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KF #26. Being Resilient

389: Recharging Your Career with Beth Benatti Kennedy

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Coach Beth Benatti Kennedy shares actionable ways to recharge your career and beat burnout.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The five focus areas for recharging your career
  2. How to use a Purpose Mind Map
  3. A more exciting way to introduce yourself

About Beth

Beth Benatti Kennedy, MS LMFT brings more than twenty years of experience to her role as a leadership and executive coach, resiliency-training expert, and speaker. With an extensive background in career development, she coaches high-potential individuals on how to use their influence strategically, collaborate effectively, and focus on innovation. Her clients include Gillette Company, Nike, Converse, and many others. Her new book, Career Recharge: Five Strategies to boost Resilience and Beat Burnout, was published in October.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Beth Benatti Kennedy Interview Transcript

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

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear your story. I want to start when you were eight years old working at the family moving company. Were you hauling some furniture? What were you doing at eight years old there?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I was one of these kids growing up, my dad came from an entrepreneur family, Steinway Movers. As a little girl I would always – I was always very interested in like whenever the truck would come to our house and asking him a lot of questions and what are you doing Saturday morning because he was definitely a workaholic.

I used to get to on Saturdays go to some of his big jobs. He used to – it’s in New York, so he used to move really big companies. One of them is Pan American airlines when they used to be around, which was one of my favorites. I used to go with him.

He would always bring breakfast for all of the workers, so they would get these fresh New York rolls and soft butter. I would be in charge of making sure they were cut in half because he didn’t want the guys being messy when they’re touching the equipment etcetera, etcetera.

Pete Mockaitis

That is attention to detail.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
No crumbs on the client’s goods.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Exactly, exactly. His trucks were so clean; you could have a picnic on the floor. He is the word passion till – he’s passed away – but was the work passion 100% plus, plus, plus for his career. Anyway, I got to see – that was my job. I’d go around make sure everyone if they needed coffee, would have their coffee and get their rolls.

But I got to do a lot of observing and I got to see a big piece of my model – the Benatti Resiliency model – is connection. A lot of that came from him because he had this gift of connecting with everyone whether it was the gentleman driving the elevator or whether it was the person in the hallway cleaning the garbage. He connected with everyone. It didn’t matter what level you were. I think that was a big, huge part of the success of his business.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Well, just taking the time to provide the rolls and the coffee is pretty cool. At the times, we’ve had movers just two or three people showed up. It’s like, okay, I guess it’s on. Yeah, a little extra touch.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
These were like giant, giant moves, where they had just like five trucks and lots of men, lots of different directions, so it was super exciting for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, so I want to hear a little bit about this model and your book, Career ReCharge. What’s sort of the main thesis here?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I’ve been a leadership coach for 20-something years. I started off as a career coach for the first 10 years. One of the things that I learned being – mostly doing corporate work was that people could – they so wanted to move on with their career or do something different, but what I found was many people were just completely exhausted or burnt out or bored. I had to recharge them so that they had the enthusiasm and the energy to really make that career change.

It’s a model that has developed over the years. That’s where the book came out was actually about four years ago I had a few clients that said you have to share this. I hesitated because it’s really hard being self-employed writing a book.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I hesitated the first year and then the second year I really got involved in a very committed program. It was so exciting to share my clients’ stories who really were even fine with me using their name because they really wanted to share the success of the model.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Well, could you give us a success story right now?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Sure, sure. One of my favorites is a gentleman named Eliot, who was an engineer and I coached him many, many years ago. He was – actually designed razorblades. I was in this company in Boston coaching a lot of employees. Again, a lot of my internal coaching was just helping them be more successful in their job.

At the time he really liked what he was doing. It was exciting, cutting edge company. They get bought by another company. He gets moved to another department. At that point, I actually am not coaching him anymore. I get a call from him. He’s in this new position for about two years and just miserable, not using his strengths. He says to me, “I need to meet with you again. I need to start up coaching again.”

We start up coaching and I realize he is completely burnt out. It was amazing for me to see this gentleman who used to be so – like one of the top in the company as it’s called a modeling simulation engineer, so he could actually design the razorblades – seeing someone who used to be so phenomenal just completely affect flat and just exhausted. Basically he really wanted to start the whole process.

It begins by this five areas. The first one is I zero in on their wellbeing, taking a look at physically, emotionally what’s going on and then starting to offer some – having them actually figure out some good strategies that will work for them.

Then we go into self-awareness, which is really getting clear on what their purpose is, how is their mindset, because we all know if you have that awful mindset, it’s not going to really help you if you’re trying to do a career change. Then one of the my expertise is personality types, so really looking at how is your type showing up and do you need to do any tweaking. We started with those two areas.

One of the things we found when we did his purpose was he was really ready for a change, but it’s scary. He wasn’t even 50 and he’s like, “Am I crazy to leave the golden Hancocks?” With my support and with working through the rest of the model, getting – which the next piece is brand, so we figured out when he did my brand exercises that he could take this amazing skillset he has and market it as a consultant.

The exciting part of the story is he did leave this Fortune 100 Company and now has his own consulting business. He’s actually – one of the organizations that he consults for is the US Olympic Skating Committee. He used his-

Pete Mockaitis
How clever.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Yeah, he used his passion of ice skating to now he was actually able to predict what pairs in the Olympics – what country was going to have a better chance of winning from analyzing their strokes on the ice.

Pete Mockaitis
Huh?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
So once you know who has a better chance of winning, what do you do with that?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Basically what the US Olympic Skating Committee is doing with his kind of research is to be able to say, “Okay, let’s figure out who are the skaters we really want to work on for next year? What are the things – why is this particular country doing so well? Oh, we need to – the ice skaters need to work on this to really make it to that first or second or third place.”

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so fascinating, when you said ice skating, I was like, okay, I can see the carryover, like the blade going to the skates, but no, you went in a totally different direction.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
He went a totally – his doctorate degree was in this – now it’s a big thing, this modeling simulation, I guess like baseball players. He could actually if he wanted to work for like a professional football team or a professional baseball team, where they do this modeling simulation and they can predict “Okay, you’re holding a bat this way, this is what will happen.”

It was really exciting because till this – I still coach him and he weekly goes through the five areas. The two areas that I didn’t get to talk about – the fourth one is called connection. That’s why I have all my clients every week really take a look at are you proactively connecting with people that nourish you, excite you, enrich you.

This was a huge piece of him being able to make this transition to a whole new career field. He just surrounded himself – I call it ‘who’s in your boat’ – getting really great people to support you. One of them was back to working with a coach because sometimes you can’t do a huge – that is such a huge change he made, you just can’t do it by yourself, even with the most supportive partner.

Then the fifth one is innovation. That’s when you challenge yourself to kind of really just learn and do different things. This is – the innovation for him was he actually had to go back to Northeastern University and take some more courses on some of this technical modeling stuff, I couldn’t even explain to you because I don’t even understand it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing. It’s called the Resiliency model, but it seems like it’s bigger than just being able to weather the difficulties that come your way.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Yes, yeah, yeah. My definition of resiliency is a little bit different. I think a lot of people think of resiliency as just bouncing back, but my – I really see resiliency also as being proactive in your career because I think a big issue right now is people – we get kind of set in our ways and we forget that we can’t just start working on career development once we hate our job. We have to proactively be doing things for our career on a weekly basis, even little tiny things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to hear, what are some of those little tiny things that make a real big difference?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Basically what I’ve done in my book, I have these little boosters at the end of every chapter, so I’ll just share some of them from brand. Brand, when I think about brand, my definition of brand is what are your strengths, what are your attributes, what do you bring to that position or that company, what’s the impact you’re making and what’s your reputation.

A little tiny thing you could do once a week is spend five minutes on LinkedIn. Take a look at your profile. When’s the last time you updated your profile? What about connecting? Is there someone you just had a meeting with two days ago? Did you connect with them?

Because I think what happens, again, LinkedIn for many people they think that’s a job searching tool. It’s really a pro-active career development tool. It’s one of the – a great way to kind of stay up to date in your career. That’s a little example of a tip.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’d love to hear a few more of these.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Why don’t we start in the realm of wellbeing? What are some of the things that make a world of difference?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I’ll share a few for each booster. The first for wellbeing one of them is how important it is to make sure you’re not doing everything yourself, so having the gift of time. Another one is thinking about – with all the stress going on at work – what are the things you can control and what are the things you can’t control and making sure you’re focusing on things that you can control because it’s so easy to get stressed out  by everything.

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to not doing everything yourself, what are some of the top things that people find that, “Hey, sure enough I can get some help with this,” or “I can outsource this,” or “automate this.”

Beth Benatti Kennedy
You’re going to crack up, but I would say probably once a month I will say to someone, “Have you ever considered getting your apartment or your house cleaned?” Now these are people with big jobs like this audience that’s listening and they’ll say, “No, I just can’t do it.” Then I’ll say, “Okay, just try it for three months.” They’ll say, “That was the best thing.”

Even if they have someone come every – like once every three weeks, they fit it into their budget, they’re like, “That is the best thing I’ve ever done,” because now they have more time and energy to do the things that they need to do for their wellbeing like get to the gym for 20 minutes or 30 minutes or go for a walk. That’s – believe it or not, that’s a big one that people really like.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I like that a lot. What’s cool there is that doesn’t just mean that you’re cranking out another hour of work, but rather that is sort of precious home time – I guess the time you spend in cleaning is sort of a privileged category of time because you’re outside of work and you’re not doing sort of immediate family responsibilities because in a way, cleaning isn’t super urgent. We’ve got a little bit of leeway with it.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
When you get to it, it’s kind of coming at the expense of maybe any number of rejuvenating things from seeing a friend or going for a walk or exercise or massage or whatever that might be for a boost.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Right, exactly. Exactly. Then in the area of self-awareness, for self-awareness, kind of the vibe words I call them, are knowing your purpose, getting aware of your mindset, like I mentioned, your type.

Some of the boosters that I have for that is I have my clients really think about what are there values and are they living them personally and professionally. Sometimes individuals will say, “I cannot get my values in my job or my career. It’s just – this is – I went to school to become a lawyer and I’m in a really tough practice. I’m not living my values.”

Then I will say, “Okay, let’s figure out a way that you can get them personally. Maybe you want to get involved in a non-profit or maybe you want to get involved in another volunteer organization. It’s amazing how that’s instant recharge for your career when you can get your values at somewhere in your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give us examples of values that folks often come up with that really resonate and are meaningful to them and yet also are frequently not being met in the workplace?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Sure. It’s interesting because I just did this this morning with someone. Some of her values were family, friends, innovation, learning, making a difference. She had problem solving. She had career satisfaction. She had financial security. Those are values that are really, really important to her. She was presently working at a consulting – a really, really competitive consulting company. Through our work now she has decided that she’s actually going back to nursing school.

Part of the reason she’s making this change is to get more of these values in her career, but when she was working at the consulting firm, I was sharing with her, there’s ways – like the one making a difference, maybe it’s that one person, that junior person in your organization that you can mentor. That’s a great way to make a difference even if you’re in a competitive environment.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess when we talk about values there’s a number of ways we could define them. I’d love to get your sense for how do you know you’ve really hit upon one that’s like, yup, ding, ding, ding, that’s a big one. That is resonantly important. Because as you brainstormed or shared those lists there, I guess I might be able to generate dozens upon dozens of such things that would be meaningful. I guess it’s kind of tricky with regard to time, money, attention, energy prioritizing and zeroing in on the biggies.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Yeah. That’s such a good question. I always – I actually when I teach I have a full day class, corporate class, that goes with the book. When I do the class I actually have cards, value cards. I let them select 8 cards. They often say, “Oh my gosh, I want to have like 20.”

What I say to them is what are – if you thought of your life like a compass and these cards were going to direct your life and your career in a certain way, which of the cards or which of the values are like your compass? How do you want them? That really helps people because you’re right, you could say, “Oh my gosh, all of these are important to me.” But if you only could have eight, which are the ones that are really calling to you.

This is something else that I also have to clarify is that sometimes people will say, “Is it work or is it life?” It’s an overlap. I think that any coach that says your values do not hit on both, it’s incorrect. You’re really – our values are shaping our entire life. We have to look at career slash life when we’re thinking about our values.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious. They chose eight. How big is the deck of cards they’re choosing out of?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Believe it or not, it’s so funny, I had to just order a ton more of them. There’s like 52 cards. … huge.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah, just like a deck of cards. You say you ordered them, is this from a product one can purchase or how do you get them?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Yes, yes. I have – I’m just grabbing it because I have a few different – I’ve been reviewing a bunch of different vendors. Dick Knowdell is the vendor that makes these.
K-N-O-W-D-E-L-L.
They’re called the Knowdell Card Sort Career Values.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
They’re really designed for career coaches, but I find – people like them so much I often – I give them away at my classes because they’re like, “Oh, I want to do this when I get home with my partner.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is cool. I’m curious in terms of the hard thinking, in terms of which eight get selected – I’m sure you’ve seen this process many times, what are some of the thought processes like when they choose one over another? What sorts of things do you hear? It’s like, “Well, I’ve got,” we’ll just say, “adventure and I’ve got problem solving,” how do they get there?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
It’s funny too because people will often say to me, “Oh, I have to be practical.” I’m like, “No, this is your time. This class is called career recharge, so this is a time for you to recharge your life and your career. You don’t have to be practical. What are the eight cards that you – what are the eight values that you really want to have?” It’s really funny. It’s almost like people, especially in corporate America, really need permission to say, “Oh, so I can say-“

I was just trying to think of one – there’s one that often people say, “Oh, I can select this one?” It’s like, “Yeah, this is your life. That’s – it’s like I decided 27 years ago to be self-employed. That’s a strong value for me. What are the values that are calling to you?”

Sometimes – then this is an important piece of the exercise is then I have the individuals look at those eight cards and put a plus sign if they have it and put a negative sign if they don’t have it in their career or their life. Then if I have a class of say 30 people, I’ll say, “Okay, who has more than five negative signs?” Sometimes it’s one-third the class.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
How can we recharge? How can people really be engaged in their work and really do their best if all the – there’s lots of research that shows people that are following their purpose are happier and healthier and more engaged at work.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say purpose are those sort of – what’s the relationship between purpose and values here? Is the purpose consisting of values or are you thinking of these separately?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Yeah. I’ve designed an exercise. I call it the Purpose Mind Map. This also helps people with their branding. What I have individuals do is the first step is figure out what your values are. Then when I think about purpose, what I want people to think about is what is the contribution you want to make in your career. What’s the difference you want to make in the world?

Sometimes it could be – let’s just say you’re an accountant that my purpose is I want to work at this top accounting firm in New York City and I want to be a partner in ten years. For that person, that’s their purpose. But for someone else it might be totally different.

It might be I want to make – I did a lot of consulting for Bright Horizons, which is a daycare company. For those individuals, a lot of times their purpose is I just want to – I want to have an organization that makes the best difference for children and for their providers. It’s so interesting when you think about purpose, it’s really – it goes back to, again, that legacy question. What’s the difference – when you retire someday, what’s that difference you want to make?
It’s a little bit messy because it’s not like a math equation where someone can have an easy answer. It’s something you really have to do all these little steps.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed. I want to get your take on when someone says this is their purpose, I think about the accounting firm example, how do you know that it’s the real deal as opposed to, “No, no, no, no, think harder?”

Beth Benatti Kennedy
That is a – that’s a great question. One of the – that actually – something that I will ask that person is “What’s the impact you’re making?” or “What’s the impact you want to make?” and “What’s the reputation you want to have?”

One of the things that happened to me was my first career I was a school counselor in the Boston Public Schools. Our purposes change. At that point I was right out of graduate school and I wanted to just change the world. That was my purpose. I wanted to go in there and I wanted to get these kids going to college.

But after seven or eight years, it was like hitting my wall against a brick because I couldn’t get any impact. I was running programs for parents, no one was showing up. It led me to get burned out because I had this purpose, but I couldn’t make the impact.

Then I was really fortunate. I – by, again, my – I write about this in the book, the connection piece of my model. In graduate school I was sitting next to the training manager of the Gillette Company who gave me a little opportunity to do a little gig at the Gillette Company and do some career counseling.

All of the sudden the light bulb went off. I was like wow, I want to make a difference in people’s lives. It’s not working in the schools right now because this was 27 years ago. I could probably make it in organizations, helping people figure out – making them more satisfied in their careers.

I didn’t even know what outplacement was then, but I was lucky enough to find a graduate degree program in human resource counseling. That was where I got trained as a career counselor. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is exactly what I want to be doing.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a really great distinction there because you’ve got the purpose and you’ve got the impact because some people might say, “Well, shucks, this is what I’ve always wanted to do and I’m doing it, so what’s the missing link?” It’s like, “Oh well, it’s not going anywhere.”

This kind of reminds me of Stephen Covey with begin with the end in mind and thinking about your funeral and what you’d like people to say about you and that kind of hits it there in terms of the contribution and the impact and what you’re about and what you’re like. That’s good stuff.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I’m not sure if you’re familiar with – you probably are – Dan Buettner. He has this study; it’s called Blue Zones.

Pete Mockaitis
About the people who live longer.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Yes, yes. His – that study is just fascinating because he – it consisted of 73,000 Japanese men and women. This was in 2009. What he found was the individuals that had a strong connection to purpose and I think the word is hysterical because I always have to catch myself if I’m saying it right, but it’s I-K-I-G-A-I, ikigai. What he found was those individuals with a sense of purpose, live longer. Then if you look at the other research that’s part of that, he also talks about how important connection is, being with a community.

For some people their purpose could be – it could be something like “I want to make the world the better place by introducing-“ like I work with a lot of doctors trying to cure cancer so that’s their big purpose. Even though 80% of cancer molecules don’t work; it’s still for them so exciting because they are every day trying to make an impact on their purpose, if that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm. That’s good. I want to make sure we get to touch on the mindset a bit. What are the habits of thinking that are really helpful and not so helpful?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
For the boosters for mindset, one of the – what most people find most helpful is paying attention in the morning and giving themselves a daily intention. For example, it might be – like with this crazy – when things are crazy with the holidays or with it being a new year, it might be I’m going to start my morning off and stay relaxed and focused. They give themselves that morning intention. Some of my executives that get really anxious, they give themselves the intention in the morning of calm and confidence.

Mindset, that’s probably the number one booster is giving that morning intention. Then you can do it throughout the day.

The other booster that people find helpful is what I call the pause breath. Sometimes when you’re just having one of those days where it just feels like everything is going wrong, everything you touch, you just feel this – you can feel the stress through your body, I recommend just take two seconds, do a nice inhale, do a nice exhale. I call it the pause breath.

Do that even before you send a charged email because that’s the other thing that starts to happen with mindset is the negatives start outweighing the positives and all of the sudden we’re emailing someone and we’re saying, “Oh my gosh, what are we doing?”

Carol Dweck has out her book, Growth Mindset. She really talks about how important it is to really – in today’s day and age, we have to be so adaptable to change. What her research shows is the more we’re open to being adaptable, having what she calls this growth mindset, we have greater success at work, greater productivity, greater impact if we’re a manager.

I can notice – it’s interesting, when I interview a client before they start coaching with me, I can tell sometimes they’ve had so many negative things happen that they’re just like – they’re just done. Sometimes that can be the beginning of burnout, that mindset just gets really negative.

It’s not that we can’t have negative feelings, but it’s kind of that 80/20 rule. When 80% of your day is just awful, then you really have to worry about it. But you’re going to have – we all have a Monday or a day where it’s just a horrible meeting or a challenge.

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

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Let me see. Did you want to hear the – I think the brand boosters. But just to emphasize another one that people like is that when you think about branding, like when you’re at a networking event and I know people don’t really like the word networking. I talk about that in my book to call it connection and think about building relationships.

When you meet someone instead of me just saying, “Oh, I’m Beth Kennedy. I’m a leadership coach.” Think about how can you tell a little bit of your story. I might say, “Hi, I’m Beth. I’m a coach, but I really focus on resiliency and preventing burnout in employees in organizations. That’s my passion. I also really encourage people to figure out what they can do so that they’re more motivated, excited and driven in their career.” Isn’t that a lot more excited than saying, “Hi, I’m Beth and I’m a leadership coach?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah and it sort of lets the conversation go into some interesting places, like, “Oh man, I remember when I was burnt out a few years ago I could have used you. I was-“ and then you go. You’re somewhere as opposed to, “Oh, you’re a leadership coach. Okay cool. Well, I am an accountant.”

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s sort of – it’s less of a connecting conversation.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I think for – sometimes attorneys will say to me or engineers will say, “Oh my God, what am I going to – there’s just no way to say that.” There’s always a little tiny story you can share even if you say something about your organization, so “I’m an engineer at this company. One of our specialties is this,” just to add a little bit to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I think engineers often have some fascinating things to say. All sorts of engineers like, “Oh yeah, I work on manufacturing equipment for a Skittles plant.” Okay. I’m all ears. Let’s talk about Skittles.

Or even if it seems maybe less interesting like logistics, like moving stuff around, I can get fascinated by that. It’s like, “Man, that’s a lot of stuff you move around. How do you do that? I find it challenging just to answer all the questions FedEx has for me before I send out a package.”

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Right. Exactly. It’s so nice to hear you say that because I think most – I think the clients that have the most difficult time with that are scientists, engineers and attorneys because that’s what they say they are. It’s like just bring a little bit of that story into it.

Pete Mockaitis
Attorneys have such good stories. Someone is getting sued for something, whether it’s criminal or civil, I think it’s really juicy.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Yeah, even if you’re a corporate attorney, again, some people think, “Oh, that’s just so boring,” well, no it’s not. There’s something about that organization that will just make people learn a little bit more about you.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
So that’s just an example of another brand booster.

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

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Sure. It’s so interesting because I love quotes, but I think one of my favorite one is by Thoreau and “It’s go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.”

Pete Mockaitis
….

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I just think that gosh, with life being short that – I love that it ends with “live the life you’ve imagined” because whatever some of those dreams are, whether it’s career or travel or whatever it is to just keep plugging along. I feel like too that’s to me what resiliency is about is about moving forward even when you – for some-

I share in the book many years ago I applied for a doctorate psychology degree program and I didn’t get in. I thought my world was over. Then now I have this career that I couldn’t imagine doing anything better. I couldn’t imagine sitting in an office every day listening to people’s problems. I just think that we just want to – we have these little challenges come, but somewhere there’s a spark of wonderful thing that’s going to keep coming.

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

Beth Benatti Kennedy
It’s interesting because one of my favorite research studies is – I don’t know if you’ve heard of him. His name is George Vaillant.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
What he shares – he was a Harvard psychiatrist. He did the Harvard Grant Study from 1972 to 2004. He found strong relationships to be the strongest predictor of life and career satisfaction. What was interesting is his research showed that feeling connected to one’s work was far more important than making money or achieving traditional success.

I have seen that a lot in doing 25 years of coaching is that when people feel really connected to their work, they are just – you can just see this level of energy and happiness.

Sometimes I’ll meet with people that are making incredible amounts of money and I’ll say to them “What is your career satisfaction out of a ten?” and they’ll say a two. I’ll say, “What is your life satisfaction out of a ten?” and they’ll say like a four.

The other thing that happens when – and there’s lots of research that’s been going on about this is as we connect with others we get the – they call them the feel-good chemicals. The dopamine and the oxytocin and that’s the other reason why connection is so important, cultivating relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm. How about a favorite book?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I was so happy to hear your quote because my favorite book is 7 Habits of Being Highly Effective by Steven Covey. I have to say I quote him every time I train a class I’m always bringing something in from his class. It’s one of those oldies but goodies.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
It’s interesting. My favorite tool I would say is a meditation app, which is called Calm.com. As part of my career recharge class I piloted five different meditation apps myself. Then I had about 30 clients just try different ones. I learned with meditation apps, it’s so interesting. People – it depends on the person’s voice.

One of the things I love about Calm is it’s ten minutes long, which is perfect amount of time for me. Some of my other clients like Headspace. There’s so many out there right now. 10% Happier. But for me, that’s probably – that is something I use five or six days a week.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Beth Benatti Kennedy
My favorite habit is what’s part of actually my resiliency model. It’s called the Friday Five. In my phone every Friday I have a little thing that pops up and it says recharge. I spend five minutes to think about what I’m going to focus on for the next week.

What is that one thing I’m going to add, whether it’s I need to watch that podcast or whether it’s I need to call a good friend that I’ve been out of touch with, but – and I teach that to all my clients that if you can’t find five minutes to nourish your life, then we have to really start to worry. I call it my Friday Five process.

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

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I think the nugget that people seem to really like is I have this little saying. I call it spark success. What I mean by that is to start really small to pick something you want to work on and drive it down to the smallest possible doable activity.

For example, a lot of my clients are trying to figure out before the new year begins, okay, how can I regularly exercise. I’ll say to them, “Okay, what’s the smallest thing that you can do?” Maybe it’s getting off the train and walking to work.

It’s really – they really like that idea of I’m about – we’re not looking for perfectionism. We’re just – what’s a small habit that you can start. Then all of the sudden you like it so much it turns into 15 minutes, 20 minutes, going to the gym, doing yoga classes, but starting really small.

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

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I would point them to my website, which is BethKennedy.com. I’m also on Twitter, which is CoachBKennedy. If you’re on LinkedIn, again, you can see I’m a big LinkedIn person, connect with me on LinkedIn. I have a lot of great stuff going on. There’s been some really awesome posts about some of the exciting things that have been going on with the book.

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

Beth Benatti Kennedy
I would say the call to action is the importance of connection, so to really think about that who is that person, who is the friend or who is the colleague that really supports you and making sure you have time with them together on a regular basis because recharge, it can be so isolating in today’s – everyone’s working so hard and it’s so important to have people on your boat that nourish you and that aren’t toxic.

My call to action is today think of that person you’ve been out of touch with and give them a call or set up a time to meet them for a drink or lunch or dinner. It’s just amazing, it’s amazing what relationships can do for our career and for our productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Beth, thanks so much for sharing the good stuff. Good luck with the book and all your adventures.

Beth Benatti Kennedy
Thank you. Very nice to meet you.

355: Channeling Emotions Productively with Hitendra Wadhwa

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Columbia Business School professor Hitendra Wadhwa defines inner mastery and shows how to achieve it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The five pillars of inner mastery
  2. Key questions and framework for daily reflection
  3. Two strategies for redirecting your emotions positively

About Hitendra

Hitendra Wadhwa is Professor of Practice at Columbia Business School and founder of the Institute for Personal Leadership (IPL).  Hitendra graduated from the University of Delhi in mathematics and received his MBA and a PhD in Management from MIT.  He has received the 2015 Executive-MBA Commitment to Excellence Award, the 2012 Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence, and the 2008 Columbia Marketing Association Award for the Most Dynamic and Engaging Professor.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Hitendra Wadhwa Interview Transcript

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

Hitendra Wadhwa
Thank you, Pete. It’s a pleasure to be with you and your audience.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell us, what’s your role at Columbia?

Hitendra Wadhwa
I have a responsibility as a professor of practice in the Business School to take our MBAs and executive audiences through journeys to prepare them for this world of dynamic change and uncertainty and fast pace that we live in today. I have created a class that I call Personal Leadership and Success. Over the last about 12 years that has been my research and my teaching.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Then you’ve also founded the Institute for Personal Leadership. What is the kind of core work or ethos over there?

Hitendra Wadhwa
Gandhi, he once said, he said “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would be enough to solve most of the world’s problems.” My aspiration in building this class was to say hey, listen, we have these incredibly talented, very aspirational MBAs and the executives that come over to Columbia.

And in many ways they’re really aspirational and really talented about finding a way to master the universe, but what about finding a way to master your own self as a starting point …. There are theses in personal leadership both in my work at Columbia and then the Institute, is that there is so much more to our potential than we tap into on a normal day.

What if we were both able to for our own selves and for the individuals, and teams, and organizations, and community that we serve, if we were able to get all of us to our fullest potential, to be at our best in every moment, in every day, what kind of a team and organization and a product and impact, and life that you could build?

That’s really in a sense what we do at the Institute is take the research, take the teaching that I’ve been doing over the years at Columbia and put it out there for any individuals to be able to tap into through the content we created, through the digital learning journeys that we offer. Then also through organizations to help them support the individual, team, and organizational transformations that they might be engaged in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, really cool. Now you talk a lot about inner mastery resulting in, later on, outer impact. Can you orient us a little bit to this concept?

Hitendra Wadhwa
Sure, sure. Outer impact means any role of the kinds of aspirations and hungers that we have from the outside. We want people to like us, to support us, to be open to being followed by us, to be inspired by us, to change their behavior based on what we’re saying and doing. As a result of that, to be able to launch products and manage teams and deliver great outcomes to the world and bring about positive change.

All of that is the outer stuff in life and leadership. The mainstream, the conventional view of how to do that, is that we have to define certain qualities or attributes of what makes for a great leadership on the outside to have that kind of an impact.

It could be something today around you have to be very adaptive as a leader. Once we evolve … based on what changes you’re seeing around you. But on the other hand, you also have to have grit. You have to have tenacity.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, stick with it.

Hitendra Wadhwa
Yeah, to stick with it. Yeah, exactly. Then you have to be very extroverted because there’s a very gregarious outer energy that you need in order to … and flourish in the world of people. But on the other hand, there’s Susan Cain and she’s telling us to … quiet, that there’s a lot of power to introversion, to the quiet kind of character of a leader, who seeks to be the thoughtful, quiet, empathetic listener in the room. And everything in between.

You want to be connected today in the world of social media and never eat lunch alone, but build your network, but on the other hand you also have to be very disconnected because you want to practice mindfulness and meditation and peace and be the reflective leader, not the one that’s just constantly in the fray of life and all that.

If you take all of these qualities, the reasons … try to convince me that we have to face up to the truth. The truth is that we are being asked today to be everything and the complete opposite. This is no way there is a simple winning path, a human achievable path to getting there.

Unless you do something like Einstein once said. He said that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” In this case, to me, this obsession with outer behavior and outer speech, what we are saying and what we are doing, as a way to which we have outer impact limits us from recognizing that the greatest lever that we have, the greatest power and possibility that we have is to in fact cultivate what I call your inner core.

Your inner core is this stable, pure, intentional, purpose driven, wise part of yourself, your best self. All of us have caught glimpses of, some of us have more systematically cultivated. When you operate from that inner core, we are just able to in the moment operate on the basis of intention, not just instinct.

To be able to bring all the appropriate facts to bear rather than have biases and distortions that blind us. Be able to make decisions with a certain amount of thoughtfulness and freedom, rather than attachment and insecurity.

The idea behind inner mastery is not as much to in a sense retrofit some wisdom from the outside or some new skill from the outside, as it is to invite people to reflect on and deepen their connection with their best selves.

To continue over the course of their life to not merely be committed and obsessed with the outer impact, but also with the deepening of the immersive living and leading inner core, knowing that when they’re doing that, they are going to be able to operate and bring the best energy, the best consciousness, the best thinking, the best judgment on the outside. So inner mastery leading to outer impact.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. Then it sounds like your advocating is not so much about internally trying to be more quiet or gregarious or changing your fundamental natural personality, so much as developing into your best self.

Hitendra Wadhwa
In fact, Pete, my hypothesis is that for many of us, there are more possibilities to our personality than what 20th century science has educated or confined us to. When you and I are talking about whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, it is true that the Myers-Briggs suggest to us that you can either be one of the other. It’s very popular too and has been used in organizations.

But I can also tell you this, most of that has been upended by some of the latest science, which suggests that people have the capacity to also be if you might call it ambiverts, where Daniel Pink talks about it in his book To Sell is Human.

There is all this research that suggests that – I remember when I took the Myers-Briggs when I was in McKinsey, I found a couple of dimensions quite intuitive and insightful, but I really rebelled against a couple of them. Thinking versus feeling, well wait a second. Why can’t I be both a thinker and a feeler?

Introvert versus extrovert, why can’t I be both? I feel I draw energy as much from outside when I’m with an audience and I’m engaged with them. Right now I’m drawing energy from this conversation with you. At the same time, I have periods where I love to draw energy from within me. There is an intro and an extrovert within me.

To that end, – I’ll just give you a great example of history. You take Abraham Lincoln. There’s a historian, he in his study of Lincoln, he said – he was a contemporary. He said “I went and spoke with a number of his colleagues and his friends.” He said, “I found that there were not two of them who spoke about Lincoln in the same way. It’s as though he revealed himself to different people in different ways.”

He said “Some said he was a very ambitious man and some said he had not an iota of ambition. Some said he was very cool and impassive and some said he was susceptible to the most intense of tempers.”

There is research, by the way, to show that when we are deeply infused with our purpose, with something we really care for, then when we have to act out a behavior in the service of that purpose, which is contrarian to our – if you want to call it our personality – we actually feel more authentic acting contrarian to our personality because we are acting in concert with our values in that moment, with our principles at that moment.

As a simple example. Let’s say if you really care about supporting your team after they’ve done six months of intensive product development work and launched this incredible product in your market. You might be an introvert, but in that moment, you are actually going to prepare and plan that celebration party for the launch of the product.

When you’re in there, you’re going to go and act out completely opposite your personality, very engaged, very connected, very joyous, very outwardly focused even though it’s against your personality. Not to say you want to do that, but here’s what the research says, you will feel more authentic doing that because you so deeply care about the aspiration of being there to celebrate that beautiful moment with your team.

Anyway, I just want to offer that up to you because the thesis I sort of want to propose to you and to your audience is that 20th century science, which is still what a lot of us operate with regard to the education system that we go through and what organizations also sometimes inform and guide us with their cultures – 20th century science was a lot about who we are. Today’s science, the 21st century science that is very vibrant and continuing to evolve, is actually telling us who we can be.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Okay, cool. Well, I guess there’s a lot in there. I guess I’d like to get your take when it comes to this inner mastery stuff. What are some of the key I guess sort of roadblocks or things that prevent us from achieving inner mastery and what are some of your top suggestions in terms of actions and disciplines and practices for getting there?

Hitendra Wadhwa
Yeah, that’s a great question. It is a journey. It’s not just a one-time sort of choice we make and then we’re just instantly and magically there. It’s a journey I’ve seen all great leaders in history kind of evolve and grow themselves along. It’s a journey that is a lifetime commitment. There’s no one point where I would offer it becomes perfect and complete.

We like to think in my work of inner mastery along five pillars. There’s purpose, which is about a lot of direction, alignment for your life as to where you’re headed. Stephen Covey used to call it “start with the end in mind.” What is that end that you have in mind feel like?

Then there’s wisdom, which is about emotional intelligence and your thinking, and your mindset and making sure these inner forces are very much harmonized in line with your purpose.

Then there’s love, which is about expanding the heart to seek to take joy in other people’s joy.

Then there is self-realization, which is to start seeing yourself more – not only through your words and actions or your feelings or your thoughts, but also from the spirit that you embody from within, the space of pure consciousness, tranquility, pure joy that great journeyers on this passage and path of life have been able to cultivate, so self-realization.

The last one is growth, which is around this continuous commitment to growth now.

In terms of what gets people derailed from inner mastery, one of the key problems is that we get so invested in our duties, in our responsibilities, in our well-intentioned desire to be of service to our friends, to our family, to our colleagues at work, to our organizations imperatives, to our communities that in that process we get, if you want to call it, spread thin, we get burnt out, we get stressed, we get to digress, digress from that part of us, which is really at the core.

One practice that I highly recommend as a way to stay more true to yourself, to your pursuit of your own … is daily introspection. Take 15 minutes of time every day and structure and organize an activity that takes you into a very soul-searching, quiet, honest, mirror that you can put on yourself.

It could be a form of thought providing. It could be a scoreboard that you create for yourself, where you’re checking in on yourself on a certain set of values of character traits or what have you. It could be just a single question that you ask yourself.

Winston Churchill, for example, he used to ask himself, he said, “I don’t go to sleep at night without challenging myself with the following question, which is ‘did I do something highly worthy today?’” I don’t mean just kind of puttering around and doing things. Did I do something highly worthy today?

Here’s a man who had incredible highs, being at the pinnacle of power, 10 Downing Street and Prime Minister of England at a very critical hour. But he also fell from grace from time to time. At those times when he was away from the madding crowds and thrown out of power, how did he act, what choices did he make, what behavior did he engage in?

This question about did I do something really worthy today – there is a story where his son once was on a train with him when he had been deposed from the Prime Minister’s office. He was out of power. His son asked him, he said, “Father, we’re on this train. We’re in California. We’re on vacation. Why are you going in a small cabin and sweating it out on this hot day and doing work right now?”

After a few hours Winston Churchill came out. He said, “Son, I can’t help it. I must do something truly worthy every day. What I’ve done right now is write a dispatch for this newspaper in England and I’m going to send it.”

Now this man when he was out of power, being defeated in the Prime Minister’s – the political election in 1950 when he was out—1945, sorry—when he was out of power. He ends up doing so much prolific writing over those next five years, that he ends up winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. Think about that pursuit of mastery when the chips are down.

So a daily introspection, a daily question that you ask yourself would be one strong suggestion. Then I do want to sort of just encourage that. Listen, we all fall from grace. We all can’t live up to our highest ideals and standards every day. But that should not discourage us.

Nelson Mandela was once asked by Opera Winfrey, she said, “Mr. Mandela, you’re so incredible. People have such admiration and awe of you. You are a living saint. How do you feel being like a saint?” He said, “I am not a saint unless you think of a saint as a sinner who never gives up.” I think that’s a great working definition for all of us to have.

There’s an article he wrote in his life and his leadership and his struggles and the mistakes he made and the growth he had to go through, and main lessons I reached from it was a great – great people take on great causes. In taking on great causes, they make great mistakes. Through those mistakes, they generate a lot of learning for themselves. They acknowledge their mistakes and they grow from it. That’s the growth that I think all of us can aspire to, not necessarily perfection overnight.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have any suggestions for other powerful questions that could be candidates for a daily reflection?

Hitendra Wadhwa
Well, if you and your audience are open to it I can share my own personal favorite.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Hitendra Wadhwa
I think one of the greatest missed opportunities in life is to befriend death. We tend to operate in a world where we almost want to make death invisible.

I smile sometimes when I’m walking here in my neighborhood in the Upper West Side. There is a funeral home here. It is so discreetly architected from the outside in terms of its façade as to be completely nondescript. Yet, sometimes the garage door is open and I glance inside, I see a hearse that carries people over when they’ve passed over.

I feel a great sense of gratitude when I see that because it’s a reminder to me about the gift of every moment of life and the fact that I cannot take it for granted for myself or for others around me and that it can end at any time. My favorite question is to ask myself that if this is the way I keep living my life as I’m living it right now, then at the moment that I’ll be dying, as I look back at my life at that moment, will I be grateful and happy or will I have some sincere regrets?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great, thank you. Okay. Any other questions that pack a punch?

Hitendra Wadhwa
You’re definitely making me walk into my sort of magic box and take out whatever tools I can, which is great. I appreciate your service to your audience.

Well, Steve Jobs had a similar question. His question was that if today—and it’s a little bit more provocative—if today was my last day on earth and I kept doing the things I had been doing, would I be happy? He said “If many days pass by where the answer is no, no I wouldn’t be doing this if this was my last day on earth, then,” he says, “then something is wrong in my career and the life.” That was his question.

The last one I want to offer you is not a simple question, but it’s more just a framework. That framework is both Nelson Mandela used it and Benjamin Franklin, which is that they created a scorecard for themselves, a simple one sheet paper with a few qualities in it that they were seeking to really work on. Then they would ask themselves, did I live up to that standard, did I live up to that quality today.

In the case of Ben Franklin, he would give himself a black dot if he saw that he hadn’t lived up to that quality on a given day. He did that for each of his 13 virtues as he called them that he had for each day of the week.

In his autobiography that he wrote later on in his life he reflects – he says … – he says “I never really reached a point where I was able to clean up my act so well that I didn’t have a single black dot on those weekly grade sheets. But I do to my satisfaction note that over the course of many years that I tracked myself this way, the number of black dots had decreased.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. I admire – it takes a level of honesty and humility in the first place to acknowledge that it was a black dot day as opposed to squinting and justifying and rationalizing, “Well, I mean the circumstances were such that I had to engage in gluttony or else it would have been rude,” for example. I think that was one of his 13. I think it’s gluttony and sloth and chastity and assorted virtues there.

I think that would be the hard part for me is in terms of like, finding a way to convince myself that I did not deserve a black dot for my behavior after all during the course of this day because there was some extenuating reason.

Hitendra Wadhwa
Yeah, no, I’m with you. That’s very humble of you to operate that way. I’m sure you have a rich, reflective life, Pete, otherwise you wouldn’t even be doing this show.

Since you’re mentioning some of his virtues, perhaps you might even remember humility, one he added later upon some criticism that he received from a friend of his, who talked about how “You’re very respective, Benjamin, but you’re not very light.” To your point about some of the pitfalls, the other pitfall here is to make sure it’s the right scorecard.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well, what I also get into some of your perspective when it comes to – when negative emotions pop up, you’ve got some thoughts with regard to how we can channel those into effective directions. How do we do that in those moments where you’re ticked off, you’re frustrated and annoyed, enraged, fill in the blank in terms of emotion you’d rather not experience. How do you channel those into better places?

Hitendra Wadhwa
Yeah, yeah. Let me share a story about Abraham Lincoln. He used to open – had moments like that where he was very triggered by things that were happening in the field at the time of the Civil War, very stressful time you can imagine for a leader like him. He wasn’t really in complete agreement or alignment with this general doing this thing here and this battle or that general doing that thing there.

He would write these letters to these generals, where we was extremely vociferous in his criticism to them. Some of these letters have been received by the generals and it’s in history as to what they were told and scolded by Lincoln for.

Then there are a lot of these letters that historians found after Lincoln’s passing in the Presidential desk in the White House, unsigned and unsent. They’re called Lincoln’s hot letters. You might be aware of them.

That’s one technique right there for us, which is to engage in this Lincolnesque kind of grace, which is to say, “You know what? I am angry right now. These are the thoughts that I am feeling right now and I am not going to act upon them because I don’t really trust myself right now in terms of my judgment. I’m not seeing things in the fullest and most nuanced of light as I should.”

Maybe in this case what might have happened is that at the time he wrote these letters – he wrote them, but he went to get his sleep, to cool down, hit the pause button, as I call it, and when he was cooler and calmer, he made a call. If he felt at that point that it would be constructive for him to express that criticism in just those words, he might have sent the letter off.

When he felt like, “You know, in the larger scheme of things, I want to keep this general motivated. I think there’s a different, better way to motivate them. I kind of want to let them know this but in a way that will still make them feel empowered and inspired and motivated to do the right things, so net-net I shouldn’t send this letter out in those cases ….”

A simple path for us is just to keep check on what is happening within us. Not just to focus on the conversation, not just to focus on the body language, but to focus on the inner storms that might be brewing.

If we feel that they’re beyond a certain level that we can trust our environment, to recognize that our first responsibility is not to act on the insight, but to in a sense, act on the inside, to calm some of these inner storms and to create a little bit of distance.

Whether it’s just asking for a bathroom break, whether it is just doing a little bit of deep breathing, whether it is stepping away and listening to soothing music, going talking to somebody that can distract you and put you in a happy place because that’s the kind of person they are, going for a brisk walk, sleeping over it. Any and all of these are mechanisms to which we allow in a sense our best self to be emerged rather than get consumed and act upon our inner demons.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so just taking a pause right there. There is one strategy. Any other approaches?

Hitendra Wadhwa
Well, I would offer another one which steps the game higher. This one would require some level of basic mastery that then allows us to play this more advanced game. Hit the pause button, couple other things we can do to just get to feel a sense of ownership over our state of inner awareness and mastery is a starting point.

But then what you can do is really lean into that emotion rather than seek to distance yourself from it or to express it in some sort of non-constructive way, to lean into and ask yourself “Yes, I’m anxious right now. Yes, I’m hurt right now. Yes, I’m angry right now. Now what am I going to do about it?” to in a sense, recapture agency over the situation, over the problem. Say, “I’m going to do something about it.”

I’ll give you an example. Have you heard of Buck, B-U-C-K?”

He is a cowboy. He’s a rancher out here in the US. He was the inspiration behind the book The Horse Whisperer and ultimately the movie that Robert Redford made called Horse Whisperer on which he was an advisor.

Actually, you and your audience might enjoy having him on the show. He’s a remarkable human being. There’s a movie, a documentary on him called Buck. I think you and your audience will both enjoy the documentary as well. Incredibly inspiring.

He when he was growing up – it’s all in the movie – so this is not information he hasn’t shared in public. But when he was growing up he had an alcoholic father. If I recall I think his mother was not there. I think she may have passed away early. He was, among other things, he was beaten up.

He was very good at the rodeo, so he was doing lassoing and things like that. His father would encourage him and his brother to go and do that, but then constantly berate them, beat them up, alcoholic, right? When he was in his teens he had to in a moment of desperation, escape from his home under all the duress and stress. He was raised in foster care.

Fast forward now to the time he’s an adult. He now says that “The pain that I went through at that time and when I reconnect with that pain, it motivates me to want to make sure that people around me and that I can serve do not feel ever that kind of pain, not just people, but even horses.”

There is perhaps traditionally, as I best understand, the way the ranching culture is working here in the US, horses have been trained under the assumption that the way they will obey is by punishing them if they don’t obey during the early formative training years. You inflict some kind of pain on them, driving something sharp into their body or etcetera, as a way to make them realize the value of obedience or the risk of disobedience and so they start obeying you.

His approach is one that is based on love. His approach is one that is based on creating a trusted bond between the master and the horse. He goes around the country, training ranches on how to take their horses, some of whom have been very disobedient, and make them very tame, make them start to really align and harmonize their actions and behavior with their ranchers.

Here he is, he is a horse whisperer. He gets these horses to do things that others have not been able to ever get done before. It’s all coming from this pain that he has experienced at some point in his life. Because he took agency over that pain and said, “I’m not going to ignore it. I’m not going to channel it in something futile and ineffective. I’m going to channel it into something heroic and beautiful.”

Pete Mockaitis
Got you, so that became a powerful motivation there in terms of this his sort of standard that – of how things ought to be and therefore he’s going to do all the efforts necessary associated with making that come to be. That’s cool.

I wonder then when it comes to anger, if you’re thinking about using that to channel into positive stuff. I guess in some ways it’s possible to be angry and then just do a lot of things because you’re angry. It’s like, “This cannot stand. I am taking action. I am going after this injustice.”

I wonder though how sustainable that is because, at least for me, that’s kind of exhausting as a fuel source, that sort of anger. From a hurt, I can see that being a little bit different in the sense of that is something that I know and I just I will not allow others to experience, whereas anger it’s sort of like – it can come up every time you think about the thing that should not be. Is there any sort of nuance in how you go about channeling anger?

Hitendra Wadhwa
That’s a great point. It’s funny because when I started studying some of these great leaders from history, which is one path through which I have sort of built up this whole teaching and work and growth and leadership, I’d assumed that these were incredibly peaceful collective tranquil people.

Yet, when you study their lives, I saw how for several of them, not necessarily all, but several of them a key source of energy for them was their – in a sense, their righteous anger against something that was deeply troubling about the social order of their day.

Whether it was Gandhi with his views on the huge loss that India was facing with British rule and the subjugation and the atrocities being committed against their less advantaged communities in society, Martin Luther King, of course, and civil liberties, Nelson Mandela, of course, with what he was doing, Mother Theresa and her work with the poor, etcetera.

Many of these people were deeply, deeply, deeply—if you want to call it—angry, but they had come to a place where they could lean into that anger and channel it.

The important thing I would offer you is that you cannot have the tail wag the dog. The tail is your emotion. The dog is the purpose or journey that you’re seeking to make in life and leadership.

For those of us who have not yet perhaps gained a certain level of mastery – let’s say mastery could be quantified from level 0 to level 100. If we are at step 34 and Gandhi is at a step 67, we shouldn’t seek to jump from 34 to 67. That would just not make sense.

In our case, if to your point, we have a certain experience that we want or a certain issue that we’re concerned with, were we to get as angry as he was getting, we might get burned by it to your point. We might get consumed by it.

In our case at step 34, it might make more sense to use some of the other tools of emotional mastery to create a little bit of distance and buffering from that emotional state because we can’t handle it. We don’t have the voltage in our light bulb to be able to handle that kind of power yet.

It might make more sense to stay within more confined bounds and to use more confined smaller sparks of anger to kind of get to a good place if that is a path we want to choose.

But as we grow in our capacities, we may be in a position to take on even more heroic causes and to take on even more purposeful, energized, disciplined journeys because we just built that machinery within us, both in our brain in terms of finding and fighting patterns of neurons and just physically and spiritually overall. Until then, to your point, we may want to just stay in more bounded space.

When we do have those intense bursts of any such emotional state, maybe our best mechanism there at step 34, which could be different from … step 67, our best mechanisms there, might be to do some deep breathing, might be to hit the pause button, might be to do some mindfulness, some meditation practice or something like that, just get ourselves into a safe place, into a place where the best in us can operate so that the tail, again, is not wagging the dog. But if the dog is strong enough, they can have a strong tail and still allow the dog to control the tail.

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

Hitendra Wadhwa
Mother Theresa, she once said, she said, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.”

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

Hitendra Wadhwa
Yeah. This is not as much conventional kind of study as you’d expect, but one that I have huge regard and affection for anyway and I think would be of value to your audience.

Bonnie Ware is a palliative care nurse in Australia. She used to essentially look after people who were in the last several weeks and months of their life. They have this terminal illness in most cases and therefore were starting to plan their exit.

She would ask them this question, “What is your biggest regret in life?” The most common answer to that question is the finding from this research that I want to offer to you and to all of us. What do you think your audience might think is the most common regret of the dying?

Pete Mockaitis
They didn’t spend enough time with their family and friends.

Hitendra Wadhwa
Yeah. That’s very similar to what I hear from my students at Columbia as well. That certainly one of the regrets that she heard from time to time. The most common regret was that I … you get that I was not living a life true to myself. I was living it based on other people’s expectations.

I want to just encourage reflection on that by anyone who is listening here today because notice that that pitfall can arise as much in a personal life as a professional life. That pitfall is not about I should have been hanging out more with my family than my work.

What he’s actually saying is whether it is family or whether it is work, there is a risk that in our desire to conform, to love and be loved, to relate, to be recognized and rewarded, is it a risk that we might be letting the clock of time run out before we have truly lived—truly, truly lived.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Hitendra Wadhwa
If you’re open to it, I’d recommend two. For those who are drawn to really deeper kind of quests about the meaning of life, my favorite book is the same as the one and only book that Steve Jobs had on his iBooks which is Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda. For those who are interested a more sort of focused commentary on life and leadership today, my favorite book is Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Hitendra Wadhwa
Meditation.

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

Hitendra Wadhwa
The idea that all of us have within us a space of purity, purity of intent, purity of purpose, very wise and joyful and calm and balanced and secure space within us. I call that your inner core.

There is research today to show that if you go beyond the mountains and plains and rivers into the structure of the earth, you have the hot, molten lava, but beyond the hot molten lava you have a solid sphere of pure metal. We call that the earth’s inner core.

Metaphorically picking from that, beyond our outer senses, beyond the hot molten lava of our thoughts and emotions that might volcanically erupt from time to time, beyond all of that there is this space of pure consciousness within each of us. That’s your inner core and that’s the space through which when you get deeply anchored, you’re able to bring out and project and manifest your best.

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

Hitendra Wadhwa
Our website is simply PersonalLeadership.com. There are resources there in terms of articles I’ve written, videos that you can watch and executive programs online that you can take. I’m working on a book that I expect to get published next year. I certainly would be delighted and honored to have you look out for that as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. Do you have a final challenge or call to action for those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Hitendra Wadhwa
One technique that I learned from a colleague, Adam Byrant. I say colleague because he and I often have been teaching together. Adam was a columnist at the New York Times, where he wrote this column for many years called the Corner Office, in which he used to interview CEOs about their leadership journeys. He shared this anecdote from one of his – or there’s two from one of his interviews.

The CEO talks about how she said “I like to practice the MRI rule.” That’s what I want to offer to your audience as one thing to do at work or one challenge to take on at work.

The MRI rule is any time that you are disappointed, hurt, angry, reactive, impatient, about anything that somebody has done, the MRI rule tells you to apply to it the most respectful interpretation, which means before you start including the character or start assuming that the intentions are really poor or bad or etcetera, try to ask yourself are there any other ways to interpret what happened here.

What could be going on in their health? Could they be having a relationship challenge at home? Could they be having a really stressful day with regard to their boss or some other things that are happening? Could some budget have suddenly been cut off from them? Etcetera.

Since you don’t know everything, are there things that you don’t know that could be happening, that may allow for a deeper understanding of what they have just done or responded to. I found that sometimes it’s not even what is happening to them in the present, but what experiences they have gathered over the course of their life that you don’t know about.

When something is triggered from them in a certain way, rather than quickly judge them for it, seek to understand, seek to make the space to recognize that in the rich fabric of their lives, both past and present, there is a lot more that if you knew perhaps, you would get much more sympathetic and connected with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Hitendra, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks so much for sharing the goods. I wish you tons of luck with Personal Leadership and all you’re up to.

Hitendra Wadhwa
Well, I want to congratulate you for the excellent work that you’re doing. I’ve been deeply both inspired and impressed with the path you’re on. This is the modern, new sort of path you’re communicating, connecting and serving audiences like yours. Congratulations to you on that.

All the best to you and certainly to your audience as well. I’m grateful for this opportunity. Thank you and wish the best of success in life and leadership by operating from your inner core.

353: Optimizing Your Mood and Productivity through “Sonic Vitamins” with Lyz Cooper

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Founder of the British Academy of Sound Therapy Lyz Cooper explains how different sounds—or sonic vitamins—can help you relax, get energized, and/or enter a flow state.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The types of music that energize and soothe
  2. Why it’s good to break up focused work with sound breaks
  3. How to manipulate sound to get into the zone

About Lyz

Award-winning entrepreneur and author Lyz Cooper has been working in the holistic health field for 33 years and with therapeutic sound since 1994. She has developed a range of techniques which have been shown to help improve health and well-being using therapeutic sound and music and is considered to be one of the thought leaders in the field of therapeutic sound today.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Lyz Cooper Interview Transcript

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

Lyz Cooper
Well thank you very much for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, one fun thing I learned about you is that you keep not only chickens, but a rare breed of fluffy chickens. What’s the story here?

Lyz Cooper
Well, yes. To be honest, I didn’t actually know this about them before I chose them. I just loved the look of them. I decided I wanted to keep some pets at home. They are really just pets. They’re not chickens that we keep for the eggs because we eat a lot of eggs, but it’s because I just wanted to have some companions.

I just fell in love with these fluffy chickens when I was – I went to the chicken breeder. Then I found out about them later and that they were apparently discovered by Marco Polo on his adventures in China. They have black bones and blue skin.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Lyz Cooper
Yeah. They’re fluffy. They don’t – obviously it’s feathers, but it looks like fluff. They’re called Silkies. They’re very sweet. They’re very good – they don’t lay very big eggs. They’re only little bantam chickens. But they’re very, very sweet natured. They’re very funny.

When they all strike up a chorus of clucking, which they do several times a day – they like to celebrate when one of them’s laid an egg – they all get together in this chorus of clucking, which always makes me laugh. If I’ve had a heavy day at work or I’m in the middle of a very heady project or something, they’ll always bring some sonic sunshine to my day.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great fun. Thank you. It’s funny we’re about to talk about—you founded the British Academy of Sound Therapy. Who would have thought that the fluffy chickens would be a form of sound therapy for you? But there they are. What is this organization all about?

Lyz Cooper
Well, the British Academy of Sound Therapy was an organization that I founded back in the year 2000 actually, right on the millennium.  It was a combination of many years of looking into therapeutic sound. I got very ill in the early ‘90s. I was in a very sort of high-pressured job in advertising. I burnt out. I got very sick. I had chronic fatigue syndrome and so on.

I started listening to music and therapeutic sound. What I mean by that is tonal, sort of ancient music if you like, which focuses a lot on tone, which I’m sure we’ll get to talk about a bit later. Basically I couldn’t believe how much better I felt after I had listened to this music. I set about traveling the world and finding out how many indigenous people used sound of music for healing.

After many years of research, I then decided that I’d developed some techniques and I wanted to actually teach those to others, so the British Academy of Sound Therapy was formed.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. I do want to talk about tone and the impact music has on us in terms of health as an organism and particularly in the sort of mood or state and how it relates to productivity and being awesome at your job.

The way I discovered you was a variety of articles talking about the most relaxing song in the world. I thought whoa, that is fascinating. It wasn’t hype. There are actually studies in which they’ve pitted this song against others and it sort of came out on top, smoking Enya and then all the others that you might associate with supreme relaxation in a song with biochemical or maybe clinical I should say heart rate-type indicators.

I thought that was an amazing story. I won’t steal your thunder. Can you tell us how did the song Weightless by Marconi Union come about and what was your role in making it come to life?

Lyz Cooper
I was contacted by an advertising agency that was doing some work for Radox Spa. I don’t know that you have Radox there, but they’re a bath product company. They said that they were doing a campaign, which was all about creating the most relaxing environment in the home, so when you put your bubbles in your bath, you put on some lovely music and you can just drift away.

We had a very interesting meeting. They said that they would like to have a professional sound therapist consult and work in collaboration with Marconi Union, which we did.

I have something which I call my sonic vitamins, because of the way the brain has evolved over millions of years, we respond to different sounds in different ways. There’s a lot more research now that’s being done about this.

But basically that’s one of the things I do is compose music, which I call consciously designed music. It’s designed specifically to work on different areas of the mind, body, and emotions.

We worked, Marconi Union and I, worked together. I put the sonic vitamins into the piece and sort of – it’s a little bit like crafting clay in a way. If you imagine a piece of clay on a potter’s wheel, Marconi Union provided the music and then I shaped it into the Weightless, which was basically by saying, okay, well, we need to do this here and we need to put that in there. We need to have a heartbeat that slows down as we go throughout the piece.

It was tested, as you quite rightly said, against the other tracks and found to be a lot more relaxing. In fact, everybody was surprised at the results of the data.

Whenever I went – because the media got hold of it – and whenever I was invited to go on BBC radio or any international radio stations, they had to give a warning before they played it to say, “If you’re driving your car or operating heavy machinery, sort of pull over now or step away from what you’re doing.” I think to be honest, just for a minute’s clip, it wouldn’t have done anything, but certainly if you hear the whole piece, it will lull you into this lovely relaxed state.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s just great for publicity and brand and impact. It’s like I’ve heard there have been some legendary copywriting pieces associated with this “Warning: this may not be safe because it’s so intensely effective,” which is like “Whoa, you got my attention. Now I’m really intrigued. What’s this all about?” That’s pretty cool. I think that probably contributed to the success of it.

These sonic vitamins, as you say, what are some of the elements or ingredients that we might think about when it comes to the music we select and the impact that it has? You mentioned tone, you mentioned a couple particular things that you wove into the song Weightless, what are kind of some of the “if this, then that” cause and effect sound and body mood reactions that we can count on?

Lyz Cooper
Well, I call it sonic caffeine and sonic hot chocolate. There’s two sort of very simple ways that you can energize or relax yourself using tone or pieces of music and those sonic vitamins.

For example, I mentioned earlier that the brain has evolved over millennia to respond to certain sounds in certain ways. A lot of these are based on nature sounds really. For example, an animal call, a high-itched animal alarm call or will—or a shriek, a human shriek—will actually stimulate the release of adrenaline in the system. That’s exactly why our alarms, the alarm that may get you up in the morning or a car alarm is going to be a very high-pitched, sudden sound.

But it’s based on the fact that we need it to survive, so we needed to be able to one, hear these signals, these sounds over long distances, and two, be able to react to them very quickly. Any piece of music which has a high pitch or even if it’s an ascending pitch, so a fast ascending pitch, will be stimulating.

My sonic caffeine is to put on any piece of music, which has fairly high pitches in it or one of the things that I’m often found doing just before a meeting if I need to use the grey matter, is to actually sing a tone in a high pitch for a minute or two just to get the brain cells going. If you’re about to go into a meeting or an exam, it’s really good. A few minutes, you’ll be buzzing.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say you sing the tone in a high pitch, is it just constant or could you give us a demonstration?

Lyz Cooper
Oh goodness. You got me now. Basically – actually, we could do this together, Pete. Are you up for it?

Pete Mockaitis
All right, let’s do it.

Lyz Cooper
If you pop your hand on your head right now and if you would just to say eee, like an e sound.

Pete Mockaitis
Eee.

Lyz Cooper
Okay, can you feel your hand buzzing?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I can.

Lyz Cooper
Okay, if you’ll go ahh. Can you feel the difference?

Pete Mockaitis
Ahh, huh, it’s different but I don’t know how to say it. They’re both vibrating, but they’re vibrating differently.

Lyz Cooper
Yeah, the eee sound will vibrate your head more than the ahh sound. That’s because the way that the mouth and the tongue are placed when you sing – when you make that sound, actually literally stimulates that head.

That massage that you’re giving yourself coupled with the high sound actually helps to improve concentration. I’ll just do a demonstration. We didn’t use a very high-pitched note there. But so for example I will go eee. I’ll continue that for as long as I can in one breath. I’ll do that maybe for about a minute. That will really get you buzzing.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding. That’s cool. I’m thinking that’s pretty cool that I sort of put this money into renovating the enclosed porch that’s my office with the sound proofing, so that others can’t hear as well.

I guess it might be a little trickier – is there a particular volume that you need to be at in order to be effective because I’m thinking folks are saying, “I can’t do this in my office. That’s nuts.” Maybe there’s a little room sort of like phone booth style, mini conference rooms that can be traded into. But is there a minimum threshold of volume to make it count?

Lyz Cooper
Not really. I mean obviously it’s got to be fairly audible. You couldn’t really do a silent – you couldn’t really do it without the sound. But why not get everybody in the boardroom doing it? How much fun would that be?

Pete Mockaitis
You know of all the things that motivational speakers have made me do, this is not the weirdest and it’s got some science behind it, so I can see that working in certain contexts. Sure. Cool.

That eee, one approach is that you’re singing that. Then alternatively, you could be listening to that sort of thing, the high-pitched sudden sound or fast ascending pitches, are providing that kind of adrenaline stimulus. Could you maybe give us some examples of popular tracks or songs that include some of these features?

Lyz Cooper
Yeah, a really good – any sort of dance music that has that ascending pitch and tempo is really important as well. It’s not just the pitch of the sound, it’s also the beat. You want to be looking at around about 120 beats per minute, which is about twice the resting heart rate.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so if it were like 180, that’s just like you can have too much of a good thing, but—

Lyz Cooper
Well you could – I think there’s always too much of a good thing, but I think that you can overdo it, but I don’t think – you’re not going to explode or anything. But, so it’s not dangerous.

But there’s a reason why modern dance music is so – really gets you going. It’s very hard not to sort of bob your head or tap or stamp your feet to a piece of rousing music. Anything that gets you going in terms of gets you moving, stimulates you, is a good track to use.

One of the tracks that I use when I’m training my students is Locked Out of Heaven by Bruno Mars. I don’t know whether you know that particular track, but it’s a really – it has – it rises and falls, so it encourages something called expectation. It’s like a little kind of massage for the senses.

If you ever need to wake up or stimulate your brain, anything that is like that where there is a pitch that rises up and up and up and up and then it might fall down, the pitch might fall down again, is good. I would say any dance music really will certainly do the trick.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny, as you mention that, I’m thinking now I was at a wedding recently, shout out to Lawrence and Katie Joy, congratulations guys. They – the playlist was superb in terms of they just picked things that got people going.

One song that kind of surprised me, because you don’t hear it on a lot of wedding playlists in my experience was by Celine Dion, I Drove All Night. I’m thinking, we’ve got that. We’ve got that up tempo and then even – I’m not going to sing it well, but “I drove all night,” right. She’s going high and kind of varying it a little bit there. Sure enough, even though this isn’t a super popular song these days as far as I’ve observed, it really did get the people going.

Lyz Cooper
Exactly. Exactly. That’s what – okay, it’s a different kind of thrill. Earlier when I used the example of car alarms and fire alarms to get the adrenaline going, it’s a different sort of thrill, but it’s still going to get – it’s going to arouse the system. It’s certainly not my sonic hot chocolate, which is completely the opposite, where we’re actually lulling the system into a more relaxed state.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to talk about that in a second. Any other sort of top recommendations? Locked Out of Heaven by Bruno Mars is one of them that’s doing it well. Anything else that is just killer when it comes to the stimulation?

Lyz Cooper
Oh goodness, you’ve got me now. Let me think. Now, what would I use? I tend to use – what was that one guy. There’s one by Prodigy actually, which is not everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s called Breathe.

Pete Mockaitis
Are you kidding me?

Lyz Cooper
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
What are the odds – here’s a crazy story. I thought you might say that because I think it’s the only song I can identify. I actually know Prodigy because when I was in college I did a modern dance class, which was kind of random, but filling out the credit hours to keep my scholarship. That was the song that we did in our final performance.

It’s funny I couldn’t put my finger on it, but just something about that song just kind of made me feel something. I was like, yeah. What are the ingredients there? I can’t – I think of that as being more kind of like percussion/bass-y in terms of what’s distinct about that one.

Lyz Cooper
It is. Now that’s an interesting one because you’ve got the bass that comes in very strongly, so you’re feeling that in the body, but you’ve also got this very high, it almost sounds like a whip crack sound, that goes on throughout the piece. It’s like a little hook.

Whilst you’ve got the bass that drives the body, so it’s very physical, the beat is actually quite fast as well. Then you’ve got this high-pitched sort of whip cracking sound that goes throughout the piece that’s very exciting to the system. Yeah.

But the thing is one of the things that I find really fascinating is whilst there is a rule of thumb – we know in music psychology and so on that there are general rules of thumb, there’s always going to be people that find their own pieces of music that are quite different.

Because of the way we’re programmed, we will respond to high-pitched sounds in a very – be aroused by them. Somebody might have a particular track they like which is quite deep in tone, but because of the association that they have with that piece, then it has the effect of actually stimulating if you see what I mean.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Like certain memories and such.

Lyz Cooper
That’s it. You can’t – this isn’t sort of something that is – it’s not mind-controlling or overriding if you know what I mean. It’s just based on the natural way our brains evolved. But you’ve also got to factor in your childhood you went to parties a lot and they played a particular track and everybody got up and danced around like mad things, but it wasn’t particularly high, it would probably still get you high as you liked.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I’m wondering now – we had a previous guest, Dan McGinn, who wrote a book called Psyched Up. He was talking about sort of performance rituals and stuff or pre-performance rituals. He said when it comes to music, one of the most cited songs for the pump up is Eye of the Tiger from the Rocky theme.

Have you observed that in your research or do you think there’s anything sort of special about this tune that seems to do it or is it mostly just about associations, people love the Rocky movie and there it is?

Lyz Cooper
I think that’s a really good example. I haven’t used that particular piece in my research, but it’s still fairly high pitched—

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. Possible.

Lyz Cooper
—for a man to sing. Exactly. And of course you’ve got that iconic scene in the Rocky movie, so anybody that’s seen that movie is immediately going to be there I think in their minds. So yeah, it’s fascinating, isn’t it, the sort of – the way we’re driven by music. It’s very – it’s an ancient primal thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Let’s talk about the hot chocolate here. If we’re, I guess, feeling anxious, overwhelmed, stressed, what are some of the key ingredients and examples of things that are soothing?

Lyz Cooper
Sonic hot chocolate is perfect for, as you quite rightly said, just calming the system down. It’s – I always think about – when I think about sonic hot chocolate, Tibetan monks sitting somewhere on a mountain in a temple singing Om.

If you think about that, you very rarely ever hear them singing Om. You’re not going to hear a high pitch. You’re going to hear a beautiful, low Om, this beautiful kind of silky sound that sort of cuddles you. That is because low tones relax the system. If there’s low and slow, so fast and high to stimulate, low and slow to relax. If you’re thinking about um, nice, sort of slow tempo tracks, anything that’s more tonal rather than rhythmic is also good.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you define that tonal rather than rhythmic? With rhythmic I’m thinking beats, drums, percussion.

Lyz Cooper
That’s it.

Pete Mockaitis
Tonal you just mean not that.

Lyz Cooper
Yeah, so more tonal than – when I – I think something that doesn’t have a driving rhythm. It’s a slightly more abstract rhythm-based or slightly more sort of swingy rather than boom, boom, boom. Your body is going to be driven by – you’re going to be held in a less relaxed state if you’re being driven by a very rhythmic piece.

So that’s where you’re sort of more Enya type pieces come in. They’re more drifty. They’re slightly more ethereal in nature. But it could even just be slow songs. Mrs. Jones, Me and Mrs. Jones, for example is that kind of thing if you want some nice gentle soul music.

Or even sound if you really want to – some people find sort of therapeutic sound tracks slightly boring to the ears, you know. So if you’re looking at just Himalayan bowls or monks chanting. I think it’s a lot more popular now than it certainly was when I started working in sound therapy. But some people find that difficult to listen to over periods of time.

Again, I would say just put a playlist together that really suits your palate, but bearing in mind … low, and long tonal sounds that don’t have a driving rhythm.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. For examples there we mentioned Enya. Now I’m thinking about – so monks chanting. I’ve got a couple monks chanting Latin tunes or – that’s fun. What else would you recommend in this category?

Lyz Cooper
Like I say, it depends on taste. If you were into sort of gentle Indian music, Asian music playing, maybe some gentle – something again, abstract and not too rhythmic in nature.

I’ve got a track actually, which you’re very welcome to tell your listeners about if they’re interested. It’s a brand new track that I’m working on right now, which is part of a consciously designed music program I’m working on called Life Sonics. I can give you the website if people want to download an example of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure, thanks. Yeah.

Lyz Cooper
Yeah? It’s www.LifeSonics.com. When you get onto that page, you’ll be given the – you can just click on and download the track. It’s actually a part of the piece called Cosmic. It has been designed specifically for relaxation. It’s kind of taking Weightless a step further because obviously Weightless was a collaboration between myself and Marconi Union. This is my own composition. I’d love to hear what people think of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool. Thank you. That’s good. Well so now I’m thinking – all right, we’ve talked a bit about when you want to pump up the energy or bring down the energy. I’m wondering now just about being in a pleasant mood. If you’re just kind of in a funk, it’s not like I’m tired. It’s not like I’m stressed, but it’s just like “Eh, this all sucks.” Just a little grumpy funk. What’s sort of the musical prescription for that situation?

Lyz Cooper
Okay, there’s again, two ways of approaching this. One way, something that I would do is one, think about association because we spoke a little bit about Rocky and association, so first of all think about all the good times that you’ve had and what music that you might use that draws on those good times because psychologically it’s good to have those memories.

Now if I was working with a client and I didn’t actually have that experience to draw on, then I might prescribe a piece of music that is quite lyrical in nature. Something that rises and falls in a – for example, you couldn’t get much better than Happy by Pharrell. I mean that is just the perfect thing.

Even if you take the lyrics away, which are kind of telling you to be happy really, but just the way that music is. You’ve got a really nice happy, skippy, trippy beat. It’s fairly high, but not high that it’s too sort of shrieky. It’s light. Anything that’s light and lyrical sounding is perfect for uplifting.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say lyrical, you mean it has words or what exactly does lyrical mean here?

Lyz Cooper
Lyrical musically can be literally lyrics, so the lyrics that are uplifting, that have a meaning to you. But also lyrical in the musical sense is almost like – the actual sort of quintessential definition of lyrical music would be Irish music for example. You’ve got that kind of da, da, da, diddly dee, de, diddly, diddly, de, kind of skippy, I’m skipping through the tulips and my day is lovely and everything is wonderful kind of music.

But some people are going to find that – again, you’ve got to bring your taste into it. I’m not suggesting that everybody listens to Irish music, unless you love it. But find that lyrical nature, the skippy nature within the sort of genre of music that you like particularly.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s nice. Can you speak to maybe another example or two beyond Happy and some of these Irish pieces?

Lyz Cooper
Goodness, let me think. I’m trying to think about what I might use for skipping. I might need a bit more time on that one to be honest, Pete. I’d love to have got some playlists together for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure. Hey, if you come up with them after the fact, we will totally link them with eager delight, so that would be appreciated.

Lyz Cooper
Yeah, is that okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, very much. Thank you. Yeah, what a treat.

Lyz Cooper
Yeah, well, I’ll put a couple together and think about it. I probably need a couple of minutes to reflect on the best more so contemporary pieces that people might know. But yeah, I’ll whiz you an email.

Pete Mockaitis
Great, thank you. Any thoughts when it comes to these assertions that hey, Mozart or whatever or classical music will make you smart? What’s that about and how can we use that to our advantage?

Lyz Cooper
Well, there has been a fair bit of research on the so-called Mozart effect. That research has actually been – maybe criticized is a strong word – I think all research is always up for scrutiny. But there is no evidence really, I think robust evidence, that classical music is necessarily going to make you smart. In fact, the best way to exercise your brain is actually to improvise.

Pete Mockaitis
You mean like scooby doo, bop, bop, like jazz improve? Like what do you mean?

Lyz Cooper
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow.

Lyz Cooper
Any kind of –

Pete Mockaitis
Because those people look dumb when they do it. No offense jazz musicians. We’re just teasing.

Lyz Cooper
When I studied music psychology, they actually drew – fairly often drew on jazz as an example because obviously jazz is the thing we think about when we think of improvisation.

But there’s been a fair amount of research where they’ve wired jazz musicians to EEG machines and it’s actually – you do, you use a lot of high complex processing in the brain, very wide processing in the brain when you improvise.

But it doesn’t have to be jazz. It can be – yeah, just scatting around your kitchen, shoo be doing everywhere. Or get together with a group of friends and if you play an instrument, get together and play. That will exercise more of your brain.

In fact, there’s a – talking of making you smarter – there are – Oliver Sacks actually was quoted saying that music is more widely distributed in the brain than any other activity we do.

A lot of research has been done with FMRI scans where they’ve put people, musicians and non-musicians into FMRI and asked them either to actually play an instrument or to visualize playing an instrument. It doesn’t even matter if you’re not actually playing the instrument, which is amazing, if you can just visualize playing.

They put keyboard players into the FMRI and there was very little difference in the areas of the brain that lit up when they were playing or just imagining that they were playing. But what they found is that there is so much of the brain that’s actually involved when somebody was playing an instrument that it was a really good workout for the brain.

It accounts for why people or explains why people who are even in the later stages of dementia, if they’ve played an instrument, they can still remember how to play it. That’s because there’s enough information stored in lots of little pockets of the brain to enable them to remember how to piece together how to play that instrument or perhaps remember a track from 50 years ago and yet not be able to remember the faces of their loved ones.

I would say improvise, play an instrument, imagine you’re playing an instrument and you’ll stay clever.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Speaking of staying clever, I would love to get your take on what’s some good music to listen to at work if you’re about to hunker down for a good hour/hour and a half focused crank out some smart work with your computer time. What would you recommend for the background musical ambiance in this context?

Lyz Cooper
Well, what I would recommend is actually a brain break. I noticed that there was an article that you sent me actually from a piece that was done by Jabra or on behalf of Jabra. I was in conversation with them a couple of years ago. We were looking at doing a piece based on productivity at work.

Basically the ideal cycle is about 90 minutes of productivity and about 10 to 20 minutes of brain break time. It’s almost like a screensaver for your brain. Rather than listening to music while you’re working, which of course you can do. A lot of people do, but I would have a timer set, if you’ve got a smart watch or whatever or a phone for 90 minutes.

Then after that 90 minutes is actually plug in something like the LifeSonic’s track or a relaxation track that’s designed to take you into a brain cycle mode. Weightless, for example, was written for that purpose. That is going to enable your brain to go into a kind of – almost like a refreshing mode. That will prevent burnout and it will prevent brain fatigue.

That’s more essential than actually playing – then trying to push through it if you like, by playing music that’s going to keep you going.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Using that music for relaxation for the brain break is a great move. I guess I’m thinking not so much about pushing through it or going longer, but it’s like if we are going to do 60 or 90 minutes of continuous work and you’d like something to help you, is there any kind of music that will help facilitate that flow state in terms of “All right, I’m in the groove. I’m just moving along. I’m not going to get caught up in email or a distraction or whatever.” Is there any kind of musical ingredients that can aid in making that happen?

Lyz Cooper
Do you mean sort of focused concentration or what – is it more about not being distracted from something else or what’s—?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m thinking focused concentration like in my dream world, and maybe I’m asking too much, but it’s like those moments in which you sit down to do some work and wow, it just poured out of your mind and fingertips into the keyboard and you are so impressed with how effortlessly you were able to produce this writing or document or PowerPoint deck or creative output from – because you were just in a real nice groove of kind of flow and making it happen.

I guess part of it has to do with not getting distracted by other things. It’s also I think kind of being in that place where you’re neither over stimulated and worried and anxious and freaking out about it and also neither under stimulated in terms of “I’m kind of sleepy, groggy, and bored.”

Lyz Cooper
This is interesting, isn’t it, because I think that there’s a couple of things here which I think is really important also coming to mind is the importance for silence. One of the things I’m often saying to my students is that silence is also really important. It’s something we very rarely allow ourselves the luxury of real silence. Some people find actually certain types of music quite distracting.

You can get noise cancelling headphones, for example, which if you find music distracting or music takes you away from flow, is you might want to try some silence.

Now, however, some people find that certain music helps with their concentration and gets them into a flow state. There is actually something called flow theory, which is where, as you quite rightly said, the brain just goes – you go into this almost no time zone. You’re just kind of off and the creativity is flowing. This is something that we work with at the British Academy of Sound Therapy. We also incorporate silence into it as well. It’s sound and silence.

What we do is we use the tonal sounds or if people don’t like tonal sounds, very ambient music. Again, it’s just in the background, but you’ll need to play with the volume so that it’s not too invasive. It will start to, after a while, it starts to put you into – it’s almost an altered state of consciousness, but it’s different from zoning out completely. You’re in a very – in that flow state.

But we also stop for a while when we’re playing. We’ll stop at the end of maybe a five- or a ten-minute sequence and it will just fade into silence and then the music comes back up gently out of that silence. It’s not pervading, it’s not invading your consciousness, but just allowing you to stay in that flow.

That might be something that people want to actually try is having some very sort of ambient background music and just to then feel when it’s at the right volume for them and just allow it to play almost in the background, almost imperceptibly. But also to try silence.

Pete Mockaitis
How can we access this ambient or tonal stuff that strategically comes in and out? Where do we find that?

Lyz Cooper
I can actually give you a sound bath recording if that would help.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Yes, thank you.

Lyz Cooper
That is actually something that we’ve got at the Academy. I can – do I email that over to you as an mp3 or-?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure, yes, or we can link it on the show notes and that will be great. Thank you.

Lyz Cooper
No, you’ve very welcome. Again, I’d love to hear what people think of it. It’s going to be – it’s pure sound therapy. There’s not much music in this particular example. But it will give people a feel for that actual process of going into that flow state.

I think that some people can go fairly deep with that. It’s a little bit like Weightless. Some people have said to me that they go very deep almost into a deep meditation with it. Again, it’s one of those things that if you are – I wouldn’t particularly listen to it while you were driving or something like that. It really is for when you’re grounded and not out and about.

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

Lyz Cooper
Goodness, what else? Obviously people will be directed to the website. I’ve got a book called What is Sound Healing, which talks a little bit more about the science behind therapeutic sound. There’s lots of sort of little tips and things and things that people can try at home as well to bring some sound into their lives.

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

Lyz Cooper
My favorite quote is, “The universe is cosmic music resonating throughout hyperspace.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Lyz Cooper
It’s actually by a quantum physicist called Michio Kaku. It was relating to string theory, but it was the opening quote for his book and it really inspired me, the thought of these strings of energy that are sort of almost like cosmic music, just stretching through space.

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

Lyz Cooper
My favorite bit of research or study, goodness. I’m going to give myself a bit of a pat on the back there.

My favorite bit of research at the moment is one that I’m very excited about that’s looking at sound induced altered states of consciousness. It is basically a piece that we’ve been doing in conjunction with the University of Roehampton. It’s using a specific therapeutic sound program to help to take people into a very deep meditative state.

I remember, I actually went to my local university, University of Portsmouth, when I was crunching the data. We were putting the algorithms into the computer. I needed help with doing it. Out the first sort of result came. It sort of spat it out and said – the number was statistically significant. I thought okay, right. The next one statistically significant and so on and so on.

We actually got to the point where we thought perhaps we’d put the wrong algorithm into the computer, but we checked and it was – we had so much statistical significance with it. Not being a great statistician – there’s a word that’s difficult to say half past eight at night – that I said to the doctor who was helping me, I said, “What does this mean?” He said, “Go home and crack open a bottle of champagne.” I was completely blown away.

That particular piece has taken me to international conferences around the world talking about my work. It has sort of far-reaching implications when it comes to taking therapeutic sound into the mainstream, so using it in hospitals and sort of mainstream healthcare settings. Yeah, that’s the first – that was just an amazing moment for me really. I hope I’m allowed to give myself a pat on the back.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. What is the title of the article? We’ll link to the full text journal citation.

Lyz Cooper
It is called Sound Affects.

Pete Mockaitis
Clever.

Lyz Cooper
I can give you the link actually. I’ll email you that. People can have a look at it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, thank you. How about a favorite book?

Lyz Cooper
My favorite book, one I’m reading at the moment is called Maps of Meaning. It is how – it’s basically how the strength of human belief throughout the years and how belief has literally led us well, through times of enlightenment, but also times of great difficulty. One of the sort of the elements of the work that I do is also to help people to reframe life-limiting beliefs in a more positive way through music.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful, thank you. How about a favorite tool?

Lyz Cooper
A favorite tool? Goodness, do you mean like a hammer or a chisel?

Pete Mockaitis
Could be, if that’s one of your favorites. It could be an intellectual tool as well.

Lyz Cooper
Okay. Goodness. Let me think. At the moment I’m having both challenge and – a positive challenge as well as a frustrating challenge with a new little mixing disk that I’ve got. I’m getting very geeky with my – with that at the moment and diving into all the different effects and things that it can do. At this moment that’s both my favorite and my most frustrating tool.

But if I was to absolutely pick a favorite, I would say that at the moment my iPad, if that’s allowed.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure. How about a favorite habit?

Lyz Cooper
I think my favorite habit is, catching myself out and listening to my inner voice when I have negative dialogue with myself, when I hear myself and catching myself out is something I like to do.

If I can make myself laugh by catching myself out and say, “Oh, there you go again. There you go again in giving yourself a hard time about something,” and trying to laugh through it. Because I think if you can just take some of your dark thoughts and look at them through a humorous lens, then you can get over anything in life.

That’s coming from the very dark times that I spoke about at the top of this interview. That’s been something that I’ve learnt to the point at which some of my friends say to me, “Are you sure you’re not mad at that? You should be. Shouldn’t you get mad at that?” I think to myself goodness, in life there’s a lot worse happening out there that I think if you can turn things around in your head and make that a habit, then that’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, a particular thing that you say or share that seems to be quoted to you frequently, something you’re known for saying?

Lyz Cooper
Something I’m known for saying, “That’s interesting.” That’s exactly what people will say to me. I’ve got a habit of saying “That’s interesting.”

When one of my students says to me, “Lyz, I’m never going to be able to do this,” so if they’re struggling with playing an instrument or something and they’ll say, “Lyz, I’m never going to be able to do this,” is I’ll look at them and I’ll say, “That’s interesting,” because to me there’s a negative belief there. That’s interesting.

And the other thing is “Is that true?” Some of our beliefs, most of them actually that are negative and hold us back in life just are not true. Often people will say to me, “Oh, I’m useless.” “Is that true? Really? You’re really useless? What are you good at? You must be good at something.” “Well, yeah, well I can ride a bike.” “Well, there you go. You’re not useless, are you?” “I can bake a cake.” “Well, that’s two things that you’re not useless at.”

I think if we sometimes put ourselves in the dark in a way and make a case for ourselves, almost defend ourselves against ourselves, our negative beliefs, then you can change your life. You can really transform yourself. I hope that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where should they go?

Lyz Cooper
Well, they can go to TheBritishAcademyOfSoundTherapy.com. That has more information about sound therapy and some of the research that we’re doing. They’re welcome to go to LifeSonics.com for the track. If you want to email me directly, you can email at info@LyzCooper.com. It’s Lyz with a Y.

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

Lyz Cooper
I would say stay in the moment. That sounds a bit cliché, I know, but everything is okay in the moment. If you’re racing ahead, it’s so easy to be in the future, so thinking about all of the things I should be doing, all the things I shouldn’t be doing, all the things that may happen to me. Being in the future makes us anxious because we cannot know what’s in the future, so you’re going to be in an anxious state.

If you’re in the past, you’re worrying about all of the things that have happened to you, all the things you’ve said or you’ve done or didn’t say or didn’t do. That sets up depression and anger and grief. When we’re in the moment and we’re really reaching inside for that still point, then we are at peace.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Lyz, this has been so much fun. Thanks so much for taking the time and sharing the goods and sharing all of the bonus, the tracks and music and goodies that we get to access. It’s been a whole lot of fun.

Lyz Cooper
Oh, I’m so glad, Pete. Thank you so much for having me on your show. It’s been amazing. I’ve had a lot of fun too.

341: Decoding Body Language with ex-FBI Special Agent Joe Navarro

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Joe Navarro shows how to get to the bottom of body language and why observing it can better your relationships at work and at home.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why it’s so hard to tell if someone’s actually lying
  2. Four key, reliable body language cues
  3. The one good mannered behavior everyone should know and use

 

About Joe

For 25 years, Joe Navarro worked as an FBI special agent in the area of counterintelligence and behavioral assessment. Today he is one of the world’s leading experts on nonverbal communications and lectures and consults with major corporations worldwide. He is an adjunct professor at Saint Leo University and frequently lectures at the Harvard Business School.

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Joe Navarro Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Joe, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Joe Navarro
It’s great to be here, Pete. It’s a long time coming.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. Well, I’m super excited that I’ve been a fan of your work from afar for a good long time, so now here we are. But first I want to hear about how you got a pilot’s license when you were 17. Is that even legal or what’s the backstory here?

Joe Navarro
I don’t know how you dug that up, but not many people know that. That’s true. It was a funny thing. A lot of people make fun of our school systems, public schools in particular, but I was fortunate to go to a public school where the science class that was offered was aeronautics.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Joe Navarro
No, it was great. It was in Miami, Florida and you could study ground school, basic ground school. I took that when I was 16. Then once I turned 17 then I could begin to take flight lessons and I did, which you say, “Well, what do you do with that?” Well, interestingly enough, when the FBI came looking for me that was one of the things that set me apart.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting, so during your time in the FBI did you do some piloting?

Joe Navarro
Yeah. In the Bureau, you wear a lot of hats. The first four or five years, it was pretty much about learning the business of being an FBI agent, working counter-intelligence, but along about the fifth or sixth year there was a real shortage of pilots. We used aircraft for surveillance. They knew I had a license, so I did. I got somewhere around 2,000 hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool.

Joe Navarro
Yeah, it was pretty nice.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is cool. I have very little piloting experience, but I had a buddy who had a little four-seater Cessna in San Francisco. I’ve only piloted for like five minutes, but part of it was over the Golden Gate Bridge. It seems like that would be hard to top. It was just breathtaking.

Joe Navarro
Oh, it’s just a lot of fun. Once you get up to altitude and you can relax, you’re not worried about other aircraft, it really does give you a different perspective on the world. I used to take the airplane over to Miami Beach and fly along the coastline. It was – you’re 17 years old and you say, “This is pretty good. This isn’t bad.” Yeah, it was fun. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. You’ve written 13 books now and were a special agent with the FBI and are quite an authority on body language. I want to get into some particulars of body language signals and how to read it, what to do with it.

But first, I’d love it if you could set the scene for us with some drama. We had Chris Voss on the show. I’m just going to go out on a limb and say FBI agents make great podcast guests. Two for two so far. I asked him if he could give us a dramatic tale to kick us off, so I’ll put you on the same spot.

Can you think of a time where, boy, a body language signal or insight just sort of changed the whole story for an interrogation or an investigation or something you were working with?

Joe Navarro
Yeah. One of the books that I wrote was Three Minutes to Doomsday. In that book, I talk about this individual who was willing to cooperate or seemed to want to cooperate with the FBI, but he was hiding a lot of information. When we asked him to come forward and tell us the truth because he didn’t really have all the access to classified material that we knew had been stolen, he said he wasn’t going to reveal their names.

One of the things that we decided to do since we understood body language was to basically not trick him into revealing it, but getting him to reveal it at a subconscious level. What we did was we wrote the names of everybody that could possibly be involved on a three-by-five card. As we showed him each three-by-five card, we said, “Will you tell us a little bit about what their personality was like?”

What he didn’t realize was that when you see something that can hurt you, your pupils squint. His pupils and his eyes squinted on two names of the 32 that we presented. Then we sent agents out with the army to two military bases, one in Alaska, one in Georgia. On the two names that he squinted, both of them confessed.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow. That’s good.

Joe Navarro
What’s interesting, Pete, is he wasn’t lying. He said, “Look, I’m not going to tell you anything.” What he didn’t know was how he was going to react.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Joe Navarro
We know from studies of babies, eight – nine months old, when they see somebody they don’t like or they see something that is not pleasing to them, oftentimes they will squint, turn away, or their pupils will actually constrict.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve got a little seven-month-old at home. I hope he doesn’t do that to me shortly.

Joe Navarro
No, that will come when they’re 14.

Pete Mockaitis
Daddy, I’m tired of you.

Joe Navarro
Pete, you’ve got 14 years.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool. You’re latest here is called The Dictionary of Body Language. How would you frame or position this one in terms of kind of the main idea and how does it kind of fit into your opus and the catalogue of the other books?

Joe Navarro
Well, that’s a great question, Pete. It was one of these things where when I wrote What Everybody is Saying, which became the number one-selling body language book in the world years ago. It’s been at the top for the last eight years. There were only 140 behaviors in there.

Two years ago I was talking to my agent, Steve Ross, at Abrams. He said, “I’m looking at your book.” I said, “Well, I hope you’re learning something.” He said – he kind of said, “Is that all there is?” I said, “No, that’s not all there is.” He says, “Well, how many behaviors do you think are important and we should know about?” I said, “Well, the problem is, is how do we write it? There’s many behaviors.” I said, “Let me look through my notebook.”

I’ve been keeping notebooks on behavior for years and years and years. I went through and I said, “Well, I’ve got about 600 in here.” He said, “Well, let’s talk about it.” We talked about it and then we reduced it down to just over 400 because some of them replicate because they’re similar behaviors.

He said, “Have you ever thought about writing a book, but making it like a field guide, where you can quickly look something up and there’s a paragraph and it says, ‘if you see this, then you can interpret it this way?’” He liked the idea. He took it to Harper Collins and Harper Collins said this would be a great follow-on to go from 140 behaviors to over 400. That was – there is your opus, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That’s cool. That’s cool. So good. I loved What Everybody is Saying. I’m looking to forward to getting into all the more depths of The Dictionary of Body Language. Thank you for writing it. It’s just fun.

I’ve got a ton of things I’d love to dig into. Maybe I’d like to hear your take on – so when it comes to sort of gauging people’s true intentions, and I know that’s one of the juiciest areas of the body language stuff, it’s like, “How do I know when someone’s lying?” That seems to be popular for your poker books as well as maybe sort of untrusting partners or any number of contexts.

Why don’t we go with that first? How do you get to the bottom of people’s true intentions and whether they’re being honest with you?

Joe Navarro
I knew you were going to hit me with this because you always ask profound questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh shucks.

Joe Navarro
Let’s divide it up because when we’re talking about intentions, for instance, you’re talking to somebody and they’re right foot begins to orient towards an exit. Usually we begin to communicate, ‘I have to leave’ with our feet. Before they even look at their watch, before they say anything, we show intentions by foot orientation.

We show intentions such as ‘I really like that cake’ by literally leaning towards it. You see that in courtship behaviors. I’ve certainly sat at enough cafes and bars studying individuals and you can tell when they’re interested in each other.

But the more profound question is, well, what about detecting deception. I have to say both as someone who has been intimately involved in all aspects of forensic interviewing and in doing research for the books and for teaching that as Dr. Mark Frank at University of Chicago says, there is no Pinocchio effect. There is really no single behavior indicative of deception and we need to get away from that because we do a disservice to ourselves and to others.

I think it’s been too easy to say, “Well, I think you’re lying.” “Well, why do you think that?” “Oh, because I asked you a question and you were touching your mouth.”

Well, the fact of the matter is, both the honest and the dishonest do it and we do it because maybe we don’t like the question, we thing the question is too intrusive, maybe we think that you are not entitled to ask that question because of social status or whatever.

There’s – what I found interesting in doing an article for Psychology Today is I looked at the 261 DNA exonerations. As I delved deep and I contacted the people that had done the research, looked at the case work of the police officers, every one of them thought that the suspects were guilty and lying when they said they didn’t do it.

What’s interesting is not one police officer could identify who was telling the truth, but they all thought they could identify somebody that was lying. What does that tell us? What it tells us is that as Paul Ekman found in 1986, humans are terrible at detecting deception. We really shouldn’t be in the business of detecting deception.

Now, so what is it that we’re looking for? What’s interesting is, is that humans are actually very good at detecting when something is wrong, when there’s an issue. The question is we don’t know why.

Babies are born communicating comfort and discomfort. We humans immediately reveal discomfort through our bodies, whether it’s a heightened heart rate, a pulsing vein, pacifying behaviors, but what we don’t know is the why.

If I can tell you an FBI story, I was at – I worked mostly counter-intelligence. We were short of personnel one time and I was asked to do an interview of a white-collar criminal. This woman is called in and usually we spend the first 20 – 30 minutes getting people to calm down because obviously when you get called in by the FBI, it’s pretty nerve racking.

But as I’m talking to this lady, she seems to be demonstrating more and more behaviors of nervousness and tension. She’s biting her lip, she’s grabbing her collar, she’s squeezing her hands together. Finally, I said, “Ma’am,” I’m thinking to myself Joe, you’re the Bureau’s expert on body language, surely you know what’s going on here, so I thought I’d cut to the chase. This is a lesson in humility.

I said, “Ma’am, you look like you need to get something off your chest.” She said, “Oh, thank God Mr. Navarro because when I parked downstairs I only had a quarter in the meter.” Here were all the behaviors of nervousness and tension and anxiety, but what was the cause? The cause was she didn’t want to get a ticket, didn’t want to have to pay a fine.

As it turns out somebody had stolen her identity and filed some bogus claims, insurance claims and that’s why she was being called in. It was a – it really taught me a lesson about humility and saying all we can really say is that I’m seeing behaviors, they’re indicative of psychological discomfort. The question is what’s driving that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Then what’s interesting is some people can just be anxious in general I imagine. That is sort of who they are all the time and they’re just not that comfortable in their own skin or talking to other people or talking to strangers or talking to official people like judges and FBI agents.

Joe Navarro
Oh sure. Look, and not even nervousness, there’s people who don’t like to make eye contact, that really feel uncomfortable being questioned and so forth.

The investigator has to look at that and say, “All right, who am I dealing with? What are the baseline behaviors?” Then if they do notice behaviors – I mean if you ask somebody “Where were you last night?” and if a question like that causes them to look like they’re doing trigonometry, the question then becomes, why does a simple question cause so much mental turpitude? Why is there so much cognitive loading going on? But then that’s for the investigator to figure it out.

As an agent, I can tell you that no matter what people said, we always had to prove what they said. It was a matter of if I asked a question, how did they react to that question. No matter what their reaction was, I needed to pursue it anyway.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Although, what’s cool though is with those 32 names because you got an indicator you were able to really accelerate that hypothesis, like we have a good reason to suspect these are the two to go after rather than going through all 32.

Joe Navarro
Right, well, it’s because I understood that when an object or a name or something is a threat to you, that you react to it. Now, what was important was not to give any indication of – that anyone of these individuals was any more special than the others. It was just a matter of what can you tell me about their personalities and then watching for their reactions. We lucked out with that.

Now, if the two men hadn’t confessed, certainly we couldn’t go to court and say, “Well, Judge, we think they’re guilty because this guy blinked.” It doesn’t work that way.

In the same way that when a child comes home and – or a spouse comes home and they’re having some sort of difficulty. Maybe it doesn’t help to ask any more questions at that moment. Maybe it helps to delay it to another time so when they’re relaxed you get a better read to find out, “Oh, is somebody bullying you at work or at school or somewhere else?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay, so that being established in terms of it’s hard to know whether someone’s lying or deception, but rather you just kind of get a sense for what’s causing discomfort. I’d love to hear out of the 400-ish behaviors, what are some of those that are kind of like the most reliable, like, “Pete, over 90% of the time when I see this behavior, it tends to mean that thing.”

I remember from What Everybody is Saying, you said some things to say about feet and how it’s absurd that in interrogation rooms there are opaque desks and they need to be transparent so that we can observe their feet.

It was like this is a guy who speaks from experience because I’ve never seen anyone or heard anyone go on a rant quite like that. I dug that. Tell me is it the feet or what are some of the most reliable tell-tale things to look toward?

Joe Navarro
Well, actually one of them you just did. You did what’s called eyelid flutter.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh boy, what’s it mean?

Joe Navarro
Eyelid flutter we do when we are emphasizing something, when we feel negative about something, when we’re flustered by something. You were channeling me there quite accurately.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

Joe Navarro
When I wrote about interviewing and how you’re a paid observer and here you’re sitting for an interview and the person’s hiding behind a desk and you cannot even see their feet or their hands or their torso. I was like I cannot believe that you as a professional cannot see the object of the interview and they’re hiding behaviors that are critical.

As you were channeling that, your eye – you did the eyelid flutter. Eyelid flutter is very accurate when we’re struggling with something.

But you mentioned the feet and I think this is one of the things that was astonishing. There’s a really good section in the new book, The Dictionary of Body Language, dealing with the feet because I got so many questions over the years after I wrote that of people saying, “Well, is there anything more about the feet?” I said, “The feet are very accurate because they reveal our emotions and we tend not to hide them.

In the same way that we might do a social smile, the feet, if they don’t like you or if you don’t like someone, your feet will move you away from that person. You will immediately rotate away. If you’re excited and happy to see someone, you can hide a smile, but try to hide the feet of a child.

I was just at the airport the other day and a little kid arrived with a family. They were going to Disney. Every time the mother mentioned Disney World, the child’s feet were jumping up and down. She had happy feet. You can’t hide that.

Even with adults, poker players soon found out that you can see the happy feet of a player that has a monster hand just by the shirt shaking. The feet certainly have a lot of information.

You were talking about what are some of the more accurate significant ones. There’s another one that you do, which is great. It’s the gravity defying behaviors of the eyebrows.

Pete Mockaitis
I just did that before you – the first – we don’t have the video for the listeners. It’s fun that you started with the video. It should have occurred to me, of course he wants the video.

Joe Navarro
Yeah. Well, because it’s very instructive. You can see how excited you are about things because you arch your eyebrows and you go, “Well, what about this and what about that?”

Think about the times when you greet somebody and they arch their – they flash their eyebrows and they go, “Hey, how are you?” and compare that to other times when you greet someone but you don’t have those behaviors and you realize, “Oh, that just doesn’t feel the same. There’s something going on here.”

I often get this with – when – I’ve taught many clinicians over the years. They say, “A lot of times these couples come in and they say, ‘Well, I had no clue that she didn’t love me anymore or he didn’t love me anymore,’” I say stop right there. There were plenty of clues. You just didn’t see them. You just didn’t see them.

You didn’t see the eyes that never flash when they see you.  You never saw that two years ago she was touching you with her fingertips rather than with her full palm hand. You didn’t notice that rather than smiling at you, it was more of a little smirk and the corner of her mouth was pinched, which shows disdain and so forth. I said there’s always behaviors there. The question-

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so sad.

Joe Navarro
Well, it is, but the argument that I never saw it coming.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Joe Navarro
One of the important things I really believe Pete is that if we’re sensitive to other people’s body language, we make better friends and better mates because we early on can begin to sense “Oh, there’s an issue. Something is wrong.” To wait for something six months, two years on, is sometimes too late.

I think if you begin to sense that “Oh, my partner, she’s bored watching TV another night and when I mention going out, her eyes light up.” Well, that’s a clue.

In the same way that as parents we look at the baby for every single little sign of a smile, of any kind of discomfort because we transmit information fairly much in a binary fashion, comfort, discomfort. The same thing applies in real life. That’s part of having that social intelligence, but it’s also about equity, what we bring to the table as a partner and as a parent to ensure that those we love are cared for.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful, yes. It’s funny, I’m thinking about my buddy Muhammed, who’s going to be on the show a little later. It’s exciting. That is one – I always feel very – I don’t know, I guess, welcomed or liked, appreciated when he greets me because his eyebrows really do do that. I guess I have not articulated or thought of that specifically until we really got precise about that fact just now. That’s intriguing.

We’ve got some feet. We’ve got the eyelid flutter. We’ve got the arching and lifting of eyebrows for excitement. What are some other big ones?

Joe Navarro
Let me give you – yeah. Let me give you one that is just a remarkable behavior. It really stands out with women. In part because oftentimes their necks are more exposed than men because we tend to wear shirts that have high collars or we wear a tie and a coat or – and so forth. Women have more of an open neck.

The behavior is covering of the lower neck area. There’s a little dimple there called the suprasternal notch. The suprasternal notch is just above the sternum and that’s why it’s called the suprasternal.

Pete Mockaitis
… Okay, yeah.

Joe Navarro
Invariably when someone is struggling with something, having difficulties, is insecure, there’s a little bit of fear, they will immediately bring their hand up and cover this very sensitive area of the neck. Men, we tend to mask it by grabbing our necks more robustly and grabbing our shirts. Women tend to just put their finger on it.

In fact, just the other day, in fact I think the day we talked or we emailed each other, there was an attack on a speech that was being given in Venezuela, on the President of Venezuela. It was a drone attack of some sort. While all the soldiers stood there at attention, being mindful of their duty, the First Lady, as soon as she sensed that something wrong, her hand immediately went to the suprasternal notch to cover it.

This is a very ancient behavior. This has to have been with us for tens and tens of thousands of years. Maybe even longer because it’s seen in every society. It’s been seen in every culture. Interestingly enough, it’s been seen even with children who are born blind, who have never seen the behavior and yet they perform this behavior when they feel threatened or scared.

I would say it’s one of those behaviors that it’s probably in the 95 to 96 percentile of communicating that something is wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one.  That’s a good one. Any other sort of top, top probability items coming to mind?

Joe Navarro
Yeah. One of the ones that I talk about in the new book is – has to do with what is in essence a reserved behavior. Reserved behaviors are those behaviors that we really hold back until something is really stressing us and then they come out. We don’t tend to do them every day, but every once in a while when something is really bad.

One of those reserved behaviors is with the fingers. Now in the previous book I talked about steepling, that’s where you put your fingertips together and you straighten them up and it looks like a church steeple.

Pete Mockaitis
It makes me think of evil genius.

Joe Navarro
Right, like Mr. Burns.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent Joe.

Joe Navarro
But this behavior is very similar, except that the fingers are rigid straight and they interlace and the person sort of rubs them back and forth with very straight fingers. And I started to see this behavior probably in the ‘80s, with people in – who were going to be interviewed, people who were in trouble.

I also verified it by looking at these very old videos. They weren’t even videos; they were 35 millimeter movies from the 1950’s of couples in therapy. One of the things that I found was that when they were about ready to say, “Look, this relationship is over,” they would often do this behavior.

I call it teepee hands because when they interlace and the fingers are straight, if you were to hold it right in front of you, it looks like the top of teepee with the poles sticking out.

I tell parents, “Look if you’re talking to a child and they start to do this behavior, because they do it subconsciously, put your iPhone away and pay attention because something is significant here.” This is a reserve behavior.

We have another reserve behavior, which is kind of interesting. I hadn’t written about it before, but it’s in the new Dictionary of Body Language, and that’s called facial denting.

Facial denting is – you often see this at sporting events where the score is really close and you’ll see people squeeze their cheeks to the point where as you look at them you say, “Surely, that’s got to hurt. They’re going to pop a tooth.” They’re squeezing themselves so tight.

That’s one of those reserve behaviors for when we’re dealing with a lot of stress and we don’t know what the outcome is going to be.

Why we do that it hasn’t really been very well studied. I’m hoping – one of the things that I’m hoping – you were asking me earlier what are some of my hopes for this book. My hope is that researchers will look at it and say, “Okay, so here are things that this FBI guy over 40 years picked up by watching people. Let’s go and test it. Let’s go and verify it. Let’s go validate it.”

I hope they tear into it and they try to demonstrate that it’s universal or not universal, that it’s peculiar to this area of the world or that world or that it’s used when we’re stressed or unstressed or whatever. But I’m hoping that the average person can use it to learn, but I’m also hoping that the researchers will look at things that they’ve never looked at before.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really cool. Just to note, that if you’re seeing the teepeeing or the facial denting that we’re dealing with something serious here.

Joe Navarro
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny. I can think of a buddy who everything was going wrong on his wedding day in terms of things coming together. So and so didn’t pick up his tux and this person’s late and he’s getting all these texts. It was a lot of stuff. He was sure doing some good squeezing there. That all makes sense that it was intensely troublesome for him, but it all worked out. They got married. They’re happy and it’s good.

But that’s cool. Well, I’d love to hear maybe precisely or more specifically when it comes to in the world of professionals in their day-to-day job/career lives, what do you think are some of the most helpful things to be on the lookout for in terms of what you’re observing or what you’re projecting.

I’m thinking about things like maybe someone is bored or thinks that idea is wrong and just a terrible – I think that happens a lot in meetings. Someone says something and someone thinks, “That is a terribly bad idea,” but they don’t say anything because they don’t want to stick their neck out. That’s the big boss. They don’t want to offend or insult. Are there any indicators along those lines or other helpful kind of career scenarios?

Joe Navarro
Well, I’m glad you asked that question because it’s really a good question. I would have to say number one, if you’re taking notes, write this one down. We are always transmitting information.

A lot of people think, “Oh, I’m in the parking lot. Nobody’s going to notice me,” or “I’m in the elevator. Nobody’s going to notice me,” or “I’m sitting outside for an interview. Nobody’s noticing me,” or “I’m at the end of the table. Nobody’s going to notice me.” Stop right there. Welcome back to Planet Earth. The fact of the matter is that you are being observed constantly. People are picking up on everything.

Let’s go through a few of the things that you probably never thought about. Good manners. Manners are non-verbals, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you, sir.

Joe Navarro
If you see a piece of paper on the floor and you pick it up and you put it in the garbage can, that is a behavior. You don’t have to talk to do that one.

How you talk to people, your intonation, how quickly you respond, do you face them or do you roll your eyes before you answer them and so forth. Good manners is a non-verbal.

The fact of the matter is, is that we’re all being scrutinized. People look at us and they notice how well groomed we are. Walk into an office and change your haircut. People will – “You’ve got a different haircut.”

You probably have gone through your life thinking, “Nobody notices me.” No, everybody notices. They notice if you’re wearing glasses. They’re noticing if you wear new glasses, if you change your hairdo, your color, if you’re not well-groomed, if all of the sudden you’ve gone from really nice clothing to really tattered clothing. They notice-

Pete Mockaitis
They’re noticing the wrinkles in my Polo shirts, Joe? Do I have to start ironing these things?

Joe Navarro
Yeah. It makes you think. Shakespeare was right, life is theatre and we’re on stage.

For a lot of jobs, how we look may not matter, but the fact of the matter is that for a lot of jobs it does matter. It matters how we, as clinicians say, how we present. Are we on time? Are we eager? Are we leaning forward? Are we interested?

Something so simple. We were talking earlier about great behaviors. Here’s one behavior that you need to build into your repertoire.

That’s when people are talking to you that you tilt your head slightly because we know that from a very young age babies respond to this and it’s a behavior that says “I’m listening to you. I’m interested. I don’t have an agenda for the moment and I’m actively listening.” It’s a very easy behavior to emulate, especially with children and loved ones.

I live in a community not far from central command where there’s a lot of Navy SEALS. These guys have great bodies. They’re like world-class athletes. But I notice how they talk even to their spouses and they look like drill sergeants. It’s like they can’t stand down.

I think one of the things that enhances communication, especially with loved ones, is if we can stand down and relax and tilt that head and just say, “I’m listening and tell me about your day,” and not look like we’re looking for the next marching orders.

I have to say a lot of executives come home and do the same thing. They have that very stern, I’m in charge sort of look. We know that humans respond to that look of interest and kindness.

Pete Mockaitis
Interest, kindness, kind of letting go and not being in charge, tilting the head. Any other kind of indicators of “I’m listening. I’m interested. I’m not bored. I’m not formulating a response. I’m not getting my argument ready?”

Joe Navarro
Yeah. I’m on the road all the time and I’m giving presentations all over the world. You’re running – one day you’re in Germany, the next day you’re in Romania, then you’re back in Chicago, and then you’re on the West coast and you’re talking to people – and Beijing. You’re talking to people from all over the world. What’s interesting is is what seafarers found 400 – 500 years ago, that affability, having a smile.

One of the things that works really well and I encourage young business people to do this is don’t feel like you have to stand directly in front of another person. That in fact we tend to increase the amount of time we are with others if we will just slightly angle to them so that we’re not directly in front of them. We’re just at a slight angle to them. By angling, we increase what’s called face time. Obviously, for business, this is really critical is increasing face time.

I have found this works in every culture wherever I’ve been. Instead of just standing right in front of them, I – you greet them, you angle to the side and there’s a sense of harmony.

We have to remember that when the conquistadores arrived in the New World they saw the same behaviors here that they had seen in Queen Isabella’s court. The king had better clothing. He sat higher. He had an entourage. He couldn’t be touched, blah, blah, blah. Everything in Queen Isabella’s court.

These are universal things that are endearing, such as giving people the requisite amount of space. In fact, I just wrote an article about that for Psychology Today because I go around asking folks “How far away do you like people to stand near you?” It’s kind of shocking to listen to what they say. It’s always greater than where people are standing next to them.

They say, “You know three to four feet,” and some people want even more. Be sensitive to the spatial needs of other people, that some people just don’t like others to be too close.

Be yourself. Be natural. Not everybody’s going to be an alpha. There will always be omegas. There’s a place for everybody. But also, be mindful that if you have something important that you should be heard.

One of the things I notice a lot with, especially with young women coming into business is that often they sit rather demure at their seat. Then almost the meeting is over and they don’t have an opportunity to talk. Oftentimes, they’re not giving away the cues that say, “I have something important to say.”

Those things are instead of leaning back, leaning forward and in when you have something ready to say, making direct eye contact with the person that is either presently speaking or is the moderator to let them know, “Hey, I have something to say.”

The other one is not steepling. Steepling, and that’s where the fingertips are together, is the really the only universal sign that we have of confidence, that we’re confident about what we’re thinking or about to say. I think-

Pete Mockaitis
So we should not steeple?

Joe Navarro
No, we should when we have something important to say. You don’t want to do it all the time.

What I found in my studies was that oftentimes women will do it low on their lap or not very high. When in fact, they should do it so it’s visible so that it communicates to everybody this is important and I’m very confident at this moment.

Look at Angela Merkel, over in the UK – or in Germany, sorry. She steeples all the time, but then she is a – she has a doctorate in engineering and she is very confident. You see those behaviors. I used to see them also with Margaret Thatcher and others.

It’s a behavior you want to emulate. You want to use it at the right time and the right place, but you also need to communicate “I want to be heard.” Those are some I think good indicators there.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful, thank you. Now tell me, Joe, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Joe Navarro
I think one of the important things about body language is that I continue to be a student of it. I’d like to one day be able to say yeah, I have the definitive expertise. I’m reluctant to do that because I’m learning things all the time. I’m observing things all the time.

I think it behooves us to learn this language that is so part of us as humans and it’s the primary way that we demonstrate love and empathy. That’s pretty important.

It’s also the way that we sense and detect danger. We’re at an ATM machine. We’re looking over our shoulder. It’s late at night. We’re looking for somebody sneaking up on us.

It’s the number one way that we choose our mates. We don’t ask for a resume. We look at them. We smell them. We touch them. We watch them and we make decisions based on nonverbal.

A lot of people think, “Well, is it really that important?” Well, I can’t think of anything more important than safety, child rearing, and mate selection. That pretty much hits it out of the park.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. Thank you. Well, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something that you find inspiring?

Joe Navarro
Yeah, I think one of my favorite quotes, and I know a lot of people will hear this who have been to my seminars, it’s – I’m going to paraphrase, but it comes to us from Carl Sagan, Carl Sagan the cosmologist, absolutely brilliant, taken from us at too early of an age. He said, “We’re really not who we think we are. But if you were to ask what are we. We’re the sum total of our influence on others.”

I think it’s very true. You, yourself, with your podcast, sharing knowledge, sharing ideas, that’s influential. I look at the people that have influenced me in life and I think what was it that was great about it? Could they build something? Could they do this? Yeah, we love people that are skilled with a craft, but we’re mostly influenced by those that are influential and they do that by how they live their lives.

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

Joe Navarro
One of my favorite ones came out a few months ago. It just goes to show how sensitive we humans are to the smallest of little details.

They grabbed somebody and they put a green sweater on him. They said, “Go out and ask for favors.” They did. Then they took the same person and they – on the sweater, they put the logo of a high-end clothing manufacturer. It was only a half-an-inch logo.

They sent him out to go and ask people for favors, like, “Can I use your phone? Can I park here? Can I come inside?” and all this stuff. The times when he wore the logo 52 – 53% of the people agreed to help out. When he didn’t wear the logo, only 13% would help out.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh my gosh. Wow.

Joe Navarro
What does that tell – that tells social scientists – and I’ve done this experiment, interestingly enough, with people just wearing beach shoes, flip flops, ones that cost $1.99 and then ones that were from a famous manufacturer.

Pete Mockaitis
So they’re still flip flops, but just different – yeah.

Joe Navarro
They’re still … but different manufactures. Invariably in my non-scientific study, those that wore the nicer got better treatment.

What does that tell us that anthropologists and biologists would say look, we’re primates. We’re very sensitive to hierarchy and we’ll always be sensitive to hierarchy and the markers of well, who is the alpha, who’s the silverback and who is everybody else. We cannot escape that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s powerful. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Joe Navarro
My favorite writer is Steinbeck, so Grapes of Wrath.

But the one book that I return to over and over and over again is the Histories by Herodotus. It’s the only book that I’ve actually read six times. Here’s the father of history writing 2,500 years ago. He’s telling us about the world as it existed then. It’s just exquisite in its breadth.

Pete Mockaitis

How about a favorite habit?

Joe Navarro
Favorite habit, it has to be going out for a walk with my family at night. I love them dearly, my wife, my dog. I enjoy their company.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate? Folks retweet it. They quote it back to you often.

Joe Navarro
Yeah, there’s one in particular. I’m glad you asked that. I put it out there many, many years ago when I first started on Twitter. I didn’t know I would become that significant. It’s – someone told me that it may have been not necessarily borrowed, but it’s a variant of what somebody else had said. It probably is since there’s nothing new under the sun.

But basically what it says is that what we do in private when nobody is watching us is more important than when we’re in public and that when we help those who can do absolutely – can do nothing for us, that is the true measure of our humanity because there is no expectation of any kind of reward. For some reason that seemed to resonate with a lot of people.

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

Joe Navarro
Very easily, my website, JNForensics.com. My books are at all the major retailers. Certainly they’re available on Amazon or they can come to your website.

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm, sure thing.
Do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks who are seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Joe Navarro
I do. Become better observers and you’ll become better humans. You cannot attend to others if you can’t observe them. I think most of us know how to look, but very few of us know how to observe.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Joe, this has been such a treat. Thank you for taking this time and good luck with The Dictionary of Body Language and all that you’re up to here.

Joe Navarro
Well, thank you Pete. It’s a pleasure and an honor to be on your show.

339: Achieving Hyperfocus with Chris Bailey

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Chris Bailey looks into how distraction affects productivity and the many ways you can prevent yourself from getting distracted ahead of time.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Ways to hack your procrastination triggers
  2. How much time we waste on checking emails
  3. The 20-second rule and three ways to apply it to your  distractions

About Chris

Chris Bailey is a productivity expert, and the international bestselling author of The Productivity Project, which has been published in eleven languages. His next book, Hyperfocus, came out yesterday. Chris writes about productivity at Alifeofproductivity.com, and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive, without hating the process.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Chris Bailey Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Chris, welcome back to the How to Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Chris Bailey
It’s been a while. It’s been like 250 episodes or something like that.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s nuts, yes. I was just thinking about it like your episode before number 32 is like under a tenth of the current episode number. So how about that?

Chris Bailey
Yeah. Do you ever go back and listen to the first few shows and how – do you think you’ve improved a lot since then or do you even want to listen to yourself back then?

Pete Mockaitis
I have listened a little bit, but not a ton. I’ve definitely noticed the difference. I’ve had a couple of guests who’ve been on multiple times and they have said similarly, “You’re better at this now,” which is good. That’s what you’re hoping for.

Chris Bailey
Yeah. I don’t remember you being bad at it But it’s good.

I’ve always liked looking back on my previous work and hating it because if you can find things to dislike in the way that you worked before, I think you’re on a positive trajectory. It’s when you look at your previous work and you think, “Man, where did I go wrong? Where did I lose my mojo? What’s different now in my work?” I think that’s when you run into problems. May you always look back at work and thinks it’s crap.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s like an Irish blessing. Well, thank you, lad.

Chris Bailey
Yes, you’re welcome, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
I understand you recently got into knitting. What is the story here?

Chris Bailey
Who told you this?

Pete Mockaitis
I think you disclosed it on a form that I ask you to fill out, while scheduling this.

Chris Bailey
I didn’t know this would be made public, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, maybe it was one of your people. You’ve got people now. You’ve grown a lot too.

Chris Bailey
Oh man, yeah. Since episode 30, man, I’m a changed man. No, I’m the same weird person. Knitting is this weird hobby that I think more people would enjoy doing if only they got in the door and tried it out a little bit.

A while back on a total whim, I signed up for a local course here in the small town Canada city that I live in. I this expect it to stick. There’s a piano – I’m looking at it on my left here. It has a bit of dust on it that’s accumulated in my office. I have a lot of things I guess that are kind of fleeting, that evaporate as quickly as they came, but knitting very much is one of my new favorite hobbies.

The benefits of this have been well documented. For example, it distracts you from pain. It leads you to remember more. It even combats things like depression. It lowers your resting heart rate. I’ve been looking at a lot of knitting studies lately in case you can’t hear that.

But those are benefits, but I actually knit to become more productive because it lets me just kind of rest my attention a bit. We can get to this a bit later, talk about this in the book, but it’s when we rest our attention that we become the most creative.

It’s when we focus on something with intensity that we become productive, but it’s in that resting state, especially when we get into that deliberately, that we are able to connect ideas together and plan and rest and recharge.

It’s great as a work break. I knit on planes. I knit on the couch while I’m working. I’m not knitting right now because I don’t have enough attention to spare, but yeah, I was knitting at the coffee shop this morning, drinking my morning tea and ignoring the way people were looking at what I was doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, it’s so funny you say coffee shop because I remember one time I was on a date, this was some years ago, when I was single.

Chris Bailey
You know a date is going bad when they break out the knitting needles and start knitting.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, she wasn’t knitting, but there was a dude like very close to us knitting and it was funny because he was maybe only four feet away or less. He just, he had his headphones on. He was sipping the coffee and he was knitting. He was like into it. It was clear that he was jamming, he was knitting, and this was the place that he was going to be doing it.

It was kind of funny because in a way I was like, “How odd,” but in other ways that’s pretty cool that you have so much confidence and self-assurance that you can peacefully knit in a public place and be cool with yourself.

Chris Bailey
Yeah, yeah. It takes another level of either confidence or not really caring. One of the two or maybe they’re the same thing. I don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny, I just recently learned about knitting in terms of the research behind it from a recent guest, Dr. Srini Pillay. He mentioned that’s one of the top things you can do to enter a place of letting your attention rest and yet be somewhat engaged, like right up there with tending to a plant is knitting. Now I know.

That is what I thought like, Chris Bailey, Mr. Productivity experimenter, knitting is probably down with the research and sure enough you are.

Chris Bailey
Oh yeah. It’s in doing something that’s a habit too. This is one of the fun parts about writing a book about attention is when we do something simple that’s habitual, like when we take a shower, when we swim laps, when we just have our morning coffee, with just having the coffee and not listening to something or doing something else, this is when we’ve been shown to have the most – the greatest number of creative insights.

Because we have something habitual that anchors our attention to what we’re doing, that kind of guides us along – knit, pearl, knit, pearl, pearl stitch, knit stich, but – and it’s fun, so it anchors our attention, but it doesn’t consume our full attention at the same time, so we’re able to let our mind wander around to things like ideas and plans for the future.

Our mind has been shown to wander. It has this perspective bias that’s built into it, where when we just let our mind be – if you let your mind be in the shower tomorrow morning or maybe you’re listening to this in the shower in which case, hello – if you just let it be, you wander to think about the future 48% of the time, so about half of the time you’re thinking about the future when you’re letting your mind rest.

People think, “Man, I’m not focusing on anything. I’m so unproductive right now.” But you are productive because you can choose what you do after you let your mind wander. You can set intentions. This lets you shut off autopilot mode to work more deliberately and actually consider your goals before you act instead of just acting on this autopilot mode.

It’s one of those counterintuitive insights where sometimes the best thing we can do to manage our attention is just to not focus on anything at all and let our attention be.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I dig it. I dig it. Thank you.

Chris Bailey
Can you dig it?

Pete Mockaitis
I am. I am in fact digging it.

Chris Bailey
You’re digging it. Okay, that’s good to hear that you’re digging it.

Pete Mockaitis
That stat there – 42% or 48%?

Chris Bailey
48%. Our mind wanders to the – I’m going to try and get these numbers right. I might be off by 2%, might be transposing the numbers in my mind, but the future is 48%, it’s half. We also wander to consider the circumstances of the present 28% of the time. The past, only 12% of the time.

We think we only reminisce on the negative, and that’s true, when we go through a personal challenge, that number rises above 12%. But on average we think about the past 12% of the time.

This is why we come up with so many beautiful light bulb eureka insights in this mode when we let our attention scatter. Those numbers don’t add up to 100% and there’s – but the rest is when we’re thinking of ideas that we’ve collected. That’s when we connect all three to come up with beautiful creative insights that make us more productive overall because it lets us work in a more strategic direction.

There’s these kind of these two modes that we have over the course of the day. There’s the focused mode, but there’s the unfocused mode. The two modes are even anti-correlated with one another in our mind. They really complement one another in these ways, where when we’re focusing, we’re doing something productive, but when we’re letting our attention rest, we can choose what to focus on in the first place.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool.

Chris Bailey
It’s fascinating, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then you mentioned your book a couple times, Hyperfocus, sort of what’s the main-

Chris Bailey
Low-key plug.

Pete Mockaitis
-message of Hyperfocus all about?

Chris Bailey
Yeah, I like the realm of productivity, but not productivity in a cold corporate sense, but productivity in a sense of just accomplishing more of what’s meaningful and what’s important every day.

There’s a lot of books on time management out. I think there’s more than enough. That market has been long saturated. But I don’t think there are enough books about attention management. Maybe more specifically, the science behind how we should manage our attention.

I noticed this in myself after I wrote the last book that we were chatting about way back when on episode 30-something, The Productivity Project. I noticed that once I had finished that book, I had fewer deadlines in my work right after shipping that project. I was waiting for feedback and I stayed busy, but my work kind of expanded to fit how much time I had available for it. It was kind of Parkinson’s Law in action.

I realized I was tending to a lot of distractions, even though I was giving a lot of people advice that they should tame the distractions in their work. I noticed I was tending to social media more often. I noticed that I couldn’t focus as well as I could have before that book.

I thought if I have this problem as somebody who calls themselves a quote/unquote productivity expert, that’s kind of – it’s a tangent, but I don’t really think anyone’s an expert. I think we just – we’re constantly discovering more questions about things. But if I have this problem, then maybe other people do to.

Maybe the advice that’s out there that we should just tame distractions and become less busy and more focused, maybe that sounds good on the surface, but it doesn’t actually work in practice. That’s really what kicked off this project.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Then when it comes to what does work in practice, I guess there’s so many different ways we can slice and dice and present it, but let’s hear it. What are some of your top practices?

Chris Bailey
Oh man, there are so many of them. But I think where’s it’s maybe a good place to start is in how we focus to begin with because our focus has natural rhythms to it the research shows. It’s actually quite simple on the surface. I’ll say the rhythm and you’ll think, “Yeah, that’s obvious.”

But how we focus is we focus on something, our attention gets distracted, either by something external to us or something internal to us. We find ourselves in a daydream that’s unintended and not one we purposefully enter into when we’re knitting or taking a shower. Then once our attention gets distracted, something internal or external comes along, we bring it back.

I think it’s possible to map on top of this natural structure a way by which we can focus better. I think there are four steps that one should follow in order to focus deeper.

First we should choose what to focus on. This is something we don’t do often enough is set intentions for what we want to accomplish. I think there are moments of the day when we have a deliberate focus, when we choose something to focus on, then we focus on that thing.

Then there are the moments when we’re on autopilot mode so there’s no intention behind our actions, where our email inbox becomes our to-do list. We use our phone bouncing around between the same five or six different apps for a few minutes before getting out of bed. There are no gaps in our calendar. Notifications run our life. We kind of go through the motions of the day.

I think our productivity and the quality of our attention is partly proportional to what percent of the day we act with intentionality behind what we’re doing. I think this is an essential first step of focus is in any moment, we’re either focusing on something with deliberate focus, deliberate intention or we’re just on autopilot mode.

Because there are an infinite number of things that we can focus on at any given moment that makes doing this more essential than it ever has been because we have things that vie for your attention.

One thing that is missed in a lot of research on attention and the advice a lot of people give is that it’s not our fault that we can’t focus on what’s important. It’s just the way that our mind is wired. Our attention is fascinating in this regard.

We’re wired to pay attention to anything that has one of three characteristics. We’re wired to pay attention to anything that is pleasurable, anything that is threatening, and anything we find novel. There’s even a novelty bias that is embedded within the prefrontal cortex in our brain, the logical part off our brain, where we release dopamine for every new novel thing we focus on.

This is why it’s so easy to lay down in bed for half an hour bouncing around between the same loop of apps because nothing in our life is more pleasurable or threatening or novel than our phone, so we pay attention to that instead of the day, instead of things that are more meaningful and productive.

I think the first step, choose what we focus, tame distractions after that, focus on that thing, and then bring our attention back to that thing, but, yeah, I don’t want to go on for too long about these four things because then it turns into a monologue and not a podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. That’s really intriguing.

Chris Bailey
I’m fired up. I got to check myself every once in a while.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious when it comes to things which are pleasurable, threatening, and novel, it seems like there could be some nifty approaches that might enable you to trick yourself into finding the task that you quote should be doing in the moment to be one that is more pleasurable, threatening, and novel. Do you have any tips on that?

Chris Bailey
Oh yeah, we can reward ourselves for focusing on certain things. This is I think why taming distractions, why we need to get so ahead of that impulse because in the moment – what we see as a distraction is just an object of attention that is sexier than what we truly want to be doing.

If you’re listening to this podcast, for example, and you have your phone with you and you saw that somebody tagged you in a picture on Facebook, you might pause the podcast and maybe check out the picture and the comments that people left about you or focus on that instead of the podcast. The podcast might present you with more meaning potentially, maybe more productivity later on, but it’s not the most pleasurable thing or novel thing.

I think that’s where to start with this stuff is to eliminate anything that could be more pleasurable, threatening or novel than what we truly want to be doing. This is the key because our attention will always gravitate to something that has any one of these three characteristics.

We look for threats in our environment. In reality, there are no saber tooth tigers encroaching on us building a fire, but the closest threats are maybe we’re with our significant other and we’re having  a nice meal, but CNN happens to be playing in the background, so our attention gravitates toward the red, threatening letters on the screen, the reason the CNN logo is red.

We have to eliminate these things ahead of time. But like you said, it’s possible to kind of trick ourselves into not putting off the things that are important as well.

A little side note on that. My mind is sometimes full of – my mind is like a Medeley database. It’s just full of a lot of studies that I can type a little search query into. One of those studies was conducted by … from Carlton University in Ottawa. Good Canadian, like-

Pete Mockaitis
Eh?

Chris Bailey
-yours truly. Eh, bud. He’s a really good Canadian chap and He found that there are certain attributes that a task or project can have that make us more likely to procrastinate on it. Those are whether something is boring, whether it’s frustrating, whether it’s difficult, whether it’s ambiguous, whether it’s unstructured, whether it’s lacking in personal meaning, or whether it’s lacking in intrinsic reward.
Our most important work usually has several of these and that’s why we hopefully get paid more than minimum wage to do it. The most productive things on your list, the most consequential things, they’re probably not pleasurable or threatening or novel, or as pleasurable or threatening or novel as Facebook or email notification.

We can kind of hack those procrastination triggers to make things more threatening. We can make them more threatening by working with somebody to set a deadline, maybe our boss. We can make it more pleasurable by rewarding ourselves for following through on something. We can make it more novel by maybe setting an artificial deadline.

Instead of saying, “I’m going to work on this report for the rest of the afternoon,” we can say, “I’m going to set a timer for 35 minutes because that’s how long I think I can focus on this thing for and I’m not going to allow myself to work on it past that point.” You work on it for 35 minutes. You get hyper-focused on that task and it’s kind of a shortcut to make it more threatening and novel and pleasurable at the same time.

Yeah, I love that line of thinking that there are things we can do in order to tame these things ahead of time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I’m thinking about the novel perspective in terms of you could do it in a different location. It’s like a Dr. Seuss book. It’s like you could do it with a mouse. You could do it in a house.
Okay, cool. That’s handy there. I want to talk a little bit about the natural rhythm in terms of you’ll focus and then you’ll stop focusing. You’ve actually spelled out some timeframes, amounts of time associated with focus and then breaking. How do those times line up?

Chris Bailey
Well, the rhythm that we work in today is very choppy. It’s very chopped up. One of the most alarming statistics – I don’t really find statistics that powerful because you need to map several of them together to really create a picture of how we work because you can never really rely too much on one study, so you have to kind of take them as a painting as a whole and each one of them is a bit of a brush stroke that creates that final vision of the way things are.

The one stat I think that shines brighter above all the others is one that looked at how long we focus on just one thing for in our work before we switch to doing something else. The thing I love about this line of research – this was an institute study. They didn’t bring a mouse into a lab and find that the mouse could only focus on drinking water for five seconds.

They looked at people in an actual workplace and they had logs on their computers. They set up cameras to look at how people focused throughout the day. They did well at first, but then they kind of settled into their natural rhythms.

What the researchers found, what Gloria Mark and I think Mary Czerwinski found, was that on average when we have – when we’re doing work in front of a computer, we only focus on one thing for 40 seconds before we switch to doing something else. This kind of shocked me in a way that I find difficult to explain because once you observe this pattern in the way that you work, it’s difficult to go back to working the same way again.

You look at the cost of constantly switching. There’s a difference between multitasking and rapid task switching I found in looking at the research. Multitasking is doing a few things concurrently, which we can do with habits and things like that.

But when we switch rapidly between things, when we go from checking email to working on a report to looking at Instagram to Facebook to a conversation, our tasks have been shown to take about 50% longer compared to when we do one thing from start through completion.

The reason for this is there is a certain attentional residue that remains in our mind that are fragments from the previous task that we were just focusing on. It’s impossible to go from, for example, having this conversation to checking your email, for an example, because there are certain fragments of this conversation that remain as an aftertaste in your mind.

Because of this, the longer we work on one thing for, the more productive we become because we don’t have that residue that we’re trying to clear as we switch to something else. Because of this, we feel like we’re multitasking, but really we’re just remembering a little bit of the previous tasks that we were doing as we try to focus on a new one.

This is the rhythm by which we operate for so much of the day. We feel busy – I found this in myself. If I sound like I’m kind of chastising people for working this way, I found this in myself, which was the sad part to admit, especially as somebody who considers himself or is often called the productivity expert.

But I notice this in myself that I felt busy, but that I wasn’t accomplishing as much as when I just focused on something for an extended period of time and tamed distractions before getting into that.

When we get off track completely, this is when our productivity really falters. When we get distracted or interrupted completely, whether this is an external distraction or an internal distraction, it takes about 25 minutes to get back on track and resume working on the original task. And we work on 2.5 other tasks on average before we resume that first task.

We fare a bit better when we’re interrupted externally versus internally like our mind wanders or we seek something that’s pleasurable or novel. But this is the rhythm by which we work when we don’t manage our attention deliberately. We’re productive enough to keep up with our deadlines, but we don’t work up to our potential and we don’t feel as rested as we could if we deliberately scattered our attention to.

Pete Mockaitis
A couple things. That 40 seconds, it’s almost hard for me to believe that is true. Could you maybe paint a picture of what that looks like there?

Chris Bailey
Yeah, it’s actually 35 seconds in a lot of cases when we have IM conversations open. When we have apps like – 40 seconds is kind of a nicer finding from the study. I actually found it hard to believe. This study was done by a team of researchers at Microsoft of all places. It was done by Gloria Mark, Mary Czerwinski. I didn’t really believe this myself, so I flew out to Microsoft to ask them about it.

Microsoft, it turns out, has thousands of people who conduct research for research’s sake because I guess Bill Gates believed in doing that I guess, which is nice. It gives us nice insights like this, but this was the rhythm that people worked in when they were doing work on a computer.

It measured kind of the context switching. We switch between windows on our computer a lot, but we switch between different projects more often. This was the switching between projects in that digital context mainly. But yeah, we fare even worse when we have things like IM open in the background. It’s a fascinating rhythm and it’s something that’s worth observing in yourself.

We fare a bit better when we’re in certain tasks above others. For example, having a conversation with somebody, in that context, keep in mind this is a mainly digital context, so if we’re having a conversation with somebody, for example, Pete, you and I were grabbing a coffee. I didn’t bring my knitting needles because the conversation is pretty good, but maybe I’ll keep them in my bag in case there’s kind of a lull and we can’t find things to talk about.

But let’s say one of us leaves our phone on the table. We flip it down so as to be respectful to the other person. Another one of my favorite studies that I encountered in writing Hyperfocus was it looked at coffee shop patrons who brought their phone with them to the coffee shop and flipped it face down on the table.

What they found was that on average, these people checked that phone every three to five minutes. People thought they were investing in the relationship, but still there was that constant switching and that attentional residue from that digital world that prevents us from becoming close with the person ….

They found that the phone on the table interfered with their closeness, connection, even relationship quality. Fascinating.

Pete Mockaitis
In short the 40 second thing, you’ve seen it within yourself. You saw it at Microsoft and you absolutely buy that it’s for real.

Chris Bailey
I do in a digital context with that caveat. When we’re having a conversation, it would fare a bit better, but when we’re working in front of a computer, especially when our phone is nearby and especially when we have IM windows open and things like that, we switch contexts more often than we think we do.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that’s wild. Okay, so that’s kind of the pace there. What would be an optimal pace? If that’s sort of the standard of what is occurring, what would be ideal?

Chris Bailey
Yeah. It’s a fair question, but the answer is it depends on the type of work that we do. This was something that – I went into writing this book thinking, “Okay, everybody should just focus all day. We should – the longer we can focus for on one sitting, the deeper we’re able to work, the more productive we become and the more we end up accomplishing.”

But there are two types of work that we do over the course of the day. There’s the focus work that we do. For example, a novelist would spend most of their day hunkering down, writing a book. Maybe if they could tame all distractions, leave their phone in another room, have no internet, write it on the typewriter, they could be optimally productive when they cut off the outside world.

On the other side of that focus spectrum, there’s the collaborative and in some cases the hyper-collaborative work that we do. An example of something hyper-collaborative, we’ve all seen the picture of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of Defense, and all those people during the Osama Bin Laden raid.

If everybody in that picture had noise-cancelling headphones on and they were hyper-focusing on that thing and not talking to anybody and … off from external distractions, things may not have gone as well as they did after that picture was taken.

We need to think with the … that are on our plate, where we are on that spectrum. Because if we’re doing something that’s collaborative or even hyper-collaborative, we sometimes need distractions. Often distractions and interruptions are relevant … that we’re currently working on.

But on average we have about 9 to 11 projects that we have on the go at any one time, so the odds that an interruption or a distraction like an email notification relate to what we’re currently doing are in fact pretty low. I think that’s where we have to start with, where we have to think, “Okay, what’s the focus work that I have to do today?” I love playing blocks of time on my calendar where I hyper-focus on these tasks where I’m not available.

But then you have the collaborative things where sometimes it’s good to be interrupted because that’s – collaboration is a process of continuous interruption. We need information from other people. They need information from us, so by interrupting, we can get that information.

It’s fragmented by default in a good way because even though we might not become more productive individually, we become more productive as a system, as a collective group with our team or with whomever we’re working on a project with. I think that’s … start.

Depending on the breakdown of the work we do, we can go from that point to work backward to how much time we should be focusing, hyper-focusing and not.

Pete Mockaitis
It kind of reminds me of the makers versus managers in some of the lean startup-y stuff suggesting that makers, the people who created stuff and produced bodies of work with their intellect, whether they’re coding or designing or writing or editing a podcast or something, need more uninterrupted spaces versus the managers need less of that because they’re more about just kind of look quickly, giving and receiving information that people need to have so that everyone’s coordinated and doing the right stuff.

Chris Bailey
Yeah, yeah. Totally, yeah. One meeting in the schedule of a maker – if somebody’s a coder and somebody schedules a meeting with her like three in the afternoon, that’s going to disrupt that coder’s entire afternoon and maybe even their entire day because that’s kind of a bit of tension in the back of their mind that they have to dedicate toward that one thing.

I think that was one thing that surprised me. I think this speaks to the benefit of experimenting with the research because a lot of the things that sound good on the surface like, “Oh, we should tame every single distraction we face in our work,” don’t really prove to be true when you actually try them on for size.

It speaks to the value of road testing these ideas, but it also speaks to the value of adapting what works for us and leaving the rest because it’s personal … because of that, the advice is personal. We should take what works for us I think.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. One thing I wanted to dig into in terms of speaking about what works for us is you have a suggestion that we should take a break before we need it, before you’re feeling exhausted, fatigued, bogged down. I’m curious to hear if you have any sort of guidelines in terms of minutes of focus that that is in terms of a range.

For me, what I find, this is been a pattern in the mornings I’ve noticed. It’s like, “Okay, I’m cruising, I’m enjoying it, it’s fun, I’m getting ideas, I’m making connections, I’m flowing and rocking and rolling.” I just sort of go, go, go. Afterwards I go, “Oh man.” It’s sort of like I don’t know when should I say, “I know you’re having fun and enjoying this and being productive, but nonetheless, it would be optimal to stop right now.”

Chris Bailey
Yeah, stop right now, thank you very much. Yeah, when you’re in the zone – here’s the interesting thing about breaks is the more often we have to regulate our behavior, the greater number of breaks we’ll need.

Sometimes people turn to productivity advice for the wrong reason. They hate their job for example, and … find the motivation to do it, so they think, “Okay, maybe … will help.”

If you have to regulate your behavior – and we all have to stuff we don’t want to do, but if your whole day is stuff you don’t want to do, then you’re going to … breaks, because you have to regulate your behavior and more specifically your attention to focus on stuff, pay attention to stuff, to pay attention to conversations, to get stuff done because it isn’t pleasurable or novel enough.

I would start by that point – at that point. The more you need to regulate your behavior, the greater number of breaks that you’ll need.

I would kind of develop a mindfulness, not on a specific number per se. I was looking for the optimal number and there’s been some interesting studies on breaks. I think one study looked at the optimal number of breaks that we need to take to be optimally productive over the course of the day.

I think they found something like for every 57 minutes we work, we need to take a 13 or a 20 minute break or something along those lines. A number that essentially equals out to one and a half hour break for eight hours of work over the course of the day.

But it really depends and this is the tough part about giving advice. I think a reason why this is – what I learned in the process of writing this book – a reason why we should blanket – we should question all the blanket productivity advice that people give. Question the advice that I’m giving. Question the advice that all of the experts on this show are giving.

Question the advice that especially when it’s blanket productivity advice that everybody should do things a certain way because if you love your work more, you’re going to need fewer breaks. If you … your job and you have to – or you hate a – let’s make things a bit less dark.

Maybe you hate a project that you’re in the middle of and you’re slogging through it and you find you definitely need to tame distractions to eliminate anything that’s potentially more attractive at the moment than what you really want to be doing, then you’re going to need more breaks and you should reward yourself because you’re going to need to recharge your attention more often.

But I think as a general rule we need a one hour break in the middle of the day to divide things up and as well as a couple 15 minute breaks here and there, where we don’t focus on social media, but we give our brain an actual rest.

This is … people make when they take a break is when we take a break we need to rest our attention. We need to let our mind wander because that’s how it recharges because by doing so we don’t need to regulate our focus.

When we just switch to tending to our smartphone instead of leaving that behind and going for a quick walk through nature to the coffee shop, it’s just focusing on something else and then moving our mind to focus on something else, and then moving our mind to focus on something else back to work and we feel like, “Uh, okay, I can’t really take this on. I’m just going to look at email for a bit.” And … do.

Find something that’s …, that doesn’t consume your full attention so you get the benefits of doing something habitual that let’s your mind wander and lets you ideate and plan for the future but still rest up a little bit too.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it, thank you. I also liked the study you referenced that revealed that email can consume much more of our attention than it does actual hard minutes of time. Unpack this one for us.

Chris Bailey
Yeah, like meetings are kind of the opposite of this idea, eh? A meeting might take up an hour of – I just dropped an eh, inadvertently Canadian. That would be – if I were to publish a memoir, Inadvertently Canadian would be the title I think.

The research on meetings, we don’t bring a lot of attention to them, but they soak up an incredible amount of time, but email is kind of the opposite. On average, I have the stats in front of me. This isn’t in my mind, so I have to tell you that I’m cheating.

On average we spend about 35 minutes on email each day, but on average we also check it 11 times every single hour, which adds up to 88 times over the course of the day.

This speaks to that 40-second study, email being just one of the things that we switch away from our work to, where we focus on something and the way we work from afar looks kind of odd. If an alien were to come down and look at you working or even just a researcher from Microsoft sets up a camera in your office and in a non-creepy way hopefully. Hopefully they tell you.

But they would find that you go from doing something totally productive, you’re in an Excel sheet, you’re typing up your team’s budget to checking your email another time. Or you’re listening at a conference call and you’re contributing, but then there’s a little lull in it where you don’t need to and so you pick up your phone and stop focusing on that and check your email on your phone. It kind of speaks to that idea.

Email is one of those things that we need to tame ahead of time. One study that is fascinating I think and speaks to this, the fragmented attention that we have, is 70% of emails are opened within the first six seconds that they’re received.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh my gosh, really?

Chris Bailey
I notice this in my newsletter stats. I send out a newsletter whenever I publish something. You can see how quickly people open it. It really is opened pretty quickly.

But we can get ahead of this a little bit by hyper-focusing on email, not keeping it open all the time, but maybe setting – say you deal with an incredible volume of email, perhaps setting a 20 minute timer at the start of each hour and during that time you blow through as many emails as you possibly can and then focus on something for the other 40 minutes that isn’t as time sensitive, so you can get out of that reactive mode.

At most, if an email is urgent, somebody has to wait 40 minutes for a response, which they have to do when you’re in a meeting anyway.

Limiting points of contact is another strategy that I think really helps us become a better custodian of our attention where we don’t need all our devices to light up when we receive an email from Amazon telling us that our order is shipping.

I realized this when I was beginning to write the book and pouring over this research, focusing on it, up until the point I had around 25,000 words of research notes. I was pouring through those. I realized an email, my office would be as bright as a Wal-Mart because my watch would light up, my iPad would light up, … would light up, all because I got a single email.

Deleting the email app off of your phone is one of those powerful things that you can do because it just frees up so much attention for focusing on better things.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yes, I am pretty hard core about limiting notifications.

Chris Bailey
Oh good.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m right with you there. Now since you’ve been doing all the research, I love that I can just throw it out to you-

Chris Bailey
Most of the research. There’s probably a few things that are still-

Pete Mockaitis
Every bit of research under the sun, you’ve looked at, which we appreciate your efforts on our behalf.

Chris Bailey
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
I think I was looking at a – from a SaneBox blog. I use SaneBox and I love them for the record. The McKenzie Global Institute found the average employee spends about 2.5 hours a day reading and responding to emails. That’s way more than 35 minutes.

Are you – do we know what the mismatch is there? Is it due to much of the time is just looking at it, like, “Oh hey, there it is,” as opposed to “Huh, I will thoughtfully reply to this now?”

Chris Bailey
Yeah, there would be different methodologies to studying this. Of course different samples. But the ones that I looked at looked at not time logs, but actual logs of, which said that this person was in Outlook for … seconds and then they switched to Excel for 5 minutes 3 seconds. It’s kind of pretty granular the studies that I looked at.

But I would trust the McKenzie name. They definitely have that name. Sometimes a lot of these studies look at time logs that people create for themselves.

Do you know the sample? Maybe they were executives that had those more collaborative type roles, where managers do spend more time in meetings and emails because they play more of that traffic cop role.

It’s back to the maker and the manager idea where managers, another distraction – their day is a bit more distracted and they don’t benefit from these long extended periods of deep focus because they just don’t get them that often.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Thank you.

Chris Bailey
I don’t know if that helps, but-

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it and I think I buy it in terms of if I just look at my actual sent messages on a given day, it’s like okay, well maybe I sent 20 messages and each of them are maybe 1 to 6 sentences on average. It’s like – well, I guess I didn’t have to think super hard to craft each of those. It may very well be perhaps 35 minutes, and yet, it can pop up – I try to minimize it because I know it has that novelty. It’s like, “Oh, what’s that? Let’s take a look.”

Chris Bailey
“Yeah, what’s that in the corner of the screen? Chris Bailey emailed me. That’s a new dish cloth he made.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s very pleasurable.

Chris Bailey
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And sometimes threatening frankly.

Chris Bailey
Well dish cloths can be very – this – yeah, man I have more dish cloths than I know what to do with right now. One of things I’m thinking of doing, just as kind of a side note, is I do a lot of corporate talks and I’m thinking of this would be a cool thing to work into the talk. Talk about knitting and give out a dish cloth that I made for – maybe I’m speaking to McKenzie or something, give out a dish cloth that I made to someone in the audience. It could be fun.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s nice. Yeah. And they’ll clamor for it. “Who wants a dish cloth?” “Ahh!”

Chris Bailey
“I want a dish cloth. Oh my God.”

Pete Mockaitis
They’ll just go nuts.

Chris Bailey
Yeah, like a rock star. This is how I imagine it in my mind at least.

Pete Mockaitis
I also want to hear you have a 20-second rule, which I love, because I love the David Allen 2-minute rule. You’ve got a 20-second rule. What’s the rule here?

Chris Bailey
Yeah, so 20 seconds is a weird number in this way. The research shows that it’s about enough of a temporal distance that something ceases to become distracting or we can use it to bring positive distractions toward us.

I look around my office right now. My meditation cushion is to the right. There’s some nice plants around. There’s a piano to my left, which honestly I haven’t played in a while, so maybe it doesn’t work, but I found it works for other things.

But the idea is if … 20 seconds away, we’re a lot less likely to … into it. If we have a bag of chips that we keep in the basement in the corner in an area that we never go to, that’s a lot less appealing to us than if we keep it in the cupboard in the kitchen and it takes 20 seconds to go down there and fetch them. This is about enough of a temporal distance as something ceases to become a distraction.

We can keep positive distractions around us. I like to keep a lot of books – I have many books around my desk here because they’re a positive distraction. They’re not email. They’re not my phone. My phone is in another room right now. I just looked around to check to make sure I wasn’t lying. My phone’s in another room right now, so I need to leave my office and go to another room in the house. I’m working from home today – in order to fetch it. We can keep distractions that far away.

Another one of my favorite ways of doing this is I’ve relegated/delegated, whatever the hell the word is, I’ve made one device my distractions device. I’ve done this with my iPad. My iPad’s sole purpose is my distractions machine. I check my email, where I don’t have it on my phone and it’s very difficult for me to get to on the computer because my password’s so long.

That’s another use of the 20-second rule, where you keep your password so complicated and long that it takes you 20 seconds to remember and type them in or find them in a certain place. I do that. I use that as a distractions machine and I keep it in another room in the house. It’s … a costly investment. I think our attention is so valuable and that we easily earn that time back in how much more focused we are.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. You could even just put your email program, if you have Outlook or Apple Mail underneath or within a folder or two and so it’s like, “Hey, that’s not just one click. You’re going to have to double click something and to double click something else and then open that thing up.” You may take more than 20 seconds to actually pull that off.

Chris Bailey
Or delete email. Or one of my favorite things to do because I get tempted by this even after looking at all of the other research, I get tempted by things like Twitter throughout the day when I’m not – when I don’t have a distractions blocker like Freedom or Cold Turkey or SelfControl enabled.

What I do is I purposefully make – I go to the site and I say change my password, and then I literally – I enter it, open a text document and bang on my keyboard until I have a series of letters and numbers. I paste that into each of the fields. I log out.

Then I need to go through the whole process to reset my password and do the double set verification. Did you make – are you the one who did this. Open up your email. Here’s the reset link. Verify that it’s you. That takes more than 20 seconds, a minute or two. But if I really need to get into Twitter, I’ll get into Twitter, but there will be a cost to doing so that’s at least 20 seconds long.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Well, Chris, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and talk about some of your favorite things?

Chris Bailey
I want to give people something practical. I think we covered most of the stuff.

Honestly, I mentioned distraction blockers for a little bit. I always like giving people some tactical things to walk away with. I think download a distractions blocker while you’re in this mindset of taming distractions because this feeling will be fleeting. It’s easy to go back into working the same way that you did before.

If you’re on the go, open up your calendar app and schedule a little 15 minute block of time, download an app. Freedom is a great example of one. Cold Turkey is a great example of one. SelfControl is a great example of one. RescueTime is a great example of one. Some of these work across devices. Freedom being one of them. Download it and schedule a few blocks of time in your calendar that nobody will book you in that you can use to focus on just one thing at a time.

Tame distractions, enter into this mode, and have some fun with it. Whenever I enter into a distractions-free mode, I like to make a cup of coffee or go to a café if I’m – or maybe I’m on an airplane and I order something off the little menu. Have some fun. Have a coffee. Maybe listen to some music that you like that you find conducive to focus. Focus on what’s important.

You might feel some … at the start. If you do, ask yourself “Could I focus for an hour?” Maybe you say no. “Okay, well 45 minutes?” “Uh.” “30?” “Uh.” “25?” “Yeah, I could focus for 25 minutes,” and you focus for 25 minutes and you take a break and you go from there.

Be kind to yourself because, especially at first – I remember when I was first starting with these ideas in Hyperfocus, I couldn’t focus for a few minutes, but it’s a muscle that you build over time and now I can do it for a few hours just by using these ideas.

Maybe a couple tactical things to end with. Download a distractions blocker, schedule blocks of time in which you can focus and defend the time religiously because your attention is worth it.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Thank you. Now can you share with us a favorite quote?

Chris Bailey
I love – have you had Seth Godin on the show?

Pete Mockaitis
Not yet.

Chris Bailey
You should. My favorite quote is from him. He said “Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” …

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Thank you.

Chris Bailey
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Chris Bailey
Book? Probably – it’s a bit hippy bippy. If you get the book, keep that in mind. Again, question everything. But Mindfulness in Plain English. I forget the monk who wrote it, but it’s essentially a book on how to practice mindfulness and meditation. I found it to be so accessible and this is what got me into meditation and mindfulness in the first place. Maybe it will for you too.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Chris Bailey
Habit? I think the distractions-free mode is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Meditation is one of my favorites. Ordering copious amounts of pizza and drinking wine and watching Netflix is also – it’s not a habit, but it’s a nice ritual that kind of – it’s nice.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to do that immediately.

Chris Bailey
Yes. Yeah, if you’re listening to this-

Pete Mockaitis
You’re painting a picture for the end of the workday.

Chris Bailey
If you’re listening to this, forget about the podcast, forget about what we’re talking about, schedule a block of time in your calendar tonight in which you can binge watch Netflix and wine and Indian food or pizza, whatever your style is.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Do you have a final additional call to action for folks?

Chris Bailey
That’s my call to action. Honestly, your attention – the one thing that I learned from looking at hundreds – some people say they looked at hundreds of studies, I read like hundreds of studies front to back and I’m very convinced after doing so that people who say they’ve looked at all the research, haven’t because it’s difficult to read a study from front to back.

The final challenge I will give to you is to use this research to your advantage because if there’s one thing that I uncovered looking at it all it’s that the state of our attention determines the state of our life.

If our attention is overwhelmed in the moment, we’re going to be overwhelmed. If our attention is pulled in a thousand directions in the moment and we’re putting it in a thousand different places in the moment, we’re going to feel pulled in a thousand different directions and we’re going to feel overwhelmed in return.

But on the flip side, if you deliberately manage this ingredient that you have that makes you more creative, it makes you more productive, and you can bring more meaningful things to your attention to actually focus on them and savor them and appreciate them. I think these moment-to-moment things and experiences and events are what accumulate to, at the end of the day, create a life.

The more productive and meaningful and creative things that we focus on, the more productive and creative and meaningful our life becomes. Use this to your advantage. Pay attention to the research, but maybe more important than that, pay attention to what you have to do on a daily basis in order to make your life better because of it. Because it’s worth doing I found. That’s one thing I’d like to impart on you.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you. Well, Chris, this has been a pleasure yet again. Please keep up the great work and congrats on all you’ve done with the book, Hyperfocus, and everything else.

Chris Bailey
Thank you. Thank you for having me.