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

625: How to Be Happier, More Fulfilled, and More Effective Every Day with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar

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Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar says: "The problem is not the stress. The problem is the absence of recovery."

Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar discusses the fundamental principles that help us lead happier, more effective lives.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why many ambitious people end up unhappy 
  2. Why chasing happiness won’t make you happier—and what will 
  3. How to find your motivation in just five minutes 

 

About Tal

Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar is the co-founder of the Happiness Studies Academy, as well as the creator and instructor of the Certificate in Happiness Studies and the Happier School programs. 

After graduating from Harvard with a BA in Philosophy and Psychology and a PhD in Organizational Behavior, Tal taught two of the most popular courses in Harvard’s history: Positive Psychology and The Psychology of Leadership and taught Happiness Studies at Columbia University. He is an international, best-selling author whose books have been translated into more than 25 languages. 

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar Interview Transcript

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

Tal Ben-Shahar
Thank you, Pete. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to chat with you. I’ve read two of your books long ago and so much good stuff to dig into. So, maybe could you open us up with a little bit of a background on how you became an expert teacher on happiness?

Tal Ben-Shahar
So, I became interested in happiness because of my own unhappiness. I was an undergraduate at Harvard studying computer science, of all things, and I found myself, in my second year, doing well academically and doing well in athletics, I played squash, doing quite well socially, and yet being very unhappy. And it didn’t make sense to me because, in terms of what I’d learnt until, and I checked all the boxes, I did everything that I thought I needed to do to be happy and yet I was very unhappy.

Now, I remember, this was a very cold Boston morning, there were many of those, getting up and going to my academic adviser and telling her that I’m switching majors, and she said, “What to?” And I said, “Well, I’m leaving computer science, moving over to philosophy and psychology.” And she said, “Why?”

And I said, “Because I have two questions. The first question is, ‘Why aren’t I happy?’ Second question, ‘How can I become happier?’” And it’s with these two questions that I then went on to get my undergraduate degree in philosophy and psychology, then studied education across the pond, in the other Cambridge. And then back to Harvard for my PhD, all the time asking, “How can I help myself, individuals, couples, families, organizations, and, ultimately, nations, increase levels of happiness?”

Actually, I did become happier as a result of my studies, then I went on to share what I’d learnt, and what I continue to learn, with others.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great. I got a chuckle out of “About the Author” picture on the back of one of your books. You didn’t look super cheery, but you’re smiling a lot, so…

Tal Ben-Shahar
Well, I’m smiling a lot today, at the same time, I’m not always cheery. Happiness is not about a constant high. That’s a myth and illusion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, we’re going to dig with that, too. But I want to know, in your personal case, what did you discover was missing or, for you, what was like the discovery or the practice or the thing that made a big difference for you?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yeah. So, for me, the main thing was realizing that happiness doesn’t come from success. This is the model that most people have in their mind. They think that once you’re successful, once you achieve your goals, once you reach the summit, the peak that you’ve been aiming for, then you’ll be happy. That’s a misconception. That’s a misunderstanding of what a happy life is about. At best, success, arrival, achievement lead to a temporary high, nothing more.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I remember in your books you talked about often it’s a relief as opposed to happiness that we experience in those victories.

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yeah, exactly that. So, it’s a temporary relief. It’s what I describe as negative happiness. Why negative happiness? Because you need to go through a lot of pain and suffering and discontent. And when that goes away, you feel the relief, and you mistake that relief for happiness. You know, it’s a little bit like having a terrible headache, and then you take a pill and you feel better, and it’s such a relief, you’re happy, but it presupposes going through a lot of pain before.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, one key thing for you was the distinction associated with the relief and then the success, the achievement. Any other key discoveries that made the impact for you?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yes. So, another key discovery is about goals, in general. You know, there are essentially two dominant models when it comes to happiness. The first dominant model is it’s all about achievement, it’s all about getting there, arriving at that peak. That’s one model, it’s future-oriented. The other model is present-oriented. It’s all about being in the here and now, being present. And when you can be fully present, that’s when you can be fully happy.

And over the years, I shifted, as many people do, between the two models, and for a while I thought, “Okay, it’s all about finding a meaningful goal,” and then for a while I thought, “Okay, goals don’t do it for me or for anyone as far as I can see. Let me just focus on the present.” And in many ways, the future-oriented model is associated with the West. The present-focused model is associated with the East. And what I’ve realized, and what the research tells us, is that actually we have to synthesize the two models. The challenge, of course, is how to do that. How do you find the golden means, so to speak?

And the answer is that we need both, meaning we need to have a future goal. We are future-oriented creatures. We do need to have something that we strive, something meaningful, significant, in our life that we want to attain. We need that. At the same time, after we have that goal, then it’s time to let it go. Then it’s time to say, “Okay, I know where I’m going, I know my direction, I know where that peak is that I want to reach, and now I can just focus on the journey.”

And let me give you a personal example which, for me, is very timely. So, I have a book coming out on the 27th of April. That’s the date that my publisher gave. So, I have a very specific goal, a future goal. It’s a personally meaningful goal, which is of course important if we’re concerned with happiness. So, once I have that goal, I can let go of it. How do I let go of it? I say, “Okay, it’s in the future. Now, what I need to do is spend three, four hours every day writing in the present moment.” So, this morning, before this, I sat down for over three hours and I wrote.

When I wrote, I was in the present moment. I was focused on the here and now. I didn’t constantly think, “Oh, April 27th. Oh, I have to get to that mountaintop.” Not at all. That played its role as far as I’m concerned, and now I can let go and focus on the present moment, on the here and now, which helped me enter a state of being fully present or a state that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as flow.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. Well, so let’s zoom out a little bit beyond your own experience. So, you spend a lot of time with Harvard folks, an ambitious bunch. Can you share, our audiences also are ambitious, any recurring observations associated with happiness and ambition that you saw over and over again that How to be Awesome at Your Job listeners should know as well?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yeah. You know, very often, this is unfortunately quite common, we see very successful people, in fact, people whom we would describe as the most successful members of our society, we see them becoming depressed or addicted, whether it’s alcohol or drugs or even, in many cases, suicide. And the question is, “Why?” Why does a person who seemingly have it all opt for drugs, alcohol, or suicide? And here lies the answer. It’s because of the model, the false model, that they have internalized from a very young age.

So, let’s take an example. So, you have an individual whose dream it is to become a famous movie star, and he is unhappy as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult. However, through his unhappiness, he constantly and consistently tells himself, “That’s okay because when I make it, when I become a famous movie star, then I’ll be happy.” So, that belief sustains him.

And years go by, years where he’s unhappy, however, continues towards the goal. And then, eventually, he makes it and he becomes a success and, suddenly, he has more money than he knows what to do with, he can buy anything. And he buys himself the best and the fastest car and the most beautiful home in the most prestigious neighborhood, and he can have any partner, basically, that he wants, and he’s living the dream, and he’s finally happy. He has made it. And that lasts for a month, six months, maybe a year?

And then very soon after he makes it, he goes back to where he was before, psychologically speaking, emotionally, he’s once again unhappy. He’s once again, in fact, miserable. Only this time he doesn’t have the illusion to sustain him, telling him that, “When you make it, then you’ll be happy,” because he’s made it, he’s there. But he realizes there’s no there-there. And then he becomes despondent. Because, you see, the difference between sadness and depression is that depression is sadness without hope, and he no longer has hope now. He no longer has hope that reality can provide him with happiness. So, he looks for the answer outside of reality. What’s outside of reality? Well, alcohol or drugs or the ultimate exit from reality, which is suicide.

The belief that success or outcome or arrivals will make us happy, that’s an illusion and it’s a sinister illusion because it’s causing millions and millions of people around the world, ambitious people, well-intentioned people, to reach a dead end.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that is powerful and well-said. Thank you. That rings true and explains a lot of things all at once. I want to shift gears for just a smidge. So, the goal of happiness, in and of itself, is a great one. I want to make a connection. I’m thinking a little bit about some Shawn Achor work with The Happiness Advantage. Can you share the linkage between being happy and being awesome at your job?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Sure. So, there is a lot of research that shows that success doesn’t lead to happiness but there is also a lot of research that shows that happiness does lead to more success.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Tal Ben-Shahar
For example, if you increase levels of wellbeing, even by a little bit, I’m not talking radical transformation here, but if you increase levels of wellbeing by a little bit, creativity levels go up. We’re more likely to think outside the box. We’ll be more innovative. You increase levels of happiness even by a little bit, you become more engaged, more productive, whether you’re in school or in the workplace. Increased levels of happiness, and relationships improve significantly, or if you’re thinking about the workplace, teamwork improves.

In school, grades go up. In organizations, performance increases. Profits, revenues go up if you increase levels of wellbeing; retention rates go up. So, happiness is a good investment. It’s a good investment as an end in and of itself because it feels good to feel good, but it’s also a good investment in terms of other outcome measures, other KPIs, key performance indicators, that organizations, whether businesses or schools, are interested in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so a double whammy, being happy feels good and increases performance. So, let’s dig in then, how does one learn to become happier? What are some do’s and don’ts, some practices to start and stop?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yeah. You know, Pete, the first thing that we need to keep in mind, remember, is what has been coined “the paradox of happiness.” So, what’s the paradox? So, on the one hand, as the studies have established, happiness is good for us, so most people want to be happy. Again, because it feels good, because of all the other benefits thereof.

On the other hand, there’s also research, and this is by Iris Moss and others, showing that people who value happiness, in other words, people who get up in the morning and say, “I want to be happy,” or, “Happiness is important for me,” they actually tend to be less happy, they actually tend to be lonelier. And loneliness is a very strong predictor of depression, so we have a problem here that, on the one hand, we were told and we know that happiness is good for us, we want it therefore. On the other hand, we also are told that if we value it and it’s important for us, then we’re going to be less happy.

So, how do you resolve this paradox? And is it self-deception? Do you tell yourself, “You know, I actually don’t want to be happier, wink-wink, I actually do”? That’s not the way to do it. What do we do then? How do we resolve this paradox? The way we resolve this paradox is that we pursue happiness indirectly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Tal Ben-Shahar
Let me explain this. Let me explain this starting with an analogy. Think of the following analogy. Sunlight. You’re looking at the sunlight. What happens? It hurts. It burns. Unpleasant. So, instead of looking directly at the sunlight, what you can do is break the sunlight down and look at it indirectly. So, how do you break it? You break it using a prism and then you look at the colors of the rainbow, and you can savor them and enjoy looking at the sunlight indirectly.

In the same way, pursuing happiness directly, that’s unhealthy, unhelpful. But what if you break down happiness and then pursue those elements that make up happiness? Then you’re pursuing happiness indirectly. Now, this insight was actually described by John Stuart Mill 160 years ago. Today, we have the research to back it up. So, we know that if we get up every day and say, “I want to become happier,” we’ll actually become less happy. However, if I pursue the elements that make up happiness, for example, a sense of meaning in my work or at home, or if I pursue relationships which are one of the elements of happiness, that’s pursuing happiness indirectly, and that resolves the paradox, and that can actually lead us to becoming happier.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then let’s talk about elements. Is there a collectively exhausted set of these elements? We got meaning, we got relationships. If there is a red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, you know, lay it on us, what are the other colors?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Exactly. So, what are the colors of the metaphorical rainbow? My colleagues and I have been, obviously, working on this for a long time, and looking at positive psychology, however, also looking at general psychology as well as philosophy and theology and literature and neuroscience, we have created a model that brings together the different elements of happiness, the fundamentals, the basics, the primary colors, so to speak. And there are now three primary colors, there are five primary elements to happiness, and here they are.

The first element is spiritual wellbeing. Spiritual wellbeing, we could, of course, find it through religion. However, it doesn’t have to come through religion. It comes through a sense of meaning and purpose in life and through being present in the here and now. So, if I’m present to a blade of grass or to a person sitting in front of me, and truly present in the here and now, this potentially is a spiritual experience.

Then there is physical wellbeing. Physical wellbeing is about nutrition, it’s about exercise, it’s about sleep or rest and recovery, in general, it’s about touch. We are also physical beings. Next is intellectual wellbeing. So, intellectual wellbeing is, for instance, about curiosity. You know, Pete, that people who ask many questions, who are constantly learning, they actually live longer. In other words, it strengthens our immune system. They’re also happier. So, learning and deeply engaging, whether it’s with a text or with a work of art or with nature, deeply learning also contributes to our intellectual wellbeing, into our overall happiness.

Then there is relational wellbeing. The number one predictor of happiness is quality time we spend with people we care about and who care about us. Relational wellbeing also has to do with the relationship we cultivate with ourselves, which is obviously important. And, finally, it’s emotional wellbeing. Emotional wellbeing refers to our ability to deal with painful emotions, which are an inevitable part of life, of every life, as well as our ability to cultivate pleasurable emotions, whether it’s joy, gratitude, love, and so on.

So, these five elements – spiritual, physical, intellectual, relational, and emotional, that make up the acronym SPIRE – these are the five elements of a happy life. And when we pursue these elements, then what we’re doing is we’re indirectly pursuing happiness and contributing to our overall happiness, circumventing the paradox.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is excellent stuff. And I think, right then and there, that can trigger things for listeners right away in terms of, “Aha. Well, I’ve totally neglected maybe some spiritual practices,” or, “I’ve been eating out boxes recently instead of having salads, etc.” or, “Hey, instead of really channeling my curiosity into rich, engaged learning stuff, I’m just looking at headlines which aren’t really deeply satisfying,” intellectual needs there, and then relationally and emotionally. So, that’s a lineup.

I’m curious, when it comes to dealing with negative emotions and cultivating positive emotions, I imagine there are some not-so-healthy ways you could do trying to do that and some better approaches. What are the do’s and don’ts here?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yeah. So, this is very important. In many ways, I see the foundation of happiness. The foundation of happiness is, first of all, accepting unhappiness, or more specifically, when we encounter, when we experience painful emotions, what we need to do is embrace them, accept them. Now how do we embrace and accept painful emotions? Well, we can shed a tear. That’s one way of expressing painful emotions. We can talk about them, whether with a therapist, or coach, or our best friend, or partner. Or we can write about painful emotions.

There’s a lot of research, wonderful research by Penny Baker, Laura King, and others on the value of journaling. And when we write about our most difficult experiences, traumatic experiences, we are expressing them, we are giving them space rather than rejecting them, and then they do not overstay their welcome. There’s a beautiful poem by a Sufi poet, Rumi, from the 13th century, called “The Guest House.” And in “The Guest House,” Rumi talks about how we need to welcome all thoughts, all emotions, into our house just like we would welcome guests. Why? Because they are messages from the beyond.

Now, I don’t know whether or not they are messages from the beyond, but what I do know is that when we accept them and embrace them and welcome them, like we do guests, then they come in, we experience them, and then they leave. Whereas, if we reject them, the paradox once again here, is that they only intensify, grow stronger.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, so I’d like to zoom into in my own experience, some days I’ll have, well, I call the BLAHs, it’s an acronym, it’s that ordinary tasks, they aren’t that big of a deal, call it like email, or making dinner, or something, on some days they just feel a little extra BLAH, a little extra boring, a little extra lame, annoying, hard or hassle, and it’s not that hard or annoying or lame really to do any of these things, but some days they just feel like that, an extra dose. So, what is your recommendation in terms of best practices when we’re just having one of those days where there’s some extra BLAH associated with normal stuff? What should we do?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yes. So, there’s a lot of great research, much of it done in Carleton University in Canada, on procrastination. If you can believe it, there’s actually a procrastination lab. I don’t know whether they get any work done but it exists, and they actually do get a lot of work, a lot of great work done. And the most important research coming out of the procrastination lab, to my mind, is, well, they have coined the five-minute takeoff.

The five-minute takeoff is about starting whatever it is that you want to do even if you don’t feel like doing it. Why? You see, procrastinators, and, by the way, the majority of people would classify themselves as procrastinators, and would pay a high price for seeing themselves as procrastinators, meaning a high psychological price.

So, procrastinators have the mental schema, the model, that motivation must precede action. In other words, for me to act to do things, I have to feel really motivated. Some people take it even further extreme, and their argument is that, or they believe that, inspiration must precede action. This is a false model, and this is a model that leads, inevitably, to procrastination because, very often, as you point out, we have those BLAH days, very often we don’t feel like doing the work even if, overall, we like our work, or if it’s not too taxing and even pleasant overall. We all have those days when we just don’t feel like getting out of bed or working.

And if one has the mental model that motivation must precede action, well, then there’ll be no action because there’s no motivation. People who do not procrastinate, or procrastinate little, because we all do some of it, they have the model the other way around. They understand, they recognize, that action usually precedes motivation, that action needs to precede inspiration. In other words, even on days when they wake up and they don’t feel like working, “So what? We can still take action even if we’re not motivated,” and they start doing it. That’s the five-minute takeoff. And after five minutes, or it could be 10 or 20 minutes, motivation comes, energy comes, and then they continue to work. There is inertia that’s created by the action.

In other words, simply put, fake it till you make it, or fake it till you become it. That is the best advice. And this is advice that I heed and many people do, and that’s how you get work done. I study a lot about the lives of writers, of authors, because I can learn a lot from them. And, inevitably, what the prolific writers do is they have a set of rules when they write and how much they write. And it doesn’t matter if they’re inspired to write, or they feel like writing, or they’re really motivated to write. It doesn’t matter. They sit down and write. And if they have to fake it till they make it, or fake it till they become it, then so be it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And that five-minute guideline for the procrastinators, is there some magic to that number? Like, that’s kind of enough for the motivation to kick in pretty often or is it just sort of arbitrary?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Yes, and yes. So, it is pretty arbitrary. However, for most people, five minutes is enough, and if it’s not, then have another five minutes. There are days when a minute is enough, and there are other days when an hour is not enough, but it doesn’t matter. An hour is simply 12 five-minute sessions.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. Let’s talk a little bit about being in the pandemic, that has taken a toll on people’s happiness. Are there any particular threats or practices that are specifically relevant for this context?

Tal Ben-Shahar
I think most of the things that are recommended for regular times are good for difficult times only more so. For example, the rule of thumb in terms of the minimum amount of physical exercise that one should do is 30 minutes three times a week. The three times a week is a lot better than two times a week and it’s not much worse than four times a week.

So, this would be the rule of thumb, this is how much I used to practice pre-pandemic, three times a week, 30 minutes each time. During the pandemic, because stress levels are generally, for most people, higher, I would recommend doing four or five times a week. This is what I am doing now. Similarly, with gratitude, if usually even once a week of doing the gratitude exercise contributes to happiness, during difficult times do it twice a week or seven days a week. Just do more of the basics. In other words, increase the dosage of the regular interventions, of the regular practices.

Mediation. That’s another very helpful practice. And, again, mediation can be sitting down and focusing on the air going in and out, or it can be doing yoga, or it can be mindfully listening to your favorite music. These are all forms of mindful meditation. So, if you usually don’t do it, well, that’s a good time to start now. Or if you do it five minutes a day, bring it up to 10 minutes a day. So, go back to basics is what I recommend and be vigilant about them.

I often ask my students, “When is the time that you’re least likely to exercise?” And, invariably, they say, “Oh, exams, because that’s when there’s just too much pressure. I don’t have time to go to the gym or go out for a run, and then have to shower after that. Too time consuming.” And my response to that is, “When you are stressed, exam period or pandemic, this is the time to exercise, even more important than during ‘normal times.’”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And I think about these practices, I’m curious, are there any particular practices to do at work, whether it’s mental or the means by which you approach a meeting or an email or the writing, kind of whatever maybe your deep focused work is? Any key ways that we can do work better with a happiness perspective?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Very much so. Very much so. So, let me begin with brief tips, some of which I’ve already mentioned, and then go into something which I think is so, so important, and I’ll elaborate. So, first of all, simply, at the end of each day, write down one thing that you made progress on. This simple practice was introduced, described by Teresa Amabile who’s a professor at Harvard Business School in her book The Progress Principle.

And she found that people who focus on the progress that they make at work, and it doesn’t have to be something major, it can be “I cleared my desk or my inbox,” or, “I had a good client meeting,” or whatever. People who do it regularly are not just more satisfied with the work, they’re also more productive as well as more creative in the workplace.

Then there is another very important element, and that is probably the number one reason that companies invite external speakers, or psychologists in particular, to speak is because of stress. Before there was the COVID-19 pandemic, there was the stress pandemic. Burnout is a very common phenomenon in the workplace today. There is, fortunately, something that we can do about it. You see, many people perceive stress as highly problematic. In fact, many people talk about stress as the silent killer, as the destroyer of innovation, creativity, joy in the workplace.

However, once my colleagues and I started to study stress, we realized actually that stress in and of itself is not a problem, but actually stress potentially is good for us. Think about the following analogy. So, let’s say you go to the gym and you’re lifting weights. What are you doing to your muscles when you lift weights? You’re stressing them. Now, is that a bad thing? Not at all. On the contrary, you go to the gym one day, two days later you go back to the gym, you lift more weights. Two days after that, you continue your routine. And over time, you actually become stronger, healthier, better off than you were before. Stress is not the problem.

The problem begins when you go to the gym and you lift weights, and then more weights, and then more weights, and the following day you do the same, more and more and more. That’s when the problems begin. That’s when you get injured. That’s when you get weaker rather than stronger. The problem, therefore, is not the stress. The problem rather is the lack of recovery. And that’s a problem in the gym physiologically, or in life, in the workplace, psychologically.

What we need to do, if we want to fulfill our potential at work, is find more times for recovery. Now, recovery can come in the form of a 15-minute break every 90 minutes or 2 hours, whether it’s a cup of coffee or chatting with colleagues or just hanging out or exercising. It can even be 30 seconds of closing our eyes and taking three deep breaths, five to six seconds in, five to six seconds out. That in and of itself can shift us from the fight or flight stress response or to what Herbert Benson, from Harvard Medical School, calls the “The Relaxation Response,” because the problem is not the stress. The problem is the absence of recovery.

Recovery is also getting good night’s sleep. There’s a lot of research on the benefits of sleep for productivity, creativity, of course, happiness, for physical health, mental health. Taking a day off is an important form of recovery. Vacation, of course, is an important form of recovery. And if we punctuate our crazy busy lives with periods of recovery, then we can make the most of our energy, and we can be at our best more of the time.

One more thing that is related to recovery. One of the reasons why we experience so much stress in our day-to-day work is because of multitasking. And multitasking is fine, we do it, it’s natural, it’s important at times. However, what we also need is to create, what I’ve come to call, islands of sanity throughout the day. Islands of sanity are times when we are single-tasking, when we’re only doing one thing, when we’re focusing on it, when we’re mindful. And it could be doing email, and it could be being in conversation with a colleague, and it could be writing the organizational strategy. It doesn’t matter. But single-tasking, islands of sanity amidst all the crazy, busy multitasking.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Tal, there’s been so much good stuff here you’re sharing, and I know you’re sharing a whole lot more in your Happiness Studies Academy. What’s this program all about?

Tal Ben-Shahar
Well, the Happiness Studies Academy offers certificate programs in that respond to two questions. The first question is, “How can I become happier?” The second question is, “How can I help others become happier?” And, of course, through happiness, given the relationship between happiness and success, we also become more productive, creative, improve our relationships, and so on. So, the Happiness Studies Academy offers practical applied interventions that we can employ in our personal lives as well as our professional lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Super. And so that’s conducted online, are there classmates or groups or cohorts, or how does that go down?

Tal Ben-Shahar
So, it’s all online, and it’s on our website, which is HappinessStudies.Academy.

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

Tal Ben-Shahar
Albert Camus, “In the midst of winter, I found within me an invisible summer.”

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

Tal Ben-Shahar
So, I think my favorite research is one that it’s a joint study that was conducted by the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School. And what they found was that the best way to increase our happiness levels is through giving, by contributing to others, by helping, by being kind and generous. And I love that because what it does is it takes the whole field of happiness studies to a place where it’s not just a solipsistic, individualistic pursuit but rather it’s a pursuit that contributes to our own wellbeing as well as to society. It’s a wholistic pursuit.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Tal Ben-Shahar
I’d have to say Mary Anne Evans, aka George Eliot, Middlemarch.

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

Tal Ben-Shahar
Realize, recognize, that becoming happier follows the same trajectory, the same routine as becoming better at any skill, which means we need to invest time and effort. It’s not enough to just know what leads to happiness. What we need to do is practice, implement, do the work.

Pete Mockaitis
Tal, this has been a treat. I wish much happiness in all your adventures.

Tal Ben-Shahar
Thank you very much, Pete. And thank you for doing the work that you’re doing.

622: Taking Control of Stress Before It Takes Control of You with Kirsty Bortoft

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Kirsty Bortoft shares easy ways to keep stress and negativity at bay.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to un-hijack your brain in 12 seconds 
  2. How to effectively deal with stress in five steps 
  3. The number one reason why most people struggle with stress 

 

About Kirsty

Kirsty Bortoft is an award-winning mindset coach to entrepreneurs and professionals. She helps them to dissolve stress and anxiety without having to resort to medication and traditional therapy. Kirsty developed the unique ‘Freedom Alignment Method’, a three-stage process that crushes the obstacles so many high achievers frequently face during their lifetime. Obstacles that inevitably leave them feeling trapped by their current circumstance and pulled from the inner peace and happiness they deserve, despite working so very hard for it.

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Kirsty Bortoft Interview Transcript

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

Kirsty Bortoft
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to learn your wisdom and it sounds like you’ve got a lot of it. And I understand you’re a monk. What’s the story here?

Kirsty Bortoft
Yeah, I know, it always makes people laugh when I say this. I am what’s called an Ishaya Monk of The Bright Path. So, yeah, it was a journey that started 2005 when I started getting really into kind of self-development and wanted to know more about, I guess, how to live my best version of my life, and I went on a bit of a soul-searching journey.

And in 2010, I bumped into a friend, and they’d been on this meditation retreat, and I was like, “You know what, I think I need a bit of Zen in my life.” So, he says, “Well, here’s the link, go and have a look.” So, I did. But, to be honest, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had an image of meditation being pretty boring because I can’t sit around with my eyes shut, and I’m the kind of person that’s got quite a lot of energy, I like doing things, so I thought, “Oh, I don’t know if it’s going to be for me.”

But, anyway, I went to this weekend and I had this lightbulb moment, and the only way I can describe it is, imagine a jigsaw, and there’s one piece it just can’t find its way home. And on this Saturday morning, the lady shared something and it kind of went ca-chunk, and I just saw this vision of realizing that I’d been spending my whole entire life trying to fix myself on the outside. And I realized at that moment that no wonder I find life stressful and really difficult because there was always another problem.

And so, what they taught me was to shift my attention from the outside and go inside. So, I thought, “Oh, I think I need a bit of this.” So, after doing that weekend cause, I bundled my children into a car, we drove to Spain, and we lived on top of a Spanish mountain, and I studied with some Ishaya monks on the workings of the mind and how the mind-body connection works, and how to go inwards. And after about six years I graduated as a monk myself.

Pete Mockaitis
Six years? No kidding.

Kirsty Bortoft
Yeah, that was quite a journey.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you moved to another country and hung out for six years.

Kirsty Bortoft
No, I came back and forth but, yeah, yeah, yeah. Came back and forth but, yeah, on and off for six years. And then in 2015, I graduated as an Ishaya monk, which is hilarious because you can see me, I don’t really look like a monk coming out of that stereotypical…

Pete Mockaitis
You’re wearing an XBOX headset on your collar at the moment which you see on brands for monks.

Kirsty Bortoft
My son’s. Very trendy. Yeah, so it’s cool. So, yeah, one of the things I do now is I teach The Bright Path meditation ascension, which means to rise above the mind.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s talk about the mind. So, I want to dig into stress and mindset and just learn all of your good stuff. So, let’s think about, in your experience working with professionals, what do you see over and over again are kind of the biggest sources of stress?

Kirsty Bortoft
So, stress, really, is triggered by four different areas and you’ll relate to all of this when I tell you. You’ve got chemical stress, so you get stressed out because you’ve got a hangover.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that will do it.

Kirsty Bortoft
They’ll say that you would relate to that but that’ll do it. And a virus, which is obviously a big topic right now, bacteria, medications, for example, so that’s chemical stress. Everyday source of stress. But you’ve also got emotional stress and everyone knows when we’ve had that stressful day at work with perhaps a colleague, or maybe you’re just not going on quite well with your partner, or there’s been a fallout with a neighbor, so that kind of emotional stress. And then you’ve got that good old physical stress, so that’s when you’re injured or maybe you’ve just had a really long week at work and you haven’t stopped, and physically you’re exhausted.

But then there’s a fourth one, and I think this is the most important path that when I learned this it completely changed my relationships the way I saw stress. And that’s this, that we are the only organism, which I think there’s about something like 8.7 million other organisms on this planet, but we’re the only one that can trigger the stress hormone, which is cortisol, with thought alone.

So, what I mean by that is you could be sat on your sofa at home potentially thinking about, I don’t know, a business meeting, or perhaps you’ve had an argument with somebody yesterday, or maybe you’ve got to go and have a difficult conversation at work tomorrow, and your mind thinks that’s actually happening now. So, your subconscious mind has no ability to differentiate between what’s real and what’s not. So, it just thinks, “Oh, my goodness, little Johnny is having some sort of stress. We need to protect him.” So, it does its job and it triggers off the stress hormone.

Meanwhile, you’re actually sat on your sofa watching an episode of Game of Thrones, something like that, but your mind does not know that it’s not happening now. And I think it’s such an important fact for people to know that actually their thoughts have a lot to do with the mental, emotional, physical state in which we get into.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that resonates and I think, for me, it’s so funny how I can just kind of imagine that, let’s say, I’m going to submit some work to a client somewhere, and then I think that they might critique something. And then I would start thinking about, it’s like, “Well, they do that.” And I want to be like, “Well, look, you can’t change the deadline on me.” It’s like I’m already having a fight that’s not a real fight but with that imaginary person about something, which they probably won’t even bring up. And then I’m worked up truly as though they are ripping into me right now. And so, that happens all the time.

Kirsty Bortoft
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that’s good to know that, one, the body will just naturally react to that and produce those kinds of things as though I’m really there. I guess, two, immediate thoughts there are, one, if I don’t care to go there and have those thoughts and the emotions that come from those thoughts, how do I develop a sense of mastery of my thoughts so that I can just choose, “Hmm, yeah, I’m not going to think about that right now, and that’s okay”?

Kirsty Bortoft
Well, without having a lobotomy, the best way is… It is mastery. You are right in the terminology that you used there because one of the things I say in my signature program The Freedom Alignment Method is that, number one, awareness precedes all change. So, the first thing that we have to do is we have to become aware that we are actually going off into this addictive thinking actually because even if it is us having like an imaginary argument with our work colleague who’s really annoyed us because he never made us a cup of tea and made everyone else one, even if that’s what we’re doing in our mind, that is still, as I said before, triggering the stress hormone.

And so, the first part of it actually is becoming aware that you’ve gone off into that thinking pattern because, quite often, we go into imaginary states in the future or in the past and it takes us a while to even realize that we’re doing that. But, meanwhile, what happens is your mind and body are completely connected. So, you know this is true because if you’ve ever been really hungry and you’ve like walked into someone’s home who’s baking some fresh bread or you’ve walked into a restaurant and you can smell some beautiful food and you’re starving hungry, you see the food, it’s nowhere near your mouth but your mouth starts to salivate, and that’s purely because your mind and body are connected.

So, in the same sense, what happens is you attach yourself to a thought but then you go off into thinking. So, you start thinking about this work colleague or this deadline that you said, and then what happens is the thoughts are the language of the mind, but the body then kicks in with emotions, and all emotions and all thoughts are in the same vibrational level.

So, I, for example, have never had a client who is utterly peaced out, who is having an anxiety attack. The same way around, I’ve never met anybody who’s thinking really negative thoughts, who feels like they’ve got loads of energy. The mind and body are completely the same at all times. So, if you are feeling stressed, the stress hormone, some of the effects are it makes your heart go faster, it makes you feel quite clammy and sweaty, and it also makes you feel quite exhausted.

And, in the same breath, when you’re feeling elated and you’re feeling excited about life, you feel like you’re energized. Suddenly, you’ve got this like energy from nowhere and anything is possible. And so, that’s purely because your mind and body are completely connected, so one triggers the other. They always are the same.

So, how do you stop that? As soon as you become aware that you are actually starting to downward spiral, so you’ve gone off into that addictive thought, you simply go, “Stop, Kirsty. Stop right now.” Now, depending on where you are, I don’t suggest you say it out loud because people might think you’re going a bit bananas. But wherever you are, in your car driving to work, whether you’re working on your laptop or you’re with people, you can, literally in your head, just tell yourself to stop. And in that moment, you then take your attention and you put it on something different.

So, the chemical reaction of an emotion is 12 seconds. That’s it. So, if you take your attention and put it onto something different, very quickly you start to change the chemical reactions within your body, which then starts to change your thought patterns and vice versa. So, the big part of this is really going, “You know what, I actually have control over where I put my attention but the first part is I need to become aware, and become aware of where I am and put my attention.”

And, recently, because there is so much stress going on in our planet with the virus and then we’ve also got what’s going on in America right now, it’s very easy to get sucked into the TV and all the negativity, and it’s very easy to be caught up in conversations about that, and sometimes you have to ask yourself, “You know, how much of this do I need to put myself in front?” Like, “Okay, I need to know what’s going on in the world. But do I need to be like putting myself around that negativity 24/7 when it’s actually making me feel horrendous?” And the answer to that is no.

No, you have a choice. You have total choice. And I would say to people, you know, that we’ve got no control over what happens in our planet. So, it could start snowing, for example, and we’ve got no control over that. It’s fact. But we have total control over the meaning we give something. So, it might be that you have got a really sort of big event at work you’re about to embark on it, it may be pushing you out of your comfort zone, it may be quite challenging. But instead of getting caught up in the what-ifs and, “This could go wrong, and that could go wrong, and people might judge me. And, oh, my goodness, my career could be over,” instead of doing that, you can just stop and say, “You know, it hasn’t happened yet, and right now I have the ability to give it a different meaning. And the meaning I’m going to give it is, ‘God, this is so exciting, it’s new. Who cares if it doesn’t go 100% right? I’ll learn from it and I’ll still be living at the end of it, hopefully.’”

It’s all about you giving your power back to yourself and saying what meaning you might give in this stuff, and is it actually real. And by choosing the right meaning will change your state and change the way you feel about something.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s a lot of great stuff there. Well, 12 seconds is, I think, that’s huge right there and I think that’s about true in terms of I think of talking about you’re taking three deep breaths, for example, it might be 12-ish or a little bit more seconds, and then that is sufficient to move from one place to another. And then choosing the meaning that you’re giving there, that’s cool. Well, thank you.

So, then let’s talk about choosing meanings in a big way when it comes to mindsets kind of across a whole lot of stuff as opposed to one given moment or experience. So, you are an award-winning mindset coach in your bio.

Kirsty Bortoft
I am.

Pete Mockaitis
Which I find exciting because I’ve been listening recently to Kelly McGonigal’s The Upside of Stress, and I hope to have her on the show soon.

Kirsty Bortoft
Oh, exciting.

Pete Mockaitis
And I was so intrigued how there were a number of mindset interventions which don’t take a whole lot of effort but really do kind of yield to, or yield great results whether whatever you’re measuring in terms of like it’s not dropping out of college or whatever years later, and so I thought that was awesome, whenever there’s just a little bit of effort produces a lot of bit of results. Very cool. So, can you lay it on us now, what’s a mindset? And what are some of the most high-leverage things we can do to adjust our mindsets to make good things happen for us?

Kirsty Bortoft
Yeah, that’s a brilliant question. So, I think I want to start off first of all to say that our brains, for the last 50,000 years, have not changed very much at all, and our minds, which I think the brain is the house in which the mind works from. The mind has many different functions but one of the functions that it has is the stress response system, which has not evolved at all since the cavemen times.

So, we may have something going wrong with a colleague at work and we may feel stressed about it, but we can’t go into the office and start fighting for our lives when we get annoyed by somebody, or just run. Our fight or flight system, however, still kicks in, and it’s literally kicking in like a false alarm almost. And so, what happens is every time this happens, it releases a stress hormone into the body, into the system.

Now, any organism can deal with short terms of stress. We’ve been made to deal with it. It’s fine. The problem comes when it’s on repeat and it’s happening day in, day out. Now, unfortunately, most people, every single day of their lives, whether they’re aware of it or not, are triggering their stress hormone maybe not just once, twice, three times. And so, this is what happens when the stress hormone gets turned on.

You have two paths of your body that are happening all the time. So, you’ve got your immune system which is fantastic. It’s protecting you from viruses, it’s protecting you from bacteria, it’s doing a great job. And you’ve also got maintenance because your body is continually rejuvenating. I mean, in the last five days, you’ve had brand new taste buds on your tongue, which is phenomenal. So, you’ve got these two aspects at work.

But as soon as you start getting stressed, and you start having acute stress, the first thing that happens is your immune system gets switched off. Now, again, if it was just switched off for a short time, not a problem. But you can see where the problem kind of kicks in when it gets switched off for long term.

So, how do we deal with this? How do we ensure that our immune system, especially now, is firing on all cylinders? So, The Freedom Alignment Method is my signature program that I’ve created over the last 10-15 years and it addresses this exact problem. So, you might want to grab a paper and pen because I am going to literally give you the five most simplest steps that if you implement these, it works.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, when you say it works, let’s get really clear. Now, what is the goal, result, the outcome that we achieve by doing this?

Kirsty Bortoft
So I always imagine cortisol being like little taps in your brain that releases into the body. So, if you imagine what it does, it allows the little taps to be switched back off so that your stress hormones stop releasing into the body and you start to return back into homeostasis.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we stop stress just like that. Okay, intriguing. Let’s proceed.

Kirsty Bortoft
So, the first step is, you probably know this first step because it’s quite commonly known that when we get stressed, we don’t breathe very well. We really go shallow in our breathing so it cuts off oxygen to the brain which makes us feel weird. So, the first most simplest step is let’s get some oxygen into your brain and take three really big breaths. And that is so simple, I know, but, honestly, I can’t tell you that our first little step, how it sets you up for the rest of this process. So, once you’ve done the first part and you’ve got some oxygen in the brain, you start to feel less weird.

Now, step two, I mentioned earlier, awareness precedes all change. So, you, first of all, ask yourself, “What have I been putting my attention on?” So, it might be in your mind or it might be actually something in front of you, okay? So, it could be actually happening or it might be just that you’re thinking about it. So, what have you been putting your attention on?

Once you’ve established what you put your attention on, the next thing is you need to start taking personal responsibility for the next step. Now, what does that mean? You’re probably going, “Well, I do.” Well, it means is that, probably, what you’ve been doing over and over again hasn’t been working so we need to do something different.

Now, I just love what Einstein said, which is like, “The definition of insanity repeating the same behavior and expecting something different.” Oh, my goodness, how many times have we all done that and then got really crossed because we haven’t either felt better or things haven’t turned out right for us, and we do this all the time. And so, this part of the process is going, “I’m prepared to do something completely different and trust that, by doing something different, I will get a different result.” So, this is where the paper and pen comes in.

So, this process is called the feel, deal, and dump process which is what I named it, and it’s for our fundamental part which underpins The Freedom Alignment Method, and it’s the most simplest thing, so listen because you might miss it.

The first part of this is you need to ask yourself what was that thing that I asked you to do in step two, which was, “What are you putting your attention on?” So, I’ll give an example. Let’s say you’re at work and you’ve been putting your attention on a deadline and actually you’re winding yourself up, getting worried, thinking you won’t get it done, then this is going to be the title that you put on your paper. So, you put that at the top of your paper, “Stress or worried about a deadline.” Now, this is the part that is fundamental to this process.

Now, before I share this part, I always say this process is really not difficult, and it isn’t, but it is different. And because it is different, the mind will try and jump in and say, “This is too simple. It’s not going to work.” I’m going to invite you now to ignore that running commentary and just do something different anyway and just see the result.

So, you’ve written down at the top of the paper, you’ve written down that, “I’m worried about a deadline.” Now, this is what you need to do next. You take your paper to pen, pen to paper even, and without thinking, which is quite difficult, which is why I get you to write because when you’re writing, it takes your mind off actually trying to think about something. I want you to just directly go to that title and ask yourself, “How does this, honestly, make me feel?” And I just then want you to start writing and allow your pen to flow like a stream of consciousness.

Now, what might happen is your mind might try and kick it. If it does, just take off your pen off your paper, take a deep breath, go back to it and just keep on writing. This exercise can sometimes take a minute, or 10 minutes, or 20 minutes. It really doesn’t matter but you’ll know when your brain dumped enough because there’ll be nothing left to write.

And what you’re actually doing at this point is you’re actually going straight into your subconscious and you’re releasing any suppressed emotions directly onto the paper, so you’re letting things go and you’re doing something different. So, you keep writing. Sometimes when I do this exercise, I can’t even read my writing. It’s like a mess. It doesn’t matter. The intention is how this process works. So, you keep writing until there’s nothing left to write. And as soon as you have finished, you ask yourself a simple question, “Have I written about my feelings or have I written about what went on?”

Now, if you’ve written about what went on, I want you to stop and go back because it’s really important that you write about the emotion and not the act, the actual thing that’s going on. Once you finish this, you take your piece of paper, you just crumple it up, and you go outside and set it on fire, and give it back to the universe. And what we’re doing there is we’re just doing a cycle, so we’ve taken the emotion out of the body, onto the paper, and then given it back to the universe.

It is so simple that people sometimes get it wrong. And I know that’s ridiculous because I’m saying it like this right now but it’s because the mind, the egoic mind is a control freak, and it likes to keep you in your comfort zone. So, when you do something different, it will have a running commentary, and its commentary is always pessimistic because its job is to look for problems. It’s not the enemy actually. It’s doing its job but your job in this moment is to override that and not listen, and just go back to the emotion.

Now, once you set it on fire, you’ve given it back to the universe, you then need to take your attention, so this is step five, and put it onto something upward spiraling. And to be honest, the best upward spiraling thing that you can ever put your attention on is simply gratitude because gratitude naturally expands your experience upwards. So, just by one thing, it doesn’t matter what it is, and just write down why you are grateful for that thing or you can even say it loud, it’s fine.

But what you’re doing then is you’re now choosing to put your attention on something that’s expansive rather than downward spiraling. And when you do that, it allows you to be more grounded and centered in the present moment and stops you from going back off into that kind of mindless chitter-chatter that’s going to cause the stress and trigger the hormone again. There you go in a nutshell.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we start with the three breaths, we say what’s our attention on, “I’m worried because of a meeting,” or whatever, and then we journal on, “How does that honestly make me feel?” just sort of the emotions, not the thoughts, not the thing, just the feelings. Then you set the page on fire, and then you put your attention on something like gratitude, and that’s your five steps.

Well, let me talk about the fire just for a second. Like, if some people are in office buildings…

Kirsty Bortoft
Yeah, you can’t do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you rip it up or is that okay?

Kirsty Bortoft
Yeah, that’s okay. Yeah, please don’t be like, “Our fires have gone up.” Yeah, absolutely. If you’re inside, don’t obviously do that or maybe save it to later. Yeah, don’t do it and set the fire alarm off.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s intriguing here is, I think, in step three, that distinction in terms of the feelings. Like, can you give us some examples, like, “How does this make me feel?” Because I think that you can just say, “Sad,” “Angry.” Well, yeah, but I have a feeling there’s going to be a little bit more to it than that.

Kirsty Bortoft
Yeah, so let us just take the title that we’re stressed because we’ve got a deadline. So, it might be, this is hypothetical, “I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’m feeling scared. I’m feeling like judged, feeling not good enough. I’m feeling hopeless.” I’m just making that up. It’s that simple and it’s literally whatever is there in the moment for the person, they write down. And the power of this exercise is the energetics, really, of what you’re doing, because the person is doing something completely different to what they’ve been doing.

So, mostly, what happens when we experience something that’s uncomfortable is our kneejerk reaction is to push that thing away whatever it might be, even if it’s not actually happening in real life; it’s happening within our mind. Our kneejerk reaction is to push it away. And the reason for that is because we’ve been programmed to move from pain to pleasure at all costs, which is why when we decide to go on a diet and lose weight, unless we have actually dealt with the unconscious programming in our minds, what will happen is we will sabotage ourselves every single time because the desire to move from pain to pleasure will be so great that we’ll then go back in the fridge, eating that piece of chocolate cake, saying, “I’ll start one day.”

Before, when we felt stressed, we’ve suppressed the emotion back down into our subconscious usually by distraction techniques like drinking, maybe spending money we haven’t got on our credit cards potentially, staying up too late, playing video games, all these types of things, our distractions are really from the real feelings that are actually going on in that experience.

And so, what this process does is it takes us from what I call resisting the experience into feeling. And when we do that, we go into a state of allowing. When we go into a state of allowing, that is the only place where healing and letting go can happen. So, when we’re in resistance, it’s not possible because we are literally pushing something and resisting something, and we haven’t got the space for something to move. But when we shift that into a state of allowing, it allows it to go, it allows it go move on and be set free.

And so, this simple, simple exercise, the power in it is because the person, for the first time, is taking out resistance into a state of allowing. And when they do that, they’re allowed to freely let go of the suppressed emotion, the anger, the guilt, the fear, whatever it may be. They’re allowed to honor it, feel it, and let it go.

We’ve been taught, most of us, from childhood that negative emotions are not good. I was told when I was younger, you know, “Come on, Kirsty, please stop. You’ll be fine,” if I was upset about something. And it wasn’t that my parents were being awful. It was that they thought they were doing the right thing, but the truth was that I immediately learned from a very young child that it wasn’t good to show being upset because I felt like I hadn’t done something right or it wasn’t good to feel angry.

And so, what I learned was to push these emotions down. And we’ve all done it. And the reason for that is because the way that the brain has been designed is that between about the age of two and the age of seven is our brainwaves are in this like Theta state, which is the imaginary state.

It’s also the time called the hypnotic stage as well. And the hypnotic stage of the brain is when we download programs. So, we download how to survive, we download how to be in the world, we download how to interact with each other, we download our parents’ belief systems, we download at school what’s right and what’s wrong. And the majority of it is really good stuff, and it teaches us how to be adults. The problem is that there are certain things that are slightly dodgy and don’t serve us.

So, for example, well, the one that money doesn’t grow on trees. And so, what happens, we download these pros and cons, and suddenly, at the age of seven, our brainwaves change, and we go into Beta state which is what you and I are in now. The fundamental shift with that is that now we only can learn through repetition, right? So, what happens is when we have a stressful experience, the brain, being designed to keep you alive, so what it does is it takes that experience, and if it could speak, it would say something like, “Can little Johnny, right now, deal with this stress? No, he can’t,” so it takes that emotion and it would push it into your subconscious mind.

And I always described it a little bit like before like we’ve all got this rucksack on our back, which is invisible, but we carry in our life, and every time we go through something really stressful, we chuck a bit of it into this bag. Now, as I said too early, your mind and body are completely connected, and so this bag is large but it’s not infinite. And so, at some point, it gets so full it starts to overflow. And when it starts to overflow, it offloads from the mind into the body and starts manifesting as stress and anxiety and depression and migraines. And so, all we’re doing when we’re doing this exercise is we’re not just dealing with the actual stress at the moment. We’re actually starting to release some of that out of our bag.

So, when we start feel, deal, and dumping, we’re letting go of some of this unnecessary stuff that we have just dragged through our whole entire life. And so, what I love about this technique, the feel, deal, and the dump, is that it is so simple, and it’s probably likely you’re going to have to do it more than once because you’ve got a lifetime of stuff, but that’s okay. And what I suggest to people is if you are feeling really stressed, you are feeling really anxious, then just keep doing this exercise over and over again, and you will get some relief, I promise you. And if you’re struggling, then reach out. Reach out and have a chat because I’d love to help you.

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

Kirsty Bortoft
Shall I tell you about my book that’s coming out in two weeks?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing.

Kirsty Bortoft
So, Break Free from Pain, it’s my first book, so I’m really excited. It’s more like a guide to help people with physical, emotional, and mental pain. And it’s a step-by-step handhold process to be able to really support you and ensuring that you can live an empowered life rather than a stressful life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, now can you share with us a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Kirsty Bortoft
I’m a massive, massive fan of a number of different scientists but especially newer scientists. My favorites are Joe Dispenza, I love him, he’s amazing and his publications on the mind. And, also, I just love Biology of Beliefs, which is another book. I also love David Hawkins, and his work is incredible. And, unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago, but his work, he’s got a fantastic book called Letting Go which I would say is my go-to book. And he’s also done lots and lots of studies on consciousness and the mind, and I just think he’s phenomenal. So, his work and publications, I would recommend over and over again.

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

Kirsty Bortoft
Meditation, I guess, is the first thing that came into my head. But I would also say that it’s not just meditation. I’m a massive fan of daily rituals. So, every morning, I feel like the first hour or two has got to be about inputting back into the soul. So, for me, I get up and I do meditate, but I also move my body a little bit. I also ensure that I have some good nutrition. And I also make sure that I set a really positive intention for not just the day but just for my life. And I think that that makes a massive impact on how I feel for the rest of the day.

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

Kirsty Bortoft
Yeah. All my clients know what I’m like. And one of the things I would say is I just think that the first couple of hours of your day really set up the rest of your day. So, if you get up and you are consciously inputting positive expansive things into your experience, what happens is I feel like I go out into the day and so, obviously, real life still happens, but I feel like I can deal with it. It doesn’t get to me. It’s, again, about making a conscious decision about the meaning I’m giving things. And how I do that is by these daily rituals. And I guess another thing I throw in there is back to the old gratitude as well because it’s such a superpower, and I think so underused.

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

Kirsty Bortoft
So, come and get in touch definitely at www.Kirsty-Bortoft.com and you can email me at hello@kirsty-bortoft.com. I’m on YouTube which is the Mindset Coach at Kirsty Bortoft, or you can find under the same name on Facebook or Twitter, Kirsty Bortoft. And if you want the spelling of that, I don’t know whether I need to spell that really slowly, or whether it will be somewhere on here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure, it will be on the show notes but B-O-R-T-O-F-T, and Kirsty not Kristy for the…with a K. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Kirsty Bortoft
Yeah, I just think that it’s got to come back to that we, as human beings, are so powerful and we give away our powers way too easily, and I think that the action here is tomorrow when you wake up, is just remind yourself that you have the choice of where you put your attention firstly and the meaning you give things. So, don’t give that power away because anything is possible. And, honestly, you sincerely are in control of your destiny when you do that. So, just make sure that you live your best version by putting that first.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Kirsty, it’s been fun. I wish you lots of luck in all your adventures.

Kirsty Bortoft
Thank you so much.

621: How to Banish the Four Habits of Time Wasting with Steve Glaveski

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Steve Glaveski says: "Focus on what you can control, not what you can't control."

Steve Glaveski reveals how to unlearn the four habits that make us time poor.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we often feel like we get nothing done 
  2. The simplest way to keep others from stealing your time 
  3. Why we achieve more when we have less time 

About Steve

Steve Glaveski is an entrepreneur, author and podcast host whose mission is to unlock the latent potential of people so that they can create more impact for humanity and lead more fulfilling lives. 

Steve is CEO of Collective Campus, an innovation accelerator based in Melbourne and Singapore, and founder of Lemonade Stand, a children’s entrepreneurship program and now, SaaS platform, that has been delivered to kids across Australia and Singapore. Steve is also the author of Employee to Entrepreneur: How To Earn Your Freedom and Do Work That Matters, the children’s picture book Lemonade Stand: From Idea to Entrepreneur, and the newly released Time Rich. 

Steve hosts the Future Squared podcast. His work has been featured in Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street JournalForbes, the Australian Financial ReviewTech in Asia and numerous other outlets. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

Steve Glaveski Interview Transcript

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

Steve Glaveski
Thank you so much for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom but, first, we need to hear about your relationship with heavy metal and performance in a tribute band.

Steve Glaveski
Wow, that’s a great question, a great place to start this. Well, I always say that you’ve got to cultivate a positive relationship with adversity, put yourself in all sorts of uncomfortable places, and then everything just becomes easier. So, one of those uncomfortable places for me was wearing zebra-print pants, a snakeskin cowboy hat, and makeup in an ‘80s metal tribute band called Ratt Poison, that’s R-A-T-T, paying homage to the band Ratt many, many years ago now. I think I was about 21 at the time, and, well, I’m still a big heavy metal fan, and that was a great experience. Although I do recall snapping a string at that particular performance and spending about 10 minutes trying to fix my guitar while the band played without me. So, trial by fire, but, yeah, that’s my heavy metal story, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Now you said that this was an uncomfortable position, so you didn’t seek this out, it was thrust upon you?

Steve Glaveski
No, look, I joke. I was looking for a good way to introduce that but, ultimately, I loved it. Like, it was a lot of fun. I mean, looking back now at those photos, they can be used to incriminate me or can be used against me, but I proudly have them up on my Facebook account. So, Pete, if people want to look for that photo, they can find it on my Facebook profile.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, thank you. It sounds like a rich use of time. How’s that for a segue? Your book is called Time Rich, which sounds like an awesome thing I’d like to be. Can you tell us, what does it mean to be time rich?

Steve Glaveski
It really means living life according to your values. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you wake up in the morning and you spend all day in your underwear watching Netflix. It really comes back to having the time to invest your hours, your very few hours, into things that give you a more rewarding experience of life. So, for some people that might be working longer hours, for some people it might be spending more time with family but, ultimately, I think it comes back to how you choose to spend those hours, and spending those hours in high-value activities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like the ideal. Can you tell us kind of what’s the state of affairs right now in terms of how much of us, how many of us really do that?

Steve Glaveski
Very few of us do that. I think a typical person now is spending about 12 hours a day staring at screens. That’s actually gone up since the pandemic just because we find ourselves watching more Netflix and YouTube and whatnot. But if you look at what we’re spending our time doing with those screens, particularly now when it comes to work, people’s way of work, we’re effectively taking what we did in the office, which was 50 to 60 interruptions a day, which was 40 to 50 notifications, push notifications popping up on our screen all day long, which was responding to emails within five minutes of them being received, checking email every six minutes, we’ve taken that and we just put it all online.

Like, instead of a one-hour face-to-face meeting, it’s a one hour Zoom call. Instead of taps on the shoulder, all day long it’s a Slack message. It’s actually worse now because we’ve got that Slack channel or the Microsoft Teams channel up all day long, and the red light is always going off, new notification, so we’re bouncing back into that all day long.

And what that does for us in terms of our focus, effectively we’re paying a cognitive switching penalty because every time we switch task, it can take us up to 23 minutes to get back in the zone. And when we’re in the zone, when we cultivate the ability to get into flow, we’re about five times more productive. When we’re totally immersed in one task, the rest of the world seems to fade away and the hours just fly by, we’re way more productive. But we’re in this state of hyper-responsiveness where nothing gets done, and we can be “busy, busy, busy” all day long but have very little to show for it come the end of the day.

And just to close the loop on your question, Gallup ran a study last year which found that 85% of people are either disengaged or not engaged by their works. So, any 15% of us are engaged by our work, which comes back to these organizational cultures where either we’re not aligned with the values of the organization or we’re just not given a sense of control to actually get stuff done because we’re spending all day long in meetings, we’re being interrupted all day long, and we’re glorifying things like inbox zero, which demonstrates that we’re really good at responding to other people’s demands on our time at the expense of our own priorities. So, my sense is that very, very few people are doing the utmost with what little time they’re given.

Pete Mockaitis
Now that 23-minute stat, I think that sounds familiar, like the Microsoft study with email. Is that where that comes from there?

Steve Glaveski
Oh, that actually comes from an organization called Advanced Brain Monitoring in the United States who ran a study on the flow state. It also echoes a study that McKinsey ran, a 10-year study around high executives where they found that when these executives are in a flow state, they are up to five times more productive.

There’s also another study that Advanced Brain Monitoring ran where they found that even micro tasks switches, so a notification pops up on your smartphone and you see it but you don’t tap on it, you just notice it. That one-tenth of a second micro task switch, over the course of a day, they found that that can add up to about a 40% productivity loss because even if you’re in flow, and you notice that, that’s enough to kind of take you out of flow and it’s going to take you time to get back in. Not only does it compromise our productivity but this constant sort of recalibrating our minds around a different thing, it can leave us exhausted as well.

So, we can find that by, say, 1:00 P.M. we’re feeling spent just because we’ve spent the first four, five hours of our day just shuffling between browser windows madly instead of just focusing on that one-high value activity.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, this is quite fascinating because when you said 23 minutes, I thought, “Oh, that sounds like the 24 minutes associated with the Microsoft email study.” But it’s a completely different study which arrived at a very similar number, which I find intriguing and validating. So, can you share with us some details on what was going on in terms of how we tested that and got to that 23-minute figure?

Steve Glaveski
So they basically got a number of control groups and it required a little bit of objective feedback in terms of the interruption and how they got back to it. So, they would look at a performance of, say, marksmen who were able to get into flow in terms of how well they hit the bullseye. And what would happen was they would leave them be to just, say, extended stretches of time of, say, 30 to 60 minutes to just work on their craft, and they performed at a much higher level than when they’d been, say, interrupted or when someone came over and had a quick conversation with them.

And then they’d look at the first, say, 5 to 10 minutes thereafter, as opposed to, say, 20, 30, 40 minutes thereafter when they’d had more time to just really hone in and get in the zone, and it’s kind of the same as, say, you might find if you meditate. The first two or three minutes, there’s a lot of monkey mind going on, but then 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes in, a lot of that stuff kind of starts to fade away and you really get into your element.

So, they ran these studies across a number of different fields where they basically took someone’s performance shortly after an interruption and then compared it to their performance 20, 30 minutes in, and there was a vast difference in that. And then after they’d been interrupted, how long does it take them to get their performance up to that sort of optimal level.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Well, so there we have it. I mean, it seems like there’s plenty at stake here in terms of whether or not you’re engaged at work, whether or not you’re having fun, whether or not you’re doing well, you’re executing at a high level and just sort of ultimately getting more stuff done during the course of the day in terms of whether we are in flow and doing things well in a time-rich fashion versus kind of just jumping and being scared all over the place with notifications and emails and interruptions in a time-poor fashion.

So, tell me, what are the best interventions, super habits, practices, tips and tricks, for those of us who want to cut out the time-poor behavior and be all the more time rich?

Steve Glaveski
Sure. So, a good visual mnemonic that will help your audience is TYRE. So, I say when it comes to our personal productivity, we’re carrying around spare tires which effectively slow us down. So, the T stands for task switching. So, the best thing you can do there, actionable step is you turn off your notifications; that’s a really easy one. But the second one is really cultivating the ability to focus on one thing for extended periods of time. So, using something like a Freedom app or BlockSite to block Twitter, to block these app sites you’re inclined to jump into, and then just, “Yeah, let me just quickly check my notifications.” And that can send you down the Twitter rabbit hole for half an hour. The other thing there is also the browser windows. Like, rather than having 20 browser windows open, just focus on one. So, these are like some actionable things you can do in terms of that environment.

And then the other thing I would do on task switching is it’s like cultivating any habit. Like, if you’re not used to going to the gym, it can take you a while to get into that. But cultivating the ability to sit still on one task for 30 to 60 minutes without switching, that also takes effort so you might want to start with, say, 15 minutes and work your way up.

Environment design is important too. If you want to build new habits, cultivate an environment where it’s easy to build that new habit, where it’s easier to break bad ones as well. So, I’ve touched on a couple of them there, but also if I have my phone right next to my desk, and I was going to reach for it but I don’t have it here, which speaks to what I’m trying to communicate, it’s much easier for me to just pick that phone and just check Instagram quickly and do things like that. So, whatever you can do to build a habit free of distraction, build an environment free of distraction, do that.

And then the second piece on building that…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if I may, before jumping to the I of TIRE, so this 30, 60 minutes of not switching, you say that could be hard. We might just need to start with 15. I think maybe it might be beneficial to paint a picture in terms of when we say not switching, I have a feeling you have a higher standard of this than most of us. So, give us an example of when you say, “Hey, okay, for the next 15, 30, 60 minutes, I’m doing this and only this.” What can be some examples and then what are we not doing? We’re not looking at any notification or ding or beep or buzz whatsoever or visiting any place. Paint a picture for us.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, definitely. So, look, I’m a writer so I spend a hell of a lot of time staring at my Google Docs module, and if I am writing a thousand-word article, I am not checking my phone, I am not checking other websites, and there are no notifications popping up on my screen. I’m focusing purely on the task of writing. Now, there may be, while I’m writing, I might need, say, a reference of some kind to help me elaborate on things but I’m going to go through one round first.

So, if there is a reference that I’m looking for, I might just make a note of that in the article, and write, “Reference,” highlight it in yellow, and keep on going. Because if I stop every 50 words to seek out references, that can slow things down. I want to write it first and then go off and do those other things because it’s, in a world of four million blogposts being published every day, it’s so easy for us to get stuck in content rabbit holes. And, again, we need to be honest with ourselves because it can be easy to conflate doing stuff with being productive because, ultimately, we derive a lot of self-worth from our work, but we need to make sure that we’re deriving that self-worth from productive activities rather than just stuff that makes us feel busy.

So, that’s essentially my definition of not task switching which is really focusing on not just the one task but also, “What’s the task within the task?” because writing, it could writing, it could be researching, it could be fact-checking, there are different elements to that value chain of writing, but focusing on that one task within the value chain of writing at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Yeah, I really like that about the task within a task. And then I guess that’s where things get tricky is when you need to get something else to do the thing you’re doing, whether it’s inside your email, or whether it’s inside a reference, or whether it’s inside your phone text message history. That’s what trips me up in terms of it’s like, “Oh, I need to get this thing in order to finish what I’m doing.” But then as I go to that other place, I’m besieged with all the other stuff, and I hate it. How do I fix it?

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, that’s a great, great question, and in some cases, you might get to a point where, “Look, it’s a dead end, and I need to jump into my email to get this widget, to get this attachment, whatever it is, to continue with my work.” So, of course, you need to do that. Now, I would say that in some cases there are tools that exist. So, for example, if I need to quickly write an email but I don’t want to be besieged by all of my new incoming emails, well, there’s widgets like…or plugins rather, like Google Chrome’s compose email plugin, which will just open the Compose email window so that way I spare myself seeing my inbox. Or, it might be that if I’m jumping into my inbox to get an attachment, well, in that case, I might see those other things coming in.

At the same time, I think it comes back to building that muscle and cultivating the ability to be like, “Hey, I see you. I see you, email, but right now I’m working on this other thing, and I’ll get back to you later.” So, that comes back to nothing new. I mean, people have talked about batching before, but really batching the checking of email to, say, three times a day, which is something I talk about in the book where a study showed that once people check email more than three times a day, their sort of emotional wellbeing starts to fall off with it. There was like an inverse correlation, the more times you check email throughout the day and how good you feel kind of tapers off.

So, batching that, whether it’s morning, mid-day, end of the day, and just having that time specifically for checking and responding to those emails is better than sporadically doing it throughout the day. Now there’s probably all sorts of reasons why people feel worse off when they do that. It might be just that they’re spending all day on shallow-level tasks, they’re not getting any high-value work done, and that could be part of it. It’s kind of like Netflix is all, well, and good, but if you spend four hours bingeing a TV series, you feel terrible at the end of it. Like, it’s just shallow-level work. You get into sort of a vegetative state and it can be that that would also happen with that email as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so let’s hear what the I is in TIRE.

Steve Glaveski
So, I is actually Y, so we’re going with that definition, so it’s higher. But, basically, so the Roman philosopher Seneca once said that, “People are frugal when it comes to guarding their personal property but not so when it comes to their time,” which is the one thing which is right to be stingy with because time, unlike money, cannot be earned back once you spend it.

So, Y essentially stands for yes, saying yes to all sorts of demands on our time, oftentimes at the expense of our own thing. Because, as human beings, we have a tendency, well, not a tendency, we have a predisposition to wanting to be liked. So, if someone requests something of us, we say yes. If someone sends us a meeting request, in most organizations it’s expected that you will say yes, and that if you say no, well, that’s going to create a bit of a tension there between you and that person that invited you. But every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to everything else.

So, there is a lot of narrative, if you will, particularly in startup ecosystems where they say, “You know, if you say yes to everything, you create serendipity,” and that’s true but, at the same time, you’re saying yes to one thing and you’re saying no to everything else. So, being more diligent about what we say yes to, and making sure that that stuff really aligns with our goals, is going to help us get close to those goals.

But the one other thing that I would say on that is when it comes to meetings, for example, at Basecamp, if you want to book a meeting with someone else’s calendar, you just can’t do that. You need to sell the meeting to them. You need to, like, why is their contribution going to be valuable at this meeting. Whereas, in many organizations, there is just this tendency to just call every man, woman, and their dog to a meeting, and you have, like, 10 people sitting around a Zoom call nowadays, when, really, you might only need two or three people to be there.

One example I can talk of there is Dominic Price who is the resident work futurist at Atlassian. So, he uses this really useful visual of boomerang and stick. So, for so long, his calendar was basically back-to-back meetings all day long, all week long, and after a while, he said, “Look, I can’t keep working like this, I can’t work on my own goals, and I’m not just finding that my time is really optimized attending all of these meetings.” So, he started saying no, and two-thirds of those meetings didn’t come back so they were effectively sticks. He sent back the meeting rejection; they didn’t come back. One-third did and he called them boomerangs.

So, it might be that two-thirds of the meetings that you’re attending yourself, particularly if you work at a large organization, could be proverbial sticks, if you will. And just by saying no, you might save, as was the case with Dominic Price, 15 hours a week that you can reinvest into your own stuff as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really inspiring because I think you said, perfectly earlier, like, yes, there’s this fear associated with, “If I say no to this meeting request, I’m going to create some friction, some tension,” and it sounds like that was not the case for Dominic in terms of he said, “No,” it’s like, “Oh, okay.” Well, I don’t know, maybe they were furious but it sounds like they were just fine with it, it’s like, “All right, that’s fine.” And then the one-third was like, “No, seriously, I really need you.” He’s like, “All right then.”

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that’s a pretty simple filter then right there. And do you have any pro tips on how we’d recommend saying that no?

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, definitely. So, rather than just saying, “No, I will not attend your meeting. It’s not of value to me,” it comes back to human psychology, trying to empathize with that person, make sure that they understand your own position as well, and say, “Look, I’m currently working on XYZ. It’s a high priority for me. I need to get it done by then. I don’t think that my presence at this meeting will be of value but if there’s anything I can share that you think is valuable, I’m happy to email that along. If you think, for whatever reason that I absolutely have to be at this meeting, let me know why and I’ll come along.”

So, it’s just about, I suppose, taking the edges off somewhat and just being human with your rejection. It’s the same as anything. Even last week, I had organized for someone to appear on my podcast, and in line with this philosophy of not saying yes to everything, I had them come back and say, “Oh, you know, our AV guy wants to set up a 30-minute or 15-minute test call.”

And we’re a small team with only so many resources, and I don’t do test calls with anyone, so I went back to them and said, “Look, I appreciate that. I’ve never had any issues with AV. We’ve got a good setup. I’ve published 400 podcasts episodes. I have a small team and we’re very diligent about what we say yes to because if we say yes to one thing, we might find ourselves saying yes to everything, and I won’t have any time to focus on our goals. I hope you understand.” And they were completely fine with that, they responded and said, “Yep, totally understand,” and just about doing it that way rather than just saying no off the bat.

But, ultimately, what’s better than that is just getting to a point where your organization has a culture where you’re not expected to say yes to things and the onus is with the people requesting the meeting to say why you need to be there to spare you from having to say no in a very sort of diligent way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. That’s great. And if there are superior solutions, like I think, I don’t know what it was called, it’s like Online-Voice-Recorder.com or something like that, is something I’ve sent people to in that very context in terms of it’s like, “You see if it’s recognizing your microphone, and if you record it, if it sounds good. And then if it does, then that’s really the hard part. So, we’ll be all set by the time we’re meeting up here.” So, that’s great. And then it’s probably for them, too, in terms of they don’t feel embarrassed, like, “Oh, I’m sorry, Steve. Let me try to unplug it and then refresh, and sorry.” Okay, you can be there on your own with no self-consciousness, so everyone is better off.

Okay, so we got the T, we got the Y. What’s the R?

Steve Glaveski
Residual work. So, many of your audience will be familiar with Forrest Gump, and there’s this classic scene in Forrest Gump where he’s playing college football, and he was running towards the end zone, he gets there, he’s got the touchdown, he just keeps on running right into the change room, he takes out one of the band members on his way there. And this is essentially how we tend to approach a lot of our work where we don’t stop at the point of diminishing returns. We just keep on going. And so, we might spend, say, four hours putting together a sales presentation, but then we might spend another four hours tweaking it, working with the formatting, making it absolutely “perfect,” at the expense of just saying, “Okay, we’ve created most of the value. Let’s stop. Let’s move onto something else.”

And so, high performers tend to have a good relationship with that point of diminishing returns, and this is something that I find myself doing sometimes as well, and often it comes back to doing something that’s familiar, that’s comfortable, and that gives us that sense of being busy, again, at the expense of starting something new. Because when it comes to switching and starting a task afresh, something that’s perhaps somewhat challenging, our brain needs to recalibrate around that, it’s like staring at a blank page, you can get writer’s block or coder’s block or whatever block is associated with your work.

And the way around that, again, comes back to just breaking that up to its smallest possible unit, and getting started on that, and getting those wheels rolling because that comes back to Isaac Newton and his first law of motion, “An object at rest stays at rest. An object in motion stays in motion,” which effectively means that once that ball is rolling, the amount of energy you need to apply to keep it rolling is much less than what’s required to get it started in the first place.

So, when you do find that you are at that point of diminishing returns, stop, maybe go for a 20-minute walk because that helps us release some BDNF, brain drive neurotrophic factor, which is like our cavemen brain sensing movement as a fight or flight moments, and that helps us focus. So, taking that walk, coming back, and starting on that fresh task, breaking it down to its smallest residual part, getting that ball in motion, and once it’s in motion, it’s so much easier to do that.

And the benefit of this is we’re not talking about this over one day, but if you do that over, say, a hundred days, you’ve saved yourself countless hours just kind of tweaking stuff, inconsequential activities that you do on a task long after it’s been done, and you’ve actually spent a lot more time working on high-value activities. So, the compounding interest benefit, if you will, over long periods of time is significant.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what are some telltale signs that you are approaching or have hit or have passed this point of diminishing returns?

Steve Glaveski
You’ve got to be objective based on your own work, so it’s hard to answer that without knowing the kind of work that people are working on. Like, I know myself that if I am getting into that state of just doing stuff because it’s comfortable, because it’s easier than moving onto something else, I have a pretty good relationship with that. Like, yes, there is value in, say, writing an article and then going over and making sure it’s spellchecked and it sounds good and everything else.

But once you’ve done that once or twice, you might just yourself scrolling up and down, and just looking at it ad infinitum, and that’s perhaps the point where you want to move on and go to something else because it really depends on the individual task at hand. I can’t think of a perfect way that we would say, “Okay, here’s a telltale sign around when you have hit that point of diminishing returns.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I think that’s…I’m picking up what you’re putting down there with regard to you kind of know it when you see it and feel it with regard to, “Has anything useful happened here in a while?” Like, for me, I find it often occurs like maybe I was in a good groove for like 90 minutes plus, and I’m still working but it’s more of a coasting at that point than a creating new stuff, and it’s like my brain is tired but I haven’t yet acknowledged that my brain is tired.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, you might find yourself, like if you work in social media, you might spend a bit of time putting together some content, and then you go off and you publish it, and then you might just find that you’re spending too much time refreshing the screen and seeing what kind of engagement you’re getting. Now that’s past the point of diminishing returns. People might say, people who work in social media will say, “Well, that’s part of my job.”

But, like the email, you can batch that. You don’t need to be doing that refreshing the page every five minutes, and then while you’re there, checking out some of the other things that have been posted, going into analytics and doing all these little inconsequential things that perhaps you should be batching once a day, and then moving onto another activity.

So, again, that comes back to that sort of the value chain of work, “What is the nature of your work? What’s the value chain within a task?” And batching that stuff rather than finding yourself kind of just in this hamster-on-a-wheel sort of mode. And the value in that case was creating the content, publishing it, and that’s it. But refreshing the page ad infinitum? That obviously isn’t a high-value activity.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think you’re really nailing something there with regard to when there’s real-time stuff happening. It’s funny, we’re recording this on Election Day in the U.S., you’re in Australia, and so there’s a lot of refreshing I think going on in a lot of places to see, “What’s the news? What are the numbers? And how are things potentially unfolding?” But I found that that is a temptation, like when I’ve done my listener surveys, I’d refresh, “Ooh, we got two more. We got two more. What do they say? What do they say? Ooh, they love the show. Great!” It’s like, “Ooh, we have three more.” So, there’s that real-time temptation, I think maybe people who if they’re doing trading in the financial markets as well.

And so then, as I’m thinking about this real-time, it kind of gets back to, “Hey, what am I trying to accomplish in this moment?” And there may be a great reason to say, “Okay, hey, I just launched a survey, and I want to see the first 5, 10 results right away to see if maybe I had a really unclear question, and folks are not actually giving me answers that are what I’m after, or they’re confused, or skipping it. So, yeah, I do want to check, maybe repeatedly, in the early moments to do a quick correction and make sure I don’t let it run for five days and get 200 responses that are not what I wanted because I was unclear with my question.”

So, in a way, I think that that’s super helpful to do that refreshing, it’s not a diminishing return. It’s a great return. But other times, it’s just like, yeah, it’s almost like you go into a state of, “Duh, refresh anymore.” It’s like there’s less life and juice and drive and goal domination going on in terms of how it feels in my psyche.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, which comes back to what I was saying earlier, like you know it when you see it, essentially, when it comes to that point of diminishing returns. And what you’re talking about there is so valid as well. I’m not a big fan of absolutes and all-or-nothing type of advice or guidance on anything. I feel like most things in life exist on like an inverted U, like stress as well. Like, “No, stress is not a really good space.” I mean, some stress actually helps us get to that point of optimal performance. So, that inverted U, you want to look for that space at the very top of the inverted U, or the bell curve essentially.

Pete Mockaitis
Or an N, lowercase N.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, whatever the case it is, lowercase N, but then you’ve got two like peaks, so. But, essentially, finding that space. So, yes, maybe check it for a little bit, get the feedback you need. It’s the same with running an ad. You want to run an ad and you want to see that it’s performing in the early stages, and if not, you want to tweak the ad and make sure that you’re getting a better click-rate, for example, that you’re reaching the right people, whatever the case is. But if you’re sitting there, refreshing the ad all day long, “Oh, our cost per click has gone down a little bit. Oh, we’ve got a few more clicks now,” like that is obviously the point where you’re like, “Okay, let’s move onto something else.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we got the T, the Y, the R. And the E?

Steve Glaveski
So, the E, essentially, I suppose dovetails off something we touched on, which was the path of least effort. So, human beings, biologically, we’re predisposed to taking the path of least effort. I mean, that comes back to evolutionary wiring whereby tens of thousands of years ago, when we were naked running around the African savannah, we didn’t know where our food would come from, and so we needed to conserve energy for extended periods of time in case we needed to hunt out some prey or evade some predators.

This now shows up in our work when we sit down to our desks and we take that path of least effort, checking Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on. And we already touched on some of the ways to circumvent that by breaking things down to their residual parts, environment design, and cultivating the ability to get stuck on the most difficult task perhaps first thing in the morning or first thing in the afternoon, whenever it is you tend to do your best work, which is something we touched on in the book as well, which is that about 50% of people are actually night owls, which means they do their best work 10 hours after waking. Otherwise, if you try and get a night owl to work an hour after waking, they actually suffer from a form of social jetlag, which can also predispose them to developing anxiety and depression over the longer term.

So, this whole idea of getting people to the office at, say, 9:00 A.M., getting them out of bed at 7:00, particularly if they’re night owls, it’s really detrimental to their health, but not only their health but their ability to perform at a high level. So, when you think about the fact that about 50% of the population are night owls, like they have these preferred sleeping patterns but they’re forced to get to work early, and I think it’s encouraging to see that now with the move to remote work at scale, hopefully more organizations stay that way.

It does create the conditions to move to more asynchronous communication where we’re not expecting real-time responses, where we’re not conflating presence with productivity, and people aren’t expected to be on Slack all day long and expected to all be on these back-to-back Zoom calls. It does give people the ability to design days as it best suits them, as it best suits their biological predisposition, the realities of their lives, their families and everything else, and they can get work when it best suits them.

And, ultimately, that benefits everyone. It also benefits the organizations because if you can create those types of cultures, it also is a compelling recruit tool because people want to work at places where they can create their own days as it best suits them but also work in organizations where they can actually get stuff done and not be bogged down by bucketloads of process and policy that just gives them no sense of control or agency over their work.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well-said. Well, so I also know you’ve got a take on the eight-hour workday. Lay it on us, are shorter workdays better and why?

Steve Glaveski
Sure. So. Shorter workdays, there is no yes or no answer. Ultimately, a six-hour workday experiment was something we ran two and a half years ago and I wrote an article about this for Harvard Business Review and called “The Case for the Six-hour Workday.” And what you find is when you have a shorter workday, if you’re an organization that has a lot of bloat, that isn’t intentional about how it goes about creating value, a shorter work day forces you to focus on high-value activities. It’s a forcing function.

So, one, it will force you to, say, automate and outsource rudimentary process-oriented lower-risk activities so that your people aren’t doing that. Two, it will force you to focus on, say, high-value tasks. So, applying the Pareto principle, focusing in on those 20% of tasks that create the majority of the value rather than just focusing on those low-value tasks that feel good, that you’ve done because you’ve always done them before but don’t really move the needle forward. It forces people to cultivate the flow state, to get better at getting into that deep-work state, do away with those notifications, those distractions, and those meetings that inhibit our ability to do our best work. So, a shorter workday will help you in that regard. So, if you do have a lot of bloat, and you’re working at eight-hour workdays, and you come back to six, you will find more productivity.

Now, over the past couple of years, there’s been a trend as well to four-day work weeks. We saw Microsoft Japan run a four-day work week, and they suggested that their productivity improved by 40%. Now, me, personally, I would argue that five shorter work days is better than, say, four longer ones because if you have created this environment and culture where people can get into flow and people can do that for, say, the max amount of time, which is about four hours a day, maybe five, then if you’re keeping them there for, say, eight hours for four days a week, that suggests that maybe there’s two, three hours of waste there rather than running, say, five days at four or five hours a day, which I think is more beneficial if people are spending that time in flow.

Now, again, there’s something to be said about not all hours will be in flow. Like, for example, you may have to have some meetings. There is collaboration that’s required at organizations, there are things that need to get done where you’re just not working in isolation, so that’s why adding maybe a couple of hours to that workday, so it’s six hours rather than just four, I think makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And you mentioned automation and outsourcing. Do you have any favorite tools or services or tricks?

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, look. I think Zapier, for me, is probably one of the most powerful ones. So, Zapier, or IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That. So, these tools will basically help different tools speak to each other. So, recently, during the pandemic, I spun off a media company called NoFilter, and one thing we found was taking up a lot of time was getting people that we had paid to take Google Docs that our writers had developed, take them, copy them, paste them into our CMS and publish that.

So, we created a very simple automation between, say, a web HTML form and our CMS so that our writers will just plug the content right into the HTML form, and that would get picked up by Zapier and come into our CMS, so then us, as editors, we just jump into that CMS and we just need to publish it, or we might need to just make some changes if we feel like the content is not good enough, or just delete it if it’s crap, right? But that saves us a lot of time copying and pasting, but it also meant that we could operate at scale because, then, we could reach out to a lot of different writers, and say, “Hey, if you want to write for us, here’s the online form. You can republish some of your old blogposts too and we’ll link back to that, and we’ll give you an article links and whatnot.” And that just helps us make the process a lot more seamless. So, that’s one.

Another example is tools like repurpose which help you effectively repurpose content for different platforms. So, you can think about something like recording a Facebook Live video and then using a combination of tools like Zapier, Repurpose, record posts, for example, where that Facebook Live video could get turned into a transcribed blogpost, an audiogram, a YouTube video, and social media post with a click of a button essentially.

Now, again, inverted U, sometimes there is an element of personalization that can get missed with that but these tools are slowly getting better and better, but just by recording that Facebook Live video, you can have all these other forms of content basically at the click of a button, and that just means that we’re creating a lot more content, we can reach larger audiences, and it saves us a hell of a lot of time in trying to manually create different versions of that content ourselves.

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

Steve Glaveski
There are a couple. Another couple of tools people might want to look out for: WebMerge and Airtable. So, I mentioned earlier our sales presentations, we use Airtable to automate our sales proposal generation, right? So, rather than having to manually seek out, “Hey, where’s that proposal we prepared for that client about six months ago?” getting that PowerPoint or keynote, and then manually putting that together, we’ve created this tool where all we do is plug in the prospect’s name, their logo, and choose the color scheme, and also just choose what products they’re actually interested in, and this will spit out a presentation that we might spend 5 to 10 minutes customizing. And, over the course of the year, that also saves us a bunch of time when it comes to just automating these rudimentary process-oriented tasks.

So, I would challenge people that whatever task you’re all currently working on, like whether it’s customer service, sales, marketing, testing, administrative tasks, like so many things can be automated, and the cost of doing so is not high, but a lot of people will say things like, “Yeah, but I haven’t got time or money to do that,” but it’s kind of ironic because over the long term you actually end up spending a hell of a lot more time and money trying to do it yourself rather than just spending that time upfront which will pay itself back in orders of magnitude.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. That’s what I found. It’s like it’s not so much that you don’t have time, it’s just that it’s kind of hard and tiring to figure it out and execute it and set it up, but once you do, yeah, I’ve had many instances of setup a system and a process with a combination of training someone to do something, and software doing something, and bring them together, and I spend two hours and it saves me 40 hours. There’s not a lot of 20-to-1 returns to be had in your investments, but when it comes to time and automation outsourcing, there’s many, many to be done.

Steve Glaveski
Many, many. One quick one there, just on that 20-to-1, if you look at things like a five-minute task done five times a day, like if you just outsource that task or automate it, that saves people something like 15 days over the course of the year, like if you extrapolate that five minutes out. And that’s just that five minutes, like we’re not even accounting for the fact that you need to stop what you’re doing to do that task and then come back to what you were doing, so the task switching as well.

So, it doesn’t need to be a big task to save a lot of time, but it’s the small task that you’re doing often, like even five-minute tasks, think about outsourcing that as well.

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

Steve Glaveski
I’m a big fan of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditation, And one of the quotes in his book was, “When you have power over your mind, not external events, realize this and you will find strength.”

So, essentially, I think that navigating life in that way where things will happen to you that perhaps aren’t pleasant, things won’t go your way. You might pursue business and perhaps it doesn’t work out, but you have control over your mind and how you choose to interpret and respond to these things. Just by having that sort of mindset, it just opens you up to trying things where you might fail and you might not be good because so many of us suffer from a sense of paralysis when we’re scared that things will not work out our way.

I’ve tried to cultivate that adversity in my life just by doing things that scare me. Like, last year, I hit the standup comedy open-mic circuit here in Melbourne, and I did five shows. Now, I’ve done keynotes and things of that persuasion in front of hundreds of people but getting up in front of a crowd of ten in a smokey back-alley bar somewhere and trying to make them laugh, man, that’s scary. Doing these things just, I find, optimized not only your life but just predisposes you to taking that path of more effort rather than the path of least effort. And, oftentimes, even if you fail, you end up in a much better place.

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

Steve Glaveski
One that I pulled out during my research for the book Time Rich was around some group of scientists that…so there was three control groups: so one was working 20 hours a week, one was working 35 hours a week, and the third was working 60 hours a week. And what they found was that the group that was working 20 hours a week was twice as productive as the 35-hour a week group, and the 60-hour a week group was the least productive of all, which they found came back to the fact that the more hours these groups had, one, they’d spent it on non-consequential tasks, but, two, they also had less time to rest and rejuvenate and come back as the best version of themselves. So, that’s why the 60-hour a week group were just the least productive of all.

So, that comes back to something I talk about in the book, which is burnout. Burnout essentially, where that comes from is the fact that us, as human beings, we might be present on a Zoom call or in the office, but if we’re burnt out, we’re only physically present. On the inside, we’re a shadow of our former selves, and that’s kind of like a house that’s been ravaged by a house fire. It might still be standing but if you go inside, everything has just been burnt out to a crisp. So, that’s an interesting study that I think validates some of these thinking around shorter work days and focusing on high-value activities rather than just conflating hours with output as we might, say, on the factory room floors of the industrial revolution.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Steve Glaveski
For now I’m going to say Ray Dalio’s Principles just because he is someone who’s been in the trenches for a number of decades in the funds-management space. His initial business failed, he effectively came up with ways to codify decision-making based on what’s worked in the past but also adaptive decision-making in a way where he will update his worldview based on new evidence that comes to light which is a core of the scientific method, but just lots of principles in there which I think help us navigate not just business and life.

For example, multi-order thinking, so not just thinking about, “What’s the benefit of making this decision but what are the consequences? What are the second, third, fourth order consequences of this?” So, it’s just a chock-full of these principles that effectively help us better navigate life essentially.

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

Steve Glaveski
It’s really about a quadrant that I drop on a whiteboard once every quarter. So, not a fancy like tech tool or anything like that, but I just draw up this quadrant and I just write in each corner start, stop, more, less. And so, I’ll do this with my business, I’ll look at, “What should we start doing, stop doing, do more, do less?” And I’ll apply this to sales techniques, marketing channels, products we’re selling, customers, geographies, real targeting, all that sort of stuff, so that every period of time we’re always optimizing, we’re cutting away wastes, and we’re doing more of what works, we’re introducing new things that we perhaps haven’t tried. We’re always experimenting.

But it’s also a valuable tool that you can apply to your own life in a sense that, “Hey, here’s what I should start doing, stop doing. Hey, here’s what’s not really working for me. Perhaps I need to stop doing this, and perhaps I need to be more of a friend to these people,” whatever the case is. But being objective with that and just taking the time out to stop and reflect, as Mark Twain urged us to do, and actually act on those reflections, I think, just helps us get to a place where we’re just living more contended lives.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite habit?

Steve Glaveski
Just getting started to the most difficult thing first thing in the morning, whatever it is. It might be a gym workout. It might be writing a 1500-word article. It could be anything, but I find that if I start my day achieving something, then that kind of permeates the rest of my day in a way. And not only that, but there is something to be said about dopamine release that comes with accomplishment, that comes with achieving something, that puts you in a better state of mind as well, which then, in turn, impacts how you show up with the people around you, and impacts the energy that you bring to the rest of your work. So, for me, that all just starts with making my bed first thing in the morning and then going from there.

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

Steve Glaveski
Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t control. I think that’s a big one. So often, people don’t delineate between the two and find themselves getting wrapped up with what they can’t control, and that’s really putting yourself in a place of victimhood narrative. There’s nothing you can do about that other than make yourself feel like crap. So, really delineate between the two and focus on influencing what you can control and the stuff that you can’t control, well, there’s no point working yourself up over it because it’s essentially outside your locus of control.

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

Steve Glaveski
I’d point them to SteveGlaveski.com. They can find all of my links to businesses, social media, books, all that sort of stuff over there. And if they want to learn more about Time Rich, they can do so at TimeRichBook.com. They can download the first chapter for free as well as a 30-page document of Time Rich tools over at TimeRichBook.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Steve, it’s been a treat. I wish you all the best in being time rich.

Steve Glaveski
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

620: Reframing Your Mindset for Greater Resilience and Positivity with Anne Grady

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Anne Grady says: "Resilience is a practice, it's a muscle, something you have to work at."

Anne Grady discusses how to bring more positivity into your life by building your resilience muscle.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What to do when negativity hijacks your brain
  2. The simple trick to making each day more enjoyable 
  3. The foundational skills of resilient people

About Anne

Anne Grady is an internationally recognized speaker and author who shares humor, humility, refreshing honesty, and practical strategies that can be applied both personally and professionally to improve relationships, navigate change, and triumph over adversity. 

Anne is a two time TEDx speaker, and her work has been featured in Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur and Inc. magazines, CNN, ESPN, and FOX Business. 

With a master’s degree in organizational communication and more than 20 years of experience working side-by-side with industry gurus, political and educational leaders, and CEOs, Anne addresses audiences worldwide on topics including change management, resilience, leadership, communication, and emotional intelligence.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Anne Grady Interview Transcript

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

Anne Grady
Hey, Pete, thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat once again. And I think you’ve got some very critical wisdom to share, talking resilience. Tell us, what are you doing to stay resilient these days?

Anne Grady
Oh, my gosh. Well, I have been tested. I think we have all been tested. And so, I’ve been putting into practice all these great strategies I teach. And, just like all of us, I’m human, so some days work better than others, and it’s just putting one foot in front of the other. Resilience is a practice, it’s a muscle, something you have to work at. It’s not one of those things you’re either resilient or not. So, I can’t wait to share with you some of the strategies I’ve been using and the things I talk about in my new book and ways that you can just kind of navigate this difficult time a little bit easier.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. And even when, at last, the pandemic is behind us, we’ll still need these for the next challenge. So, maybe you could open us up. So, your book is called Mind Over Moment. What’s behind that title?

Anne Grady
So, our life is this collection of moments, that’s really all it is, and we’re so caught up. We’re busy being busy, and I feel like the Girl Scouts are going to start handing out a busy badge at some point. We’ve just gotten really busy, and we’re reacting through life, and we kind of just instead of living a life that we intentionally want, or simply trying to survive the one that we have, and there are ways that we can change that, that we can get out of reactivity.

But it’s using this idea of mindfulness to be deliberate about where you’re investing your time, your energy, your attention from a mindset perspective, from a skillset perspective, and then being able to reset to really take back control of your life. Otherwise, each day just becomes the same day and we kind of just end up on this hamster wheel and land somewhere and draw bullseye around our self, and go, “Oh, well, I guess this is where I was supposed to be,” instead of really crafting the life that we want.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, boy, there’s so much to dig in there.

Anne Grady
Dig away.

Pete Mockaitis
And a great distinction in terms of enduring the life that we are in as opposed to really kind of designing and going after that. So, yeah, let’s talk about some mindset things. How would you orient us in terms of what is the optimal mindset to be resilient AF, as your T-shirt says, which keeps cracking me up?

Anne Grady
I have these made. We’re actually going to start selling these at some point.

But your mindset is, literally, the story you tell yourself. It’s the story you tell yourself about what’s going on in your life, it impacts how you see yourself, how you view the world. And so, I guess where I would start with mindset is understanding your brain. And without going too deep into neurology, our brain is this amazing three-pound cauliflower-like blob sitting on top of our shoulders but it’s actually working against us.

And so, if we are left to our own devices, if we just let our brain operate as it is, we’re really focused on looking for everything that’s wrong instead of figuring out what’s right. We have a negativity bias. And this served us well as we’ve evolved as a species because our brain’s job is not to make us happy or keep us content. Our brain’s only job is to keep us safe. And in order to do that, it is really keen on the negative around us because the positive stuff is not going to kill us. So, your brain just easily kind of lets go of all these positive moments that you have in your life, and it really hones in on the negative experiences.

And so, we have to offset Mother Nature. And the thing that’s happening right now is that our brain views uncertainty as a threat. Our brain doesn’t like an outcome it doesn’t know. It actually would rather have an outcome it hates than one it doesn’t know. And so, because of this negativity bias, we keep going to worst-case scenarios, and we tell ourselves these stories in our head. And that actually shapes our neuro chemistries.

So, when we say things, even if they’re true, like, “I’m so stressed. I’m so tired. This is crazy. This is nuts. What are we going to do? This is horrible,” your brain actually responds to protect you, and it starts pumping you with cortisol and adrenaline and noradrenaline and norepinephrine. And all those chemicals are there to help you fight, freeze, or run away but they’re not doing anything to help you live purposefully or to help you find peace. We got to protect our peace. It’s one of those things where…My son is severely mentally ill and autistic. We’ve talked before and I think I told you about he tried to kill me when he was three years old with a pair of scissors.

And by four, he was on his first anti-psychotic. By seven, he was hospitalized and had his first in-patient psychiatry. When he was 10, he was hospitalized again, and I got diagnosed with a tumor in my salivary gland that left me with facial paralysis, and that resulted in a scratched cornea which required eye surgery before I started six weeks or radiation, but not before I fell down a flight of stairs, breaking my foot in four places. So, I didn’t learn this stuff, I mean, I say I didn’t learn it in a textbook. I had to live it first and then I wanted to understand how it worked. And I learned that there were things that I was doing along the way that were supporting my resilience but there were things that were sabotaging it.

And if you are focused on deliberately cultivating the right thoughts, the right belief systems, the right mindset, you change your entire life. Our thoughts are not facts. We take them as facts but they’re not.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s dig in. So, we got this negativity bias going on, and you’ve figured out how to overcome that with a host of challenges. Again, wow! So, glad you’re here and well.

Anne Grady
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, how do we go about overcoming, reprogramming, dealing with that?

Anne Grady
Well, it starts with the story you’re telling yourself, right? So, I found myself, people would say, “How are you?” And I’d be like, “Oh, my God, I’m so busy. I don’t have time. I’m overwhelmed. I’m stressed.” And while those things may have been true, my neurochemistry was flooding me with all of these neurochemicals to help protect me but it actually was increasing inflammation and making it difficult to sleep, and impacting my mood and my ability to make decisions and solve problems.

And so, you really start by being deliberate about the story you tell yourself, which is, stuff is not ideal but there are still good things happening if you look for them, and that’s really the key. People who are resilient, who practice resilience, proactively cultivate positive emotions, they use their brain to search for the good to help offset the bad. And that doesn’t mean that you ignore the bad stuff.

“Pretend that everything is peachy keen?” And that’s not what I’m advocating. In fact, while it seems counterintuitive, you actually have to feel the yucky stuff. When we try to push it away or get rid of those uncomfortable emotions, and we suppress them or numb them, we actually increase the intensity and the duration of them. So, it’s not to say that you should ignore the uncomfortable negative emotions, but you have to proactively search for the positive ones.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, well, let’s hear those two parts then in terms of, okay, so pushing away, ignoring, suppressing, repressing the unpleasant stuff is the wrong move. What is the right response for, you know, “I’m anxious,” “I’m angry,” “I’m depressed,” “This thing ticked me off”?

Anne Grady
Yeah. Well, it’s to acknowledge it and give yourself grace. We’re human. And I think we’ve grown up in this. The last decade has been this positive psychology cyclone, and what we don’t realize is we’re not supposed to be happy all the time. Those moments happen in little blips but our brain has developed a negativity bias for a reason. It’s meant to protect us from everything that’s going on. And so, if we’re going to overcome it, well, first of all, we can’t overcome it. It just is what it is.

And so, when you’re feeling anxious, it’s going, “Crap! I feel anxious right now,” and identifying where you feel it, “So, my stomach feels tight. My shoulders feel tense. My palms are sweaty. My heart is racing.” What that does, simply by naming it and identifying where you feel it, it’s called tracking, it actually resets your nervous system and gets you out of the sympathetic fight or flight, and back into the parasympathetic rest and digest.

So, simply acknowledging the emotion, and, “Yeah, I feel crappy right now. And this is what I’m experiencing and it’s okay to feel that way,” because feelings are fleeting. It will shift and change, but when we fight it or try to numb it with unhealthy vices, we just serve to aggravate it and bring it to the forefront even more.

It’s like me telling you, like, “Don’t think of pizza or chocolate cake when you’re going on a diet.” We pay attention to what’s top of mind. It’s called selective attention. It’s like if I said, “Think of an animal but whatever you think of, don’t think of pink elephants.” Well, that’s what you’re going to think of. So, we have to start acknowledging the stuff that doesn’t feel so great, but then you have to be deliberate about what you’re searching for.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then we talk about the unpleasant emotions and how to work with that. And so then, to be conscientious about what you’re searching for, how do we amp up to find more and, I guess, linger or dwell more into the pleasant experiences?

Anne Grady
You know, I used to think this was so touchy, fluffy, feely. When I thought of resilience, I thought of like finding your Zen, and eating tofu, and sitting in a full lotus, and drinking green tea. And it seemed very fruppy and fluffy demand ‘til I dug into the research. Over 11,000 studies have proven that gratitude is the most direct path to wellbeing and happiness. And I know when I was going through my facial paralysis and stuff with my son, my natural inclination was, “What do I have to be grateful for right now?”

But there are always things to be grateful for. And the simple act of looking, you don’t even have to find anything, the simple act of looking releases serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good neurochemicals and antidepressants. The simple act of looking for something to be grateful for decreases the stress hormone cortisol by 23%. And because we tend to scan the environment and find what we look for, whether it’s looking for, like yesterday, I had a crappy day. It was one of those days where every light turned red, things were not going well, and I have a sign on my bathroom mirror that says, “What do you want to find today? What do you want to see today?” I mean, it’s not like a fancy sign. It’s written in blue Sharpie marker. But I wanted to find reasons to be grateful.

And so, I drove to the grocery store, and a car was leaving one of the spots right up front as I was going away. And what most of us do is we just go, “Okay, that’s cool.” But in order to rewire our brain, there’s something called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. And, basically, what it means is the more you think and behave a certain way, the easier it is to think and behave that way. So, the more often you’re anxious and cranky, the easier it is to stay there.

And so, if you think of like a computer, you download a program but you have to install it. And so, having the experience is downloading it, but to install it, you have to actually sit in it. It’s called savoring. And it means you have to step outside of the experience and observe it and appreciate it for 15 to 20 seconds, and you can literally rewire the neural structure and function of your brain when you get in the habit of doing that.

And so, what ends up happening, like, when was the last time you laid in bed at night and you’re ruminating about your day, and you’re thinking about the good things that happened? We default to the negative. You get a performance review. You’re told you do nine things exceptionally well. You have one opportunity for growth, and you’re lying in bed at night marinating and stewing in that conversation. You’re not thinking of the nine things you did exceptionally well. You’re stewing over that one negative thing.

And so, it’s not to say you ignore that. Is there truth in it? Can you learn from it? Is there something you can do something productively with that feedback? But then it’s sitting in those nine things that we typically dismiss and rush past, or that compliment that you get that you just brush off instead of really sitting in that and feeling it physically because that is what changes your brain.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s talk about how that zooming right into it, doing some savoring. So, you mentioned savoring the last time. I’ve been thinking a lot about it, so let’s dig in some more. So, you get that great parking spot, and instead of just saying, “Oh, that’s cool,” walk us through the depths of savoring in depth. What’s happening in your brain? How are you savoring that well?

Anne Grady
So, what I did when I pulled into the parking spot is I just took three deep breaths, and most of us don’t breathe correctly. I can get into breathing more a little bit later as we talk about other things. But I took three really deep diaphragmatic breaths. And what that does is it allows enough oxygen to get into your brain and it resets your nervous system. And I just took a second and said, “I’m really excited I found this cool spot up front. It’s rock star parking. This is going to be a good trip to the store. I’m going to find other good stuff.”

And it was so funny because I did. I went to the store looking for good experiences. And a grocery store at 5:00 p.m., even in a global pandemic, is crazy. It’s like full-contact sport, right? But I was standing in one of the aisles and I could not find the spice I was looking for, and there was a mom and a daughter walking by, and I’m like, “Hey, can I borrow you guys for a second?” And they looked at me like I was a crazy person, which I probably am. But I said, “My eyes, I’ve been staring at this spice aisle for five minutes and I can’t find what I’m looking for. I’ll give you a bonus point, if you can find this.”

And so, they were like, “Ooh, a bonus point.” Well, I’m giving them nothing, right? But they both found what I was looking for in a split second, and then we all had a really good laugh. And that single moment could be easily dismissed but, instead, as I was walking down the rest of the aisle, I thought, “That felt really good, you know. They had a laugh. I had a laugh. I found what I was looking for. It didn’t cost us any money. They weren’t annoyed by it. It was a good interaction.” And I actually left the store feeling better than when I got there.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And people could be starved for those interactions in a pandemic in terms of like, well, one, they might’ve just fled from you, “Aah, too close. Danger. Toxin.”

Anne Grady
“Ahh, crazy.” I had a mask on.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, good. Good. So, there’s that. They could be particularly starved for that experience there.

Anne Grady
But it’s funny you mentioned that, and I’m sorry to interrupt you. But it’s funny you mentioned that because I teach resilience. And so, I was doing a session today for a group of leaders at a high-tech company, and I shared that experience. And one of the guys said, “You know, it’s interesting you say that because yesterday I was at the grocery store, and the exact same thing happened. I couldn’t find something, and this woman was standing there, and I asked her to help me, and she found it.” And this is the gentleman talking, he said, “And I told her, ‘You’re awesome,’ and she started to cry. And she said, ‘That’s the first time anyone has told me I’m awesome all year long. You just made my day.’” And I do think we’re starved.

And I don’t have any data to support this but I think the mask thing is a big deal because we’re missing out on so much human connection, and social distance, really, is physical distance. We still need social connection but we’re starved for positive moments right now. And the single most momentary increase in positive emotions comes from doing something nice for someone else. And if somebody else witnesses that, they’re more likely to do something nice for someone else.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s very beautiful to think about, I don’t know, that ripple effect and the good vibes to put forth in the world there. So, finding the gratitude, expressing the gratitude, and that’s big in terms of for the parking space, then how you ended up discovering more cool moments along the way there. So, those are sort of the mindset part. Talk to us about the skillset. What are the top skills that folks need to adopt to become more resilient, and how do we get them?

Anne Grady
Well, I think of the mindset as the toolbox, it’s the foundation but you’ve got to fill it, and so the skills are your tools. And what we just talked about is a big one. Proactively cultivating positive emotions, whether it’s humor, a smile, one that involves the muscles around your eyes actually calms your nervous system, cools your heart, slows respiration. True genuine laughter increases pain tolerance, lowers blood pressure, stimulates dopamine and serotonin production, even makes you appear more attractive. So, anything that you can do to proactively cultivate good emotions.

So, for example, I have watched every Netflix standup comedian that I could find. Like, I think I have exhausted them all and I’m watching them all again. And it’s because your brain doesn’t know the difference between…like, they’ve done studies with Botox where they forced a smile and your brain doesn’t know the difference between a real smile or a forced smile. It just recognizes the facial movement, and so that literally shifts your brain. When you experience laughter, it is not only good for your brain, it’s physiologically good for your body. So, that’s a huge one.

Self-care. This morning, I was teaching a session, and I said, “Think of the dirtiest word you can imagine. Like, think of the dirtiest word you can imagine.” And then I asked, “How many of you thought of self-care?” We think of it as this selfish luxury but it’s really a skill. Self-care is nothing more than a skill, and it doesn’t have to be taking-a-spa day. It can be sipping that first cup of coffee and just really appreciating it. It can be lighting a candle while you do your taxes. It can be stepping outside and just taking a five-minute walk or snuggling your pets.

Social connection is another one. And so, many of us have heard of this chemical called oxytocin. It’s the bonding agent so I guess you could call it. It’s called the cuddle hormone and it’s, basically, what bonds parents and children, mother and child as soon as the child is born, but it’s actually a stress hormone. And so, when we are feeling stressed, our body produces oxytocin because it’s craving connection. We are tribal by nature. We’re social creatures. We survive together better than we do individually.

And in a time when we have been so focused on socially distancing ourselves, with that has come social disconnection, and it’s huge. Loneliness kills more people every year than smoking, obesity, and high-blood pressure. And you can be in a room full of people and still be lonely, right? So, you could be in the middle of Times Square, back when it used to be filled up, and be lonely. So, social connection is huge. Self-care, gratitude, positive emotions, all of those seem like they’re so easy that, I mean, they’re so simple that it’s easy to dismiss them. And you don’t have to tackle all of them at once.

So, for example, look, I’m not Ms. Rose-Colored Glasses. My husband will tell you I’m the most pessimistic motivational speaker he’s ever met. Like, I am not out high-fiving sunbeams, there are not doves released when I walk into a room. I was diagnosed with clinical depression at 19. So, my natural optimism bias is very, very low. I have to really work hard at it. For some people, it comes more naturally. For me, I have to really, really work hard at it.

And exercise, for me, is not something I look forward to, it’s not something I necessarily enjoy, but it rivals anti-depressants. And, no judgement, I’m on everything but roller skates. But exercise, literally, changes the structure and function of your brain. It repairs neurons damaged by stress. It increases the density of grey matter, and that’s the part of your brain that’s responsible for attention and emotional regulation.

So, if you’ve noticed, since this pandemic started, that you’ve had a harder time focusing, or you’re more irritable, or easily agitated, there are specific things like sleep and exercise. And yoga is great because it combines meditation, breathing, and exercise. There are things you can do to repair your brain, but sometimes we just default to what’s easiest. And it’s easier to binge on Tiger King for six hours than it is to focus on taking a walk.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a nice lineup there. And so then, all these are skills, in so far as it’s not a matter of them coming naturally or exerting some effort, you’re working on them and they become more natural over time, and so, excellent. And then how about the reset part of things?

Anne Grady
So, the reset is kind of two-fold. One, it is resetting your priorities, so resetting your priorities and your perspective. I think what’s been most fascinating, as I’ve been working with a lot of my corporate clients is that working from home is no longer working from home. It’s living at work, and we are constantly connected. And because people know we’re not anywhere else, when we don’t respond for a couple of hours, it creates a sense of urgency.

And your eulogy and your resume shouldn’t be the same document. As someone who is very goal-oriented, achievement-driven, I own my own business, I’ve had to really work hard at remembering that it’s not just about prioritizing your schedule. It’s about scheduling your priorities. If you were to track your time for a week, is it reflective of what you say is most important to you? Or, are you just getting carried away being busy?

So, I told you swimming, for me, is my exercise. It’s my self-care. And I swim in a pool, and there’s this line painted on the bottom of the pool so I go straight. But if you’ve ever tried to swim in an ocean, then you know swimming in a straight line is like impossible. You’re carried away by the tide. You’re carried away by the current. So, you’re taught, if you’re an open-water swimmer, aim for an immovable object, like a buoy, or a dock, or a lighthouse.

And so, this idea of your lighthouse. What is your lighthouse? Because I feel like life is kind of like the ocean. There are times when the seas are calm and it’s beautiful, and the birds are chirping, and the sun is shining. And then there are times that we’re in right now, like a global pandemic, and it’s a torrential storm, and we’re getting sucked under. And if, when we rise back up to take a breath, we don’t have something to look toward, we just kind of swim aimlessly.

So, one of the things to reset is really get clear on what your most important priorities are, and is that reflected in your calendar. The other thing is, “What are you swimming toward?” And you can have big lighthouses. Like, my biggest lighthouse is mental health advocacy but I have little lighthouses like pizza night. So, I’m doing sober October, I have a lighthouse on November 1st, I get to enjoy a cocktail. Part of the challenge, I think, with the pandemic is that we don’t have a lot to look forward to because we don’t know what’s going to happen.

Like, my husband and I, for the longest time, our lighthouse has been getting an RV. And I’m not a camper, I’m a glamper, so we wanted to get a travel trailer. And we’ve been putting it off, and putting it off, and waiting till the kids graduate, and waiting till the right time, and we finally said, “You know what, there’s never going to be a time when every duck is in a row, when everything is in alignment.” We just did it. We bought a travel trailer. And, my God, it’s been so fun just to start having these little lighthouse adventures along the way. So, that’s that part of it.

The other part is resetting your nervous system because we can, like consciously, physically get out of fight or flight and that cortisol-induced stress state, and we can, literally, put ourselves back into a relaxed place where we’re able to reengage the logical part of our brain and think creatively. It’s a skill but it’s doable.

Pete Mockaitis
Woo, so much good stuff here. Well, Anne, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Anne Grady
Well, I think, for me, the resetting your nervous system is something that we take for granted that we can do. And I just love that there are a few techniques you can use. One of them is breathing. And it sounds so simple, right? But most of you are probably thinking, “Okay, Anne, I can breathe. Like, I’m sitting here. What’s the magic with this?” But we breathe shallowly.

So, if you put one hand on your chest, and one hand on your stomach, and you just breathe normally, there’s a high likelihood that your chest is moving more than your stomach. Like, take a second and do it for you. What’s moving more, your chest or your stomach?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I kind of knew what you were going to go for so I’ve taken a few.

Anne Grady
Darn it, Pete. You’re messing this up for me. No, when we’re stressed, we take shallow breaths. So, if you’re an elite athlete, or an opera singer, of which I am neither, you’re trained in a technique called diaphragmatic breathing. And it’s kind of counter to what you would think. When you inhale, you imagine that there’s a balloon in your stomach, and you fill it with air. So, on the inhale, you create this giant Buddha belly. The exhale is actually the part of the breath that puts you into the parasympathetic nervous system, the part that calms your brain. So, the exhale should be a little bit longer. So, you view the inhale as filling up your belly with air, but the exhale, imagine there’s a weight on the end of it that just kind of takes your exhale even lower.

And so, three deep diaphragmatic breaths resets your nervous system. A deeply relaxed person takes seven breaths a minute. And so, people talk about meditation and, again, for me, it was like playing Whack-A-Mole with my thoughts. I would sit there and try to breathe, and go, “Oh, crap, I forgot to call my mom,” or, “Oh, what am I going to make for dinner?” until I learned it’s working. So, meditation is focusing on your breath, but the goal is not peace or Zen. The goal is catching your mind wandering and bringing it back to your breath. You’re training your brain to direct your attention where you want it to go so that you’re less likely to hit the panic button. You’re learning to observe your thoughts and your emotions without getting carried away by them.

So, breathing is something that is super understated. It’s very, very important. And even three of those deep breaths. I started wearing my daughter’s Apple Watch because it has a reminder to breathe, and just take some time out once an hour to take a few deep breaths. It’s really, really powerful.

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

Anne Grady
My first was from my grandmother, it’s actually a Yiddish proverb, and she always used to say, “Annie, if enough people tell you you’re tired, it’s time to lay down,” like, if enough people are giving you the same advice. But my favorite was when she used to say, “Annie, if you act like an ass, don’t be surprised if people try to ride you.” That’s probably my all-time favorite quote.

But I guess the second closest to that would be Ray Wylie Hubbard. He’s a Texas singer-songwriter, and he’s got a lyric in one of his songs, and he says, “And the days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations, well, I have really good days.” And so, what I have found is that when we’re unhappy, it’s usually because our expectations are out of alignment with reality. And you can’t always control what’s in reality but you can control your expectations.

So, the more time you spend being grateful and the less time you spend being resentful, or disappointed, the easier it is to find the good stuff.

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

Anne Grady
So, one that I just came across that I really liked was this study done by the University of London. So, they took these participants and divided them into two groups, and they basically said to one group, “It’s a computer program, and every time you click on a rock, and a snake is under it, you’re going to get a mild electrical shock.” They tell the other group, “You’re going to get a mild electrical shock but it’s not every time the snake is under the rock. It’s just going to be intermittent.”

And what was phenomenal is that the group that knew that they were going to get shocked every time there was a snake under the rock had less anxiety than the people who knew it would be intermittent because our brain is so against uncertainty. It hates it. So, it constantly goes to the default worst-case scenario. There are so many studies.

Another one that I find fascinating, and Kelly McGonigal writes about this in her book The Upside of Stress, and she’s got a great TED Talk called “Make Stress Your Friend.” And they tracked 30,000 Americans over the course of eight years, and they start by asking them these two questions. The first is, “What level of stress have you had in the past 12 months? Low, medium, or high?” And the second question is, “Do you think stress is bad for you?” So, they asked 30,000 people these questions, they tracked them over eight years, they used death records and mortality rates as a way to track progress.

And they find that for people who had high levels of stress in the previous 12 months, there’s a 43% increased risk of dying prematurely, but it was only for the people who thought stress was bad for them. The people who thought stress is just nothing more than just your body’s physiological response. “Increased heartbeat? Well, that’s just your brain needing more oxygen. Tension in your shoulders or your stomach? That’s just your body putting on armor to protect you from what’s ahead.”

The people who did not believe stress was bad for them, but had high levels of stress, had a zero percent increased risk of dying prematurely. It was the lowest rate of anyone in the study. So, they basically found, they looked at these cardiac monitors, and they hooked people up to them, and they find that for people who are experiencing high levels of stress and think it’s bad for them, their arteries constrict, so they tighten up, they limit blood flow to the heart and to the brain. But people who have stress and believe it’s just your body, which is you stress, is just activation of your sympathetic nervous system, nothing more, nothing less, they had zero constriction. They had the same cardiac profile as people who experienced joy and courage.

And then they took it a step further. They looked at housekeeping staff at hotels, and they asked these housekeepers, “Do you exercise?” So, they take a group of housekeepers that don’t exercise, and they divide them into two groups. One group, they don’t tell them anything. The other group, they say, “Did you know that every time you change a sheet, you burn this many calories? Every time you clean a window, you burn this many calories. Every time you flip a mattress, you burn this many calories. Every time you vacuum…”

So, the people that they didn’t say anything to, the housekeepers that just kept business as normal, didn’t lose any weight. The people who were told that what they were doing as part of their job was exercise, even though they changed no other habits, lost weight. Like, our belief system is so powerful that it drives our neurochemistry. And the beauty of this is that beliefs can be changed.

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

Anne Grady
Well, you can always go to AnneGradyGroup.com. Anne with an E. You can certainly text the word “strength” to the number 22454, I’m sure you’ll probably post that on your show notes, but it’s 22454, text the word “strength” and you can get some free resources, a resilience self-assessment, a self-care sheet, a poem that I wrote a couple years ago that could not be more fitting than it is right now. But we also have a weekly resilience reset tip, tool, or strategy that kind of help you just reset.

And so, you can go to my website to sign up for that. You can also learn more about my books on the website. And, like I said, a portion of all my book proceeds go to the National Alliance on Mental Illness here in Central Texas. I live in Austin.

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

Anne Grady
So, we think that we separate work and life, like, “I want this balance.” And I would say that there’s no balance. Right now, it is about taking care of you so that you can be the best version of yourself to perform well at work, and you cannot do that if you’re not well. So, it would be a self-care challenge. Every day, schedule 10 minutes on your calendar to do something kind for yourself. It could be just doodling on a piece of paper or drawing. It could be snuggling your pet or your kids. It could be doing a puzzle. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it brings you joy.

And most of us are constantly thinking about, “How do I alleviate stress?” And I would challenge you to reframe it. Instead of, “How do I stop stress?” it’s, “How do I find joy? What are some things I can do throughout my day? What can I insert throughout my day to create joy?” because that is what will change your brain and build your resilience muscle. And it is just that, it’s a muscle.

Pete Mockaitis
Anne, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all of your moments.

Anne Grady
Thank you. Yeah, life is made up of moments. It’s just a collection, and so we got to make those moments count.