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KF #26. Being Resilient Archives - Page 2 of 16 - How to be Awesome at Your Job

781: How to Tackle Overwhelming Stress and Develop Mental Fitness with Jody Michael

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Jody Michael uncovers the surprising cause of much of our stress and shares expert techniques to train your mind for greater resilience.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How you’re unknowingly stressing yourself out 
  2. How to keep stress at bay with ABC and SEE
  3. How to go from triggered to calm in just 30 seconds 

About Jody

Jody Michael is CEO of Jody Michael Associates, and is recognized as one of the top 4% of coaches worldwide and is an internationally credentialed Master Certified Coach, Board Certified Coach, University of Chicago trained psychotherapist, and Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Among her clients are more than 120 senior executives across 18 Fortune 100 companies. She has been featured in the Wall Street JournalNew York TimesForbesOprah MagazineHuffington Post, Crain’s Chicago and as an expert guest on MSNBC, CNN, the TODAY Show, and NPR. 

Resources Mentioned

Jody Michael Interview Transcript

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

Jody Michael
Thank you. It’s great to be here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat with you about your book Leading Lightly: Lower Your Stress, Think with Clarity, and Lead with Ease. But, first, I was so curious, is it, in fact, true that you have done, over your lifetime, 40,000 coaching sessions?

Jody Michael
No, that’s not accurate.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Jody Michael
It’s over 40,000. I stopped counting a bit back.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, over. Yes, okay.

Jody Michael
Yeah, I’ve been doing this a long time, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Well, so I’ve got know, what are some insights about the human condition that just come from that? Are there some patterns you’ve picked up on that you think you have been able to notice, having had this unique experience, that most of us are maybe unaware of?

Jody Michael
Yeah, so I think that when I’m talking to people, because it’s a very select audience, there’s generally three challenges that come up over and over again. And the first category is probably leveling up their leadership to be more effective. People come with that concern all the time – being a better leader, a better operator, a better communicator, embodying a more powerful executive presence.

And then the second area are concerns around emotional intelligence, the need to just be able to read the room, learn how to manage their emotions, effectively deal with people issues, all those internal politics that go on, the different personalities, the bosses. And then, since COVID, what’s coming up more and more is just managing the burnout, the stress, the Sunday night anxiety, both within themselves and really, “How do I help my team?” That’s what comes up.

And what is surprising to me is the person in the room. It doesn’t matter if they’re the CEO, it doesn’t matter if they’re a beginning manager, honestly, they bring a lot of the same based concerns. You would think that that would not be true but it is true. So, you get the stress and anxiety and imposter syndrome from C-suite executives as well as a manager. That surprised me early on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Okay, that is surprising and good to note, and you’ve got the credibility and clout there, having done so many reps here. So, thank you. And I guess that’s, in a way, encouraging in terms of, “Hey, even superstars that have super senior positions are experiencing some of the same things I’m having. And, thusly, it doesn’t mean I’m weird or freakish or broken in any way. This is just part of the human condition.”

Jody Michael
It is the human condition. That’s exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you for that. Well, now let’s hear about the book, Leading Lightly. What’s the big idea or main thesis or message here?

Jody Michael
Well, it doesn’t have to be this hard. That’s the big message. When you look at how people are coping today, one out of five Americans are on psychotropic drugs, one out of 20 can’t go to sleep at night without a prescription sleeping pill, and a study that I read just a couple months ago from the World Health Organization shows that the prevalence of anxiety and depression has gone up 25% worldwide, 25% worldwide since COVID.

So, I think it’s fair to say we’re not faring well. We’re not mentally fit or not very mentally fit. And I think this is hard for people to imagine but I want to take you there right. I just want you to imagine that you can go through your day and nothing really upsets you, nothing triggers you, nothing stresses you. Imagine this, yes, Pete, it’s possible. And it’s not because you’re having some super rare problem-free day; it’s that you’re having the same challenges that were there the day before.

What’s changed is you. You’re different. You’re not reactive. You’re not defensive. You’re not emotionally triggered. You’re Teflon. Nothing sticks. That’s leading lightly. And so, my book is a wakeup call. Your wakeup call to help you see how you’re unwittingly sabotaging yourself, your energy, your performance, how you’re making your days harder and more painful and more exhausting than they need to be.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that is compelling and exciting as an opportunity and a possibility that this really could be so in our lives. So, then maybe could you share a story so that we can see this in action in terms of a professional who was stressed, exhausted, burned out, overwhelmed and then what they did to turn things around and to lead lightly and be stress-free and untriggered?

Jody Michael
I’d love to. I am going to choose a woman that worked at a Fortune 500 company, we’ll call her Susan, mid to late 30s, ambitious, great at executing, great at delivering projects, perceived as a high potential in the organization. Here’s the problem; she only cared about results. She was intimidating, a driver, just led from stress. She was demanding, dismissive, defensive, and, honestly, no one liked working with her, or for her. Anywhere around this woman was kind of a problem.

So, she was on a six-month performance improvement plan, that’s when we started working together, and so we didn’t have a lot of time to make some pretty big changes in her leadership and how she was experiencing her days, but she worked hard, she took it seriously. She used our MindMastery For Mental Fitness app. And in a few weeks, people started to see her change.

She was lighter, visibly softer. Her meetings became interactive, inspiring instead of how she had been merely directive, which was her style, and people were surprised that she was showing up caring, empathic. She had slowed down. That’s what others saw on the outside. And here’s the message that I want to deliver, here’s what actually happened on the inside – she shifted her perspective.

So, she no longer thought she knew everything. She no longer thought others had a negative intent. She no longer thought she always had to watch her back, so she became more calm, more self-aware, more mindful. And over the next six months, she radically changed how she held her emotions, how she handled her emotions.

So, even if she was upset on the inside, she didn’t show it. She didn’t let that impact how she interacted with others and she became far less stressed. She wasn’t staying up as late at night. She wasn’t moving as fast. She wasn’t talking as fast. She was just more effective. And by the end of our engagement, she wasn’t reactive. She was no longer attacking. She wasn’t defensive. And if she got triggered, she was able to shift out of this triggered state within 60 to 90 seconds without others even being aware of it.

Now, let me finish this story here by telling you, as you can imagine, everyone was worried that she would revert as soon as the coaching engagement was over. I’m right there holding her hand, and that’s what people’s biggest concerns were, her coworkers, but it never happened. Two years later, she broke that glass ceiling at her company, made it to the C-suite, and it was just a far cry from the performance improvement plan that she had on when we first met. So, that’s an example of somebody feeling better internally and all of the people around them getting to experience it as well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool, Jody. Well, that sounds like almost a business-fable type book. We’ve got the drama, “Oh, it’s the end of the line of performance improvement plan. You might be on the way out,” and then, turn around and happy ending. That’s beautiful. Cool. So, you mentioned she worked hard. Let’s zoom in. What does that work look like? If we want to be resilient, mentally fit, stress-free, leading lightly, what are the actions we take to get there?

Jody Michael
Yeah. Well, let me walk you through it. And I think that it’s easiest if I give you an example that everyone can relate to.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Jody Michael
So, here’s what that would look like, and there’s probably not a listener that would not relate to this. You get an email and you know it’s that email, the one that triggers you, and it makes you so angry that you immediately…you sit down, you’re furiously typing your response, and you hit Send, not just Send, you hit Reply All, and it feels so good.

You feel good. You’re sitting there in the moment feeling good, and then two minutes later, you panic. You probably let out a few expletives. And in that moment, you’re wishing you could take back that email. When you’re triggered, when you’re not thinking clearly, you don’t make good decisions. You become reactive, defensive, whatever.

So, my process helps you learn how to manage those moods and those thoughts and those situations, and I have a step-by-step process I called MindMastery, and it’s going to build your mental fitness by disrupting your habitual patterns, and then, over time, it will actually rewire your brain. And so, for people to remember this process, I created a mnemonic.

The first part is ABC, the second part is SEE. So, A stands for assess. The first thing you want to do if you’re starting to rebuild your brain is to assess the moods and the thoughts that you have when you get triggered, and this is super critical. You have to start hearing what you say to yourself. And before I even more on to letter B, I want to make sure that you get one really important concept. The words of the email did not cause you to become furious. It wasn’t the words. What caused you to become furious were the thoughts you had when you read the email.

So, in that example, maybe someone’s sitting there saying, “He’s lying. I didn’t say that,” and that created the thought, or the mood, I should say, of furious. Another person who receives that exact same email directed at them may have the thought, “What? Was I unclear? Did he misunderstand what I said to him the other day?” and they would’ve created a very different mood, a mood of confusion with the exact same words on that email. That’s a critical distinction that, for many people, it really takes a while to embody. So, that’s the first you’re doing, is just assessing, “What did I just say to myself that created this upset?”

B stands for breathe. Breathing deeply, as soon as you start to assess, “What did I just say to myself?” deep diaphragmic breathing, holding it for six seconds, releasing, and then repeating it as you needed until you calm yourself. You’re doing that. And C is you’re choosing. You’re choosing to be accountable for your moods, for your thoughts, for your behavior, for whatever results happen as a result, and you look in the mirror, you ask yourself, “How did I contribute to this situation?” You’re not blaming. You’re not focusing on the other party.

And once you get stabilized with this ABC, the second part of the mnemonic, SEE, this is going to boost your resilience and your emotional intelligence because it’s really getting to the heart of who you are and who you can be. So, the first letter is S, and it stands for spot. You want to spot your current lens, your current perspective that’s driven by your underlying core beliefs. That’s what’s causing your distrust.

E stands for explore. You want to explore other lenses, other perspectives, by being curious, by being empathic, flexible, open. And the final E stands for elect. You want to elect a lens, choose a perspective that is going to allow you to perform at your best in this given situation. And if you engage in this process, my God, I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, refining it, refining it, we’ve got it under 10 minutes a day. If you’re doing it correctly, if you’re doing it eight or more times a day over a long enough period of time, you’re going to feel the difference, you’re going to start to respond differently, and others are going to notice it as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then, that eight times a day, that is in response to a stressor.

Jody Michael
That is in response to that app coming at you intermittently, randomly, when you’re not ready and you’re just responding to that app, and responding to ABC, assessing, “Where am I? What is the mood I’m in right now? What are the thoughts I’m having right now?” etc. And it’s going to build your emotional intelligence. It’s going to help you calm down, etc. Now, can you proactively go in when you get triggered? Absolutely. That’s going to help this process go faster, your brain is going to learn it exponentially quicker, and you’re going to get results.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Now, refresh us the name of the app is what and how do we get it?

Jody Michael
It is MindMastery for Mental Fitness.

Pete Mockaitis
MindMastery for Mental Fitness.

Jody Michael
And it’s on Google Apps, it’s on Apple, and we were one of the first transformational, if not the first transformational app out there. It’s been out there for 10 years. So, I’ve been doing research on this. I’ve been using this process for over 20 years, and it is a vast majority, a good proportion of those 40,000 one-on-one sessions I’ve done.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, with 10 years and research and experience, what sort of…is there some quantified lift on a construct that psychologists would point to, like, “Hey, when you do this, we can expect X percent improvement in Y”?

Jody Michael
I don’t have the X percent improvement on Y. There’s a lot of reasons that will bore your listeners for me to go through, but what we can look at and measure, the second piece of the app is going to measure how quickly you can get yourself out of a triggered state, and if you can sustain it. And that’s what we’re looking for. That’s what I really care about. It’s like, “Look, when you get triggered, can you pause and can we get your amygdala, your fight-or-flight response down so you’re not going to make a leadership mistake, you’re not going to say something you don’t want to say, or take an action or make a decision that’s not good in that moment?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. And so, what are some of the kind of like the before-or-after times associated with that?

Jody Michael
Honestly, when you get good at doing…look, when you first start, it’s hard. People will come back and say, “Look, I was in this mood for three days.” And that same person three months later is like they’re in that mood for 10 minutes. You move that out six months later, they’re in that mood for 40 seconds. And at some point, your brain, because here’s what’s really going on in your brain. You’re just following habitual neuropathways. So, when you’re reactive, your brain just wants to take the shortcut. It’s just doing it. You’re not even thinking about it.

But when you stop your brain from reacting, and you say, “No, no, I don’t want to go down that path, that well-worn path. I’m going to create a new path,” over time, that new path that you repeat is going to be a well-grooved path and, at some point, your brain is going to shift over and go down the new pathway. And that’s how change, deep systemic change happens. And that’s what’s exciting because mental fitness, unlike physical fitness, if you do it long enough, it just stays with you. It’s just your new 2.0 version of you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s maybe walk through an example. Let’s say the app zings me or buzzes me, and I am feeling stressed because my two precious children, three and four years old, are being kind of squabble-y, they’re like just not playing well together, just sort of saying, “Give me this, give me this. Waah, I know this is mine. Waah,” crying and being loud, and I find that stressful. I’m just like, “Aargh, just knock it off.” And so, one of my life goals is to never scream, shut up my children, and, thus far, four and a half years in, I am batting a thousand.

Jody Michael
Are you failing at this?

Pete Mockaitis
No, I’ve managed to, not externally, articulate that. But, internally, I’m just like, “Aargh! Knock it off!” It really does feel visceral in terms of these are loud noises and unpleasant emotions being kind of broadcast toward me, and it’s sort of like I have some responsibility here as they’re my children, and it’s sort of like, “I should probably do something.” What I should do is not completely clear but I’ve got some ideas, but mostly I guess, you could say I’m stressed, I’m triggered, I don’t care for this. And so, here we are. Let’s walk through it.

Jody Michael
Let me help you.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it.

Jody Michael
Let me help you, yes. First of all, you said something very important that I want to, if I was working with you, I would make this correction. You said you were stressed because your kids were acting out, or whatever you were saying. You’re not stressed because your kids are acting out. You’re stressed because of what you’re saying to yourself while your kids are acting out.

Because I’m sure, Pete, there are times when the kids are acting out, and you’re just thinking, “Oh, they’re adorable.” You’re maybe more rested, maybe there’s something happening in your space that the kids aren’t annoying you in that moment in the same way they did the day before. Is that true?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, happens. Yeah.

Jody Michael
Okay. So, that’s the critical point that I would coach you on. It’s like, “What are you saying in that moment when the kids are acting up?” That’s what’s creating the stress. But an even faster way to get out, because you don’t want to deal with this, you just don’t want to feel that way, is a trigger hack. And it’s something really simple, and it is underused, this skill. And it’s breathing.

Remember when I talked about, just a moment ago, that deep diaphragmic breathing, most people don’t do this right. But this is the fastest way to get out of a triggered state, is to…I’ll show you how to do it right now. Let’s just do it together. Put your hands on your lower abdomen, below your bellybutton. Take it in as much breath as you can, breathe in. Make sure your belly goes out. This is where people don’t do it right. Hold it, one, one thousand, two, one thousand, all the way to the count of six, one thousand, and then release.

So, while your kids are acting out, you’re going to do that, and you’re going to do that repeatedly, probably will only take you three or four times to do that. And guess what? At six seconds, you have 20 seconds or 30 seconds, you will feel amazingly different physiologically when you do that. That is the fastest way to calm yourself down.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I want to dig into that a little bit. So, there’s the hold for six seconds. Does the pace at which I inhale matter, it can be fast or slow?

Jody Michael
It doesn’t matter. As long as your belly is really, really…you can’t put anymore oxygen in, that’s super important.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s funny, that actually feels a little stressful when I’m just like, “Ahh, I might burst. This is so much air all up in me.”

Jody Michael
That’s funny.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that okay or do I want a little bit lesser than that?

Jody Michael
It’s okay. It’s okay. No, it’s actually great. You know what’s actually happening when you do that? Let me explain what’s happening and why that’s so effective. When you get…let’s call it “stressed by your kids,” your whole body tenses up and you go into what is called a catabolic state. You go into some negative state where you’re dumping chemicals, not good chemicals, into your body. And what happens is your amygdala gets triggered. You go into fight or flight even in a small situation like that, and you’re not optimally thinking straight because that’s overtaking your brain.

And while that’s happening, your focus gets narrow and all you can hear is your kids, so you start to focus just on your kids, everything else goes away. When you breathe like that, it disengages the amygdala. Now, it might not do that in the first six seconds, but maybe in the second six seconds. And what happens then is it re-engages the front of your brain called your prefrontal cortex. And why that’s important is that’s your executive functioning part of your brain.

And so, you are immediately stopping the coursing of the negative hormones in your body, your body is basically going, “Oh, there is no stress.” There is no stress because, physiologically, you couldn’t do that. You could not breathe deeply like that if there was a tiger in the room that was about to kill you. So, it confuses your brain, and says, “Oh, there is nothing stressful here. Relax. There isn’t something stressful.” And that’s why, so quickly, your body can come into homeostasis, and much quicker than thinking through it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then, likewise, with the exhale, is that any pace is fine?

Jody Michael
Any pace is fine.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And the six seconds, would seven be even better?

Jody Michael
Six seconds is based on research. So, this is the quickest you can get out of a triggered state physiologically is when you breathe that way under stress and you hold it. That’s what the research shows. So, I think that’s where that comes from, the six seconds.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Jody Michael
It’s not going to get hurt you to hold it at seven. It’s just hard to hold it for seven.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess it will elongate it by a whole four seconds if I’m doing this four times.

Jody Michael
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I can’t spare that time. Okay. So, there’s the breathe. And then the choosing?

Jody Michael
Yes. And then you’re choosing to be accountable. Your kids didn’t do this to you, Pete. You created the stress. The kids are just playing. They’re just acting out. They’re just being kids.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Jody Michael
So, you have to then, at just that juncture, when you choose accountability, you have the opportunity then to be in control of your emotional state rather than looking at the kids are the issue. Now, you can still go over there and say, “Hey, guys, calm down. Let’s stop. Time out,” but it’ll be in a different emotional state than it would be if you didn’t do this, of course.

But really, what it is, is that self-awareness…well, see here, this is a good, probably a quote, is that you don’t get stressed; you create stress. You don’t get overwhelmed; you create overwhelm. And most of us are blind to this that’s why it’s so hard for us to process this. It’s just nonsensical because we don’t understand how we’re doing it.

But once you understand how you’re doing it, you get in control. You get in control of lowering your stress levels to amazing levels, and you think it’s not even possible, especially someone who’s very reactive, they’re thinking, “I can’t do this.” But when you are re-training your brain, you can do this, and it makes you really feel in control.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s intriguing. When you talked about overwhelmed, I’m thinking that overwhelmed, on the emotional level, I can say it feels a certain way, like physiologically, so there’s that. And then there’s also overwhelmed in terms of just like a sheer resource issue, like, “This thing is important to me and the time available to complete it is short, and my resources are scanty, and, thusly, I feel…” I don’t know if you want to challenge my thusly, “And I feel stressed, worried, overwhelmed about this situation here.”

So, I guess you’re drawing the distinction that being resource-constrained and working on something important that is potentially at risk of not being completed on time or at sufficient quality is distinct from an emotional sense of overwhelm.

Jody Michael
It is distinct from but I want to tell you that you could have the same volume of work, you could have the same limited resources, you could have a boss that is very difficult, and you can come to me, and I’ve had this situation happen, I can think of this vividly. I had a woman come to my office, and say, basically begged me to give her permission to quit her job, like I was mom or something.

And I said to her, “No, you have to take my full day MindMastery workshop first, and then let’s work it, then I will address this question in two months, three months, and we’ll see if you feel that way.” Now, of course, she could leave her job. Of course.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. You don’t own her.

Jody Michael
But she asked me, and I said, “Don’t think you’ll actually want to leave your job.” And I will tell you that within a couple of months, I said, “Okay, you know you’re going to go back to school in six months, you have enough resources. If you want to quit your job, you could certainly quit your job.” And she said, “Why would I quit my job? It doesn’t stress me anymore.” That’s the difference. Because what’s creating the overwhelm isn’t the amount of work you’re getting. It’s what you’re saying to yourself. Look, every single day, you spend somewhere between…you have somewhere between 6,000 and 50,000 thoughts a day.

And the National Science Foundation tells you, does research, and says, “You know, those 6,000, 50,000 thoughts that you have every day, 80% of them are negative, 80% of the thoughts that you’re thinking are negative,” meaning you’re spending most of your day stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated, anxious, burnt out, and I think most people can relate to that, especially over the last couple of years, but what is actually creating the overwhelm is you, sitting there, saying, “Oh, my God, don’t give me one more thing. Are you kidding? You’re giving another piece. I have another deadline. I can’t make this. I don’t have time. God, I don’t have time. I don’t have time.”

That research also showed that 80% of the thoughts you’re going to think today are the exact same thoughts that you thought yesterday, and the day before, and the day before. So, we are running this script that we don’t even hear in our subconscious. And if you walk around all day and say, “I’m tired. I’m tired. I’m tired,” you’re not hearing yourself say that, “I’m overwhelmed. There’s too much to do, etc.” You start to have a mantra, and that creates overwhelm or stress.

Otherwise, if that wasn’t true, Pete, everyone at a certain workload would get to the place where they’re overwhelmed. Everyone. And that’s not true. Some people have a far higher capacity than someone else, and some people just feel like they’re Teflon, they just don’t get overwhelmed. They just power through or they’re really having very different conversations about the work that they’re doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s cool and exciting and compelling. Intriguing, six to 50,000 thoughts is quite a range. Some people thinking eight times as many thoughts as others.

Jody Michael
Yeah, there’s so much controversy around that. There’s different research out there, so I don’t know what the true number is but it ranges from all this.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, it’s not so much that some people are thinking eight times as many thoughts as others, although maybe they are.

Jody Michael
Yeah, that’s pretty funny.

Pete Mockaitis
Versus how are counting a thought. Okay. And then I’m thinking about 1,440 minutes in a day, maybe a 1,000 conscious minutes in a day not asleep. I buy it, six to 50 thoughts per minute. That sounds about right. Okay. So, we got the ABCs. And how about the SEE now?

Jody Michael
The SEE is spot your current lens. What’s the perspective that’s driving this core belief? And the belief is your kids. The core belief that you’re having there is annoyance, your kids are making you crazy, your kids are stressing you out. So, you’re looking at that lens and saying, “Okay, is that perspective helpful for me to get in control, to be my best self in that moment?” Let’s just call it, “To be the best parent I can be, is that the best perspective I could have in that moment?” Chances are it’s not.

And then the second E, explore, is, “How else can I look at this?” Well, you might look at this empathically from your kids’ point of view. They’ve been cooped up all day and they’re just trying to expend energy. So, you look at the kids, and, “Oh, they’re just kids. Kids will be kids,” let’s just say. You’re looking for a lens where you could be empathic, where you could be curious, where you could be more flexible to the situation rather than the narrow lens of, “These kids are making me crazy right now. I’m stressed.”

And then the final E stands for elect. Now, choose the right lens for you. Whatever that is in that moment, what perspective is going to allow you to perform at your best as a parent in this given situation? And what that might be for you, Pete, in that moment? How else can you look at that?

Pete Mockaitis
I suppose what I would say to myself would be kind of an exploratory question-problem-solving thing, like, “What needs are not being met for these children such that they are in such a mood? Are they tired? Are they hungry? And how can I help meet that need?”

Jody Michael
Yeah, that’s great. HALT, right, hungry, angry, lonely, tired, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay, thank you.

Jody Michael
That’s a great parenting skill, HALT, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then thank you for that. That’s cool. Let’s do another rapid-fire example of someone. They’re at work, they’ve got some things in their to-do list, and they’ve been procrastinating. There’s a couple items that, ugh, I’ve got to watch what I say around, you know, Jody. I want to say it makes them stressed, just like, there are a few items on the to-do list.

When they look at them, they go, “Ugh, that does not feel pleasant. I don’t want to do that,” and they feel a sensation of reduced motivation, energy, sudden burning desire to check the news or social media or email instead of facing down that thing. Can you walk us through in rapid fire the ABC, SEE, and how things might go down here?

Jody Michael
Yeah, I could. Let me do you one better though. Let me shock people by saying procrastination is a conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Shocking. Shock us.

Jody Michael
And so, what I mean by that is we tend to think about the lack of action as the foundation of the problem. But what’s really driving the habit of procrastination is, again, the conversation that you’re having with yourself right before the action of procrastination. You’re saying something like, “Ugh, I’ll do this later,” or, “Ugh, I don’t have time right now,” or, “I’m too tired,” or, “I don’t feel like it.”

And if you listen to yourself, I guarantee you, if you listen, you’re going to hear that you’re having the same conversation with yourself over and over and over again. If you catch that conversation right in that moment, and change the conversation, that’s what’s going to actually conquer the habit of procrastination. So, that’s why I wanted to go just one deeper.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you.

Jody Michael
So, what would you do A for assess? You would say, “Okay, what am I feeling like right now? I’m feeling like I don’t want to do this. I don’t feel like it.” That’s kind of like avoidance. Maybe that would be the mood state. “And what’s my thought? My thought would be I don’t want to do this, or not now.” Something to that effect.

And then, while you’re doing that, you’re breathing because you are triggered in that avoidance, or checked out, and you say, “Okay, I’m going to be accountable not just for my moods but for my thoughts and behaviors.” So, right there, you’re choosing, “I can bigger than this moment of procrastination.” So, now you’re going to look, you’re going to, S, spot your current lens or perspective, and what’s driving this.

What’s driving this belief is probably you don’t want to do the thing that’s in front of you, so there’s some belief about it’s hard, or, “I have anxiety about it,” the thing that’s in front of you. So, there’s some belief about, “It’s hard,” or, “I have anxiety about it.” That’s why people generally avoid.

Pete Mockaitis
“I might screw it up.”

Jody Michael
Yeah, “I might screw it up,” there’s something like that. And then you explore another lens, the E for explore, and then you ask yourself, “Is that really true? Is it really true I’m going to screw this up? No, I have no historical evidence that I’m going to screw this up.” Okay, then final E, elect, how else can you look at this? “Every time I work with numbers, let’s say, I get anxious. That’s what this is about.”

So, let’s shift that lens and create maybe a competition, “Let’s see how fast I can get this done.” That would shift your whole, “Let’s make this a game. Let’s see how fast I can get this done. Let’s tackle this because as soon as I get this done, I can go and do something more enjoyable.”

Pete Mockaitis
That is good. And then what comes to mind is, “Oh, well, if I don’t want to do it, then by conquering this thing, I will feel all the more victorious and unstoppable in my pursuits.”

Jody Michael
Yeah, that is a favorite habit of mine, to be honest with you. At the beginning of my day, I do the thing I want to do least first because if you don’t want to do something, you avoid it, you dread it. It’s going to be an energy drain that’s just going to hover over you subconsciously all day long. It’s like this invisible weight that I’m carrying. On the other hand, if I get it done first, I’m immediately rewarded with a burst of energy, which is a great way to start the day. So, that is a habit that I started many years ago and I love.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. I think Brian Tracy has got a book Eat That Frog about this very notion.

Jody Michael
Yes. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Jody, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about a few of your favorite things?

Jody Michael
Yeah, you can’t change what you don’t see, and you think you see more than you do. There’s a research study out by Tasha Eurich presented in her book.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, we had her on the show.

Jody Michael
Presented in her book Insight. And 95% of people think they’re self-aware, only 10-15% are. And in my experience as an executive coach is that it’s absolutely dead-on. Even people that have high emotional intelligence are not as self-aware as they think they are, and it’s fascinating to see that. That surprised me.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, thank you. Now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jody Michael
Oh, yeah, I love this quote, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” George Bernard Shaw. And I love it because it’s empowering, it’s hopeful, it’s proactive. It’s the opposite of victim mentality and it’s poignant. It has rich applicability to my life and to the work that I do with others, so I love that quote.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Jody Michael
Self-Deception and Leadership by The Arbinger Institute. You’re familiar with it, yes? That’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one. I listened to the audiobook and so I always hear it, “You’re in the box.”

Jody Michael
Yes. Yes, get out of the box.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Jody Michael
Oh, I love Muse. I think it’s the best meditation tool out there to learn to meditate. It’s a headband.

Pete Mockaitis
Are we talking about the brain-sensing headband?

Jody Michael
Yeah, love it.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve got two of them.

Jody Michael
Oh, yeah, that’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
It is fun. It’s fun.

Jody Michael
No, I really think it helps people learn to meditate exponentially faster. I really believe that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, the audio feedback is great. I prefer the campfire sound myself. And I also like the number-y aspect because meditation is kind of like a noncompetitive thing, and, nonetheless, I like to know, “Am I getting better here?” And I could see the birds and how I’ve got more. And there’s a great article, we’ll link to it in the show notes, about someone hosted a March mindfulness meditation competition.

Jody Michael
Oh, my God, that’s hysterical.

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

Jody Michael
My website JodyMichael.com. That’s Jody with a Y, not an I, and Michael just like the first name, no S at the end.

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

Jody Michael
Watch your words. Create awareness around the words you use. Words are powerful. Your words are creating your moods, your feelings. Those moods and feelings are driving your behavior. And your behavior creates the results that you end up getting or you don’t get. That’s the power of words. And, again, I’m not just talking about the words you use when you’re speaking to others. I’m particularly talking about the words that you say to yourself. Your thoughts.

If you can uncover your thoughts, hear your thoughts, understand how your thoughts are self-sabotaging, and then choose to reframe those impending thoughts with more helpful thoughts, it will change the trajectory of your leadership and your life, just as it has done for many of my clients.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Jody, thank you. This has been a delight. I wish you and your book Leading Lightly all the luck.

Jody Michael
Thank you, Pete.

775: Susan Cain Uncovers the Surprising and Uplifting Power of Sorrow and Longing

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Susan Cain explains how embracing bittersweetness helps us lead more creative, connected, and fulfilling careers and lives.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two simple shifts to make you more courageous
  2. How a bias for positivity is holding us back
  3. How to keep your brain from wallowing in negativity

About Susan

Susan Cain is the #1 bestselling author of Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which spent eight years on The New York Times best seller list, and has been translated into 40 languages. Susan’s TED talks have been viewed over 40 million times. LinkedIn named her the Top 6th Influencer in the World, just behind Richard Branson and Melinda French Gates. Susan partners with Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Grant and Dan Pink to curate the Next Big Idea Book Club. They donate all their proceeds to children’s literacy programs. Visit Susan at susancain.net.

Resources Mentioned

Susan Cain Interview Transcript

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

Susan Cain
Thank you so much, Pete. It is awesome to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom and some insights from your latest book Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole. And congratulations on hitting number one on New York Times’ Best Seller list, that’s pretty fantastic. Good job.

Susan Cain
Thank you so much.

Pete Mockaitis
But maybe, first, I’m dying to know, and I think many of the listeners are as well, so you’re also quite famous for your book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. And you do public speaking all the time, and I understand that wasn’t your favorite thing to do. Could you maybe tell us how you found some growth and development there? And did you learn to enjoy it all the more?

Susan Cain
Oh, God, yeah. I mean, so you have to know where I was starting from because it wasn’t just that I didn’t enjoy speaking. It was that, like, I can sometimes literally vomit before a speech, and I would always lose five pounds in the week before a speech because I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep. Like, it was very intense. And I used to be a lawyer before I became a writer, so during all that time I was a lawyer, I just gritted my teeth through that suffering.

But then when I became a writer, and like I really cared about getting my message out. I didn’t want my phobia to stand in the way, so I kind of tackled this issue that I had. And here’s the secret, and what I’m about to say applies to any fear that your listeners might have, any fear. The way to overcome any fear is you have to expose yourself to the thing you fear, you can’t hide from it, but you have to do it in very, very small, very manageable doses.

So, you can’t start by giving a TED Talk if your fear is public speaking. You have to start by going to the nicest Toastmasters meeting you’ve ever seen. Or, in my case, I went to this seminar for people with public speaking anxiety, where everybody was really nice and all you had to do was, like you’d start by this really small exercises. Like, the first day, you’d get up and say your name and sit back down, “Congratulations. You’re done.” 

And you’d ratch it up little by little by little by little by little from there, and, in this way, you’re basically training your brain that the thing that it reacted to, as if it were a saber-toothed tiger, you’re basically training your brain, “Oh, it’s not a dangerous tiger. It’s a daffodil, and it’s okay.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool.

Susan Cain
Yeah. And so, it’s just sort of a long process but anyone can do it. That’s the great news.

Pete Mockaitis
As I put my brain in that situation, I think one of the funnest parts for me would be just creatively ideating and trying to determine what might be that next super tiny step. And it’s so funny, it’s just like, I’m thinking about virtual reality, like you can’t do it for real. You can even do it there. So, that’s nifty.

Susan Cain
It’s interesting to me though that you described that as fun. So, let me ask you this. Were you ever a nervous public speaker, or no? And the reason I asked this is because I never would’ve described the process as fun while I was in it. It was more like something I needed to do.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t think the doing it is as much fun so much as the thinking, “Oh, there is a super tiny step. That’s something I could feel like I can get a victory on that is not terrifyingly overwhelming.”

Susan Cain
Right. Right. Right.

Pete Mockaitis
But, yeah, the doing would be difficult. I’d say I never had the vomits pre-public speaking but I…

Susan Cain
I never heard it called the vomits.

Pete Mockaitis
But I did…I certainly felt nerves. And I guess I somehow managed to convince myself that I was excited and then I believed it, and it’s a rush. I remember a speaking mentor said, “When it comes to public speaking, it’s like, man, sometimes there’s this electricity and sometimes you get electrocuted,” in terms of how it seems to go, and that’s been my experience. I’ve had some talks that didn’t go as well.

And, in a way, those have been super helpful in terms of taking a real good look, like, “What went wrong there?” And all of it was sort of like assumptions I had made about the audience in advance, like, “Oh, they’re not already jazzed about this topic,” and it’s more of a general audience, and so it’s oopsies, lessons learned. But one fun thing about talking about on How to be Awesome at Your Job is all the listeners already care about being awesome at their jobs, so we got that covered.

Susan Cain
Right. Yeah, so you already know what they’re excited about, hearing about. Well, I’ll give one other public speaking hack that I think is really huge for people who are afraid of public speaking, which is that if you are afraid of it, it is because you are attuning excessively to being judged. You’re like your relationship with the audience emotionally is that they’re the judge or perhaps the executioner, and you’re like the penitent before them. That is not a helpful relationship obviously.

What I would try to turn that into is to think in advance, like, “What…” from your heart, like really think at a heart level, “What is it that I want to convey? What can I say that’s going to be truly helpful today? Even if it’s just helpful to one person in the audience, what could I do that could truly elevate someone’s life?” And then you’re going out there in the spirit of like, “What can I give?” as opposed to “How will I be judged?” And it’s a completely different energy. Completely. It’s very transformative.

I don’t find that that works if you’re in a state of extreme, extreme anxiety, but once you get to the point where it’s stamped down and you’re in the realm of manageable butterflies, shifting your energy that way is really transformative.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Well, Susan, you’re already providing fantastic insights, and we’re not even on the main topic yet, so this is going great. Well, all right, tell us, Bittersweet, could you maybe kick us off by sharing a particularly surprising discovery you made while researching and putting this together that has been really striking for folks?

Susan Cain
I think our culture, I know our culture, is so confused, so kind of bedazzled by the idea of being positive at all times that it doesn’t have the ability to distinguish between this incredibly productive and creative state of bittersweet melancholy versus clinical depression. We don’t have a language for distinguishing between the two. We don’t have a way of thinking about it.

Even if you look in the field of psychology, you’ll find psychologists talking about this around the edges but in the center of the field. And yet, like the state of bittersweet melancholy that I’m talking about in my book is one of the greatest power sources that we have of creativity and of human connection, and of a sense of self-transcendence and spirituality, so lots of the goodies that lots of people want, both for their work lives, their creative lives, their emotional lives, and yet we’re living in a culture that’s telling you that the only way to get there is through a kind of relentless upbeat optimism. And that’s just not true.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That sounds like a thesis statement. I love it. Well, then could you paint a clear picture for us and draw as bright a distinction as we can between depression and bittersweet?

Susan Cain
Yeah. So, with depression, you’re in a state where it’s a kind of emotional black hole. You’re in a state of despair. You’re in a state of hopelessness. You’re not in a state of like being in touch with things. You’re in a state of like, “I’m worthless. Life is hopeless. I’m cut off. There’s nothing to be done.” When you’re in a state of bittersweetness, you’re acutely aware of both the sorrow and the joy in this world, and the fact that they’re forever paired but with that comes an acute awareness of beauty and an ability to transform pain into beauty.

So, it’s actually a very hopeful state. It’s a state of meaning. It’s the reason that after 9/11, for example, we suddenly had a lot of people signing up for jobs as firefighters. And after the pandemic, we’ve suddenly had a lot of people enrolling in medical school and nursing school. And neither of those responses make sense on their face. That’s kind of like here are people reacting to a dispiriting and dangerous situation by signing up for more danger, like signing up to be at the heart of the danger.

But what they’re really doing is they’re turning in the direction of meaning, which is what people have the capacity to do. We have the capacity to respond to life’s difficulties by turning in that direction of meaning in our careers and in our life orientation.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And I love it if we could continue of painting a picture of what you call bittersweet. I guess as I’m thinking about 9/11, for instance, and where I was and what’s going on, like I felt confusion, sadness, shock, anger. It wasn’t like bittersweet as like, “Oh, my baby is growing up,” and so that’s what I first think about when it’s like, “Oh, she doesn’t want to be held as much,” or kind whatever. And so, that’s kind of what leaps to mind when I have the word bittersweet to me. Can you unpack a bit more of the vibe, the texture, the look, the sound, the feel of bittersweet as you describe it?

Susan Cain
Yeah. And actually, the example of your baby growing up is, I think it’s a fantastic example because bittersweetness really is…it’s about, as I say, the pairing of joy and sorrow, and the fact that that’s what this life is, but it’s also about the recognition that everyone and everything we love most will not stay the same, will not live forever, all of that. And then what comes with that is this beauty.

I have a bittersweet quiz that it’s at the beginning of my book and it’s also on my website for people who just want to take it quickly, which is SusanCain.net but I can give you a few questions from it to give you a sense. So, one question is, “Do you react intensely to music, art, or nature?” Another question is, “Do you draw comfort or inspiration from rainy days?” That’s sort of like cozy, poetic, rainy day vibe. And another one is, “Do you like sad music?”

We actually know that people listen to the happy songs on their playlist about 175 times, but they listen to these sad songs 800 times. And we know that it’s the sad music that gives us the goosebumps and the chills as opposed to the happy music. And I love the happy music and the dance music is great. It’s just that there’s something in that vein of art created with a tinge of melancholy that gets people in the real heart. It’s just something for creatives to know, in general. It’s like sort of the secret to the creative sauce.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. When you talked about happy and sad songs, I think that really does nail it because I’m imagining like your wedding playlist, like, “Too high,” “Hot damn.” So, there’s that, and so that’s fun. But then as I’m thinking, like sad songs, the first thing that came to mind was “Champagne High” by Sister Hazel, which, if you look at the lyrics, it’s really heart-wrenching.

It’s about a person who is at someone else’s – geez, I’m getting choked up – he’s at someone else’s wedding that he was in love with, and he had hoped to reconnect but it just didn’t quite work out, like, “Dude,” like, “Whoa.” Like, if you put yourself there, it is deeper and it’s hitting the heart. And, at the same time, it’s not all just gut-wrenching tragedy. It’s like, “Ah, we had something beautiful, didn’t we?” And so, there it is.

Susan Cain
Yeah, because what you’re really talking about is longing, which is the real key to human DNA. That’s really what drives us at the end of the day. Look at every single religion, they’re all about the longing for the more perfect and beautiful world. It’s like you’re longing for the Garden of Eden, you’re longing for Mecca, you’re longing for Zion.

The Sufis long for the beloved of the soul, that’s what they call the divine. And then we do that creatively, too. We have Dorothy is longing for somewhere over the rainbow. That’s really what glamor is, if there’s anybody listening, where you’re in a kind of glamor field, and that’s what you need to understand what glamor really is.

Glamor is like a pictorial representation of that perfect state, of perfect love, and perfect beauty in an otherworldly sense that we long for. That’s why there’s the kind of iconic image of the shiny convertible driving around the bend to nowhere. And inside the convertible, sits the beautiful couple, and it’s like a representation of this perfect love, and they’re driving around the bend to the perfect unseen. That’s what drives people.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s interesting, as I think about such a scene, one’s emotional response would be, “Ahh, I want that.”

Susan Cain
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Or, “Oh, I’ll never have that.” And then maybe that’s the distinction right there. The latter, I don’t know if it has a bit of hopelessness going on. And so, it’s interesting, like what we’re talking about is so deep and human, it almost feels inappropriate to, I don’t know, weaponize or utilize this, but that’s what you’re saying. It’s, like, it is a force. And so, if we think about the context of people wanting to be awesome at their job, how do we tap into this in a way that we find brings about more wholeness and awesomeness?

Susan Cain
Well, first of all, if you want to understand your co-workers, you have to understand, which is one of the, obviously, the great ways of being awesome at your job is to work well and really care about the people you’re working with. You have to understand this is at the heart of their nature and it’s at the heart of your nature, too. And it creates spaces for people to show up that way, if you’re a team leader, for example.

But, also, it’s like, let’s say even before you get to your job and you’re thinking about what the right job is for you, and maybe you’re not sure, and maybe you don’t know if you’re in the right job or if you’re even in the right career, I would ask yourself, like, “What do you long for? What are you longing for?” And pay attention to the symbols in your life.

If it’s okay, I’ll tell you a quick story from my life to sort of illustrate what I’m talking about. So, I used to be a corporate lawyer before I became a writer, and I was totally in the wrong field for me but I got really caught up in it, the way one does. You know how it is. You’re like in a field and then everyone you know is in that field, and you’re doing it 24/7, so you’re living in this hermetically sealed bubble. You can’t see outside of it.

So, I was caught up in it, I was trying really hard to make partner, I was working all the time for years. And then this day came when a partner in the firm…I wrote all about this. He came and he told me I wasn’t going to be making partner. And, at the time, like I received this news as a catastrophe but I went home the next day, or a little bit after that, I left the firm. I took a leave of absence and a few weeks after that I ended a relationship, a seven-year relationship that had always felt wrong.

And so, now I’m like floating around, like no career, no love, I’m in my early 30s, and I’ve fallen into this relationship with another guy. He’s a musician, he’s a lyricist, a very lit up type of person, and it becomes a kind of obsession, and I can’t shake it, and I can’t stop thinking about him. There’s nothing I can do to extricate myself from this obsession.

And then a friend of mine says to me, she’s like, “If you’re this obsessed with this person, it’s not only because the person himself. It’s because he represents something you’re longing for. So, what are you longing for?” And it was like the minute she said that, I knew the answer. He was a musician. He was, like, he represented this life of art and writing that I’d wanted to be part of. Since I was four years old, I’d wanted to be a writer, and I had put all that on hold for decades.

And as soon as I understood that, the obsession fell away, I started writing for real, and that was it. That’s a kind of dramatic version of it but I think we can all be asking ourselves those questions all the time. Like, you’re working really hard so that you can get a house. Like, what does the house mean to you? What does it symbolize to you? What are you longing for? And make sure you’re orienting your life around, really, what your heart’s longing is telling you because career years have a way of adding up really quickly, and you want to make sure you’re putting them in the right direction.

Pete Mockaitis
And we can often take such wildly circuitous routes to what we’re longing for. Like, did the musician relationship end up working out?

Susan Cain
No, no, and that was fine.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I thought…I didn’t want to, ”Yes, he’s my husband.”

Susan Cain
No, no, no, it was actually not so long after that that I met my husband. It’s all good, happily ever after.

Pete Mockaitis
If we’re doing something in order to meet another longing, which you may be aware of or not aware of, we could probably be better served just by going directly after that which we’re longing for.

Susan Cain
If you knew what it was.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, that’s where I’m going next. What are your pro tips on surfacing that?

Susan Cain
Well, most of all, really, to pay attention to what it is. Like, what is the key question that you keep asking yourself? What’s the thing that you’re staking everything for? What does it mean to you? What does it mean to you underneath it all? What’s the life you truly want? What does home look like to you? I would ask yourself that question. Getting to this fundamental, like, existential longing that we all have. We’re all longing for home in some kind of way. That’s how humans are designed. So, what does home look like to you?

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share with us a few articulations of that from folks that you’ve spoken with, heard about, talked to?

Susan Cain
Gosh, let me think of some good ones for you.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess what I’m saying is I imagine you’d say, “What I’m longing for is a Ferrari.” It’s like, “Hmm, that’s probably quite not the core of it.”

Susan Cain
Well, it’s funny that you say…that you give that example of the Ferrari because I actually wrote in the book about this seminar that I attended about longing for love. It was given by this great writer, Alain de Botton, and he actually gives the example of a Ferrari owner. It’s like very often the person who’s buying the Ferrari, they’re not necessarily after the Ferrari. Like, they’re after love and admiration. That’s often what’s motivating them.

So, it’s like always looking two or three steps underneath. Very often, when you feel like absolutely driven by something, there’s often something going on underneath it, to ask yourself what the true motivation is, what the true source is.

Susan Cain
So, here’s another example of somebody who I interviewed. So, she had been working at an international consumer goods company, doing sort of consumer research for some years. And, in this work, she…part of what you do with consumer research is you’re listening to the stories of your consumers, you’re asking them a lot of questions, which is something she found that she loved doing. She loved listening. She loved drawing them out. She loved hearing their stories. And the more she did this and the more she listened to the women’s stories and the women’s dissatisfactions, the more with their lives that they were talking to her about, the more it tapped some kind of like a primal longing in her to go back home – she was from the Middle East originally. She had come from a family where there’d been a lot of suffering and abuse of the women in the family, and she realized what she wanted to do was like a kind of healing work of the kinds of women who had been in her family, who these women in the consumer research job had reminded her of, that they kind of set this longing, a light in her.

And so, she goes back to the Middle East and she starts…and I’m being vague about where she’s from because she doesn’t want me to use her name, but she starts a not-for-profit where she’s helping refugees and helping former women prisoners, and she’s doing this work for them but what she’s really doing is trying to correct some of the wrongs that had been done to the women of her family. And it was like that was when she started to feel whole is when she did that kind of work.

Whereas, the whole time she’d been at the consumer research firm, she was like fascinated by the stories but felt a kind of a kind of…she called it like a numbness and a deadness inside, and she started to come alive when she did that kind of work. But what ignited in her was the moments of listening to these women’s stories and realizing that was like touching off the longing in her.

Pete Mockaitis
So, is that kind of the pathway that often goes when you zero in on the longing and then you go pursue that well, wholeness and aliveness is on the other side?

Susan Cain
It often is on the other side, yeah, because it’s telling you like where your sense of the love that you’re seeking, the full love that you’re seeking, where it is for you. The moments that you have longing are often a clue to what those are. Just the way, like by analogy, if you pay attention to the people who you envy.

Like, envy is not such a nice emotion but it’s an incredibly instructive emotion because, like with career envy, you’re not going to have career envy over somebody who has a job that you don’t want. You’re just going to feel happy for that person. If you’re feeling envy, you might feel ashamed of yourself for feeling that way but it is a great clue that they’re doing something that you wished that you were doing, so it’s a great sign. And longing is the same way, the same type of sign.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, there are many flavors of longing but is love at the root of them all? Or, is that kind of one of several kind of key flavors or archetypes?

Susan Cain
I would say there’s different manifestations of the same thing. For some people, it looks more like love, and for some people it’s more like beauty, and for some people it’s more like truth. But it’s this sense of like what perfection looks like to you, like a kind of otherworldly perfection.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, this wholeness, how do you know when you got it?

Susan Cain
You just know.

Pete Mockaitis
I thought you’d say that.

Susan Cain
You just know, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
“Like, I feel pretty whole.”

Susan Cain
It doesn’t mean that you’re like, “Okay, now, I‘m going to sit on the couch forever because I’m whole.” It doesn’t mean that. W
hat it means is that you’re on the right journey instead of on the wrong journey, so you’re still journeying but you’re like on the right path.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then can we talk about some perhaps practical do’s and don’ts when it comes to inside our own heads and emotions if we experience some sadness, some disappointments, there are some distinctions there between that and bittersweet? And so, how do we think about running our brains and our emotions optimally in that, I guess, it could continually be possible to “wallow” or be – torn apart sounds dramatic but…? I’m thinking of my kids and Daniel Tiger and the big feelings right now.

It’s like as you’re exploring yourself, and you’re finding these breadcrumbs, how do you recommend that we explore, engage in a way that’s likely to lead to insight and constructive goodness versus, for lack of a better word, wallowing?

Susan Cain
Oh, I’m actually glad you’re using that word wallowing because I think that that is the fear that many people have if they tune into this aspect of their emotional lives. I think they’re afraid they’ll start wallowing and never come out, so they’d rather not go there at all. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just the remember the art is to balance it all out.

But one really great technique, just to keep it super practical, is the art of expressive writing, which basically means, especially when you’re feeling something that’s amiss, something that’s wrong, something that’s upsetting you, whatever it is, to just quickly write it down and don’t try to write it well. You might rip it up as soon as you’re done writing. But the very act of articulating what you are feeling, what you’re experiencing, is incredibly transformative.

And we know this from the work of the psychologist, James Pennebaker, at UT Austin, who’s done all these incredible studies, finding that when people do this, it improves their health, it improves their career success, it improves their sense of wellbeing. He did this one study where he looked at a group of 50-something-year-old engineers who had been laid off, so they were quite depressed about it. And he asked half of them to do what I just described, to write down what they were truly thinking every morning, and then the other half would just write what they had eaten for breakfast that day.

And the first group who had written down truly the expressive writing, they were, I think it was three times more likely to have found work several months later. They had lower blood pressure. They had a greater sense of wellbeing, like just these astonishing findings that you can’t even believe are true except he repeated these studies again and again in all different circumstances.

So, this is something that we could be doing privately. This is something we could be bringing to our teams. We could be distributing blank notebooks and having time for people to kind of, in an alone together way, write down what we’re thinking. We can invite people to share if they want to but they don’t have to do it. But it’s just creating spaces for people to show up to themselves if not to each other in a fully whole way.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, with the expressive writing of what we’re feeling, that’s just sort of the extent of the prompt, “Hey, what are you feeling?”

Susan Cain
That is the extent of the prompt, yeah, “What is it?” And if there’s something that’s upsetting to you right now, write it down. Just get it out. Don’t worry about the grammar, the spelling, or anything. Just get it out. Get it out. What ends up happening, you don’t really need the prompt. What ends up happening is that people just instinctively start writing in a way that is trying to make sense of their experiences. At a certain point, they start doing that for themselves. Like, they start using words, like, “Oh, what I’ve learned is,” or, “What I’m thinking actually have been was…” and that may be where some of the magic lies.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting because I’m thinking right now, I’m kind of sick, I don’t like it.

 Susan Cain
Oh, sorry to hear that. 

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Susan Cain
You don’t look or sound sick. What’s up?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. We’re getting better. We’re getting…oh, maybe I have some COVID to sinus infections going through the whole family.

Susan Cain
Oh, my gosh. You’re very matter of fact about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we’ve had COVID before and so, and the worst is behind us but, yeah. And so, that’s unpleasant.

Susan Cain
Yeah, I’m sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I guess, as I think about it, you can arrive at, on the surface level, it might not seem like there’s much to it, “Yup, being sick sucks. That’s true.” But as I think about it more in terms of the, “Well, why? Well, what’s so troubling about that for me? Like, how do I feel diminished? And why does that matter to me?” then we start to get into some interesting themes that can be insightful and actionable.

Susan Cain
Yeah, yeah, that’s right. And I’ll give you a way to do that but also to then kind of do the same thing but sort of turn it outwards. And first let me set this up for you. There is this video that went viral a couple of years ago. It was put together by the Cleveland Clinic hospital to train their caregivers in empathy. And the way this video worked, it basically 
took you through the corridors of the hospital to show you random passersby, people you’d normally walk past and not really think about it.

But in this case, there were little captions underneath each person telling you what they’re going through at that moment. And sometimes it was something nice, like just found out he’s going to be a father for the first time. But because it’s a hospital, often the captions are more things like, under a little girl, she’s going to say goodbye to her father for the last time. Like, these incredibly heartrending captions, and you can’t watch this video without completely tearing up. It’s impossible.

But the thing I started doing after having seen that video, like the thing that really struck me about it is how anonymous all those people in the corridors normally would be, and all it took was like one little half a sentence caption to completely transform them into full-hearted protagonists of their stories, and that I was part of those stories.

So, I started just reminding myself all the time to wonder what people’s captions are. When I go to the grocery store, like the person is checking me out, checking out the groceries, “What are her captions?” And maybe you know them and maybe you don’t. But it’s a very transformative way to interact with people to be thinking in those terms. And with our colleagues at work, we can do that, take that a step farther because there actually are all kinds of clues, if not outright knowledge about what’s going on for them.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s powerful about that for me is just sort of the, I almost want to say, sort of like sacredness or sanctity of the human person in front of you. And being aware of that you…of course, these things…we’ve all got things going on, but calling them to mind can just be so transformative in how you interact with everyone always.

It’s like, “Okay, you are not just a person taking my credit card. Like, you are any number of these things could be going on for you. And as a person, you are worthy of respect and acknowledgement and sort of my attention as opposed to my phone, like clicking around my phone while you’re ringing things up.”

Susan Cain
Yeah. I’ll give you another one for people to do. This one could work for people to do either with their own selves or with teams or co-workers or whatever. And that is to begin your day by proactively engaging with beauty in one way or another. And this is actually a great exercise to do with a team because you could do it in a kind of show-and-tell type of way of everybody bringing something in that they find especially beautiful, whether it’s music or a snapshot or whatever it is.

But when you’re interacting with beauty, we actually know this from studies, it’s basically like tapping into the same brain centers that you experience when you’re falling in love. So, it’s like really tapping into your reward centers, and it’s tapping into a state that kind of predisposes you creatively. So, I did this the whole time I was writing my book. I was following all these art accounts on Twitter. And every morning, I would start my writing day by picking a favorite piece of art and sharing it on my social channels.

And not only did that get my brain in the right headspace to be creative, but also it was connecting me every morning, the first thing it was doing, I was like plugging into this community of people who cared about art and beauty the way I did, and that was incredibly sustaining, and it also grew our community together. So, that’s also the kind of technique that people don’t think about. It doesn’t have to do with bittersweetness per se but there is something about engaging with beauty that gets people interacting with each other in a kind of truer way, in a more whole way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I guess beauty can have many forms and flavors in terms of…is this research on visually? I guess it’s visually and then there’s music or auditorily. I suppose maybe there could be other modalities associated with beauty.

Susan Cain
Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I’m trying to think if the studies that I’m talking about were only looking at visual art or other forms. I’m not sure, but I don’t see why it would be any different, really.

Pete Mockaitis
Sometimes I feel beauty with an excellent handwashing session. Like, if you have just fantastic soap and water that’s warm and just right. I don’t know, people talk about singing Happy Birthday, it’s like, “Oh, no, no, just treasure this moment. It’s so glorious.”

Susan Cain
Yeah. Well, it’s wherever you find it. I guess that’s why they make all those beautiful soaps.

Pete Mockaitis
Didn’t think we’d end up here, Susan. All right. Well, before we hear about some of your favorite things, any key things you really want to make sure folks, who are seeking to be awesome at their jobs, know about Bittersweet?

Susan Cain
I think we’ve covered a lot. I guess I would say for those who are on the creative side of the work life to just know that one great thing you can do creatively, like whatever pain you can’t get rid of, take that and make it your creative offering. That’s really what the great creatives have always done. There’s always been this kind of transformation, it’s a kind of like alchemy, so to tune in that way.

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

Susan Cain
I’ll give you the quote that I used as the epigraph for Bittersweet, which is kind of like my whole philosophy in this book. It comes from Leonard Cohen, and the quote is, “There is a crack in everything that’s where the light gets in.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Susan Cain
You’re welcome.

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

Susan Cain
I’ll give you one from one that I also talk about in Bittersweet, and it comes from Dacher Keltner, who’s this great psychologist at Berkeley, and he has studied what he calls the compassionate instinct. And he basically studies the way in which the expression of sorrow is a kind of bonding agent for humans, and that this is because we’re evolved to be able to take care of babies who are utterly vulnerable and dependent on us. But from that beginning comes our greater ability to respond to vulnerabilities of all kind.

So, what he figured out is that we all have a vagus nerve, which is this big bundle of nerves in our bodies. It’s extremely large, it’s extremely fundamental, it regulates our breathing, it regulates our digestion, and also, if you see another person or being in distress, your vagus nerve will become activated, so that on a preconscious level, you’re not going to feel good for as long as you see someone else in distress. You’re going to want to do something about it. So, I would say that’s my favorite research, this compassionate instinct that Dacher has found.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so true. I saw someone fell off their bike today outside my office window, I was like, “Oh, my gosh, are you okay? Do I need to go down there?” Wait eight seconds. “Oh, they’re cool. They’re cool. They’re laughing it off. They’re getting on the bike. Okay. Okay.”

Susan Cain
Well, he used this term that he calls vagal superstars for people whose vagal nerves are really, really reactive, so maybe you’re one of those.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Susan Cain
One that’s coming to mind right now is the book Flow by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He’s the psychologist who basically discovered the idea that humans are really at their best, I’d say most happiest, but just like at our most switched on when we’re absorbed in an activity that’s completely engaging to us, and we’re kind of surfing this channel in between boredom and anxiety.

So, it’s difficult enough that we’re not bored but it’s not so difficult that it’s making us anxious. We’re just like completely happily switched on and engaged. And I will tell you that has been a life-transforming idea because ever since…as soon as I read it, I was like, “Oh, my God, yeah, I love that state.” But as soon as I thought of that as something to aspire to, I started sort of trying to structure my days so that I’m in a state of flow as much of the time as possible.

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

Susan Cain
Well, this is very boring, I guess, but it’s my laptop. But I will say my laptop is nothing without my cup of coffee next to it. So, my cup of coffee here and my candle here, so I think what I’m really saying is that I have these Pavlovian cues that I have used over the years to make myself love sitting down at work. Like, I love my candle, I love my coffee, I love my chocolate, and so I never work without these props on hand. And so, I associate the whole thing with pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that seems to really connect with your readers, listeners; a Susan Cain original that is quoted often?

Susan Cain
I don’t know. I will say that I think that the work that I do, like with Quiet and with Bittersweet, the thing that keeps them…the thing that holds them in common is they’re both about the idea of finding a kind of hidden superpowers that tend to be undervalued in our culture that celebrates the loud and the shiny and the glib and the cheery. It’s saying there’s something underneath all of that where there are really deep riches to be had.

And if you think that…we all have different superpowers. And if your superpower happens to be in that mode, go forth and use it. Far from feeling ashamed of it, realize the power that you possess and go and use it.

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

Susan Cain
So, my website is SusanCain.net, and there is a newsletter that you can sign up for there, and lots of information, and also courses. I have these audio courses that you can take where I send you kind of little audio and written texts every morning. So, that’s at my website, SusanCain.net. And I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram so you can find me there, too.

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

Susan Cain
I’m going to say what I said before, like use your superpower, whatever it is. Figure out which one is yours and use it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Susan, this has been such a treat. Thank you for sharing and keep doing the great work you’re doing.

Susan Cain
Thank you so much, Pete. And I really hope you all feel better.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

773: How to Amplify Your Message Through Powerful Framing and Storytelling with Rene Rodriguez

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Rene Rodriguez reveals a powerful three-step formula for amplifying your influence and getting your message heard.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The surprising reason why your audience isn’t listening
  2. The most powerful communication skill in your arsenal
  3. How to craft a narrative and message that sticks 

About Rene

For over two decades, René has been researching and applying behavioral neuroscience as a dynamic keynote speaker, leadership advisor, world-class sales expert, and renowned speaker coach. He has also trained more than 100,000 people in applying behavioral psychology and neurology methodologies to solve some of the toughest challenges in leadership, sales, and change. 

Resources Mentioned

Rene Rodriguez Interview Transcript

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

Rene Rodriguez
Thanks for having me, Pete. I appreciate it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And I’d love to kick us off right at the beginning with hearing one of the most surprising and fascinating discoveries you’ve made about humans and influence over the course of your career, researching and teaching about this stuff.

Rene Rodriguez
One of the most surprising and fascinating discoveries, I love that question. I would say that one thing that everybody here has in common is that we all are trying to create change. Influence, leadership, selling, parenting, being a police officer, it’s all about trying to somehow create change. If you’re selling something, you want people to change what they’re purchasing, to buy you. If you’re parenting, don’t change, change this behavior to better behave, brush your teeth if you weren’t brushing your teeth. And leadership is about, most often, and management, is about changing behavior.

And a lot of times behavior change will most often is resisted. And a lot of times, if you’re getting people to want to change, the one thing that is probably the biggest is to help people save face in the process. That is probably the oddest discovery.

Pete Mockaitis
Save face. So, like they don’t need to be humiliated and beaten down, say, “I am so wrong.” It’s like, “Oh, okay, I guess this makes sense and it’s kind of like something else I’ve done before. All right. Cool.”

Rene Rodriguez
Well, if they don’t have to admit they’re wrong, you are much more likely to get massive change, and it’s kind of a deeper topic on how to get there but it’s really…I mean, think of what it requires though to get a leader to be okay with that, that they don’t have to get the people to admit they’re wrong. It’s a big requirement. It shows a lot of self-assurance and it shows a bigger view of a bigger picture that doesn’t matter who is right or who’s wrong. It’s a search for truth. And as long as we’re on that path, it’s okay.

And people, if you create a safe space for people to do that, most people will opt into it but very few will say, “Hey, I was wrong.” And what’s ironic is if you create a safe space for people to save face, later on they’ll say, “You know, before I used to look at it this way.” They’ll come to you. So, that’s my answer to the random question. I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you give us an example of how someone can make a change and not admit that they’re wrong, just like in practice? Like, what’s the example of how that unfolds?

Rene Rodriguez
I think it applies to kids, I think it applies in relationships, I think it applies in management leadership. So, I’d say an example would be a lot of times if, let’s say somebody just had a poor attitude, and they came to work. Trying to get somebody to admit, “Hey, you really have a poor attitude,” is a big sell. It’s a big sell. But if you both, let’s say, watched a movie, or a TED Talk, we had a couple of concepts that we share. One of them called the courage scale. But let’s just say to accomplish the same thing, a movie that really pinpointed in a third-party view that the effects of a negative attitude, and everybody watched it equally together.

And watching that creates sort of a self-diagnosis or self-assessment, and it’s much easier to get somebody to opt in the new behavior if they don’t have to admit they’re wrong. Like, most people will say, “Wow, that’s kind of how I’ve been. And nobody told me that but I watched a third-party kind of talk about it,” and they can safely do it. And it comes down to psychological safety. It’s really what it comes down to.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then they can just sort of watch that and say, “Oh, okay, that’s cool. These people are sort of smiling and asking about each other’s day, or whatever those particular behaviors are associated with better attitude.” It’s like, “No, that seems to be working well for them, and my colleagues want to do that, and it seems worthwhile, I guess I’ll go ahead and do that too. Cool.”

Rene Rodriguez
Well, it’s moreover, if you watched the negative impact, like, “Wow, what a jerk that guy was, and look at the impact it had on the team,” and if it was presented in a way that goes, “Well, who am I?” If it caused self-reflection in a safe way, so usually the positive, unfortunately, I wish it was more persuasive, but if we looked at the negative impact of it from…so, we have this thing called the courage scale and it’s a really simple way of defining where you are from an attitude influence sort of energy perspective. Below the line would be, the bottom would be zero, that you got zero’s death, then you got guilt, shame, fear, apathy, anger, and then courage.

And so, all those things are sort of below this line that we call the taking side of life. And so, if you were to say if you met somebody below the line that usually lives their life in fear, anger, guilt, apathy, all those things, do they give you energy or do they take it away? And what most people would say, “Well, they take it away.” Well, how long does it take them to take it away? It’s seconds. You can be having a great day, and that person, you see their name on a caller ID, and instantly you’re like, “Oh, God.” Like, we all know that person.

And so, it becomes humorous, like we all know that person, we could see it in someone else. And then we see above the line, things like openness, willingness, reason, logic, joy, peace, enlightenment, which we all want to get to. But just those other things, can you think of somebody who lives the majority of their life above that line? And they go, “Yeah.” And so, when that person calls, how are you feeling? Immediately great. You can be having a horrible day, but that person calls and it puts a smile on your face.

And so, we talk about the difference between above the line and below the line as a simple example. In fact, my first TED Talk was on that. And then you watch that, and you watch people who typically are below the line, they self-reflect, they go, “Wow, I’ve really been below the line,” and they see the impact, and they just slowly start acting differently. But if you were to say, “Well, who’s been below the line? So, you were below the line, you were below the line, and now you’re going to change.” Well, now, the whole psychology has changed.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Okay, that’s good stuff. And then I also want to hear a story perhaps of someone that you’ve seen, maybe a client, or audience member or reader, who’s really had quite a transformation. They didn’t have the influence they wanted, they made some changes, and then they got it and saw some cool results.

Rene Rodriguez
Yes. So, the journey of influence is really, I think, really cool. And people ask, “Why influence?” And so, I always look at the opposite of it. So, look at a life without influence. You tell a joke, no one laughs. You sell a product, no one buys. You set a vision, and no one follows. The feeling that follows that is usually ones of insignificance. Some people might even fall into depression, high anxiety, questioning themselves, “Why am I here?” No purpose.

And the reason is because everything you’re doing seems to have no impact on the world. And so, then I go, “Okay. So, what’s the opposite of that? What does influence feel like?” You tell a joke, people laugh. You sell a product, people are buying. You cast a vision, and people follow. And now you realize that when you put something out into the world, it has an impact of some sort.

Now, we can use that impact in selling, you can use that impact in being a teacher, you can use that in leadership. Influence is that ability to influence an outcome of some sort. And so, when you look at the transformation of those that never knew the skill and never knew the sequence involved, or the science of it, there are a lot of people that sort of naturally picked it up over the years. They realize that you could act a certain way, speak in a certain sequence, and you’d get better results.

There are whole tons of reasons why that’s the case. My mission has always been, “How do you get those skills into the hands of people that are good but maybe have never been taught how to communicate?” Because in business, a lot of times, it’s the louder person that processes, maybe even half-baked ideas, but authoritatively they get listened to.

And then you have sort of the smarter introverted folks that maybe process silently what’s going on and fully bake an idea, but if they never speak up or communicate it in a way that people want to listen to, those ideas go by the wayside. And the benefit of the business isn’t achieved or felt, and the person doesn’t feel any sort of movement in their career, and so everybody loses.

So, I could tell you, we’ve got hundreds of stories. One of my favorites is Julia. So, one of my good friends and clients is a company by the name of PURIS. So, we’ve just named the number one most innovative food company in the world. So, Tesla was the innovative car company; they were food. So, they revolutionized pea protein. And what it’s doing is they make it taste good. The company is amazing. The research behind it was amazing. It’s incredible.

So, the CEO came to me, and said, “One of our content managers has got a TED Talk, and she’s 25 and has never given a talk.” I said, “Okay, so she’s going from never to her first talk, giving a TED Talk.” I said, “That’s great.” “Can you get her ready?” “Yes.” So, she came to our first session with 85 pages of research that she wanted to cover, and she was an amazing incredible nerd, and I loved it.

And I said, “Okay, Julia, you realize you have 13 to 17 minutes and you got 85 pages.” “I know. I don’t know how to get it all in.” I’m like, “Well, you’re not going to get it all in.” And we fought, arm-wrestled, back and forth on how to tell the story, what research to share, what not to share. And I finally found out that she was a basketball player and she got into a really bad accident and had traumatic brain injury. And that story began a whole journey of what it felt like to sort of make the comeback, but it was such an incredible story that it was what immediately captured attention, but she didn’t want to tell the story because it wasn’t about pea protein.

And I said, “Well, you have to understand if you want your audience to listen, because a lot of influence is about ‘What do I say?’ with very few, very little work is done as to ‘How do I prepare the audience to listen?’” And so, I gave the analogy, “Would you ever plant a seed on cement?” And, of course, we’d never do that. You’d till the soil first, get rid of the cement, find good soil. I said, “Well, there’s a sequence there. But most people plant their seeds of ideas in cement, in audiences that aren’t ready to listen.

And so, how do you get them ready? Well, a story like that than you can tell in just a couple minutes, people watching you go through this traumatic brain injury,” and she’s getting ready to play basketball, listening to her favorite song, and then, smack, she pauses, “And I was blinded by a car, traumatic big brain injury,” and she tells her whole story, but instantly you’re captivated by the story and sort of her journey through on her love for not being able to play basketball, but going back in to school and the comeback that the little pea made.

And this made this amazing story. In fact, I have the whole sort of video transformation on my website. And watching her tell that story, she came back, I said, “Okay, you tell the pea story with all the research, or you tell the basketball story to ten people, come back to me, and you tell me which one people liked.” And she came back, and she said, “Nobody wants to hear about peas. They want to hear about my car accident and basketball.”

I said, “Okay, so we’re going to use that as an opening to capture people’s attention, and then we can transition into the story.” And then that transitioned into some amazing stories that she told. And if you watched the two different people, it’s something that’s very, very inspiring to see once people learn how to tell the story.

Pete Mockaitis
And I want to talk to you about storytelling in particular. And so, right now I’m wondering, that does seem like a captivating powerful story, “Whoa, how did you feel? What happened?” So, then how does one then make the connection to pea protein?

Rene Rodriguez
So, with her, it was literally using the journey of saying, “What that got me now back into what were my passions at school.” And those passions at school led her to her passion for health, and what gave her brain health, or what were the things that really led to a search internally for, which transitioned into the benefits of peas.

So, without going through the whole piece, they’re everything that we do comes from the past events that we’ve been through. All of our past events shaped what we’re attracted to and what we’re repelled by. And so, in one of the exercises, if people want to learn how to tell their story, is we’ll ask a very simple question of what makes you unique.

And so, well, we can do it together. So, like, what makes you unique?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. Well, we here are on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast, it’s like I’m a total dork with the stuff. I was reading books about success, goal-setting, leadership, communication, psychology, influence, whatever, as a teenager, and this was my thing. And I remember other folks had like basketball player posters on their walls, and I was like, “They don’t really make Tony Robbins or Stephen Covey posters, so I don’t know what to put on my wall. I guess I’ll just have more books on the shelf.”

Rene Rodriguez
I love it. So, you were a fan or personal development, leadership, all that stuff. So, what would you round that off as a uniqueness? Is it about learning? Would you say that that’s the value behind it? Where would you put that?

Pete Mockaitis
I do like learning and I’m really into it. And I guess it was happening. I got good grades, and I remember that someone asked me, “Oh, Pete, do you study a lot?” I was like, “Hmm, studying.” And it was funny, it sounds like a straightforward question but I thought, “Well, I guess I don’t even think about it as studying. I guess I know what I know, and I know what I don’t know, and then I feel like an attention, a curiosity, an uneasiness about that, and so I need to go ahead and close that gap.”

And I guess what one does when closing that gap is what you call studying, but it doesn’t really feel like, “Oh, got to crack the books and study.” It was like, “Okay, well, this transcription business is clear but the translation is not. What’s that about? Okay, what’s the page on the translation? Okay, okay.” And so, for biology or whatever. So, yeah, I guess it’s about curiosity and learning and stuff.

Rene Rodriguez
So, curiosity and learning, okay. So, let’s just pretend that those two are the ones we’ll focus on. And so, would you say that those are two personal values, that learning and being curious in life are very important words to you?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Rene Rodriguez
So, then the research says, the neuroscience says that those are personal values, or at least reflect your personal values, they were formed between the ages of nine and 13. And so, then the next logical question is, “So, who’s around during that time period?” And that you’re looking for one of two kinds of stories, either we call a lighthouse story or a foghorn story.

And a lighthouse story is somebody that was there that really was the guiding light. They were always wanting to learn. They were the perfect example, the guiding light of this value. Or, the foghorn story. Maybe it was somebody that you needed and didn’t show up, somebody that didn’t value school, and you watched what happened to them. They weren’t curious. They thought they were a know-it-all. And you watch where that led their life.

And so, instead of saying, “Well, the world didn’t give it to me,” you say, “Then I’m going to be that for the world.” So, you became it. And so, it’s one of those two stories. So, what it would be for you? Who was around and what happened, age nine or 13, that really led to learning and curiosity?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think it’s more of a lighthouse story. That’s my dad, and I remember I could always escape the house by asking to go to the library. He would comply just about always with that request. And we were curious about all kinds of things from photography to chess or whatever, and would read books and do stuff together.

Rene Rodriguez
And so, you enjoyed those conversations with dad?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Rene Rodriguez
So, how did it make you feel when you did that? So, what we’re looking for is what we call pathos. What was the feeling associated with that?

Pete Mockaitis
It felt really powerful. I remember it just like, “Holy crap, books make you better. Like, you can become better at anything by learning the stuff.” And there’s vast arrays of books and resources and people that can help you. So, it just felt like, in a way, anything is possible.

Rene Rodriguez
Love it. So, now, give me a little creative freedom. So, if I were to hear that story and I were to craft the message is saying, “So, what is this podcast about?” And so, you’re saying, “Well, here’s what it is. Here’s the ethos. Here’s the research. Here’s all these things,” which are what we call logos, very intellectually driven. You might start with, “Well, as a kid growing up, I was always really curious. My father was one of the most influential people in my life, and he really nurtured that curiosity. If I ever needed to go out of the house, my escape was a library.”

“And if I ever wanted to go to the library, he was always behind it, whether it was me learning about photograph, or learning about astronomy, or whatever it was, I always knew that he could do that. And every time he did that, I was overwhelmed with this feeling of power. I felt powerful. Like, knowledge really did equate to power because I could see the world differently. And now that, as I was growing up, my friends had basketball posters of Michael Jordan and Lebron James, I was looking for posters of Stephen Covey and Tony Robbins, and all of the people that were really sharing more of that knowledge.”

“And so, when I decided to do a podcast, I decided to do it around the theme of giving people the same gift that my father gave me, was finding those same knowledge sources to empower people to be better. And so, now that’s why we created the podcast.” So, now you see how the sequence sort of formed based on understanding those two words, tracing that back to a story, which we would call your origin story, and we did it very quickly, but it hits the brain in a very different way when it’s heard in that sequence.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s well put, hits the brain differently. It’s like I’m trying to articulate how it’s hit my brain because it’s like, I mean, it’s my story, I know it, it’s true. And yet I don’t think I’ve quite articulated it that way. There have been bits and pieces, but it’s got a…the hitting of the brain, it’s like a feeling of openness, or it’s kind of like a, “Oh, okay. So, that’s what this is.” It has a little bit more of emotional resonance, as opposed to…

Rene Rodriguez
Resistance.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Rene Rodriguez
Or cliché, right? Well, I like to help people learn, so we start with a message and it hits the brain differently, hits the part of the brain we call Broca’s area. And Broca’s area is a very tiny little speck in the brain that deciphers language. And we go, “So, yeah, I like to help people learn through my podcast,” and we go, “Okay, cool. So, every podcast does the same thing? Cool. Really unique, bro.”

But then when you start with a story, what it does is it triggers your entire sensory cortex. It triggers your limbic system, which triggers emotions. All those past things light your brain up. If you like a functional MRI scanner or a SPECT span, it lights your brain up like a Christmas tree. But what it also does is it lights up the brain of the listener because storytelling is involved.

And so, because our brains light up in the same way, it begins a process of neuro-coupling. And when neuro-coupling happens, there’s a coherence that happens between the two brains and safety is created, what we call psychological safety, “So, I know I’m not going to be judged. There seems to be an alignment of values. If I agree with the story or I like it, I’m attracted to the story and the values it represents at a deeper level,” and it bypasses the parts of the brain that resists, that don’t feel safe.

And so, that sequence is what we call the beginnings of the amplify formula to be able to begin to till the soil of the audience, meaning prep them to hear the message, which is, “Now I want to hear all about what your podcast is about because I have the backstory to what the frame is.” And so, that’s creating a frame or frame of reference. And that frame of reference, frames act as constructs of reality so I can understand reality in front of me.

Like, you have a podcast. Well, I understand the podcast based on what are the frame of reference I choose. But if you don’t provide a frame of reference, I’ll choose one. In fact, if I have a negative…let’s say I have a negative experience of podcasts, and I go, “Oh, gosh, another podcast.” Maybe that’s my frame of reference.

So, I hear your podcast through that filter. But if you provide the frame first, because that’s how the brain works, it needs a frame, and you provide it, the story with dad and what it did for you and your passions for learning and curiosity, and giving a gift back, I don’t pull from my negative frame. I pull from your origin story as the frame, and I hear the message completely different, totally different narrative.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. So, you said there’s amplify sequence, and it starts with some story and framing. Can you sort of give us the overview of the whole process sequence?

Rene Rodriguez
Yeah. So, the science behind it is pretty in depth in terms of understanding what I just said, which is part of influence, and it sounds crazy, it’s about understanding how we construct reality. And so, either I construct a reality that your product is valuable or not, or maybe I construct a value that my product and my time is more valuable than yours, so then why would I meet?

And so, how does it do that? It does that by choosing a frame of reference or the narrative around it. The narrative creates meaning, and then I understand it through that. Now, I’m not talking about a physical reality, like my table here is wood, this mic stand is metal. Those are physical realities, proven to physics and science. But the social reality of how I interpret the meaning behind something is created through narratives and frames.

And so, my brain, to understand it, I’ve got to pull a frame first that is a neurological sequence of understanding how I process information. And so, for example, I’m going to say a profession and you tell me what word comes to mind. Used car salesman.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it might not be fair to great professionals in the field.

Rene Rodriguez
Of course not.

Pete Mockaitis
But, you know, sleazy, dishonest.

Rene Rodriguez
Right. So, every time it’s usually something along that. So, what happened is you accessed your frames of reference which are societal frames of reference. That is pretty predictable that we get that because of the stigma that’s been created, that people say sleazy, dishonest, all those such of things. So, that frame of reference comes in front and acts as a filter to really filter out and create meaning around what’s said.

So, if I were to say, “Don’t worry, you can trust me. I’m a used car salesman,” most people will giggle, they’ll say, “Hahaha,” because it’s an incongruent message. And incongruency translates, typically, into lack of trust, when I’m saying one thing but I mean another, or my body is saying one thing and my words are saying something else. Like, “I’m really excited to be here today.” So, my tone is saying not but my words are saying I am. That’s an incongruency.

Sometimes we want to stand with power and authority and influence, but we stand with insecurity and submission. Those are body language cues that are being incongruent. And so, my grandfather was in Cuba, and he was watching the Cuban Revolution just begin, and so he wanted to get his family out of Cuba. So, he wrote a letter to the President of the United States, and said, “If you can get me and my family out of this country, I will come and fight for yours.”

So, somehow that letter made it to the right person and they pulled my grandfather out, along with my mother, her sister, and my grandmother. And so, he went and served in the American Armed Forces for eight years. After his time, he landed at Patrick Airforce Base in southern Florida, in Homestead, Florida, and realized very quickly that his American dream was really limited to how far he could walk because he didn’t have a car.

And so, there was somebody, though, that believed in my grandfather. He saw what he did for this country and got him into an older vehicle. And that older vehicle allowed him to stretch his reach by 25, 50, even 100 miles finding better employment, better pay, changing the trajectory of his life, my mother’s life, and, ultimately, my life. And that person who believed in my grandfather was a used car salesman.

And so, now, if you noticed, the brain didn’t have any of a chance to pull sleazy or dishonest because I did the work for you. I gave you a frame first, and so now you’re hearing that in the context of that frame.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good.

Pete Mockaitis
When you talked about that reframing of the used car salesperson, I’m thinking now about this goofy movie, Cedar Rapids. It’s got Ed Helms and John C. Reilly and Anne Heche. And the idea is Ed Helms is going to the big city of Cedar Rapids because he’s been in a small-town environment for a long time, and it’s all about insurance.

And my frame for an insurance salesperson is, “Oh, geez, what a boring job. Insurance is a boring thing, and selling, not a lot of fun.” But then he tells a story about how his dad passed away, and it was an insurance person who was… I’m actually tearing up a little bit. An insurance person was like the hero for his family because they didn’t know what they were going to do. But when they had that insurance money come in suddenly, their worries associated with, if they could still go to school or whatever, were put to rest.

And so, life insurance salespeople are heroes to him, and doing this is like a dream. And it was a very powerful and a goofy fun movie. And so, there you have it. We have a story and we have a frame, and it totally…you’re right. It doesn’t give me an opportunity to grasp onto, “Yeah, life insurance sales is boring.”t

Rene Rodriguez
And so, if you think about if it changed the frame, frames dictate perception, and perception equals reality. And so, the superpower here is understanding storytelling. So, look at what just happened. You recalled the story and you got emotional.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, a ten-year-old movie that’s a comedy.

Rene Rodriguez
A ten-year-old movie. And so, what’s the science of storytelling? Well, think about it this way. The research says that upwards of 33%, sometimes even 50% of our waking hours, we spend daydreaming. And daydreaming is really scenario-planning. Like, “If I do this, then that. What color shirt shall I wear on the podcast? Well, should I be ready for that? Headphones or not? How do I get ready for this? Did I leave the stove on? Well, I better call this client.” We’re constantly running scenarios. That’s a prefrontal lobe activity. It’s a future simulator.

And a future simulator, for example, it’s powerful. Like, if I were to tell you I’ve got this new ice cream that’s from Ben & Jerry’s. It’s called Liver and Onions. Do you want some?

Pete Mockaitis
Not yet. I want to hear the magic you work on this, Rene.

Rene Rodriguez
Yeah, exactly. Now you’re expecting that. But, no, typically, you’d probably have a visceral response of saying, “Ugh, gross.” Even though you’ve never tried it, your brain went from a past experience, went out into the future, concocted liver and onions as an ice cream, and you taste it hypothetically as a scenario, and sends a signal back, saying, “Nah, we don’t like it.” And it happens in a split second.

And so, we’re constantly running these future simulations, and there’s only two situations that we stop doing that throughout the day. One is life and death situations. Somebody is in trouble, I’m in trouble, somebody’s got a gun on my head. I’ll stop and be very present. The other is through story. When somebody tells a story, the reason we stop daydreaming is because a storyteller is daydreaming for us, and we use daydreams, we use stories to create narratives, which create a simplified model of reality so we can understand what’s going on.

I’m here in my studio, I’m on a podcast. The reason I’m on a podcast is to grow my brand and awareness. And, hopefully, that will translate into access. We run these stories and scenarios. And so, if I’m listening to this as a listener, ask yourself and your business, “What things and stories are you a part of?” And when that story doesn’t match, how difficult it feels.

But think about this. If the stories create the narratives, and the narratives construct reality, and somebody tells me a good story, I’m allowing them into my brain to take a real estate and set whatever narrative they want. And the crazy thing is that we…the brain doesn’t know the difference between my story and reality.

Literally, you just cried recalling a movie that was done based on fake actors. A story bypasses all of that, and we take on the role of the protagonist, our empathy is triggered, sensory cortex is triggered, emotions are triggered, and we experience it as real. And we get into this process where we, over time, we take on even the belief systems and the decision-making process if we hear someone’s story or the thought process over and over and over and over again. We start acting as like, “Okay. Well, what would this person do?” And we forget that that’s their thinking and we take it on as our own.

And so, we can install narratives of love, narratives of hate, of racism, of giving back, of strong value proposition, of buying into a vision, the thoughts of new possibilities, new relationships, dating someone. You name it. It’s all done through story.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Rene, these implications are vast not just for getting someone to follow you or to buy. I’m thinking about just like in terms of just your emotional states and the stories you tell yourself associated with what’s going on around you. It’s like, “Am I a victim to this thing? Am I trapped here forever? Or, am I a hero or whatever.” We can construct it to story and feel completely different about the circumstances we’re presented with.

Rene Rodriguez
You nailed it. And the stories that we tell ourselves are the most powerful. The narratives that we choose, and so many people choose the narrative of victim. And there’s a term that I love to use called amor fati. And so, when we go through our program, we help people identify their story and then tie it to their business value proposition, which becomes a really powerful combination.

But some people go through…you want to help them sell more, or you want to help them be a better leader but they have these inner narratives that are either of a victim, they got a chip on their shoulder. Who knows what it is? It isn’t serving them in a way. Some people, me being Rodriguez, I grew up with a narrative that being Hispanic was people were against me. If it’s maybe a female growing up, that women are trying to be held back by men, or bald men don’t have it as easy as others. Whatever it is, whatever the narrative you’re running.

And what I always tell people, saying, “So, how do we set ourselves up in the best strategic position possible?” Part of that is we have to achieve amor fati. And amor fati is, literal transition is lover of fate. It’s a lover of your story. And I’ll give you one example of this. We had one woman come through our class, and she had a lazy eye. And you could tell right away, at first, she’s not looking at me, she’s bored. Ah, she’s got a lazy eye. So, no big deal. It’s really not that big of a deal, very common.

And halfway through day two, or actually at the beginning of day two, she said, I was in front of the room, talking, she goes, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed it but I do have a lazy eye. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed.” I’m like, “Yeah, noticed it right away.” And she like looked at me with a smile, like surprised that I would just say it, I’m like, “Of course, yeah, big deal.” I said, “So, tell me about your lazy eye.” And she’s like, “Well, it’s been an insecurity. I’ve tried to hide it. I don’t like looking at people in the eye because it just makes it obvious.”

And then she said, “But it helps me read 800 words a minute.” I’m like, “What?” She goes, “Yeah. This eye right here reads 800 words a minute.” I’m like, “Somebody Google the average…” somebody Googled it. It was 250 words a minute is the average, and a really good reader is 400. Well, this one reads 800. And so, I looked at her, and I said, “So, you’re saying you have a bionic eye?” And she looks at me and she goes, “What?” I’m like, “I want an eye that reads 800 words a minute.”

We looked at the audience, and they’re like, “I want that eye, too.” And she kind of smiles, I’m like, “You have a bionic eye, don’t you?” And she goes, “I never thought about it that way. I wish my other eye sees this and so I can look at people and read, and it’s kind of cool, and sometimes they don’t cooperate.” We all started laughing. And I said, “So, here’s your new narrative. Now for those of you who had real eyes…”

And she starts all her talks this way, “I was given the gift of a bionic eye. I got an eye over here, this baby right here,” she points to it, “reads 800 word a minute. Average reader reads 250, a really good, 400. I’m twice that. In fact, I read a 500-page book on the plane right over here. It’s fantastic. I’m going to read another one tomorrow, and the next day probably. With my left eye, it’s for distance so I can see all of you. Well, the challenge of the bionic eye is it has a mind of its own. Sometimes it doesn’t cooperate, kind of like my personality and probably a lot of you in this room here.”

“And so, if you’re wondering which eye to look at, just keep your eye on this one. That’s the one that’s looking at you.” And everybody just dies laughing. She’s standing there with this pride, a new narrative, something that used to be a story she told herself of insecurity. Now, she came up to me at this event, literally last week, ran up and hugged me, she goes, “That narrative, that story has changed my career and my life. I tell it at every event, I tell it at every meeting, and I stand differently. I’m just happy.” But to your point, the narratives we tell ourselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Rene, this is so powerful. I feel like we could, and could and maybe should, dig into this for hours. You’re invited back, Rene, already.

Rene Rodriguez
I’d love to.

Pete Mockaitis
So, all right, stories are powerful, they establish frame, which impact how we interpret stuff and how others we’re trying to influence interpret stuff. So, then what are the best practices associated with forming these stories? And maybe what are some watchouts? So, you walked through a bit of the process with me moments ago. Is that the primary pathway you recommend? Or, are there a few flavors on the menu to choose from?

Rene Rodriguez
So, there’s a real simple exercise, I can give it to you. I’ll try to do it auditorily. Is that a word?

Pete Mockaitis
I think so.

Rene Rodriguez
That’s a word. We just made it up, if not. And it’s a way to what we’re trying to uncover is what we call a signature story. And a signature story is a story as unique to you as your own signature. And so, what I do is I create a matrix. It’s basically a four by four, so four, one, two, three, four, by four lines. And at the top, on the far-left column, there’s going to be four phrases that we go down.

The first phrase is, “I believe.” The next phrase is, “I remember.” The next phrase is, “I was taught.” And the last one is, “I’m passionate about…” And so, those four phrases are what I call entry ramps into stories. And what I’ve come to learn over, gosh, we’ve trained tens of thousands of people on this, is that people know how to tell stories but sometimes they need the entry ramp.

And the entry ramp is what helps trigger the memory. And so, the first thing we start with is three beliefs, “I believe…” and we’ll just use three. For example, you chose “I believe in curiosity and learning.” And if you had a third, what would it be?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh.

Rene Rodriguez
First one that comes to mind.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, spirituality. God stuff.

Rene Rodriguez
Spirituality. Faith, spirituality, right? So, across the top says, “I believe in…” the first column, second column says “learning,” third column says, “curiosity,” and the last is “faith.” And so, now we go down the matrix to the next question, which says, “I was taught…” and we go to the first belief. And then we want a story, something you were taught as a kid about learning. And in that little box, we read a little story. And you have to remember what you were taught as a kid about learning.

And then you go down one. What do you remember about…? Remember something you remember about learning, a story, and then something you were taught about learning. And the last one, something you’re passionate about when it comes to learning. And then we go back to the question of curiosity, “Something I remember as a kid about learning,” or curiosity, “Something I was taught about curiosity and something I’m passionate about when it comes to curiosity.”

Then the last column would be something “I remember about faith or spirituality, something I was taught about faith or spirituality, and something I’m passionate about.” And now you have nine signature stories to be able to draw from. But here’s the thing. What do you do with them, those stories? They’re nothing without a message to follow, and the third part of what we call the amplify formula, which is a tie-down.

And a tie-down answers the question of what this means to you is. Like, I can give you a story about all three worked together if you’d like.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do it.

Rene Rodriguez
So, my second TED Talk actually has this story in it but it’s a story of Janice. Now, Janice was an executive of a very large organization. They wanted me to help her get ready for an interview to take on the CEO position of a billion-dollar organization within the larger conglomerate. And the interview is very intense, seven, eight, nine, ten hours sometimes with ten people in the room, all focused on her, drilling her with questions.

So, we started with a mock interview of three people in front of her, and asked her a question. First second, I sit off to the side, I look at facial expressions, sequencing, timing, storytelling, framing. I look at all the things that I look at. And the first question was, “Tell us something you’re proud of.” And she looks at us and answers very presidential – short, concise, and to the point.

“I got straight A’s my last year in school, one of my proudest moments,” was her answer. So, now, one thing we know about frames is that when we talk, if we don’t provide one, the listener will create one for us. They have to, that’s how they construct reality. So, they look at me, and said, “Rene…”

Pete Mockaitis
You’re right. Right there is like, “Okay, you worked really hard,” or, I mean, “You worked really hard or your parents were smart, or you had a good tutor.” It’s weird, I’m just making stuff up.

Rene Rodriguez
And immediately, right? And the brain can’t handle it. It’s like one of the things that…

Pete Mockaitis
Excuse me. Something fell off the shelf but we’re fine.

Rene Rodriguez
So, now you saw my reaction there, right? And so, I’m looking off, I paused, and so the listeners might say, “Hold on a second. Did we lose something?” I’ll sometimes get up and walk off the camera in the middle of a podcast, and the interviewer is looking at me like, “What happened?” and I’ll do this little training.

Pete Mockaitis
“Is he mad at me?”

Rene Rodriguez
Yeah, is he mad at me? I did it on stage in front of 600 CEOs. I stopped in the middle, I’m like, I looked at them, I turned around and walked off stage. And then from behind stage, I said, “Now, I want you all to pay attention on how you feel and what’s going through your minds.” And I came back out, and I said, “What do you think happened?”

And I got five or six, ten responses, and all of them were different, “I thought you’re having a heart attack,” “I thought you might’ve forgotten your lines,” “It looked like you’re crying.” And they were all assumptions. And I do that to illustrate the point that your brain does not deal in narrative gaps. It has to fill it even if it’s false. And our world is full of narrative gaps right now.

And so, when she says, “I got straight A’s my last year in school,” there’s a huge narrative gap there. And I’m going to fill it based on my own past experience. So, they looked at me, “What do you think?” I said, “Oh, so straight A’s your last year in school? So, you’re a procrastinator? Are you going to procrastinate for us as well?” She looks at me like I’m crazy, and I said, “Oh, I’m sorry. Did mommy and daddy pay for school so you didn’t have to work that hard?”

Or, even yours, “So, your mom and dad must’ve been really smart, rich, probably had good tutors. Lucky you.” So, who knows what these unfair narratives are? But the brain doesn’t have a choice. It has to fill it. And so, now pay attention to this. I said to her, and she’s got a tear in her eye when I said that to her, I said, “Look, I didn’t mean those things but you didn’t fill it for us. You didn’t tell us the frame or the narrative but I know it’s important to you, wasn’t it?”

She just nodded her head. And I said, “Why?” And then when she told them the story behind it, it changed everything. She looks at me and she said, “When you’ve been told you’re stupid your entire life by adults, you tend to believe them. And something happened my last year in school, where I looked myself in the mirror, and I said either I’m going to believe them forever or I’m going to do something about it. And I did something about it.”

So, now that frame completely shifts the message. And the message, now understood differently, changes the reality of the relationship between how I perceive her. And so, now I’m emotionally moved, I’m probably more connected with her. I mean, if you’re listening to this, you probably felt some sort of shift internally, maybe protective of her. Who knows what it is? But this pathos is an emotional connection there.

And so, then the next question is, “So, what do I do with that?” because that’s powerful. There’s a lot of emotion in the air but for what purpose? Most speakers, most leaders that learn how storytelling will stop at that but it doesn’t create influence. It creates emotional connection but influence is about affecting a behavior.
And so, the last part, the tie-down would be adding the step next, which is having a clear influence. Objective, to get the job. A tie-down answers a question of what this means to you is. So, I might share that story instead of saying, “Hey, tell us something you’re proud of,” and starting with, “Oh, I got straight A’s last year in school,” frames and narratives gone wild. Who knows what they’re going to believe?

Or, if I just go with a little contextualization, “Well, I was told I was dumb but then I decided to turn it around, and now I got straight A’s.” Everyone was like, “Wow, that’s great. Who’s next?” No action taken. But if you do all three, it sounds like this. “Tell us something you’re proud of.”

“Well, unfortunately,” start with the frame, “I was surrounded by a lot of adults who told me I wasn’t really smart. And when adults speak to you that way, you tend to act that way, and I didn’t do well in school. But something happened my last year in school, where I looked myself in the mirror, and I said either I’m going to believe them forever, or I’m going to do something about it. So, I went on and get the help that I needed, put my nose to the grindstone, and I’m proud to tell you that I got straight A’s my last year in school.”

Tie-down. “Now, I’m assuming if I do get a chance to work with you and your team, that there’s going to be times where we’re going to be facing some pretty big challenges, and maybe some insurmountable obstacles, or seemingly insurmountable obstacles. But I promise you this, if I get to be on your team, I’ll be out there next to you, if not in front, overcoming those challenges in the same way I overcame them in my own personal life, but this time for you and for your team.” Frame, message, tie-down. That’s the sequencing that creates influence.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, that’s powerful. There’s so much gravitas, conviction, oomph, power there. It’s hard not to believe such a person as opposed to…and interviews are stomping grounds for BS, and you’re like, “Okay, all right. You believe that and I believe you. Let’s see if you can check the other boxes. Determination, conviction, totally covered. Let’s see. How about financial skill?” I don’t know, whatever is next on the checklist.

Rene Rodriguez
Yeah, all those things sort of come second nature. Once you believe the person, who they are, you start saying, “Okay. Well, let’s just make sure they check all the boxes so we can move forward.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, Rene, tell me, anything important you want to make sure to put out there before I ask about a couple of your favorite things?

Rene Rodriguez
We wrote a book, it just landed number two Wall Street Journal bestseller.

Pete Mockaitis
Amplify Your Influence.

Rene Rodriguez
Yeah, and I think with MeetRene.com, follow me on social media, Instagram @seerenespeak right there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Perfect. And could you now share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Rene Rodriguez
Probably one of my favorites is from Stanley Kubrick, and he said that, “Our ability to eloquently talk about a subject matter can create the consoling illusion that we’ve mastered it.” To me, that keeps me humble because I can talk about all these things eloquently, and yet I can still struggle with every single one of them.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Rene Rodriguez
One of my favorite books is Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play. It’s from Mahan Khalsa. He’s a Harvard guy that talks about how to really sell difficult complex technology solutions but his mentality behind the concept of let’s get real, let’s have real conversations, let’s deal in the reality here, let’s not just play. And, to me, it was one of my favorite books I’ve ever read.

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

Rene Rodriguez
Yeah, I would say this, that the challenge that we face in growing up, most of us here, was that the things that now are most important, we were told weren’t. They were called soft skills, the things that, like, “Oh,” the interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, all of those things, and we valued all the “hard skills” that school taught us.

Well, we know with the research right now that those hard skills aren’t the determining factor for success. They’re needed. Trust me, they are needed but they aren’t the differentiator. Your ability to deal with people, connect with people, build trust, and that is mostly done through vulnerability, through your story. When you can share your story, where you’ve been through, and where you come from, that creates the ground for trust, empathy, and most importantly, somewhere to move forward together.

Pete Mockaitis
Rene, thank you. This has been powerful and beautiful. I wish you much luck and that your book Amplify Your Influence is a huge success.

Rene Rodriguez
Thank you. Appreciate being on here. Thank you so much.

772: How to Build Resilience to Thrive in Uncertainty with Gemma Leigh Roberts

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Gemma Leigh Roberts shares recent science behind resilience and how to bounce back from whatever the world throws at you.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you shouldn’t confuse grit with resilience 
  2. The challenges worth seeking out to build your resilience
  3. How to build resilience into daily routines 

About Gemma

Gemma Roberts is a chartered psychologist who has spent most of her working life teaching, writing, and speaking about what it takes to navigate challenges successfully, build resilience in the face of adversity, and create environments where each individual can thrive and perform at their peak, in their unique way. 

Her book, Mindset Matters: Developing Mental Agility and Resilience to Thrive in Uncertainty, which will be released in May 2022, came from her Mindset Matters newsletter on LinkedIn, which now has 500,000 subscribers. 

She is also a LinkedIn Learning instructor, with her courses garnering over 3 million learners. She also hosts the We Got This: Work+Life audio series on LinkedIn.

Resources Mentioned

Gemma Roberts Interview Transcript

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

Gemma Roberts
Hello. Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to hear your wisdom. And I’d like to start in March 2020 and hear your story right at the beginning of pandemic times, you start your Mindset Matters LinkedIn newsletter and things really take off. Can I hear the story?

Gemma Roberts
Yes. Well, I guess a lot changed in life around then. So, we had literally just gone into lockdown in the UK, the first lockdown that we went into following the outbreak of COVID-19, so it was a really scary time for lots of us, really challenging, I think, for most of us, it ended up being. And my research area is resilience, so that’s the area that I’ve worked in for the last decade but it was the area where I’ve been doing doctorate research.

So, I thought at that time that, actually, there’s so much that I could be sharing to help people navigate uncertainty, and I had access, kind of early access to LinkedIn newsletters because I’m a LinkedIn Learning instructor. It’s kind of the perfect time to share some of that advice, some of the edited space stuff that we know works, because what I was seeing is, actually, there was a lot being published or lots of people talking about resilience but it wasn’t necessarily accurate and it wasn’t necessarily that helpful because if we think about psychology, if we’re not careful, sometimes we can do more harm than good.

So, I actually thought of it as an obligation to put some helpful evidence-based useful information out there that, hopefully, would help people navigate uncertainty. I mean, at that point, we had no idea what we’re about to go through in the world, either the following two years. So, I had no idea how that was going to pan out. So, the newsletter grew quite quickly on LinkedIn Learning and I think, within 11 months, there were 250,000 subscribers.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Gemma Roberts
Yeah. And today, kind of two years on, it’s like 550,000 subscribers maybe. So, it really gained momentum quite quickly. And I honestly think that’s because of the topic because I talk…the newsletter is called Mindset Matters. And I think, at that point in time, myself included, we were all looking for advice about what to do in this new working world, what do we need to think about what’s going to help us thrive, or even just sometimes survive some of these challenges and changes that were going on.

So, the newsletter took off, which was amazing, and it actually turned into a book, which had literally just been released, which is very exciting. So, the book is also called Mindset Matters and I wrote that thinking about those people that were reading the newsletter. So, thinking about people who want advice on these key areas of psychology, or think about how we think about things, how we process information, how we can use that to our advantage in the working world, and kind of built out the five key topics that I talk about.

I guess I got it in the book, I got to go into a bit more detail, really, around what those topics are. I explore a bit more in terms of research and case studies but, ultimately, it’s a coaching manual. So, for each topic I talk about, there are coaching exercises in that, and I want it to feel, like for people who read it, I want it to feel like as close it can to having a coaching conversation with someone, and sitting down and testing out some strategies, seeing what works, tweaking things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you for the story, and that sets things up nicely. I’m curious, when you said information going around is not accurate, well, can you bust a couple myths for us right off the bat here?

Gemma Roberts
Yeah. So, a lot of how we traditionally think about resilience is kind of pushing through. So, perseverance or grit or mental toughness, whereby we face a challenge and we need to kind of push through, get to the other side, make it through, get past it, but actually that’s not really what resilience is at all. It can be sometimes but that’s not entirely what resilience is.

So, resilience is positive adaptation following adversity. That’s the kind of broad definition, and sometimes we do need to push through, sometimes we do need to kind of figure out how we can take those next steps and just keep going. But, also, sometimes we need to stop, sometimes we need to accept what’s going on and we can’t change it, sometimes we need to rest, we need to build our resilience reserves up again, and sometimes we need to kind of break down to be able to build ourselves back up again as well. But that’s not really the bit of resilience that we hear about.

The other thing about resilience is we have been told, I guess, that it’s up to us, as individuals, to work on ourselves to become more resilient, and some of us have it and some of us don’t. Again, that’s not accurate. There is so much, in terms of context, that goes into resilience. There are things like support systems around you, or organizational context where you work, the business culture, line managers support, policies, processes, big changes going on in the world, like COVID, for example, changing a lot of our lives.

So, again, yes, I focus a lot on helping people to become more resilient themselves to things that they can do, but it’s also very important to take into account kind of what’s going on around you as well, and try and think about kind of the broader picture, which is not something that we were hearing a lot about at the start of the pandemic. And I think partly that’s because that’s where research is going. We’re still kind of getting there with resilience research. So, it’s not grit, resilience is not grit. It’s not pushing through. Sometimes it could be, but other times it could be something completely differently you need.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you for that clarification, that distinction there. So, positive adaptation following diversity. Yeah, lay it on us, how do we get more of that going?

Gemma Roberts
Well, there’s another little myth with resilience. So, not a myth necessarily but it’s kind of something that’s a bit unfortunate but it comes to building resilience. So, when I work with people, strictly to coaching context, quite often people want to build their resilience but they don’t want to face challenges because, ultimately, who does? Who wants to wake up in the morning and think, “Oh, I can’t wait for this great big challenge that’s going to come my way, and I’m not going to know what to do with it”?

Most of us, we might appreciate some more challenges but big ones can sometimes feel overwhelming. But the truth of it is that we need that adversity, we need challenges if we’re going to build our resilience muscles, if we’re going to learn the skills that we need to get through challenges. In a way, that’s very healthy for us. So, if we’re going to learn from the situation, so learn what we’re capable of, learn how it works for us when we react in different ways, and would we do that again, what different tools or strategies can we use in the future.

So, if you want to become more resilient, and I do recommend that for all of us because, I’m going to be honest, challenge, change, complexity, none of that’s going away in our lives. We will have to deal with that at one point or another. So, if we want to be resilient, which means we can deal with those situations more effectively and in a way that’s healthy for us, then we need to face challenges, we need adversity.

The key thing is if we had a choice, which we don’t, but if we had a choice, it’s we want challenges that stretch us, they stretch our abilities, they can be really uncomfortable, take us outside of our comfort zone, but aren’t necessarily overwhelming. Because once we get to that overwhelming phase, it’s quite difficult to focus on building those kinds of personal tools that we need to be resilient and, actually, we get thrown a bit more into survival mode.

But the key is looking out for those, I guess, stretching challenges in our lives that are going to help us to develop, help us to grow, help us to learn something about ourselves and the environment around us as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we’re on the lookout for the stretching challenges and, ideally, that’s the nature of the challenges we get. This reminds of that Stephen Covey chart, in terms of the comfort zone, growth zone, panic zone. So, got that in my mind’s eye. And so, I’m curious, like sometimes in my own experience, sometimes even the same challenge in, I guess, a different context, I don’t know, in terms of there’s more stuff going on, I’m kind of sick – I’m a little sick right now – it can be like overwhelming, exhausting, it doesn’t feel like a positive adaptation has happened afterwards.

Just like, “Aargh, I barely made it through that thing, and I just want to sleep for days now,” versus, “Okay, victory. I’m stronger now.” So, can you zero in on what are some of the, I don’t know, levers or adjustments we can make so that we more often find ourselves in the, “Yes, that was a positive adaptation following the adversity zone,” as opposed to, “Aargh, that almost killed me, and I just need to sleep forever now”?

Gemma Roberts
That, Pete, is a really key point because this all comes back to that context part and resilience changing over time. And resilience is a process. It’s not a thing we have or don’t have necessarily. We can have skills that help us but the resilience process is dealing with that challenge or dealing with that adversity, and it doesn’t always happen quickly. Sometimes we look back years down the line, I think, actually, “Yeah, I guess I kind of learned something from that.” We don’t necessarily do learning, if at all, but if we’re consciously trying to learn from the situation, we don’t always necessarily do it straight away.

So, there’s kind of two things that you mentioned. So, one of them is, “Why is it that some days we feel like we can deal with challenges, and, on other days, the exact same challenge will feel like the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and it’s the thing that sends us over the edge?” And the answer to that is that, again, it’s contextual.

So, some of it has to do with us as individuals, so what’s going on with us. How many other challenges are you dealing with at once? Are they big challenges? Are they reoccurring? Have you got lots and lots of little things going on that you’re struggling to kind of switch your attention between? Or is there one huge thing going on in your life which is taking over everything else?

Because when we’ve got lots of things going in our lives, and we’ve got one big challenge going on in our life, it can make other smaller things, sometimes, feel a lot bigger, or we’ve might’ve used all of our resilience reserves, all of our energy that we’ve got dealing with those things, and we just haven’t got any left when other things strike. So, that’s why we respond to challenges, the exact same challenge, in a different way on a different day. So, that’s something to keep in mind.

But also, the situations around us are changing all the time as well, so, yes, there could be stuff going on with us, our energy, our mood, our health, things like our physical health, like you might be finding at the moment. So, sometimes when our physical health is impacted, or things like we haven’t had enough sleep, or our nutrition is not so great at the moment, we might find that kind of psychologically responding to things, we just haven’t got that resource. You kind of feel like you’ve got an empty tank, you’re running on empty so that can happen. But this is why it’s so important.

So, when I talk about resilience, it is a complex topic because it’s a process. It’s how we do the thing, it’s how we overcome adversity, and turn that into a positive adaptation, either now or the future. It’s not a thing you have inside you where you can tick off the list, and say, “Yes, I’m resilient 100% of the time.”

And I often say to people that thinking about resilience, that the goal really shouldn’t be wanting to be more resilient or wanting to be resilient because, firstly, how do you measure that? I don’t know because I’ve not faced every challenge I’m going to face in my life. I don’t know if something, it comes my way. Think about the pandemic, for example. I don’t know how I’m necessarily going to react to that.

But, also, it’s never done. You’re never…it’s not like, I don’t know, having…I’ve got brown eyes, for example. Yup, frankly, I’ve got brown eyes, that’s done. That’s probably not going to change my life now unless I wear contact lenses. The goal really should be learning about yourself, so learning about how resilience works for you because, again, it works differently for all of us.

So, what I need today to be resilient, even if I had exactly the same situation as you, will be different to what you need today to do that. So, it’s first about we learn what we need but it’s, secondly, about learning tools, strategies, techniques that we can use at different points in time when we need them. So, the goal really should be learning about your own resilience and learning tools and strategies and keeping them in your back pocket for when you need them to cope with different challenges.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s cover those tools, strategies, and techniques both in the moment as well as preparatory, like you mentioned sleep and nutrition. Like, if I wanted to be maximally equipped to take on a big old challenge, what are some of the things I should do in advance? Like, I’m thinking of a training montage or key practices and habits. So, it’s like, when that thing comes up, “Oh, what do you know? I have built a deep reserve and capability to not be just sort of wiped out by that.” What are some of those key levers there?

Gemma Roberts
Of course, there are things like sleep and nutrition, for example, which I know I’ve already mentioned. But I’ve got two young children, so telling me that I need more sleep to be resilient, I know that. I cognitively am aware of that. Equally, I may not be able to prescribe that for myself every day because it’s not always in my control.

So, it’s having a bank of things to think about. So, sleep, nutrition, exercise, they’re good for any kind of health we’re talking about, whether it’s physical, whether it’s psychological, for sure. When it comes to building resilience and the actual act of dealing with challenges or overcoming challenges, it’s really important that you have taken some time to think about the challenges that you have faced in the past, so this is a little bit of building self-awareness and also some reflection as well.

So, either at the time where that challenge is happening, or you can even think back to where challenges have happened before, think about how you dealt with it, what was helpful for you, what wasn’t helpful for you. Ask yourself questions, like, “Would I do the same thing again? Would I change anything? Like, if I was in exactly the same situation again, what would I do differently?” And that’s not about regret. It’s not about regretting, necessarily, how you handled that situation. It’s about saying, “What did I learn from that? And what would I take with me? And what would I leave behind when it comes to facing challenges again?”

So, this reflection is really important. And, again, like I said earlier about resilience, that reflection is never done. We have to keep doing this. But when it comes to our minds and how they work and mindset, we have to keep doing the work. But there’s also some really handy tools that you could use, some coaching techniques. Things like gratitude, for example, has been shown to help to boost resilience.

Because if you imagine that whether facing a huge challenge or lots of little challenges, sometimes that becomes overwhelming, and sometimes it takes our thinking and we can’t rethink outside of that. But even doing something really simple, like reflecting, either talking about, writing down something or three things that you’re grateful for that day can help you to shift that mindset. So, it shifts you just for a moment away from looking at what’s not going so well, towards actually something that could be going well in your life.

And these could be super simple things. It could be a phone conversation with someone you care about, or great coffee on the way to work, or a walk out in nature, or watching some TV program that you want to watch. They don’t have to be huge. Or, bedtime story with your children. So, there’s techniques like that that can help. And, also, another thing that I always recommend people focus on if you want to think about, “How do I equip myself to face future challenges?” there is a really underrated part of resilience which we rarely hear about that comes out of research and it’s part of my research as well and it’s in other published research, and that’s support, so people around you.

And I think, today more than ever, after going through a period of time where lots of us haven’t been out be around people we care about, necessarily, kind of face to face, and there has been some distance at times, I think we’re craving that even more so than ever. And, actually, in my book, some of the coaching strategies that I go through, I talk about support.

So, a really simple one, for example, is thinking about creating your own board of supporters. So, this means, imagine you’re running a company and you’ve got a board of directors that advise you on different parts of that business, they’ve got different areas of expertise. In the resilience world, we want a board of supporters, so you want to imagine your own table and you’ve got so many seats, whether that’s five seats, 10 seats, you can choose. I tend to work with ten. And you want people on that table that you trust and they support you in different ways.

So, for example, you might have someone who has expertise in something that you’re doing in life, whether that be starting a business or the industry you’re in, and they can advise on that. You might want people on there who are great at listening. So, they don’t necessarily offer advice but they listen to what you’re saying and they make you feel heard and validated. You might have people on there who are really good fun and they’re the people you go to when you kind of what to forget the challenge a little bit sometimes, and just go and concentrate on something else. And you’ve got people on there that care about you, that will offer some kind of support, and it’s very different for all of us.

But ultimately, when it comes to building our resilience, and getting us in a position where we feel like we could deal with challenges that come our way, to give yourself a better chance of being able to do that, having this group of people, whether it’s explicit and they know who they are, when you have that special, or whether it’s not, and you just know who they are…

Pete Mockaitis
You get to have quarterly meetings.

Gemma Roberts
Yeah, you could have quarterly meetings if you want to. I’m sure if you offered up a nice…some beverages and snacks, I’m sure people will come along, but it’s kind of just knowing as well yourself that you’ve got that support, and also identify in us. Because how often do we sit down and think, “I’m so grateful for that person, the advice they give or the support they give”? And on the flipside, think about who you are a support for as well because that also helps to build resilience when we are supporting someone else through their challenges.

Pete Mockaitis
And it gets me thinking about, you know, dig the well before you’re thirsty, like the basis sort of networking relationship principles. Like, you would be more capable of tackling big things if your board of supporters, if those relationships were in a good spot, as opposed to, “Oh, the last time I talked with this guy was three years ago when I was struggling with another business issue, and I’ve been doing a lot of taking and not a lot of giving.”

And so, that’s just sort of what’s leaping to my mind here, is to just go ahead and proactively, just as we would do some sleep…ideally, sleeping well, eating well, exercising well to build up a physical wealth to be ready to handle stuff, so, too, we would like to build up a relational wealth to be able to deal with stuff so that you do feel fully comfortable reaching out, as opposed to, “Oh, maybe I should…maybe that’s not appropriate, maybe I’ve been all take, take, take with this person over the last couple of years, and I don’t feel as good about reaching out now.”

Plus, I think there’s some research about loneliness stuff. It’s like when you most need to reach out to somebody, often it’s when you least feel like it, so you got those things to contend with. So, anyway, it’s what’s leaping to mind for me here, Gemma.

Gemma Roberts
And I think it’s quite like maybe we do need an audit. Maybe sometimes we do need to sit down and think, “Actually, have I checked in with that person lately, sent a message, or had a quick chat?” I think we’re all guilty of that sometimes, of some those things slip a little bit, or it’s very difficult to keep on to of it, but it is important. It’s important to check in and to make sure that we’re keeping that board of supporters there that’s going to help us, those are genuinely, because, again, I talk about this in the book as well, because connection is really important for us.

It’s really, really important that when we hit a challenge or when we go through a period of adversity in our life that we are connected to someone or people or a community that we feel like they’re going to help us. It’s very important for us to be connected to help other people as well because, again, there’s research that shows that if we’re supporting others, we generally feel better about it in our lives and we often feel better about the challenges that we’re facing as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, when it comes to gratitude, there is a number of different approaches to a gratitude practice, and I’m thinking of Shawn Achor and Dr. Andrew Huberman here in terms of different flavors and approaches. Could you maybe list a few of them or identify your favorite in terms of, “Ooh, this has a great research base or a tremendous ROI in terms of a resilience per minute required of us”?

Gemma Roberts
The truth of it is we don’t entirely know exactly like the best full map for gratitude. So, Andrew Huberman, for example, in his podcast, has talked about gratitude from a neuroscience perspective, the most effective way to practice gratitude is actually not to think about the things you’re grateful for but think about stories where someone has thanked you for something, or think about stories where they thanked someone else. From a neuroscience perspective, that has shown the most promising results.

From a psychology perspective, there is research that shows that, actually, just everyday gratitude, so you actually being thankful to other people, can also provide great results for you as well. So, my advice for this is find what works for you and do it in a way that works for you. What we know across various studies, whether that be the new science world or in the psychology world, is that consistency is key. Like, that’s quite important, the consistency part. So, it could be that you do this every day or every evening at dinner, or every night before bed, or every morning, for a period of time.

I’m not saying you have to do this the rest of your life necessarily, although it’s quite a nice habit to get into, but it’s doing it for a good chunk of time. So, give yourself a month, for example, to do this. What’s really important is that you are very focused on the process of practicing gratitude when you’re doing it. So, you’re not thinking about something else at the same time and it has to be genuine as well.

Like, our brains know if we’re not being genuine. We can’t trick ourselves. You can’t just think, “Oh, I’m going to make a note of it. I’m just going to have a nice cup of coffee today, I’m not going to be bothered but, yeah, I’ll just jot that down.” It’s not going to work. You’ve got to be in the process and you’ve got to be really thinking about that interaction with someone or the thing that was really important to you.

So, the way that I tend to do it is I’ll pick a time of day, so whether it’s first thing in the morning, kind of set myself up for the day, or just before I go to bed, I’ll think about it. I’m actually starting to try and do this a bit with my children as well even though they’re quite small but they don’t really know what gratitude is yet, so they’re two and four. So, we’re just focusing on one fun thing that happened today, or one thing that was good today, that you mean somebody, ours is a very random, especially from the two-year-old.

But the point is we’re starting to focus on…because they do a lot of talking about some of the things that haven’t gone so well, like scrapes and cups and bangs and sisters fighting, and who did what. Actually, I’m trying to shift that focus a little bit to focus on, “Okay, yes, we have to…” And the other thing with gratitude is it’s not saying the challenges aren’t happening and it’s not ignoring them or not acknowledging them. It’s saying, “Yes, those things are happening but this stuff is also happening as well.” So, it’s kind of providing a bit more of a balanced view, even just for a moment. That’s often all it takes.

So, the truth is there is no one way of doing this. My advice is, and my advice, actually, most of the coaching strategies that I talk about in the book, is that test it, see what works for you, see how it works for you. Does it work jotting this down? Does it work doing this on a Friday as you’re wrapping up for the week? Does it work doing it on a Monday morning? Does it work doing every morning for you? Does it work at certain points in time? So, when you might start to feel that stress in your chest or you know sometimes that anxious feeling that you might get. Is that the time where it works for you?

It’s testing this stuff and, again, reflecting on “Has that been helpful? Has it changed my thinking process? Has it changed how I interact with the world or others in a more positive way?” and tweaking it where you need to, and kind of keep reflecting on that, making that reflection part of your kind of at least weekly life, I’d say.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s fun. And I guess, as I’ve been doing so, that reflection, one little nuance I’ve discovered is that when I re-read the list of gratitude bits, it’s a lot more powerful on the reflection if those pieces are somewhat unique. Like, in the same day, for example, I might feel gratitude that my wife made a sandwich, like, “Oh, good. I was hungry and here’s a sandwich. That’s great. Thank you.” So, I do have gratitude there.

But if I write that down, and then later I read it, I don’t as much feel a resurrection of the gratitude vibes, like, “Oh, yes,” because it’s not that novel. It’s like, “Yes, I was hungry and then I ate. It happened. It’s happened thousands of times over my lifetime,” versus, on the same day, maybe I did a puzzle with my kids. They’re three and four, so also young. And then Mary immediately says, “Dance party.” She just wants to celebrate having finished the last piece of the puzzle, and just immediately says, “Dance party,” and start doing her thing.

So, I’m very grateful that that occurred, that I had that moment and that memory. And I guess that’s sort of my distinction, I guess, in terms of I’m grateful for this thing and it’s like it “qualifies” as a memory. And in subsequent reflection, I go, “Oh, yeah, that thing was really lovely. And, oh, yeah, that thing was really lovely.” And it gives me more of a jolt than if it’s just a very ordinary, like, “Had a great coffee. Had another great coffee.” So, that’s my experience. I don’t know if there’s research on it or maybe that’s your whole point, reflect on what works for you.

Gemma Roberts
Hundred percent, that’s the point, I reflect. And the novelty part, so I talk a little bit in the book about novelty as well. That’s how our brains remember things, and, also, we really seek novelty. That’s interesting for us, that keeps life ingesting. It keeps us learning. We learn these things through novelty. So, we’re kind of hardwired for curiosity and novelty, so we want to embrace that as much as possible. So, I think most people will find that if there’s something to be grateful for that is kind of out of the ordinary, that’s the stuff we’re going to remember, that’s the stuff that’s going to make a big impact.

However, we’re not going to have that every day potentially. And it’s also really important sometimes, again, talking about mindset perspective, because perspective is a huge part of resilience, sometimes we kind of need to remind ourselves about those little things as well. And even though making a sandwich, for example, or my husband making me a nice cup…he’s like the chief coffee-maker in our house. And sometimes I have to really think, because sometimes I’m like, “Oh, thanks. That’s really lovely.” And I do appreciate it. Sometimes I have to really sit down and think, “Actually, that’s really kind that he does that all the time, like way more than I do. And, actually, maybe I should be a bit kinder in one way or another.”

But sometimes we can miss those kind of everyday normal things to be thankful for. So, I definitely think there’s a place or room in our lives to reflect on some of those things as well. But I know that’s hard because it feels so normal, it feels so every day, that sometimes we don’t appreciate some of those things until they’re not there anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly. And that’s where I was going to go, is when you reflect upon the absence, or, “Hey, there was a time in my life when this did not exist. Remember that? See how this is so much better? Huh? Yeah, that is cool having a chief coffee-maker right there.” Well, your book is called Mindset Matters: Developing Mental Agility and Resilience to Thrive in Uncertainty. We talked about resilience. What’s mental agility and how do we get more of it?

Gemma Roberts
So, mental agility has a lot do with kind of being flexible in how we look at the world and how we process information. And, I guess at the heart of it, it’s not being wedded to one way of doing things or one way of thinking. So, there’s a lot in there about, I talk a little bit about curiosity. So, being curious, nurturing curiosity, remaining curious even when things are really challenging, and there are some things you can do around that. Like, pretty simple things.

For example, let’s say that you commute every day and you get to board a train into the city and you walk the same way every day to work, pick up your coffee from the nice coffee shop you always go to, or pick up breakfast from the place that you love. That’s amazing but sometimes you can force yourself to go a different route and stumble across a completely different street or another little coffee shop that you haven’t seen before. Especially, I used to do a lot of work in London, for example, less so kind of commuting since the pandemic. But, especially in the city, there are little tiny windy streets, you could get to the same place in a completely different way at different times.

Or, it could be things like going to an art gallery. Like, I’m not really into art galleries, if I’m honest. I’m not really into museums, particularly, unless it’s about a topic that I love. But sometimes it’s about kind of forcing ourselves to go and experience these things just because you might learn something, you might pick up something over here, an idea that later on down the line connects to something completely different to what you’re doing. So, that’s part of mental agility, this idea of being curious, but also being able to challenge your perspective and also broaden your perspective.

So, I guess, when I first started out as a psychologist, when I was doing my undergraduate degree, I thought I was going to university to learn how people think and be able to help people think in the best way for them. And I thought I was going to go and do my undergraduate degree and find out the best way to think about challenges, or the best way to think to create success, and I had a complete shock when I found out that doesn’t exist.

And, actually, I remember the feeling. I remember coming away from a lecture one day, and thinking, “I feel like my world is like crashing down here,” because everything I thought, there was a right way. I thought there was a right way of thinking, I thought there was a right way of doing things, and I’ve just been told that, actually, there are a whole bunch of completely opposing theories, ideas, ways of doing things that can all work for certain people at certain points in time, potentially, and there’s no answer.

And I remember my perspective of the world being a little bit shattered. It sounds very dramatic but it did take me a while to kind of get my head around what being a psychologist was going to mean. But that’s the key point, is that I come to a situation with a perspective, I’ve got one perspective; there are hundreds of other ways to see that situation. So, mental agility, part of that, is training ourselves, firstly, to acknowledge that you got one perspective and there are loads of other perspectives out there. And, secondly, to seek out those other perspectives. Like, you, ideally, want to.

And it’s not that diagnosing other people, or how they look at the world, or being able to put them in a box and you’re in a different box. It’s not that. But it’s about thinking how else could you look at this situation, how else could you look at this problem or this challenge, how do other people look. Ask them. Find out those questions. It’s things like consuming your news from different sources, not just one source. Or, if you’re a fiction reader, generally, read a nonfiction book, or vice versa.

And also, particularly in those heated situations with someone where you’re coming in strong with a perspective. Where you can is taking that time to take a step back and remember that you’re not necessarily right. You might be. Or there could be lots of rights. There could be ten different right ways to look at this. So, that’s part of mental agility is, first, being able to kind of move between ideas quickly, so you’re broadening that perspective, so you’re keeping that curious mindset, but also being able to see other perspectives as well, and training yourself to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, that sounds handy, both in terms of problem-solving in the context of, “Hey, here’s a big tricky thing. Oh, because I have multiple perspectives, I have a greater chance of being able to crack it,” as well as, I’m imagining just like emotionally realizing that when you’re in a moment of, “This sucks. I hate this. I’m suffering. I want to stop immediately,” if you’ve got some great mental agility, you can say, “Well, actually, this might sort of be helpful in some ways, like, A, B, C. I’d still rather not deal with it but it’s not totally worthless.”

Gemma Roberts
Yup, hundred percent. It changes the way you look at challenges and the situations. And, honestly, let’s be honest, some of the big challenges we have to deal with in life, we would never want to face those, we would never wish them upon people, and we’ve got to be a little bit careful in the resilience world in that, I don’t want to be like, “Oh, it’s amazing. The more challenges, the better for all of us,” because obviously, challenges can bring pain, and they can bring discomfort, and they can bring upset, and you can feel unsettled or overwhelmed or anxious.

And that exists. We can’t deny that. But we can’t change that, so the only thing that we can do is find ways to look after ourselves and to deal with those situations in the best way that we can. And, by the way, it is completely acceptable to fall apart when things are not going well. It is completely acceptable to feel overwhelmed, anxious, stressed, depressed, all the things. That is okay. It’s not necessarily about denying that or changing that straight away. It’s about moving things in the direction that works for you over time. You don’t have to do that straight away.

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

Gemma Roberts
I understand the concept of resilience is complicated. I do understand. Like, there’s a reason I’m doing doctoral research in the area because there’s still a lot of stuff that we’re still learning as well as psychologists. But my biggest hit, if you’re thinking about yourself and how you cope with challenges and uncertainty is, firstly, get to know yourself, get to know what’s happening to you, reflect on that, build your self-awareness.

Again, it’s never done. I still have to do that always. I still sometimes have to sit back and think, “Why did I react like that? That was completely like not appropriate response considering the challenge.” Like, in my head, it does not really matter but that’s how I feel about it. So, get to know yourself. And, also, just keep testing. Just keep testing what works for you. All we can do is try. And my intention is always to get better at this stuff, to grow, to develop, to learn. And I think that’s all we can have in these situations.

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

Gemma Roberts
So, one of my favorite quotes is “You can’t stop the waves from crashing but you can learn to surf.” And lots of people have used this, and so it can’t be attributed to one person but, basically, that’s what resilience is. We can’t stop the waves. We don’t know how big they’re going to be, but we can learn to use it in one way or another. You may not want to be surfing. You might rather be out in the water. I don’t really want to be surfing. I’m not a natural but, equally, I know that I can learn to do that if I need to.

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

Gemma Roberts
Well, this might be a bit of a strange answer, I guess, but probably my research. Essentially, my piece of research is looking at the factors that impact resilience for leaders. So, how much of it is down to the individual? How much of it is down to the environment? How much of it is down to the teams they work with?

it’s been a real kind of privilege to delve deep into that, to understand a bit more about how resilience changes for each of us at each moment in time, and why, and what we can do about that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Gemma Roberts
A favorite book, well, my most gifted book, it must be one of my favorites is The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters. So, the whole point of the book is that it focuses on how our minds work, how we talk to ourselves in our minds. And it uses kind of quite a comical tone in some places. It talks about some complex psychology. So, it’s easy-ish, I’d say it’s quite easy to understand. It’s quite accessible but also quite amusing as well.

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

Gemma Roberts
I’m not sure I am awesome at my job. Certainly not every day, that’s for sure. My favorite tool is probably getting help where I need it, and that’s taken quite a long time to get in place. So, I have various people that support different parts of my business and different parts of my work because I’m not an expert in everything.

And I think, over time, I’ve got to know the bits that I’m good at – so explaining complicated things, turning into tools that are very accessible, like research, making it practical. But I’m not so great at marketing, or, I don’t know, I’m trying to think of something else I’m not great at, managing my diary, it’s like that, so I’ve got people around me. Over time, I’ve built that out. I guess it’s a little bit like my board of supporters but it’s in a work context, but it’s getting the support where I need it.

And, also, sometimes I find that quite overwhelming because I think to myself, “I’ve got to do this new thing,” or, “I need to outsource something,” and I just don’t know where to start. And I’ve slowly started to get into the process of thinking actually, I always find that support when the time is right and when it’s the right person. Sometimes you’ve just got to wait for the right person to kind of show up to help with that. So, that’s got a little bit easy. I also find it very hard to let go of some of this stuff as well.

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

Gemma Roberts
the point that resilience changes over time and it’s different on different days, that’s the stuff that I hear time and time again, whether working with individuals or when working with groups of people. I think it’s quite comforting that there is no…the end goal is not to be resilient. I think that’s probably one of the key things that I talk about. It is giving yourself the tools to be able to deal with challenges that can help you to be resilient but it doesn’t make you resilient.

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

Gemma Roberts
Probably my website, so GemmaLeighRoberts.com because everything I kind of do is on this. Like, courses and books and all of that jazz is on the website.

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

Gemma Roberts
Yes, I do. So, challenge yourself, at least this week, and try and build this into every week if you can. Take 20 minutes at the end of each week to just do a little bit of reflection. I know I keep talking about it, but this honestly helps you to get better and better. So, think about that continuous improvement over time. If you can get 1%, even half a percent better at what you do each week over time, you’re going to see big results.

So, there’s three things that I would focus on. First of all, you review how that week has gone for you. So, you literally, “What’s gone well? What hasn’t gone well?” That’s it. And then you think about refine, “Okay, so how can I refine some of that stuff that didn’t go so well? What could I do a little tiny bit better, just a tiny bit better?” And the third step is repeat. You just keep doing this over time. It comes back to that reflection so you’re very conscious of what’s going on, you’re very aware. Tiny, tiny, tiny tweaks to make things slightly better, and just keep repeating. That’s the consistency.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Gemma, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and mental agility and resilience.

Gemma Roberts
Thanks very much.

REBROADCAST: 399: Maximizing Your Mental Energy with Isaiah Hankel

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Isaiah

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Isaiah Hankel Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah Hankel
Yes, shorn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh do, thank you.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh boy.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Like four?

Isaiah Hankel
Like four, exactly. Four or five.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah Hankel
Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah Hankel
….

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Zeigarnik.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Zeigarnik.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
More than any other salt?

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

Pete Mockaitis
Minerals?

Isaiah Hankel
Minerals. Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. How about a favorite study?

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Isaiah Hankel
Favorite book. Fiction or non-fiction?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ll take them both.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, the ICD-PX gem.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, how about a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

Isaiah Hankel
Yes, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So when do you go to bed?

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah Hankel
A particular nugget?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Isaiah Hankel
There you go. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I practiced that one.

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

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

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