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741: How to Stop Struggling and Start Thriving with Nataly Kogan

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Nataly Kogan shares how to become the boss of your own brain and beat the negativity bias.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why struggle is optional
  2. The two questions to boost your emotional fitness
  3. How to combat your brain’s negativity bias 

About Nataly

Nataly Kogan is a former VC and the founder of Happier, a global technology and learning platform helping individuals and organizations to realize full potential by adopting scientifically-proven practices that improve their well-being. 

Since launching Happier, Nataly has been featured in the New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, Fortune, New York Magazine and Time Magazine, and has appeared as an expert on Dr. Oz, Bloomberg TV, and “One World” with Deepak Chopra. 

She is a sought-out keynote speaker, having appeared at events that include at Million Dollar Roundtable, Fortune’s Tech Brainstorm, Blogher, SXSW, the 92nd St. Y, Harvard Women’s Leadership Conference, TEDxBoston, and many more. 

 

Resources Mentioned

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Nataly Kogan Interview Transcript

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

Nataly Kogan
Thank you. I love the title of the podcast. I’m excited. I overuse the word awesome more than any other word, so we’re in good company.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s meant to be. In fact, your latest book is called The Awesome Human Project. We’ve got a lot of awesome human listeners. Can you tell us what’s the big idea here?

Nataly Kogan
The big idea is that challenge in life is constant but struggle is optional. So, I’m calling official BS on the meme of “The struggle is real” because struggle is something we can reduce by improving our emotional fitness, and what’s real in life is challenge.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, there’s a distinction right there. Challenge versus struggle, can you expand on that?

Nataly Kogan
Yeah, I think it’s one of the most important insights that I’ve gained on my journey. I spent most of my life struggling. I thought that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I came to the US as a refugee. That was a lot of struggle. And I thought to do anything meaningful in life, you’ve got to struggle, it’s got to be hard. And that’s what I did until I completely burnt out and almost lost everything that was meaningful to me, including this company, Happier, that I was building to help people and companies and teams create a culture of gratitude and joy.

So, that taught me a really powerful lesson that challenge is something we cannot control in life. And, as we all know, the times we’re living in right now, there’s a lot of challenge. Challenge is always there. But we can reduce our experience of struggle by creating a more supportive relationship with ourselves, by strengthening our emotional fitness, by training our brain just like we train our body to be more physically fit, by training our brain to help us get through challenges with less overwhelm, anxiety, and stress.

And not only does that feel better, which I think is a wonderful goal, but that actually gives us more energy, more of our capacity to solve problems, make decisions. And so, everything I share in my new book and everything I teach to teams and companies has come from my own experience, but it’s also backed by mountains of research that show that when you cultivate your wellbeing, when you actually reduce your struggle, when you fuel your energy, you’re more productive, you’re more creative, you’re better at helping people, you’re more awesome at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, so then if struggle is optional, I guess I’m curious, if you were to sort of go back in time with your refugee journey, you said there’s some struggle there. So, that struggle was optional. How would you kind of think about it differently in hindsight?

Nataly Kogan
Yeah. So, challenge wasn’t optional, to leave. I grew up in the former Soviet Union, and we left with my parents when I was a teenager with six suitcases and a couple hundred dollars, and we spent months in refugee settlements in Europe applying for permission to come to the US. That’s really hard. That’s a lot of challenge. But a lot of the struggle that I experienced came from my inability to handle my difficult emotions. I had no skills around that. Of course, I felt anxious and I had tremendous loss of identity and self-doubt.

And that went on for decades. On the outside, I became a very successful leader, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, you name it, but on the inside, I struggled because I never developed emotional awareness. I didn’t know how to handle difficult emotions so I just pretended I didn’t feel them. I engaged in tremendous amounts of harsh self-talk and treated myself, to be honest, like a military sergeant who’s not very nice. And those are all things that, in retrospect, I could’ve improved which would have…the challenges would’ve still been there but I would’ve struggled less through them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so then, I’m curious, can you lay it on us, what are some of the training approaches if we want to have less overwhelm, anxiety, and stress? What are some of the most effective things we can do to feel better on those domains?

Nataly Kogan
Yeah, this is what my book is about. So, at its core, the way that I think about emotional fitness, it’s a skill of creating a relationship with your thoughts and your emotions that actually help support you. And the thing we need to understand, before I give you some tips, is our brain is not here to make us happy, or to make us awesome, or to help us thrive. The only thing the human brain cares about is to keep us safe from danger. Our brain is here to help us survive.

And because of that, it’s developed certain characteristics that actually can increase struggle. We all have a negativity bias. We see and notice many more things that are negative or could be negative, and our brain ignores a lot of things that are positive or meaningful or okay especially if they’re familiar. Our brain is also afraid of uncertainty. And so, when we’re facing uncertainty, our brain creates a lot more stress and anxiety because it doesn’t know how to keep us safe, and it creates these ruminations on worst-case scenarios as a way to give it control.

And so, I share this little mini-neuroscience lesson because at the core of creating or strengthening your emotional fitness, so you struggle less, is this practice of, what I call in my book, becoming the editor of your thoughts, and understanding that just because your brain gives you a thought, it doesn’t mean it is fact, it doesn’t mean it’s an objective observation of reality, it doesn’t mean you need to go along with it.

So, two questions to ask yourself. When you become aware that your brain is giving you thoughts that are causing you to stress, to struggle, to doubt yourself, to think about worst-case scenarios, two questions to ask is one of my favorite practices in the book. The first is, “Is this thought true?” And, by that I mean, “What are the facts I have to support this thought?”

So, when your thought tells you, “Oh, my God, this project you’re working on, it’s never going to work out,” or, “Oh, my God, your boss thinks you’re doing a terrible job,” well, is this thought true? What facts do you have to support it? Which we often find out when we ask this question, “Well, I don’t have a lot of facts. It’s just a story my brain has made up.” So, that’s the first question to ask, is, “What are the facts you have to support this thought?”

The second question to ask is, “Is this thought helpful?” And by that, I mean, “Does engaging in this thought, does it help me move forward through this challenge? Does it help me bring my best to the situation?” And asking those two questions is a really powerful way to shift your thoughts away from those that cause you stress, anxiety, overwhelm, self-doubt, and actually help your brain be your ally to help you move forward in the best way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that sounds really handy in terms of asking yourself those questions. So, let’s just say you’re in a situation at work, a colleague criticizes or questions something you’ve done such that you’re feeling kind of bummed, like, “Oh, man, I’m such an idiot. That was so stupid. What was I thinking? I’m a moron. Oh, my gosh, am I going to get fired? Or, maybe they are going to fire me.” And so then, you maybe go through these questions, “Is this thought true?” It’s like, “Well, they’ll probably not going to fire me. And I’m probably not a piece of garbage.” And, “Is this thought helpful?” “Well, no, not really. It’s kind of bringing me down.”

And so, we’ve concluded rationally, “Okay, these thoughts are not true and they are not helpful, but, nonetheless, I feel yucky. What do I do?”

Nataly Kogan
All right. So, this brings us to the next skill, which is the skill of what I call acceptance in the book. And the skill of acceptance, I used to hate this word acceptance because I thought it was like being really passive, “Whatever happens, happens. I’m an entrepreneur, I’m a refugee, I’m a fighter.” Well, that’s not what acceptance is.

Acceptance is a skill of looking at the situation clearly, so as you’ve just done, separating the facts from the dramatic story your brain has told you, and then, using that as a foundation to say, “Okay, this is how it is. This is how I feel. What is one thing I could do to move forward in the best way?” And so, in your situation, so you’ve determined that, “Well, my brain is kind of exaggerating. I don’t really have any facts that my boss is going to fire me, and this making me suck at my job if I sit here think about it all day. So, what is one thing I could do to move forward?”

And that answer depends on your situation, but a couple ideas just for the scenario you offered, because it’s a common one. Well, you could focus your attention on working on this project that you’re working on. You could focus your attention on that. You could have a conversation with your boss. Another really important skill that I talk about is emotional openness. So, you could have a conversation with your boss where you can say, like, “Listen, I just want to tell you, in our last conversation that we had, it kind of left me feeling like maybe there’s something I’m not doing. I’d love to talk. I’d love to get some feedback.” Those are all things that you are now in control.

So, you’ve now shifted from being out of control, “My boss hates me. I’m going to get fired.” That feeling out of control is one of the worst things for the human brain. This is how we get into tough spots. And you’ve now shifted into, “Okay, this is how it is. This is how I feel. What is one thing I could do to move forward?” which gives you a sense of control and progress, which brings your best out in the situation. And then, whatever you learn in that next step, you can move forward from there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, we’ve got some strategy sort of in the heat of battle, in the midst of things. Can you talk to us? You mentioned the emotional immune system. Are there some things we can do kind of throughout time, and not just front and center, acutely that will put us in good shape?

Nataly Kogan
Yes. So, if you think about your emotional fitness, again, a great comparison is physical fitness. If you want to be more physically fit, you don’t just like work out once and then you’re done. You have a regular workout, you probably eat healthy, you might take some vitamins. The same thing about our emotional fitness is we have to practice to give ourselves this level of emotional fitness and then we have certain skills for in the moment.

So, a couple things to kind of improve your emotional fitness on a regular basis. One is to practice emotional awareness. We can’t improve something if we don’t know where we are. And most of us have grown up in work environments where emotions are not discussed. I definitely, I worked with some leading companies like Microsoft and McKinsey, and no one ever talked to me about emotions. I didn’t think that mattered. The old idea of “Leave your emotions at the door” is not actually possible. Emotions affect everything we do.

So, we have to get into the practice of checking in with ourselves daily. We check in with friends, colleagues, like, “Hey, how are you? How are you doing? How are you feeling?” We don’t check in with ourselves, and emotional awareness is at the core. So, every day, take a moment to check in with yourself, “How am I feeling? What is my energy level like?”

And research shows that people who practice this kind of emotional awareness actually improve their wellbeing because when you become aware, awareness gives you choices. So, that awareness might tell you, “Wow, I’m really stressed out. Okay, well, how can I support myself? Oh, it’s actually this one thing that’s really stressing me out. Let me go have that conversation.” So, emotional awareness is really, really important.

The other skill that I devote a lot of my new book to is gratitude. So, I think gratitude is one of those things that we all know is good for us, and we think we should do it on Thanksgiving, but I actually mean gratitude as a daily skill. And the reason gratitude is so important – and all the gratitude is, by the way – it’s focusing your attention on things that are positive, that are the moments that in your day of comfort, things you appreciate. They don’t have to be big things.

The reason it’s so important is because of that negativity bias that I talked about that our brains have. Without practicing gratitude, essentially, your brain is lying to you about your reality. You see things much more through a negative lens and that actually drains your energy, increases stress, reduces your ability to be awesome because it makes you use all that energy thinking about all the negative things.

So, having a regular daily practice of gratitude balances out that negativity bias that actually reduces your stress. It helps you have a more centered clear picture of your day so you can be at your best. So, those are a couple practices I recommend on a daily basis to improve your emotional fitness.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you talk about gratitude, I’ve heard a number of flavors associated with gratitude practices. What are some of your favorites and the research associated with them?

Nataly Kogan
Yes. So, I think there are two parts of gratitude that I want to mention. There’s a gratitude practice for yourself. So, my favorite practice, which is also in the book, is what I call the morning gratitude lens. Very simple. In the morning, hopefully before social media has taken away your attention or your reading – your 17th news article of the day, which we know we all do – take a moment, think of three specific things you are grateful for and jot them down in some way.

And this is a practice that counters that negativity bias I just talked about. Really, really important to be specific. So, I work with a lot of leaders and teams, and I ask them, “Tell me something you’re grateful for,” and they say, “I’m grateful for my family. I’m grateful for my health.” That’s very general. Your brain doesn’t really care about general things like that, so be specific. Ask yourself, “Why? Why am I grateful for my family? Why am I grateful for my health?” Be really specific. So, that’s a way to practice gratitude for yourself.

And then a really, really important part of gratitude is to express your gratitude to others. To look at other people, your family, your friends, your colleagues, your boss, your customers, through what I call the lens of gratitude, and to actually share your gratitude with them by, again, being specific, by saying, “Hey, Pete, I just want you to know, I really appreciate your thoughtful questions in this interview.”

Again, when we are specific with our gratitude, it has this really powerful impact, and it’s a gift that gives to both people. So, when I shared my gratitude with you, I remind myself, “Wow, there’s this person in my life who supports me, who’s meaningful, that helps me,” and there’s so much benefit on the receiving end of gratitude.

I think we all know it feels really good. But in the work context, being on the receiving side of gratitude improves motivation, improves resilience. It actually helps you get through more challenges because, at our core as human beings, we need to know that what we do matters. And when someone expresses gratitude to us, that’s what it reminds us of. So, those, to me, are the two sides of gratitude that I encourage you to practice for yourself, and then expressing authentic specific gratitude to others.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m also curious, I was listening to a podcast from the Huberman Lab, Andrew Huberman. Love his stuff. And he was talking about gratitude practices with regard to some interesting research associated with hearing other people’s stories in which they were helped, and they expressed their gratitude and/or reflecting upon the times that you received gratitude, when someone was like, “Oh, Nataly, thank you so much. That was awesome. You changed everything for me.” And I thought that was kind of a different take and a different kind of vibe and flavor of gratitude. What do you think about those?

Nataly Kogan
Yeah, I love that you brought that up. There is so much research that shows that just witnessing someone sharing gratitude with another person – so it’s not at you, it’s about someone else – improves our wellbeing, boosts our mood, and that is because, at our core as human beings, we’re all connected, and our emotions are connected, our emotions are contagious. And so, a lot of research shows that witnessing or hearing someone talk about, expressing gratitude, actually both boost your own wellbeing and it’s contagious. It encourages you to share that gratitude with others.

And, actually, something I want to mention on that, because a lot of times I work with a lot of teams and companies, and I tell them about this practice that I want them to do this in meetings. So, in a meeting, express your gratitude to someone in the meeting and tell them why you’re grateful for them. And often I’ll get a question of like, “Well, isn’t that like, won’t the other people feel weird that I’m not like expressing gratitude to them? Won’t they feel bad?”

The opposite is true. It actually makes everyone feel good because what you’re communicating to them is, “I am a kind of person who practices gratitude, and I appreciate other people around me.” So, it doesn’t make people feel jealous or envious or annoyed. It actually helps for them to express their gratitude to others. So, sharing your gratitude publicly is always a good thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Very cool. And you mentioned, and we may have already covered some, you’ve got three mindset shifts that help make happiness and emotional health reality for folks. What are those three shifts?

Nataly Kogan
So, these are my like…what do I call them? Kind of like principles, the core principles, and we’ve actually covered a bunch of them. So, the first is to think of…to recognize that your happiness and your emotional fitness is a skill. It’s not a prize you get at the end. So many of us, and I definitely did this in my life, so many of us live with this idea of like, “I’ll be happy when…”

So, for everyone listening, I’m sure you can relate, “I’ll be happy when I get this promotion,” or finish this project, or launch this thing, or lose weight, or gain weight, or move. And we think that something on the outside can actually give us that lasting happiness, and that can never happen. And there’s a biological reason for that, there’s nothing wrong with you.

The other thing to know about our brain is it’s very adaptable. We get used to things. And so, while you’re working towards that big promotion, your brain is really swimming in a lot of dopamine, it makes you feel good. When you get it, your brain is like, “Yes! Awesome! Got it! What’s next?” And so, “I’ll be happy when…” doesn’t work. Happiness is not a reward.

When you think of it as a skill, when you think of happiness and emotional fitness as a skill, something that you practice – we just talked a bunch of different ways to practice – that actually is what builds that. So, that’s a really important mindset shift. We talked about another one, which is life is full of challenges, and challenges will never go away. Challenge, change, uncertainty is always there, but struggle and your emotional experience of those is something you can improve. You can reduce struggle. So, that’s another core mindset shift which we’ve covered.

And one more, which is so essential, and that is that you don’t need to make any dramatic life changes to feel better to improve your wellbeing. Small shifts in how you treat yourself, in your relationship with your thoughts, in your relationship with other people, small shifts have huge impact when you practice them consistently.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, I’d love to hear then, we got a number of principles and tips and tactics. Can you bring it together in terms of a story of someone who had a pretty cool transformation of doing some of these things and turned things around to become all the more awesome at their jobs?

Nataly Kogan
Yeah. Well, so many examples come to mind, but I’ll use one example of a leader who’s a really amazing woman leader. I do Elevating Women Leaders leadership program for women every year. It’s always virtual. It’s a yearlong program. And when this woman leader came into the program, she’s very accomplished. She was running a huge brand but she was really exhausted, she was on the edge of burnout, and she admitted that she was not bringing her best or anywhere near her best to her work. And she didn’t really quite know what to do. She’s done kind of all the things that she could think of.

And by practicing, first and foremost, just becoming aware of her emotions and developing a relationship with herself that were supportive, so when she felt a difficult emotion, instead of stuffing it down, she actually acknowledged it and found ways to support herself by practicing gratitude. She began a daily gratitude practice on her own, and she began a weekly practice of gratitude with her team where everyone on the team would share a gratitude with other people.

It was an amazing transformation. She talked about how not only did she become, as a leader, better and started to thrive, but she said the entire culture of her team changed. They all began to work much more cohesively together. They were better, more effective. And it was a pretty incredible transformation when you think about these practices. They’re not complicated. But here was someone who went from being on the edge of burnout, not bringing her best, to changing herself in such a way that she encouraged her entire team to elevate their performance.

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

Nataly Kogan
I think the only other thing I want to mention is everything I teach and everything that’s in my book, it comes from my personal lens. I teach things I’ve learned, and obviously I’m a total research geek. And I just want to leave listeners with kind of this reminder that really helped me after I was recovering from burnout, and it’s something I share with teams and leaders and people, and it’s that you can’t give what you don’t have.

We have an epidemic of burnout now going on, and there’s a lot of articles about how things are bad and we’re burning out, but you always have a choice. You always have a choice. There are always things within your control that you can change, and, as we’ve talked about, they don’t require any kind of Herculean life changes. But you can always find ways and practice skills to support yourself, to support your emotional fitness and wellbeing. And there are so many people who consider that selfish or they feel guilty taking care of their happiness or emotional fitness.

And so, I want to break through all that and, again, tell you that you can’t give what you don’t have. If you’re on empty, if you have no energy, if you’re exhausted, if you’re constantly beating yourself up, you cannot be awesome at your job, you cannot show up as a patient, thoughtful, clear leader, you cannot show up in the way that I know you want to, to people you care about. So, it’s probably something I say most often throughout the day, both to other people and to myself.

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

Nataly Kogan
I’m going to share this quote which my teacher, who was my teacher as I was kind of healing from burnout and really going through a process of reinvention. She said to me, she said, “You’re a being, not a doing.” And, at the time, I had no idea what that meant, and I didn’t really care. I was very much to doing. I connected my worth entirely to my achievements for the day. But I find it one of the most inspiring things, and I do want our listeners to hear that.

I think there’s so much more that we can all contribute to the world and to our jobs if we value our being, our essence, our energy, ourselves, and not just connect that to our achievements.

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

Nataly Kogan
Ooh, let’s see. Well, one of my favorite bits of research is…you’ve gone into my favorite area. I’m such a research geek. Okay, let me share one around the negativity bias, gratitude being important because I think it really lands it. So, they’ve done experiments where they have people wear headphones, and in one ear they have negative words coming in, and in the other ear they have positive words coming in.

And even if the positive words are louder and clearer, when they asked people what they recall, they recalled the negative words. Our brain is constantly on alert for anything negative. And I just love that study because it’s so literal that it brings it home this reality that our brain is looking at everything through this negativity lens, and we have to correct it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m a research geek as well. That’s so intriguing. And I’m wondering, hopefully, they rotated the headphones, the left and the right.

Nataly Kogan
They have done. And you can look into it. They did all kinds of things.

Pete Mockaitis
Alrighty. And a favorite book?

Nataly Kogan
I would have to say The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer, which is probably the book I give to people more than my own books. And it’s an incredible story of this very promising economics PhD student who, one day, decides that he needs to figure out why there’s constant chatter in his brain, like we all have this voice in our head that’s constantly chattering, “You’re not good enough. You didn’t do it.” No, you’re just commenting on everything.

So, he quit and decided he was going to be a yogi and he was just going to be Zen and calm his mind. And it’s an amazing story of how that actually led him to run a $2-billion company we’ve all heard of, and an incredible journey of what happens when we practice acceptance, when we actually accept ourselves and the world as they are. So, I absolutely recommend that book.

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

Nataly Kogan
So, in terms of my favorite app, I love Todoist. For anyone who doesn’t use it, I love it. It’s a way I keep track of all my to-dos and projects. And I’m also an artist. You’re looking at some of my art behind me, so I love my iPad. It’s where I draw. It’s where I write things down. I think those are, for me, two tools. And I’m going to mention one that probably has nothing to do with work, but fresh air. I could not be awesome at my job if I did not go outside for a walk every day.

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

Nataly Kogan
Yeah, the thing that I hear back most often is this idea that I shared of you can’t give what you don’t have. And this is for senior leaders and junior employees, and men and women. I think we have this inner martyr that comes out and where we think we have to go last, and that’s the way to be a good leader, a good teammate, a good colleague. And so, when people have that breakthrough, this understanding of in order to give, in whatever way you want to give, I have to actually fuel myself. So, you can’t give what you don’t have.

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

Nataly Kogan
Very easy. Go to NatalyKogan.com. And I’m very easy to find there. I’m on all the social media but NatalyKogan.com is the hub.

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

Nataly Kogan
Well, my call to action is twofold. I actually love giving homework, so I love an opportunity to give homework. I always give homework at the end of my talks and keynotes. So, my homework is twofold. Take one thing that you heard me talk about and make it a practice for the next five days. There’s no magic, by the way, about five days, just like there’s no magic about 21 days. It takes much longer to create a habit. But five days is a really good amount of time to do something, and then check in with yourself and then see if it’s made a difference.

So, take one thing you heard and do it for the next five days. Make that commitment to yourself. And the second part of your homework is, share your gratitude with someone today. It can be someone at work, it can be someone outside of work, but tell someone why you appreciate them. By the way, you never have to use the word gratitude if you don’t want to. You can say, “You’re awesome because…” Tell someone why you’re grateful for them today, and the impact of that will be so clear to you, hopefully you’ll keep at it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Nataly, thanks so much for this. And I wish you much awesomeness in the weeks ahead.

Nataly Kogan
Thank you. This was an awesome interview. Thanks for having me.

716: How to Save Your Career without Leaving Your Job with Darcy Eikenberg

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Darcy Eikenberg says: "Have we actually used all of our control to try to get more of what we want?"

Darcy Eikenberg offers solutions for turning your job around when you feel like quitting.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three shifts you can always make to improve any job 
  2. How to to ask for and get what you want
  3. How to reset your relationships and boundaries at work 

About Darcy

Darcy Eikenberg is on a mission to help us change our lives at work without changing everything in our lives. She’s the author of Red Cape Rescue: Save Your Career Without Leaving Your Job which shows how to get more of what you want without changing careers or finding a new job—and without sacrificing yourself. She’s coached leaders at companies such as The Coca-Cola Company, State Farm, and Deloitte, and offers encouraging ways to change work for the better, for good.

Resources Mentioned

Thank you Sponsors

  • University of California Irvine. Chart your course to career success at ce.uci.edu/learnnow

Darcy Eikenberg Interview Transcript

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

Darcy Eikenberg
Thanks, Pete. I’m so glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your latest work, let’s hear it, Red Cape Rescue. What’s the story here?

Darcy Eikenberg
Yeah, the tagline is “Save Your Career Without Leaving Your Job.” And the story really came out of working with a lot of my clients where I would hear these conversations going on where they’d say, “You know, I’m smart and I should be able to figure out what I want next, but something is not quite right at work. Something is just bugging me or something is just changed for me but I can’t put my finger on it.”

And recognizing so often that the conventional wisdom was telling them, “Well, if something is not right at work, you better go find another job.” And then maybe they’d try that, and it didn’t really work well, or maybe they found another job, and in six months, they’re asking the same question again. And I realized that the conventional wisdom is just wrong, that often there are so many things we can do right where we are to change our life at work without having to change everything in our life.

And so, that’s really the core of the book, the kind of strategies that you can use right now, wherever you are, to take back control.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Okay. Well, so maybe could you start us off with a cool story of someone who did see a nifty transformation while staying right there?

Darcy Eikenberg
Yeah. So, I have a client who was a leader in an advertising agency, but thought she was up for the next promotion and didn’t get it. How many times has that happened to folks, right? And the reason she didn’t get it, she didn’t get a good explanation, and she really just got angry and frustrated, and then she got really down on herself.

And someone introduced her to me, and we started really teasing apart what did she want and what was going on with this rejection for this promotion. And she realized that she was feeling like she had to go find another job, kind of out of just out frustration. But, in truth, she loved a lot of the things about the company, about the people, and about the work.

And so, we found ways for her to have better conversations, to get clear about what she wanted, to be able to be more direct with the folks who were making decisions, about what was getting in her way, and also to reshape her own story so that the things they weren’t seeing in her for this particular promotion, that she could tell different stories to bring that out.

And so, that person who could’ve just left, she could’ve found another job, but she didn’t. And now, a couple years later, she’s actually second in line to the next president of the whole agency. So, I think there’s a lot of us who might like to not throw away everything that we have in our lives at work and be able to make more of it, but we need some different skills. We need some different strategies.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Okay. So, then in this particular instance, it was more about sort of sharing, “Hey, this is what it did,” kinds of things.

Darcy Eikenberg
So, two things in this particular instance. One was getting clear on what she really wanted at that phase. So, did the promotion represent something? But what did she really want? And, really, what she wanted in many ways was the opportunity to make a bigger impact but she hadn’t been able to express that. No one had pulled that out of her, and she hadn’t even recognized that. So, that clarity first is often a step when something is happening.

You’ve hit a road bump at work, it’s like, “What is it that I really care about here? What does this really mean?” So, that was one of the first steps that she took to get really, really clear about what she wanted.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, first step was getting clarity. And after the clarity came, what was the second step?

Darcy Eikenberg
After the clarity, really comes the confidence to be able to have better conversations. So, being able to ask for what you need, to be able to not feel like this illusion of transparency, that, “Well, they should know, right? People should know that if I didn’t get the promotion, then I’m upset or I’m getting a negative message.”

We make so many assumptions in our life at work because we’re so close to it. But she had to learn how to have a different conversation and be able to talk to the decision-makers, in this case, the CEO of her company, and be able to say, “So, this is what I observed that happened. Here’s the decision you made. Here’s how it made me feel and here’s what I’m interpreting from that. But is that accurate?”

And without having that conversation, she had made up a story in her head about what not getting the promotion meant. And it actually meant something very different, something that the CEO hadn’t even really articulated yet.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. All right. Well, so then tell us, what are perhaps the key insights that folks need to be aware of if they want to have a rescue of their career without leaving their jobs?

Darcy Eikenberg
Yeah, a rescue, a reboot, a reset. So many of us are in this reflection mode right now, and I think the key learning is to recognize that we only control three things. We control what we think, we control what we say, and we control what we do. No matter how hard we try, we can’t control anything else. So, recognizing that that’s all is in our control, then being able to go through and say, “So, in this situation, when I’ve hit this road bump, this speed bump, this thing that’s happening at work that is not making me love my work anymore, can I change something that I think? Is there an assumption I’m making? Can I change something that I’m going to say? Like, can I speak up more, or speak out, or have a different conversation than the one I’ve been having? Or, is there actually something to do differently?”

Or, in some cases, it may be something to not do. One of the chapters in the book that’s getting a lot of attention is the chapter called Drop Some Balls. It’s like, “Are there things I’m doing that’s too much, that’s actually distracting people from understanding what I do and how I create value in this organization?”

Pete Mockaitis
That is intriguing. Well, can we talk about some key things that we might wish to drop and under what circumstances?

Darcy Eikenberg
Yeah, we often accumulate, especially smart people, people who want to be awesome at their job, we accumulate things on our to-do list. We have good ideas and we might propose a good idea, and then the good idea becomes our responsibility. But we also have things that add up, like meetings, reports, different check-ins with stakeholders, and we don’t often take a step back, and say, “Are these things still valuable and important for what I care about…” back to that clarity point, “…for what I really want to do?”

And being able to take a hard look at that list, and recognize that, “You know, we may have needed that team meeting a year ago, but do we still need it in its same format now?” or, “The report that takes me half a day every month, maybe we don’t need that anymore because now we have the system where anybody can get the data anytime.”

So, when I do this exercise with my clients, we’ll often find 20% to 30% of things that they are doing, that they are spending time on, and most of the time it’s things that are not in their superpower space, they’re not the places where they are at their best and high issues. But that 20% to 30% that if they just stopped doing it, nobody would notice. It’s amazing exercise to go through to really say, “What could I drop and nobody might care?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s pretty wild, 20% to 30% is not just suboptimal but rather totally inconsequential. It’s wild.

Darcy Eikenberg
It’s a huge chunk for somebody. And I don’t think we intentionally make up more things to do. But I think in our effort to want to be good, to think through things at a bigger level, those are excellent behaviors, and those are behaviors that continue to get you moving forward and help you learn. And, at the same time, if you’re somebody who has been saying, “I’m overwhelmed. My workload has grown. I’m not spending time in the place where I am the best in high issues, in the place where my company really needs me and values me,” taking a hard look at what balls we can drop is a way to take back control.

And maybe if you don’t think that you can just stop doing them without permission, which I would whisper in someone’s ear that there’s a lot of things you don’t need permission for in today’s workplace, that you could just do or stop doing, but you could also have a better conversation with people around the costs and the impact of that time that you’re spending. And today, at such a time of change, there is so much more opportunity for creativity than the chaos. And for people to make suggestions about how we can do less but create more value.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, so could you give us a few examples then of, “Hey, here are some things that people stopped doing and nobody noticed and it was all good”?

Darcy Eikenberg
Yeah. So, reports or big PowerPoint presentations, those are things that, tactically, for a lot of people that I work with, a lot of people that I talk to when I’m out speaking, that there’s just something. And the strategy I’ll offer listeners and anybody wanting to experiment with this is to find that thing on your list that you dread. Like, that thing that just keeps moving maybe from day to day on your list that you procrastinate, that just is not the thing that really lights you up. Because that stuff that lights us up, that feels easy. But it’s the stuff that drags you down.

So, I have a client who, at one point, was responsible for putting together what turned out to be like a 50-page PowerPoint presentation every month. Now, there’s maybe half of it was the same month to month but she had to go through it to check. But what she realized is that there was only two pieces of data that anybody cared about in that entire deck, she ended up doing a one-minute video that was put on their share space and be able to be distributed to everybody, that said, “Hey, here’s the change from one month to the last month. If you have any questions, let me know.” And that took her maybe 20 minutes compared to the hours that she would put in trying to develop the PowerPoint.

So, there are ways that we can think differently about what we’re doing so that we’re not spending so much time on the things that don’t matter. And that’s what I mean by taking back control of what you do.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really interesting, those reports, because I can see how there may well have been a time in which is like, “Hey, we really need a broad overview picture of all that’s going on with this thing.” It’s like, “Okay, sure. Okay, we made the PowerPoint and there it is.” “Okay, cool. Well, hey, now, we need the up-to-date information.” “So, I guess I have to update the whole thing.” And then it’s just sort of like lands that way as opposed to, like, “Oh, wait. Well, actually, now that we already know the broad strokes of everything, just tell us the new stuff that’s going on right now.”

Darcy Eikenberg
And we don’t often revisit it. It’s like the old story of the fish in the fishbowl. Like, the fish goes around and around and around in the fishbowl and learns the edges. But then you go to clean the fishbowl and you put the fishbowl in a tub full of water, but the fish now has all of this space to swim but still swims in that little tight circle that they’re used to.

I think we get into those habits in our workplaces where we think, “Oh, well, we have to do the XYZ report,” but we don’t stop and say, “Who says?” or, “Is this still relevant now?” I have a client who has probably had three to four different managers in the past year and a half. This is a theme I’m hearing quite a bit as we restructure and people move on and lots of things happen, and she caught herself doing something that manager number one had as a priority. But managers two and three never understood it but they weren’t going to question it because it was just what she did. So, when she really did that analysis to say, “Okay, what can I drop? What’s draining me? What are the things that are making my job not as awesome as I would like it to be?” she realized, “Hey, this boss doesn’t have those same needs, so I don’t need to do it in the same way.”

We just don’t stop and realize everything we do is very organic, and it’s all made up, so why don’t we take control to make up what we want?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s some pieces on the do’s side of things. Now, when it comes to the thinking, you got a chapter called Conquer the Battle of the Brain, which sounds very helpful. What do you mean by this?

Darcy Eikenberg
Yeah, so there is the part of the brain, and you’ve had some awesome guests on who are much more into the neuroscience than I will ever be able to be, but the brain is programmed to protect us in many ways. It’s that little lizard brain, as Seth Godin says, that is that voice that’s holding us back, that’s saying, “No, don’t speak up. No, don’t go there,” or, “Be careful if you’re going to ask for that because there could be this consequence.”

We’ve got to learn to talk back to that part of our brain. We’ve got to learn to be able to not realize that part of our brain is not ourselves. It’s not our heroic self. It is just trying to keep us small. And it triggers the same biological feelings that it did in our ancestors when they would hear a tiger roar. The same part of our brain triggers our hormones when we hear our project manager roar. It’s the same kind of feeling today.

But we can learn to separate that from ourselves and be able to talk back to that. And one of the strategies that I’ll always use is to give it a name. I have a client who calls her little negative voice by her second-grade teacher’s name. This teacher was always on her for talking too much, now she makes her living talking. So, being able to say, “Be quiet, Mrs. Washington. I’m in charge here.” So, we can find these strategies to not let the negative brain that’s trying to hold us back keep us back.

And negative emotions pull us back but positive emotions pull us forward. We need to be magnifying the positive emotions.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then in practice, what are some of the key things we can do to magnify the positive emotions and prevent the negative pieces from hijacking us?

Darcy Eikenberg
Yeah. So, giving it the name, personifying that voice is one thing. Also, giving the other voice, that heroic voice, I call this listening to the whispers, giving that voice more space, giving that voice more volume, trusting it even more, but we can actually change how we listen to that voice in an instant. The beauty of realizing that you control what you think is that we can choose our thoughts in the same way that we choose what we’re putting on each day.

So, if you’re faced with two different thoughts, they both could be true. It could be true that my job is on the rocks, and it could be true that there’s more possibility here. But why not choose the thought that’s going to move you forward? Why not choose the thought that’s going to be helpful to you? Because staying in that place of, “My job is on the rocks. Everything is hard. Everything is awful,” only triggers all the hormones and emotions that make you feel bad. Why not choose that thought that make you feel good? And that’s not fooling yourself. That’s actually really understanding that your brain is going to send these different signals to hold you back, but you get to override that. You get to choose your thoughts.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, talking about some things to do or not do, and some ways to think better. How about what are some key things we should say, some critical conversations that you think need to be had that make a world of difference for a rescue?

Darcy Eikenberg
One of the things to say, I think, it’s sort of a combination of how you think and say, is to assume positive intent, that very often when we’re listening to that little lizard brain, when we’re listening to that negative brain, we’re going to assume the worst. We go right to the worst-case scenario, “Oh, I can’t possibly have that conversation with my boss or my leader or my team to tell them that we need to realign the workload because they’ll get mad at me, they’ll fire me, they’ll put me on the layoff list,” whatever the things we make up in our heads.

But when we assume positive intent, when we assume that the other person we’re talking to wants what’s best for the group, wants maybe even what’s best for us, we get to go into these conversations with a lot more relaxed, also with more of a posture of like arms open and having an open conversation as opposed to like being all tight and in fight mode.

So, assuming positive intent, and being able to even say that, say, “I know you and I want to make sure that the work gets done on time and on budget. So, to be able to do that, here’s the thing that I’m going to ask of you. Here’s the thing I need from you.” So, we can use those skills to be able to say things differently in a way that keep people listening to us, and also make sure that we’re not coming at it solely from a position of fear, of, “I’m not sure what I need so I’m hoping you do it all for me.” We can assume positive intent first.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then, I’m curious, that’s a really great frame to put around any number of requests up front in terms of as opposed to just sort of like being whiny, like, “Give me, give me, give me,” so that’s great. And then tell me, what are some key requests that you’ve seen people make that have been transformational in terms of high leverage, all the difference, when a couple smaller shifts or accommodations have been made?

Darcy Eikenberg
This goes back to getting clear about what you want. One of the things I worry about in this great reshuffle, great resignation, they know something is not right where they are, but they’re not clear about what they would want to change, and so there’s a question I always ask, is, “If you had a magic wand and could change one thing, what would it be?”

And, often, that can get you centered in on the conversation. And even on the not only just what the ask is, but who is the ask of. Because, sometimes, you need to reset the relationship. You need to say, “Hey, Pete, we’ve been working together for a while now, and our relationship isn’t as smooth as I’d like it to be. So, could we do something to fix that? What would be helpful from your point of view?”

And being able to approach those kinds of conversations so you can reset a relationship, you can reset a process, similar to what we’re talking about before about changing from doing a long PowerPoint or a detailed report to maybe something that’s just a quick update. We can reset our boundaries. This is a conversation I’m having with a lot of people right now where they’ve recognized they’ve let their boundaries slip.

We went in the beginning of COVID from being like a sprint, all-hands on deck, everybody, we’re all on this together, to now we’re in a marathon. And things that people have gotten accustomed to doing need to be revisited and recreated. So, asking for a different boundary, saying, “Hey, I know you’ve been calling me after 8:00 at night because I know that works better for your family, but here’s my ask. I’m going to ask you that we stop any phone calls by 6:00 o’clock, or leave me a voicemail. I’m turning my phone off. I’ll get back to you at 8:00 in the morning.”

Whatever the thing is for you, you have to be able to get clear about what it is, but to know that you can ask for the reset, you can ask for the reboot. And, often, people aren’t even aware of some of the things that they may be doing, or that the process could be fixed. We take so much for granted that the things are the way they are for a reason. Often, they’re not. They’re all made up.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that is, boy, a master key to life and career right there. We assume things are the way they are for a reason, and the answer may be 50/50, on whether or not there is but don’t just assume it is.

Darcy Eikenberg
Right. There was always a reason at one point, right? There’s another parable that I love about a monk who had a young cat, a kitten, and they would go into meditation with his followers. And the cat would come in and annoy everybody and distract from the meditation. So, they started to chain the cat to a tree during meditation. And over the years, that got to be an ingrained habit, “Well, we’d chain the cat to the tree before we meditate.” Then the cat died and the followers were distraught, “How can we meditate now that there’s no cat?” but the two were never linked.

And we confine these kinds of examples in our workplace all the time of were. We make these assumptions based on what has been or what we might assume is important. We see these with leaders all the time, “Well, the CEO says everybody is going back to the office.” Let me tell you a secret. Even in the companies where the CEO has said that, those decisions are changing every day, and the exceptions, the individual negotiations, the accommodations that are being made are so much more than ever that blanket statement. So, it’s all made up, so why not make up, or at least be clear about what you need to be at your best and high issues in the organization that you want to work with and doing the work you know is making the biggest difference?

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

Darcy Eikenberg
Yeah, I think the biggest thing is that when you’re feeling like, “Oh, I need to quit,” and all the noise around you is, “I have to leave.” But if there’s some hesitation, “But there’s some good here.” Certainly, there are plenty of opportunities where we should get out of bad situations. But so often, have we actually used all of our control to try to get more of what we want? And that’s just the little be, just that little moment between reaction and response that I invite people to do to say, “If you are on that fence and you think there’s something good there, try some of these strategies and take back control and see if it doesn’t change things for you, and at least help you make the most of where you are right now without having to change everything in your life.”

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

Darcy Eikenberg
So, for me, from a quote, I think the Gandhi quote of “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” always is a good quote to be aligned to, because if we’re not willing to take the effort to make the change, then who’s going to?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a key study or experiment or a piece of research you like?

Darcy Eikenberg
I am a huge fan, i.e., groupie of Amy Edmondson and a lot of the work that she’s done on psychological safety. And so, the idea of psychological safety, I think, is one that still isn’t talked about enough, and it is so critical today to make our workplaces work. So, that would be any of her work on psychological safety, I’m all over it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Darcy Eikenberg
A favorite book is probably The Art of Possibility by the Zanders. It’s an oldie but a goodie. But there’s a chapter in there that talks about starting with an A, so always giving people an A right off the bat. And it’s so powerful, and I’d encourage anybody to pick it up, The Art of Possibility.

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

Darcy Eikenberg
Probably, from a tool perspective, it’s just cheap pens. That’s not very sexy but I write a lot, I take a lot of different notes, and I’m always looking for a pen. And so, just having a stash of cheap pens around keeps me able to just record whatever is going on in my head when my thumbs get all thumbs and I can’t put it into my phone, so.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Darcy Eikenberg
Favorite habit, I don’t have any TVs in my house, no. So, when I moved to the house that I’m in now, I didn’t install any TVs, I don’t have cable hook up, and it was sort of a macho experiment because I loved TV. I used to have six in the house I was in before but it makes me read more, it makes me go to sleep earlier, and I think I have a little more peace of mind because if it’s there, I’m going to turn it on. So, when it’s not there, I just don’t turn it on.

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

Darcy Eikenberg
They key nugget is probably what I consider my mantra, which is, “Somebody out there needs you.” I think, so often, we get stuck because when we’re making changes in our life at work, we think it’s about us, we think, “Well, I want more. I want different.” But I think that one of the things that can keep us going, and I know it does for me personally, is to recognize that I might not know who is going to be the person that I’m going to impact today, but somebody out there needs me. And I think that’s true for every single one of us.

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

Darcy Eikenberg
Go to RedCapeRescue.com. That has all the information on the new book as well as ways to contact me, and also get a companion toolkit that goes with the book that’s free and allows people to follow along in different ways.

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

Darcy Eikenberg
I guess I’ll go back to that remember that somebody out there needs you. You matter. And no matter what you’re feeling in your life at work, you will be awesome. You are awesome. And you need to show up that way so that those people who need you can get what you have to bring.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Darcy, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and keep up the great work.

Darcy Eikenberg
Thank you, Pete, so much. Appreciate it.

700: How to Make Your Anxiety Work For You with Wendy Suzuki

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Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki talks about how you can leverage your anxiety to solve problems and boost your well-being.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The six superpowers of anxiety 
  2. How to trick your brain into relaxing
  3. How a 30-second meditation can make all the difference 

 

About Wendy

Dr. Wendy Suzuki is a Professor of Neural Science and Psychology in the Center for Neural Science at New York University and a celebrated international authority on neuroplasticity. She was recently named one of the ten women changing the way we see the world by Good Housekeeping and regularly serves as a sought-after expert for publications including The Wall Street Journal, Shape, and Health. 

Her TED talk has received more than 31 million views on Facebook and was the 2nd most viewed TED talk of 2018. 

Resources Mentioned

Dr. Wendy Suzuki Interview Transcript

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

Wendy Suzuki
So happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. Now, you are a professor of neuroscience, but you also spent some time observing baboons in Botswana.

Wendy Suzuki
Yes, I did.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell us the story here. How did that come to be? And any insights or hilarity from that experience?

Wendy Suzuki
Well, it was just awe from that experience. Well, I call it my Jane Goodall experience. It was my very first sabbatical of studying behavior, and decided to apply it to baboon behavior, and got associated with an amazing lab out of University of Pennsylvania, Cheney and Seyfarth, who had a baboon cognition research station in the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana.

And so, I went there for about two or three weeks. I worked with their postdocs and I was the most highly educated research assistant ever. My job was to collect poop, so I was a baboon poop collector. And I proudly did my job and it’s actually much more difficult than you might imagine because you have to be able to tell the difference between the different baboons so that you collect the correct poop, and that was challenging.

Did you know that baboons in the wild are identified by their ear markings. Their ears get beat up in fights and things, and so what you get is not like a little picture of the face of every baboon with their name, “Here’s Elvis, here’s Loki,” but you get the name Elvis and you get a little drawing of his right and left ear.

So, you are walking around kind of trying to look at the ears of all of these baboons, which that was actually really funny to watch me do, but it was so fascinating. It was like a little soap opera out there. You would not believe the intrigue and the sex and the dastardly deeds that get done in these baboon colonies.

Pete Mockaitis
Intrigue and sex and dastardly deeds. We’re off to a great start, Wendy.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s baboons. We’ve got dastardly deeds. Let’s hear a little bit about anxiety. That can cause us to do some dastardly things or feel not so great. You have come to some insights associated with anxiety. Can you share what’s one of your most surprising and fascinating discoveries you’ve made along these lines?

Wendy Suzuki
So, the whole book Good Anxiety is really about how if you are able to embrace all aspects of your anxiety, both those negative, uncomfortable feelings, but also all the information your particular form of anxiety teaches you about yourself, then your anxiety transforms into something that could bring you to a more fulfilling life, a more creative life, and, ultimately, a less stressful life. So, that is the take-home message of Good Anxiety that is the culmination of all the research and the science and just the observations that I’ve done around the area of anxiety.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you’re saying the benefit of anxiety is the teaching that it gives us primarily. Is that right or are there more things there too?

Wendy Suzuki
There’s lots of things. So, one of the superpowers that one gets with anxiety, in fact, we talked about six different superpowers that come from good anxiety, they include resilience, compassion, flow, mindset, focus, and creativity. Now, I’m not saying that somebody that’s in the throes of what I call bad anxiety, when anxiety starts to block you, and you can’t go out and you can’t speak fluidly because you have lots of anxiety. That is not when you start to get these superpowers.

What the book takes you through is, first, exercises and activities to help you flip that bad anxiety into good manageable anxiety. And it’s when anxiety is in this manageable state is when you can take advantage of all of these positive aspects of anxiety, including all those superpowers that I talked about. And that is what the book describes, how these powers of resilience come from the fact that if you are experiencing lots of little bouts of anxiety, every single little bout is contributing to your little piggybank of resilience.

Now, if these bouts are very debilitating, that’s hard to appreciate. But, in fact, scientific experiments have shown that if people go through large numbers of more controllable bouts of stress or anxiety, they develop what’s called stress resilience. They are more resilient than other controls that get either uncontrollable stress or no experience of stress, either controlled or uncontrolled. So, there are definitely positive aspects that come to it. You have to know how to leverage all of the information and superpowers that do come with anxiety.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to have those superpowers, so can you walk us through an example here? So, you’re feeling anxious about something, and then what do you do to make it work for you?

Wendy Suzuki
So, most people, the most common question that I get is, “I get bouts of anxiety. I don’t know how to make it go away, make it feel better.” And so, I always start with the two most direct ways that you can counteract anxiety. You don’t need to practice, you don’t need to do anything, and here they are.

First one is deep breathing. So, you don’t practice it, just deep breathing. Because what you’re doing with deep breathing is you’re activating one of our amazing nervous systems that we all have in our body called the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s also called the rest and digest nervous system. This is a nervous system that kicks in when you have a little more time on the weekends. You can digest. You’re not doing ten things that your boss just asked you to do. And that causes a whole bunch of physiological responses – slowing of the heart rate; deeper, fuller breathing; blood flow into your digestive system and away from your muscles.

Whereas, the stress system, or parasympathetic nervous system, the stress nervous system, does the opposite. I live in New York so taxi cabs come too close to you, clips you, almost clips you on the street, and you jump back. You don’t have to think about it. You don’t have to analyze it. Your stress system and danger-alerting system has you jump back. Your heart rate goes up, your blood flow is going to your muscles because you have to get away from the danger.

And so, I want less of that stress activation systems in my normal life, and I want more of that rest and digest system. So, it’s hard for me to slow my heart rate consciously, but the best way into that system is deep breathing. By deep breathing, you start to activate other elements of that rest and digest relaxation system. So, that’s a wonderful way to do it. Again, you want to catch it before it gets into really deep anxiety. So, as you start to feel anxiety coming on, get those deep breaths going. That’s number one.

Number two is another very effective way to quell bad anxiety is simply moving your body. Go for a walk outside, do some jumping jacks, whatever is most natural for you to do. Why? Because even moving your body a little bit can stimulate the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline. I like to say that every time you move your body, you give your brain a bubble bath of positive neurochemicals, including dopamine and serotonin that are going to activate your feelings of reward and happiness.

So, those are two immediate things that you can do because, as I said, you can’t get to the superpowers when you’re in a state of bad anxiety. So, you’ve quelled your anxiety. You haven’t gotten rid of it. You have lots of things. We all have our own personal anxiety stories. And so, now, you’ve quelled your bad anxiety and it’s a little bit more manageable. It still comes with those negative feelings, but it’s not as debilitating as it was before.

Now, you’re able to start to tap into some of those superpowers. And one of the superpowers that I love to talk about is the superpower of compassion, that is I think it’s very easy to understand. So, let me give an example from my own life. When I was in middle school, high school, I was a very, very shy young person, scared to talk, scared to raise my hand in class. I knew the answers but too scared to actually interact and say the answers out loud. And that caused a lot of my early anxiety in my life.

So, I’ve developed ways not to be shy in that way. But what I realized is that deep understanding of that feeling of fear has given me the superpower of compassion. And I’m able to use that particular superpower in my own teaching because I happen to become a teacher. And so, I use it altruistically by making sure that all the students in my class have many different ways to talk to me, interact with me, tell me what they know, because that is very satisfying to a student. I know from my own student days.

But I’m very, very aware of all those students out there. They know the answer but they have an anxiety of speaking out in class. And I do this also not just in the student kind of classroom situation but in a meeting situation. Sometimes there are people that easily speak out and others have a harder time. So, if I’m directing the meeting, I always make sure that everybody gets a say. And if somebody hasn’t said anything, I made sure, without putting them on the spot, that they had their say taken.

And that level of compassion comes from my particular anxiety story. And you can kind of apply compassion from your own deep understanding of whatever anxiety you have. Money anxiety, aging anxiety, grade anxiety. What can you do to kind of help others because you understand so deeply what that anxiety is?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s lovely. So, when it comes to the deep breathing and the moving your body in order to get you to a more useful place, I’m curious, is there…do you suggest a particular amount of breaths, or a pace, or a cadence, or an amount of exercise? Is there a sweet spot where you start to get diminishing returns?

Wendy Suzuki
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, I like to start off with just the quick and dirty activity. Just breathe more deeply. Know that is helpful. Walk outside is the easiest thing to do. However, if you have time and you want to kind of really dig deeper here and find your own sweet spot, here is what I recommend. There are literally thousands of kinds of breath meditation, and you can learn about them simply by using YouTube, and going to three breath meditation. Find one that you like. There are so many. You can judge them by how many views, how many millions of views that they have, and practice that in a non-anxiety provoking situation just to find out which kind that you like.

There’s a kind that you do in yoga class that you might be familiar with. Alternate nostril breathing, there’s counting breathing where you count four breaths, four counts in, hold if for four counts, and then slowly breathe out for four counts. That’s another very common easy one. But some might be more relaxing or less relaxing to you. So, that is the easiest kind of free way to do that.

Similarly, for exercise, we know from experimental studies, and one of my expertise is the effects of physical activity on the brain. We know that walking alone can decrease anxiety levels, decrease depression levels, and improve positive affect, simply walking outside for a minimum of 10 minutes. So, do that.

Some people might like doing something like the 7-Minute Workout from the New York Times. That’s another good way. Again, you can explore, see what you like to do, see what’s more natural. Some people might want to stay indoors to do their physical activity. The other one that I like to recommend is dance. Dancing is a wonderful form of physical activity. Turn your favorite toe-tapping music on from whatever period, and just dance for the three minutes of the song. That is guaranteed to improve your mood as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I dig it. Thank you. That’s a nice lineup and quick and fun, and makes an impact. So, you mentioned a number of superpowers. I’m most intrigued by flow. How can I use anxiety to get more flow?

Wendy Suzuki
Yeah, that’s a great one. So, flow, as it was originally defined, is kind of depressingly unattainable. You have to have 10,000 hours of practice. You have to be so high-level performance. I think of Yo-Yo Ma because I love the cello. And so, Yo-Yo Ma playing the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Suites can achieve flow, but I will never be able to do flow because I can’t do anything that beautiful with my hands. So, it’s depressing and also anxiety is a really big flow supper. So, not only is it really hard to get flow but anxiety kind of digs a hole deeper that makes it harder to get.

And so, I’ve come up with something that I use all the time, which is the concept of microflow. So, microflow is not dependent on how many hours you practice or how high a level. Microflow is dependent on how much you enjoy the process. So, for example, I experience microflow after every yoga class in Shavasana because I’m really good at laying still on my back. And I categorize that as a moment of microflow, and it’s really important. This superpower is one that’s both a tool to help people out of bad anxiety, but it becomes a superpower as you practice it more and more. And it’s really a practice and a strategy of noticing all the things that you do enjoy in a given day no matter how fleeting they are.

So, Shavasana always seems so short, but I categorize that as a moment of microflow. My green smoothie that I make in the morning that took me months to finalize the recipe that I love. That is a daily moment of microflow for me. Of course, everybody can cultivate this. But people with anxiety, it’s even more important that they do this so that they can feel this flow and really appreciate the positive lovely moments in their life, and put that in the piggy bank.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s about the savoring, the appreciating, the pausing. So, I guess I’m wondering, in terms of like the recipe there, I guess first you noticed, “Hey, I like this,” and then I guess it’s not just sort of multitasking in your brain and rushing and trying to get it done and go to the next thing. Any other particular mental practices that you’re doing there in order to arrive in that place?

Wendy Suzuki
Yeah, it’s really, I think, it’s an art of savoring good moments in your life because, I can tell you, from my own personal experience, when I was experiencing much higher levels of anxiety, that we all do at certain points in our lives. Any good moment like that, my first thought would be, “It’s going to be over. It’s soon going to be over and I’m going to go back into anxiety.” And so, I was anti-savoring the moment.

And the thing that really, really helped me was a practice that will be very familiar to many people and it’s in the focus superpower, which is the practice of meditation. So, the practice of meditation is really an exercise for your prefrontal cortex. Your prefrontal cortex is what is giving you that unending what-if list, “What if this happens? What if that happens?” For me, that always happens right before I’m trying to fall asleep. How do I quell that? Well, you practice, you get yourself in a quiet state, and, very important, you start very, very short, with a very short meditation, 30 seconds.

Have you ever done a 30-second meditation? That could be just a breath meditation, going back to our how you quiet a bad anxiety in the first place. But I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to meditate for too long, and thinking that they have to have all thoughts go out of their mind, that their mind has to be a blank slate. That never happens. You can quiet your mind. You can focus. That’s why focusing on the breath, on loving kindness and compassion meditation focusing on that feeling of loving kindness and compassion, which one can’t get. The trick of the trade that I learned from some expert meditators is think about puppies and babies, things that make you go, “Aww,” will make you want to have immediate love for them.

And it’s a lovely meditation to do. It focuses your attention, it focuses your emotional state on cuteness and love and protection of this lovely creature, but it also trains your prefrontal cortex to go in this calm state. And that is very, very powerful for building focus, which often flies out the window with anxiety. And so, by practicing that, that is one of the ways that you can create a superpower of focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. Any other pro tips on the focus?

Wendy Suzuki
So, throughout the book I interview a number of people, just real people, different ages, different backgrounds, to tell their story, their anxiety story, and how these approaches helped them. This person actually gave us a wonderful kind of tool for the focus superpower. And that is an immediate turning your what-if list, that often kind of derails your focus, into a to-do list. So, this happened to be an entrepreneur that had terrible anxiety about raising money and couldn’t kind of get over a no answer and second-guess himself for all the things that he could’ve done differently to get that money back or get that investment.

And the tip that he got from a colleague of his, that he shared with us, is that all of those second-guessing that you do, all that creates your what-if list, you turn that into an action list. So, use that as, “This is great. That what-if, that’s going on the list. I’m going to change that. I’m going to do it differently for next time.” So, you turn it into an action item. And it’s kind of turning the negative activation of anxiety that creates this what-if list that puts you into deeper anxiety, and turns it into an immediate action list.

And he was able to implement this and kind of changed his view on his anxiety kind of in one conversation. And he was a very driven person but it is powerful to think, “What if I just turned all those what-ifs into my exploration list?” And that is part of the superpower of these things that come up in anxiety, these thoughts that come up in anxiety.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, Wendy, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention?

Wendy Suzuki
Yeah, one of my favorite superpowers, I think we’ve covered most all of them, is a superpower that comes from good anxiety is creativity. So, creativity is a natural byproduct of anxiety because anxiety often pushes us to find workarounds, “I can’t do that. I can’t go in that direction because that’s difficult but I’m going to do it a different way.”

And, also, the difficulties that come with anxiety, anxiety caused by difficult family members, very difficult upbringings, we know from history, often lead to some of the most creative kind of outlets for that – writing, song. You don’t have to be a number one on the hits list but they are inspiration for lots of creative outlets.

And so, instead of, again, just focusing on the negative feelings, can you get inspiration from all of these people that have used their negative anxiety-ridden experiences to create something beautiful and new? And, in fact, many of them say that their creativity came from their pain and their anxiety, so it’s inspiring to think about anxiety that way, that your anxiety story can become a creativity story.

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

Wendy Suzuki
The first quote that comes to mind that always inspires me is from Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see.” And that is an underlined quote that I used to write this book. I don’t just write about good anxiety and the superpowers. I lived all these superpowers, I use them in my life, and they change my life in profound ways, which is part of the story of Good Anxiety.

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

Wendy Suzuki
Yeah, so my favorite bit of research was a preliminary study that I did in a classroom at NYU in August of 2020. It was the first semester where everybody was going to be remote, and I was invited to speak to a freshmen cohort. I was going to share my research on the effects of exercise on the brain, and I had 30 minutes.

And I decided to truncate the lecture so it was only going to be 10 minutes long, and I decided to do an experiment on them. So, I sent them all off to do, a clinical anxiety survey, this was after I told them about the positive effects of exercise, including that wonderful neurochemical bubble bath that happens when you move your body.

So, after they did the anxiety survey, we all came back, this was all on Zoom, and I happen to be a certified exercise instructor. So, we all did 10 minutes of a workout that I teach called intenSati that pairs physical movements from kickbox and dance and martial arts and yoga with positive spoken affirmation. So, as you punch, front punches, you say things like, “I am strong now.” And every move has different affirmations.

And so, there was 10 minutes of it. It was surprising. They did not know they were going to do this. And then, at the end of that, I had them all go back and retake that anxiety survey. And the next day, I sent everybody that was in that, there were 30 freshmen in that session, I sent them the results.

What I found was before the exercise, those 30 students, on average, were just shy of clinically anxious, very high levels of anxiety. Again, this was right before their first remote session of their freshmen year at NYU, so not so surprising there was high levels of anxiety. But my favorite part is that just 10 minutes of working out over Zoom with me decreased their anxiety scores by 15 points on average, which brought them all to the normal anxiety levels.

So, that is just a quick experiment on the power of moving your body on affecting anxiety.

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

Wendy Suzuki
I’ve been obsessed with memoirs, and I’ve been reading memoirs of comedians because I admired their writing and I’ve always wanted to be a funny person so I’m curious about how comedians tell their life story. So, one of my favorite books that I’ve read recently is called A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost from Saturday Night Live.

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

Wendy Suzuki
I feel like my superpower tool of being awesome at my job is staying connected with a whole bunch of creative friends who are really, really inspiring in lots of different ways. So, I find myself time and time again inspired, thinking about how to bring elements of performance, or, I don’t know, musical theater into my teaching and into my talk world. So, my superpower is my creative cohort of friends.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome at your job?

Wendy Suzuki
My morning tea meditation. So, every morning, I wake up and I do about 45 minutes of meditation over the brewing and drinking of tea. It’s a particular form of meditation that I learned from a monk, a tea monk, and I set up my day beautifully with that tool.

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

Wendy Suzuki
Yes, the quote that I get most often is, “I love your image of a bubble bath for the brain every time you move your body.” It’s an image that’s novel and it sticks with people, and that’s the one that gets quoted back to me the most often.

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

Wendy Suzuki
Yes, best way to learn more about me and get in touch is my website www.WendySuzuki.com. Everything is there from classes, to books, to lectures, to TED Talks. So, you’ll find everything there.

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

Wendy Suzuki
My call to action is to and I’ve done this myself, great to focus on your major strengths. But what if you could use your anxiety to be even better at your job? It’s hard to think about that. It’s a Jiu Jitsu move that I try to show everybody how to do, but that is my best tip for a new way to improve yourself using your own anxiety story.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Wendy, thank you. This has been a treat. And I wish you much luck and good anxiety in the days to come.

Wendy Suzuki
Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.

690: How to Get Luckier and Create Serendipity with Christian Busch

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Christian Busch says: "No matter what situation we're in, there's always something we can still do even if it seems powerless."

Christian Busch reveals how to create good luck.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to connect the dots for smart luck 
  2. How to turn random incidents into serendipity moments
  3. How serendipity develops grit 

About Christian

Dr. Christian Busch is the director of the Global Economy program at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, where he teaches on purpose-driven leadership, impact entrepreneurship, social innovation, and emerging markets.  

He is a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics (LSE) and the co-founder of Leaders on Purpose, an organization convening high-impact leaders, as well as the Sandbox Network, a global community of young innovators active in over 20 countries. Previously, he served on the faculty of the LSE’s Department of Management and as the inaugural Deputy Director of the LSE’s Innovation Centre. 

Resources Mentioned

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Christian Busch Interview Transcript

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

Christian Busch
Thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your book The Serendipity Mindset: The Art and Science of Creating Good Luck.

We previously had on the show Annie Duke who was a former poker world champion and now teaches a lot about decision-making. And she’s had quite the statement which was that, “All the results in your life are due to your decisions and your luck. And so, you can’t do much about your luck so I’m going to get really great at decisions.” I thought that makes so much sense to me.

But, here, Christian comes along, and is like, “Well, actually, perhaps we can do some things to create good luck.” So, let’s make sure we cover both sides of that equation. So, tell us, maybe as we dig in, could you kick us off with one of your most particularly surprising, counterintuitive, fascinating discoveries you’ve made while researching and working on this serendipity stuff?

Christian Busch
Yeah. It really comes based on the premise of saying usually when we think about luck, we think about this blind luck, to your point, as opposed to skill. It’s like, “Oh, my God, it’s just something that happens to us and we didn’t really work for it.” And serendipity is really about smart luck. It’s about that luck that we have to work for in some ways.

So, take the quintessential moment, if you have your really calm movements like I do, imagine you’re in a coffee shop, you spill a coffee over someone, and you sense there might be some kind of connection. You don’t know what it is but you sense there might be some kind of connection, professional, personal, whatever it is, and now you have two options.

Option number one is you just say, “I’m so sorry. Here’s a napkin.” You walk outside and you think, “Ah, what could have happened had I spoken with the person?” And then option number two is you start a conversation, that person becomes your co-founder, your next investor, the love of your life. The point here is the way we react to the unexpected, the way we connect the dots in that moment, essentially leads us to that smart luck.

And so, if you think about everything from Viagra, to potato washing machines, to how we find the love of our life, a lot of times that is based on our own actions. And so, what I’ve been working a lot on is the question of, “Is there a science-based framework that allows us to create more of those meaningful accidents but also makes accidents more meaningful?”

And so, to give you one example that I’m fascinated by because I think it’s a very tangible approach of how we can better our lives for doing this is the hook strategy. And the hook strategy, essentially, is all about saying if you would ask Oli Barrett, who’s a wonderful entrepreneur in London, “What do you do?” you know, the dreaded question that’s essentially putting you into a box. He would not just say, “I’m a technology entrepreneur.” He would say something like, “I’m a technology entrepreneur, recently read into the philosophy of science, but what I’m really excited about is playing the piano.”

And so, what he’s doing here is he’s giving you three potential hooks where you could say, “Oh, my God, such a coincidence. I recently started playing the piano. You should come by,” “Oh, my God, such a coincidence. My sister is teaching on the philosophy of science at university. You should give a guest lecture.”

The point is we can use every conversation to see the couple of information in there that essentially allows other people to connect the dots for us, and that’s how serendipity starts to happen more and more. And it’s almost like this multiplication of serendipity that we can have through this kind of practices.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, the hooks then is you’re providing multiple opportunities for connection or things to be latched onto there as opposed to just sort of like following the script, “This is what I do and that’s that.” And I guess, likewise, with Viagra, so I’m a little familiar with the story. So, how about you share? The discovery of Viagra was not quite what they originally starting to try to figure out. Can you share the story in how that connects to serendipity?

Christian Busch
Absolutely. So, that was really a couple of researchers giving people medication against angina, the disease, and they realized, “Oh, my God, there was some kind of movement happening in male participants’ trousers.” And what would we usually do? We’d probably be like, “Oh, my God, that’s embarrassing. Let’s look away, or let’s find a way to cure that kind of side effect, or let’s get that off the table.”

They did the opposite. They said, “You know what, that’s unexpected but there’s a lot of men in the world who might have a problem in that department. So, why don’t we try to figure out how that could turn into a medication?” And so, that’s how serendipitously Viagra evolved.

And that’s actually, to give you one more example that maybe shows exactly that kind of effect is the example of the potato washing machine. And the potato washing machine was really a company in China that sells refrigerators and they were essentially…they had farmers call them up and say, “Oh, your crappy washing machine is always breaking down.” And so, they asked them, “Well, why is it breaking down?” “Well, we’re trying to wash our potatoes in it and it doesn’t seem to work.”

And so, what would we usually do? We’d probably look at that unexpected event and say, “Oh, my God, why would you wash your potatoes in there? Don’t do that.” They did the opposite. They built in a dirt filter and made it into a potato washing machine.

And so, it’s really that idea of, “How do we react to the unexpected moment, that kind of random events that happens? And then how do we connect the dots to something meaningful?” And that’s where we imbue meaning in it, and so that’s really what serendipity is about. It’s about somehow finding this kind of meaningful accident.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, so that already seems to be a theme here in terms of not being so maybe rigid, fixated, on the thing I’m trying to achieve or how it’s supposed to go, or the protocol or the rules, but rather having kind of an openness to what might emerge from this. Yeah, any tips on how we’d do more of that?

Christian Busch
You know, it’s interesting. So, one kind of part of our research is focused a lot on that question of, “What makes people more successful than others in their careers, and when they run companies, or when they manage groups, or when they run their own life?” And one of the key themes behind that was really that the most successful people seem to have in common that they actually have some kind of sense of direction.

They somehow know, “This is approximately where I’m going. If I’m running XYZ company, a MasterCard, and I want to bring 500 million people into the financial system,” or, “If I am looking for a new job and I approximately know that I want to go into XYZ area.” But then this openness to the unexpected that it might not necessarily be exactly that kind of job that I’m looking for. And that’s really what a lot of them have in common, that they let go of this illusion of control, that you can know exactly what you can do tomorrow, exactly the kind of job you can find tomorrow.

I grew up in Germany, and I love plans, I love everything that reduces ambiguity, that reduces anxiety and everything else. But, actually, one of the things that I’ve realized in my own life, and the life in those people that I’ve studied and worked with, is that exactly that idea of having a certain sense of where we’re going but then unexpectedly, a lot of times, the most interesting things emerge. And so, it’s really about saying, “Let’s redefine that. Let’s redefine the unexpected from a threat into something that actually can make our life even better if we somehow reframe those moments.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Well, that sounds swell. And maybe to help pull that off, having some extra awareness of what you call three core types of serendipity might help. What are they?

Christian Busch
Yeah. So, it’s really about, “Is there something we’ve already been looking for?” So, let’s say you’re Archimedes and you know that the king asked you, “Hey, can you tell me if this crown is pure gold or if it is something else, some kind of fake type crown?” And Archimedes wanted to solve that problem but he couldn’t find a solution, and he was like, “Okay. Well, let’s forget about it for a second. Let me go to the baths and just kind of chill out for a moment.”

And then when he went into the public baths, he realized, “Oh, the water seems to go up when I go into that, so maybe I can use that logic to figure out if there’s actually gold in that crown because the gold will probably part water in different ways or volumes than it will be if it will be some kind of other material.” And so, essentially, he unexpectedly found a way to solve the problem he already wanted to solve.

And so, that’s a lot of times, if I know I want to have a job in McKinsey and I want to apply to that exact job, and I always think I’d do that via XYZ application or XYZ contact, but then actually the niece of my father’s brother unexpectedly tells me about this one kind of person that I should connect with and I get the job via that person. That, essentially, is kind of that Archimedes serendipity that is one.

The other one really is the kind of more Post-It note where we realize we’re looking for one thing. So, in the case of Post-It, the beautiful notes, someone was looking for solving that in some way, like, “How do we essentially develop a stronger glue?” They were experimenting with strong glue. And then they realized, “Actually, a weaker glue is much more fun because we can then use that on these kinds of Post-It type notes.”

And so, it was something, they were looking for one thing, but while looking for that, something completely different happened. And so, that’s how when we look for one job, and then we might find a completely different job on that journey, and it’s just unexpected.

And then the third one, which is my favorite, is really when it’s completely unexpected, the kind of thunderbolt that comes from the sky where that’s the way how we fall in love a lot of times. We’re in those coffee shop moments, we just bump into someone, we didn’t see it coming, and it just happens.

But what all these three have in common, really, is that it’s all a process. It’s all a process. Rather than just like something that happens to us, it’s always the process of there’s some kind of trigger happening, something happens to us, but then we have to do something with it, we have to connect the dots and turn it into something. And so, that’s the beauty of serendipity.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, how can we get better at kind of spotting those triggers in terms of, I think, depending on your mood? I mean, in my own experience, in terms of like it’s something just sort of like a frustration, an irritation, a headache, or just kind of weird versus is it, “Oh, a wondrous opportunity”? So, how do we spot them and jump on them?

Christian Busch
You know, it’s interesting. I’d cluster it probably in two different types. The one is really, in a way, the way we frame the world and the way we look at the world. And there’s this beautiful example of the lucky and unlucky person where researchers essentially took one person who self-identifies as very lucky and someone who self-identifies as very unlucky, so someone who says, “Bad things always happen to me and I’m always in accidents,” and so on. And we probably all know people in both kind of camps, people who are considering themselves to be very unlucky versus very lucky.

And then the researchers tell them, “Walk down the street, go into a coffee shop, order a coffee, and sit down, and then we’ll have an interview.” Now, what he doesn’t tell them is that there’s hidden cameras along the street and inside the coffee shop, there’s a £5 note, so money in front of the coffee shop, and inside the coffee shop, there’s this extremely successful businessman and there’s this one seat next to that businessman that’s empty.

Now, the lucky person walks down the street, sees the £5 note, picks it up, goes inside the coffee shop, orders the coffee, sits next to the businessman, has a nice conversation, they exchanged business cards, potential opportunity coming out of it, we don’t know that. The unlucky person walks down the street, steps over the £5 note, so doesn’t see it, goes inside, orders the coffee, sits next to the businessman, ignores the businessman, and that’s that.

Now, at the end of the day, they asked both people, “How was your day today?” And so, the lucky person says, “Well, it was amazing. I found money in the street, made a new friend, and potentially an opportunity coming up.” The unlucky person just says, “Well, nothing really happened.” And that’s the interesting thing, that there were two of those moments. The one is the moment of, “If I expect that things can happen that are good, I open my mind more to it. Once I believe that there could be good things out there, actually I see more of those dollar bills. Like, I found I’m consistently and constantly finding money in the street,” because people actually surprisingly drop a lot of money in the street.

But then, also, when you are in the coffee shop and talking with the businessman, that’s more the kind of extroversion piece, that the more we interact with people, of course the more there’s potentially opportunity coming out of it. But closet introverts like myself, like a lot of times serendipity comes from silent sources. It comes from reading a book and then saying, “Oh, my God, people haven’t talked about this for a while. I should do a podcast about this. This is kind of different.”

So, I think the one pocket is really around this idea of overcoming the bias of, “Oh, life doesn’t have something there for me,” because actually life can have something everywhere, and that’s the fascinating thing. If we talk about Viktor Frankl, and so this idea of you can imbue meaning everywhere and there’s always something interesting everywhere.

But, also, then the second piece, and that’s the one I’m much more interested in, actually, is the deeper psychological questions, “What are the self-limiting beliefs that we all have that really hold us back?” And that really is, you know, imagine you’re in a meeting and people talk about something, and you have this random idea come up but you hold back, you don’t talk, and then you go outside, and you think, “Ah, I should’ve talked about it.”

What was it that held you back? Was it, “I’m not worthy enough”? Was it, “I’m not ready, it’s not mature enough, the idea”? And, really, working on these deeper underlying biases because a lot of times we might see the idea, we might see something, but we might not act on it, and I think that’s the bigger piece. So, it’s both the kind of, “How do we train to see more things by not underestimating actually how likely the unexpected is?” But then the second piece, also, “How do we connect the dots and allow ourselves to do that?”

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, yeah. So, you mentioned self-limiting beliefs, are there a few in particular that kind of rise to the top of the list as being prominent and widespread serendipity killers?

Christian Busch
One that I’ve certainly, myself, for a very long time, I’ve struggled with this fear of rejection. I think when you think about that a lot of times in life, the reason why you don’t reach out to someone, the reason why you don’t do XYZ, is because you’re afraid that you might get negative feedback, that someone might say, “That idea is bad,” “No, I’m sorry, I don’t want to date you,” “No, I’m sorry, I don’t want to offer you that job.” And so, it’s that kind of idea that we anticipate the worst case, and we’re like, “Yeah, okay, maybe not.”

And one thing that I’ve realized in my own life, and that I’ve seen with others as well, is once you redefine that away from the worst thing that can happen is rejection, to the worst thing that can happen is that feeling that you have afterwards if you didn’t try, that feeling of when you go outside and you’re like, “Aargh, I wish I had done XYZ,” and, really, that regret that comes from not trying. And that’s very Mark Twain-ish in terms of we won’t regret the things we have done, but we will regret the things we haven’t done a lot of times.

And it’s really that kind of overcoming, that fear in some ways, and it’s not easy but I feel like the more rejections we get in life, the easier it gets in some way to work on that. So, I think the fear of rejection is a big one.

One of my absolute favorites also is, I think, because we, or a lot of us, might have that tendency to kind of control things, we, in a way, then imbue a lot of meaning and trying to have everything under control. And so, as soon as something unexpected happens, imagine you go on a trip with your colleagues, and you organized the whole trip, and now there’s a tire that breaks down and that’s unexpected, and you’re like, “Oh, my God, no, this can’t be. We’ll be late for lunch or dinner, and that will ruin the whole day.” Or, “Hey, maybe this can become a bonding experience for this team. And, like, is there something in that moment?”

And so, I think, in a way, once we let go of this idea that the way we planned it is the ideal way, to, “Hey, actually, if something goes wrong, maybe that’s a great bonding experience, maybe that’s something in that moment that we can do something with,” I think then it gets really interesting. And one thing I’ve always found fascinating about presenters, for example, great presenters, I feel they always have this kind of line if something breaks down because they know the likelihood of something breaking down, the likelihood of a projector not working, of the moderator not appearing, whatever it is, individually it’s very small likelihoods. But if you add all this out together, it’s very likely that something unexpected happens.

And so, if they have a sentence at the beginning where they’re like, “Oh, my God, XYZ ha, ha,” that’s the way how they pull the audience on their side because the audience says, “Oh, my God, like they really can cope with that situation well.” And so, I think those situations, in a way, show real leadership but I think, again, we can all build that muscle for it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Christian, now I want to have a few of those sentences ready to go. Can you recall some of those?

Christian Busch
Yeah, my favorite, really, so a friend of mine, she used to get very red. So, when she would go on stage, she would turn red, and so she would literally then kind of build that into a sentence, and say, “Hey, look, this is the warning signal that we’re about to start.” And this is kind of like something that directed her and something that could’ve been seen as a weakness, or something that where people would’ve talked about anyways. Everyone in this room would either have thought it or would’ve told the person next to them, “Oh, look, like this is very red.”

But by turning this directly around, she actually turned that into something that made her, like made the audience really be on her side. And I think, in my case, being German, we have a lot of anti-jokes. There’s a lot of dumb ones. There’s a lot of like when a projector doesn’t work or something, it’s like, “Oh, the slides were crap anyways, like it’s much better if we talk XYZ.” Things where it’s not necessarily funny in that sense but I think just having a sentence that allows us to bridge that, I think, that shows the audience, “Okay, great. This person is still in control. That person somehow tries to figure out how to just make that work.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s interesting, that theme there in terms of, “I am not freaked out by this not having gone to plan. In fact, maybe I find it amusing or I am somehow charmed or enchanted by it working out the way it has worked out,” really does put other folks at ease because it’s like if a presenter is in all awkward, nervous, feeling uncomfortable, well, then the audience is as well. And so, if you go there, that’s cool.

I guess, in some ways, this all seems a little bit easier said than done, I think, particularly maybe when the stakes are high when you really want the thing that you’re really going after, and you have invested a lot of yourself in terms of the time, the money, the resources, into making something unfold the way you want it to, and then it just doesn’t: there’s a flat tire, the slides don’t work, nobody shows up to the thing. Yeah, any pro tips on how to get better at that?

It sounds like you’ve already mentioned previously that the more we can believe and accept that things not working according to plan can be in our best interest and truly an asset. That’s great. And I guess it’d be helpful if maybe you should make a list of such things that happen in your life, like, “Hey, here is some evidence.” But how else do you recommend that we get there when, yeah, when the stakes are high?

Christian Busch
Yeah, that’s a great question. I’ve seen a lot with my students who, when COVID happened, a lot of them had their jobs lined up after graduation or their internships. They always wanted an internship in XYZ bank, and they worked so long for it, and they worked all their contacts work out, and then COVID happened, and it just didn’t. And so, it was this kind of very high-stake first-job type situation where you really felt, “This is what I really want to do. This is what I really need at this point in time.”

And what I found fascinating, and now one and a half years in. Having conversations with some of those students, it is tough. Like, I remember when I graduated in 2007, we had the financial crisis hit. I had so much mapped out, and then that crisis hit, and you just got it emotionally and cognitively, you’re just like, “Oh, my God, life is over and that is it.”

I think one of the things that I’ve always been fascinated by is that kind of question of, “When we look at it in the long run, like when we look at this kind of two, three, four, five, six years, like what does it really mean?”

I’ve seen the same with my jobs, for example. I was on a consultancy track and then, essentially, serendipitously fell into the startup world first, and that was very kind of…it felt like in that moment, “Oh, my God, there’s something going wrong here.” But actually, it turned out, when looking back now, I wondered, like, “Why would I ever even consider that?”

And so, I think to your point, like in the moment it always feels very tough and rough, that’s kind of moments of, “Oh, my God, this is exactly what I wanted. I worked so hard for this for years.” And then I think with a bit of distance over time, what happens a lot of times is that we’re saying, “Oh, actually, I only had limited information at that time. Actually, at that time also, I was another person than I am now because I went through this kind of tough period.”

And so, I think a lot of times, when looking back, it’s this beautiful saying that if it’s not a happy ending, maybe it’s not the ending yet, and maybe we shouldn’t stop the story too early. And I’ve seen that with a lot of people who I consider to be extremely successful, that they essentially have a certain story stop at some point, but then they develop that grit and that persistence. And that is my kind of, on the more actionable side.

I’ve always been a big fan of that perspective-taking, or that kind of when we are in this emotional moment where we say, “Oh, my God, the world is going down. I didn’t get the job I wanted,” saying, “What would I tell a friend now?” And the friend probably usually would say, “Hey, look, that’s really not nice but, actually, hey, have you considered XYZ?” and really taking ourselves out of that purely emotional and into the kind of perspective, which a lot of times, then I think helps with this kind of developing grit.

And I think Adam Grant has done some amazing work around this. I highly recommend it for everyone to check out around grit, resilience, and perseverance.

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

Christian Busch
Yeah, I think, look, at the end of the day, serendipity is about potentiality. It’s about, “What could be?” And I’m a big fan, there’s this amazing organization that’s in Cape Flats in Cape Town.

I went there around a decade ago for the first time. I went in there and I was like, “What is the one question I should never ask you? I come into your context here but what should I never ask you?” And they were like, “Never ask us first question, ‘What do you need?’ because if you ask us, ‘What do you need?’ you put us into this weird role of, like, someone who needs something, a victim, a beneficiary, whatever it is, versus asking, ‘What’s already here? And how can we make the best out of this?’”

And so, that really shaped my perspective in terms of how people, even in the most resource-constrained of environments, want to create their own luck. It’s not about saying, “I’m just waiting for resources here,” and I think a lot of times we have this reflex, “Hey, here, here is some money, here is this. Like, let’s apply for a budget or a grant.” But actually, that dignity that comes from creating your own luck is really at the core of this.

And so, this organization, what they do is they go into different contexts and they ask, “What is already here and how can we make the best out of it? Oh, there’s a former drug dealer. Interesting. That person has a lot of creativity, that person has a lot of contexts, so if we can turn them into a teacher, it becomes cool now to be a teacher. If we look at an old garage, we can look at a potential training center.”

And so, the point here is that we start connecting the dots differently once we get away from looking at resource constraints and the things we don’t have and into the potentiality of it. And so, it’s a lot of banks and others now who apply exactly that thinking. Imagine you’re organizing an event at your company, and you write your budget, and you’re like, “Oh, I need 20 chairs for this event.” Well, what this organization would do, they would first ask you, “Well, do you really need the chairs or can people stand, whatever it is? If you need them, can you ask the restaurant next door, if they can borrow you the chairs, which might also nicely kind of give you some new contacts there, whatever it is. And only if you say no to all of these things, then go ahead with it.”

And what happens a lot of times is that we’re like, “Oh, my God, we don’t even need all this budget. We can make stuff happen much more resourceful than we thought.” And that’s where serendipity starts to happen because we get away from thinking about budget constraints, and things that don’t work, and scarcity, and really think about more, “Wow, what could be in this situation already? And maybe I have more here than I think I have, more kind of context than I thought I had, more kind of resources than I thought I had.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s exciting and, yeah, it makes kind of sense that when you…I think I remember from like a college psychology class, there’s a name for this, being fixated on the lack versus what you have. There’s a name for it. Do you know the psychological term here?

Christian Busch
Well, I think it’s a lot around framing. Like, essentially, how do we reframe a situation? And I think that goes very deeply into psychology. How do we essentially understand that’s it’s not about resource scarcity always? I think it’s, actually, you know what was really interesting, I had a couple of conversations recently with psychologists.

And for them, actually, the mindset is interesting because they’re saying it helps us to get away a little bit from the anxiety, from the feeling that we’re losing control because, actually, maybe there’s something in there that still helps us. And so, I think, to your point, I think there’s a lot of psychological linkages there, I think, all in terms of, “How do we approach life and see less scarcity and more as abundance?”

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

Christian Busch
My absolute favorite is a Goethe quote. I grew up in Heidelberg, and there’s this Philosopher’s Way where Goethe wrote some of his poems. And he had this idea that if you take someone as they are, you make them worse, but if you take them as who they could be, you’ll make them capable of becoming who they can be.

And that’s, actually, Viktor Frankl took that idea at some point, and he talked about it in the context of a flight instructor. The flight instructor told him, “Well, Viktor, if you want to fly like this or just a little bit up, you always need to start a little bit higher than you want to fly because the wind will always pull you down.” So, if you start as a realist, you end up as a depressionist, but if you start as an optimist, you end up as the real realist.

And Goethe’s point really was to say, “If we always see a little bit more in the moment than there is that meets the eye, we start seeing serendipity happen after and after and after and after again.” And I think that’s also what good leadership is about. Good leadership is about looking at a former drug dealer and not seeing just a former drug dealer. It’s about looking at them and saying, “Wow, you could be a teacher,” “Wow, you could be XYZ,” and then people start also seeing it themselves and seeing other potentialities as well. So, I would probably quote Goethe in that regard.

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

Christian Busch
Well, one absolute favorite is about rabbits. So, essentially, a couple of decades ago, two researchers at approximately the same time, they were injecting rabbits with a protein, with papain, and the rabbits’ ears flopped. And both of them saw that, that the flop was surprising, it was interesting, but only one of them followed up on it, and only one of them went through and realized, “Oh, wow, that has to do with bloodstream. It has to do with the blood flowing better.” And then that led to amazing arthritis and other medications and got a lot of prizes.

And, to me, that has always been a beautiful example of how we can really understand serendipity and how we can understand the kind of effect of this. What could have happened had the person acted versus not? So, in this moment, it’s really the one person acted on that unexpected thing, connected the dots, did something with it, versus the other had the same thing happen but they didn’t. And so, it’s similar to what we talked about earlier, these other experiments that are about you can give people exactly the same situation but the way they react to it and what they do with it will lead to extremely different results.

And so, I think that, to me, is always, as an academic, I’m always thinking about, “What are science-based ways that we can understand serendipity?” And one is really about tracing back different types of decisions, and then saying, “Oh, this decision unfolds differently because of that and that action.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Christian Busch
Oh, my favorite book, definitely Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. This book is next to my bedside table. I’ve been re-reading it so many times and, essentially, the core idea is that he was in a concentration camp, which, as you can imagine, is the toughest of environments that one could ever be in. You’re being stripped of any dignity that you’ve ever had.

And he said, “Look, but I still can do something here. I can still…” He had this idea of, “I can still converse with other prisoners every day. And by making them feel better about life in general, I have some kind of meaning here. I can still write this book after I come out here.” And so, he had this duality of meaning, this kind of meaning in the day-to-day that he built, and this meaning of, “I still want to do this later.”

And so, I found that in my work to be extremely effective to have this idea that you both have something that’s in the day-to-day that gives those meaning but also something to look forward to that gives us a broader meaning.

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

Christian Busch
That’s a good question. Probably the coffee machine. I need a lot of coffee.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a key nugget you share that seems to connect and resonate with folks, they quote it back to you frequently?

Christian Busch
It’s probably a lot around that idea that comes back to Viktor Frankl, that we cannot always choose a situation or a stimulus, but we can always choose our response to it. And so, that is really our agency, that is where our growth comes from, that’s where our freedom comes from. And so, really, this idea that no matter what situation we’re in, there’s always something we can still do even if it seems powerless.

And so, I think that’s very…something that I think resonates particularly, I think, in tough, I mean, during COVID periods like now. I had COVID last year, the severe form of it, and it’s the kind of period where you just feel complete despair, I just feel like, “Oh, my God, what is this all about?” And then this idea of, “How do you still find some kind of meaning in some way?” And I think that is a lot around this, “How do we respond to stimuli that we didn’t choose?”

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

Christian Busch
It’s on Twitter @ChrisSerendip, and the homepage is SerendipityMindset.com.

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

Christian Busch
Yeah, I would really suggest set up a serendipity journal where you write down, “What are the key themes, three key themes, interests, you have at the moment?” And then, every conversation you have during the next days and weeks, seed a little bit into this and just see what happens when people start connecting the dots for you.

And then doing the same for kind of like the self-limiting beliefs, so really saying, in those moments when you’re out there, where you feel something could’ve happened but it didn’t, “What seems to be the pattern behind this?” Really writing this down and then seeing what it is. And I think what you’ll see is that it’s very relieving to then kind of start tackling this and seeing how many, how much multiplication that has in that area as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Chris, this has been a treat. I wish you many serendipitous moments in the future.

Christian Busch
Thank you so much.

687: How to Combat Stress and Prioritize Your Wellbeing with Naz Beheshti

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Executive wellness coach Naz Beheshti offers her top tips on how to take your well-being into your own hands.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to nourish your inner coach while silencing your inner critic 
  2. The ACE method to combat stress
  3. An easy trick to boost your energy 

 

About Naz

Naz Beheshti is the author of Pause. Breathe.Choose.: Become the CEO of Your Well-Being. She is an executive wellness coach, speaker, Forbes contributor, CEO, and founder of Prananaz, a corporate wellness company improving leadership effectiveness, employee well-being and engagement, and company culture. Clients include Nike, JPMorgan Chase, First Republic Bank, Skadden, UCSC, and Columbia University.  

Her work has been widely featured in the media, including CNBC, Forbes, BBC, Yahoo, Entrepreneur, Inc., Fast Company, and many more. Naz also cofounded Rise2Shine, a nonprofit helping to alleviate the suffering of young children in Haiti. Visit her online at http://www.NazBeheshti.com. 

Resources Mentioned

Naz Beheshti Interview Transcript

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

Naz Beheshti
Thank you for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to hear what you have to say. And I’d love to start by talking about Steve Jobs, your first boss and mentor. Can you tell us a bit about how he’s shaped your views on work and life?

Naz Beheshti
Steve was my first boss and mentor so he had a highly influential role in my life. I mean, right out of college at the young age of 21, he influenced the most profound lesson that I had learned, and it was through him, which is “Wellbeing drives success.” And at that age and at that time, that wasn’t at the forefront by any means, but through example, he really led a holistic approach to wellbeing, and that wellbeing is what drove his success. So, I really learned the most profound lesson from him, so it was really influential and impactful for me to have crossed paths with Steve.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And while we’re reminiscing a bit, any particular memories, anecdotes, things that were strikingly pleasant, or unpleasant yet helpful, as you think about your time with Steve?

Naz Beheshti
Well, I remember the time when I was working for him, and I discovered that my version of healthy was Steve’s version of garbage, quite literally, and I shared this in my book. One day, I thought I would surprise him with an oatmeal-raisin cookie as a healthy option for dessert, and later that day, I noticed the entire cookie, not a bite taken out, but the entire cookie in his trash can. So, that was a first red flag that I actually wasn’t as healthy as I thought, and that my version of healthy was, quite literally, Steve’s version of garbage.

Pete Mockaitis
Did you discuss it at all?

Naz Beheshti
No, I was quite embarrassed actually, and I just made a mental note never to give him an oatmeal-raisin cookie ever again. He was extremely health-conscious and that healthy version of that cookie was just like, I guess, too much sugar and not-so healthy for him.

Pete Mockaitis
You know what it also makes me think about is just how decisive that is in terms of, like, “This cookie going directly to the garbage.”

Naz Beheshti
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“No need to think about it. No need to take a bite out of it.” Sometimes I feel that way about, like I get gifts that I don’t want, so apologies to family and friends who are listening to this, and so it’s like I almost feel sort of like obligated to not get rid of it immediately, it’s like, “Well, you know, it was nice of them to think about it.” But there are times, I know that this has no place in my life or my home. The proper decision would be to remove it immediately via donation or whatever.

Naz Beheshti
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And he did it.

Naz Beheshti
Yup.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, let’s talk about your book Pause. Breathe. Choose. This is a great message. I’m intrigued. And so, what is the core idea or thesis here within “Pause. Breathe. Choose.”?

Naz Beheshti
Well, the key to thriving in today’s high-pressure culture is to cultivate deep self-awareness and strong emotional intelligence, which really facilitates making mindful choices that transform your life. So, one conscious choice begets another. So, Pause. Breathe. Choose. is a roadmap for authentic self-discovery, better choices, and purposeful growth.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so tell us, how do we go about doing some of that good stuff?

Naz Beheshti
It’s a holistic approach to wellbeing. And the MAP method is really a holistic approach to living your best life. So, I’ll start with the MAP being an acronym. For M, M is for master mindfulness, and really, mastering mindfulness is fundamental to the method because when you’re more mindful, you’re able to make better choices. That leads you to the A, which is applying better choices to manage stress and build resilience and the seven As. And then the P is for promoting yourself to the CEO of your wellbeing, and the three Ps. So, when you combine those three parts of the MAP method and implement them, you’re really going to be thriving in all aspects of your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, let’s talk about mastering mindfulness. I guess maybe, first, can you define mindfulness? How do you know if you got it, if you don’t, and how to get more of it?

Naz Beheshti
Yeah. So, mindfulness really, in a nutshell, is presence of heart. It’s really about awakening your mind and your heart from autopilot, and that enables you to experience life unfolding in the present moment. So, the mindfulness unlocks your ability to tap into your intuition and creativity so that you can receive new information and develop new perspectives with a beginner’s mind. And that’s really what mindfulness is all about.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that sounds great. If I want to do that, where should I start?

Naz Beheshti
I always say to start small, so start with two minutes of a seated meditation which there are so many different types of meditations out there, and I would say experiment with the different types. Maybe start with an app like Calm or Headspace. But, also, if you don’t want to do that, an alternative would be to just sit quietly and focus on your breath, and just allow whatever thoughts that come and go to just do that exactly – come and go. Just acknowledge them and, without any judgment, without labeling them, without any continued thought about it, just acknowledging that thought and then releasing it and then coming back to your breath.

So, in my sessions with my clients, we always start with a two-minute guided meditation, and I guide them through this process. And one of the visualizations I use that’s really helpful for my clients is that we get in a comfortable seated position, and then I ask them to take a few deep breaths, inhale, exhale, and then imagine a balloon in the sky, putting any of those thoughts or any sounds that may disrupt the pattern of the breath into the balloon, and then just allowing it to float away. So, the point is to acknowledge your thoughts and then put them into that balloon, and let them go, and then return back to your breath.

So, acknowledge, let go, return, and the focus will be on your breath. So, even that tiny visualization of the balloon could help because so many people think, “Oh, I can’t meditate. I think too much. I can’t sit still for that long.” So, starting small and having a visualization of that balloon, or whatever it is that works for you, to actually contain those thoughts and allow them to let them go, and just float away and come back to your breath.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, now, when one does this with regularity, what is the difference it makes, I guess, in terms of mental ability, capacity? If you think about it as an exercise, like if I’m strengthening biceps with a bicep curl, if I’m strengthening my mind by using this sort of approach, what does that mean for me, practically speaking?

Naz Beheshti
Well, mindfulness can literally reshape and rewire the brain through neuroplasticity in which new habits reorganize or rewire neural connections. So, a consistent meditation practice pretty much gives us the opportunity to be proactive in changing our brain and increasing our wellbeing and quality of life, and there’s research that supports that as well.

And in terms of your health, your creativity, decision-making, being less risk-reactive, these are all many ways that mindfulness can help. Consistent practice in mindfulness is key, not just practicing once a week or twice a week, but daily or at least six days a week is key.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us some examples in terms of perhaps it’s the decision-making and the reactivity? Like, what would life and your brain look and feel and sound like pre-meditation practice versus post-meditation practice if it’s doing its job? Like, how do we know it’s working?

Naz Beheshti
Well, I can give you the example of myself which was more reactive back years ago. I started meditation back in 2010, and prior to that, I was doing a bunch of yoga, daily yoga, so that really helped. But, before that, I tended to be…I’m very type A, and on the go, and perfectionist, and very fast-paced life, and I was very reactive when I was younger. And so, when someone would…I had very little patience.

So, if someone wasn’t doing their job or doing what they said they were going to do, I would be more irritable and reactive, and kind of tell them what I thought rather than taking a breath, and just pausing, and responding in a more compassionate way rather than reacting with a negative tone or with negative words, and not understanding and having compassion for that person. I’m much more, or less reactive, and more compassionate since then.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, reactive might sound like, “Hey, you idiot, why did you screw that up again?” And then the post-meditative response can be like, “Hey, I noticed this. What’s going on?”

Naz Beheshti
Yes. Yes. Or, “I’m just curious how this outcome turned out this way,” “I’m curious,” or, “Yes, could you please explain?” rather than, “I can’t believe you did this,” or, “That’s shocking,” or something like that, yes. So, it’s definitely a help in that respect. As far as decision-making, meditation brings extreme clarity. So, when you are able to quiet the chatter of the mind and kind of, like I was saying earlier, my definition of mindfulness is aligning your mind with your heart.

So, a lot of us work, operate, and speak, and think only from the mind without that connection to the heart. So, we are able to quiet our mind and go deeper into our authentic selves. So, the reason mastering mindfulness really is about discovering your authentic self, because you’re quieting all the chatter of the mind and the external stuff that’s just really loud and keeps echoing in your mind, it’s not necessarily your true essence, your true self because it’s too loud to get deeper to who you truly are. But mindfulness and meditation quiets that and then allows you to tap into your truest desire, your authentic self.

And so then, that also brings a lot of clarity, and then you’re able to make decisions with confidence, and you’re very tapped into your gut, your intuition, whatever you want to call it, and so decision-making becomes stronger and just faster and better and with more confidence.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so then you talked about your true self and essence and such, and you’ve got some terms – the inner coach and the inner critic. Can you expand upon these, and tell us to have some more good inner coach conversations and fewer not-so-great inner critic conversations?

Naz Beheshti
Right. So, like two dogs inside you competing for attention, you have an inner coach, the good dog, and an inner critic, the bad dog. The inner coach represents positivity and eustress, the good stress, and the growth mindset, while the inner critic represents negativity, distress and limiting beliefs. And what’s crucial is, it’s crucial to remember that the dog you feed determines the kind of life you lead.

When we choose to feed the good dog and view the world through the eyes of the inner coach, we feel more in control of our life, and we tend to view challenges as opportunities, not threats. So, we essentially harness the positive energy of acute stress and eustress, and can avoid chronic stress, and then we eventually see ourselves as continually evolving and focused on improving ourselves when we are in tuned with that inner coach more. And it all stems from mindfulness.

So, if we’re not mindful, the inner critic, the bad dog, might be barking and telling us, “You suck. You did that wrong. You’re going to blow this,” and that’s the default voice that we hear in our head if we’re not mindful to catch that, and be like, “Oh, that’s the bad dog. That’s the inner critic. I’m going to stop feeding that dog and awaken the inner coach, and start listening to the inner coach,” which is coaching you through it and saying not focusing on the bad, but saying, “You’ll learn from whatever you did last time and not do it again next time. You’ve got this. You’re awesome. What lesson could you learn from this, from many negative experiences that happened?” And it’s really talking to you with a growth mindset rather than through limiting beliefs which is the inner critic.

Pete Mockaitis
So, mindfulness enables you to sort of see it and catch it in the moment and make a shift. And any other pro tips for identifying and catching yourself as it happens? Or, any sort of telltale signs, like, “Oh, wait a second, I’m doing that thing again. I’m going to choose to not do that”?

Naz Beheshti
Well, so when you find yourself kind of spiraling or ruminating, and you’re just kind of stuck with the same kind of negative thought pattern, and you just keep replaying something that happened at work or a conversation you had that wasn’t very positive, or maybe you had like a great meeting, and then one negative thing happened, maybe you said something wrong, like you identified something that wasn’t accurate, or like you’re giving a presentation and you said the wrong numbers by mistake, but everything else went really well, but then your inner critic is going to only focused on that one part that was like five seconds versus the rest of the hour that went really well, and you’re going to just continue to ruminate over that, so then you start realizing, you start feeling bad.

And so, just checking in with how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. So, I have these…one of the things I do throughout the day is I do mindful self-check ins, what I call mindful self-check in, which really is just asking myself rapid-fire questions throughout the day. And this could help catch you when you’re ruminating or stressed or spending too much time in one area. And you just ask yourself, “How am I feeling? What am I thinking? Am I breathing? Am I thirsty?” and just check in with yourself, and just rapid-fire questions and address however you’re feeling in that time, and that will give you an opportunity to shift and shift out of that negative state.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. Thank you. And you’ve got an approach to reframe stress. How do we make stress our friend?

Naz Beheshti
Yes, that’s the ACE method. It’s the new way of reframing stress which is very effective to upgrade both your mindset and your behavior. So, the ability to distinguish between different kinds of stress – being acute, chronic, and eustress, also stands for ACE – allows you to perceive stress as a challenge rather than an obstacle.

So, once you understand the type of stress you’re facing, then you can identify the actual stressors and their source and take empowered actions. So, it’s a three-step process. You can ace stress using the three-step ACE method through awareness, change, and empowerment. So, one is be aware of the signs and the symptoms, so the stressor, and identify the type, as I mentioned, and the source of stress.

Step two would be to change your mindset. Choose to reframe the stress using an upgraded mindset so that you can identify your options or opportunities both in mindset and behavior. And then, lastly, step three is to take empowered and effective action. And sometimes that’s just about shifting your mindset. It’s about choosing to shift your mindset if you can’t actually change a situation or the circumstance. There are just some things that are out of our control that we cannot change but we can always change our mindset around it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, can you walk us through an example of it’s a stressor and then the shift in mindset and the impact that makes?

Naz Beheshti
Right. So, I share a story in the book about how I was on my way to one of my clients to teach a stress management workshop, and I was so stressed, I found myself so stressed on my way to teach a stress management workshop, but I applied my own methods en route to this workshop that I was doing. What happened was that the subway system, I was in New York City and the subways were really delayed, and then they skipped a stop that I was supposed to get off of, and it wasn’t an express train so I didn’t understand. It was very surprising and it wasn’t accounted for in the time that I needed to get there so I found myself very late, and I was really stressing out.

And while I was stressing out in the subway as it flew by my stop, I decided that there was nothing I could do. I was literally stuck in the subway. I couldn’t jump out. I couldn’t change the time and go back in time, and I just accepted that I was going to be late to my workshop that I was teaching. So, what I did was I shifted my mindset by actually sitting quietly. I closed my eyes and I used the pause-breathe-choose method. And I literally took a pause, closed my eyes, focused on my breath, and just continued breathing. And I did a little mini-meditation in the subway until the next stop and that really calmed me down. And I was able to shift that stressor to really understand that, again, there are some things out of my control.

It was in my control earlier. I can’t go back. I can’t redo that. So, I can only show up as my best self, so I was preparing myself to show up grounded, calm, not frazzled. And so, I just applied pause-breathe-choose, and I did that in the subway, and I actually showed up after some time and I made a joke out of it, like, “I found myself really stressed out. Here, I am, teaching stress management, but the pause-choose-breathe method did work, and it can work for anyone at any time, and it’s there with you.”

You always have your breath. It’s there. It’s just about being conscious about it and choosing to be mindful to know, “I’m going to take a pause right now and I’m going to breathe consciously, and then I’m going to choose how I want to move forward.” And I chose to move forward with acceptance of the situation, I chose to move forward with peace, and just to make the best of the situation.

Pete Mockaitis
And in terms of sort of the effective choice behavior piece of things, with the ACE, I imagine within that realm there’s like, “Hey, no, I’m going to be late,” and so they’ve got their heads up.” I found my own experience of being late, like that makes all the difference. It’s just like I keep stewing up, “Oh, my gosh, I’m going to be late.” They’ll be like, “What’s up with this guy? He’s so unprofessional.” And then I just sort of change the expectation, like, “Hey, guys, unfortunately this is what’s up. I got caught in a bunch of snow, whatever.”

And then they’re like, “Okay.” And now they know and I’m not worried about how I’m about to…it’s like, “I’m going to disappoint them, I’m going to disappoint them, I’m in the process of disappointing them. They’re going to be furtherly disappointed that I thought they were going to be one minute ago based on this delay,” versus, “Oh, well, now there’s a new expectation set, so we’re all good.”

Naz Beheshti
Right. And I, of course, immediately, when I had reception, texted them and let them know that I’m running late. But, yeah, that inner critic could be like, “Gosh, you’re so unprofessional. You’re late. You’re going to be stressed at your own stress management workshop. You should’ve left earlier. This is your fault.” And then it started pouring rain out of nowhere, and I didn’t have an umbrella. So, not only was I late, I was drenched when I showed up, so I had to regroup in the elevator, I just had a couple floors to regroup and I did. I made it work and I always remember that.

And now I try not to be late, but it’s not even about that. It’s about when you do find yourself in that situation, because no one’s perfect, and it may not be about being late, it might be something else, you have the tools. When you have the tools and you’re mindful to use those tools, then you could show up as your best self, not frazzled or upset.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m also curious to get your take about some energy management. What are your top tips for experiencing a boatload of energy?

Naz Beheshti
Okay. So, I would say that, first of all, getting seven to nine hours of sleep, average of eight hours of sleep a night does wonders. Sleep is the way to reboot your mind, body, and creativity, so sleep is essential. But, also, finding your energy sweet spot. So, everyone has their own energy sweet spot, and that is when you feel most energized. Some people feel most energized in the morning, some in the afternoon, some in the evening. So, learning, “I already know when that is.” If not, just kind of take note throughout the day when you feel most energized. Sometimes there’s peaks and valleys of your energy.

But when you are most energized, that’s when I always encourage listeners, people, my clients, to do their tasks that are least desirable for them. Or the things that they procrastinate the most, do it when they’re most energized because, then, procrastination is limited. Because when you’re not energized and you still have a bunch of things to do, especially if there are things you don’t want to do, you’re going to push them out and have more reason to procrastinate because you’re just tired. So, finding your energy sweet spot and doing those things during that time is really beneficial to being productive.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Naz Beheshti
Well, I would say that my book offers over 80 proven tools and strategies to improve yourself and your workplace to achieve a sustainable success, so I highly encourage listeners to check it out so that you can become the CEO of your wellbeing and be awesome at your job.

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

Naz Beheshti
My favorite quote is, “Live well. Laugh often. Love much.”

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

Naz Beheshti
My favorite study is a study that shows how critical connection to others are, our relationships, how critical it is to our health. So, the world’s longest longitudinal study on happiness began in 1938 and it’s still running strong, which I find fascinating. It’s done by Robert J. Waldinger, a psychiatrist and Harvard professor. And he sums up the biggest lessons in his popular TED Talk by saying, “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. And loneliness is toxic.” And I just find that really so true.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Naz Beheshti
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, which was also published by New World Library.

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

Naz Beheshti
I would have to say my PBC method, my pause-breathe-choose. It’s a powerful method for translating mindfulness into action, and really taking ownership of your wellbeing so that you could be present and make better choices.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect with your audience; they retweet it; they quote it back to you frequently?

Naz Beheshti
Yeah, so since my book has come out, I get a lot of retweets for “We prioritize doing well over being well, but the truth is we can have both, success and wellbeing.”

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

Naz Beheshti
My website, my corporate website for my corporate wellness company, Prananaz.com, or you can learn more about me and my book at NazBeheshti.com. I’m also on all social media as NazBeheshti, or I think Facebook it’s NazBeheshtiSpeaker, but everywhere else it’s NazBeheshti.

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

Naz Beheshti
I would say tell the listeners commit to your self-care and wellbeing as a non-negotiable. So, you have the power and the choice to be the CEO of your wellbeing and take charge of all areas of your life so that you can truly live your best life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Naz, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck with your pausing, breathing, and choosing.

Naz Beheshti
Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here.