as many Facebook friends as you can. Not just Facebook though, you also have all your other social media connections.

Not just online, because those aren’t your real relationships, you have to go to a bunch of conferences and you have to listen to every single podcast out there and you have to read everything possible. This stuff is good, but are you being deliberate? Are you choosing to read and to consume and to connect with people that are making you better or do you really have no filter? How deliberate are you being?

One good way to answer that question is to step away temporarily, not forever, but for a few days. Step away from your relationships. Of course you have your kids, your wife, etcetera. It’s going to be individualized for everybody.

But there’s probably a group of friends or at least one friend that’s coming to your mind right now as you listen to this that you’re asking yourself, “Does this person really make me a better person or a worse person? How do I usually feel when I interact with them? Is it just competitive? Are they a friend who’s really kind of an enemy?” There’s only one way to find out. You have to gain distance. Emotional distance will provide clarity.

By going on a temporary fast and doing it in a tactful way, you don’t just say, “Ah, I’m not talking to you anymore,” or “I’m in a relationship fast. Can’t talk.” You instead say, “I’m going to be taking some time to work on an important project. If you don’t hear from me for the next couple of days, I’ll get back to you on this date.”

You step away. You implement some of the things we’ve been talking about here, spend some more time on your personal goals, what you’re doing and all of that will become more and more clear as you kind of de-clog your life here with this temporary fast. You’ll gain some real insights by doing this.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Lovely. I also want to get into your take on being busy is a bad thing. What’s that about?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, busyness, and we hear this a lot. It’s almost overused. It’s a badge of honor and people think, “Oh I don’t want to be busy for busyness sake, but I still want to be busy. There’s so much to do today and things are so competitive in my career,” or if I’m an entrepreneur I’m trying to get ahead in whatever way. We can just start filling our calendars and what we’re doing with a lot of stuff without evaluating whether or not it’s impactful.

It’s actually very simple to figure out if something’s impactful, you just need to find a metric, some unit of measure where you can determine whether or not you’re moving closer to the overall goal, the reason that you’re doing that activity or further away.

Most people never do this because they never carve out time during their peak mental energy to have the mental energy to draw those conclusions. They’re so busy that they just keep going onto the next thing and the next thing and the next thing, hoping subconsciously that one of these things is somehow going to be the opportunity of a lifetime.

Some day one of these things is going to fall into place. They’re going to arrive. Somebody is going to discover them. The boss is going to say, “I see all the work that you’ve done. This is the one thing I’ve been waiting for you to do. Now I’m going to make you a millionaire.” They all have this kind of like hazy, fuzzy, “this is why I’m working so hard” lie going through our head at all times.

If you get honest with yourself, you’ll realize like I stay so busy because a) I don’t want to confront whether or not what I’m doing actually matters because maybe it doesn’t matter and maybe that means that I don’t matter right now, which is not true. It just means what you’re doing doesn’t matter. And b) because I think if I let go of something, if I stop doing it, what if that’s the key to my success? What if that’s the one thing or the one connection that’s going to make me successful?

That’s just never true. There’s always other opportunities, but if you’re not measuring what you’re doing, you have no idea if you’re getting closer or further away or if it’s impactful. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, how intelligent you are, you can’t hit a target you don’t set.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. All right. You set the target and you are I guess mindful of the metrics and how different activities are moving that. Could you recommend what are some key metrics that folks have found open up a world of clarity about whether things are really worth doing?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, sometimes it’s easier than others. If you’re starting to write your own book or start a business, whatever, you can literally just count the words that you’ve made progress on in your book or count the chapters or in the business proposal, count the section.

If it’s at work, there’s likely some KPIs that are being measured for you by your manager. Maybe ask. Maybe evaluate and make a list of all the activities you’re doing at work and look at them to see what you are doing them for, like, “Why am I doing this? What does my manager want to see from this? Is this activity helping me gain any revenue for the company? Is this activity visible?” Optics matter. “Is it visible for my manager? Are they actually even seeing the result of this? Is it producing anything?”

Use that data too to go to your manager or your boss and say, “Hey, I’m doing this, but we’re not measuring anything. There’s no KPI. There’s no metric. Can we either set up a metric or can we cut this because it doesn’t seem like it’s impactful?” Just asking yourself why am I doing this, what is the result that it’s bringing? Once you get to the result, and you have it backed up with a why, you can determine the metric.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. You’ve got so much good stuff. I’m a little bit jumpy.

Isaiah Hankel
Sure.

Pete Mockaitis
But I can’t resist. I want to know it all. You’ve mentioned that other people’s opinions, you liken them to an infection. What’s the story here and how do we I guess inoculate ourselves?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, I always think of the movie Inception, where once something is suggested to you, it’s very easy for it to get implanted in your mind and then to grow and then eventually you think it’s your own idea and you execute on it. Now you’re chasing a goal that was suggested to you by somebody else without even knowing it. In the book it’s called the power of suggestion. It’s a real psychological phenomenon.

For example, you come into work and somebody says to you, “Hey, how are you feeling? Are you okay?” Then a little bit later a second person comes to you, maybe it’s just you didn’t comb your hair that day or whatever it is, and they say, “Are you feeling all right? You look a little disheveled.” Now by noon you’re going to go home sick because you think you’re sick and you’re not even sick. Just a very simple example.

We’ve all had something like that happen to us where somebody says something and then now it’s in our mind usually in the form of a question. Maybe they didn’t realize to do it, but that’s how powerful the power of suggestion is.

There’s a lot of studies that have shown that opinions travel through social networks just like the flu virus. The same kind of epidemiological studies that are done for the flu virus, they’ve done for opinions and for moods, emotions and they travel through these networks so that one negative person can have a drastic effect on hundreds if not thousands of people. One person’s opinion can do the same thing through the power of suggestion, through a variety of other means.

You really have to be careful. Anytime somebody gives you an opinion, especially an unsolicited opinion, you have to save yourself. What I do is I say, “I reject that.” Even if you’re just saying it under your breath or in your mind, you reject it. That’s not true because of X, Y, Z. Otherwise you’ll notice that these opinions will start setting up a camp in your brain. They’ll start forming limiting beliefs, limiting stories because our brains are wired to do that.

We have a negativity bias. We hear an opinion, we look for the negative information in that opinion, we set up limitations, and we set up negative stories in our brain to protect us from negativity.

There’s a part of your brain called the amygdala where information flows through it at a rate 12 to 1 compared to positive information. It flows through it right to your long-term memory banks so that negative information is stored 12 times faster and more securely than positive information.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that’s striking. That’s quite a multiplier. When you say, “I reject that,” can you give me some examples of maybe things recently that you heard then you’ve decided to proactively state out loud or internally, “I reject that.”

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, it sounds a little bit silly, but it was as simple as the example that I gave you. Sometimes somebody said, “Do you feel okay?” or “You look a little tired,” “I reject that. I look wide awake.” Right? I will literally say that because otherwise it can start to stack on you. Or somebody says, “You don’t really seem like you’re making progress in this area.” “I reject that. I’m making progress here, here and here. Then here’s also where I’m going to work to make even more progress.”

It’s not about putting blinders on. It’s about framing things differently. I heard it said recently that no frame, no gain. You have to choose how you frame things in your own mind.

There’s something called defensive pessimism, which is really important. I’m not about, again, putting on rose-colored glasses, being overly optimistic. You have to look at the data and look at what’s going on. That’s what defensive pessimism is. You say, “What could go wrong here?” You figure it out and it actually makes you more successful. It’s not about that, but it’s about you choosing how to frame things that are best for you, not letting other people frame things for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Talking about I guess disproportionate mental weightings, how’s that for a segue?

Isaiah Hankel
….

Pete Mockaitis
You mention the Zeigarnik Effect. I may be butchering that pronunciation. But it’s pretty intriguing. Can you unpack that for us?

Isaiah Hankel
The Zeigarnik Effect is – now you have me saying it too. It’s an effect that-

Pete Mockaitis
Zeigarnik.

Isaiah Hankel
Zeigarnik. I think I’ve had to look up pronunciation of that about 15 times. This is an effect that makes an open loop in your brain very hard to let go of. It’s why open loops, things that are kept in our working memory can have a drastic impact over our performance. The psychologist who came up with it was obviously called Zeigarnik. Now I can’t say it ….

Pete Mockaitis
Zeigarnik.

Isaiah Hankel
Zeigarnik. Bluma, yeah. He was a psychologist who noticed that a waiter had better recollections of unpaid orders. I’ve been a waiter and I know this. When you have an open table, it’s very similar to having an open thought or an open loop or a cast that’s not done in your mind. That’s how this effect was discovered.

Imagine you’re a waiter or maybe you’ve been a waiter or a waitress before. I used to waiter at a restaurant called Dockside in …. Great job. We had about five to six tables in a section. If there was a certain number of tables full, let’s say all six tables are full. They’re all eating. All six tables are on my mind all the time. I want to keep them as happy as possible because I want a tip.

If I’m asked at that time anything about the people at those tables, I have an amazing memory of those people, what they ordered, what’s going on. However, as soon as a table gets their check, they pay, and they leave, as soon as that happens and I clear out the table on the computer, if I’m asked the same set of questions about that table, I can’t remember anything. Because now the table is closed, the loop is closed, the task is closed and my brain dumps it from my working memory.

That’s the effect. Most of us walk around with hundreds of open tables in our mind at all times. We wonder why our mental energy is so dissipated. One of the most important things you can do and this is from a book, a famous productivity book called Getting Things Done.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, David Allen episode 15. Woot, woot.

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, there you go. Just make a list of all the open loops in your mind. Spend an entire day or spend – what I did is I spent three or four days during my peak mental energy times making a list of every open loop, everything from ‘I want to paint the garage one day’ to ‘I want to pay off my house’ to ‘I have this entire list that I need to get through that’s on my desk.’

We talked about collecting every inbox, which can be virtual and physical now into one place, putting it in a giant to-do list and getting all of those loops down on paper. That’s the first step to getting them out of your working memory.

Once you get them down, you’re going to have at least 100 if you do it correctly. I would say if you’re over the age of 25, you’re going to have at least 100.  Once you get them down, you’re going to be like, “I can’t believe I was holding on to all of this in my working memory this entire time.” You’re going to feel this huge sense of relief.

Then when you go through the list, if you can start crossing stuff off, if you can do it in two minutes – this is going back to the getting things done rule – just do it. Or there might be a lot of things where you’re like, “This is not happening. This is off the list completely.” Then you can file other ones into like a someday maybe file on your computer.

Then the rest of the things that you actually need to get done, you can probably get it down to in my experience a list of 100 to maybe 30 items. That’s it. Again, all of that’s relieved from your working memory. All those loops get closed. Your energy will go through the roof after this process. But again, most people never do it. Why? Because they’re too busy doing stuff that’s not important.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, another fascinating implication of the Zeigarnik Effect in terms of our memory for these open loops is I think showing up in terms of storytelling. This is reminding me of another great author, Robert Cialdini.

In his later book Pre-suasion he figured out how he can really engage in his classroom if he posed a bit of a question or a mystery like, “How is it that this tiny organization was able to grow and overtake this huge organization in marketing or sales or whatever over four months. It wasn’t this. It wasn’t this. It wasn’t that.” Then they’re like, “Well, what was it?”

I think the same thing happens in a TV series or some of these true crime podcasts, where we’re doing an investigation over time. It’s like the brain wants that closure and you’re so intrigued and it’s so top of mind that sometimes you’re not even really enjoying watching the TV series or listening to the podcast, but you’ve just got to know what happens to these people.

Isaiah Hankel
Yes, you want to close that loop. Yeah, you’re right. Everything from marketers to entertainers have known this for a long time. I know one particular marketer that sends an email every day and at the end of it, it’s like, “And tomorrow I’m going to tell you about X, Y, Z.” Curiosity is a very powerful way to create an open loop and keep yourself or what you’re doing, or what you want to be on somebody’s minds on their mind.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, talking a little bit about these different factors in terms of protecting your energy and prioritizing and not being too busy and focusing on the right stuff and closing loops and getting it all out of there. I’d like to get your take on non-negotiables and how this can be a productive means of achieving some of these ends.

Isaiah Hankel
One of the best ways to not allow a loop – one of the best ways to close a loop is to not allow a loop to be opened in your brain. One of the best ways to do that is through non-negotiables.

People have a hard time saying no today. I struggle with this. I think a lot of us do, especially people who are – people that like to seize opportunities. You want to get stuff done. You’re a doer. You think the more yes’s I commit to, the more likely I’m going to be successful, the faster I’m going to be successful. But really it’s the opposite.

I read it in a book, I think it was by Tim Ferris that said you have to move from throwing spears to holding up a shield. This transition point comes at a various stages in your growth of your career, your personal growth, whatever it is.

But you have to be very cognizant that “Should I stop throwing spears at this time? Is it time to stop trying to throw everything against the wall to see what sticks? Has enough stuck that now I need to start holding up the shield and I’ve got to start saying no? I’ve got to say, ‘I just don’t do that.’ I’m not taking on any more projects until this date. I’m not staying online past eight PM anymore, non-negotiable. This is my morning routine that I’m going to execute every single day, non-negotiable.”

There’s real power in that. The power is that you don’t allow extra loops to get open. You don’t allow extra stuff to start stealing your attention and draining your mental energy. You’ve taken a stand to protect your mental energy in a formidable way.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. I’d love to hear what are some non-negotiables that have been really powerful for you and those you’ve chatted with about the concept?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, so a couple I just said have been really powerful. Bookending my day is really important. I have a non-negotiable that at this time I’m offline and I’m home with my family and I’m present with my kids. The end. No matter what I can get done at that time, that’s just the way that it is. It actually makes me work a lot faster and really makes me prioritize a lot more carefully.

Same thing in the morning. This is the morning routine that I’m doing every single day. I have one that’s like a ten-minute routine that can be done anywhere, if I’m traveling – no matter where I’m travelling, etcetera. That is what I do. Then I have certain key days too, like on this day, this is the day that I do calls on, client calls. Only on this day, non-negotiable, no other days. It’s got to be fitting on this day.

If you can set up a few of those – I call it bookending for a reason. But if you can add bookends and a couple of bookmarks to your days and weeks, it gives you a structure and it acts almost like a tripwire to make sure that you’re saving a certain amount of mental energy, otherwise things will just continue to swell and go towards disorder. It’s entropy. It’s just going to happen. This is again kind of a tripwire to prevent the entropy from getting out of control.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess, I’ll ask it later, but instead I’ll ask it now. These ten minutes, what are you doing with your ten minutes there?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, good question. What I try to do and what I’ve noticed is if I can do something physical, if I can take in some information, then if I can put out some information, I feel really good. What I do kind of changes, but one thing I’ve been doing recently, I’d say for the past six months, is I would get up and I’ll do a little bit of core work, stretching, core, just get a little bit of I guess mobility work in, very little. I can do that in a couple of minutes.

I’ll meditate, again, for a few minutes. I will pray for a few minutes. I will read a couple of books that are usually set up into either like a devotional or a book that has really short chapters. Then I’ll do an entry in a gratitude journal. I’ll write a little bit.

This is all really kind of in ten minutes. It’s about a minute or two a piece. It’ll swell if I have more time. It can swell up to like 30 minutes, but at least I’m getting each of those in in a minute. Then finally I’ll do something, I usually will row or could be something with like a kettle bell, just to get the heart rate up a little bit before having lemon water with Himalayan pink salt.

Pete Mockaitis
Himalayan pink salt. I’ve heard of this. Tell me. It’s supposed to be special somehow.

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, I got hooked on it. I did a podcast with Onnit and I started watching a lot of their content before to prepare just like I do with your stuff. Yeah, it came up. It’s supposed to be really good for cleaning out your adrenals among other things.

Pete Mockaitis
More than any other salt?

Isaiah Hankel
Not just the salt, but the lemon water with the salt. Maybe put a little bit of apple cider vinegar in it. The Himalayan pink salt has a lot of – not chemicals, but like phosphorus, sulfurous, really good – I’m forgetting the name right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Minerals?

Isaiah Hankel
Minerals. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Feels like a word that might apply to salt. I’m just guessing.

Isaiah Hankel
That you can’t get from your normal table salt.

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

Isaiah Hankel
I would say really take seriously figuring out when you are peaking and be greedy for that time. That is your time. That is your essence. What you do during that time is who you are and who you’re going to become.

I think happiness, if that’s your pursuit that we’re all going towards, you have to realize that happiness is doing. Happiness is not just who you are. We all have a being and that’s important, but it’s also doing. We live today doing so much that we don’t think enough about what we’re doing, those activities. If you can own one or two hours during your peak time, you’re going to own yourself.

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

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, this is one I have on my desk. I think for me it’s always been kind of a good mantra that’s kept me focused. It says, “I do not fear failure. I only fear the slowing up of the engine inside of me that’s pounding saying, ‘keep going.’ Someone must be on top. Why not you?”

It might sound too intense for some people. That’s a quote from Patton, but basically it means fear is not the problem here. Failure is not the problem. Apathy is the problem, not caring, not trying to be the best that you can be. That’s what you should be afraid of.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. How about a favorite study?

Isaiah Hankel
Favorite study. Man, I had like three or four and I didn’t decide on one. One that I really like going back to what we talked about today is the study showing people’s performance during those peak mental hours. If you think about it, it’s really showing that time is relative.

How can a being or person during these set times get so much more done than outside of those times. It’s like you’re a different person and your brain is a different brain during those times. It’s something that I don’t think enough people have thought about it. We’ve just scratched the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s possible when we start tapping into human performance through the protection of mental energy.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Isaiah Hankel
Favorite book. Fiction or non-fiction?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ll take them both.

Isaiah Hankel
Fiction, I really enjoyed Fountainhead. I read it when I was young. It’s one of the things that inspired me to start my own business to even write a book instead of just going and doing what I was told in academia.

Non-fiction, so many things. The one that I read recently that I think really spoke to me and I read like three times is Relentless by Tim Grover. What I like about it is there’s people who start their own businesses. They’re very driven. People always talk about the dark side of being driven and how it’s bad.

He kind of flipped it and said, “No, this is very good and some of the best things that have ever been created and the people’s top performance and just a variety of things are because of this.” I really enjoyed it.

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

Isaiah Hankel
Something that helps me be awesome, I really can’t get enough of these new Apple pods because I do so many calls and I dictate so much that it allows me – one of the things that I do when I have a little bit more time in the morning is I like to wear a 40 pound weight vest and just go for a walk and listen at like two times speed a podcast like yours or a book. Then I have a dictator that I’ll dictate into. The pods makes all that possible.

Pete Mockaitis
So it’s a separate device that you’re using for the dictation?

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, exactly. Because that way I don’t have to stop listening to the book and I can just rant into this. A lot of is just pure nonsense. I’m like, “Oh that’s not really a good idea,” but sometimes there’s these gems that comes out of it. Once I started using two devices for that it was a lot different because otherwise I’d have to stop my phone, what I was listening to and dictate on my phone, etcetera.

Pete Mockaitis
What is the dictation device of choice that you’re using?

Isaiah Hankel
I can look it up real quick here. It is Sony ICD-PX370 mono-digital voice dictator.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, the ICD-PX gem.

Isaiah Hankel
I was going to say, you might know that.

Pete Mockaitis
I actually don’t. Do you just keep it via audio or does some transcribing get into the picture?

Isaiah Hankel
No, I would love to know if there’s a better transcription device out there. Well, I use Rev.com. I’m guessing you know what that is. But no. The transcription devices that I’ve seen are highly complex, where you’ve got to have CDs and you have to – no, I wish it transcribed. I don’t think it does.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, how about a favorite habit?

Isaiah Hankel
Favorite habit, getting up at five AM more than anything else. This is something that like a lot of habits, you have to gently move towards. I for the longest time, for years, I wanted to joining this quote/unquote five AM club back when I was waking up at like eight AM. I’d set my alarm for 5 AM. I’d do it for like a day, maybe two and then crash and burn and give it up for a week and then two weeks later try it again.

What I finally did was I just started like 10 – 15 minutes at a time over the course of a week. Every week I’d get up, I’m serious, like 15 minutes earlier and slowly over the course of that 18 months, I’ve been able to start getting up at 5 AM. It’s just a beautiful time because you can shift when your peak hours happen.

I get up now and then very early when nobody else is up and there’s no calls or meetings or anything, I have my strategic time where my mental energies are peaking. It’s empowering to feel like you’re ahead of other people, even though there’s all kinds of time zones and I’m on Pacific Time, so I’m actually behind. Yeah, that’s by far my favorite habit.

Pete Mockaitis
But you’re also into sleeping a lot it sounds like.

Isaiah Hankel
Yes, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So when do you go to bed?

Isaiah Hankel
I track that and I go to bed at eight PM. I have to because I track it on a Fitbit, which I know is not the most accurate, but I do know – as long as you’re using the same scale, it’s apples to apples. I know what I trend at and how much sleep I need a week. I stick to that.

On a Fitbit, I have to get – I’m actually a pretty light sleeper, so I’ll be awake about an hour every night, at least according to my Fitbit. I know I need about 7 hours and 45 minutes almost on the nose in terms of averages for the week. I make sure that I get that. One of the ways that I have to do it is by going to bed at eight, so I get it.

Pete Mockaitis
So that’s 7 hours 45 minutes of actual sleep time, so the 9 hours of in the bedtime.

Isaiah Hankel
Exactly, so 7-45 plus the one hour, yeah, so it’s right around 8 to 5 yeah. ….

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I hear you. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Isaiah Hankel
A particular nugget?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, just an articulation of your wisdom that folks say, “Yes Isaiah, that was so moving and brilliant when I heard that from you.”

Isaiah Hankel
Yeah, I think it comes down to the relationship fast. Most people don’t give themselves permission to do this because they think they’re being a bad person or they’re going against – we hear words like anti-social. I know it’s probably easier for me because I’m an introvert, a non-shy introvert if you’ve ever read Susan Cain’s Quiet.

But you have to be okay with being alone. If you’re not, you’re never going to really know who you are and you’re never really going to know the power that you have in your own mind and what you can do with that power of being your mental energy and what you can produce with it that will make the world a better place. If you really care about other people, you’ll figure out who you are and you’ll spend some time on your own in a relationship fast, a temporary one doing that.

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

Isaiah Hankel
Go to IsaiahHankel.com. That’s probably the easiest. Or actually the easiest is probably HankelLeadership.com. They can read some extra articles there and get a couple free chapters of the book.

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

Isaiah Hankel
Yes, make your list of every hour that you’re awake for three days at least. Just record, scale it one to ten, what’s your mental energy. There’s going to be some great insights there. Then try to find one hour, one peak hour to protect. Do whatever it takes to protect that hour. It will change your life.

Pete Mockaitis
If I could just get a quick follow up there, when you say one to ten, could you orient us a little bit? How does a ten and a nine feel and how does a five feel and how does a one feel?

Isaiah Hankel
Great question. It’s going to be, of course, subjective, but the great news is it’s just you. You are the only subject, so it’s okay to be subjective in the sense – and you’re looking at a trend. If you do this in three days and your tens are all over the place, that’s a concern. You’re going to need to do it for a little bit longer.

But if you go for three – four days, like when I did it the first time in about, yeah, three – four days, I saw a very clear trend that a ten was at about the same time every day, right around that ten AM.

For you, you can always go back and say, “Oh, now that I’ve done this for a few days, this wasn’t really an eight. This was my ten.” You’ll gain clarity as you move forward. The key is just knowing, if you want to know in practice, what are those times when you seem really, really sharp, like people are asking you a question, you’re not really delaying in your responses, you’re flying through emails very, very fast. You feel like you’re in a flow state. If you haven’t read the book, it’s by Mihaly Csik-

Pete Mockaitis
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Isaiah Hankel
There you go. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I practiced that one.

Isaiah Hankel
A lot of word challenges today. Called Flow. Read that book. Anything that makes you present and sharp, that’s the feeling that you’re going for. When does that happen?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Isaiah, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks for taking the time and good luck with all you’re up to.

Isaiah Hankel
Thank you Pete. Great to meet you and great to be here.

396: Insights into Embracing Emotions at Work with Liz Fosslien

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Liz Fosslien says: "You are going to have feelings. It's okay. It's not a weakness. It's not a flaw."

Writer and illustrator Liz Fosslien shares why we should listen to our emotions instead of suppressing them at work. She also reveals how to be considerate of others’ emotions while protecting our own.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we should inspect instead of suppress our emotions
  2. Two ways to protect yourself from emotional contagion
  3. How to decode the wisdom your emotions are pointing to

About Liz

Liz is an author and illustrator whose projects have been featured by NPR, Freakonomics, The Economist, and CNN Money. Liz spent the past three years designing and facilitating workshops that empowered executives at LinkedIn, Facebook, Google, BlackRock, and Nike to build cultures of belonging. Previously, she led product and community projects at Genius and ran statistical analyses at the aptly named Analysis Group.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Liz Fosslien Interview Transcript

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

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, I’m really excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly. Well, I’m excited to dig into this. First I want to hear the backstory behind you have been eating the same breakfast every day for seven years. What’s the story here?

Liz Fosslien
I have. Yes. The breakfast is seven mini-scoops of non-fat plain Greek yogurts and then a granola bar that I crush into it.

It started as morning is my most productive time and so I just wanted to remove as much decision making from my morning routine. I just wanted to be able to know what I was going to do and then immediately sit down and kind of let all the ideas that had been going around in my brain out onto the computer page. But now it’s a really nice source of emotional support too when I’m travelling or just when life is getting really hectic; it’s just nice to always have the same breakfast.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s review. What’s the brand of Greek yogurt?

Liz Fosslien
Trader Joe’s. I’ve done-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yes.

Liz Fosslien
I’ve done a blind taste test because people have questioned my loyalty and I get a perfect score every time, so it’s – I think it’s by far the best.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I agree that it is excellent and it’s a good price. Which amount of fat? Is it the zero and then there’s the two and then there’s the full.

Liz Fosslien
Yes, I do zero. I tried the two and the full, but I thought it just tasted so good that I ended up eating a lot for breakfast, so yeah, I go non-fat.

Pete Mockaitis
How about the granola bar?

Liz Fosslien
It’s LUNA Bar.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, I love them.

Pete Mockaitis
I got into this weird debate with someone about whether LUNA bars were made for women.

Liz Fosslien
I think they are, but I don’t really know beyond that being somewhere on the labeling why they’re made for women.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well, they’re delicious and I’m a man and so-

Liz Fosslien
They’re definitely delicious. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular LUNA Bar flavor that you’re working with?

Liz Fosslien
It was the Nuts over Chocolate and then Trader Joe’s discontinued stocking that flavor, so since then I’ve been doing the lemon.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve also learned that Trader Joe’s is your go-to shopping location or grocery spot.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, it’s there. It’s convenient. They have samples. I’m not being paid by Trader Joe’s.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I love Trader Joe’s and I just wish they could deliver to us because we get most of them delivered.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess we’re too far away from the nearest Trader Joe’s, but when we go we end up stocking up and it’s usually in the frozen section like their chicken tikka masala and their chana masala.

Liz Fosslien
Oh, so good. Yeah. Yeah. So easy.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, I ask the hard-hitting questions here on How to be Awesome at Your Job, so I’m glad we’ve got that settled. Now tell us, you’ve got a book, No Hard Feelings, coming out. What’s the story here?

Liz Fosslien
The story is the book’s central idea is just that emotions are inevitable, so we should probably learn how to deal with them. It doesn’t sound that revolutionary on the surface, but I think there is a long-standing tradition in the workplace, this idea that you should check your feelings at the door. That is biologically impossible. We’re emotional creatures regardless of the circumstances.

By suppressing our emotions, we actually miss out on what could be really useful signals. The idea between No Hard Feelings is that you – take for example envy.

With envy, which is one of my favorite examples of something that might be thought of as a hard feeling, is actually really useful information that’s contained within that. I think there is some stigma around if you’re jealous of someone, people might worry that that turns into bitterness and it often does.

But if you just let yourself sit with that, you might realize that you’re envious of a certain person because they have something that you really desire. Then that can help you figure out how to channel your energy and where you might want to go with your career.

We talked to Gretchen Rubin, who’s lovely and she wrote The Happiness Project and The Four Tendencies. She said when she was a lawyer and kind of thinking about what she wanted her next career move to be, she was reading about alumni from her school.

When she read about someone who had an amazing law career, she found it interesting. But when she read about people who had amazing writing careers, she said became like sick with envy. That to her was this really clear signal that maybe she should try pursuing a career in writing.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. It’s funny, when you say envy I think of it in like a sinful context, like, “They don’t deserve that. Why them?”

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, I think a lot of emotions have this stigma around them. Again, I’m not endorsing that if you’re envious you should walk up to someone like, “I’m envious of you.” It’s more just if you hold these emotions that we think of as bad and that should be always thrown in the trash, if you instead hold them up to the light and inspect them, you might find something really useful in there.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Then this notion that we’ve all got emotions and they can’t go away even if it’s quote/unquote unprofessional or whatnot.

Boy what do we do with that in a context or culture, environment where you’re sort of not supposed to express that you’re angry at your boss for doing something that inconvenienced you or made your life difficult or you are sad that this thing that you poured your heart and soul and so much time into is getting scrapped and going nowhere. What should we do?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. I think something that might be a relief to people who are uncomfortable expressing emotions or in offices where maybe it isn’t as accepted to express emotions, is that there’s a lot you can do internally first. I think the very first thing when you’re experiencing a hard feeling is to try and understand the need driving that emotion.

Last year I was managing a design project and I found myself a few days ahead of the deadline just getting irritated with everyone I was working with. When I kind of went to my office and closed the door and sat by myself and thought about it, no one was doing anything that was super irritating. I really liked the people I was working with.

I realized that I was just irritable because I was extremely anxious about meeting that deadline. The need driving that anxiety was that I just wanted to make sure that we had the structures in place to meet the deadline.

We had a team meeting and kind of went over what the plan was over the next few days and ended up cutting a few things because we just wanted to make sure the core product was impeccable. I felt so much better and suddenly I wasn’t irritable anymore. I think a lot of the work is just what is the need driving this hard feeling.

Then I’ll say the second thing that’s really useful is in some cases to flag hard feelings in a way where you’re talking about your emotions without getting emotional about it. There are days when you’re going to have just a bad day and there maybe isn’t anything you can do about the need driving it. Maybe you’re just generally blue that day or it’s a personal issue that you can’t fix immediately.

In that case, people are going to pick up on the fact that you’re having a bad day, especially a leader, like your emotions have an outside impact on the people around you. If you don’t say anything, you’re just going to cause all this unnecessary anxiety.

Imagine we work together, I walk into an office. I just seem a little subdued. I’m not really responding that quickly or my responses are really short and curt. It’s super likely that you imagine that I’m upset with you or that you’ve done something bad or even worse case, you’re going to get fired. But if I instead say to you, “Hey, I’m having a bad day. It has nothing to do with you, but just want to let you know if I seem a little off, it’s fine. It’s just I have some stuff going on.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Liz Fosslien
I’m not going into detail, but you now get it. I think it also gives you the opportunity to treat me with a little more empathy, so we’ve really done a lot for our relationship without me breaking down, saying that much, oversharing. It’s just that little flag that is so crucial.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so helpful. I remember once I was consulting and there was a partner. We were talking about I don’t even know what, but he said something about his anxiety and that he gets it from his mother. I thought, “Ahh.” I was just so relieved, just like, “Man, whenever I’m around you I just feel like we’re screwing something up.” It’s like, “No, you just tend to be anxious and that’s sort of been that way your whole life and I can chill out a little bit.” It was like, “Ahh, what a relief.”

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, it doesn’t require crazy teambuilding thing. It wasn’t like a retreat. It was just one comment.

I think putting structures into place when you’re working with people, where you maybe just go around at the beginning of a team project and everyone answers really quickly what are some things you should know about me, what are some things that have come up in the past that people felt when I was on a team with them, what do sometimes people misunderstand about me. Just quickly answering those and having everyone do it, maybe half an hour, can save so much grief and avoid so much strife.

Pete Mockaitis
I also want to dig into what you said about the spreading of emotions. We had a previous guest, Michelle Gielan, and her book Broadcasting Happiness talked about it’s not so much the person who has the most intensely positive or most intensely negative emotion, so much as the one who is most expressive in terms of what’s showing up in that kind of spread.

How should we think about our spreading of emotions and maybe defending ourselves from the spread of something we’d rather not catch?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. The spreading of emotions psychologists call emotional contagion. It happens when we’re in person. I think like you said, this person you worked with was really anxious. I’m sure that you fed on that anxiety and found yourself often becoming anxious around that person. It also happens over text messages. If you’ve ever been in an argument with someone and they suddenly just start responding like, “Sure period,” “Kay, period,” you become stressed.

Humans we just pick up on these signals and start to mirror each other’s emotions. If someone is really stressed or anxious or even they are expressing that and they’re coming to you and they’re venting a lot, I think one of the easiest things to do if you can is just to keep physical distance.

MIT professor Thomas Alan found that people are four times more likely to communicate regularly with a coworker who sits 6 feet away as opposed to one who sits 60 feet away. If you’re in an open office space or if you have some flexibility to move around and someone just seems to be in a really difficult position, it’s okay to kind of separate yourself a little bit to preserve your emotional state.

Another tip that we give in the book that I really like is if someone’s consistently coming to you with the same problem, try and push them towards action. Something you can say is like, “Well, what could you have done differently?” or “What can we do to fix this situation?”

Just one question kind of forces them to – one it helps them because maybe they just have been so bogged in venting that they’re not thinking proactively anymore and two, it really does a nice job of gently shutting down the negativity. I think it’s really about putting a stop on the negativity and then also forming a little bubble in whatever way you can.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. I want to dig now a bit into you mentioned different emotions can be providing us with sort of signal information. I remember, boy, back in the day I read – it was a Tony Robbins book, Awaken the Giant Within. What a title. He even had a whole chapter where he was like this emotion can mean this, like guilt means you have violated one of your core values.

It’s like, in a way it seemed kind of elementary, but at the same time when you’re in the heat of your emotions, it can be nice to just make it real simple. Okay, what can be going on here? Can you give us a little bit of the ‘if this, then that’ recipe book in terms of how we might go about decoding the signal from different emotions?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, so two that I really like. One is if you think about – let’s say you’re making a decision and not doing or choosing one option over the other fills you with regret. I think this is also not groundbreaking. But you should maybe think about why you feel so much regret or why it hurts so much to give up one option.

I say this because I think when it comes to decision making, especially around work, there is again this idea of – I think people come down really strongly, either always listen to your gut or never listen to your gut. There’s some useful emotions and some emotions that aren’t useful, but regret is usually very useful. That’s an important one to listen to.

When I was thinking about taking a new job or staying at my existing job, when I thought about not taking the new job, I felt a lot of regret, so I realized that I was excited at the challenge and I didn’t want to give that up.

The other thing I felt was fear. I think fear can often be a really important signal around maybe you just really want this. I’m often the most fearful when I’m emailing someone that I admire. When we were writing the book, we interviewed a lot of people. I found that writing emails to people whose books I love, like I would put Gretchen Rubin in this camp or Daniel Pink, who wrote Drive and then just came out with the book When. It was – I was so afraid of emailing them.

I realized that I shouldn’t put off those emails because I was afraid. It was just I thought it would be so amazing if these people – if I could speak to them and learn more about them and kind of get to know them. The fear there was just a signal that this was really important to me. Instead of avoiding it, I should just put some more thought into how I went forward.

Pete Mockaitis
So both the fear and regret are pointing to what’s important to you. On the regret side, you’re sort of imagining a scenario in which you have chosen one thing or forsaken another and sort of observing the emotional response.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. I think it can be incredibly illuminating into kind of how you’re feeling because your brain is doing all this calculation and then sometimes what it spits out is a feeling.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly. I think about that fear in terms of emailing folks who have a real impact perhaps on your fate and then there’s fear and then that fear sometimes knee-jerk reaction is just to oh, do something else instead of maybe asking a better question might be “What could I put in this email that would make it all the more compelling and engaging and answerable?” as opposed to “What else am I going to do?”

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. I’ve actually started using fear as a way to prioritize my to-do list in the morning. When I think about – I have just a running list with everything I need to do. In the past I found that I kept falling into this trap of just going to the easiest stuff first. Sometimes that was organize my desk. Organizing your desk is important, but it’s not going to move your career forward in a meaningful way, unless you’re a very, very disorganized person.

What I would do is look at this list and then I would identify the three things that I was most afraid of doing or just had the most emotional resistance around. It usually meant it was because they were hard or they were important. Those are the things that I would do first if it did seem to bear out that these are really important things to me. Then I would leave kind of the little stuff for later in the day when research shows that our productivity starts to wane, we’re less able to focus.

Really, again, I think it’s just a great example of you’re afraid of sending that email, maybe that’s the thing you should spend your morning focusing on doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really good. Since you have been there, done that many a time when it comes to “I’m afraid of this email. It’s high stakes. I want to send it out. I’ve got to make sure it’s right.” What have you found to be some of the best practices particularly in sending emails that you fear that get them responded to?

Liz Fosslien
I think one is just to write like a human being. I think that especially earlier in my career I definitely did this, put people off and get into business mode, which is like, “To whom it may concern, I am deeply passionate about,” whatever. That might be true, but just I think having some personality show through makes it – it reads more naturally. It doesn’t feel so much like a form letter, like someone is pitching you on something.

I’d say that’s one of the most important things, which also ties into a nice piece of advice that we have in the book, which is just always emotionally proofreading your emails, so trying to put yourself in the recipient’s shoes.

Something that I have done before with really important emails is I think so often when we find a typo or we find something we could have fixed immediately after we hit send. A way to avoid that is to write an email and then send it to yourself. That forces you to actually click on it and open it and read it.

I think that helps literally put yourself into the recipient’s shoes. Then it becomes clear as you do that, “Okay, what could be better? Where could I put in more specific example? What information is missing? How am I coming across?” I think really just having – putting yourself in the recipient’s shoes goes a long way.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that’s really cool. I’m sort of imagining myself doing that and trying to get some even extra distance, like I’ll take a little walk and then return to it. It’s like, “Oh, what do you know? I’ve got an email from Pete. Let me take a look. What do you know?”

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, yeah. I love that. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. I actually – this idea for sending it to myself came from – Mollie is my coauthor. We wrote the book together. There are eight chapters and we split them up into four chapters each and each did the initial draft and then we swapped the draft.

Mollie called me after a while and she told me that my emails were making her feel really bad. I was surprised because I thought that I had been responding in a really fast manner. I was giving her great tips on what we needed to change, what should be edited, what wasn’t working. But then she said, “Why don’t you just read one of the emails you’ve written to me from my perspective.”

I did that and basically what I was sending her were just long bullet point lists of all the things I thought needed to be better in the chapter. Nowhere in that email was like, “Thanks for taking a stab at this. Here’s what I really liked.” That emotional proofing, all of that was in my head, but I had never put it in the email. Mollie has no idea what’s in my head, so she was just getting these walls of critical feedback.

I think that really helped me understand, “Oh, I need to take some of the stuff that’s in my head and put it in the email because it is relevant, it is important and she’s not a mind reader. I can’t – I need to step away from only focusing on efficiency.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s very well said. I think sometimes it’s impressive just how fast it came. That’s a quick thing you can say is like, “Wow, great job on a quick turnaround. You’re really cranking through some words this morning,” and then that makes me feel good, like, “Well, yes, thank you. I was cranking on some words this morning. I appreciate that.”

Liz Fosslien
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about the feedback point there. Feedback is boy, emotionally rife or rich, shall we say, in terms of both on the giving side and the receiving side. If you talk to managers behind closed doors, they’ll admit they’re sometimes terrified to give feedback to their direct reports. Certainly on the receiving side, feedback can make you defensive or angry. How do you think about feedback and what are some of the best practices for giving and receiving it well?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, so I’ll start with giving feedback. I think really the way to come at it is to consider how do I give feedback that doesn’t pack a really painful punch. Great feedback allows the recipient to more quickly move past this inevitable defensive reaction and move on to determination and action. To that end we really encourage people to do three things.

The first is just focus on specific behavior. When we give vague feedback, it’s so easy for the recipient – first of all, they don’t know what to do with it. It’s much easier for them to ruminate on it and just think and think and then it becomes this big issue that more and more seems like an attack on their entire sense of self.

As an example, if I say to you, let’s say you send me an email and I give you feedback. The first is, “This email just could have been better. I think it missed the mark,” versus “The second sentence in your email was a little repetitive. I think it’s unnecessary and you should delete it to be a little more succinct.”

It’s so easy. You just delete the second sentence and go about your day. Whereas the first when I say, “It just missed the mark. It wasn’t good,” it’s much easier to go home and be like, “Oh my God, it wasn’t good. What do I do? I don’t know how to improve, so what else isn’t good.” Again, it’s about reducing unnecessary anxiety.

The second tip that I really love is present feedback in a way where it’s about building the person up. A great way to communicate that is just to start with saying, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations of you and I’m confident that you can reach them.” That immediately puts them on “I’m here to help. This is advice. I’m not here to tear you down. I’m not here to make you feel bad.”

Then the last thing is just really trying to understand. I think this goes back to the earlier point about taking the time to figure out how do people like to work with each other and how to they like to receive feedback. I love feedback. I love it in the moment. I just always want people to be telling me how I can improve.

Mollie, for example, that makes her really uncomfortable. She would always rather receive it over email and then have some time to think through it and also process her initial emotional reaction. If I’m just spitting feedback at her, I’m going to make her feel bad because I’m operating around how I want to be treated as opposed to how Mollie wants to be treated.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really good. I like that actionable piece. I think about reviews in particular. How sometimes it’s just so vague, like, “Be more professional.” That’s one thing I loved about consulting at Bain was that the reviews, well, boy, they were extensive like five pages single spaced like every three to six months.

My ‘be more professional’ would be like, “Pete would sometimes use language such as ‘cool beans’ or ‘word’ in front of the clients and these word choices don’t convey as much of a professional demeanor.” It’s like, fair enough. I can see where you’re coming from there. That’s way more actionable, “Don’t say ‘word’ or ‘cool beans’ to a client until you’re really chummy,” than “Be more professional.” What does that even mean ‘be more professional?’

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, just thinking about what can you do to really help this person and ‘be more professional’ is just not that helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Then how about on the receiving side of things?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, we like to say that you need feedback to improve. If no one is ever criticizing you, if no one’s telling you what you’re doing wrong, you’re never really going to set yourself up for success because everyone has areas that they could be improving on. You want to make it awesome for people to come to you with hard feedback. I think the best way to do that is to be able to regulate your initial defensive reaction.

One thing is just keep reminding yourself that you need critical feedback to improve. Again, from the other side see it as this person trying to help you. A friend is going to tell you that you have spinach in your teeth. A non-friend is not going to tell you because it’s uncomfortable. It might hurt your feelings. There’s going to be this awkward moment. Really try and see it as this person is here to help me.

Another thing is to use the word ‘what’ instead of ‘any.’ People, I find, often say like, “Do you have any feedback for me? Is there anything I could be doing differently?” It’s really easy for people to respond to that with, “No, I thought it was good.” But if I instead say, “What are two things I could have done better?” it’s hard to say, “Ah, nothing.” People usually can come up with one or two things. Phrasing the question can invite feedback in a different way.

Then my final piece of advice I’ll give here that I really love is keeping, we call it a smile file, but it’s essentially a folder, that can be digital or physical, where you just keep – it can be a folder in your inbox, where when you get feedback or someone thanks you for doing something or says something really nice about you, you save all of that to a folder.

Then when you receive critical feedback, you can go back to that folder and remind yourself of all the things you do well. Then you’re better able to see the criticism as one data point in the entire picture of who you are. It’s like, “I need to work on this, but it’s not devastating because there’s all these other things that I am doing well.”

Pete Mockaitis
I really like that. That reminds me of when I was in college and I was feeling a little shaken in my confidence because I think I was rejected from all these clubs I tried to get into as a freshman. It was like, “What the heck? I was Mr. High Achiever in high school. What’s the deal here?”

I made a little notebook in terms of all the things that I sort of achieved or sort of gotten great feedback on. Sure enough, you make a big list of 100 plus things, you’re like, “Well, damn. These are minor setbacks. I’m going to find my place real soon here. It’s all good.”

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, I think it’s so nice to have that to go back to. Again, whatever works for you. I have a folder in my inbox, where I’ll just put a nice email in there. Then even when I’m not receiving critical feedback sometimes it’s still nice to just go back and be like, “Oh, I did some cool things.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m going to put you on the spot Liz. Can you share a favorite bit of feedback or accomplishment that consistently brings a smile to your face and gets you in a good place?

Liz Fosslien
Yes. The book is also illustrated and I drew the illustrations, so they’re-

Pete Mockaitis
They’re really fun.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. Some of them kind of show the research or communicate an idea and then some are just meant to be light-hearted.

It’s not specific, but I think when people email me, I also have them on our website and then on Instagram. I’ll get comments from time to time especially around illustrations about anxiety and feeling stressed about work or feeling overwhelmed at times and normalizing that and saying everybody feels like this.

I’ve gotten comments from people saying, “I struggle with anxiety especially in the workplace and just knowing that you feel the same has made me feel so much better.” That is really meaningful to me I think connecting with people on that level and realizing that a little stick figure can have a profound impact on someone’s mood is incredibly motivating and lovely to hear.

Pete Mockaitis
That is very lovely. You’re bringing back memories for me. I think my favorite from a listener was “Every day an episode comes out, I make sure to wake up early so I can listen to it twice.”

Liz Fosslien
Oh, that’s so nice. I feel like I just got a warm glow from that ….

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, thank you listener.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, that’s ….

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. Now we’re both smiling. That’s good. Well speaking of smileys and emojis, how’s that for a segue?

Liz Fosslien
Beautiful.

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to communicating digitally, that’s tricky because you don’t have the facial expressions, the tone and all that. If we’re texting and emailing and Slacking – not skipping work, but using Slack as a communication channel – then how do we communicate in these digital ways with regard to this emotional piece of things?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. The first thing I would say is when you’re first getting to know someone, don’t just rely on digital communication. If I get a short email from my mom, whatever. We have a good relationship. We’ve know each other for 30 plus years. It’s fine. I’m not going to read into it.

If I’m working with someone new, that’s kind of all the information I’m going on, so I’m going to read a lot more into that email. That’s generally bad because digital communication is lacking in so many non-verbal cues that are really important in communicating actually your meaning and your feelings.

I would just always advise, start with video calls. Even just get on the phone if you can so you can hear tone of voice, cadence, how fast someone is speaking. These are all really important emotional signals.

Then the second is again, it just goes back to really trying to be as explicit as possible to avoid unnecessary anxiety. Let’s say that I’m a manager and I email one of my reports because I’m in a rush, I just say, “Hey, got your email. Let’s talk tomorrow.” That’s horrifying to receive as a report. If my manager sent me that, I’d be really anxious.

By I might have just meant, “Hey, I thought this was really good. There’s a few minor edits, but I can give them to you tomorrow,” but that does such a different thing for the recipient, so really being explicit.

Then the last thing I’ll say is that just typos communicate a lot of emotion. We liken them to just emotional amplifiers. Let’s say I send an email and I’m just slightly upset about something, but it’s filled with typos. Let’s say I send this to Mollie, my coauthor.

When she reads it, she’s going to see the typos and she’s going to imagine me banging away at my computer in a blind rage and not even caring about typos whatsoever. She’s going to perceive it as really angry when maybe I just meant it as “Hey, here’s this small thing that kind of upset me a little bit.” Just paying attention to these really small things that have big effects on how people perceive your email.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing when you call it an emotional amplifier. I guess can it work in a positive way if you think something is excellent and you’ve got some typos, like “Wow, he was so overwhelmed with joy and enthusiasm for my work product that he is blurting it out all over the keyboard.”

Liz Fosslien
Definitely. I think – immediately comes to mind is text messages when you share really exciting information. Then you get back like a ‘OMGQ exclamation point.’ The Q, it does convey you were just so excited to respond to me that you didn’t care about the typo.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. Well, now I’m tempted to do it deliberately, but then I’m like oh, is that inauthentic? Is that deceitful?

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, you have to use this information for good, not for evil.

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

Liz Fosslien
I would say one last thing is just I really am a fan of the concept of selective vulnerability. I think more and more people are asked to be authentic, to be vulnerable around each other and it can be confusing to understand what does that even mean. How vulnerable can I be? If I am going through something and I’m really stressed about it, how much of that should I share?

We encourage people share, again, talk about your emotions without getting emotional, but then in a work context, it’s still important, especially if you’re a leader, to follow that up by painting the most realistic but optimistic picture of something.

Again, let’s say that there’s a round of layoffs. If you as a leader don’t show any emotion, people are going to think you’re a robot. Obviously, this is affecting you in some way. But you also don’t want to be standing in front of your employees having a panic attack.

One thing you would do is “I know this is a stressful time. I am feeling it as well, but we are making changes on our end to make sure that we’re going to be in a good position and that we won’t go through this again. We’re also working with people who are laid off to do X, Y, Z.” Just sharing information that provides some hope for people, but also not making them feel alone in their emotional state.

Things are going to be hard at work. It’s normal to be affected by them. I think if we don’t acknowledge that, we risk – we’d lose trust. There’s no trust anymore.

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

Liz Fosslien
Yeah, I really like it’s a small mindset shift, but it’s “Any time you find yourself saying ‘I have to do something,’ instead try saying, ‘I get to do something.’”

I am sometimes nervous about public speaking events or about just giving a presentation in front of people. I will often the night before find myself just thinking, “Why did I do this to myself? I’m so scared. I have to do this presentation tomorrow.”

And taking a movement and just saying, “I get to do this presentation. This is a cool opportunity for me. I get to share what I’ve been working on. Maybe someone will respond to it in a way that makes me feel good. Maybe someone will be so interested in it that we have fascinating conversation that deepens our bond also on a personal level.”

A lot of things that we’re afraid of, again, are opportunities. We fear them because there’s a big potential upside, so always reminding ourselves of that. I think that ‘I have to’ switching to ‘I get to’ is a really simple way of doing that.

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

Liz Fosslien
Yes. My favorite study is out of Baylor University. They found that emotions can go viral. Earlier I mentioned that concept of emotional contagion, where we catch each other’s emotional emotions. They found that emotions can spread from one office to another. It works like this.

I come home from work and I’ve had a really bad day because I’ve just been sitting next to someone who is incredibly stressed and I have not successfully wrapped a little nice bubble around myself. I come home and I’m really grumpy towards my partner. We get in a fight and then we go to bed angry. He wakes up the next morning and he’s irritated. He goes into his office and now he spreads that among all his coworkers. This happens.

I think that’s just a fascinating look at how important it is to have some kind of emotional flak jacket and to learn the skills to protect yourself but also to create a great environment for the people around you.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Liz Fosslien
Oh, I’m going to go with Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock, who led HR at Google for ten years. I think their people analytics department is fascinating. They do a really interesting and fun job of quantifying a lot of things around emotions, so what makes a manager good, what makes a good team good, and putting numbers and real experiments behind that I think.

It’s also useful for skeptics around emotions to say, no, here’s quantitative data showing why it is important to make people feel safe throwing out ideas or taking risks.

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

Liz Fosslien
Favorite tool. Is this an emotional tool or an app tool?

Pete Mockaitis
It could be either or both. I’m intrigued. I mean just something that you use regularly.

Liz Fosslien
Yeah. I would say just flagging how I’m feeling. I know I mentioned this before, but it’s just so useful. Also, I actually use this a lot in my personal life too. I think just any interpersonal thing, just flagging for someone, “I’m a little grumpy.” I done a lot like, “Hey, traffic was really bad today. I need half an hour to get over it,” or like, “I haven’t had coffee. I didn’t sleep well. Feeling a little grumpy right now. Maybe let’s talk in 20 minutes.” It’s just so, so useful, so I’m just going to bring it up twice in this interview.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite habit?

Liz Fosslien
Besides breakfast, I think taking photographs of things. I do a lot of design work, so taking photographs of things I find inspiring.

I will broaden that to say if you just see someone setting an example or doing something really well and you want to emulate it, writing it down in some kind of file or a journal. I think you can screenshot. If someone writes an email that makes you feel really good or you think was really well done, screenshot it and save it somewhere. Just always being aware of the lessons that are out there and keeping them in a file so that you can refer back to them.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Liz Fosslien
Just that we all have feelings. I definitely experienced this. My parents are stoic, academic immigrants, so I grew up in a pretty emotionally unexpressive household, so just this concept around permission. You are going to have feelings. It’s okay. It’s not a weakness. It’s not a flaw. I think that – which maybe is a little sad – but I think it’s really useful to hear that. It can make people feel a lot less isolated wherever they are.

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

Liz Fosslien
I’m going to point them to our website, LizAndMollie.com. Mollie is spelled M-O-L-L-I-E not M-O-L-L-Y. They can preorder the book, No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, at your local independent book seller, wherever books are sold.

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

Liz Fosslien
Acknowledge your emotion. Next time you feel strongly, sit down, maybe journal about it, and really think about why you might be feeling that way.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Liz, thanks so much for sharing the good word and good luck with the book, No Hard Feelings, and all you’re up to.

Liz Fosslien
Thank you so much. This was a lot of fun. Thanks for having me.