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

595: How to Beat Burnout and Restore Resilience with Adam Markel

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Adam Markel says: "There's no way to win a race if you don't finish."

Adam Markel shares how to create more moments for rest and build your resilience in the face of burnout.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The most valuable skill for any professional
  2. The massive costs of burnout culture 
  3. Quick recovery tactics to boost your resilience

About Adam

Bestselling author, keynote speaker and resilience expert Adam Markel inspires leaders to tap the power of resilience to meet the challenges of massive disruption — for themselves and their organizations. Adam is author of the #1 Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Publisher’s Weekly bestseller, Pivot: The Art & Science of Reinventing Your Career and Life. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Adam Markel Interview Transcript

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

Adam Markel
Pete, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into resilience. And maybe, could you start us off with an inspiring story of someone who is able to build up resilience?

Adam Markel
Wow, that’s such a great way to begin. I think of my dad, he’s the first person who just comes to mind, he’s been a writer for most of his adult life. And, like many writers or creative people, couldn’t make a living at it and, ultimately, did other things to earn a living. He was actually a parks department supervisor and a preschool teacher, and loved that work, and was basically side hustling at night doing his writing. And over the last 50 years or so that I can sort of consciously remember my dad writing and staying up late at night doing so much editing, he’s rewriting, as has been said, he just was the model of perseverance. He just was constantly preparing himself for the next level of his development as a creative writer, as a fiction writer, and plays and novels and poetry, and all those kinds of things.

And he must’ve gotten, I mean, I’ve never actually counted or asked him, how many rejections along the way he’s gotten but it’s got to be in the thousands, I would suppose. And it’s just never daunted him. He has been the model, for me, since very, very early on in my life of what perseverance looks like, what tenacity looks like.

And resilience, in many ways, is about that. It’s not something that it’s in your DNA. It’s definitely something that you can learn. It can be taught to others. But, yeah, my dad has been that guy for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love to get an understanding then when it comes to resilience, just sort of what’s the impact in terms of being awesome at your job, and career of being resilient versus not so resilient?

Adam Markel
Well, it’s the difference between being around to figure out what works versus not. There’s no way to win a race if you don’t finish. And whether it’s in sports, or it’s in a career context, or entrepreneurial context, we really have to be around long enough to learn what doesn’t work. In fact, one of the things that we often will work with teams and individuals on is how you create clarity out of the things that have been your greatest challenges, how do you create clarity out of your biggest mistakes.

And the premise of that, to just sort of cut to the juicy bits, is that when you know what doesn’t work, we find that you know what does work. When you know what you don’t want, you know very clearly what you do want.

So, my belief is that there’s no sort of shortcut to success in anything. There’s no shortcut to success in the arts, or in any kind of important endeavor in your life whether it’s being a parent, being a great spouse, being a great friend, being a great leader in business, being a great employee or a great manager, or a great salesperson. It’s a hard-fought, hard-won success when it comes, and you can’t get to the point where you actually experience what that is without having put the time in, without having been able to endure quite a bit of pain along the way, suffering along the way, and many hills and valleys.

We’re experiencing a pretty prolific change time right now, a change that most people did not predict or anticipate, and that often is the case about change. We have to be able to ride those waves of life. And, ultimately, when we are able to do that, we learn things, we gain clarity, we gain tremendous insight, understanding, sometimes great wisdom. And that enables us to not only learn how to do better at our jobs, but it enables us to mentor and lead other people. And that is the most valuable skill there is, that any of us can attain or aspire to.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I’m intrigued, when you mentioned that you can’t finish a race or win a race that you don’t finish, what is not finishing a race look like in practice for professionals?

Adam Markel
Burnout in a word.

Pete Mockaitis
You just say, “I’m done. No more working. Can’t.”

Adam Markel
Well, you know, so many people are a product of a culture of burnout. They don’t call it a burnout culture in any company.

Pete Mockaitis
“We have a burnout culture. Come join us.”

Adam Markel
That’s it, “Come join us,” right? “We got a burnout culture.” Well, I guess from back in the ‘70s or ‘80s, a burnout culture would’ve meant something different then maybe that would’ve attracted people. But the cost of exhaustion is massive. It’s so many multibillions of dollars that companies are expending needlessly because their workforce are exhausted. So, the health and safety costs, the turnover costs, the toxicity, meaning workplaces that are not performing at the level that they could, they’re not engaged at the level that they’re capable, their capacity is nearly what it could be, kind of people.

If you can imagine if you had a hundred employees and only 60 of them showed up to work at any given time, how successful could the business be? Or let’s say the average of the capacity of that group of a hundred is 60%. I mean, 60% on a test would be not a great grade, and it’s certainly not something that a company is consciously looking to create, but unconsciously, by default, they exhaust their workforce. And then, ultimately, wonder why they don’t have an engaged and productive team, and why they’re missing their KPIs, and things just aren’t as good as they think they could be.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, 60%, intriguing. Can you share some of the underlying science behind that figure and how it’s derived?

Adam Markel
Well, when we work with teams and we work with organizations and test them for their resilience, on average, it comes up between 60% and 65%. We used sort of a MEPS process where, MEPS being mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. So, in those four quadrants, we look at how they’re performing, and what it is that they are doing on a habitual basis, and what are the things that they’re actually doing on a habitual basis are producing more resilience or producing the opposite.

So, ultimately, when the data is analyzed across a very wide group, so our datasets are quite diverse, but it’s thousands and thousands of people, somewhere between 60% and 65% is average. And so, again, when you think of a workforce that’s performing at that level, or if only six out of ten, or seven out of ten of your employees were showing up, you just couldn’t perform well.

It’s an interesting thing for me that I sort of back into that conversation when I’m doing a virtual keynote or I’m leading a group in a workshop, I’ll start by telling a story from my days as a lifeguard. I was 19 years old, and I worked at a place called Jones Beach.

And it’s the Atlantic Ocean, and the rip currents are very, very strong. And there was a day in July where I heard a sound that we didn’t hear very often at the beach. Lifeguards communicate by whistles. So, one whistle meant you were looking to get somebody’s attention, two whistles was a signal that we were making a rescue, that one of your lifeguard colleagues was in a water probably making a rescue or just about to go in. And three whistles meant that someone was actually missing.

And it was on this day in July that I heard three whistles, and I ran down to the main stand where the captain of our field was shouting orders to our crew, saying that they had lost somebody in the surf, and we need to all get down there immediately to start a search and rescue, which we did. We ran down there.

And when we got to the spot that we thought that missing swimmer was, we started a search pattern that we had practiced previously. And, briefly, what that involved was we dived down into the water, 10 feet or so deep, and this is the Atlantic Ocean in the summer, it’s very cold even two, three feet below the surface, and 10 feet it’s quite dark and quite cold.

And so, we dived down and then we would swim into the current with our arms stretched out in front of us, hoping that we would actually touch someone. And it’s kind of a horrifying thought but that’s the search process, is to just try to get this person who might be under the water, and get them in time to be able to revive them.

We did that process, again and again and again and again. We did that for more than an hour. Needless to say, we’re all kind of blue and shivering, and then we heard the whistles again, which was a signal for us to get out and the search was over.

And I just remember being pretty devastated. It was an awful, awful feeling in that moment that we hadn’t found this person. And we ran back to our beach, and the captain of our lifeguard crew led us in a moment of silence. And when we opened our eyes, he looked at each of us, and he said some things that I will never forget. He said, “No one goes down on our watch at this beach. No one goes down in our water,” was what he said. And he said, “You either make the save…” the expectation was that you either make the save or you die trying, which is a very, very intense thing to say.

And he said to us, “We’re going to have to get back up in the stand now. This has happened and we got to get back up in the stand now, and we’re going to have to get back up in the stand again tomorrow, and the day after that, and so on, so we need to learn something. We need to learn from what just happened, and we have to do better, and we have to make sure that we have each other’s backs more than anything. We’ve got to have each other’s backs, because if we don’t, there’s just no way that we could be successful. And refer back to what I said at the beginning. No one is going to go down on our watch ever again.”

And so, that was the intensity of that talking to, and that mantra became something that we, as a lifeguard crew, adapted. And so, this was really my first model of what resilience look like, and it’s been something that had a huge impact on me.

And, as a footnote to that, for those seven summers that I worked at that beach, we never lost anybody again. We had an impeccable record. But we could be impeccable because, as a crew, as a lifeguard crew, we developed resilience.

And we didn’t call it that at the time, but looking back, that’s exactly what we developed, and we’re able to then not perform at 60% like we were talking earlier. We performed at a 100% or near to it as a group, meaning collectively. We had bad days. People had bad days. People weren’t always at their best but we were encouraged by our superiors to be at our best. And given some ways in which to do that, and the record spoke for itself.

Pete Mockaitis
Great. Thank you. And to dig more into this 60%, so what’s the numerator and what’s the denominator there?

Adam Markel
Well, again, it’s the collection of datapoints from four different areas. So, we typically will start people off with an assessment. So, for example, it’s 16 questions. It takes about three minutes, but you answer four questions that are in the quadrant that has to do with your mental habits. You answer four questions about your emotional habits, the way you see the world and what you do and how you respond to things. And then the same thing for your physical habits, like the amount of sleep that you get, the amount of time that you spend on your technology or off technology, things of that sort. And then four questions that are based in the spiritual realm, which is not actually spirituality or religion certainly. It’s actually alignment with values.

So, a good example of that would be you’re a family-oriented person. You want to spend time with your family, your kids, or your friends, or others, and you work all the time. So, even though your values would be to spend time with those people, you are acting in a contrary way. And so, that sits in that category of spiritual because it’s, in essence, a conflict within you, or within a person, at the level of their values.

Pete Mockaitis
So, then what does 100% represent?

Adam Markel
One hundred percent would represent someone who was answering those questions and then the follow-up on each of those different quadrants in a way that signified that they were recovering. Ultimately, resilience is about recoveries, the opposite of exhaustion. So, similar to how an athlete gets ready for, let’s say, an Olympic event or professional sports, they don’t run themselves rugged and expect that they’ll perform well.

Olympic athletes, they make the Olympics, with the goal being that they win the gold medal. And the margin for error is so thin that they’ve got to take the best care, they’ve to be in the best condition they can be and mentally and emotionally, physically certainly. And, again, at a level that we’ll call spiritual, so that they can, on the day in question, just perform at their absolute level best.

Versus, again, in most corporate culture, what they reward is kind of the night owl. They reward the billable hours. They reward your willingness to work on the weekends instead of being at your kid’s soccer game. They reward all kinds of things that don’t, ultimately, produce the highest long-term performance and longevity in their valuable resources, their human resources.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so I’d love to hear, so it’s all about recovery. What are the top things we can do for recovery? And are there particularly leveraged practices within each of those four domains? Like, I guess I’m thinking, what gives me maximum recovery per minute I’m investing in each of these?

Adam Markel
I think it’s more about what will work for an individual. There’s no one activity that I would say is going to work for everybody.

Typically, we’ll lead people through a process to create a recovery map. And, again, using those four quadrants, we ask them to both think about the things that are possible for them. We brainstorm and mastermind about the myriad ways that you can create recovery in those four areas.

So, for example, taking 20 minutes to put your legs up a wall. You lie down on your back, and you scooch up to the wall, and just let your legs rest on the wall for 20 minutes, and you cover your eyes. In 20 minutes in that position with your eyes closed, and something usually covering to just sort of create a blackout environment for you, and you can turn on a meditation, you can turn on the Calm app, which I’m not pitching the Calm app but I just love it, it’s so easy to do. And you set a timer for 20 minutes because it’s not the kind of a nap where you, let’s say, got an hour or two hours or whatever it is to sleep in the middle of the day, but that 20 minutes of closed eyes, feet up the wall, produces the equivalent of like, for many people, the equivalent of four hours of sleep, and the blood flow becomes better. Your blood is going towards your heart. You’re taking pressure off of your legs, off of your knees, even off of your hips.

And so, you can emerge from 20 minutes in that position more energized and more capable of being at your best. Whereas, many people, they get to the sort of the middle of the day, I mean, it hits people at different times, but they get to a place where they need a nap or they can’t one or they won’t take one because they don’t have a process for that, or permission even. Again, in those cultures of exhaustion, you don’t really get permission to do something like that.

And, ultimately, long term, when you become exhausted, when that person is exhausted, when they become burned out, what do they do? They perform less well. They are impacting others, kind of infecting others with maybe negativity and negative attitude. So, all those things are just easily impacted for the better by small changes.

That’s the thing that we’ll often tell folks is that a drastic change isn’t what’s required. In fact, it’s just creating small changes so that the recovery map that we ask them to do is to sort of pick one thing, one thing that you could do in each of these areas. So, on the mental side, that might be that they just still their minds and call it meditation. I’m not a great meditator but I believe in stillness, and I like to just sit quietly for periods. I’m a person that appreciates prayer, so I’ll sometimes sit for five or 10 minutes and read something and quietly pray or just be still. And the benefits to my clarity, to the level of my attention, even to just the energy that I have, after I emerge from 10 minutes of just some stillness, is really profound. So, that might be something that sits on the mental side.

On the emotional side, there are a lot of people that are not dealing with their emotions very well from early on in their lives, from situations and often traumas that occurred during childhood, so for somebody else, on the emotional side, it might be how it is that they let go of things. And a practice of being able to consciously let go of things that are bothering you, or forgiving things that you are still holding onto, hanging onto, whether they’re things from 10 minutes ago or from 10 or 20 years ago. So, again, it may be that someone is going to commit to that kind of practice, that each day, their new habit will be to check in with their emotions, to just sit with them even, not try to change them, not try to figure things out, not try to reconcile what they’re feeling, but just feel how they feel. That’s a simple practice.

On the physical side, it could be that they’re not getting enough sleep, it could be they’re not drinking enough water, it could be that what they’re eating is really not the best things that they could be putting gin their body, it could be simply taking a 20-minute walk, really 20 to 30 minutes as we’ve come to understand it. We used to think it was 20, now it’s more like 30 minutes. Brisk walk. Not running, not kind of breaking a sweat even, but just a brisk walk for 30 minutes during the day.

And the benefits to people with hypertension, people that have anxiety, and I think a lot of us have some low levels of anxiety that kind of, almost all the time, cortisol is kind of coursing through our bodies often these days, and some people even greater levels of anxiety or even depression. And so, walking for 30 minutes a day has massive impact on their ability to handle stressful situations and, in fact, puts their body in a state of alertness but not in a state of fight or flight or freeze. And, again, that’s a small, small change that they can make that creates a significant positive impact on their ability to stay focused, to be able to work more productively.

I, personally, like The Pomodoro Technique. So, 30 to 35 minutes, and then you take a very concerted disciplined break for five or 10 minutes. And every 30 or 35 minutes, you work with this intensity, and then you take a break, and often switch your focus to something else. So, you don’t try to multitask, like 35 minutes and you’re checking email and you’re answering phone calls and you’re writing some sort of paper or something, and that’s what you’re doing in the course of 35, or 40, or 50 minutes, something like that, which is what a lot of people do.

No. Instead, you pick one of those things and you work at it with extreme focus for that same 35-minute period, and then you take a complete break. You can close your eyes, you can take a walk, you go have a conversation with a colleague about something entirely unrelated to that, or even unrelated to work. And then when you come back, you reengage either in that same thing because maybe you haven’t finished it, or, as often the case, it’s advisable to just switch focus to something else, and you go through your day using these little sprints, these Pomodoro sprints, or as we used to say at the beach, we would be up an hour and down an hour.

And on the last side, the spiritual side, again, it may well be that the new habit would be being home for dinner. That was my thing when I was a lawyer. I was a workaholic like a lot of people, and I would get really productive. In about 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon, 4:00 or 4:30, I would hit my stride, and it was usually like about 10 minutes after I would tell my wife on a phone call that I’d be home for dinner. So, that was the recurring habit. And, of course, I don’t have to tell you, I hit my stride at 4:30, I wasn’t home for dinner, I wasn’t seeing the kids at dinner. And some nights, I didn’t even make it home to kiss them goodnight or read them a bedtime story, which was devastating to me.

I remember about a year ago, I delivered a TED Talk where I talk more specifically about an anxiety attack that I had that was masking itself as a heart attack and ended up in the emergency room because these things were just troubling me so much. I was exhausted and I was also doing work that it was not my calling to do, and it was not something that I had in my heart in, and so I was falling out on that spiritual side of things. It was a misalignment for me, and I was really feeling it.

So, the essence of this is making small changes. And when you put those altogether, you create a recovery map, what you find is that people can perform longer, better, in ways that just makes sense for them. So, that’s back to that whole idea of you can’t win the race if you don’t finish it. Ultimately, in a business, you want people, you want a team of people that can go the distance but not because you’re driving them to perform while they’re tired, perform when they haven’t eaten, and when they haven’t slept, and when their kids have important things, when there are other important things in their life that they want to participate in, because that just is counter. It’s absolutely the opposite of what will draw the best performance for the longest period of time, and most of them are people.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to hear, emotionally, how does one let go of something?

Adam Markel
It’s an interesting question, Pete, because I’ve shared this with people for a number of years that it’s a little bit like, just to give you a physical example, if you’ve got something that you can grab at your desk like a pen, just hold onto a pen right now. And there’s always a funny question about whether the pen is holding you or you’re holding the pen, right? So, I’ll ask you that question, Pete. Are you holding the pen or is the pen holding you?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m holding the pen.

Adam Markel
Right. So, imagine that pen is something like anger at a parent for abuse or for neglect or for some other thing. A lot of people have issues related to money, and let’s say there’s just an anger about that. It’s similar to the pen. The situation in question is not holding onto the person. It’s the person that’s holding onto that situation, holding onto that anger. I’m not dismissing the fact, and I purposely used something extreme because we hold on to lots of little things, lots of insignificant things.

So, to me, on the emotional side, it’s a combination of two things. It’s the…and, by the way, Pete, just go ahead and let go of that pen now.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Adam Markel
Just release it, open your hand, let it fall out. I just did the same thing. It’s so easy to just let go of something. That’s all letting go is, the conscious decision to just release it, the way you just released that pen. And there’s a second piece which it’s not the thing that everybody is ready for but it is the magic key, as a mentor of mine has taught me over the years, forgiveness is the magic key. Forgiveness is not about a person or the situation in question that might’ve caused anybody a particular harm. It’s about you. The forgiveness is for the person who’s been hurt. And that’s why it’s magic.

There are some old study years and years ago about people and their anger, and how they were able to capture the chemical reaction in a person from just a few seconds of anger. And that chemical that they were able to extract was then injected into laboratory rats. And just a few seconds of that chemical was enough to kill a rat.

So, that’s what’s in us, that’s what’s in each of us when we are holding onto, feeling anger. It’s just this awful chemical reaction that is certainly not helping us to be anything that we really consciously seek to be.

So, there’s a book that I absolutely love. I recommend it. It’s called The Presence Process, Michael Brown wrote it. Great, great book in regard to how you process emotional things and, ultimately, you’re able to integrate them. I love Michael’s philosophy on it because he doesn’t believe that you need to be sort of healed of anything, nobody is really broken.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Great. Well, that’s your favorite book. Why don’t we keep rolling with your favorite things? Could we hear a favorite quote as well?

Adam Markel
I love the quote from Yogananda that said, “Environment is stronger than will.” If you want to create a high-performance workforce doing great work in the world, you got to create the environment to match that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Adam Markel
A favorite challenge. Well, I mean, the challenge, to me, we’ve given you this assessment, this resilience leader assessment that people can take. That’s a challenge. Take three minutes, 16 questions, and see how you score. See whether or not you’re actually at a level that’s acceptable to you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Adam, thanks so much for taking this time, and good luck in all of your adventures.

Adam Markel
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been a pleasure.

586: Insights on Working from Home’s Largest-Ever Experiment with Nicholas Bloom

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Nicholas Bloom says: "Working from home is going to be here for a long time... we're in the long haul."

Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom shares insights from the largest study on working from home to show how to adjust to the new world of work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Four key findings from the largest study on working from home
  2. What the ideal work from home week looks like
  3. Why this isn’t the end of the office

 

About Nicholas

Nicholas (Nick) Bloom is a Professor of Economics at Stanford University, and a Co-Director of the Productivity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His research focuses on management practices and uncertainty. He previously worked at the UK Treasury and McKinsey & Company. His work has been covered in a range of media including the New York TimesWall Street JournalBBCEconomist and Financial Times.

On the personal side he is English living with his Scottish Wife and American kids – a multi-lingual English household on Stanford campus.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Nicholas Bloom Interview Transcript

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

Nicholas Bloom
Very happy to be here. Thank you for having me on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m delighted to get into your wisdom in the world of working from home. And I understand that when you’re working from home, one issue that presents itself frequently is the bagpipe playing in the house. What’s the story here?

Nicholas Bloom
Well, before this podcast started, it was delayed by about 5 or 10 minutes as, Pete, I did not know just from trying to ask my older son who was practicing the bagpipe next door. My wife is Scottish. In fact, my mother is Scottish too, so there’s quite a lot of bagpipe activity going on in our house, and it’s just unbelievably noisy. You may think it’s romantic when you hear it outside the tower of London or something or Edinburgh Castle, but when it’s in your house and it’s over and over again, the same song being played repeatedly with like a different mistake each time.

So, yeah. And I live out in California and it’s a wood-built house because of the earthquake risk but, unfortunately, it has no sound insulation so I think it’s not just me that’s tortured by the bagpipe, I think most of my neighbors in the street can hear the same thing. But, you know, it does highlight, I think we’ll come onto it, the challenges of working from home right now with our kids in the house.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely. Well, it’s funny, I think with the bagpipes, I’m thinking about an episode of Better Call Saul in which he was trying to get himself fired one of the things he did was play the bagpipes in the law office, and it contributed to getting him fired. So, that’s a little take-home message for being awesome at your job is be careful about playing the bagpipes in the office if that were an issue for anybody, that’s covered.

Well, we’re talking about working from home. You did quite the study on working from home. I’d like it if we started there and then we fast-forward to the current situation where there’s a lot of working from home going on. It’s a little bit different. So, could you tell us the tale of your Ctrip study?

Nicholas Bloom
Yes. And I should say, actually, for anyone listening that has an intransigent manager or maybe other partners in your business that are anti working from home, you should feel free to forward on the TEDx Talk that I gave, it’s on YouTube, that I received many emails from people that’s saying, “You know, my manager, she didn’t believe working from home, and so I sent her.” So, I’ll tell you the story, and it’s really, this is the summary of the video.

So, back in 2010, I teach in Stanford University, I’m the professor there, and I had someone in the back of my class who turned out quite amazingly to be the co-founder of a huge Chinese multinational, Ctrip. It’s listed on NASDAQ. It’s worth about $15 billion. The guy was called James Liang, and he basically founded this company, and he was worth almost a billion dollars at this point. He decided to kind of step back and become the chairman and take a Ph.D.

But Ctrip had this big challenge which is they’re in Shanghai, their headquarters, and they were growing very fast but they were struggling to keep up with office space, so as they grew they didn’t want to have to spend huge amounts of money on very expensive Shanghai office space. So, working with them, he set up what’s called a randomized control trial on working from home. So, quite explicitly, they asked a thousand people in the firm who wanted to work from home four out of five days a week, 500 of them signed up, it’s already indicative that 500 people did not want to work from home.

And so, sticking with the 500, they then formally randomized them home to office over the next nine months. So, James on TV, in front of a huge crowd, pulled a ping-pong ball out of an urn and it said, “Even,” and everyone with an even birthday, so if you’re born on the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, etc., tenth of the month, worked from home for the next nine months. And if you’re odd, so like me, I’m the fifth of May, you stayed in the office. And it was a way to scientifically evaluate the impact of working from home on these employees.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, intriguing. So, I mean, that’s pretty thorough as far as exploring this phenomenon goes. I mean, it’s better than an office of eight people, said, “Hey, let’s give this a shot for a few weeks and see how it goes.” No, no, we’ve got some randomization, we got a large sample size. Tell us, what happened?

Nicholas Bloom
So, yes, on thorough. I mean, as far as I’m aware, it’s still, to date, the only large-scale scientific evaluation of this. My father actually does drugs testing, so it’s very much modeled on the way you would test a drug before you roll it out formally. The Federal Drug Administration requires formal randomized control trials.

So, what did we find? We found four key things. The first was, quite amazingly, working from home significantly improved performance. So, performance of home-based workers went up by 13% which is huge. That’s like almost an extra day a week, completely against what Ctrip expected.

Pete Mockaitis
I was thinking about, now, in Ctrip, this is a travel agency. And how are we measuring performance in that context?

Nicholas Bloom
It’s a great question. They’re not professionals in the sense that they’re not managers. They’re people that are making telephone calls, making bookings, so in that sense, it’s very easy to measure performance because you can look at the number of calls and bookings, they actually have quality metrics. The downside we’ll come on to later hopefully in the podcast is, of course, they’re not creating new content. And so, working from home is more challenging for that. In terms of executing, we had amazing performance data.

And so, in terms of basically total phone calls since the quality is unchanged and for the bookings, that was up 13% which is huge. And then you ask, “Where did this improvement come from?” Well, of the 13%, about a quarter, so 3.5%, came from the fact they were just more productive per minute. We did a lot of interviews and focus groups, the stories they would tell us is, “Look, it’s just quieter at home.” And the story that resonated with me in particular is this woman that said, “You know, in the office, in the cubicle next door to me, the woman, she, like, clips her toenails in the office and it’s disgusting.”

Pete Mockaitis
Every day? How much toenail have you got? Maybe weekly or bi-weekly.

Nicholas Bloom
And she has obviously very finely-clipped toenails. And the woman said, “She thinks I don’t notice but I tell you, I notice. I see her picking up that clipper and putting it below the desk,” or there’s a cake in the breakout, or a world cup sweepstakes. So, I’m sure, everyone listening has plenty of experience of why it’s noisy in the office. And, believe it or not, on average, people are actually focusing better at home.

Pete Mockaitis
So, a quarter of them just cranked out more work in the same per minute.

Nicholas Bloom
Yup, they were more efficient. So, that’s a quarter of that. And then you’re like, “Well, where did the other three got the uplift?” So, the majority is they’re actually working more minutes. So, I should be clear, for this group, it’s not that they used their commute time because they’re actually on shift work so they’re supposed to be 9:00 to 5:00 Mondays through Fridays. What you see is in the office, they don’t actually start work at 9:00, they often start working at 9:10 because the bus is late, or the motorcycle breaks down, or they take long lunch breaks, they take long tea breaks, they even take longer to get to the toilet. So, just quite practically at home, the toilet is in the room next door. In the office, you’ve got to walk a long distance.

And so, that explains about half of the uplift. So, they’re basically working more minutes per day, they’re working their full shifts. Then the remaining quarter is they’re working more days because they take less sick leave. And, again, when we interviewed people, they’d say, “You know, often, I wasn’t that sick when I took that day off. I just wasn’t sure, I didn’t want to come in and suddenly get worse, but when I was working from home, now, I actually just kept going.”

And sometimes they’d say, “By lunchtime, it got worse and so I’d stop, and other times I’d work the day.” Or, there were other stories we’ve heard about, they say things like, “I wasn’t sick at all but I needed to have the cable repair guy come, so I took a day off.” So, collectively, performance was just massively up 13%. It’s a huge increase. So, that was fact one.

Fact two, again, very positive was quit rates are halved. So, for Ctrip, quit rates and churn is a huge problem. They had 50% of their staff leave every year. So, for anyone that’s listening, ever recruited or trained somebody, you know how painful that process is, they then turn around and nine months later leave. So, their quit rate from 50% down to 25% from home-based workers. And the reason was, again, they just said, “We’re happier,” on average like working from home.

The third finding, which is the one negative piece, is promotion rates also dropped. They dropped to almost half, so that’s kind of worrying. And, in fact, we interviewed them and three different drivers came out. One was the most obvious, the most worrying, is that out of sight, out of mind, “I’m at home. My manager has forgotten about me. I’ve been passed over.”

A second version of that was we heard it more from managers actually, said, “Look, you kind of got to be in the office, to some extent, to pick up on the office culture, to know what’s going on, to know what your colleagues are doing, to understand the strategy.” And so, that time it may feel like wasted chatting and lunch and coffee, actually some of it is quite valuable and is an input into management.

And then the third possible story we heard a bit, the least of all, is occasionally people will tell us they actually turn down being promoted because they didn’t want to come back into the office, “I so enjoy working from home, I turned it down.”

Tips for people that are full-time working from home, or four out of five days a week, if the rest of the office is in the office, with COVID everyone is at home so we’re all on equal footing, but if you’re the only person full-time working from home, I think there is some risks of being passed over for promotion. And then, I should say the final finding, which again is very relevant to policy, was at the end of the nine-month experiment, Ctrip was incredibly happy. So, profits went up by $2,000 per person per year, so they were like, “This is great.” So, they rolled it out to the whole company but they also let everyone involved in the experiment to reoptimize.

So, all these people who have decided to work from home or not, they’ve been randomized. Basically, a year later, they said, “Well, look, it’s work, but you can change your mind every other day, but you can change your mind.” And as it turned out, around 60% of people actually changed their minds. There’s a huge number of people who previously wanted to work from home who’d told us, “Look, it gets very lonely, it gets very isolating,” or they fell victim to one of the three great enemies of working from home, which are the fridge, the bed, and the television. They came back into the office, and other people said, “Oh, I actually saw my colleagues work quite well at home and I’d like to instead come in and move home myself.”

So, there’s enormous churn. And what we saw in the data was when you let people choose, their performance uplift from working from home went up to over 20%. What’s going on is people that tried it out and it didn’t work that well, came back into the office, and people that tried it out and it really did work, they can deal with the loneliness and isolation and performed well, they stuck at home. So, the final lesson is choice really matters.

I’ll talk about it later, I’ve been running a lot of surveys currently on the COVID on people’s preferences in working from home, and there is a huge variation. So, younger people without kids tend to want to go in the office most days. Older people with kids tend to want to work from home most days. Very few people want to do all at home or all in the office, and people often change their minds. They just don’t know how they’re going to like it. So, choice is really important.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Ooh, well, thanks for giving us the rundown, and that’s interesting. That expression, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill,” it’s like, “The grass is greener 60% of the time on the other side of the hill according to this study.” And that’s really striking in terms of, yes, we’re in a bit of a different context now. Not as many people looking to have the evidence to make the pitch to be allowed to work from home, but tuck this away for when the time comes and you want more of it, we’ve got those evidence points.

So, let’s fast-forward to here, now, today. Choice isn’t so much something that’s working to our advantage anymore. Many of us are in a place where it’s like that is the only option is you will be working from home in the midst of the pandemic. So, tell us, what’s the latest you’re finding with your surveys, and how we’re dealing, and how maybe we can deal better?

Nicholas Bloom
Sure. So, right now, it’s just the total change from before. So, working from home, I think, there’s really three phases, and we’re in the middle phase. So, there was before COVID, and before COVID, around 5% of working days were full-time at home, so that’s pretty rare. In fact, only 15% of Americans even ever worked from home, so most people didn’t get to even have a single day working from home. So, 15% of us did and, on average, we were spending one in three days at home. So, pretty unusual.

If you look at who was doing it, it’s pretty varied by gender and age. They tended to be graduates, basically, managers, professionals, graduates. Now, under COVID, as everyone can appreciate, it’s very different now, 40% of working days are at home, so there’s an eightfold increase. In fact, if you look at the other 60% of the labor force, they’re roughly equally split between people working on business premises and those that are not working. So, actually, more than half of people that are currently working are actually working from home. The U.S. economy is like a working from home economy. But it’s very, very challenging. It’s not a great scenario.

So, the four big challenges right now, there’s kids. I have four kids myself and, as we discussed earlier, they’re playing instruments. My youngest, she’s four, she keeps bursting into the room. That’s really hard. Facilities, I’m actually in a spare room so I’m kind of lucky. I’m in the minority of Americans that have their own private room that isn’t a bedroom, but in survey data, 51% of people are basically sharing rooms or in a bedroom. Or another two-thirds of people have great internet. The remaining third have problems with internet, so facilities are a big issue.

The third issue right now is choice. So, basically, anyone working from home, they didn’t get the choice, “The office just closed and we’re going to send you home.” And it turns out, that’s a big issue because a lot of people really don’t like working from home. And then the final challenge right now is we’re doing it full-time, which, before COVID, it was really rare, so only 2% of people ever work from home full-time. Now, it’s 40%. It’s very isolating.

Interestingly enough, in China, in the Ctrip experience, the period we’re in now, which is about three months in, was actually the best period. It’s when people are the happiest. It’s like the euphoric honeymoon period. So, I’ve been talking to dozens of firms and individuals over the last two-three months because I basically spend about most of my time working on working from home. Firms are generally very positive, but I fear it’s going to wane a little bit as we roll on. So, that’s now very widespread, but it’s not great.

The sweet spot is looking ahead. So, right now, it’s funny you mentioned the evidence away of working from home. Right now, I’ve seen a number of companies that are thinking quite seriously about the long term. So, now, three months in, there’s major decisions. And you probably noticed, like Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Amazon have all made public statements about their long-run plans. And what’s by far the most common thing, which actually looks fantastic, is most firms have said, “Working from home is really great. We’ve very happy with it, and we’re going to extend it out even beyond the pandemic, and we are likely to let people do it part-time.”

So, the typical person, they get to work in the office Monday, Wednesday, Friday, be at home Tuesday, Thursday, which, for many people, is the best of both worlds. You save a couple of days on commute, a bit less hassle, you got peace and quiet, but you see your colleagues throughout five days a week.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s kind of my sense. I’ve been working from home for about a decade in my running my business here, and I do get lonely at times, and would like colleagues at times, and have been tempted to pay for co-working space just to see people. But then what it really comes down to, it’s like, “Oh, man, but then I’ve got to commute out there and they don’t have a napping space right there.”

So, anyway. But I’d love to get your view, well, you mentioned it. I guess choice matters and people have different perspectives. Is there an optimal with regard to the days, one day, two days, consecutive, non-consecutive?

Nicholas Bloom
It’s a great question. So, I’ll give you three broad tips, and then I’d drill into the one that you want to hear most about. So, the three broad tips I’ve been telling firms, repeating, I think it’s becoming like a consensus. Every firm I talk to kind of affirms the same view. So, the first is part-time. I have lots of survey data, I won’t go through in details, but basically most people want to work from home something like one to three days a week. Only 20% of people want to work from home full-time, only 25% of people want to be in the office full-time. So, the vast majority of us want a mix. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

So, the first thing is part-time. The second thing is make it optional. So, I would strongly advise against forcing anything on anyone. You’re probably going to have to have some mandatory days in the office, so I wouldn’t probably let, in the long run, anyone be at home five days a week, but you may say, “Look, you can do anything from two to five days a week in the office, and how you split it is your choice.” And then, finally, I think it’s a perk, not an entitlement, which means if people goof off, you give them a warning. And if they goof again, you haul them back into the office. So, those are the three key tips.

On the first, coming back to the number of days, there are broad advices, something like Monday, Wednesday, Friday in the office, Tuesday, Thursday at home, and the whole team does it. So, the reasons for that are, firstly, the whole team is in Monday, Wednesday, Friday, so if you’re going to have a client meeting, or a lunch, or a presentation, or some kind of training event, you know everyone is going to be there. And if you’re taking that Tuesday and Thursday off at home, you don’t feel like you’re missing out. So, I think it’s important to coordinate.

Also, to your question, “Which days?” I would avoid having the whole team at home on Monday or Friday. It tends to generate the extended weekend and, in fact, I’d also try to avoid them being consecutive days. So, Tuesday, Thursday is kind of the best two days because you’re in the office every other day, so if something comes up, you can easily say, “Hey, let’s talk about it in person tomorrow. Let’s have a meeting tomorrow.” So, that’s probably the most likely scenario I see firms gravitating towards Monday, Wednesday, Friday in the office, everyone does that Tuesdays, Thursdays. It’s really a personal choice. And I guess maybe Wednesdays, potentially, but I would avoid actually what was common before the pandemic, having Friday the working from home day. It’s not really ideal.

Before COVID, the big challenge working from home is the stigma, the whole thing of working from home, shirking from home, that’s basically gone. But, even so, working from home on Fridays is not kind of the best message. If you’re going to take one day off, take a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday off.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you think that there’s a higher probability of the shirking actually happening when it’s on a Friday or Monday?

Nicholas Bloom
Yes, and also the perception isn’t as good. So, if you’re a manager, it’s hard. Perception is reality, they kind of merge one into another. But I really want to encourage working from home in an adult way. I mean, very few jobs are basically…there are two ways to evaluate some sort of performance. There’s what’s called inputs and outputs. Mature, graduate types of jobs, I assume pretty much all your listeners are based on you want to be evaluated in outputs, what you do, but you don’t want to be evaluated in inputs, “I’m assessed on the fact that I sit on my desk and look at computer screen all day.” That’s not really great. I want to be treated as an adult and left to kind of get on with stuff and plan my own work.

And, as part of that, I have to build trust. And one of the things is trying to avoid things that maybe look a bit suspicious. So, I would work from home Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. There’s no real…it’s very hard to argue for a Friday except for the fact it’s next to the weekend, and it makes it easier to go away for long weekends, and that’s just not a good signal.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so now, I’d love to get your take on when we are in this environment where, like it or not, working from home is what you’re doing, what are your top do’s and don’ts for helping us do some great output as well as be recognized and promoted and all those good things?

Nicholas Bloom
I came to the realization about three-four weeks ago, this is going to be the long haul. So, just to explain, Stanford University, my employer, has just announced that, effectively, all online teaching, and it looks like all conferences and seminars, so all teachings and conferences and seminars are going to be online probably till next summer. It’s not certain but I see us, we’re going to be in this for another year or so. And, for me, at that point, it became clear it was worth thinking about logistics of working from home, and so I went out and spent $150 on a better microphone,

Pete Mockaitis
I was going to say, when you booked this, you didn’t have that, and now you do.

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, I mean, we’re spending hours every day and our laptops are not designed for this. I actually dropped my main laptop. I’m on my old spare one.

Pete Mockaitis
You mean just ergonomically, like your hands and your neck and where you’re looking, is that what you mean?

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, exactly. It’s like the working from home version of a nice suit, except it’s cheaper. I mean, $300 is cheaper than a nice suit and a pair of shoes so I would totally buy a webcam and microphone. I would also do a trial run on how you look on the camera. I was doing a TV interview and the woman on the…the reporter said, “You know, your glasses are reflecting a lot.” And it’s turned out I didn’t realize that. And I’d been fiddling around with this. It turned out, having a light source, you’re always told to look out the window so the light is shining onto your face rather than you’re like some dark shadowy silhouette. But there’s a second thing. So, that’s number one. Always, you want to have the light behind the camera so it lights you up.

But the second thing is trying to avoid it literally being directly behind the camera because then it reflects into your glasses back into the camera. You can’t see because I’m on a podcast, but I’m actually looking out a window but I put a cardboard screen that blocks light right behind the laptop, and I put lights on either side. So, I probably spent four or five hours a day on video. And in some sense, again, it’s creating positive touch. You want people to see your eyes, so if you’re wearing glasses, I don’t want to wear contact glasses. Pete has just taken off his glasses. He’s giving me very romantic looks over our video connection.

But I actually got a couple of lamps. Another thing I did is I tried, I put up a couple of pictures behind me. You know, there’s two ways to go I’ve noticed on video calls. One is to have a reasonably-looking background, in which case you have…you know, I had a messy room before, and this is a spare room, there’s a pile of junk in the background. So, I put up some pictures and tidied it up.

The alternative is to have a plain, like a white wall, or you can buy it. Just before the call, I was looking online on Amazon, and I think you can buy what’s called a green screen, just hang it up. That actually works much better for having one of those image backgrounds, say, on Zoom because Zoom finds it hard to tell it’s you versus a picture of you against a cluttered background. So, that’s another key thing.

There’s a bunch of other more minor tips for teams which is one of the downsides that comes up a lot on working from home is the lack of casual conversations. So, in particular, walking in and out of meetings, you know, I personally used to notice, I miss the lunches and coffees, also even just the meetings, the first couple of minutes I turn to colleagues and watercooler discussions. It’s hard to perfectly recreate that but the people have done this best, I’ve been trying to do this in my own research group, is to setup a time each week to talk to each member of my research. I do it for like 20 minutes. It’s a very deliberate one-on-one time. I’ve heard other managers, one manager I was talking to, said, “Look, I speak to every member of my team for five minutes at the beginning of each day just to check in on them. And if I need more time, I spend more time.”

And the upside about doing this online is it’s very easy to just have a scheduling talk, like Google Sheets, and you just say, “Write your name, and you sign the names up,” and they fill up, because it’s online, it’s easy to be punctual. And then in meetings, actually, I actually have my weekly meetings. Rather than have an hour discussion on work, we basically have 45 minutes. And the first 15 minutes, we go around the group of 12 of us. Each person talks briefly about something non-work-wise. Like, Cody, he’s been telling about his garden, and Anika has been telling me about he’s been doing puzzles, and B has been telling me about Netflix shows she’s been watching. It kind of brings it to life. I wouldn’t say it’s perfect but I think we need to be more deliberate about fostering some sort of discussion casually.

The final thing I’ve heard about is it’s important just to be more scheduled and organized. So, particularly with kids at home right now, you have to think about it’s not just you but also many people in your teams are having struggles with spouses and schedules whoever looks after the kids, so it’s useful to have regular schedules. So, you have someone in your team, their husband and they have two young kids, it’s much better for her if she knows that she’s going to be working 9:00 till 12:00, and she can be more relaxed in the afternoon. So, actually being more organized because there are more conflicts for our time for those who have young kids is a final tip, and I’ve heard that discussed a lot.

And, in fact, being particular, avoiding sprawls of meetings and emails that can easily extend out. The fact they’re at home doesn’t mean we can easily, “We’ll happy to have a meeting at 7:00 a.m. or 7:00 p.m.” We should try and stick to the working day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s an excellent lineup. I’d love to hear, is there anything that we…I guess I asked for do’s and don’ts. I heard a lot of great do’s. Are there some don’ts in terms of like you’re seeing a mistake appear again and again and again, or there’s sort of a hidden risk or peril or danger that folks don’t know that they are overlooking? For example, you mentioned, I think it’s a great example there with that sort of the watercooler type talk, those informal bits of conversation. Like, they can just disappear if you’re not sort of mindful and thoughtful and planful to get them in there. Is there anything else that you think people are overlooking?

Nicholas Bloom
I mean, a bigger thing is don’t get rid of the office. So, I’ve had so many senior managers say, “Hey, this is the end of the office,” or, “We’re going to shrink our office down just to go through the economics of this.” I’ve written it down. If anyone in particular fears that their boss is thinking of closing the office, the points to think about is, one, right now, we’re really in the euphoric phase. As I mentioned, three months is exactly the wrong time to be deciding office closes. It’s like planning your life after the first date. You’re incredibly happy but you haven’t seen the bad stuff, so I would wait.

In China, in Ctrip, we saw three months was literally the peak, so it’s literally the worst time to be evaluating long-run. And, in fact, from talking to firms, there are some major upsides about in-person meetings. The first is creativity. It actually turns out, it’s much harder to be creative remotely. The second is inspiration. You know, it’s hard to remain motivated and inspired sitting in our bedroom. And, finally, there’s an issue of loyalty, I think, if you’re at home month in, month out, you feel a weaker connection to your firm. So, I really think we do want to be in the office two or three days a week.

Now, you might think, “Well, we can shrink the office now. We’re only in it three days a week. Even if we’re on the same days, maybe we need less space per person.” But you have to remember, social distancing has actually dramatically increased the square footage per person. So, the firms I’ve been talking to are talking about two to three times space per person. So, I’ve just finished a survey around a thousand firms in the U.S. The forecasts are actually for a slight increase in demand in square footage of office space. So, sure, we’re going to spend less days per week in the office, probably something like 15% less days, I estimate, but we maybe need something like 50% more space per person. So, I think getting rid of the office would be a huge mistake right now. It really would limit your firm’s ability to, obviously, go back to part-time. In person, it would cause problems of loyalty. It causes all kinds of issues.

The other mistake, or the other piece of advice, I guess, is to location is going to remain as it is. There’s huge evidence to show we are shifting pretty radically out of skyscrapers into industrial parks. So, skyscrapers have a huge issue, which is, one, mass transit. How do you get to the front door? And the second is elevators. How do you get from the front door up to your desk? So, we think about a normal high-rise, it takes something like two-three square feet of space to put one person. In a crushed elevator, you basically, if you think of a person, they’re about a foot by two-foot. If we need six feet distance between us and the next person, that’s a circle of radius 6 foot. That’s about 100 square feet. So, that makes elevators just completely unfeasible.

So, from firms I’ve been talking to, there’s an enormous charge to think, “You know, we need all this space. What are we going to do? We’re going to think about moving out into industrial parks, maybe take over old leases of shops that have gone bankrupt, maybe gyms that have closed down, etc.” So, if you’re involved in that side of the office, the mistake would be to shutter the office. The advice is to think about actually where you want to be when you return to work six to nine months from now. And I think it could well be an industrial park where you can drive to or walk up a couple of stairs to get to your desk.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. Thanks. Well, now, can you share with us a few of your favorite things? Let’s start with a favorite quote. What’s something you find inspiring?

Nicholas Bloom
I heard a great quote the other day from Satya Nadella who’s the CEO of Microsoft. I had exactly the same thought, I was thinking, which is, he said, “You know, the thing I really miss in the office is those two minutes at the beginning and the two minutes at the end of every meeting when I get to turn to the person next to me, chat to them and say, ‘How are you doing?’” I feel the same thing. It’s not the meeting itself, it’s the before and after I miss, the personal interaction.

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

Nicholas Bloom
It’s hard to think of an individual one. Sticking to the topic of working from home. Upwork had a great survey came out recently showing how 90% of firms are actually very surprised that they’re very positive about working from home.

As I mentioned, I just caution about swinging from one extreme to the other. It feels a bit like if you have kids, you know how kids just they go so extreme, they’re like, particularly young kids. My four-year old goes from like unbelievably happy to minutes later in tears and floods. It feels like that’s a bit like the journey of working from home. So, now, we’re loving it. I think that’s great. There’s lots of evidence on that. I would caution on loving it too much.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Nicholas Bloom
I saw this in preparation for the podcast. I have to say, embarrassingly, I don’t really read books that much. So, I devour the media. I read a lot. If you talk about media, I talk about the BBC, I read the New York Times. Such a devotion, I love the BBC. You can hear from my accent I’m a Brit, but it feels a bit more impartial to me and it has my…it keeps track of my sports, my Tottenham Hotspur, my UK football team. So, I don’t know what it is, but I don’t really read books anymore, I’m afraid. I know that is not the correct answer to give but I guess it’s the only…

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I mean, you shared the favorite things you read, and we’ll take it. And how about a favorite tool?

Nicholas Bloom
Right now, I’m really excited, as nerdy lame as it seems, by my new webcam.

Pete Mockaitis
It looks good.

Nicholas Bloom
My old laptop is kind of this grainy, crabby picture, and it got damaged. It wasn’t quite as bad. I have a hall of shame, which is just kind of a running joke with my colleagues and grad students. There’s a guy that has a webcam so bad he looks like some kind of ghost from Harry Potter. Isn’t quite there though. I was so excited just to finally get a clean crisp image. I always wondered how other people did it. I thought they just looked clean and crisp, but maybe that’s part of the story. I think they also have better technology.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, we got to know, do you know the make, the model?

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, it’s Logi…and if I look…oh, geez, it’s about $180. I know it is now sold out. Something like a CD920 maybe. What is it called?

Pete Mockaitis
Logitech CD920-ish.

Nicholas Bloom
Yeah, I think it was the CD920 high definition. And, also, the microphone is the Blue Yeti.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right, yeah.

Nicholas Bloom
That’s about $140. Both of them I searched around online, and there was a bunch of reviews. The Blue Yeti was reviewed by someone in the Wall Street Journal as the best mic. That was it. They interviewed a sound guy that did the voices for the new Avengers stuff and various other movies, and he said, “Look, this is the best cheap serious microphone out there.”

Pete Mockaitis
I agree that the Blue Yeti is excellent so long as it’s not an empty echo-y room, and yours is working for you.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Nicholas Bloom
I picked up a lockdown habit which is juggling a soccer ball, a football as I call it. So, my 11-year old daughter plays in a soccer team, and she’s been told by her coach, because they’re not playing anymore because of the lockdown, to try and juggle, like kick it up easy, keep the ball kicking in the air. So, I couldn’t do that at all, I have to say, until about four months ago, but I can do like a hundred which is very therapeutic because you’re entirely concentrating on it. There’s no email, no phones, no kids actually, because everyone knows to avoid dad where he’s obsessively juggling the soccer ball, but I quite like it.

I wouldn’t say it’s high exercise but after 20 minutes of it, I feel refreshed and energized. So, if I have too many Zoom meetings in a row, and I have a half-hour break, I may go out into the garden. There’s a bit of fresh air. I may go out and try and juggle a soccer ball one. It’s something like that, something kind of absorbing. But I used to find mowing the lawn was similar like that, I’ve a very good lawn. But no one would come near me because you’ve got this large heavy piece of equipment making huge amounts of noise, so there was no phone, no email, no children. But, yeah, that’s my favorite hobby right now.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for, it resonates with people, and they quote it back to you a lot?

Nicholas Bloom
You know, I have become the working from home guy just because the TEDx Talk, coming back to the beginning of the podcast, is very pro working from home. And so, it’s useful if you have a manager that’s skeptical, or an owner that says, “Oh, as soon as the pandemic is over, we’re going back to full-time in the office.” And because of that, I’m kind of known for being pro working from home.

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

Nicholas Bloom
To my website. The easiest thing to do is just to type Nicholas Bloom into Google and it should come up as the top hit. I’m at Stanford University. So, if you type Nick Bloom Stanford, it will come up.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have any challenges or calls to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Nicholas Bloom
I think just stick with it in the sense that I think working from home is going to be here for a long time. So, just the realization we’re in the long haul, and investing in equipment, investing in setting things up, and your schedule. We can make this work as society is actually part of the fight against COVID. One of the most effective and important things is we can work from home because the economy can keep going while we socially isolate. And it does need everyone, I guess, to give it their best shot and help other people in your firm do the same thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Nick, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all your adventures.

Nicholas Bloom
Hey, Pete, thanks very much for having me on the show.

585: How to Boost Your Motivation by Using the Joy Mindset with John O’Leary

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Bestselling author John O’Leary discusses how embracing the joy mindset can help you find more purpose and drive at work–and life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three questions to jumpstart your day
  2. How to spark your motivation with an ignition statement
  3. How to use “compound interest” to advance your career

 

About John

In 1987, John O’Leary was a curious nine-year-old boy. Playing with fire and gasoline, John created a massive explosion in his home and was burned on 100% of his body. He was given less than a 1% chance to live. John‘s story, perspective and inspiration have inspired millions of people and 2,000 clients over the last decade.

John is the author of the instant #1 National Bestselling book ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life, host of the top-rated Live Inspired Podcast and inspirational speaker teaching more than 50,000 people around the world each year how to live inspired. His second national bestselling book, IN AWE: Rediscover Your Childlike Wonder to Unleash Inspiration, Meaning and Joy, published May 2020 and its immediate success led many to say “it’s exactly what we all need right now.”

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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John O'Leary Interview Transcript

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

John O’Leary
Hey, Pete, great to be with you and your followers.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your story and some of the takeaways in your book and life experience to help folks be all the more awesome at their jobs. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? When you were nine, you had a life changing experience. Can you tell us the shorter version of the story?

John O’Leary
Yeah. I’m going to begin with a longer version at first because I did not know that the story you were asking about right now had any meaning toward my professional life, personal life, relational life, or any other aspect of life until I was 27 and a half years old. And that is the first time that I can remember where I would’ve been able to answer the question that you just asked. We can talk about that if you’d like in a moment. But the simple answer to your question is this. At age nine, I was burned in a housefire on 100% of my body, and 87% of those burns were third degree.

I found myself at age nine in a hospital bed, in the emergency room, dying, looking down at my hands that were changed, my arms that were burned, and my legs that were burned, and just freaking out, wondering, “What possibly could I do to go forward in my life in a positive direction?” And, yet, my dad came in and he wasn’t at home when I got burned, Pete, but he walked in, and he was at his job actually. He was at his job. He left. Came home. Saw the house on fire and went to the hospital. Saw me, walked right over to me, and I’ll never forget it because I was afraid my dad would, for some reason, be mad at me, because I was part of the reason why the house was on fire in the first place. I was playing with matches and gasoline and had no idea what was going to happen. But I’m a nine-year old little boy, I’ve burned myself by accident, I burned down his house.

He’s walking toward me, I know he’s going to kill me, he’s left his job, he’s got a big meeting on Monday, and I’ll never forget, he says, “John, look at me when I’m talking to you,” which is, in our family, Pete, the kiss of death so I know I’m done. And then he goes, “I have never been so proud of anybody in my entire life, and I just love you. I love you. I love you.” And I remember thinking, “Oh, my gosh, nobody told my dad what happened. He doesn’t know what went down here, man. He doesn’t know I’m the culprit of this thing.” And yet I think he did know.

I also think he recognized what actually matters. And it’s important, as we live out and strive to be awesome at our jobs, that we also recognize that it’s just part of our overall lives, and we want to be awesome at all of it, and we want to start, ultimately, I think, at home. And the best way we’re going to be effective in that is to do so in love. And I know this sounds soft, but it’s not soft. It’s really hard. It’s really forcing you to be excellent at whatever it is you strive to do. It will change your life, which is awesome. That’s called success. But it’s also going to change the life of every single person that you interact with as you move forward in your business and in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Well, there’s so much there. Well, first, congratulations. I mean, you’ve come a long way and you…well, you look great for one thing.

John O’Leary
You wear blue well, O’Leary.

Pete Mockaitis
So, there’s that.

John O’Leary
You know, for those who are listening rather than viewing, it’s odd to think that right now, Pete and I are looking at each other, and he sees my face and I see his, and when he looks at me, he doesn’t really see any scars. The wild thing, and I just consider it a miracle. You can call it, “Well, it sounds like dumb luck to me.” Fine. You call it dumb luck. I’ll call it a miracle. I have a 100% burn, that’s the entire body, 87% of those burns are third degree, meaning you have thick skin, thick red scars over your entire body from the point of the event all the way until you die. That’s just your life going forward.

And so, for me, Pete, I have burns, scars, from my neck all the way to my toes, it covers every inch of my body. My hands, my fingers, are amputated so I’ve got some real struggles going on, but yet my face, you don’t see any scars. And so, you can look at your life and see everything that’s wrong with it, and I think that’s very popular these days to see everything that we don’t have, and everything we wish we had, and the way we wish we had been raised, and the scars we wish we did not bear, and all those other stuff. It’s very common to talk about, “How crummy my life is,” “How brutal my boss is,” “How lousy my job is.” It’s commonplace and I think it’s a fool’s errand.

When I look in the mirror, I see the scars too. You can’t miss them but I just give thanks that part of me wasn’t burned, and I’m really grateful. And I’m grateful that I still have my life, and I still have joy, and I’m still happy. So, when you say, “John, you’re doing great,” I feel like I am doing great. I really feel like I’m incredibly supremely blessed coming through the storm.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a beautiful perspective. And, you know, I’m thinking about, I lost my dad when I was in high school, I was a freshman, and the perspective I had, in a way it was kind of similar, is that I was sad. I mean, we were close, I was bummed, it was a tragedy. And, at the same time, I was grateful that we had those 14 and a half years there together. And I remember thinking, like, “Boy, if I lost him a few years prior to that, I’m not so sure I’d be on a good path.” You know? I mean, I think there’s a lot of temptations in teen, pre-teen times, and I thought, “Okay, getting hammered looks kind of interesting.” Like all these sorts of things. But, no, I had a good strong influence and I was grateful that I had that time. And I almost felt like, “Whew! That was close. Had I lost him three or four years earlier, I might be on a very different trajectory.”

John O’Leary
So, Pete, we talked before we hit record, and I did quite a bit of research on you, so I feel like I know you a little bit. And yet when you shared that story about losing your dad, my heart sank a little bit, I loosened up a little bit, it got real for a little bit, and I just think that’s incredible what can happen when we’d be real with one another, not tell like one-up them, or not to say like, “Hey, me too.” Like, just to be real and authentic and vulnerable and connect with another human being. I think that’s amazing. And I also think it’s really remarkable because, for me, after being burned at nine, it took me two decades to come around and be grateful for the story.

For you to go through the storm of losing a parent when you’re just beginning adolescence, and you’re just beginning high school, and you’re just really beginning to journey through life, and even in the midst of it, to recognize, “Wow! At least I had him 13, 14 years. What a gift that was. At least I didn’t lose him when I was 11. That would’ve been hard, man.” Well, I would suggest, when you lost when you did, is unbelievable, almost unbearably hard and yet he must’ve instilled in you an incredible sense of self and grit and determination that, in spite of what you might face later on in life, that you’re up for the task at hand.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And I think that a lot of that does resonate and particularly this podcast and we’re talking about your book. He got me started in going to the library, reading books, and getting excited about the power of learning stuff to make you better in whatever domain, whether it’s being awesome at your job or whatever you’re up to. So, let’s talk about how you’ve put this wisdom to work. Your latest book, it’s called In Awe: Rediscover Your Childlike Wonder to Unleash Inspiration, Meaning, and Joy. Well, that sounds pretty cool. What’s the big idea here?

John O’Leary
As a speaker, I go around the world sharing for organizations like Southwest Airlines or Microsoft or Apple how they can become better versions of themselves. And I have the honor of hopping on these flights and flying to fancy places and checking in and doing great work and loving these organizations. But as I go through the day, I see a lot of adults who are beat down by it, “Work is hard. And family is hard. And, oh, damn, the headlines, did you see them today? They’re bad.” Everything is kind of a struggle, and we’re just enduring. We’re enduring these days.

And I make it a habit when I’m on the road, once I leave the client’s conversation, I always go to schools. I love giving my time away to kids. And when I walk into the school building, man, the first thing you notice in a school is these kids are always smiling. You may not see it all the time when you’re in a lecture seminar, when you’re in an airport, of all places, but when you’re with kids, you see it. And you don’t always see it with your eyes. You see it with your ears. It’s like this radiant joy. And then as they get called from one class into the lecture hall with Mr. O’Leary, they go into that room skipping. Like, I don’t know when the last time your adult listeners skipped anywhere. Kids skip everywhere.

And so, I saw within these children joy, and like passion for life, and not taking the things for granted, and enthusiasm, believing that tomorrow is going to be better than today. They have it. They ask great questions. And I wonder, “What is it that they have, these children, about the way they do work?” Because they’re in work, man, in school. The way they play, they way they do life that we adults have lost sight of. And if we chose to return to it, what might happen in our lives? And it’s there for all of us. You don’t need to be under the age of five to grab it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so now, it’s funny when I ask this question, but I’m going to. So, childlike awe, wonder, that sounds fun, I’d like some more inspiration, meaning, and joy. Can you draw the connection for us in how that can help professionals be more awesome at their jobs if they have that? I mean, yeah, “Happiness is all great and all, John, but can we stay on message?”

John O’Leary
You know what, I’m so glad, I have a very pragmatic wife, an incredibly cynical neighbor, and so anytime I come up with my great happiness projects, these are the first two people who immediately try to squelch it with as much water as they possibly can, and they haven’t been able to yet, so I’m not sure this question will either, or those in the room who are crossing their arms, saying, “This won’t work for me. This won’t work for me.”

At the end of the day, our work is about frequently the relationships are those that we are doing it with. At the end of the day. Whether you are working in retail and you’re checking people out, whether you are collaboratively building on projects, now virtually, whatever it might be, it’s, “How do we connect with the people around us, with the task at hand, with the mission that guides us forward, in a way that allows us to be as effective as possible in doing so?”

So, then your question is, “Well, how do you do that stuff better?” Really, that all sounds good. How do we connect with people, and purpose, and task? Well, it all goes back to meaning and inspiration and joy. You used the word happiness a moment ago to describe it. I’m not a happy guy actually. I think happiness is highly overrated. I think happiness is an ice cream cone. I give my kids ice cream cones all the time, and about 30 seconds later on a July day in St. Louis, Missouri as it’s melting, my kids have lost their happiness. So, my $5 investment in happy melts 30 seconds in. Happiness is when I give them my new iPhone. Sadness is two minutes later when I take it away or it runs out of batteries.

So, happiness is this emotion that is incredibly fleeting. We strive for it but I, ultimately, don’t think is what we’re longing for. What we long for is satisfaction. We long for contentment. We long to do a job well. We long for joy. And we can have joy regardless of the set of circumstances in front of us. So, if you want to be effective at your job, if you want to be truly awesome, okay, awesome at your job, I would suggest to you, foundationally and fundamentally, one of the very first things you ought to try to embrace is joy.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about definitions for a moment. So, if happiness is a fleeting emotion that comes and goes and maybe based on the stimuli kind of right there, what is joy?

John O’Leary
Joy is more on a determination. It’s a mindset. And I think a mindset can grow, Pete, when you own into it by asking questions around, “How do I get more of this thing?” So, if you want to get awesome at your job, ideally, you’re asking questions around, “Well, how do I get better at this? How do I become better in whatever work I strive to do?” If you want to own this mindset, and today we’re talking about right now is the mindset of joy, I would encourage you strongly, and this is going to sound soft, and I’m telling you it ain’t. This is hard business. It’s transformational if you take the O’Leary challenge.

I strongly encourage your listeners to ask three questions throughout the day, and to do them sequentially. So, the first question, it ought to be asked about an hour before your day normally begins. So, if you are waking up at 7:00 and you feel like the day already got ahead of you, we might want to wake up a little bit earlier. And I recommend, usually, get up about an hour earlier than you currently are if you feel like you’re already behind the day when it goes. We can do this.

And so, I wake up a couple of hours earlier than I really need to. But I go outside after taking a shower, I make a tall glass of water, hot cup of coffee, I sit outside in the darkness. I know this sounds odd. But if I grab my phone first, I realize that there are challenges in the news, there’s challenges with borders, there’s challenge with economics, “Oh, I got all these work emails I got to respond to, and I’m already behind. Not only am I behind, I’m beat down.”

2018, Harvard ran a business story on this, and 94.5% of news stories were negative. So, two years ago, when the markets were at a historic high, and unemployment at historic lows, and COVID-18 wasn’t even invented, let alone COVID-19, there were no stress points, man. Well, during that phase, 94.5% of the news stories were negative. So, I challenge you to go right past the headlines, go outside, grab a journal, watch the sunrise, and ask the question, “Why me?” and take an inventory, before the day unfolds in front of you, what you’re grateful for. If you want more joy, opt in. It’s a choice.

Pete Mockaitis
So, the “Why me?” question is I think there are so many ways to take that “Why me?” but you said the gratitude is the angle you’re putting on there.

John O’Leary
And, occasionally, if I’m speaking, like if I’m at a seminar, sometimes I’ll be a little bit more playful in this, and I’ll walk through the questions that you should ask if you want to have a lousy day, “So, you want to have a lousy day? You want to be miserable at your work? You want a lousy marriage, a horrible singleness? You want to be more addicted to whatever that thing is that brought you down yesterday? Ask these three questions. And the three questions are ‘Why me?’ because it’ll even make you feel worse about your life; ‘Who cares?’ because, ultimately, you don’t, clearly, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it; and, ‘What more can I do?’ And I’m just one. It’s a huge problem. The headwind is too strong. I can’t change the environment, I can’t change the economy, I can’t change my business, I can’t even change my spouse or my kids. I certainly can’t change my life. What more can I do?”

So, I walk them down the path of those three questions and then, the original point, I say, “There are three questions that I’m begging you today to begin asking, and here are these three. ‘Why me?’ A question around gratitude. ‘Who cares?’ A question around mission and meaning and values and purposefulness in your life. It’s going to spark joy. And, thirdly, ‘What more can I do?’ And asked in the light of victory, asked in the light of the mindset that allows you to spark joy, it’s going to lead to engagement. It’s going to lead to creativity and collaboration. It’s going to lead to you living not only your best job yet, but your best life yet.”

And the second question, the first one is easy, it’s gratitude. Spend three minutes on it, or 45 minutes, but all research around gratitude is that it’s a muscle we all have, many of us choose not to stretch, but when we do, it leads to vitality in the way we attack the day, and also vibrancy in the way we feel about our life around us. According to a study that came out just yesterday, 12% of Americans are pretty happy with their lives. I think the word they used is very happy with their lives. Very happy. 12%. Do you want to become a little bit closer to being very happy with your life? Start with gratitude. It’s an important muscle that must be stretched in order to be enjoyed.

The second question is, “Who cares?” And the way I would encourage your listeners to answer this is, “I choose to care. I choose to care. It’s a choice. And I choose to thrive in work and in life because…” so don’t try to buck it up, “I’m going to do well at work but whatever in life, whatever in health, whatever in money, or faith, or whatever. If I get around to that stuff, I’ll be fine then.” Bull. If you are only successful professionally, you would get to the top of the ladder and you will realize that you climbed the ladder and it was leaning up against the wrong wall. I’m not saying don’t climb high. I’m not saying don’t sprint, don’t run, don’t track topline revenue and bottom-line profitability, don’t get better at your work. I’m saying do all those things, but also recognize this is being done in the context of a holistic life.

So, we want to make sure that we, as we live out our mission, are living it out now, not only organizationally in our job, but also in our life as a whole sum. So, who cares? The answer is “I choose to thrive at work and in life because…” This becomes your ignition statement. We used to call these mission statements. In mine, and I have it on the wall in my office, mine, “I choose to thrive because,” and this is personal, “God demands it, my family deserves it, and the world is starved for it.” Let’s go. Let’s go.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. Those are good reasons.

John O’Leary
Those are weak reasons. Aim higher, man.

Pete Mockaitis
But it’s not like, you know, “Because I should,” or, “My parents spent a lot of money in my college education.” Like, you can have weak reasons and you can have killer reasons, and that makes all the difference.

John O’Leary
So, you can be led from a place of fear or a place of love. And, again, this sounds soft until you apply this thing up and down your life and your work, and you recognize it’s not soft. It’s foundationally transformational. It leads to excellence. It leads to a high level of accountability. It impacts not only the work you’re doing but the way you’re elevating everybody else in your teams to do better work in their lives as well. So, it really is.

As you are all getting ready to say, “This is too soft,” I’m telling you, I’ve grown three different businesses using these models. It’s not soft. It’s actually…it’ll set you apart from everybody else that looks alike. and the third and final question, we could say there’s a lot more, and there are a lot more questions to ask, but the third question that I’m encouraging you to ask daily is, “What more can I do?” and this is how you grab compound interest professionally.

We all know about compound interest, man. Open a bank account and, boom, baby, it starts growing. Compound interest. Free money. How do you do that at your job though? How do you do it in your relationships, in your spiritual journey, in your health, in your creativity, knowing you’re becoming better each day? How do you do this?

The easiest way I’ve learned to do this is to ask a question every night, and I have a journal next to my toothbrush, and when I’m on the road, this journal comes with me, and on that journal I ask a question every single night, the question is, “What more can I do?” And then, before I go to bed, I have a mandate that it must be answered. And the full question is, “What more can I do to ensure that tomorrow will be even better than today?”

And sometimes, Pete, that’s directed toward being a better husband. Sometimes it’s directed toward…you know, my dad has got Parkinson’s disease, he’s struggling. My mom has got her challenges. The world is busted right now. There’s a lot going on. But others, for those of you who are just worried about being awesome at your job, “What more can I do to be awesome at my job?” Every single day, choosing one thing that you will do tomorrow that you did not do today that will allow you to become even more effective, even more awesome. If you did that for a week, you would see immediate results. If you took the challenge for a month, I think it would transform the way you show up every single day. It’ll change what you say no to and it will elevate what you’re saying yes to.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to hear, so as you’ve shared this message with many people, what are some of the answers that tend to come back, like frequently neglected, omitted, what-can-I-do responses that are high leverage?

John O’Leary
So, I’ll just share a couple personal examples. My relationship with my wife, I think, is one of the most important ones to at least try to get right. And, in 2016, we wrote a book called On Fire, and it went on fire. It became instant number one national bestseller. It was translated into a dozen languages. And, overnight, a guy who was kind of busy, became extraordinarily busy, on the road all the time. And as we ended that year, I realized, “Wow! I got awesome at my job but I was losing track of the things, four little kids, and the individual who gave me those four little kids, my wife, that maybe should matter most.”

And so, I have a cool process on New Year’s Eve that I’m always running through individually, but I wanted to become a much better spouse in the following year. I still wanted to be awesome at my job, I still wanted to touch lives organizationally, I still wanted to grow topline revenue, but not at the expense of losing my wife. And so, I asked the question, “What more can I do?” And as I got clear on it, “Well, what if I tracked all the things she does that are good without telling her.” I kept a journal entry.

And so, on January 1, 2017, I began a leather-bound journal with the words “Dear Beth, Jan. 1, 2017.” And then I told her in writing what I was going to do this year, and then I shut the book and went to bed. And the following day, I did it again, January 2, tracked one thing she did really beautifully, something maybe with our kids, maybe something she wore, something she did for a neighbor up in our community, whatever it was. Just tracking the good, tracking the success story.

A couple cool things came up out of that. Number one is we had been married at that point for 13 years and that was, that year 2017, our best year of marriage yet. I think, Pete, frequently in life, we say, “I do” maybe to a person on an altar, at the park, you make the commitment, but then you get bored with it. It just gets hard. It becomes kind of monotonous and we grow tired, and we stop doing, we stop courting the one in front of us. We say, “I do,” when it’s our first day on the job. Like, we really want to grow, we really want to expand, but then we realize our boss is a pain, the customers are snobs, and we really don’t do it anymore, we don’t really care that much anymore.

I wanted to care deeply in this relationship with my wife, and so I tracked the good of her. I noted it on a piece of paper, and I wanted to reflect that goodness back to her through my actions, through my words. And on Christmas day 2017, I handed her a poorly-wrapped present, she opened it, and it was this leather, stains, wine stains, lousy, beat down journal with 360 journal entries with her husband tracking her beauty. And it’s the first present I think I’ve ever gave her that led her to tears. In fact, last night, she was reading this in our bedroom, laughing sometimes, crying sometimes, emotionally being brought back to this autobiography that is our life. It’s our journey together, and we missed it for a while but we didn’t miss it in 2017, and neither of us have missed it since.

So, that’s one way to ask the question, “What more can I do?” and actually take tactical action to move you. We could also talk about how this has impacted our business, who we’ve hired, who we’ve let go, what we’ve done with the community, what we say yes to, what we say no to. It influences the way you show up every single day by asking the question, “What more can I do?” and then you write it down, you go, you track your progress, you make your changes along the way, you track the course, and you see how you can become even better going forward.

Pete Mockaitis
And what I like is that, you know, it could be a very small thing in terms of I don’t know how long it takes you to write down a good thing that your wife did, or I’m thinking, “What can I do to make tomorrow better than today in my work life? I could tidy this desk.”

John O’Leary
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And that would, I mean, it just put me in a little better mood, a little bit more positive, a little bit more energetic, a little bit more able to reach my favorite paper and pens, etc. when the moment calls for it. And so, I hear you about that compound interest because the next day, it’s like, “Well, hey, the desk is clean, so what else can I do?”

John O’Leary
And then you start adding those on top of each other. Pages equal chapters, chapters equal books. I see the library behind you, I mean, you’re loaded back there. Books lead to libraries. It’s just compound interest. Word by word, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, book by book, library by library. You start moving this into relationships though and you’re on relationship capital. Compound interest, I think, Einstein said that it is the eighth wonder of the world. Those who understand it get it. Those who don’t pay it. So, if you understand compound interest, you’re collecting it every day in your bank account.

Can you write down the question, “What more can I do?” Can you answer it? And the following day when you wake up groggy, can you take action? Because if you do, it’s going to change that day, and those pieces of paper stacked, it’s going to change a life. And so, it really is, like I’ve told you before, we’ve grown three different businesses simply by asking that simple question, “What more can I do?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s talk about this notion sort of in workplaces and relationships. I guess what are some of the top do’s and don’ts that make a world of difference in making those relationships compound into a wonderful wealthy relationship as opposed to getting in severe indebtedness?

John O’Leary
Right, man. Let’s deal with the math all the way up and down. So, one of the most important things to recognize as we go through this process is it’s not so you can collect interest, it’s so you can pay it, it’s so you can make a profound difference in the lives of those that you choose to serve. An example of this, as COVID-19 was spreading, as I’m a motivational speaker, a leadership speaker, I travel the world giving seminars, 94% of that revenue disappeared overnight starting March 6, so our whole year blew up and imploded, and I have a whole team here that supports our efforts. We try to make a bigger difference in the community.

And so, I was going home, kind of feeling a little bit sluggish about the work, and, “How can I be awesome at my job when I can’t even keep this job?” and all the things we kind of go through when we’re having a pity party. And I asked the question that night, “What more I can do?” and this is, I don’t know, late March, “What more can I do? What more can I do?” Well, we’ve a book coming out called In Awe, and was coming out early in May, and we’d already pre-sold thousands and thousands of copies, and the press was about to take this thing and run with it.

And the way I answered that question that night is, “What if we gave it all away? What if we took everything, everything that we’re going to make from this book?” And instead of being self-focused, “What can O’Leary get out of it? How can I collect more? How can I get my interest, baby, my compound payment?” What if, instead, we could give it all away?

And so, I asked the question, “What more can I do?” I ran up on my wife, that’s always a good idea if you’re married or with a partner, before you make a big decision like this. She agreed. We ran it by my four kids. They agreed it would be cool. And with that, we decided to give 100% of the profits away to an organization called Big Brothers Big Sisters. And so, in the first two weeks alone, we were able to write this organization that makes a profound cultural difference in our community. One by one is how you change the world, by the way. One by one, that’s how you do it.

We were able to write them a cheque for $30,000 because a question came in front of us, “What more can I do?” It was not asked necessarily selfishly. It was asked selflessly. It was not asked only out of success, “How can I grow myself?” but out of significance, “How can I impact those around us with the resources that we still have, with the ability to influence that we still possess?” I did that to give. I do it to give. It has led to this incredible response from the media, from social media, from other organizations saying that they wanted to match what we gave. It led to a couple organizations saying, “Man, we want to bring you in to speak virtually to our organization. We want to learn more about this compound interest, this idea of being generous even during difficult days.”

I wasn’t giving to get at all. We gave because it’s the right thing to do in any climate. And yet, in doing so, the wealth comes back into your world. And so, as you ask that question, I strongly encourage you to ask it through the lens of love not fear, the lens of abundance not entitlement, or not like thinking small, and, “How do I get more of the pie to come toward me?” There’s plenty of pie to go around. Have a piece and then pass it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Okay. Well, so then, with that said, we’re asking it in the right way, what are some sort of maybe sparks or inspirational starter actions that tend to pop up frequently?

John O’Leary
So, one of the other things I learned in leadership is to be as focused as possible in providing people questions rather than specific answers. I want people to come up with solutions for themselves. I’ll give you, though, some answers that I think will be most effective answers that have worked well for me, our team, and those that have run through this in the past.

When they ask the question, “What more can I do?” what we’ve almost always found is the question is almost always focused, first, with a reflection in the mirror. Almost always. They want to know what more they can do to become a better version of themselves, to become a little bit more safe financially, to be able to give a little bit more in the community. And then they begin building the bridge a little bit farther, now that they have some of their own needs met. They’re able to look beyond themselves, beyond the reflection, and start saying, “Gosh, what more can I do for my spouse, my partner? This addiction, man, whatever this thing is that I’m struggling with, a dream that I’m longing, the ability to influence in our life, my own children, my aging parents?” And then it keeps expanding forward from there.

And so, as people ask this question, they’ll frequently begin asking, with the universe closest to them, “What more can I do?” And that’s healthy. It’s an appropriate way to begin the conversation. As you move farther down the path of not only success but also tying and tethering to that significance, the ability to influence and impact those around us, it begins shifting, in my own world, visiting kids in hospitals, taking the first fruits of the book In Awe and giving it away to an organization that I believe will make a far greater impact with that money than I possibly ever could if it was mine. And so, it begins moving from self-focus into other focus over time.

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

John O’Leary
We’ve had a whole lot of folks respond, they’ve gone in for their executive MBA because they realized, “What is holding me back? What is holding me back? I always wanted to do this.”

So, it can lead to you saying, “Man, I want a promotion. I want a new job. I’m going to tell my boss specifically how I feel and how I need to be spoken to so I could be more effective working with her.” It can lead to a whole different level of cascading effects in your life, but it’s highly personal. Highly personal. So, the way you get the information that ultimately you need, you desire, that will improve you, that will make you awesome is to simply start with the question mark, “What more can I do?” And then to pivot forward with the answer.

The hardest part, Pete, actually, part of it is answering is just simply taking the time to answer. It’s going to take a long time. It’ll probably take you 30 seconds each day, so that’s how long it takes. Then the real hardest part, the following day. Will you do it? Will you email your boss and say, “You know, we need to have a conversation”? Will you reach out to the local community college or the local university, and say, “You know what, I think not having this education is holding me back from being who I know I can be”? So, taking the action is the trickiest piece, and yet in doing so, it will set you apart. It will put you in a new direction in life.

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

John O’Leary
So, one of my favorite quotes is from Viktor Frankl, and it’s been attributed to Nietzsche as well, it’s, “When you know your why, you can endure any ‘how.’” And, for me, whatever your job might be, if we don’t have laser focus and, ultimately, why we choose to do that job at a high level in the first place, I think we’ll fail in time in whatever that task is.

It’s a compelling statement in my life that guides me through difficult days physically, because I struggle physically many days, but also professionally with my job and other facets.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And could you also share a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

John O’Leary
Man, so my dad has Parkinson’s disease, he’s had it for, gosh, 29 years, and that’s a long time to be alive, let along have Parkinson’s disease. So, he’s struggling mightily, he’s lost his job, he’s also the most grateful guy I’ve ever met. He’s just happy everywhere he goes. The word you and I were using earlier – joy.

Years ago, I asked him how could he be so grateful when he’s got so little seemingly. And he said, “How can I not when I’ve got the world. I’ve got everything.” So, I had him share, “Dad, what are you grateful for because of Parkinson’s disease?” And he went through this list, and I said, “Dad, could you give me three things, just three things?” And he said the very first thing is, “I’m grateful it wasn’t a more serious disease,” and then he said, “I’m grateful I used to be so busy, now I have nothing but time to reflect on who really matters and what really matters in my life. I’m grateful for this time. And then, thirdly, I’m grateful for your mom.” He says, “Everyone else is pushing me farther away but your mother, my wife, keeps stepping closer and closer, and I’m incredibly profoundly grateful.”

And then I’m ready to give him a hug, Pete, and then he says, “Sit down. I’m not done. I’m not done.” And he went on and on and on. And, by the end of this conversation, he had 17 things that he was grateful for as a result, specifically, to Parkinson’s disease. So, I shared that as the backstory because I’ve done a lot of research on gratitude. And one of my favorite studies on gratitude is called the nun study. You can Google this later on. I think it was done from the University of Minnesota on a group of nuns from the Notre Dame province, I believe.

They collected all the journals from these ladies, and they said, “Did it matter how these women viewed their days?” Could you think of a better controlled group to study? “Did it matter how they viewed their days?” They wore the same clothes. They have the same faith. They eat the same food. They teach in the same schools. Did it really matter how they viewed their days? And the way they tracked it was by how optimistic or how negative they were about the day they had. They all kept journals, so they kept all the journals.

And then the remarkable aspect of that research is it said that those who are most negative about their days were alive at age 85, I believe, the number is 31% of the time, and those who were most optimistic and positive about the day they just experienced, the same day that those others experienced, but they saw it through a different lens, they were grateful for the lens they had, were alive 87% of the time. It’s almost a three-fold increase in longevity.

I challenge your listeners to research gratitude, and everywhere you turn, you’re going to find more remarkable things that gratitude will lead to in your vibrancy, in your longevity, in your health, in your life, and in your effectiveness at work. So, it’s one of my favorite studies.

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

John O’Leary
A favorite book. Man, so one of my favorite go-to is called The Return of the Prodigal Son. And it’s written by a guy born in northern Europe, he taught in Canada for a while, his name was Henri Nouwen.

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

John O’Leary
If you go to ReadInAwe.com, on that website, we have a link to all of our social media links, we have a link to our Live Inspired podcast, we’ve got a link to our books, so all that stuff is there for you. You can learn about John O’Leary speaking and his story leading up to this.

There’s a 21-day challenge free that people can go through, and recognize why they ought to be optimistic that their best days remain in front of them. With so much negativity, I want to give some practical optimism and hope for today that tomorrow is going to be even better.

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

John O’Leary
Wake up early tomorrow. Don’t let the day tackle you. You tackle it. Get up about an hour early. I know that’s a lot. I know you love your beauty sleep but it’s where you’re going to get your best work done. Begin that day in silence, reflect, fully in gratitude, maybe with a journal in hand, asking the question “Why me?” What are you grateful for? Take inventory. Start there.

Then, “Who cares?” That’s your mission statement. And if you can design your mission statement, we called it an ignition statement.

Why do you choose to thrive? Why do you choose to be awesome at your job? And then, thirdly, and finally, we spent quite a bit of time on this one so I hope it was heard loud and clear. Tonight, not tomorrow night, tonight, ask the question before you go to bed, “What more can I do?” And then answer it.

If you’re looking for one specific takeaway, ask the question tonight, “What more can I do?” Grab your compound interest and take action.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. John, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish lots of luck and many more moments of awe.

John O’Leary
I’m living it, Pete. Thank you for letting me join you on your show. And thank you for the great work that you do.

576: How to Defeat Distraction and Build Greater Mental Resilience through Mindfulness with Rasmus Hougaard

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Rasmus Hougaard says: "We need to learn to manage our mind."

Rasmus Hougaard discusses how to manage your attention by practicing mindfulness.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we get distracted by the news—and how to curb that impulse
  2. The quantifiable benefits of mindfulness
  3. The small habits that build great resilience

 

About Rasmus

Rasmus Hougaard is the Founder and CEO of Potential Project – the global leader in building mindful leaders and organizations by enhancing performance, innovation and resilience through mindfulness. He is the author of One Second Ahead as well as The Mind of the Leader, a bestseller published by Harvard Business Review. In addition, he writes for Harvard Business Review and Forbes and lectures at the world’s leading business and executive education schools.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Rasmus Hougaard Interview Transcript

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

Rasmus Hougaard
Pete, thank you very much. It’s my pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m intrigued. So, right in your bio, you live in both Copenhagen and New York. Can you tell me how do these nations contrast, well, these two cities? The cities and the nations, the cultures contrast.

Rasmus Hougaard
Yes. Well, I have very fast rowing boat so I’m just going across the Atlantic every Wednesday. No, that’s not true, of course. And just a disclaimer, this was before the whole COVID because like the last – what is it now – two and a half months or so, I’ve been based in Copenhagen. But, yes, I have a house in New York and a house in Copenhagen. But I’m, honest, spending most of my time everywhere else so I travel a lot of the time.

Pete Mockaitis
So, in the US versus Denmark, what would you say are some of the key cultural differences?

Rasmus Hougaard
Anywhere you go in the US, people are smiling and being really happy and like kind, open. Denmark, and with all respect for my own nation, people look at their feet when you meet them for the first time. It’ll take like two years before they say hi to you, so probably that’s one of the bigger differences.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, it’s a good thing that you’re an expert on mindfulness and resilience so that doesn’t get you down and, I guess, you’re just accustomed to it. So, I was reading your recent piece in the Harvard Business Review, and there’s so much good stuff in there, I want to dig into some more details. So, can you tell us the science behind how constant bad news puts our mind in a natural place where we get distracted? Like, what’s that mechanism or link?

Rasmus Hougaard
Yeah, that’s a great question and something that probably most people experience right now. So, when we come under stress, when we basically become anxious, because of like a crisis that we’re experiencing now with both our health and our financial situation under risk or under attack, the fight-flight part of the brain, which is a very old part of the brain, kicks in, and we basically start to look for all the threats, we start to look for all the changes in the environment, and that in itself makes us incredibly distracted. So, that’s why we check the news more often, that’s why we’re bingeing on social media. Yeah, that’s how the brain works.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I love that’s pretty simple and succinct there in terms of, I guess, I before got how, yeah, okay, fight or flight, you get kind of nervous, and there’s cortisol, and you see a threat and you’re amped up. But then, naturally, to scan for threats in modern times means we check the news, check the social media, check the texts, like, “What’s the new thing that’s going to…I have to be aware about and defend myself from?” So, that’s very clear. Thank you.

So, then, your study, you said that recently you saw that 58% of employees reported an inability to regulate their attention at work. Tell us, how did you conduct this research and when did it happen and what’s the story?

Rasmus Hougaard
So, we have around 600 global companies we work with and we do a lot of research on their employees and their leaders. This specific study, we were out and using technology through the phone to basically measure where is their mind at random points during the day. And what people then have to say is, “Oh, I was on task,” “I was off task,” and what we see is just that most of the time, we’re just not on task. As you said, it’s more than half of our time we’re really not paying attention to what we’re doing whether we’re in a meeting, or reading a report, or trying to do an email. We’re not there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, so not to like dig super deep into your details but I’m going to a little bit. So, we say on task, I think sometimes the task at hand is resting, like, “I am deliberately daydreaming, taking a walk around the block, getting a cup of coffee.” How do we account for that?

Rasmus Hougaard
Right. That’s a good question. If, as you said, you’re deliberate about letting your mind wander, then you’re on task.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, good.

Rasmus Hougaard
If you’re going for a walk and you are actually present with going for a walk, you’re on task. If you’re going for a walk, wanting to go for a walk, and just rest, and you just can’t help ruminating over the latest, let’s say, plummeting stock market news, then you are off task.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Rasmus Hougaard
Does it make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Very clear. Well, so then that 58%, so the majority of us are off task the majority of the time? Is that fair to say?

Rasmus Hougaard
Unfortunately, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And this has been the case prior to the coronavirus and it’s gotten worser, or do we have a comparative situation?

Rasmus Hougaard
This was prior to the coronavirus and it has certainly gotten worse since then. We don’t have the data yet. We will be getting that in a few weeks but the preliminary studies that we’ve done is staggering, first of all, that people and, specifically, leaders just have such a hard time being focused. And the second thing is that distractions that they have are 89% of them are negative. So, just imagine you’re distracted most of the time, and 89% of your distractions are bringing you to a negative emotional state.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s awful.

Rasmus Hougaard
I mean, we are moving directly to a major, major mental health crisis right now.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so then I’m not going to pin you down on a precise figure, but with these preliminary studies, like kind of ballpark, how much worse are we talking about?

Rasmus Hougaard
I think it’s probably from the 58 that you talked about and probably around 65 to 75.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s percent of people or percent of the time?

Rasmus Hougaard
That’s percent of time for people in general.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. Wow! All right. Well, so there we go, we’ve framed up the situation. Thank you. Very starkly.

Rasmus Hougaard
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, what do we do about it? What do you recommend? Here we are, what should we do?

Rasmus Hougaard
Yeah, I think there are few things that we need to do. First of all, we need to learn to manage our mind. If we can’t manage our mind, we really can’t manage where it’s spending time. We can’t take a walk when we’re taking a walk, and we can’t be focused in a meeting when we need to be focused in a meeting. So, that’s the first thing. And that is obviously done by mindfulness training because that’s the training of basically rewiring our brain to be present with what we do. So, that is the first and most fundamental step, in general, and especially in a crisis.

Secondly, we need to look, like carefully look at how we’re living our lives. Like, do we need to check the phone when we get up in the morning? Do we need to bring our technology into meeting rooms? Do we need to have all of our notifications turned on at our phone and our computers? So, do everything we can to be able to be more present with what we’re doing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, the second piece here, some basic kind of practices, habits, environmental situations, like, “Hey, maybe I’m just going to put the phone elsewhere.” So, then the first part, learning about how to manage the mind via mindfulness practices. I tell you what, Rasmus, I have been up and down in my mindfulness practices. I find it really is genuinely beneficial and I see good things on the day of and the weeks that follow when I’m consistent with it. And it is just amazing how much I don’t want to do it. It is just striking.

Just yesterday I was trying to talk myself into it again, it’s like, “You know, Pete, in a way, that’s one of the benefits, is to get good at doing things you don’t want to do, or starting them is massively valuable.” And this is me trying to talk myself into it. It’s, like, it’s probably one of the safest, lowest energy-demanding ways that you can train at. I don’t need to get tasered repeatedly, “I don’t want to do that,” and I don’t need to do a ton of taxes at work, which I don’t want to do, which drains me.

And so, here I am trying to talk myself into it. So, I’m going to let you do it for me. Can you lay it on us, some of the most just hard-hitting, quantifiable, mind-blowing benefits that professionals who want to be awesome at their job should know about to help them get through their resistance to doing mindfulness practice?

Rasmus Hougaard
Yeah, I think the first one, as you also alluded to, like, knowing what are we getting out of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Rasmus Hougaard
Because having that carrot is helpful. And the quantifiable benefits, I mean, they’re way too many for me to mention them all now, but I’ll just rift off a few. You will have better sleep quality. You will have more happiness. You’ll have better work-life balance. You’ll be more focused. You’ll be more effective. You’ll be more prioritized. And then there’s all kinds of physiological things, like your heart rate will be more healthy. Your skin will be more healthy. Your eyesight will be better. And I could just keep on going. I’m not going to go further down that thing.

The most striking and fascinating thing, I think, is that, what researchers have found, that if we’re doing mindfulness practice 10 minutes a day for eight weeks in a row, they can actually measure that a part of your brain called the prefrontal cortex, which is just behind your forehead, is actually growing thicker, so it is exactly the same as going to the gym and training your muscles. That’s what’s happening in mindfulness training.

And then you might wonder, “Well, what’s the benefit of having a little bit thicker behind your forehead brain?” The big benefit is that that part of the brain is what is controlling or what is managing what we call executive function, meaning our ability to moment-to-moment monitor, “What am I thinking right now? What am I saying and what am I doing?” So, it basically puts us back into control of our life. And that, I think, is the most important benefit coming from the practice. So, that was the first answer, is know the benefits because that motivates a lot of people.

But then there are a few tips on like how to institute the practice because sometimes just knowing the benefits is not going to be enough. So, we can talk a little bit about that if you want to.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes, please. Well, yeah, I want to hit the tips and if we could just get a little bit. All right. So, can you give me some particulars about better sleep and more effectiveness? Because what I find compelling about those, I’m just such a numbers dork, it’s just like, “All right, Pete, this is like ROI stuff. It’s like if I gained more minutes, then I invest, then I am just a fool for not putting on those minutes because it’s like getting free resources, like someone dumping a bag of money into my lap.” So, can I hear about the sleep and the effectiveness?

Rasmus Hougaard
Absolutely. So, I can give you a few different numbers here. First of all, I’ll talk about the work that we do ourselves just because that’s what I’m most familiar with and where we do a pretty thorough research. On average, there are people that we work with, and we’ve worked with around 300,000 people so far from different companies. On average, they get a sleep quality that is in their own experience 36% better. That means they fall faster asleep, they wake up fewer times, and they get into deeper sleep. So, that’s pretty significant.

In terms of effectiveness, depending on how you define effectiveness, there are a few factors of that that is the ability to stay focused on task, their ability of prioritizing the right thing, and then there’s the ability of having the awareness of re-prioritizing when you need to. And out of those factors, again, our clients have an average increase of 40% so it’s pretty significant. Then you may think, “Oh, Rasmus is just touting his own horn and all that,” but other studies done by Harvard and Stanford are coming to more or less the same numbers, so this is quite impressive.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, now you’re getting me there. So, when it comes to prioritizing, a 40% increase in your ability to prioritize. Well, I’m a huge believer in the 80/20 Rule and how, indeed, certain things are 16 times as important as others. So, if that can be doing those things 40% more often, well, then that’s just massive. So, okay, thank you. I will be returning to your words frequently when I am resisting. So, yeah, now let’s get into the how-to. If we want to start training the mind, how do we get that going?

Rasmus Hougaard
Yeah, very good. So, a few things that you can do if you want to actually adopt the practice is, first of all, like the hygiene stuff. Make sure you have a place that you do it, make sure you decide for yourself what time of day, and make sure you decide how long time you want to do it. And a few tips that works best for most people is 10 minutes a day in the morning. And the place, whatever place in your house that is most conducive, so most quiet, and there are no perfect places. That’s like the hygiene factors. When you have that, you create a habit of coming back to the same place, and it gets a little bit easier.

Then the second thing is to just puncture the biggest illusion that people have around mindfulness practice, which is the illusion that, “I’m going to practice mindfulness so that my mind will be calm and serene and beautiful, and I will never, ever be distracted or unhappy again.” That is more or less the unconscious idea that many of us have around this practice, and that is such a mistake because the human brain is wired for distraction. It is basically, through evolution, made to look out for movements and changes in environment to save us from that saber-tooth tiger that’s about to attack us. So, that means we are distracted all the time.

If we see that as a failure, because we believe that we should be serene and clear and calm, we’re going to feel so discouraged because we’re going to feel like we’re failures. So, first of all, just letting go of that illusion. It is called mindfulness practice, not mindfulness perfect, because a practice is something we do again and again and again, and then we become a little bit better but we never get the serene mind.

Bring some joy and pleasure into the practice. Many people find it, or think that, “Now, I’m sitting and I have to focus,” and like their eyebrows go together, and their face is frowning a little bit because, “It’s serious business now, I have to focus.” Let go of all of that. I mean, seriously, the rest of the day, people are busy and running around and attention all over, these are the 10 minutes you give yourself every day, so give yourself a break and just enjoy it. Just enjoy sitting with that breathing, how wonderful it is to sit and breathe. So, invite a sense of joy into the practice.

And the last one, really short, it is not a failure to drop off one day. It is only a failure if you don’t do it the second day. So, it’s okay not to do it every day, but if you decide you want to do it like 14 days in a row, if you drop off one day, no problem. Don’t judge yourself. Just remember the next day, get back on the horse again.

Pete Mockaitis
So, after two days we should judge ourselves?

Rasmus Hougaard
Maybe.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I guess, I’m curious, is that the underlying thought for that recommendation about sort of the research on habit acquisition and maintenance or kind of what’s behind the one-day versus two-day guideline?

Rasmus Hougaard
Yeah, that is a whole research called Atomic Habits that is behind that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. All right. Well, so then…and we’ve hit this from a few different angles from a few different people in terms of what are we actually doing there. So, you take 10 minutes in the quiet place in the morning, and you’re acknowledging that your mind is not going to be calm, serene, and beautiful, and you’re focusing on the breath. Like, what are you doing? You’re sitting there thinking about the breath. Kind of what…lay it out for us.

Rasmus Hougaard
Yes. It’s actually quite simple. Having said that, it never feels so simple when we get started on the practice. But, first of all, it’s important to relax. So, relax your body and allow your mind to calm down a little bit, because when we relax the body and we relax the mind a little bit, it’s much easier to stay focused. When we’re tense, which all of us are, then it’s harder. So, spend a few minutes, the first two minutes, just relaxing, especially as you breathe out, just releasing and letting go.

Then start to bring your attention to the breath and let the breath become the anchor or the weight that you’re lifting in this practice. Just like you go in a gym, you take a weight and you lift it up, and you let go, and you lift it up, and you let it go, that’s what you do with the breath. You’re basically holding your attention on the breath as you are breathing in and breathing out, and breathing in and breathing out, and just keep doing that. And then, at some point, you’ll realize, “Hey, now I’m thinking about what to cook for supper tonight.” And that is a success.

I mean, that’s the moment where people feel they failed because, “Oh, no, I got distracted again.” But that moment is actually not where people got distracted because the distraction has been going on for a while. When they become aware, that is the moment that they’re actually mindful again, “Hey, I’m distracted.” So, that’s a moment of celebration. We should be grateful to distractions because they’re basically telling us, “Hey, pal, you are off track. Get back to the breath again.”

So, we’re sitting, focusing on the breath, then we realize we’re distracted, then we’ll just gently guide our attention back to the breath again. That is, in essence, what we’re doing in mindfulness practice. And then you may wonder, “Why should I do this? Yeah, I get it, I get a little bit better sleep and all that stuff.” But the key here is the rest of the day in our lives, our attention is our most scarce resource, so many things are calling for our attention. And by training our focus, we are more able to pay attention to what we need to. And then when in daily life, we’re sitting in a meeting, or doing an email, and we’re getting distracted by notifications, or people talking, or just our own ruminating mind, we have the awareness that we also train in mindfulness that helps us to come back again.

So, this skill of training focus and awareness helps us basically to be more effective at work, to be higher-performing, to spend less time on doing more work. That’s, in essence, what it is.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so well-said. Thank you. I’m digging it. So, then we’ve talked about the mindfulness practice and then the benefits and how that is quite worthwhile, and then what you actually do. I’m curious, are there additional practices, when it comes to building resilience and our ability to cope with these difficult times, beyond sitting and breathing that you’d recommend?

Rasmus Hougaard
There are definitely a few things that are helpful, and some of them are obvious. Just to cover out the basics, sleep is, by far, the most important for our wellbeing, so make sure you get enough sleep, but that’s just…we all know that. Getting a little bit of movement is helpful, and get good food is helpful, but we all know that. One thing that not everybody knows is if we want to have a little happier mind, feel a little bit more present, feel a little bit more balanced, multitasking is the enemy of all of that. So, stopping to multitask, and that’s a whole chapter in itself that we can talk about. But multitasking is the mother to all evil when it comes to performance, wellbeing, connections with others, and you name it.

Pete Mockaitis
Mother of all evil.

Rasmus Hougaard
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
That might be all your quote, Rasmus. That might be. Well, so sleep, movement, food. I often hear hydration mentioned in that same sort of a sentence. Do you have any thoughts on water consumption?

Rasmus Hougaard
That’s very important. Of course, that’s very important, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Rasmus Hougaard
That’s a short answer.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess some people say, “You know, I want to drink water when I’m thirsty, and that’s all. Do I have to think about this any more than that?” And some people say, “Absolutely, you do. If you’re thirsty it’s too late.” So, yeah, where do you come out on hydration?

Rasmus Hougaard
Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely true. When you’re thirsty then it’s a little bit too late. Most people are probably better at drinking enough than they are at eating the right stuff, especially those of us that are working in offices and working long days have the tendency of, like, after lunch and we have a dip in energy to stuff up with sugar, which brings us to the blood sugar rollercoaster which is very unhelpful for our brain’s ability to function very well. So, at least with the thousands of clients we work with, what we eat is more important than what we drink, unless if people are bingeing on energy drink, which is also not a good thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And then I’d also love to get your view, if we go right into the heat of battle in terms of, “All right. So, here I am, I’m trying to get some work done, and I think, ‘Huh, I haven’t checked the news yet. I wonder what’s on there.’ I’m prepping for my Rasmus interview. It’s like, ‘Oh, man, this guy is very impressive. Very accomplished. Oh, wait, what’s in the Wall Street Journal? I don’t know yet.” So, there I am, I’m there, I’m tempted, what do I do?

Rasmus Hougaard
Yeah, what do you do? I think, in that moment, it might actually be too late. We need to train ourselves a little bit before we get into battle. That’s how all warriors or experts become good at what they do. It’s not happening overnight. So, again, it comes back to training the executive function in our brain so that we are more in control of what do when we are in the heat of the moment. So, my first answer would be practice mindfulness because that’s going to help.

Then, now comes your situation. You are in that moment and you are tempted to go and check the news. Adopting a mantra of trying to have more space than more clutter is a really helpful one because we all tend to fill clutter into our mind. And then you may ask, “Why is it that we want to clutter our mind?” And let me tell you a story about one of the most fascinating research projects that I have ever come across, and I’m a researcher myself so I know a lot of research.

Pete Mockaitis
You have my attention.

Rasmus Hougaard
So, imagine this, you have a room, in that room there’s a chair, there’s a table, there’s a little machine with a button on it, and then there’s a wire from that button that goes to a wristband that is put around your wrist. Then, researchers put people into that room one by one. They put this wristband around their wrists, and they say, “Now, try to press the button.” And then they basically get an electric shock on their wrists, and they are asked, “Is this painful?” And people are like shouting and screaming, and saying, “Yes, it is very painful.” And they’re asked, “So, how much would you pay to not have that pain again?” And the people that have been through this research, and that’s many hundreds, are saying that, on average, they would give $47 to not have that electric shock again.

Researchers say, “Fine. That’s good. We understand. Now, what we’ll do is we’ll leave you in this room just with yourself. Between 14 and 7 minutes, you’ll be sitting in here. Are you okay with that?” People say, “Yes, I’m okay with that. Sure, why not?” And so, people are sitting in a room where there’s no TV, there’s no phone, there’s nothing they can do, nothing to look at. There are no windows, just left to their own devices, and a button whereby they can give themselves an electric shock that they would pay $47 not to have. What do you think they do? No, what do we think we’d do, because this is us?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’ve heard references to this, but the $47 is new to me. I think a, surprisingly, large proportion of us, just to escape boredom or whatever, choose to self-inflict, right? Now, what’s the figure?

Rasmus Hougaard
Yeah, so the figure for women is 46%, so that’s a lot, like almost half of women. For men, it’s 76. And even one of the guys in the experiment, he did it 117 times. So, basically, the pain of being left to our own mind can be so horrible and scary for most of us that we would rather bring electric shock to ourselves than just be in our own mind.

And so, coming back to your example of you’re going to do an interview and then, “Oh, should I just check the news?” Our mind wants to check the news because our mind does not want space, our mind wants clutter, because when we have clutter, we don’t need to think about the bigger existential questions like, “Who am I? And why does life sometimes is so painful?” No, we’d rather drink a beer, or we’d rather have a piece of chocolate, or what’s the news, or do anything that avoids us thinking. So, that’s the answer.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that’s powerful stuff. Thank you. Rasmus, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Rasmus Hougaard
I would say in the crisis that we’re in right now, and this is just a heartfelt recommendation to people, is to really give themselves time and space, and avoid just cluttering the mind, because we need it more than anything else. We really need space to recalibrate to the new reality and not to get so anxious as most of us are. So, give yourself space and a mindfulness practice is really going to help. So, that would be it.

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

Rasmus Hougaard
A favorite quote would be Mark Twain saying, “I have experienced many terrible things in my life. A few of them actually came true.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Rasmus Hougaard
And the point of it is, obviously, that our mind is creating our reality, and we are creating so many catastrophic scenarios in our head that never happen, but we experience them. And, especially in a crisis like now, the crisis is not half as bad as our minds are making it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Rasmus Hougaard
William James wrote a book that is the big quote in there is “What you attempt in this moment becomes your reality.” So, this idea that our mind is like a torchlight. What we point our attention to is what becomes our reality, and we don’t see everything else. And if that’s really true, which I think it is, that means if we point our attention to the right things, we can actually create our reality by pointing our attention to the right things. We can create a really beautiful world and a really great life if we can manage our attention.

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

Rasmus Hougaard
I think OneNote. OneNote really helps me to structure everything so I don’t need to have it in my head.

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

Rasmus Hougaard
I am known for, I guess, a few things. All of my colleagues have a favorite joke about me. When I started the company about 14 years ago, bringing mindfulness to corporations back then was just so far out. Like, nobody was interested in that. That’s very different nowadays. Back then, so few people actually wanted it that I had to go dumpster diving with my kids to actually have food on the table at home.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Rasmus Hougaard
That’s something my colleagues like to talk about.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. Oh, that is commitment.

Rasmus Hougaard
Those were great times.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I had moments of being broke as an entrepreneur in my early days, but that is significantly more dramatic. Wow! Well, I’m glad you stuck with it. Thank you.

Rasmus Hougaard
I think my learning from that was, which I would share with anybody, like, being at the very low point, I mean, in terms of finances, teaches you that you can live on nothing. And when my wife and I and our kids would look back at that time, we were incredibly happy. Life was so simple and it was so beautiful. And while, now, life is very different, we have everything we need and much more than that. I don’t have the same contentment and ease as back then so I wouldn’t be sad to go back to that. I probably wouldn’t want to dumpster dive but just having a little bit more food back then. So, I wouldn’t worry about it.

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

Rasmus Hougaard
Go to our website. I think PotentialProject.com is probably the best place.

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

Rasmus Hougaard
I mean, given the topic of what we discussed, it should be to take up the challenge of doing two weeks of mindfulness practice. we have developed a free app that people can use. And if you go to PotentialProject.app you can download the app for free. And there, you’ll be basically launched into a full program. Try it for two weeks. The worst thing that can happen is that you’re losing 140 minutes of your life, but, best case, and that’s going to happen for the majority, and we have worked with hundreds of thousands of people so I know. Best case is you will feel more balanced, you’ll feel more joy, you’ll sleep better. There’s so much to gain, so little to lose. So, adopt a daily mindfulness practice.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Rasmus, this has been very eye-opening and enjoyable. I wish you all the best in unlocking additional potential for you and your clients and all you encounter.

Rasmus Hougaard
Thank you so much, Pete. And the same to you and to everybody out there.

569: Thriving in the Stress and Uncertainty of a Crisis with Dr. Joshua Klapow

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Dr. Joshua Klapow discusses how to keep your health and wellbeing strong during times of crisis.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you shouldn’t feel guilty about being upset 
  2. How to quickly reboot your fatigued brain
  3. The four pillars of excellent physical and mental health 

About Joshua

Joshua C. Klapow is a licensed clinical psychologist and a performance coach. He is also an Adjunct Associate Professor of Public Health at The University of Alabama at Birmingham and the author of Living SMART: Lifestyle Change Made Simple. Dr. Klapow works extensively with individuals and organizations in the area of performance optimization. His work focuses on leveraging behavioral science strategies to help both individuals and organizations achieve strategic goals. From athletes to executives, from start-ups to multinational companies, Dr. Klapow works with clients nationwide to help bring the power of behavioral science to human performance. Dr. Klapow was named by Yahoo Finance as a Top 20 Entrepreneur to Watch in 2020 and featured in Thrive Global for his approach to performance coaching. He is married with two children in college. He resides in Birmingham, Alabama. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Joshua Klapow Interview Transcript

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

Joshua Klapow
It’s my pleasure, Pete. Good to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I understand that you are a doctor and you have the nickname Dr. Disaster. How did this name come about? And can you tell us a story about when you got to make a cool impact in the midst of a difficult time for people?

Joshua Klapow
Okay, yes. First of all, it’s not a marketing ploy or I’ve had…

Pete Mockaitis
Your PR people said, “It’s going to be hot.”

Joshua Klapow
Yeah, that’s right. No, no, no. So, I got this name back during Hurricane Katrina actually. So, I’m a clinical psychologist by training, and one of my areas of interests is disaster mental health, but I’ve also worked most of my academic career in a school of public health, and so a lot of what I was doing there was crisis communication, how to help people, groups of people, during times of disaster or times of crisis, let’s say that.

Well, as we started getting Hurricane Katrina come through, there was interest from the local media and then from the broader national media because I’m down here in the southeast on how do people cope, how do people deal with terrible things that happen. And so, I did a lot of stuff locally and nationally in the media on Hurricane Katrina and coping with death, and rebuilding, etc. Well, as you might imagine, we had more hurricanes. There was Gustav and then there were tornadoes, and pretty much every time, and my kids were young at the time, anytime something bad happened, you’d see me on local TV, or hear me on the local radio.

And one of the media folks at the university where I work with, he just, one day, he said this, he’s like, “Damn! You’re like Dr. Disaster. Everytime something bad happens, there you are.” And, yeah, I said, “God, that’s depressing. That’s terrible. I don’t want to be known as…” He said, “No, no, no. I like it.” And then my kids were very young at the time, “Dad is Dr. Disaster.”

And ever since then, you know, the line is, people say, “We see you on TV sometimes.” I say, “Yeah, pretty much if something bad happens, there’s a decent shot that you’ll see me or hear me somewhere because that is one of the things that I do is help people through crises.” So, yes, I am Dr. Disaster. I wear it as a badge of honor in that I help people. I don’t like the connotation of what it means because it’s almost like, ‘Oh, God, here comes Josh. Something bad is going to happen.’” And I have to remind them, “No, something bad has happened. Here comes Josh to help.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then can you tell us, you’ve seen and helped a lot of people in a lot of disasters. How does this current COVID pandemic crisis situation, how is it similar to other disasters? And how is it unique?

Joshua Klapow
It’s unique in many ways. So, let’s talk about how it’s similar. I use the phrase, “Crisis is in the eye of the beholder.” And what I mean by that is we talk about disasters and crises, and we talk about them almost as if there is a formal definition. And if you think about it, a disaster or a crisis could be a global pandemic. It could be also the breakup of a marriage, or the loss of a job, or your dog dies. Crisis is all relative.

And so, one of the things that is very similar is that we are in a state of crisis from the sense of there’s lots of change, there’s lots of uncertainty, and there are lots of unpleasant things either that have happened, or happening, or likely to happen. And if you think about that, that holds everything from a tornado that’s come through, to a sick pet, to a relationship on the rocks, to a global pandemic. And the reason that that holds true is what remains constant is we’re humans. And the human factor remains constant, how we react to threat, uncertainty, discomfort, discomfort globally, everything from emotional discomfort to physical discomfort. All of those are sort of stress responses that happen to us no matter how big, or how many different people are affected, or if it’s just happening to us.

I think what is so different about this one is, if I really can think about it, it’s two things. One, the global nature of it. What I mean by that is so many people are affected unlike a tornado, or a hurricane, or an earthquake, where even if it’s huge, we can say, “It happened in this city, this town, this country.” That’s number one. So, so many people are in the same situation.

The second thing is while for some people there’s very acute levels of crisis, “My loved one is sick. My loved one…” God forbid it, “…is dying.” For many people, the crisis is both a restriction and a freedom, the unknown, “Will I get sick?” and then underlying that, there are sort of two more pieces of the crisis which is, one, financial for many people, and then, two, a complete change, prolonged change, of how we’re living our lives. This is not the storm that blew through and we’ll rebuild. This, even, and I dare say this, this is a little provocative, even after 9/11. The event happened. It was horrible. There were longer-term effects but it didn’t come on as slowly, rise as slowly, peak and stay for as many people. And that is something, frankly, all of us alive right now, with the exception of a few people who lived through the 1917 Flu Pandemic, none of us have experienced ever.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sets some context. Thank you. So, you say that this anxiety, this experience, it really does impact just kind of the way we think and operate and feel each day. Like, what are some of the telltale signs, like, “Oh, this is actually normal that I’m thinking, feeling, experiencing this, given that we’re in the midst of a crisis situation”?

Joshua Klapow
A lot of people can recognize when they’re under profound stress. They’ll say, “I feel stressed. I feel nervous. I feel anxious. I have a headache. I have a backache. My stomach aches. My stomach hurts. My temper is short,” those kinds of things. But the term that I like to use, Pete, that I think many people feel but they don’t equate it with stress or levels of stress, because for a lot of people it’s not super high levels of stress. It’s just kind of, what I call, it’s not low. It’s moderate. It’s there but we’re able to sort of function. The tornado hasn’t just come right through, it’s, “I still get up every day and I’m doing things.” But people feel discombobulated. That’s my favorite word to use.

Pete Mockaitis
Moderate stress. Discombobulation.

Joshua Klapow
Discombobulation. We like to use down in the South, we like to call it feeling out of sorts. We’re out of sorts. It’s not quite right, “I feel slightly agitated, slightly irritable, out of sync. I may not be sleeping as well but I am sleeping. I feel tired. I feel out of rhythm.” Sometimes a feeling, almost a little bit of jetlag, not a ton of jetlag. I see a lot of people feel like, and I think we’ve all heard this, “What day is it again? Where am I?” It’s that.

And that’s where the discombobulation comes because while there’s peaks and valleys, you know, if you lose a job, then that’s high stress that you can say, “Oh, my God, I know exactly what’s going on.” But let’s say you’ve already lost the job, and maybe you’re managing your books and you’re managing your finances, and it’s kind of okay. It’s not good but it’s okay. Or, let’s say you have a job. What people are feeling is, “I don’t know what to do with myself. I don’t know how to manage this.” And, particularly in those areas where we’re much more restricted in our movement, this feeling, for a lot of people for the first time in their lives, “I can’t do what I want to do,” which is very…it’s unique for Americans, right? It’s very unique.

And this came out in the early stages. You’ve heard of the whole hoarding of the toilet paper, right? Why are people hoarding toilet paper? “Well, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to go to the grocery store.” There was no place in this country, in the U.S. anyway, that shut down all grocery stores. They limited it. They limited how much you could buy. They limited, in some cases, how many people could go in. But that’s a stressor for our culture. Not being able to go where we want to go whenever we want to go and get whatever we want to get, and it creates this sense of…it’s a very primitive sense of survival. It puts us kind of into that fight or flight, and we’re not even highly quarantined, right?

For a lot us, it’s just, “Stay at home.” It’s not, “You will be arrested if you go out.” And that is very unique to what we’re experiencing right now.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to, because I think you’re really speaking to something here, and I keep going back and forth on this in terms of there are times in which I’d like, “Hey, well, this isn’t really so bad. I mean, this is the home I like. This is the family I like, my wife and kids. These are people I like, so it ain’t so bad. So, why are you worked up?” And then I think back, “Hey, what about in, I don’t know, war times? Like, the soldiers or those under strict rationing?” I was like, “Have I become soft? Have we all become soft?” Then, I don’t know, it’s sort of like I’m upset with myself for being peeved. It’s like meta upset, and I don’t know, like, “Are we weak? And is that bad?” What do you feel about this, Josh?

Joshua Klapow
I get blasted on this, although with my clients, I think it’s an important one. When I’m talking with my clients, a lot of times this is what comes up. It’s feeling guilty because we feel like we’re under siege. Now, I will say this, if you’ve lost your job and you have no income, and that’s happening at all levels of the socioeconomic spectrum, if you lost your job, “What do I do?” Then you may have a reason to be quite upset, right?

But see, this is the thing. If you’re upset because you can’t go to the grocery store, or you can’t leave, or you have to spend time at home, then you have the right to be upset. Being upset is emotion. It’s an emotion. We have the right to feel what we want to feel. It is what we do with it that has the impact. It has the impact on ourselves and it has the impact on the people around us.

So, for example, if you’re feeling, “God, this really sucks. I’m here at home, I can’t go socialize the way I want to, I can’t go to the restaurants I want. And, yes, I know I shouldn’t feel bad but I do feel bad,” and you kind of get yourself a little bit irritable. And then, as a result, you take that out on your wife and your kids, and you’re mean, and you’re cranky, or maybe you’re in a leadership position, and you’re irritable because of this, and you’re yelling on the conference calls for everybody to work harder. Now, your justified emotion is having a very unjustified impact on everybody else.

This is where managing what you’re feeling is far more critical than whether you’re feeling it or not. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. It’s a great clear distinction, you know, bright red line there. So, then, yeah, how do we do this? How do we manage how we’re feeling? How do we cultivate this mental health amidst the stuff that’s going on up in here?

Joshua Klapow
It ain’t easy, I can tell you that. And I think one thing, people have to carefully open their eyes to where the sources of stress may be coming from. We can all talk about the restriction part, “I’m restricted in money. I’m fearful potentially for my health. Am I going to get sick? Is a loved one going to get sick?” There are sort of the obvious ones. But I’ll tell you, Pete, those are big sources of stress. But where these things start getting exponential is the inner section of work, life, family life relationships.

So, as you said, there are a lot of us now who are either home with family in a way that none of us have ever been home that way before. Or the opposite, we’re isolated. Maybe we’re not with family and we can’t be. We’re by ourselves. Those pieces, particularly the family dynamics, where I’ve seen more relationship issues, and you’ve seen the statistics, high rates of people, particularly in China, but in other areas, filing for divorce or etc.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I have not yet seen those. So, I thank Josh, bringing fresh info, tell us about that.

Joshua Klapow
Let me tell you, it makes sense. When you’re stuck at home with your partner, whether or not you have kids, and you have to be with them every day, the floodlight is on your relationship. And every crack in that relationship, normal healthy cracks, are going to show. And if you don’t deal with them, and I’m not talking about necessarily going to therapy, but if you don’t deal with the pet peeves and the things that normally you’d be able to skirt by because you’re not spending as much time, it gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

Throw in there, for some parents, homeschooling. Throw in there for someone like me, two college kids who are now back at home, who are not happy about it, they love their mom and dad, but they want to be at school, and you get family stress that absolutely rolls on top of all of the other stressors. And what happens? People get tired, stress starts wearing them down, it starts bleeding over into conference calls that they may be taking for work. The work stress starts bleeding over to family, and we got a big stress ball that nobody can point to one thing. And that’s what catches people off guard.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. All right. So, I think you’ve very nicely articulated what’s going on here, what we’re dealing with. So, what do we do about it?

Joshua Klapow
Yeah. If you’ve ever been a parent, and you remember when you had a young child, and I’m talking the infant child, the child who was screaming and you’re feeding them every three hours, or even a toddler, one of the things I distinctly remember from not being a parent to being a parent, I used to judge the quality of my time in weeks or months, “This was a great week. It’s a great week. This was a great month.” And I quickly remember, as a parent, that didn’t work, particularly with a young child. It’s like, “Oh, my God, this day sucked. Like, this day was really bad.”

And what I started to realize was I need to think about the quality of my time in smaller increments, “This was a really good hour. This was a good minute. This was a good 10 minutes.” Now, I’m not advocating that, because of COVID-19, we only live and savor the quality of every minute. But what I do mean is you may have a really bad day because of work, because of finances, because of family, but then you may have an awesome day, because, you know what, you got to be on three conference calls and spend some time with your spouse in a way that you never got to. Or maybe you got to do a video conference, and we’re seeing this, reuniting with college friends.

My point is we have got to shift. What we have to do is we have to stop trying to live our life right now as if tomorrow it’s going to go back to the way that it was. That’s what we typically do in crises. What we typically do is we go, “Okay, if I can just ride this sucker out, if I can just ride this out, it’ll be a few days, a few weeks, I’m going to be okay. It’s all going to get back to normal.” I’m not a doomsdayer here. I don’t know how long this is going to be, but I can guarantee you that by next week, even with everything open, or next month, everything is going to be back to normal. And even if it is, that’s probably not the most healthy way to think about it.

What we have to do is look at what’s given to us right here, right now, “What do I have? What do I not have? What am I certain about? What am I not certain about? And how do I maximize that? How do I maximize the fact…? I’m just using things that everybody is doing…  that I can wear shorts all day long now.” And that’s not saying, Pete, to just look on the rosy side of things. What it’s saying is in order to get a grip, you must find the nuggets of goodness in your life because there is a lot of uncertainty and chaos going on.

And if you can cling to those nuggets, what that allows you to do is it allows you to move forward. It allows you to be less stressed, less distressed, sleep better, eat better, etc. And it allows each day to have a little bit of goodness in it, which, frankly, to be honest with you, as humans, that’s about all we need besides food, water, and shelter, in order to make it to the next day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, we’re noticing these things, and we’re embracing them, and looking at sort of smaller, shorter time increments. Do you have any other pro tips on how we can go about sort of noticing and appreciating and, I suppose, letting these things pass us right by?

Joshua Klapow
You must recognize that, and I know this is a little broad-brushing because everybody’s situation is slightly different. Your brain is going to go offline frequently during this kind of situation. And let me explain what I mean by that. When you’re home and you’re trying to work in particular, but let’s say you’re home and you didn’t work. You took care of the kids, or even if you have always worked from home, you got all kinds of different things going on right now. There may be people that were at home that weren’t at home before.

You may have never participated on so many video conference calls. You may not have had the dog interrupting you every five seconds. Your brain is going to be distracted in a way that it never has before. One more piece to put in, all the newsfeeds, right? I mean, in my lifetime, I never remember a daily briefing where updates were actually new information. I mean, if you think about it.

Okay, so what that does is our brain can’t attend to the task at hand, and you’re going to feel tired, you’re going to feel inefficient. And so, what I’m encouraging all of my clients to do, and the people that I interact with, about every 45 minutes or so, you may notice yourself feeling fatigue. It’s time to take a break. Not an hour break but what I call the bathroom break. If you’re hydrating properly, you go into the bathroom, you should be going to the bathroom about every hour or up to 90 minutes. And, literally, sometimes I have to remind my clients to put in their schedule to drink water so that they hydrate during the day, because I got people that I work with that will go nine hours on conference calls and never stop.

You have to pace yourself. That means taking a minute to, literally, remind yourself, “Where am I? What am I doing? What is the task at hand?” to take your eyes off the screen and look outside, and it’s not an hour of meditation. It’s a minute to get your brain back, focused to the task at hand. Most of us don’t have to do that that frequently throughout our day. Now, I don’t know that everyone has to. I can tell you it doesn’t hurt. And what I can also tell you is you feel so much more focused because your brain comes back online. It’s a critical stress management tool that most people don’t use and they have to right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that’s dead-on because I’ve just been and many, many times I am, I don’t know, on news, or social media, or something, it’s just like, “What is even happening right now?”

Joshua Klapow
Yes. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s like I have to regroup. And part of it, I think, is so helpful is, like, when I have days in which I actually write down the key things of the day, then that’s really helpful to remember, “Oh, yes, this is what I meant to do today, and I’ve kind of forgotten about that and got suck into news or whatever.”

Joshua Klapow
And that’s a great example of you might say to yourself, “God, normally I never forget these things. I don’t have to write them down.” Right now, your brain is more likely to go offline. And I’ll tell you where it has a larger impact. It’s not just for you, it’s for the people that you interact with. So, if you think about it, and this is what I was saying, it can cause relationship problems. It’s like, “Hey, I just told you to make a grocery list.”

Joshua Klapow
Can you imagine how it impacts your home life, your relationship life? And, particularly for work, if you’re working from home, how you interact with colleagues, how you interact with your boss. We have to be much more mindful of what our emotions are doing right now. And I love what you said, although it’s not pleasant. You have to sit back and go, “What? What is going on?” That’s a very normal response. The difference is you have to do that while you’re working, while you’re parenting, while you’re being a husband or a wife or a spouse or a partner. That is going to make you tired at the end of the day.

And that understanding, that and then taking action on that, making sure you’re hydrated, making sure you’re well-nourished, making sure you’re writing yourself reminders, making sure that you call a timeout, and say, “You know what, I don’t have the bandwidth, guys. I don’t have the bandwidth to do all these today.” That kind of communication is critical.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I love these particular bits of sort of in the moment recognizing and good communication with folks. What are some of the habits or recurring practices you recommend that make a world of difference in kind of boosting our overall mental health and resilience, and then, specifically, just providing a large boost of rejuvenation? Like, I guess, where do I get the most bang for my buck when it comes to self-care, Josh? That’s what I want to know.

Joshua Klapow
So, there’s a couple of things and they are things that we all know but that most of us, even those of us who may have done this before, and this is also unique to this particular situation.

So, the number one thing you’ll hear is make sure you’re getting exercise. And everybody is, “Aah, I know the exercise. I know about the exercise.” Let me tell you why exercise is super important. Number one, for a lot of people who’ve exercised regularly in the past, their gyms are closed, right? And so, you’ve got a lot of people who are used to having that metabolic boost in the morning or in the afternoon who aren’t exercising. That throws off your entire metabolic system if you’re an exerciser.

If you’re not an exerciser, the mental fatigue wears on your body. Being strong physically, and I’m not saying start a crazy exercise program, but just getting the blood flowing actually is super important for your immune system, it’s super important to regulate your sleep system. So, that exercise, everybody knows about, even if it’s just for a walk, Pete, is probably one of the best things that you can do. I wish I had another way to say it. You got to get out there and exercise. And if you tell me, “I can’t,” I can show you five gazillion YouTube videos on different ways to exercise. People are finding the most creative ways to exercise that fit their physical needs, their mental health. So, that’s number one. You’ve got to move the body, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And when it comes to moving the body, I’d love to get your sense. It sounds like you’re emphasizing more so cardiovascular as opposed to strength-resistance training, or anything. Yeah, lay it on us.

Joshua Klapow
Not necessarily. A lot of this depends, A, on your health status, B, on your previous exercise history. So, do not go start running marathons if you never have before. What you’re looking for is physical activity. You want your body moving, you want your muscles stretching, you want your heart rate elevated. Does it have to be an all-out run or trying to do a thousand pushups? No. If you did that before, more power to you, and keep doing it.

I’ll tell you, myself personally, and this has been a big change for me, I was very much into the weightlifting. I went to the gym. I never did anything from home. My gym closed. I went immediately online to go buy weights. You can’t buy weights online. Or if you can buy them, they’re like a thousand dollars now. And so, I was like, “I’m not going to do that.”

I’ve been dabbling in yoga, just dabbling. I’m now doing yoga six days a week. I would’ve never done that before. I’m experimenting. So, one of the things I would also encourage your listeners is if there’s a kind of exercise that you’ve always wondered about, now is your excuse to try something different. So, I think that’s absolutely important. It’s not a particular kind but I don’t want you sitting in a chair for seven hours a day. It’s bad for you. Bad for you.

The other thing that is really important, if at all possible, and I’ll get to the nutrition part in a second, I’ll do that quickly, is get your Vitamin D. Get some daylight. If you’re inside and the weather provides and allows, step outside. The norms have changed, Pete. The norms have changed. It’s okay to hear birds in most companies now in the background chirping while you’re on a conference call. It’s very important that we don’t sit in one room for eight to ten hours a day.

Get outside, get the fresh air even if that’s every hour taking a two-minute break. You need that natural sunlight both for your metabolic purposes, also to regulate your sleep. And if you don’t believe me, try and experiment. Stay in your room, wherever room you’re in, this is assuming you’re not quarantined in a room. Stay in your room for six hours versus get outside every hour for two to three minutes, you’ll feel much better.

The other piece that people neglect is proper hydration and nutrition while they’re at home. We need to drink water. We need to eat good food. If we don’t drink and we don’t pee, and we eat crappy food, we’re going to feel bad. I’m not telling you that you have to become a vegan. I’m not telling you that you have to get completely clean on your health or on your food. But the better you can do, the better you’re going to feel. I can’t tell you how many people right now are saying, “God, I’m snacking. I’m snacking.” Why are you snacking? Because you’re sitting there and you can see the snack cabinet in your own house.

So, these are the kinds of changes. A lot of my clients will say, “I already know that stuff. I already know that.” And my number one comeback is this, “Great. Are you doing it?” “No.” “How do you feel right now?” “Like crap.” “Tell you what, eat a little bit better, make sure you drink a lot of water throughout the day, get your behind outside. Move. And then maybe the last one, too, is…” and this is one that is new, something that I haven’t seen as much. A lot of dysregulated sleep cycles. People are kind of going to bed at strange times because they don’t have as much of a routine. And when your sleep cycle gets off, it messes everything else up. Try to remain as regimented as you can on a sleep cycle. I don’t care if you don’t have to get up the next day till 9:00. Don’t stay up till 2:00 o’clock in the morning just because. The more consistent your sleep, the better you’re going to feel.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s a really nice lineup. Now, when it comes to hydration, how much is enough?

Joshua Klapow
Yeah. So, again, I’m not a medical doctor. I’m a psychologist. But this is the classic, and I have one client who…I was surprised to hear this. This was somebody, she’s an executive, mostly working from home who, literally, would prevent herself from drinking because she was on back-to-back conference calls, and she didn’t want to be late to the conference call. I’m not kidding.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve been there before. I’ve had those days, yeah.

Joshua Klapow
Well, but that was every day. And it doesn’t take a medical doctor for me to say, “What are you doing? Like, that’s terrible. Don’t do that. You should be going to the bathroom…” again, we all have different health states, etc. Two to three to four times a day to pee and it should be clear relatively, right? And I tell you what, you asked for bang for the buck? Here’s the other reason why I want you to drink water or non-alcoholic beverages. If you’re peeing every 90 minutes to two hours, guess what you can do when you go into the bathroom? You can take that 90-minute to two-hour break to also reset your brain, to take the deep breaths, to come back to a good place. I call it the recalibration bio-break.

And that’s what I said. I said, “Look, if you want to multitask, multitask. Go do your business in the bathroom, and then take one extra minute in that bathroom to reset, to remind yourself, “What day is it? Where am I? What am I going to do?” It’s these little tweaks like this that allow you to carry on, allow you to power forward. What most of us try to do that is wrong is we try to have the good work ethic, “I’m just going to take one more call. I’m just going to do one more recording. I’ll skip this lunch. I’ll skip this water. I’ll power through, and if I do that, then I’ll get to the other side.” Psychologically, physiologically, and behaviorally, that could not be farther from the truth in non-global pandemic times. It is twice as bad in global pandemic times.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful. Well, so, not to get too personal with you, Josh, but I’d love to zoom in to that one minute in the bathroom. So, you’ve just urinated, wow, it’s the first time I’ve said this on the show. All right.

Joshua Klapow
I’m a psychologist. You can say anything you want here.

Pete Mockaitis
You just urinated. What happens in the following minute that can be a great reset in the bathroom?

Joshua Klapow
So, as I’d like to say, you take care of your business. And in this day and age, and you can do this on either side. Either before you wash your hands or after you wash your hands, either way is okay because this is going to involve your brain, and you don’t have to touch your face to do this. What I really encourage people to do is close their eyes or not, but to take some deep diaphragmatic breaths. And we all know this, and I’ll show you the example I give you. But this is essentially the (inhales then exhales). Do that three to four times.

Now, I get a lot of grief as a psychologist because, particularly when I do this in any media, they go, “Oh, my God, this is the psychologist and now he’s telling me to deep breathe.” The reason I’m telling you that is, as your stress levels rise, your breath shortens. And one of the ways that we know that you cannot only relax your physiology, your muscles, relax your muscles, heart rate, blood pressure, but if you relax is to slow your breathing down.

And the classic example I give people is when you see a little child, or even an adult who’s kind of panicky, right, you see a little kid, “Huh, huh, huh.” What do we tell people to do besides calm down, which you should never tell people to do? “Take a breath.” We always tell people, “It’s okay. just take a breath. Take a few deep breaths.”

So, if we tell people to do that when they’re panicking, why wouldn’t we do that after we go to the bathroom and we’re a little offline? So, take three deep breaths, have a nice happy thought, and then. Wash your hands and get back out in the warzone. And it’s critical. I have physicians do this before they ever get back in, whether it’s the E.R. or an O.R., I have them do it all the time. I have athletes do it at every timeout.

It’s critical, Pete, that we do it right now because distractions alone will take us offline and we need to be online.

The other reason that it’s important, if you’re not going to do it for you, it changes the way you interact with your spouse or your significant other. It changes the way you interact with your kids, who, many a kids are very discombobulated right now. It also changes the way that you’re going to interact on conference calls, with your coworkers, your boss, and your direct reports. If you’re in a bad place, it’s going to show even if you’re not “freaking out.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really resonating. All right. So, that’s it then. There’s the washing of hands, there’s the deep diaphragmatic breaths, there’s the happy thought, then that’s your minute, hey?

Joshua Klapow
It is, yes. Now, here’s what I don’t want you to expect, “One minute is going to last me nine hours.” So, here’s the good and the bad of it. The bad is It’s not going to last all day long one set of diaphragmatic breathing and your happy thought. But here’s a nice thing. It takes a minute to reset.

Again, I’ll share another thing that I do. Before I ever go on air, before I ever take a client call, before I ever switch from one conference call to the next, I make sure I got at least a minute. I’m a high-energy guy. I get going a lot. I reset. And most of us, Pete, don’t do that because we think that that couldn’t have an impact. It’s not a magic pill but it’s what our bodies and our minds need to stay on track in addition to all the other things that we talked about.

And I mentioned it in passing but it is equally important. Own up to your limits right now. Stop. Do not wear yourself out as a badge of honor because it does nobody any good. Work hard but if you’re driving yourself into the ground because you think that’s great, what I’m going to tell you is that by the time you’ve driven yourself just short of being into the ground, you’re no good for anybody. You didn’t do good work at the end. I always talk about, “Come to your limit, don’t go past your limit.” Come to your limit and then back off. You have to right now.

There is this expectation, “I must be a super parent, super spouse. I got to show my boss that I’m doing everything, and I got to be great and have fun and exercise and all that kind of stuff.” I wish I had a better word. It’s crap. We’re human. We’re not machines. And, particularly right now, nobody is firing on all cylinders. Anybody who tells you they’re totally dialed in, totally focused, not worried about anything, is either not human, or they’re lying, or in denial, or in a lot of denial.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thanks for laying it out there. Now, can you share some of your favorite things. Let’s start with a favorite quote.

Joshua Klapow
It’s from Pema Chodron, who’s a very famous author, Buddhist monk, New Yorker, an ex-nurse actually before she became a monk. And the quote is, “Feel the feelings and drop the story.” I love this because it’s kind of what I was saying as we first started talking.

You’re going to feel in your day all kinds of things. What makes them have an impact is the label, the interpretation, or the story that we associate with those emotions.

Right now, we have to feel the feelings and not have so much interpretation of them tied to them because there’s going to be so many feelings coming and going.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Joshua Klapow
So, I like that one. It’s a good one to live. It’s a good one to live by right now.

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

Joshua Klapow
Okay, this is going to go very opposite what I just said. It doesn’t contradict it. What made me become a psychologist was the work of B.F. Skinner.

The reason that I loved this was that it shows me, not just that we work only for reward, but that our behavior is predictable, is lawful, is on average. There is rhyme and reason to why we do what we do.

And what that tells me is that if something is not going right, or if something is going right, we can figure it out. We can figure out how to make you feel better, how to make you do something different.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Joshua Klapow
I’ve got two quickly. I’m a sports fanatic. And a wonderful book by one of the most coveted international women’s soccer players, Abby Wambach, Wolfpack. It’s a short read.

Related to that book, not from the writing, is Brene Brown’s Rising Strong. She’s written so many great books. Daring Greatly is one that most people know. Rising Strong, for me, resonated because it was, look, if you’re going to live in this life, you’re going to get your butt kicked. You’re going to get your butt kicked if you’re going to live, and you’re going to fall down.

And you’ve got to figure out, not just how to be tough, because being tough is not about it. It’s about, you use the word self-care, how to get yourself back up on your feet physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually so that you can be strong in the world, which is different than just being tough and guarded and defensive. And Brene Brown’s book Rising Strong really teaches readers how to do that. So, between the two, between having your pack and learning how to rise strong, and then with that quote from Pema Chodron, it’s a good way to live.

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

Joshua Klapow
I’m a less-is-more guy. My family is they’re Slack and Asana and they got this organizer and that organizer. And my tool is my calendar. It’s an electronic calendar.
The reason that I use just my calendar is if you look at my calendar, you will see my appointments, you will see my professional things on there, you will also see things, my kids love to kid me about this, you will see, “Work out at 5:00 a.m.” I know that I work out at 5:00. I don’t need a reminder to work out. It’s on there every day. My lunch is blocked out from 11:45 to 1:00. Now, do I eat lunch all the time there at that time? No. But it’s on there. My rest breaks are broken out and they’re stated on there. My winddown period, it says, “Wind down for bed with good intentions.” My bedtime is on there.

Now, your listeners may go, “Oh, my God, what’s wrong with this guy?” This is my way of removing excess from my brain. It is structure in my day that I can disregard. I have the freedom to disregard anything there.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, yeah, and I think it’s also reassuring in which you can say, “Oh, this is the time of the day in which I’m going to check those things. I need not check them now. There is a designated time in which that’s going to occur,” so you feel all the more free and resilient to just put those aside for the moment.

Joshua Klapow
Yes, I love the way you described that.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Okay. And how about a favorite habit?

Joshua Klapow
Yeah. If it’s just one it is to exercise. The biggest bang for the buck mentally, physically, socially, and spiritually is moving your body because it has all the physical health benefits that we don’t need to go into, that everybody knows about.

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

Joshua Klapow
You’ve heard the term “don’t work harder, work smarter” and that’s the one that work all the time.

The idea that, “I must work more in order to be successful” versus “As I get better at what I do, whether it’s work, parenting, relationship, it actually gets easier, and I may not have to work as hard.” And that is a beautiful, wonderful, acceptable thing that you get to have by being good at something.

So, my point is it doesn’t have to get harder, whatever it is. It can get easier. You could work less and get the same thing done. The one related to that, and it’s just aside, is this idea of “I have to.”

What I tell people this. You don’t have to. There are only a couple things in this world that you have to do. You have to eat. You have to breathe. You have to drink water. Anything else you don’t have to.

If you make it a choice, then what it allows you to do is bring the power of you to that choice. And that is really important because there are so many things that we do, most of them are our choice even if we tell ourselves that we have to.

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

Joshua Klapow
Social media, Twitter and Instagram. You can follow me at @drjoshk. If you’d like to see my webpage, it’s JoshKlapow.com. And my email, my very public email is askdrjoshk@gmail.com.

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

Joshua Klapow
We’re told all the time to think outside the box if you want to be great at what you do. If you want to be great at what you do before you ever think outside the box, take inventory of what you have inside the box. What do you already know how to do? What are you good at? What are you passionate about? And I’m talking about reading, writing, gardening, art.

Don’t spend all of your time trying to be awesome at your job by thinking so far out of who you are that you forget the gifts that you bring to the table automatically. It’s okay to think broadly but don’t lose the gifts or the skills that you have nurtured and matured when you’re trying to be awesome because those are your foundation that will allow you to be awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Josh, thanks so much for sharing these good words. It’s been a treat. I wish you all the best for yourself and your clients, and the disasters are manageable and workable in your lives.
Joshua Klapow
Thank you, Pete. I appreciate the opportunity to share this with you and with your listeners. And to everybody, exercise every day and please wash your hands.